Democracy in action

August 6, 2009

This may be the best summary of the workings of democracy that I have read in a long time:

So in summary – Obama's ever increasing subsidy programs ala Cash For Hairdryers and the upcoming Cash For Ratting Out Nonconformists will have a phantom impact of making it seem things are better while all these temporal redistribution mechanisms do is take from the future in order to satisfy the US consumer in the here and now. And the fact that nothing at all is being fixed in the economy, quite the contrary, with every day, America gets tens of billions of dollars deeper into the debt black hole, seems perfectly agreeable to all those in power.


August 6, 2009

From Mr Moldbug:

For instance, during the Seven Years' War, Frederick the Great (fighting for Prussia's life against a coalition of all the surrounding countries) debased the currency. Of course, he also restored it within a year after the war. That's because he was a king, not a professor. But I digress.

Review of "Understanding Human History" by Michael Hart

August 5, 2009

This book is basically Jared Diamond meets The Bell Curve.  Hart's thesis is that we can't really understand human history unless we allow for human biodiversity.  The result is an intellectual bitch-slap to the mainstream PC consensus (I understand why many people find this argument troubling, but troubling does not equate with untrue, let's accept the obvious truth and deal with it).

The first part of the book basically summarizes differences in average IQ across racial groups.  Hart correctly points out that very few people have truly accepted evolution, most are still creationists of some sort, including those "who say (and think) that they accept the theory of evolution, but who in fact shrink from accepting the implications of the theory.  Among the unwelcome implications are: 1) Human beings are animals . . . 2) Evolution is a completely amoral process.  3) A person's physical capabilities and limitations are strongly influenced by his genes.  4) A person's mental attributes (i.e., his individual abilities and proclivities) are also influenced by his genes – not rigidly determined, but strongly influenced . . . 5) The observed behavioral differences between the sexes are strongly influenced by our genes . . . 6) Whenever two populations within a species are reproductively isolated, they will diverge from each other genetically . . . 7) The process of evolution did not stop with the emergence of Homo sapiens . . . 8) There is no reason to suppose that the visible differences we see between the regional variations of human beings are the only differences that exist between them.  On the contrary, it would be very surprising if that were the case."

Hart then gives us tons and tons of data and observation to support the point that average IQ varies across racial groups (he traces these groups to different migrations out of Africa).  Hart spends some time discussing the incredible success of the speakers of proto-Indo-European.

Then he gets into scientific and cultural advances.  The dominance of northern Europeans is hard to argue with.  Here some of Jared Diamond's arguments are certainly valid (Diamond believes that intelligence explains nothing (in fact, to Diamond, we're all of equal intelligence, except for people living in the New Guinea highlands, who are smarter than all of us) and that geography and the presence of plants and animals that can be domesticated explains all of human history).  Hart points to several problems with this thesis, all of which can be better explained by introduced human intelligence as another variable in the equation.  For example, according to Diamond's thesis sub-Saharan Africa should have been farther along (in terms of development) than South America immediately prior to Columbus's discovery.  Instead the opposite was the case (by a lot).  IQ differences in the populations could explain this discrepancy.  (The sub-Saharan Africans hadn't even settled Madagascar which was 250 miles off their coast; instead, the island was settled by people coming from Indonesia – over 3000 miles away).

Hart does not put all his eggs in the IQ basket. He is only suggesting that leaving IQ out of the mix results in obviously incorrect answers.

I think this gives you a taste of his arguments, but the book is worth reading for the incredible scope and interesting analysis.  You get a short summary of all of human history, which is quite well-written.  The discussion on why Europe advanced much faster than China (where average IQ was probably higher) is also very interesting and relies in part on arguments like Diamond's.

The only omission, in my opinion, was some mention of standard deviations.  Let's say one human group had an average IQ of 85 and another had an average IQ of 100.  Do we expect standard deviations of IQ to be proportional across all these populations?  I suppose so, if it's truly a bell curve, but do we know that this is true?  Either way, what type of IQ is necessary for an Aristotle or a Newton?  Is genius all that matters, or must genius sprout in a place that has other intelligent people (above some IQ threshold)?  Some analysis of this would help fill in some gaps.

Fed and inflation

August 4, 2009

Check out this chart – and note the red point.  Then read this.

People say we need the Fed to preserve the value of the dollar, when in reality, the Fed has destroyed the value of the dollar.  If that chart doesn't show that the Fed has failed, it's unclear what failure would look like.

Review of "Complete Verse" by Rudyard Kipling

August 4, 2009

I can’t really review all of Kipling’s poems, all I’ll do is link to ones that I particularly liked, for whatever reason.

To The Unknown Goddess
The Bretrothed
Kitchener’s School
Natural Theology
The Bonfires
A Dead Statesman
(scroll down)
The Married Man
“A Servant When He Reigneth”
MacDonough’s Song
“The Power of the Dog”
A Preface
We and They
The Gods of the Copybook Headings

This is your government on drugs

August 4, 2009

When our absurd, dystopian end comes, will we even recognize it?  I'd say this is a sign it's nigh.

Review of "Framley Parsonage" by Anthony Trollope

August 3, 2009

A summary is here and you can find the book here or here.

Of all the Trollope novels I've read so far, this one was more preoccupied with money than any others.  Our hero, Mark Robarts makes the mistake of signing a bill for delivery of 400 pounds in three months, in order to help his friend (the friend claims that our hero will not have to pay anything).  Of course the friend doesn't pay and our hero is put in dire straits.  Trollope's views of borrowing are very old-fashioned (but not out of date): "Money–how very pleasantly those bankers managed these things. Pay it! No; no one will be so unreasonable as to expect you to do that!"

Debt is incurred because our hero stepped outside of his place – place for Trollope is always important:

Mark Robarts's mistake had been mainly this,—he had thought to touch pitch and not to be defiled. He, looking out from his pleasant parsonage into the pleasant upper ranks of the world around him, had seen that men and things in those quarters were very engaging. His own parsonage, with his sweet wife, were exceedingly dear to him, and Lady Lufton's affectionate friendship had its value; but were not these things rather dull for one who had lived in the best sets at Harrow and Oxford;—unless, indeed, he could supplement them with some occasional bursts of more lively life? Cakes and ale were as pleasant to his palate as to the palates of those with whom he had formerly lived at college. He had the same eye to look at a horse, and the same heart to make him go across a country, as they. And then, too, he found that men liked him,—men and women also; men and women who were high in worldly standing. His ass's ears were tickled, and he learned to fancy that he was intended by nature for the society of high people. It seemed as though he were following his appointed course in meeting men and women of the world at the houses of the fashionable and the rich. He was not the first clergyman that had so lived and had so prospered. Yes, clergymen had so lived, and had done their duties in their sphere of life altogether to the satisfaction of their countrymen—and of their sovereigns. Thus Mark Robarts had determined that he would touch pitch, and escape defilement if that were possible. With what result those who have read so far will have perceived.

Besides the money angle, our main characters that fall in love (Lord Lufton and Miss Robarts – Mark's sister) are a bit more flawed than usual heros (he is a bit profligate and she is a bit less attractive).  Also, this novel is more part of a series than his other novels I've read.  That is, this one relies more on characters from other, previous novels in the series.

Again we see the best quality non-nobles pulled into the nobility.  In this book, Dr Thorne and Miss Robarts.  This theme runs through a lot of Trollope's work.

Finally, I must say that I liked Lady Lufton very much.  She eventually came across very sympathetically, and I sympathize with this:

She liked cheerful, quiet, well-to-do people, who loved their Church, their country, and their Queen, and who were not too anxious to make a noise in the world. She desired that all the farmers round her should be able to pay their rents without trouble, that all the old women should have warm flannel petticoats, that the working men should be saved from rheumatism by healthy food and dry houses, that they should all be obedient to their pastors and masters—temporal as well as spiritual. That was her idea of loving her country. She desired also that the copses should be full of pheasants, the stubble-field of partridges, and the gorse covers of foxes; in that way, also, she loved her country.

Ok, I lied, one more quote:

To which one of [the people repossessing our hero's possesssions] added a remark that, "business is business." This statement I am not prepared to contradict, but I would recommend all men in choosing a profession to avoid any that may require an apology at every turn; either an apology or else a somewhat violent assertion of right.