Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

More idiocy with numbers

In keeping with Dalwhinnie’s post on the inability to cope with statistics, I note that Fast Company magazine has written about the Good Country Index, a counter-intuitive and flat-out wrong set of findings about which nations are supposedly doing the most good for the rest of the world.

A case in point:

Even stranger, Egypt tops the ranking in the international peace and security category (despite its internal turmoil) with Jordan and Tanzania in second and third. That’s because those countries aren’t generally involved in international conflicts, don’t send out peace-keepers, aren’t big arms exporters, and pay their U.N. dues, explains Anholt. The U.S. is in 114th out of 125 countries, with Lithuania dead last.

How does Egypt become the top net contributor to world peace when it has nurtured and harboured al Qaeda and other jihadists? Why is a country rewarded for not actually participating in UN peace-keeping forces? And a nation contributes more to world peace by being a major arms purchaser (1, 2), rather than a seller? Like an act of bribery, it takes two parties to make an arms deal.

Then again, this index claims that Belgium contributes more to global culture than the USA, and the UK contributes more to science and technology than the USA.

Fittingly, the author’s website very much resembles that of The Guardian.

Origin of the Bell Curve

I once was bent severely out of shape by an argument with one of those innocent people who cannot understand statistical and market thinking. It was the classic thing you have heard before: “they” could design cars to last fifty years but “they” do not, for nefarious reasons.

The fact is that they design cars as best they can, bearing in mind three giant factors: people’s available income, the available technology, and the degree of competition among car manufacturers. Cars were crappy in the fifties and sixties before the Japanese introduced better cars into North America. Now cars last seven or ten years in our harsh climate rather than three of four. No part of our life has been more improved than in cars – a bold claim you may wish to disagree with. They have become like mobile phones with engines attached..

But my friend was unpersuadable. He envisioned fifty year old cars without envisioning the fifty year old electronics (none), entertainment systems (vacuum tube AM radios), fifty year old seats, engine efficiencies, and rust. Obviously it was one of those dumb arguments that reveal an almost mystical belief in the effectiveness of conspiracies. He had simply no idea that markets work to bring us cars that are the best we can afford.

The inability to see the world around us as the result of zillions of little transactions which,  when measured, produce statistical patterns, is a common one, I reckon. Statistical thinking has come late to us, in the last few centuries.

Steve Sailer has written an interesting article over at Takimag on the origins and evolution of statistical thinking. To wit:

And yet, for most of human history, nobody seemed terribly motivated to innovate techniques for analyzing human quantities much beyond counting them. This apathy stands out when contrasted to the prodigious mathematical breakthroughs made in support of astronomy and physics. In fact, much of the foundational work in statistics, such as the development of the normal distribution by Gauss and Laplace in 1809-1810, was to help astronomers deal with the random errors in their observations.

A generation later, the Belgian astronomer Adolphe Quetelet applied the normal distribution for the first time to human data—a coat maker’s table of the chest sizes of 5,378 Scottish soldiers—and showed they formed a rough bell curve.

and later in the same article:

Here’s a way to test Dr. Gelman’s theory that the rise of statistics has changed the world less than the hype suggests: certain uses of statistics are banned by law. Does the world look much different where thinking statistically is punished?

For example, the federal government forbids lenders from using race or ethnicity in deciding whether or not to approve a mortgage. To enforce this prohibition, it collects a vast quantity of data under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act to empower community NGOs like the late ACORN to more easily sue lenders for disparate impact discrimination.

In turn, the government nurtured a business culture in which anything you observed just by watching about racial differences in creditworthiness was something you couldn’t discuss publicly, or in emails that could be subpoenaed. Thus when ambitious corporate executives like Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide Financial and Kerry Killinger of Washington Mutual boasted that they would expand rapidly by loaning more to Hispanic victims of prejudicial redlining, no one, as far as I’ve been able to find in six years of looking, publicly criticized their assumption of irrational bigotry against minorities.

So, here’s a case where our culture laboriously emasculated itself of one obvious use of statistics. And what has been the result? Well, the world looked much the same. Countrywide and Washington Mutual flew even higher and faster. The only problem was that mortgage lending in the heavily Hispanic “Sand States” kicked off the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

Without good statistics, the world would be quite similar, except for when it’s crashing and burning.

Netanyahu-Obama conversation ?

Actually, even I, Obama disdainer that I am, do not believe it. But if it is true, Obama will have to be flayed.

This is the supposed transcript of a call between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Obama. If true, it amounts  to betrayal of Israel.

Obama: I demand that Israel agree to a unilateral ceasefire and stop all offensive actions — especially air strikes.

Netanyahu: What will Israel get for stopping the fire?

Obama: I believe Hamas will stop the rocket firing — quiet for quiet.

Netanyahu: Hamas broke all five previous ceasefires. It’s a terror organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

Obama: I repeat that I expect Israel to stop all its military actions unilaterally. The destruction pictures from Gaza are distancing the world from Israel’s standpoint.

Netanyahu: Kerry’s offer was completely unrealistic and offered Hamas military and political advantages.

Obama: Within a week after Israel stops its military actions, Qatar and Turkey will start negotiating with Hamas based on the 2012 understandings, among them Israel’s commitment to lift the siege and limitations of Gaza.

Netanyahu: Qatar and Turkey are Hamas’ greatest supporters. It’s impossible to trust them to be fair mediators.

Obama: I trust Qatar and Turkey…Israel is not in a position to choose the mediators.

Netanyahu: I caution that Hamas will be able to continue to launch rockets and use tunnels for terror attacks….

Obama: (cutting off Netanyahu) The ball is in Israel’s court and it has to stop all its military actions.

Physical beauty matters

That is one of the many reasons I like the monarchy. It celebrates health, youth and beauty, in the right measure and at the right time. It rejects the acceptance of ambi-sexual, obese blobs called “Pat”, and their ideological flat-mates in academia.


Here we see Prince Harry charming the fit Australian girls, as they charm him. Being heir to the throne is a tough job, but for a time in your twenties and thirties, being a Prince must be a lot of fun.


“They want to make you poorer”

Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in an interview with James Delingpole, discuss the roles of science education, money, moral superiority, and hypocrisy in the great global warming debate.

The debate between Ebell and Delingpole concerns how important scientific facts are to the discussion. Ebell says yes, facts are important and we are winning that debate; Delingpole says the issue is almost 100% political.

Noted in passing:

  • The issue is largely won by the political Left because they posit the issue in terms of “why don’t you care for the planet?”.
  • The remarkable hypocrisy of the mainstream media in not looking into Al Gore’s immense wealth, which can only be increased by making fossil fuels more expensive, remains unexamined.
  • The Koch brothers are evil. Tom Steyer, on the other hand, is a good guy. The only difference between them is what groups they subsidize.

There is another interview in the same series by Delingpole with Pat Michaels, who is altogether more combative and take-no-prisoners.

All agree that in the last 150 years, there has been warming of 0.8 of a Centigrade degree.

An  interview with Dr. Roy Spencer in the same series discusses cold water ocean circulation, which should help you have a better debate with a global warming catastrophist at the next cocktail party to which you are summoned. I had not known that average ocean temperature was 3C, even in the tropics. It is the average temperature of our climate system.

Line-ups are the result of trust

Did I not say yesterday that lining up was a culturally specific behaviour? Today’s column in the Post by Tristin Hopper (Line Up, Eh!) shows that the more disorderly the society, the less they line up, and the more orderly the society, which is to say those that show the highest degree of social trust, all people have to do is mark their place with tape – that place being Japan, which makes us look third world by comparison.

Lining up is an aspect of social trust. Societies of lowest trust – China – do not line up at all. In  India, they  line up only to vote (another British idea) but stand  touching each other so as to prevent queue jumpers.In  Italy they line up but have to be on guard against the many who think queues are for idiots.

Lining up is a rational response to the trust that the allocative mechanisms and procedures at the head of the line are fair.There will be a seat on the bus, or not, depending on the space available, and not on the tribal whim of the bus conductor.

All thinking people should read Francis Fukuyama’s “Trust”.  Though Fukuyama set out to explain the scale of business enterprizes, and whether they were under public ownership (e.g. Airbus) or private ownership (e.g. Boeing), by reference to each society’s history of trustable political institutions, or lack thereof, his analysis works just as well on the issue of line-ups.

It is also worth noting that cutting into a line up engenders wild feelings of rage, which it should, because being a behaviour neither sanctioned nor defended by law, only primitive vigilante violence will uphold it. (Queue jumping produces the same vigilantism as cattle rustling in an honour-based but otherwise lawless  pastoral society, for that matter, and for the same reason, viz Scotland in the time of Rob Roy, Afghanistan today).

In the a Post article, a refugee from Iran describes lining up as “an absolute luxury” that we would abandon if we or our children were imperilled.

I think the contrary. It may be the social discipline that lining up involves provides the wherewithall to defeat the want, misery and unfairness of what makes the Third World what it is. The social discipline that lining up requires is generated out of trust that the allocative mechanisms at the head of the line are fair, and that means that we trust the allocators.

That we trust the allocators is a significant political and cultural accomplishment of constitutional evolution and the wars we fought to get to liberal democracy. But I would trust the allocators less if I knew they were from the Quebec government, say,  rather than from my own political culture. And in China, there is no reason to trust the allocators at all, unless you are kin to them.

A high-trust society is a precious political artifact, Let’s not screw it up with multiculturalism.


A social consensus will suffice

The news that a dry Manitoba hamlet never had a legal ban on alcohol, but that everyone conformed as if it had, shows the power of social consensus to bind a community.

Why is this important, rather than merely an interesting but unimportant legal mistake?

Well, whoever said you had to line up at a bus stop? Or at a bank machine? What force of law acts here to keep people orderly?


Little Hanover, Manitoba (below) was dry; Steinbach (above) allowed alcohol

An interesting book by Lawrence Lessig on the same subject of how we are governed illustrated the concept with a dot surrounded on four sides by a box. Each side of the box was a different social pressure. The dot represented “the regulated subject” – you and me.

1) law (the one lawyers believe is supreme, but is not)

2) society

3) markets

4) architecture

The “architecture” side stands for the force of built and made things to shape behaviour. Kerbs on roads are raised to prevent drivers from going along sidewalks, for instance. {In Bangladesh kerbs are a foot high to prevent people in SUVs driving along sidewalks and killing pedestrians. Obviously they needed stronger architecture to constrain a bad social habit}. As Lessig expressed it, in a computer environment, “Code is law”. The construction of a space enforces social behaviour as well or better than law could.

In little Hanover, Manitoba, society had achieved an effective agreement to control the sale of alcohol. No law was needed, just the belief that the law existed. I wonder how long  residents will agree to act in future as if the ban had been and were still in place, legally? (English needs a verb tense  to express the indefinite conditional continuing past-into-the-future, which does not exist. The ban had never been in place legally, but I digress).

A friend from university days once observed that, in Rumania, in the parts that had been under Ottoman domination, no one lined up for anything, and everyone just pushed as a mob to get on the bus. [They do that in Israel, too.] In parts that had been under Christian domination, people lined up.

Thus when people blather on about the wonders of multi-culturalism, I ask them, mentally, whether they have actually observed a multi-cultural society at work, because, like Gresham’s Law of Currency, bad behaviour drives out good, particularly when the people who stick to good social behaviour are told their behaviour is “intolerant”, “microaggressive”, “racist”, “culturally insensitive” and so forth.

Just you wait. Lining up at the bank machine, or crowding around it, is what is at stake in true multiculturalism, not whether you can celebrate your ethnicity.

Why is this not obvious?

In case there was any doubt

Ayatollah Khamenei says the destruction of Israel is the solution.

Now, what was the problem? of yes, Israel, all those Jews you see, messing the neighbourhood with democracy, high living standards, and a competent military, when the Koran says the Jews should be ground into the dust forever for dissing the Prophet, or declining to become Muslim, or because Mohammed says so.

Did you see this article on the role of shame in an Arab honour society?

That sensitivity is now at fever pitch. The Arab world is suffering a crisis of humiliation. Their armies are routed not only by Americans, but also by tiny, Jewish Israel; and as Arthur Koestler once remarked, the Arab world has not, in the last 500 years or so, produced much besides rugs, dirty postcards, elaborations on the belly-dance esthetic (and, of course, some innovative terrorist practices). They have no science to speak of, no art, hardly any industry save oil, very little literature, and portentous music which consists largely of lugubrious songs celebrating the slaughter of Jews.
Now that the Arabs have acquired national consciousness, and they compare their societies to other nations, these deficiencies become painfully evident, particularly to the upper-class Arab kids who attend foreign universities. There they learn about the accomplishments of Christians, Jews, (Freud, Einstein, for starters) and women. And yet, with the exception of Edward Said, there is scarcely a contemporary Arab name in the bunch. No wonder, then, that major recruitment to al-Qaeda’s ranks takes place among Arab university students. And no wonder that suicide bombing becomes their tactic of choice: it is a last-ditch, desperate way of asserting at least one scrap of superiority—a spiritual superiority—over the materialistic, life-hugging, and ergo shameful West.

Read more at the hyperlink. Islam is not to blame for the the same culture, apparently. It is a pre-existing condition.

Another article on the same subject of honour and shame in Arabic society, well worth reading, is:  Why the Arab world is lost in an emotional Nakba, and how we keep it there, by Richard Landes. I cite it in part below

In order to understand the role of hard zero-sum, honor-shame concerns in the attitude of Arabs toward Israel, one must first understand the role of the Jew in the Muslim Arab honor-group. For the 13 centuries before Zionism, Jews had been subject to a political status in Muslim lands specifically designed around issues of honor (to Muslims) and shame (to Jews). Jews were dhimmi, “protected” from Muslim violence by their acceptance of daily public degradation and legal inferiority. Noted Chateaubriand in the 19th century: “Special target of all [Muslim and Christian] contempt, the Jews lower their heads without complaint; they suffer all insults without demanding justice; they let themselves be crushed by blows. … Penetrate the dwellings of these people, you will find them in frightful poverty.”

For more than a millennium, Arab and Muslim honor resided, among other places, in their domination and humiliation of their dhimmi—and when the occasional reformer equalized their legal status, he struck a heavy blow to Muslim honor. Noted a British envoy on the impact of Muhammad Ali’s reforms: “The Mussulmans … deeply deplore the loss of that sort of superiority which they all & individually exercised over & against the other sects. … A Mussulman … believes and maintains that a Christian—& still more a Jew—is an inferior being to himself.”

To say that to the honor-driven Arab and Muslim political player, in the 20th century as in the 10th century, the very prospect of an autonomous Jewish political entity is a blasphemy against Islam, and an insult to Arab virility, is not to say that every period of Muslim rule involved deliberate humiliation of dhimmi. Nor is it to say that all Arabsthink like this. On the contrary, this kind of testosterone-fueled, authoritarian discourse imposes its interpretation of “honor” on the entire community, often violently. Thus, while some Arabs in 1948 Palestine may have viewed the prospect of Jewish sovereignty as a valuable opportunity, the Arab leadership and “street” agreed that for the sake of Arab honor Israel must be destroyed and that those who disagreed were traitors to the Arab cause.

Worse: The threat to Arab honor did not come from a worthy foe, like the Western Christians, but by from Jews, traditionally the most passive, abject, cowardly of the populations over which Muslims ruled.

So killing your own people to protect your weapons, as Hamas does, may well be honourable if it erases the shame of being clobbered by Jews. On the other hand it may just be the usual cheap trick to garner the sympathies of the left-wing useful idiots of the world. Works either way.

One thing is sure: the crisis of humiliation for Arabs will continue indefinitely into the future. They are losers, and what the fear they are, they are, which they reveal to the world every day. It will  not stop until they change their values, and they will not change their values because, for them, their values are their virtues. Thus everyone else should be a dhimmi so they can swagger about with unjustifiably  enlarged egos.

Everyone has 481 servants

Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist is an important book, which describes the effect on humanity of the burning of fossil fuels. Largely its effect is benign and constructive. It has largely abolished the grinding poverty of all ages before Europe in the 19th century.

Every one of us has more servants at our disposal than Le Roi Soleil, Louis XIV, who had some 481, I seem to recall from Ridley’s book. The point of burning fossil fuels is to increase the energy available to each man, woman and child on the planet, both personally in what one can consume individually but more importantly, systemically in what society can use, such as streetlights, elevators, subways, heating and air conditioning of public spaces.

I would like to dwell for a moment however on the downside of the life of ease brought to us courtesy of fossil fuel consumption. I am not for a second proposing that a more virtuous existence can be found – on a broad social basis -  by using less energy. Personal abstention may well by fine, such as living by a lake in Finland or Canada at a low level of energy consumption, and some tribes, such as Amish and Hutterites, manage with a much more selective uptake of technology. For me, and for billions of my fellow humans, living with less energy when you need it constitutes poverty. We all desire to escape from it, and the enlightened wish to rescue their fellow humans from the disease, ignorance, brutality, and hopelessness that seem to be the essence of poverty.

If Theodore Dalrymple is right in his many castigations of the culture of poverty in the British idle classes, there is something to be said for a more stringent existence. His argument is that the former white working class of England and Scotland has been ruined by technological change leading to unemployment, and then, by a process of subsidization of this idleness, made available by general modern levels of taxation, and the prosperity on which taxation depends, the welfare state is producing people who do not believe in anything, do not toilet train their infants, do not believe in education, deliberately make bad choices in their sexual partners and produce more welfare children by several absent layabout fathers, avoid marriage, do not pick up the garbage they leave in their front yards,  do not cook and do not know how to cook, and, in short, are engaged in terminal cultural decline, abetted by a middle class industry of social minders whose jobs would disappear if the lazy fuck-heads would get religion, sober up, put on a white shirt, and look for a job.

In essence,  Dalrymple’s critique of poverty in the United Kingdom is that it is a spiritual and intellectual impoverishment brought about by modern wealth, that can afford to keep 15% of the nation idle and dissipated, and do nothing about it. By doing nothing I mean: do not attack it directly with spiritual and rigorous measures, by shaming, by forced work, by authoritarian interventions, by evangelical Christianity.

Two works by authors of entirely different dispositions have also addressed this problem. One is the socialist historian Richard Tawney, whose The Agrarian Problem in the 16th Century observed that, in Elizabethan England, some 20% of the population were beggars, wandering the roads and committing crimes, and threatening the social order. Tawney decried the Protestant Reformation and the effects of enclosures – denying the poor access to common land on which to graze their animals or plant a crop – as the basis of the crisis. Monasteries and Catholic orders had done what they could to alleviate the condition of the poor. The same layabouts as populate the lowest classes today were not contained at home with television and alcohol in the sixteenth century. With the abolition of the alms-giving institutions by the Reformation, the underclass was set loose to wander. The second historian who has addressed the issue of what England did with its illiterate layabouts – albeit in a different time – was Gertrude Himmelfarb, an American, whose book The Demoralization of Society and others has argued that the “Victorians” have been unjustly maligned for their efforts to rescue the lowest classes of England by a program of virtue.

… the Victorian virtues – prudence, temperance, industriousness, decency, responsibility – were thoroughly pedestrian. “They depended on no special breeding, talent, sensibility, or even money. They were common, everyday virtues, within the capacity of ordinary people. They were the virtues of citizens, not of heroes or saints – and of citizens of democratic countries, not aristocratic ones.”[15] Himmelfarb has argued “for the reintroduction of traditional values (she prefers the term ‘virtues’), such as shame, responsibility, chastity, and self-reliance, into American political life and policy-making”

So does Dalrymple.

Once again I find myself starting out by thinking one thing and realizing that it is an error. Maybe, I thought,  the problem of a layabout lowest class could be fixed in an environment where there was less available energy, where obesity was a disease of the idle rich rather than the idle poor. Maybe, I thought, when people actually have to work to eat, the habits of virtue could be instilled. Yet a few minutes of thinking remind me that poverty is not a matter of lack of wealth – if it were it could be and has been fixed. Poverty is a spiritual condition. When everyone has a shelter, a television set, heating, and the possibility of education, the fact remains that a significant proportion of the population dwell in darkness, and seem to prefer to live that way.  They are subsidized to remain that way. Removing the subsidies would put them on the streets, like the sturdy beggars of Elizabethan and later epochs of English history were, without solving the problem.

If I may borrow freely from the Wikipedia article on Theodore Dalrymple,  the pen name of Anthony Daniels,the problems look like this:

  • The cause of much contemporary misery in Western countries – criminality, domestic violence, drug addiction, aggressive youths, hooliganism, broken families – is the nihilistic, decadent and/or self-destructive behaviour of people who do not know how to live. Both the smoothing over of this behaviour, and the medicalisation of the problems that emerge as a corollary of this behaviour, are forms of indifference. Someone has to tell those people, patiently and with understanding for the particulars of the case, that they have to live differently.[15]
  • Poverty does not explain aggressive, criminal and self-destructive behaviour. In an African slum you will find among the very poor, living in dreadful circumstances, dignity and decency in abundance, which are painfully lacking in an average English suburb, although its inhabitants are much wealthier.[16]
  • An attitude characterised by gratefulness and having obligations towards others has been replaced – with awful consequences – by an awareness of “rights” and a sense of entitlement, without responsibilities. This leads to resentment as the rights become violated by parents, authorities, bureaucracies and others in general.[17]
  • One of the things that makes Islam attractive to young westernised Muslim men is the opportunity it gives them to dominate women.[18]
  • Technocratic or bureaucratic solutions to the problems of mankind produce disasters in cases where the nature of man is the root cause of those problems.
  • It is a myth, when going “cold turkey” from an opiate such as heroin, that the withdrawal symptoms are virtually unbearable; they are in fact hardly worse than flu.[19][20]
  • Criminality is much more often the cause of drug addiction than its consequence.
  • Sentimentality, which is becoming entrenched in British society, is “the progenitor, the godparent, the midwife of brutality”.[21]
  • High culture and refined aesthetic tastes are worth defending, and despite the protestations of non-judgmentalists who say all expression is equal, they are superior to popular culture.[22][23][24]
  • The ideology of the Welfare State is used to diminish personal responsibility. Erosion of personal responsibility makes people dependent on institutions and favours the existence of a threatening and vulnerable underclass.
  • Moral relativism can easily be a trick of an egotistical mind to silence the voice of conscience.[25]
  • Multiculturalism and cultural relativism are at odds with common sense.[26]
  • The decline of civilised behaviour – self-restraint, modesty, zeal, humility, irony, detachment – ruins social and personal life.[27]
  • The root cause of our contemporary cultural poverty is intellectual dishonesty. First, the intellectuals (more specifically, left-wing ones) have destroyed the foundation of culture, and second, they refuse to acknowledge it by resorting to the caves of political correctness.
  • Beyond and above all other nations in the world, Britain is the place where all the evils summarised above are most clearly manifest.

Even with 481 servants per person, as measured in terms of kilowatts of disposable energy, poverty is not being cured. Trying to fix poverty by wealth transfers alone is yet another case of what I call trying to lift the gross national product with a set of tongs. Some seeds fall on stony ground, as we are reminded by Jesus in another context.

Harper Displacement Syndrome

Another day, another wistful story about the possibility of Prime Minister Harper removing himself from the national political scene.  The story opens, “Would the governing Conservatives be better off motoring into Election 2015 without Stephen J. Harper at the wheel?” The answer is, no, not really, of course not, but it then goes on to discuss possible replacements in some fantasy Canada. This genre of Canadian political analysis always reminds me of a four-year-old discussing candy – not really asking for candy, but just telling little stories about it, artlessly listing its advantages and deploring its absence, all the while reading the audience for evidence that something, anything, is eliciting a response. For years, these opinion articles have used a tone of quiet patience with Mr. Harper, pointing out how close he is to electoral disaster and offering ideas that might help him be successful.  Mr. Harper has been Prime Minister for years and may hold that office for years to come, but the mainstream media never has accepted that and never will. The main result has been their decreasing importance, and Mr. Harper’s increasing strength.