An Historian of Science Discovers the “Light Switch”

Historian and philosopher Emma Houston interrogates the science of electricity and light bulbs

The light switch was at the center of Houston’s first big foray into the history of electricity and lights. The story told in introductory electrical engineering textbooks is relatively simple: flipping the switch up turns the lights “on”; flipping the switch down turns the lights “off.” Whether a switch is in the on or off position has for for decades been seen as an expression of a light bulb’s “true” state or of “light itself.” It is the job of a science historian to discover where these stories come from, and why.

Houston’s doctoral dissertation, published in 2004 as Light Itself: The Search for On and Off in the Electric Circuit does just this, tracing the history of the idea that electromagnetic radiation is turned “on” and “off” by switches found on the wall. Early in the twentieth century, she shows, it was controversial to refer to “light switches” because sometimes electricians accidentally wired around them when installing lights.

But the fact that switches are visible, (unlike electricity) made them useful for enough to two groups of engineers–those building electrical circuits, and those working to untangle the role of electricity in light generation–that the association between switches and light solidified for decades.

Associating “light” with the “light switch,” writes Richardson, has serious consequences, as when engineers tried to develop a “super flashlight” that used two light switches and multiple batteries.

The “super flashlight” was finally abandoned in the development stage when engineers decided it was simpler to use bigger batteries, but in Light Itself, Houston argues that it made the light switch the star of electrical engineering in a way that still reverberates. She points to engineers like Professor Book, whose research focused for decades on using light switches to design home lighting plans. Such a focus was not inevitable, Houston argues: from the 1920s through the 50s, based on evidence in lasers, researchers saw buttons as drivers of light output.

It turns out that “light switches” do not actually cause bulbs to emit electromagnetic radiation. Engineers now understand that light, produced by incandescent bulbs as well as LEDs and compact fluorescents, is the result of numerous interconnected capacitors, resistors, power sources, and wire circuits that all work together. So called “light switches” do not cause light at all–they merely open and close light circuits, allowing electricity to flow (or not) to the bulbs.

But in an interview, Professor Book disagrees with Houston’s account. In Houston’s history, the super flashlight looms large in later researchers’ decision to focus on the switch, but Professor Book responds that research on the super flashlight “did not interest me, it did not impress me, it did not look like the the foundations of a path forward.” Building circuits around the light switch, he says, was not inspired by the popular image of a super bright flashlight with two switches, but “was simply the easiest way to design practical lighting for people’s houses” and that “flipping the switch does actually turn the lights on and off.”

Houston responds that of course we can’t expect actual engineers to know what inspired them or their fields, which is why we need science historians like herself to suss out what was really motivating them.

Author’s note: Professor Houston has degrees in philosophy and literature, but oddly, none in engineering or physics.

This parody is thanks to Harvard Magazine’s The Science of Sex: Historian and Philosopher Sarah Richardson Interrogates the Science of Sex and Gender.

 

 

 

 

Is the Canadian Legal System… Very Different from Ours?

Edit: This case absolutely blew up on Twitter after I wrote this post, but before the post actually went up (one of the occasional downsides of maintaining a post-buffer). You have probably heard all about the case already.

This is a fascinating case I’ve been reading about in Canada. Might take a few tweets to get the gist of what’s going on, but I recommend reading the whole thread. The short version is that JY is a dude trying to force immigrant women to wax his balls. These women run waxing services, some in their homes, some will drive to your home, but only for other women, and he is suing them for not being willing to wax his “female testicles.”

Part 1:

 

And part 2, Part 3, and hopefully Part 4.

There is a lot to unpack here.

JY is alleging that these women have discriminated against him because he is trans. This is of course blatantly incorrect; they discriminated against him because he is male, which is something they are allowed to do.

(I refuse to refer to JY as female because he is not. He is a mentally ill man who is either a total grifter trying to sue innocent women for the money or a sick pervert with a soft rape fantasy that involves forcing women to handle his genitals against their will. Either way, I will not lie on his behalf, and besides, I am an American so I can use whatever pronouns I want. FREEDOM, BITCHES.)

There is some interesting expert testimony from someone who teaches waxing at the local cosmetology school to the effect of 1. Waxing male genitals is different from waxing other sorts of body parts, so it does take special training and 2. We don’t offer that training, because the kinds of men who want their genitals waxed often demand sex from the waxer and then become angry and aggressive if you deny them. Which is, hahah not funny, exactly the case with JY, who is actually suing women for refusing to touch his balls.

JY is convinced that “Nazis” are targeting him over these cases because you know Nazis, they love standing up for the rights of poor, brown, immigrant women. JY comes across as mentally off; JY’s parents, who should be reigning him in, are just as nuts as he is, if not moreso–they even threatened goinglikeelsie for taking notes on the case. (Since JY looks like a 35 or 40 year old man in his photos, it is very strange that his parents are so involved in his life.)

We used to have this notion that “perverts” exist and women and children need to be protected from them. The fear was always overrated for most people–children are most likely to be raped by their stepfathers/mom’s new boyfriend–but creepy guys who like to dismember prostitutes still exist and are a real concern for prostitutes. This guy wants to force women to wax his balls in front of small children, and the court system, instead of telling him that if he ever goes near a child he will be put in prison, is helping him. Even if the court eventually finds in the women’s favor, they have already been through hell because of this case.

Interestingly, no one seems to be really focusing on what I assume is the central point of the case: was JY denied service because he is trans? This seems like it would be slam-dunk for the defendants–none of these immigrant women seem to even know what the word “trans” means, much less have enough knowledge about it to discriminate on this basis. JY was rejected because he is male, just like all other men who apply for these services. If he wants to claim that this denial is incorrect because he is not actually male, he is just a girl who has a really unfortunate face, then he could easily take that route–but he has not.

Edit: I noticed in some of the later testimony that JY is now claiming to have a penis and a vagina. If JY has an actual intersex disorder, then his case (ought to be) very different. Most people would be perfectly willing to accommodate an actual woman who merely has an unusual medical condition; all he needs is a doctor’s note and a reasonable explanation about what’s going on and people would be fine. Instead he has claimed to be “trans” (which is defined as having a gender identity opposite to your biological sex, implying that he is not intersex,) and is suing these ladies under the standards established for trans people, not intersex. I think he is only claiming to have a vagina at this late stage because of the obvious idiocy of demanding a “brazilian” wax job when you don’t have anatomy in the relevant shape.

The women JY has sued have suffered greatly because of this idiocy. It is obvious that these sorts of services (eg, women going to other women’s homes to give waxes) cannot exist if those women cannot turn down clients whom they find threatening, dangerous, or unpleasant, and that includes the vast majority of men.

As of my writing, the case hasn’t been decided, but if the court decides that they can’t turn down clients just because they have “female testicles,” they won’t start waxing men’s balls, they’ll just shut down their businesses. Women will be out of work and other women won’t be able to hire them for services they wanted (and, let’s be honest, the men who appreciate bikini waxes will be disappointed, too), and there will still be no one willing to wax JY’s balls. (BTW, you can buy wax and wax your own at home if it’s really that important to you.)

Even in the best case scenario, JY won’t even be chased out of town.

Now, I don’t have that much experience with how court cases are actually run in the US, but I know that things like witnesses and evidence have to be decided beforehand, whereas in this case JY seems to be introducing them willy-nilly (and then trying to remove his own evidence from the record when he realizes he brought in something that reflects badly on himself!) How is this allowed? For that matter, why has the judge not reigned them in? Not that the American legal system is perfect (it’s a dumpster fire on steroids,) but, uh, Canada? What is up with your legal system?

Edit: After some reflection, I wanted to add a few more thoughts. Since the publication ban has been lifted, people have begun referring to JY by name, so I’ve switched to calling him Yanive (his last name).

You know, it’s easy to criticize Yanive, but he is doing something valuable:

He is forcing Canada to clarify an apparently badly written and unclear law about “gender affirmative care,” the rights of trans people to be treated as their chosen gender, and not discriminating against trans people. Most people imagine these laws to mean something like:

  1. I am selling widgets (houses, cars, stocks, hamburgers, etc) that have nothing to do with gender. You, a trans person, walk into my establishment. I cannot refuse to sell you a widget just because you are trans.
  2. You work for me. You come out as trans. I cannot fire you for it.

In other words, if a person would normally be allowed to purchase a good or service, or be employed somewhere, their status as trans should not change this. (The rights of trans people with respect to prisons and medical care are somewhat outside our current scope, since most people don’t run prisons.)

Yanive, however, interprets the law as meaning that since he is a woman, he is entitled any good, service, job, etc, that would normally be reserved for women. IE, if there are male and female changing rooms, he gets to use the female one. If there is a scholarship for female students, he gets to apply for it. If there are female-only dance parties, he gets to attend. And if a nail salon, spa, or waxing parlor says “women only,” then he still gets to frequent them.

Since the story broke, a lot of people, mostly trans activists, have tried to distance themselves from Yanive, saying he’s not a true trans person or that he’s just a grifter, etc., but there is no fundamentally different logic in Yanive’s demand that ball waxing places wax his female balls and demands that trans athletes be allowed to compete in women’s sports or date lesbians. These trends have been going on for a long time, and trying to distance the community now that they happen to have impacted normal humans is disingenuous.

In all of this cultural back and forth, no one (except maybe the Olympics) has bothered to define what a woman actually is, because doing so offends all of the folks who “feel like a woman” but still have testicles. If Yanive is a woman, legally, under Canadian law, then it is kind of weird to turn around and say, “Oh, yes, but you don’t get to do XYZ that other women get to do.” Let’s imagine for a moment that he was simply born a very ugly girl with malformed genitals, but was otherwise undoubtedly female. Would it be sensible to deny her services simply because she is ugly? No, and few businesses would.

The catch here is that, when it comes to actually waxing testicles, people tend to snap out of it and realize that Yanive is not an ugly woman.

The solution, of course, is to realize that self-ID is nonsense. Just because I self-identify as a fighter pilot doesn’t mean the military is going to let me fly a plane. Just because I self-identify as Napoleon doesn’t mean I get to lead the French army. Just because I self-identify as a Yale student doesn’t mean I get to go to Yale, and just because I think I’m Japanese doesn’t mean I am. If certain statuses mean that I am legally or contractually entitled to do things, (fly a plane, attend a school, live in a country, apply for a females-only scholarship, etc) then there has to be some criterion for inclusion that isn’t just “because I want it.” We all want it, buddy.

There are two potential solutions:

  1. Government stops caring about your gender identity
  2. Female-only spaces/services/jobs/etc go away

I don’t care about your gender identity. I certainly don’t see why the government should care. Should there be separate changing rooms for non-binary? Ambigenders? Demimasculines? No. These terms just describe your personality. As long as your personality isn’t “stabs people,” government shouldn’t care about your personality and certainly shouldn’t be legislating that certain personality types get special treatment.

Government can go back to paying attention to biological sex, with the exception of people who have true intersex disorders (and documentation to prove it). People who have actually had SRS and now look like women (or men) can be allowed to do certain things like use the opposite-sex bathrooms because this is the safest and easiest thing.

The other option is to get rid of female-segregated things. If Yanive gets to identify as a woman with testicles, then so do I. So do you. Any scholarships for girls? We’re all girls. Any jobs open only to women? We’re all women. Female employment? Way up!

The left has spent years breaking down the notion that people have a right to free association. Want to control who comes into your country? Racist. Want to live in a low-crime neighborhood? Racist. Mens’ clubs? Sexist. Firing a gay person? Homophobic. The modern standard is that jobs, housing, universities, neighborhoods, shops, and life generally cannot discriminate against people for immutable characteristics like race, sex, sexual orientation, or disability.

Then the left tries to turn around and re-establish exclusive communities based on exactly those characteristics. It’s an intellectual charade with no underlying consistency other than “because we want it.” Great. Let’s end this charade.

Back Row America, Back Row Bronze Age Europe

Back Row America:

This was a really interesting article–book excerpt–about an upper-class Wallstreet guy who, through his daily walks, begins talking to and photographing the people he basically hadn’t noticed before.

Over the next half hour, she told me her life story. She told me how her mother’s pimp had put her on the streets at twelve. How she had had her first child at thirteen. How she was addicted to heroin. I ended by asking her the question I asked everyone I ­photographed: How do you want to be described? She replied without a pause, “As who I am. A prostitute, a mother of six, and a child of God.”

I spent the next three years following Takeesha and the street family she was a member of—roughly fifty men and women who lived under bridges, in abandoned buildings, in sheds, in pits, in broken-down trucks, on rooftops, or, if they scored enough money, in per-hour motels. What she showed me prompted me to travel to other neighborhoods in cities across America, from Buffalo to New Haven to Cleveland to Selma to El Paso to Amarillo. In each of these places, people have a sense of being left behind and forgotten—or, worse, mocked and stigmatized by the rest of the world as it moves on and up with the GDP.

In many cases, these neighborhoods have literally been left behind by people like me. …

We had compassion for those who got left behind, but thought that our job was to provide them an opportunity (no matter how small) to get where we were. It didn’t occur to us that what we valued wasn’t what everyone else wanted. They were the people who couldn’t or didn’t want to leave their town or their family to get an education at an elite college, the people who cared more about their faith than about science. If we were the front row, they were the back row.

Had I asked people in my hometown why they were still there, I would have received the answer I heard in neighborhoods from Cairo to Amarillo to rural Ohio. They would have looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Because it is my home.”

The book it’s from is Dignity: Seeking Respect in Backrow America.

This article–and the larger book, undoubtedly–touches on a lot of themes I’ve been pondering myself. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t have answers. I’d like answers.

Dignity, as I’ve said before, is one of those principles I am drawn to. I am not sure what can be done for people. Maybe nothing. But I can still treat others with respect, and maybe if we respected each other a little more, we could get our heads out of our collective rear ends and make something better of this country.

Related: Crossing Borders to Afford Insulin:

All told, I bought two cartons of Lantus (5 pens each carton) for $52 each, which is about a year supply for me. I also bought six single Kwikpens of Humalog for $13 dollars each, which is about a six month supply.

My total pharmacy bill that day was $182, and I left Mexico with a year’s supply of one insulin and a 6 month’s supply of another. That same amount of insulin – the exact same, in identical cartridges and boxes with the same graphics and colors and the same words written on them (in Spanish for the Mexican insulin) – would cost me over $3,000 with my American health coverage. Even after adding in a tank and a half of gas, I saved thousands of dollars by buying my life-saving medications in Mexico, instead of the US.

Also related: Mass grave of an extended family probably murdered by invading Corded Ware People–I mean, peacefully interred by migrating pots:

We sequenced the genomes of 15 skeletons from a 5,000-y-old mass grave in Poland associated with the Globular Amphora culture. All individuals had been brutally killed by blows to the head, but buried with great care. Genome-wide analyses demonstrate that this was a large extended family and that the people who buried them knew them well: mothers are buried with their children, and siblings next to each other. From a population genetic viewpoint, the individuals are clearly distinct from neighboring Corded Ware groups because of their lack of steppe-related ancestry. Although the reason for the massacre is unknown, it is possible that it was connected with the expansion of Corded Ware groups, which may have resulted in violent conflict.

Trump, Mueller, and Concerns

We here at EvX try not to dwell too much on the day-to-day of politics, which requires keeping track of too many names and reads a bit too much like tabloid gossip for our comfort, but we are not insensitive to the worries of national governance.

I have maintained since the beginning that there was nothing to this Trump/Russia collusion business. Not being a devote of the news, TV or otherwise, probably helped form this opinion–nothing suggests a sudden change in Russian influence in my daily life. My neighborhood has improved slightly over the past couple of years, which might be an effect of presidential policies (or random chance.)

As we have discussed before, there are many conspiracy theories. Most infamously in my lifetime, belief that a vast, underground “Satanic Daycare conspiracy” was raping children, sacrificing elephants, and flying on broomsticks saw the light of day on mainstream TV in the ’80s and early 90s. This was not just the bread and butter of cheap talk shows, but resulted in actual criminal convictions that sent real people to prison, eventually culminating in a full-scale FBI  and an FBI investigation that turned up exactly nothing, because witchcraft isn’t real. The fact that none of the prosecutors involved were put in prison for gross misconduct remains a serious blot on our nation.

Conspiracy theories arise under a number of circumstances, especially fear and confusion. If the events around you don’t make sense and you can’t explain why they’re happening, then you’re much more likely to conclude that mysterious outside forces are controlling things.

In countries with very little governmental transparency, conspiracy theories run rife–they are a sign that there is something amiss, that the people do not trust the normal operations of government and do not believe that government is operating honestly.

There have always been conspiracy theories, whether about Elvis, aliens, or Kennedy, but these have usually been embraced by people of somewhat less than credible mental stability. The fact that after the 2016 election so many otherwise intellectually normal people embraced the idea that the President of the United States was actually a foreign agent and that a foreign country had managed to “steal” the election is far more troubling. (For what it’s worth, I also thought that people who thought similar things about Obama were wrong–but those people were never given so much credence by the press and upper classes.)

That other countries would like to influence American politics is indisputable. All countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, encourage the US to act in their interest if they at all possess the ability to do so, and we do the same to them. All countries of any size and consequence spy on each other (much of which is just gathering intelligence reports on the state of industries and political unrest) or, if they are very closely allied, they just explicitly share information. Russia spies on us; we spy on them. About fifty other countries also spy on us, and we on them.

There is no reason to single out Russia as the sole national security threat (Ukrainian and Chinese hackers have just as much interest in our secrets;) nor to believe that they are particularly competent at swaying American voters or colluding with politicians–nor is it any more insidious when they do it than when anyone else does it.

The entirety of the “Russiagate” conspiracy was built upon the fact that Trump said a few positive things about Russia during the campaign instead of glibly posturing about shooting down Russian planes in Syria (since when did Congress vote to authorize troop deployments to Syria, anyway?) and the Russians, very sensibly, decided that they liked the guy who wasn’t trying to start a war with them. You would, too, if you were them.

Two people mutually agreeing that getting into a war isn’t in their countries’ best interests isn’t “collusion,” unless you think there is “collusion” going on with every other country we aren’t at war with.  (Quick count: it looks like we are at war in 8 countries–Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia/Kenya, Uganda, and Syria–leaving 187 that we are colluding with.)

The continual demands that Trump believe the “intelligence briefings” (that we Americans conveniently couldn’t see!) that supposedly found Russian hacking or interference in our elections were idiotic from the start–obviously the leaks favored Trump, so he had no interest in denouncing them, no  matter where they came from. Furthermore, we saw back in 2002-3 with the now thoroughly discredited reports that Iraq had WMDs, just how good the government/media are at promoting a completely incorrect narrative based on selective reading of intelligence reports. Anyone who has payed the remotest bit of attention over the past couple of decades should have learned a degree of skepticism by now, but some people seem cursed to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Perhaps they aren’t very bright.

Ordinarily, a conspiracy by itself does very little harm. Sure, a few people might alienate their relatives at Christmas by nattering on about Q-anon, or kill their children by refusing measles shots, but there’s little in the way of widespread damage.

But when members of Congress and the FBI begin believing conspiracies, then they have much more potential to do serious harm.

I have said many times that there are enough laws and the legal (and tax) code is of sufficient complexity that if the police want to charge you with something, they almost inevitably can–everyone jaywalks, after all. We usually trust the police to use this power for good, (catching mafia bosses on money laundering charges, for example) not evil (charging parents with neglect for letting their 9 yr old play outside in pleasant weather).

But with the advent of the never-ending special prosecutor-run investigation (pioneered under Nixon and perfected in full idiocy under Clinton), this power has been harnessed for disturbing political ends. According to Bloomberg, at least 22 of Trump’s family and associates have been investigated since the beginning of his term (not to mention the Trump Foundation, Trump Organization, and Trump himself.) Even if someone is eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, merely being the subject of an investigation is extremely expensive, stressful, and time-consuming.

Most of these investigations are not happening because someone did anything particularly wrong–no more than anyone else in Washington, given the high likelihood of any random person to have committed a crime–but because they were close to Trump, whom Democrats were absolutely convinced was a secret Russian agent hell-bent on destroying America by keeping out illegal immigrants.

And if they weren’t convinced, they were certainly happy to lie to the public in order to use it as cover to interfere with the president.

This is some banana republic level bullshit, folks.

One party leveraging the justice system to target and imprison members of the opposing party and cripple the president’s ability to act should have you concerned, whether you’re on the Right or the Left (don’t think the Right can’t use the same trick back on you).

This is not a good sign.

 

When GDP is a Scam

Look, just… think about this for a moment. How does a group in which 65% are unemployed and can’t speak the language add anything to the economy?

You could do some sleight of hand where a few very productive workers, a random billionaire like Carlos Slim or Steve Jobs, get lumped in with a bunch of people they have nothing to do with on the grounds that they are all “Syrian,” and come up with numbers like this, but that would be a sleight of hand. It’s deceptive, and it’s obviously lumping together completely disparate groups in order to make one group look much better than it is.

How to tell if someone is lying to you with GDP:

  1. Consider splitting the population in two. Say, Germans and non-Germans. Would GDP for one group go down?If yes, then you’re being lied to. Simply “growing” the GDP by drawing a bigger circle on the map and adding up the GDP inside of it doesn’t mean the people inside the circle have more money. It just means you drew a bigger circle.
  2. Is this GDP “growth” entirely due to government spending to deal with the problems brought by the newcomers, like funding schools to teach them German?If yes, then it is not real spending. Everyone who was already in Germany was just taxed to provide service to non-Germans. You could do that without anyone immigrating to Germany.
  3.  

    Does this “growth” translate into a higher standard of living or happiness for the average or median German?

    If not, you are being lied to.

  4.  

    If you could magically replace every one of those migrants with a German of the same age and sex, would GDP go up or down?
    If Up, then these migrants are a bad investment.

  5. If these immigrants are so great for the German economy, why were they so bad for their home economies?

Let’s summarize these varieties of “GDP” abuse: 1. Not looking at Per Capita, 2. “Growth” that doesn’t help the locals, 3. Growth that goes to elites, 4. Opportunity cost, 5. Not making any sense.

GDP is one way to measure the economy, but it isn’t the only way–and it certainly isn’t the only thing that matters.

Let us consider the simplest possible economy:

Joe and Bob are sailors who have been marooned on a desert island. They have plenty of fish to eat and two coconuts, which they use as currency. When Joe wants something from Bob, he pays him one Coconut. When Bob wants something from Joe, he pays him one Coconut.

Bob and Joe are also economists, so they keep track of their local GDP, tallying up every Coconut exchange. After two months, they have a robust GDP of 4,000 Coconuts per month–and then the coconuts sprout. For the next two months, Bob and Joe abandon the Coconut and just do favors for each other. The economy crashes. The island has a GDP of 0 Coconuts–but oddly, Bob and Joe are doing just as well and eating just as much fish as before.

You might be objecting that the Coconut Economy is a bit contrived, but it is relevant to our real world.

Over in our economy, if I hire a maid to vacuum my carpet, this is “economic activity” and it counts toward the GDP–but If I vacuum it myself, it doesn’t count. If I am hired as a nanny to take care of someone else’s children, this is “economic activity,” but if I take care of my own children, it doesn’t count. Even hiring a prostitute is “economic activity” as far as GDP is concerned, but having sex for free is not.

It is easy to see how something like “women entering the workforce” might generate a substantial GDP boost–while not actually changing anything but the location where particular jobs are done. There is no more economic value to vacuuming my carpet or yours. It’s all carpet.

There are plenty of non-economic arguments relevant here. I might be happier hiring someone to vacuum my carpet so I can spend my time on other activities, or I might be happier tidying up my own home to get everything just the way I like it. I might provide more nurturing childcare to my own children, or a professional might be able to invest in expensive toys and games that can be enjoyed by the many children in their care. People may enjoy consensual sex with their spouses more than with prostitutes–or may hate people and just want to visit the occasional prostitute. Etc.

All of these nuances of life are missed in any simple argument about GDP.

Any argument that hinges solely on what immigrants add (or subtract) from GDP is misguided because ultimately, people don’t exist to make economies better–economies exist to make people better.

Would you try to “improve” the lives of the Amish by inviting a bunch of Silicon Valley executives to settle in their area and boost GDP?

Of course not. It wouldn’t even be a meaningful exercise–the Amish are perfectly happy the way they are. Different people want different things in life. Sometimes that’s more money. Sometimes it’s community, free time, health, or nature. The Silicon Valley folks wouldn’t be too happy having to deal with the Amish, either.

About 30 years ago, economists-on-TV and pundits became convinced that the key to the economy was “spending” and therefore we had to convince people to spend more. Tracking things like “how much people spend on Christmas shopping” became an annual theme.

Of course, spending comes at a cost (future saving), and future saving comes at a cost (current consumption).

Here is a good article on why GDP and CPI are Broken:

Imagine China is implementing a mercantilist policy. An American spends cash to buy goods exported from China. The Chinese recycle the money earned from exporting goods to America into buying mortgage backed securities. The American takes out a big mortgage to buy a house, mortgage bought by the Chinese. The American is effectively borrowing from the Chinese in order to fund current consumption. The net result is that America is a net seller of home equity and in return has recieved goods. The price of homes will be pushed up. In the GDP statistics this will actually show up as economic growth (since the cheap Chinese goods will push down the GDP deflator). But in reality, there has been no growth, the U.S. is simply selling off its own wealth and getting poorer.

Of course, this is what is actually happening.

Meanwhile:

The GDP numbers do not include depreciation. So if existing infrastructure is crumbling faster than it gets replaced, GDP might show the country as actually growing while in reality things are falling apart.

If the entire city of Detroit gets destroyed in riots, fires, crime waves, and ethnic cleansing, and is left in ruins, this catastrophe not show up in GDP numbers. In fact, GDP might actually increase since the destruction would spur the creation of new housing (which does show up in the numbers) and the average home price might actually fall (reducing the GDP deflator) due to violence making the neighborhoods unlivable.

GDP for GDP’s sake is burning houses down just so you can rebuild them–or importing foreigners just so you can spend money to teach them to speak your language.

SmirkGate and the Illusion of Morals

Last weekend, (as of when I wrote this,) while the rest of the world landed rockets on the moon, launched revolutions, enjoyed a good soccer match, or whatever it is other people do, Americans lost their shit over a teenager smirking (SMIRKING, I tell you) at a Native American.

This smirking teenager was so shocking to the American conscience that no less a newspaper than the New York Times covered the incident:

They intersected on Friday in an unsettling encounter outside the Lincoln Memorial — a throng of cheering and jeering high school boys, predominantly white and wearing “Make America Great Again” gear, surrounding a Native American elder.

Of course, many pundits have argued that wearing a hat supporting the sitting US president is itself a crime.

Condemnation for the crime of “getting up in yo face and smirking while wearing a hat” was swift. A Disney producer called for the boy to fed, head first, into a woodchipper.

woodchipper
h/t Sarah Palin on Twitter

Calmer voices advocated for merely punching the boy in the face.

About five minutes later, more video footage of the event emerged, and the real story began trickling through the internet–contrary to what the NY Times had reported, the smirking teens had not surrounded a Native American elder. The elder, (Nathan Philips,) had walked up to them, and they, waiting for their bus at the end of a school field trip, had stayed put and kept waiting for their bus.

At this point, some in the media apologized–and others doubled down. Smirking was a crime. The students were racists.

It’s Time to Make it Impossible for Racists to Live Public Lives

WE MUST ELIMINATE SMIRKING RACISTS.

Meanwhile, I came across several other stories last weekend that didn’t elicit nearly so much condemnation:

A 10 yr old boy committed suicide because his classmates were bullying him for being disabled.

Everyone who bullied this little boy absolutely deserves to be beaten and then their parents deserve to be beaten for raising such disgusting little shits, but no one is calling for them to be put into a woodchipper, because the good and thoughtful of America don’t think bullying a disabled child to death is as terrible a crime as smirking at a guy.

Illegal Immigrant Macario Cerda was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating children, at least one of whom was under the age of 14. He has been deported multiple times for violent and predatory behavior, but hey, Trump’s the real bad guy for saying that illegal immigrants aren’t the best immigrants.

I have yet to observe anyone in the media suggesting that we could save the American taxpayers a bundle by feeding Cerda through a woodchipper instead of keeping him in prison. Does he have a punchable face? More like a face that would break your fist if you tried.

These “parents” were arrested for splitting their 14 month old baby boy’s tongue with a pair of scissors, among other horrors. The New York Times will never write an article about them. No one will ever advocate that we should make it impossible for them to ever return to public life once they are released from prison.

Prison inmates in Ohio were stabbed by another prison inmate while they were handcuffed to a table, unable to get away or defend themselves.

I could go on. Criminals do terrible things every day. People raped, tortured, and murdered, even children. True, we have a system in place that tries, (albeit clumsily and at times with sociopathic carelessness,) to punish criminals and remove them from the rest of us, but the high and mighty of our nation seem utterly unmoved by their crimes. They express only confusion–and anger–at the peasant rabble that gets worked up by such meaningless events as “someone murdering your daughter.” Don’t these peasants know that the real crimes are committed by smirking schoolboys? That the real crime is smirking?

The real divide in America today is between people who think it should be illegal to shoot home invaders but legal to put MAGA teens through woodchippers, and everyone else who hasn’t gone completely fucking insane.

Tribalism is a strong drug.

Donna Zuckerberg and Knowledge Production vs. Knowledge Community

800px-Homeric_Greece-en.svgDonna Zuckerberg–that is, Mark Zuckerberg’s less famous sibling–recently published a book titled Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age. This is a curious book–to quote from the summary on Amazon:

A virulent strain of antifeminism is thriving online that treats women’s empowerment as a mortal threat to men and to the integrity of Western civilization. Its proponents cite ancient Greek and Latin texts to support their claims―arguing that they articulate a model of masculinity that sustained generations but is now under siege.

Donna Zuckerberg dives deep into the virtual communities of the far right, where men lament their loss of power and privilege and strategize about how to reclaim them. She finds, mixed in with weightlifting tips and misogynistic vitriol, the words of the Stoics deployed to support an ideal vision of masculine life. On other sites, pickup artists quote Ovid’s Ars Amatoria to justify ignoring women’s boundaries. By appropriating the Classics, these men lend a veneer of intellectual authority and ancient wisdom to their project of patriarchal white supremacy. In defense or retaliation, feminists have also taken up the Classics online, to counter the sanctioning of violence against women.

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“If someone were to put a proposition before men bidding them to choose, after examination, the best customs in the world, each nation would certainly select its own”–Herodotus

Translation: “I read a blog and I didn’t like it.”

So Donna Zuckerberg, a white woman with enough wealth and leisure to study the classics for a living and sister of one of the richest, most powerful men in the world (who also loves the classics so much that he has named his daughters “Maxima,” Latin for “greatest,”* and “August,” after Emperor Augustus,) is complaining that Losers on the Internet are sullying the Classics by quoting Ovid.

This is a problem because White Men on the Internet are Privileged (even when they are poor whites who struggle to get a job or even friends,) while rich white women like Donna are the Oppressed.

*(Maxima is also named after two relatives named “Max,” though if honoring relatives were the only motive, Zuck could have gone with “Maxine,” or named her after a female relative.)

Realistically, these men aren’t a threat to Mrs. Zuckerberg; the aren’t going to rise up and force her back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. They are, however, icky, and Donna obviously doesn’t like them impinging on her turf: “By appropriating the Classics, these men lend a veneer of intellectual authority and ancient wisdom to their project of patriarchal white supremacy.”

Appropriating from whom? What culture owns Ovid and Homer? These books are considered the foundation of all of Western Civilization. Is Heartiste not a part of Western Civilization? I suppose you could argue that Roosh is Iranian/Armenian by blood, (despite being born in the US,) but arguing that Roosh can’t enjoy Ovid because he’s Iranian is, well, stupid.

I understand that Mrs. Zuckerberg doesn’t like pickup blogs, but you can’t appropriate the intellectual and literary foundations of your own culture. This is like accusing a Hindu of appropriating the Bhagavad Gita just because he’s a jerk.

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‘Mask of Agamemnon’, discovered by Schliemann, 1876.
“They sent forth men to battle,
But no such men return;
And home, to claim their welcome,
Come ashes in an urn”  Aeschylus, Agamemnon

The implication of “appropriating” is that Donna thinks the classics belong to some narrow class of people–most likely, academic dilettantes like herself. But as I’ve noted before, Donna Zuckerberg doesn’t own the Classics. Being rich doesn’t give her any more right to quote Plato than anyone else in the entire damn world.

But my complaints aside, I think this nicely illustrates a difficulty found in many academic disciplines:

It’s very difficult to make any new arguments about the Classics. Ovid has been around for a long time. So has Homer. Everything you can say about them has probably been said a thousand times already.

Schliemann managed to up the ante by actually finding Troy, but what’s left to discover? You will never be as great as Schliemann. You will always toil in the shadows of the greats of the past.

But there are rules in academia, most notably, “Publish or perish.” If you want to be a professor or otherwise taken seriously as an academic, you’ve got to publish papers.

What, exactly, are you going to publish on a subject that was thoroughly mined for all new ideas and concepts hundreds of years ago?

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Are we to believe the Egyptians managed to manufacture pigment from calcium copper silicate and use it in these elaborate paintings without being able to see it?

So I see two options:

1. Lie. Just make something  up, like “the ancients couldn’t see blue.” Totally untrue, but people have bought it, hook, line, and sinker.

2. Write things that aren’t new and don’t provide any new insights, but show that you are a member of the “classics community.”

We think of academic disciplines as “producing knowledge,” but it may be more accurate to think of them as “knowledge communities.” to be part of those communities, all you have to do is produce works that show what a good community member you are. People who fit in get friends, mentors, promotions, and opportunities. People who don’t fit in either get pushed out or leave of their own accord. There’s not much new to say about the Classics, but there are plenty of people who enjoy reading the classics and discussing them with others–and that makes a community, and where there’s a community, people will try to protect what is culturally “theirs.” Folks like Roosh and Heartiste, then, are moving in on academic territory.

What counts as being a “good member” of your community depends on the current social norms in that community. If your community is full of people who say things like “The Classics are the foundation for the greatness of Western Civilization,” then aspirant community members will publish things echoing that.

And if your community is full of people who say things like “If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s bullshit,” then you’re going to write things like that.

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Herodotus’s World “After all, no one is stupid enough to prefer war to peace; in peace sons bury their fathers and in war fathers bury their sons.” –Herodotus

Modern academia is not really comfortable with “Dead white males”* (much less “Alive white males,”) nor the idea of Western Civilization as anything particularly special or qualitatively different from other civilizations–which creates a bit of a conflict when your field is literally the semi-symbolic and literary basis of Western Civilization.

*Note: most people who study the classics know that the “Classical World” is really the circum-Mediterranean world, that Herodotus lived in now-Turkey, St. Augustine was born in now-Algeria, Alexander the Great’s empire stretched to India, etc. Whether these men were “white” (or men) is irrelevant to our understanding of the foundations of Western Civilization.

Now, I understand not liking everyone you meet on the internet. There are lots of wrong and terrible people in here. But this is why you get a blog where you can complain to the five people who can stand you about all of the other annoying people on the internet.

There are probably many academic disciplines which could, at this point, be transformed into blogs and tumblrs without much loss.

Mental Slavery

Defaming Prophet Muhammed not free expression: ECHR:

Defaming the Prophet Muhammed “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace” and thus exceeds the permissible limits of freedom of expression, ruled the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday, upholding a lower court decision. …

According to a statement released by the court on Thursday, the Vienna Regional Criminal Court found that these statements implied that Muhammad had pedophilic tendencies, and in February 2011 convicted Mrs. S. for disparaging religious doctrines.

A free man may speak his conscience, at least on his own time. A slave may not.

I have never (that I recall) said anything negative (or positive) about Muhammad. He’s long dead, and I haven’t particularly studied Islam. But it remains a fact agreed upon in Islamic sources that 53-year old Mohammad married his third wife, Aisha, when she was six years old and consummated the marriage well before the legal age of consent in Western countries (most sources say 9 or 10 years old). Aisha herself became an important figure in Islam following Mohammad’s death, and is credited with having narrated 2,210 hadiths on subjects such as inheritance and Mohammad’s personal life–making her, it appears, something of an Islamic legal scholar.

Of course, it was not terribly unusual for girls to be married off at very young ages in the past–the Virgin Mary herself was probably only about 12-14 when she was betrothed, and child marriage is still quite common in much of the Middle East.

Regardless, 1. modern Christians don’t think it’s a good idea to imitate Joseph and marry a 12 year old, and 2. if you tried to pull something like this in the modern US, you would absolutely be branded a “pedophile” and sent to prison.

Note: The European Court of “Human Rights” is merely upholding a ruling under Austrian law–blame should probably laid first at Austria’s feet for convicting this woman in the first place. It has banned not just freedom of speech and conscience, but facts–simply because they are embarrassing.

A Quick Civil War Calculation

It looks like the Civil War cost around 11.5 Billion dollars in order to free 3.9 million people for a cost of about $2,950 per person (not counting the cost of humans dying.)

An average slave in 1809 went for about $300 while land in NC in 1860 was about $6 an acre

It would have been massively cheaper and involved far less suffering to just buy all of the slaves free and give them each 40 acres and a mule in NC instead of fighting a war.

But people would rather spend a bunch of money getting men on their own side killed in battle than give in to “those bastards on the other side.”

Cathedral Round-Up: the Harvard Discrimination Lawsuit

It has been an open secret for quite some time (at least since my childhood) that prestigious colleges like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford discriminate against Asian applicants for the simple reason that they “score too high” and “if we took all of the qualified Asian applicants, we wouldn’t have room for other minorities.” (As far as I know, Caltech is the only famous school that does’t discriminate.)

As usual, the Asians just sucked it up and worked harder, but it only seemed like a mater of time before the Tiger Moms decided that “enough is enough”–hence the lawsuit.

Harvard’s official excuse is “Asians are boring,” which is utter bullshit; some of the most interesting people I know are Asian. From the NYT:

Harvard has testified that race, when considered in admissions, can only help, not hurt, a student’s chances of getting in.

But from The Economist:

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This graph is a little tricky to understand. It shows the percent of each race’s applicants admitted to Harvard, sorted by academic ranking. So 58% of black applicants with the highest academic ranking–folks with perfect SATs and GPAs–were admitted, while only 12% of Asian applicants with identical SATs and GPAs were admitted. (For some reason, Harvard takes some percentage of students who aren’t really academically stellar, even though it receives plenty of top-tier applications.)

Vox managed to admit how much highly prestigious colleges hate Asians: they get 140 points deducted from their SATs, while Hispanics received a 130 point bonus and blacks a 310 point bonus. (Note, old data but the situation hasn’t changed much.)

From The Guardian: 

Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than other races on traits like likability, kindness and “positive personality”.

We need a word for this. I’m calling it “optimist privilege.” It’s time to stop optimists from oppressing the pessimists.

The pessimists are more likely than optimists to be correct, anyway.

Asian-Americans currently comprise 19% of admitted students at Harvard; if evaluated fairly, based on extra-curriculars + academics, they’d be 29%, and if admitted on pure academic merit, they’d be 43%. (Unsurprisingly, this is exactly the percent that Caltech, which does take students on merit, accepts.)

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Source: Timofey Pnin

Timofey Pnin on Twitter calculates an even higher Asian acceptance rate if Harvard picked only from its top academic performers–51.7%

Now, many people–such as former defender of liberty, the ACLU–believe that ending Affirmative Action at Harvard would “primarily benefit white students” (the horror! We wouldn’t want to accidentally help white people in the process of being fair to Asians,) but by Timofey Pnin’s data, white admission rates would actually fall by 6%.

Unfortunately for Harvard, ending Affirmative Action would drop their black and Hispanic shares to nearly invisible 0.9% and 2.7%, respectively. Unfortunately, admissions, as currently practiced is a zero-sum game: making room for more Asians means admitting fewer of some other group.

Make no mistake, while the lawsuit is aimed explicitly at Harvard, all of the top schools do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were community colleges discriminating against Asians.

It’s easy to imagine a scenario where colleges are caught between a ruling that they have to take Asians in proportion to their academic rankings and a ruling that they have to take blacks and Hispanics in proportion to their population demographics.

(Of course, the biggest affirmative action boost is given to legacies , 33.6% of whom Harvard admits, and jocks [86% acceptance rate for “recruited athletes”].)

To those confused about why Harvard would bother taking anyone who isn’t in the top decile of academic performance–their bottom decile students are rather mediocre–the answer is that Harvard goal isn’t to educate the smartest kids in the nation. (That’s Caltech’s goal.) Harvard’s goal is to educate the future leaders of America, and those future leaders aren’t 50% Asian. (Harvard probably likes to flatter itself that it is enhancing those future leaders, but mostly it is attaching its brand name to successful people in order to get free advertising to boost its prestige, rather like companies offering endorsement deals to racecar drivers. It’s not Verizon that made Will Power win the Indianapolis 500, after all–awesome name, btw. Not only does Will have will power, he’s got wheel power. *badum tish*)

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source Unsilenced Science

Even if Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics score abysmally on the SAT and ACT, some of them will go on to be major leaders, movers and shakers. (Though trends for Native Americans and Pacific Islanders are rather worrying.) Asians, meanwhile, continue to blow everyone else out of the water (there may be some merit to the argument that test scores should be adjusted to account for test prep, which Asians invest in heavily.)

I don’t know how the case will turn out. Perhaps the courts will realize the issue with colleges having to take applicants based on actual qualifications–or perhaps they will decide that blatant discrimination by an institution that receives tons of public funding is a violation of the 14th amendment and the Civil Rights Act.

Personally, I don’t care whether Harvard or Yale continues educating the “future leaders of America and the World,” but I do feel loyal to my Asian friends and desire that they be treated fairly and justly. In general, I think college admissions should be based entirely on academic merit, as any other standards simply skew the system toward those most inclined to cheat and game the system–and the system, as it stands, puts horrible and worthless pressure on high-achieving highschool students while delivering them very little in return.