Monday, 29 June 2015

Same-Sex Marriage 4, The Economy 5

It seems the Supremes have ruled 5-4 that it is no longer legal for individual States to make same-sex marriage illegal. The contention was between legal consistency across the Federation and the right of States to set their own laws. There were only thirteen hold-outs, which made the consistency argument easy. Had there been only three which allowed gay marriage, the consistency argument would have gone the other way.

Everyone pretended the argument was about “human rights” or “equal rights” for people wanting to marry someone of the same sex. That it was about Good Liberals vs Bad Religious Fundamentalists. Some, of course, see it as a sign of the continuing moral and political degeneracy of the USA. Others that the USA is gradually becoming a Better Place. This is all self-obsessed twaddle by the special interest groups.

The acutest comment about same-sex marriage was made several years ago. It was to the effect that, since the last remaining tax concession for marriage is in inheritance, and the changes in Family Law had turned marriage into a minefield of responsibilities-without-rights for men, and rights-without-responsibilities for women, marriage has no special status, is valueless or worse, and extending it to all comers was not sending any moral or social signal of approval. In other words: the minorities could have it, because it wasn’t worth having anymore. (I’m going to pass over Justice Anthony N Kennedy's tacky pro-marriage sentiments. That passage is tactical PR of the highest order, a sugar-coating to help the pill go down.)

The religious people were upset because they saw this as a sign that their State had abandoned them. Well, duh! We’re running an economy here: we have taxes to collect, workforces to populate, and the appearance of hunky-doriness to maintain. The Rainbow People got marriage because the economy doesn’t care who anyone sleeps with, or what ceremonies and legal relationships they want to enter into, or even how many there are in the bed, as long as they show up to work on time and spend their salary, pay their taxes and don’t interrupt the flow of goods and services throughout the economy. I tend to agree. Personally, I don’t care who you have sex with, or where and when you go to shul, as long as you behave in public with decorum, consideration, take your share of the tax burden and don’t want Government hand-outs for your activities. You can be as diverse as you like, as long as you stop making noise when I need to go to sleep. (A requirement that has everything to do with my participation in the economy, and nothing to do with my participation in society.)

The transition from a mono-cultural society to a multi-cultural economy is difficult. People are still struggling with it, because they don’t understand nature of the transition. Governments started to run economies rather than societies back in the 1980’s, but since the economies were in largely mono-cultural societies, nobody really noticed. Then those governments started to import large numbers of immigrants to service the economy. “Diversity” was the social disguise for the economic reasons.

Only after a while does it become clear that Diversity encourages the formation of mono-cultural societies within the multi-cultural economy. As long as there is no discrimination in the economy (because it’s participation in the economy that now matters), there can be all the discrimination and segregation within the society that we want. It cannot be imposed by the State, because the State is now in charge of the economy, but it can be imposed by the various ethnic and cultural groups. It’s not easy to cross the borders between the groups, and it’s almost impossible to make it into the political, economic and artistic elites unless you had the right background or the right luck. So a multi-cultural economy is not a society with shared values and culture. It’s just a bunch of different people who happen to live next to each other.

This is exactly why the SJW’s on the left and right are hopping up and down and screaming. They see that the Government has withdrawn from legislating and running society. SJW’s and tradcons want to legislate society: they want to tell you to do this and don’t do that. Western Governments are not in that job anymore.

The Supremes didn’t vote 5-4 for same-sex marriage. They voted 5-4 for the economy over society.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Girls Communing With Smartphones

There are so many things I could say about these images. Mostly, however, I love the colours and the light. Sunday morning Soho. Women looking communing with their smartphones is one of the new sights and indeed iconographic images of our time. I don't know what it means. But these strike me as images of devotional attention.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Diversity As Industrial Sabotage

A lot of SJW’s and PC columnists are making a noise about the fact that women are “under-represented” in the big tech companies. Those companies are making pledges about getting Women Into Tech. Oddly, there are less women graduating in Computer Science now than there were twenty years ago, which probably says something about the lack of fortitude of today’s women compared to their older cousins, but don’t let that stop anyone.

Once a company is known as a diversity quota-house, the really good people don’t apply to work there, and the really good people who do work there, leave. I’m not talking about hacks like me, I mean actually talented people who could make a huge difference to the products, processes and profits of an organisation. Those people are jealous of their time and talent, and they are focussed on developing and using it. How else did they get to be good in the first place? They do not want to deal with working for insecure managers, or with team members who can’t haul the load.

If you hired someone who was good at the job and also happened to be (enter Diverse parameters here), then you didn’t make a quota-hire. You just hired a good person who happens to be (enter Diverse parameters here). Your new hire won't cause problems with the non-Diverses because they have talent and they are a professional, and want to be accepted as that. If the non-Diverses start to make comments, you can indulge in some old-fashioned shaming and tell them to behave like professionals.

The Diversity Illusion is that there will always be enough acceptable quota-hires when you need them. This is obviously wrong. Since a quota-hire is someone you hired over a better non-quota candidate so that you could meet your quotas, quota-hires are by definition less capable. (Let me repeat, Diverse candidates who have the required talent aren't quota-hires.) Which means they are more likely to be insecure, entitled, and less talented. This upsets the genuine talent, while us hacks shrug and wait for it to pass. Or you could put all your quota-hires somewhere they can’t do any damage to the important stuff, though where that would be, I’m not sure. Which means you’re carrying un-needed overhead.

Why on earth would a company do this to itself? It wouldn't. But, here’s a thing. All those Diversity SJWs write for web companies that are owned by Tech or Media billionaires. Each one of whom is trying to get the other guy’s company to become a diversity quota-house.

It’s industrial sabotage by other means. The tech companies who take it seriously and actually start hiring women on quotas will lose talent, not be able to re-hire it, make worse products, loose their edge and go out of business.

Capitalism turns everything to its use.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Golden Grasshopper

So I've been busy Doing Stuff and haven't had time to write meditations on the usual shite. Instead, here's a London trivia question.

Where is this little beastie to be found?

Monday, 15 June 2015

Two Great Essays on Software and Programmers

For many years, the stand-out essay on programming and programmers has been Rands’ The Nerd Handbook. It’s one of those essays which makes you wonder when you met the writer and how he got into your head so quickly. If you’re a programmer or engineering type, and have doubts about the acceptability of your behaviour and the way you look at the world, then read this and know that You Are One of Many.

Last week I read another essay that made me think “this guy has been there, understands what he's looking at, and has nailed it”. Paul Ford’s What Is Code? is the best essay I’ve read about software, programming, managing software projects, and the personalities and motives involved. Uniquely, Ford manages to explain software developers' concerns in managerial terms and managerial concerns in terms I hope software developers will understand. It’s a must-read.

The whole thing is quotable, but this one hit me especially...
What no one in engineering can understand is that what they perceive as static, slow-moving, exhausting, the enemy of progress—the corporate world that surrounds them, the world in which they work—is not static. Slow-moving, yes, but so are battleships when they leave port. What the coders aren’t that the staid enterprise world that they fear isn’t the consequence of dead-eyed apathy but rather d├ętente. 
They can’t see how hard-fought that stability is. Where they see obstacles and intransigence, [managers] see a huge, complex, dynamic system through which flows a river of money and where people are deeply afraid to move anything that would dam that river.
You want to understand the culture of a large company, grok that second paragraph. The word afraid is exactly the right one. Management doesn’t really know why the river of money flows through their organisation, because they know that all the competing organisations are no better or worse. So it must be magic. And they are afraid that someone will do something to turn the magic off.

If you haven't read either, read both.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Principles Not Personalities

Every now and then, someone points out that the AA co-founders were far from calm, balanced, morally sound people. Matt Forney just did so in an article on RoK. Then he made a claim about the high failure rate of AA. As opposed to the high success rates of all the medical treatments for alcoholism. Oh. Wait. There aren’t any. Because if there were, all those movies stars and rock stars would pop some pills instead of going to meetings. However, I’m not going to deny that a lot of newcomers start the program, and a lot of them drop out.

So. Personalities first. I don’t give a damn that Dr Bob was the worst doctor in his small town and a degenerate opium addict to boot. Nor do I care that Bill W took all sorts of highs, 13-Stepped and mooched on his wife. Partly because they are both dead, so I will never have to deal with them at dinner, but mostly because I don’t follow their example, I follow their program. As do all the other 12-Step people I listen to in meetings. Alcoholics learn to put principles before personalities, because the principles aren’t bad, but a lot of the personalities are pretty flawed. civilians still confuse the two. After all, if you insist that you will only adopt ideas that come from morally flawless people, you can keep your brain idea-free for your entire life. Judging ideas by their creators is what conformists do.

Sure there’s a high recidivism from AA. If I stop taking my Lanzoprosole, my acid reflux comes back within about forty-eight hours. Does that mean it’s useless? Acid reflux is what happens when a sphincter at the top of your stomach goes wibbly. There’s no cure or surgery for it. All I can do is take a palliative, and thank my lucky stars that it’s one that works, rather than a piece of chemical toxic junk with a name ending in “statin” or “formin”. Well, it’s the same with AA. There’s no cure for alcoholism: if there was, all those movie stars and rock stars would be paying for it. But no, they go to meetings just like the rest of us regular drunks. What it gives us is a palliative. Treatment centres can help start, but the recovering drunk has to prove it every day on the street. For. The. Rest. Of. His. Life.

There’s a phrase we know by heart:
“Rarely have we seen someone fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest."
A 12-Step program is tough to work, or rather, it’s tough to take the consequences. The hardest thing to accept is that sobriety comes before everything else. Job. House. Relationships. Fun. Fitness. Name it. This is not how normal people live. They juggle priorities, they compromise on their goals and principles if that's what's needed to advance something else they want to do. That includes getting drunk at and taking cabs home from a leaving do that over-ran, in the name of "networking". Alkies don't live that way. If something or someone clashes with what we need to do to stay sober, guess what? It gets or they get dumped. But then not having a drink today is the foundation of all the rest of the good stuff in my life: I lose it and all the rest goes. I turn back into a pathetic little jerk with the social skills of a resentful teenager.

AA is not a cure, and anyone who tells you it is? Don’t trust them when they tell you the time either. But then, don’t trust anyone who tells you there’s a cure for addiction, acid reflux, wilful stupidity, being a jerk, chronic lack of fitness or excess weight. There isn’t. There is only endless vigilance and practicing the programme.

And the next time someone tells you that something must be a bad idea because the person who invented it was a Bad Person, remind them that if ideas were only as good as their creators were moral, we’d all still be living in grass huts.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Circumcision: After All These Years, I'll Go There

TRIGGER WARNING: This subject can set some people off like a burning stick in a box of fireworks.

I read a couple of articles recently about male circumcision. One against it over at RoK, and one in favour from Milo Yiannopoulos at Brietbart. Milo’s article was dismissed by a chunk of his commentators as click-bait in the worst taste, and that’s what it is. The RoK article hits all the minor points, and the commentators prattle on about the Bible and cultural practices. Look around the Net and you will find everything from mad conspiracy theorists to sound medical research.

I'm cut, and I've never really thought about it, but this time I got interested. So I read around a little.

If you think that male circumcision is a harmless cultural practice and anyway it doesn’t matter because babies don’t remember, then you may want to watch this video. I can watch film of births and surgical operations. I’m not squeamish. I jumped the intro to about 5:00 in and stopped it only seconds afterwards. You may also want to read some of the comments. Some are horrified, and some are deranged: all are strongly expressed.

Welcome back. I don't know which procedure they used on me, but now you know what I went through. As do I.

Circumcision is an operation on the second-most sensitive part of a man's body (after the eyes), it’s done on baby boys without anaesthetics and it’s not a five-minute job. An adult suffering that much pain involuntarily would be traumatised for a long while.

That much involuntary-inflicted pain changes the child's base hormone levels and gives him new, often dysfunctional, reflexes. This changes the way the child thinks, feels and reacts, to other people, its own emotions and everyday events. Glands, hormones, nerves and synapses don’t know they are only three weeks old, nor that this is a cultural tradition and so nothing to be scared about. Some of those babies may find their hormones and reflexes go back to normal, and they start trusting again, but others may never get over it.

If you've read the comments on that video, you'll gather that pro-cutters come across as deranged, lacking empathy, or just superficial. Here's Yiannopoulos being superficial...
Most men can barely last twenty thrusts… but those with snipped Johnsons tend, in my experience, to have significantly better stamina than their raincoated colleagues. (The research backs me up on this one.) In what world is climaxing sooner a good thing? Getting the chop does indeed reduce sensitivity up top. In the process, it makes you better at sex, and reduces the chance of you passing on anything nasty.
In what world is climaxing sooner a good thing? A world in which you barely climax at all. I’m cut and I was Mr All-Night. Only one of my girlfriends made me feel as if I was going to have an orgasm at a time that suited us both. With the others, it was all a bit hit and miss. Sex became something that was more enjoyable in the anticipation than the afterglow. When that starts to happen, it’s not long before the anticipation wanes as well. After a while, the sexual act itself became secondary to the rest of the experience. I was chasing girls for sex, but only because I’m a straight single man and it’s a reflex. I’ve read that cut men achieve orgasm as much as uncut men (I suspect some faking good in the interviews), but the same anecdotes say that we don’t get the same range of pleasurable sensations, and we are more focussed on the orgasm than the process. Which sounds like my entire life, never mind the sex.

As for the supposed benefits for sexual performance, here’s some research (see the link for references):
Several studies report that male circumcision also adversely affects female sexuality. Warren & Bigelow (1994) report the foreskin avoids problems with vaginal dryness. Fleiss & Hodges (2002) explain that the lack of gliding action in the circumcised male partner causes the taut shaft skin to drag the vaginal lubrication out of the vagina. O’Hara & O’Hara (1999) surveyed women in the United States who had had sex with both circumcised and intact partners. They report the women preferred the partner to be intact by a ratio of 8.6 to one. Women reported that they were more likely to be orgasmic and even have multiple orgasms when the male partner is intact. Bensley & Boyle (2001) surveyed 35 women in Australia who had sexual experience with both circumcised and intact partners. Eleven, who had a mean age of 27.3 years, indicated a preference for a circumcised partner. Eleven, who had a mean age of 36.4 years indicated they would choose a genitally intact partner. They reported that circumcised males are significantly less likely to use condoms because of concern about reduced penile sensitivity. In addition, the females were significantly more likely to report vaginal dryness with a circumcised partner. The experience reported with a circumcised male partner is similar to the symptoms of “female arousal disorder.” Female arousal disorder may be a normal response to sex with a circumcised male partner. Frisch et al. (2011) report that male circumcision is associated with “orgasm difficulties, dyspareunia and a sense of incomplete sexual needs fulfilment".
The NHS stopped doing routine circumcision in 1950, and now regards it as a last-resort treatment for certain specific problems. I’m not Jewish, so I don’t know why I was cut. My father was intact. Back in those days doctors and hospitals differed and parents were more impressed by the Man In The White Coat. Has it affected the way I developed? Well, I've gone with YES for the quality of my sex life.

My state of mind? Hmmm. For around thirty years, I had low self-confidence, the feeling that the world was against me, that no-one could be trusted, I was turned-inwards, and had many of the symptoms of PTSD, though without the flashbacks. I had the occasional good patch, but in the same way the English weather is occasionally sunny. There was no event or period in my life which divided a happy before with a miserable after. I had always felt a mess. I could never remember a time when it was “all right”: it was always wrong. I had over thirty years of that. It started to fade as my alcoholism took off.

I’m sure there are cut men with sunny dispositions and happy lives, and I’m just as sure there are intact men who felt every bit as bad as I did: it’s not cause-and-effect on a species-wide scale. But then, some people die from gunshot wounds and some don't. That doesn't mean it's okay to shoot people, and then blame them for having the wrong reaction. Something happened and very early in my life. Unless there's a gene that makes young men feel the way I felt, I'll go with this.

I've kept this personal. Making it about gender, culture, politics or religion brings out far too many crazies and moral bankrupts. This isn't for them. It's for someone else out there without a foreskin, who wonders what the hell happened to him that made him so distrustful of adults and authority.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Is String Theory Bad Science and Misleading Hype?

String Theory has been around for 30 years, since the first superstring revolution which made it a contender theory for high-energy physics. It has yet to produce one testable prediction, and no-one is even talking about a decisive experiment that would confirm String Theory while refuting, say, Loop Quantum Gravity. They haven’t even derived the existing Standard Model from String Theory yet, and to understand how bad that is, deriving Newtonian Gravity from General Relativity is now left to the reader as an elementary exercise. It’s really, really serious that literally thousands of super-bright physicists, including the man said to be as smart as Einstein, haven’t shown how to get the current theory of elementary particles from String Theory. But a lot of families get fed off the back of String Theory professorships, and a lot of money gets made by publishers and authors from popularisations and textbooks - even I have both volumes of Polchinski.

I’m fairly confident that String Theory will take the same place in the history of science as epicycles do now. Or maybe phlogiston. (There’s a difference: epicycles can be seen as using a partial Fourier analysis of the planet’s observed orbit – it’s acceptable curve-fitting and inacceptable physics; phlogiston was acceptable but wrong physics.) For the moment, it’s creating enough problems for some people to want to re-define science so that String Theory, with its lack of actual predictions, is still science. Well, they don’t need to. Let’s look at the idea of testability.

Suppose the theory only makes predictions at energy levels that needed a lot of expensive kit, and then Governments cancelled the programme and used the money to save the banks (again). That doesn’t make the theory untestable. Now suppose that there simply isn’t enough money in the world, or ever will be, to build the kit to test the theory. This doesn’t make the theory untestable-in-principle, simply untestable-in-practice. Now suppose it simply wasn’t practically possible to build a piece of kit that would be able to test the theory, cost aside. Same thing: untestable-in-principle, simply untestable-in-practice. The theory is still making empirical predictions. Now suppose that there’s actually no piece of kit that will test the theory, because the kit would use all the energy in the Universe and there would be no-one around to see the results. That’s untestable-in-principle. None of these apply to String Theory.

What applies to String Theory is that the theorists just haven’t come up with a prediction, let alone the budget-busting kit to test it. This could mean
  1. The theorists aren’t as smart as they say they are
  2. The theorists are as smart as they say they are, but it’s really hard to get a prediction out of all those equations
  3. Actually, there aren’t any predictions to be gotten out of the theory. It just doesn’t touch the real world.
It’s worth noting that so far in the history of science, all the Hall-of-Fame theories came with novel predictions, often in the paper that first introduced the theory. I’m stretching the point a bit with electromagnetism, as Maxwell had three shots at it over a couple of decades, but once he embraced the field theory and dumbed the mechanical models for his 1865 paper, that prediction of light as electromagnetic radiation is as carefully contrived a throw-away as you could find. Some of this was, of course, because the pace of life was slower back then, and people could afford to hold back on publication until they had a good prediction. Because a good novel prediction is great for credibility.

Testability comes from Karl Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery. His original objection to Marxism and psychoanalysis was that, no matter what happened, the theorists could always interpret it post-hoc as a success, but not in a way that would make new predictions (that last clause was added by Lakatos). String theory would be untestable in this sense if there was always an ad-hoc way of re-jigging it to explain the result post-hoc. That shows up in the practice of the theorists or the structure of the theory itself. Woit has a few posts where he describes the dodges and retractions of String Theorists in response to actual lack of anything from CERN. Because their ability to feed their children and travel to conferences in exotic places depends on String Theory, it’s pretty clear that nothing would actually make these physicists give up their livelihoods reject String Theory. Until they have somewhere else to go.

Peter Woit’s point is that the String Guys have had enough time and should quit. Lakatos made the point that it is never irrational to carry on working on a degenerating programme, but what is irrational is to deny its track record and continue to hype it as the “only game in town”. The theory may yet yield a prediction that can be tested in this world, but the current bunch of theorists have failed to get it to do so. If they are sensible, they should give it break and go do something else on the taxpayer’s dime. What they do in their spare time is entirely up to them.

In summary:

Is String Theory science? Yes.

Is String Theory a good scientific theory? NO. (Though it might be)

Are String Theorists who carry on hyping it behaving like “good scientists”? NO

Are String Theorists who take on doctoral students fulfilling their duty to advise well? Tougher: we’re dealing with consenting adults here. But if the advisor waves visions of glittering careers in front of their student, I’d say we have a case of deception.

Does String Theory deserve taxpayers’ and institutional support? NO. No more grants. But give them a severance package or a sabbatical to find some more dignified profession or fruitful field of study.

Should some physicists work on it in their spare time? YES. Should it be taught in schools and at undergraduate level as the dominant theory of fundamental particles? NO.

Should academic publishers be wary of selling books touting String Theory as the Only Game In Town For A Final Theory? YES. Academic publishers have a minimal duty to filter for cranks and hype.

Should commercial publishers be wary of selling books touting String Theory as the Only Game In Town For A Final Theory? NO. Commercial printers are not intellectual gatekeepers and do not have the resources to be. Let ‘em print what they think will sell.

Monday, 1 June 2015

May 2015 Review

You are reading the words of a man with braces on his upper teeth. Small, enamel-coloured bits of plastic stuck to the tooth to locate a piece of wire that is pulling my front teeth back and together. Later I will get braces on my lower teeth, which is what I and the orthodontist really want to do, as my lower back teeth look like a wall that’s falling in. I am not going to describe what it’s like having sharp bits of plastic and metal in my mouth. But it’s something that has to be done. Already the gaps between my front upper teeth have closed up so that I don’t get food stuck there. Now I get food stuck in the braces. I have to brush my teeth every time I eat or my mouth feels like there’s a three-course dinner stuck there.

And I had my first session of personal training. I’m going for increased flexibility and giving weights a rest. This means all sorts of odd exercises using the vipr and those weighted balls with grips. My actual flexibility is almost zero. This means I don’t wake up so ache-y from the previous evening’s sessions.

There was a power outage one night, which means my Roberts CD/Radio lost all its settings and I woke up at 06:25. By rushing a bit and not cooking breakfast, I made it to the 07:15 and into the office about ten minutes late. I felt much better than if I had woken up at 05:30. I’m now going to try 06:00 and a light breakfast as my new wake-up time.

I’ve been coding in Python, using IDLE. There are a couple of file-handling utilities I wanted, one of which is to copy imported photographs to the relevant month-year directory of the photo archive. I’m going to write about using and writing Python later. Home coding is relaxing, time-passing and I never feel like I’ve wasted time.

I visited my friend over in Utrecht over my birthday weekend. Hence the Zandvoort photographs. The Monday after I left, he and his partner went to Patmos. They were going to do that anyway.

I drove my mother down to a hotel in the middle of the New Forest (so called because it’s mostly moorland) one Sunday so she wouldn’t have to sit on replacement rail service buses for hours on end. On the way down I got confused by the junctions outside Portsmouth and we did a quick detour back to some junction, turned round and took another shot. On the way back, there were no complicated junctions at all. Whizz. Straight through.

Sis and I had supper in Polpo at Notting Hill. Pleasant and good food. Being wonderful, she brought me the catalogues from the Christie’s February Contemporary sales, which they get where she works. If you’re not checking her site (On The Fly on the blogroll) you’re missing some good photography.

Not a single movie. Lie to Me S3 on DVD.

I fell asleep on the train. A lot. It’s the pollen. I still managed to read a bit more of Music In The Castle of Heaven, all of Michael Harris’ Mathematics Without Apologies, Why Men Love Bitches by a (delusional) Sherry Argov, and not much more. If you don’t count a lot of stuff on Tkinter objects, of course. Also volume 3 of Fables and volume 1 of Sex Criminals.

I finished the month with a cold, so I spent the entire weekend coding, re-stocking the sites on my Feedly, looking over new music sites, and browsing lots of math stuff. Because I decided to start polishing the Riemann-Roch essay for completion.