Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Happy 90th birthday to Thomas Sowell!

Here are some thought-provoking quotes by the celebrated economist and writer Thomas Sowell, who turns 90 today.

The capacity to grasp and manipulate complex ideas is enough to define intellect but not enough to encompass intelligence, which involves combining intellect with judgment and care in selecting relevant explanatory factors and in establishing empirical tests of any theory that emerges. Intelligence minus judgment equals intellect. Wisdom is the rarest quality of all — the ability to combine intellect, knowledge, experience, and judgment in a way to produce a coherent understanding.... Wisdom requires self-discipline and an understanding of the realities of the world, including the limitations of one’s own experience and of reason itself. The opposite of intellect is dullness or slowness, but the opposite of wisdom is foolishness, which is far more dangerous.
Intellectuals and Society (pg. 2)

Some things are believed because they are demonstrably true. But many other things are believed because they are consistent with a widely held vision of the world — and this vision is accepted as a substitute for facts. Subjecting beliefs to the test of hard facts is especially important when it comes to economic beliefs because economic realities are inescapable limitations on millions of people's lives, so that policies based on fallacies can be devastating in their impacts. Conversely, seeing through those fallacies can open up many unsuspected opportunities for a better life for millions of people.…

Fallacies are not simply crazy ideas. They are usually both plausible and logical — but with something missing. Their plausibility gains them political support. Only after that political support is strong enough to cause fallacious ideas to become government policies and programs are the missing or ignored factors likely to lead to "unintended consequences," a phrase often heard in the wake of economic or social policy disasters. Another phrase often heard in the wake of these disasters is, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." That is why it pays to look deeper into things that look good on the surface at the moment.
Economic Facts and Fallacies (pg. vii, 1)

The fact that so many successful politicians are such shameless liars is not only a reflection on them, it is also a reflection on us. When the people want the impossible, only liars can satisfy them, and only in the short run.
May 22, 2012 article

How do you tell morality from sanctimoniousness? For one thing, morality is hard and sanctimoniousness is easy.... Morality means being hard on yourself. Sanctimoniousness means being easy on yourself — and hard on others....

Sometimes we can make a moral judgement about behavior, without being able to make a moral judgement about individual merit. I can say that drinking yourself into the gutter is not moral behavior. But it so happens that my body has a low tolerance for alcohol. It takes less alcohol to make me sick than it would take to make me drunk. Nature has made it almost impossible for me to become an alcoholic, without any moral virtue on my part. So, when I walk past a drunk lying in the gutter, I have no basis for being sanctimonious. How do I know that, if my body's tolerance for alcohol were greater, I might be lying there in the gutter and he might be walking past me under his own power?

Morally, it is still wrong to drink yourself into the gutter, no matter who does it. But this is one of many areas in which those who behave better may do so because of fortunate circumstances, which they did not create. They may be justified in saying, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." What they are not justified in doing is bending the rules to favor those whose behavior is a threat to themselves and society. It is right to try to help others raise themselves to a higher standard, but wrong to bring the standard down to where they are.
— "Morality vs. Sanctimoniousness" (speech)

After my 85th birthday ... I looked back over my life and was surprised to discover in how many different ways I had been lucky, in addition to some other ways in which I was unlucky.

Among the things I did not know at the time was that I was adopted as an infant into a family with four adults, in which I was the only child.

All sorts of research since then has shown how the amount of attention and interactions with adults a child gets has a lot to do with the way the child develops....

It was decades later, when I had a son of my own, that I asked one of the surviving members of the family how old I was when I first started to walk. She said, “Oh, Tommy, nobody knows when you could walk. Somebody was always carrying you.” ...

Although I was raised by people with very little education, they were people who wanted me to get an education. They praised my every little accomplishment when I was very young, and I was taught to read by the time I was four years old, taught by someone with only a few years of schooling herself.

Years later, when I was promoted to the seventh grade, I was surprised by what a commotion it caused. Then I was told: “You have now gone further than any of us.”
July 8, 2015 article

(Photo of Sowell in 2018 from the Hoover Institution/YouTube via National Review.)

Carl Reiner has died at 98

The New York Times reports:

Carl Reiner, who as performer, writer and director earned a place in comedy history several times over, died Monday night at home in Beverly Hills. He was 98.…

Mr. Reiner first attracted national attention in 1950 as Sid Caesar’s multitalented second banana on the television variety show “Your Show of Shows,” for which he was also a writer. A decade later he created “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” one of the most celebrated situation comedies in television history, and teamed with Mel Brooks on the hugely successful “2000 Year Old Man” records.

His novel “Enter Laughing” became both a hit Broadway play and the first of many movies he would direct; among the others were four of Steve Martin’s early starring vehicles....

In his performances with Mr. Brooks and before that with Mr. Caesar, Mr. Reiner specialized in portraying the voice of sanity, a calm presence in a chaotic universe. But despite his claim to the contrary, he was never “just the straight man.”

“He was a comedian himself, and he truly understood and still understands comedy,” Mr. Caesar said of Mr. Reiner in his book “Caesar’s Hours” (2003), written with Eddy Friedfeld. “Most people still don’t realize the importance of a straight man in comedy, or how difficult that role is. Carl had to make his timing my timing.” ...

He is survived by his sons, Rob, known for directing “When Harry Met Sally,” “A Few Good Men,” “This Is Spinal Tap” and numerous other films and for his role as Archie Bunker’s son-in-law on the groundbreaking sitcom “All in the Family” ...

Mr. Reiner’s first major box-office success as a director was “Oh, God!” (1977), starring George Burns as a very down-to-earth deity. Two years later he teamed with Steve Martin, then at the height of his fame as a comedian, for what proved to be a mutually rewarding collaboration.

Mr. Reiner first directed Mr. Martin in “The Jerk” (1979), a film largely inspired by Mr. Martin’s manic stand-up act. The critical response was lukewarm, but the movie was a box-office smash and now often shows up on lists of the best American comedies.

“The Jerk,” “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982), “The Man With Two Brains” (1983) and “All of Me” (1984) defined Mr. Martin’s onscreen persona as a lovable goofball and made him a movie star. They also established Mr. Reiner as an imaginative director — especially “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” a black-and-white spoof of film noir set in the 1940s, in which he integrated vintage clips featuring actors like Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck into the action....

Mr. Reiner wrote a number of books in addition to “Enter Laughing,” including novels, children’s books and several memoirs, among them “My Anecdotal Life” (2003), “I Remember Me” (2013) and “Too Busy to Die” (2017).

In 2017 he was prominently featured in “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” a documentary about people who remained active into their 90s....

Toward the end of “I Remember Me,” Mr. Reiner said a friend of his had recently asked if he had thought about retiring. Noting that his role on “Hot in Cleveland” gave him “the opportunity to kiss Betty White — thrice — and on the lips,” he offered a succinct response:

“Retire? I may be old, but I am not crazy!”

Here's a scene with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in The Jerk, a great comedy:

Jerry Seinfeld on Carl Reiner:
His comedy energy was one of pure joyfulness. It’s an unusual quality in our world and I have always tried to emulate him that way.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Why speaking the truth is less dangerous than staying silent, according to Jordan Peterson

Peterson said in 2017:

Don't underestimate the power of truth. There's nothing more powerful. Now, in order to speak what you might regard as truth, you have to let go of the outcome. You have to think: all right, I'm going to say what I think — stupid as I am, biased as I am, ignorant as I am — I'm going to state what I think as clearly as I can. And I'm going to live with the consequences.…

Nothing brings a better world into being than the stated truth.

Now, you might have to pay a price for that, but … you're going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do — and everything you don't do. You don't get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you're going to take — that's it. So if you're going to stand up for something, stand up for your truth.

It'll shape you, because people will respond and object, and tell you why you're a biased moron and why you're ignorant. And then if you listen to them, you'll be just that much less like that the next time you say something. And if you do that for 5 years, you'll be so damn tough and articulate and able to communicate and withstand pressure, that you won't even recognize yourself. And then you'll be a force to contend with.…

It is not safe to speak, but it is even less safe not to speak. … You'll just be a miserable worm at the end of about 20 years of that. No self respect, no power, no ability to voice your opinions, nothing left but resentment, because everyone's against you, because of course you've never stood up for yourself.…

Say what you think carefully. Pay attention to your words.… There'll be ups and downs, and there'll be pushback, and it'll be controversy, and all of that. It doesn't matter. Wake up! Tell the truth — or at least don't lie. That's a start.…

Don't be thinking you're alone. It's just that people … are afraid to talk or they don't know what to say.… The enemy is a cloud. They're a cloud of gnats. They're only courageous in groups. They're only courageous in mobs. If you stand your ground and don't apologize and articulate things properly, they'll disperse around you like they're not even there. So most of it's illusion.

What does it mean for "white actors" not to "voice non-white characters" on The Simpsons?

“‘The Simpsons’ will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters,” according to a statement by the producers, who don't seem to have elaborated on that in public. (Several news articles all quote the same sentence and nothing more.)

David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy responds:

This raises so many questions. Is Hank Azaria–who is Sephardic and thus Hispanic under federal law–white? Is it still okay for Dan Castellaneta, a Gentile, to voice Krusty, a Jewish clown, or does he have to give the part to Azaria? And what's up with a grown woman voicing Bart?

Monday, June 22, 2020

What's really happening in Seattle's "CHAZ" or "CHOP"?

On June 8, Seattle police frantically loaded what they could from the East Precinct into trucks and cars. Within hours, they boarded up and abandoned the station. That night, left-wing protesters from Black Lives Matter and Antifa declared ownership of the six-block neighborhood in the middle of the Pacific Northwest’s largest city. They named their new territory the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” or CHAZ. No laws or rules applied here except for one: “No cops allowed.”

Andy Ngo reports on his "five undercover days and nights in the zone":
I witnessed a continuing experiment in anarchy, chaos and brute-force criminality....

On Saturday morning, a shooting erupted that left at least one person dead and another injured near a border checkpoint. Police were reportedly met with resistance when they tried to get to the victims, who apparently were then taken in private cars to the hospital....

Police Chief Carmen Best has stated that police response times to 911 calls in the surrounding area have “more than tripled” because they are down a station.

“Emergency calls, which often means somebody’s being assaulted, sometimes it’s a rape, sometimes it’s a robbery, but something bad is happening if it’s a top priority call, and we’re not able to get there,” she has said....

CHAZ occupants, ranging from several hundred to 10,000 depending on the day, with many openly armed, control all of the Capitol Hill neighborhood near downtown. The neighborhood is the heart of Seattle’s gay and counter-culture district, and is densely filled with businesses and apartment buildings. CHAZ now claims all of it....

In Seattle, as soon as police evacuated from the station nearly two weeks ago, masked protesters stole city property — barricades, fencing and more — to create makeshift barriers. These barriers became the official border checkpoints in and out of CHAZ. They were later fortified with additional layers of security: more blockades and 24-hour guards. A large team of volunteers assembled to designate themselves “security” for CHAZ. Many of them wear patches signaling they’re part of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club, a far-left militia-type organization named after the radical abolitionist....

Despite the group’s link to violent extremism, its armed members were celebrated in the CHAZ for “protecting” the new denizens. The head of CHAZ’s security is a short female named “Creature.” She and the rest of her team communicate with walkie-talkie devices and earpieces. Some of them openly carry rifles, handguns, batons or knives... Signs posted all over their base declares: “NO PHOTOS. NO VIDEOS.” ...

Lacking agreed-upon leadership, those who have naturally risen to the top have done so with force or intimidation. For example, rapper Raz Simone, real name Solomon Simone, patrols CHAZ on some nights with an armed entourage. Simone, originally from Georgia, has an arrest record for child cruelty and other charges. He usually conducts his patrols carrying a long semi-auto rifle and sidearm....

Those unfortunate enough to have homes or businesses within CHAZ — an estimated 30,000 residents — have no say over their new overlords. Residents have discreetly voiced their concerns to local media. Gunshots and “screams of terror” at night have been reported. A resident of an apartment building came out twice to ask protesters to leave the alley where the entrance is. They brushed him off.

Every business and property inside CHAZ has been vandalized with graffiti. Most messages say some variation of “Black Lives Matter” or “George Floyd,” but other messages call for the murder of police. Most businesses are boarded up. “ACAB” — all cops are bastards, an Antifa slogan — is written over them.

Businesses outside CHAZ are also suffering. Last week, the Trader Joe’s in Capitol Hill announced it was closing immediately and indefinitely because of “safety and security concerns.” Then last Sunday night, around 100 angry protesters sprinted toward a nearby auto repair shop to “rescue” a comrade who had been detained. All it took to sic the mob on the business was one man yelling into a microphone inside CHAZ. According to the police report, the store’s owner, John McDermott, stopped Richard Hanks after he allegedly broke into the business, stole property and tried to start a fire. The owner and his son said they called police “multiple times” but cops and firefighters never responded....

It is difficult to decipher what CHAZ occupants want. Each faction, whether liberal, Marxist or anarchist, has their own agenda. But one online manifesto posted on Medium demands no less than the abolishment of the criminal justice system....

UPDATE: CHOP gets the chop.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Is support for free speech correlated with intelligence?

3 studies on that question all point to the answer: yes!

Here's excerpt from that article in Heterodox Academy (an organization founded by Jonathan Haidt):

we again replicated the positive relationship between cognitive ability and supporting freedom of speech for all groups across the ideological spectrum.

Moreover, ... we found evidence that higher levels of Intellectual Humility could explain the relationship between cognitive ability and free speech support. In other words, those with higher cognitive ability might support principles of free speech because of their greater independence of intellect and ego, openness to revise their viewpoints, respect for others’ viewpoints, and lack of intellectual overconfidence.

The series of studies suggest that cognitive ability is related to support for freedom of speech for groups across the ideological spectrum. These results do not mean that people with higher cognitive abilities are free speech absolutists.... The results do suggest, however, that individuals with higher cognitive ability are more appreciative of the free flow of divergent ideas by groups at various places on the ideological spectrum ... even when these groups voice ideas that they don’t like.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Should we have been told not to kiss or have sex?

"Couples should wear face masks during sex," according to a study:

A new study from researchers at Harvard University says that hooking up carries some risk for transmitting COVID-19 from one partner to the other and recommends — among other practices — wearing a face mask while doin’ it.

The research … ranked frisky situations based on how likely it is to catch coronavirus while in the act. Researchers recommend wearing a mask for the riskiest sexual scenario: sex with people other than those with whom one is quarantined.…

The study also mentions that having sex with people who are together in quarantine is safer, but there is still a risk. For instance, if one partner goes outside to run an errand and is exposed to the virus, they can transmit it to the other. Even if that person is ultimately an asymptomatic carrier, they can still infect the other.

The safest approach to sexual activity, according to the researchers, is not having any. Abstinence, they say, is “low risk for infection, though not feasible for many.”
Wait, why isn't it "feasible" to stop having sex for a while if that will save lives? Let's face it: if the authorities really wanted to give us guidance on how to reduce the spread of Covid, they would've been telling us since March not to kiss or have sex at all, with anyone, even your spouse. I mean, we’ve been hearing for months about how the virus is spread through droplets, and kissing and/or having sex means exchanging a lot of droplets with someone. You can’t say it’s a lost cause to avoid that with your spouse, because that ignores the idea of “viral dose”: it isn’t a binary question of whether you are or aren’t exposed to a certain person. It’s a matter of degree, so the more you’re exposed to someone’s droplets the more your risk increases. (That's a Facebook link with an excerpt from a New York Times article; here's the NYT link.)

The authorities haven't done that because they know it would’ve led to a backlash: people would’ve mocked it and rebelled against it. People would’ve seen it as outrageous to be told they shouldn’t kiss — yet somehow it’s not outrageous for people to lose their jobs, their businesses, their livelihoods, etc.


(Photo by Brieu Saffré.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Why your focus in online posting or voting doesn't need to reflect your priorities

One of the mistakes people make in approaching a site like Facebook is to tell someone: "You're posting more about X than Y, so you obviously care more about X than Y."

A good response would be: "No, I care about making Facebook feeds better, and I see that Y is getting 10 times as much attention as X, so I'm posting more about X to improve the overall balance."

That could be rational even if I care twice as much about Y as I do about X. That's thinking more about the site as a whole than how to signal what I care about.

You can also apply this idea to voting.

For instance, let's say reducing cruelty to animals ranks #20 on my list of political goals. But maybe I think almost no other voters are going to consider that issue at all when they cast their votes. In order to correct the overall neglect of that issue, I could rationally make the question of which candidate will be best for animals the #1 factor in how I cast my vote. That makes it sound like I think animal issues are more important than any other issues, but what it really means is that I'm thinking about the whole democratic process instead of, again, how to signal what I care about.


(Photo by Paul Sableman.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

About whataboutism…

There's a subtle but important distinction between "whataboutism" and legitimate criticism of bias.

For example, if you're a Trump supporter and your reflexive response to any unfavorable news about Trump is to bring up something Obama did long ago, with the goal of distracting from a current issue about Trump, that's "whataboutism." That's bad.

If you're not trying to distract from the current news and you're open to criticism of Trump, but you merely suggest that the media wouldn't have been so negative about something similar when done by Obama, that's a legitimate criticism of bias. That isn't "whataboutism," because you're not being dismissive of anything important. So that's OK.