Assorted links

by on September 25, 2013 at 2:33 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Tribute to Ravi Ramrattan, development researcher, who was killed in Kenya.

2. Can math predict the rise and fall of empires? (I say no)

3. On Charles Mingus.

4. Should we trust Iran on nuclear weapons?

5. Knausgaard Kickstarter.

6. “Finally, I am not an aesthetic Stalinist.”

Adrian Ratnapala September 25, 2013 at 3:18 pm

#2. TC is right that maths (see, there’s an es!) cannot predict the fall of empires. But I think that simulations like those shown can have value – even though some headlines might get carried away.

Historians are as likely as anyone else to say “the frobication of Foogol was the just a symptom of the general barisation of that time and place”. It’s nice to have some non-hand-wavy picture of what effects the bar field can and cannot predict.

My question is how many free parameters did the modelers have in order to get the right result? And I mean both the parameters explicit in the model, and also those implicit in the choice of model itself. My guess is that the model evolved until it could get a reasonable match.

That not a criticism – it is just how science must work. Subsequent work might be able to pin down what assumptions are logically necessary as opposed to unacknowledged fits.

Adrian Ratnapala September 25, 2013 at 3:26 pm

#2. If it was physics journal, the paper would have been rejected on the grounds that the abstract was not an abstract. Although to be fair, I did not get past the second sentence. I expect there is an abstract in there somewhere. (And somewhere on the interweb, a paper).

Curt F. September 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm

??? The PNAS paper *does* have an abstract, and it *is* an abstract, and it *is* online. Is there a point to your comment (besides your apparent mission of letting everyone know you were too cool to even read the article)?

Adrian Ratnapala September 25, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Mea Culpa, the full text is available (I had NoScript down to see the link). http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/09/20/1308825110.full.pdf+html

And no that is not an abstract, at least the first few sentences. They read like a somewhat sensationalist introduction. My guess is that PNAS thinks their “significance” serves the purpose that abstracts are supposed to. Except it doesn’t: an abstract is supposed to be a no-bullshit summary of the whole paper, and none of the PNAS matter fits that bill.

I think good papers are more attractive if they have just such a summary. That was the point of my comment.

Curt Fischer September 25, 2013 at 7:46 pm

If this was a better blog, your comment would be rejected on the grounds that your comment is not a comment.

In all serious, thanks for the response. I see where you are coming from — it’s an overwrought abstract, and I could see how some would find it in bad taste, but it still presents the research questions that motivated their study. So maybe it’s a question of judgement if they are overdoing it, but that would just make it a bad abstract — still an abstract though.

Curt F. September 25, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Weird, in the submitted version of my comment, the first sentence was surrounded by [snark] [/snark] tags. I guess the html converter of the comment box ate them. Sorry.

V.Vas September 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm

#2. From what i recall from skimming the paper, it compared two models…an agricultural model and a model that added ‘warfare’ to it. The lone agricultural model explained 15% of variance, whereas the ‘warfare’ model explained 65%. And that’s pretty effing respectable when it comes to the social sciences.

Pshrnk September 25, 2013 at 3:45 pm

#2. Since Hari Seldon has already worked this out, we need to get Krugman’s opinion. :-)

dan1111 September 25, 2013 at 5:24 pm

#3 reminded me of how much Charles Mingus ruled, and gave me the new information of what a crazy person he was.

I recommend listening to some Mingus while reading it for maximum effect:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__OSyznVDOY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWmE8T09-G4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU_RxWXijz0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODxG9jUqH0o

Ezer September 25, 2013 at 5:46 pm

#2. The rise of psychohistory, as Isaac Asimov predicted?

Crocodile Chuck September 25, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Great musicians like Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus struggled with manic depression aka bipolar disorder all their lives. Lithium treatment for mania didn’t begin until the early 1970′s. For Monk, this point marked the end of his composing and recording career. Mingus, however, had a few good records left in him. Try ‘Changes One’ and ‘Changes Two’ http://www.allmusic.com/album/changes-one-mw0000620001
Two of his best, with a great band, on a major label.

Mark Thorson September 25, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Actually, lithium salts were being used for treatment of psychiatric disorders in the 1870′s, gradually fell out of practice, and then they made a comeback beginning in the 1940′s. It’s a very rare example of a medical practice falling out of favor, then making a comeback. It’s important to monitor lithium levels very carefully during treatment, which they couldn’t do in the 1870′s, which may be why it fell out of favor the first time around.

I can think of a few others. The ketogenic diet was used for epilepsy in the 1920′s, fell out of favor with the rise of effective drug treatments, and has recently become more popular especially for cases that do not respond well to drugs.

The cold wet pack for managing the behavior of institutionalized psychiatric patients fell out of favor in the 1970′s with the introduction of effective drugs for patient management. That one hasn’t come back, but I predict it will. Someone needs to invent an effective way to administer it to reluctant patients without requiring the assistance of every nurse on the ward.

Douglas Knight September 26, 2013 at 2:22 am

Electroshock therapy has been cycling in and out of fashion for thousands of years.

Andreas Baumann September 26, 2013 at 4:20 am

Thousands of years?!

Mark Thorson September 26, 2013 at 10:56 am

Electroshock therapy didn’t exist until 1938, and since becoming accepted it hasn’t fallen out of favor. There are non-electric shock therapies some of which go back to ancient times, but they were never very popular except for insulin shock.

Insulin shock is an interesting case. It was rendered obsolete by electroshock in the 1940′s, but it continued to be practiced at least into the 1970′s. The doctors who applied it were still having conferences and publishing research papers, and the claim was made that it was gentler than electroshock. Some doctors used both, with various criteria for assigning patients to one or the other. I suppose what finally killed insulin shock was its practitioners retired and died. I don’t expect it to make a comeback, but you never know. More likely, a new convulsant drug would be developed that lacks the risks of insulin overdose.

Douglas Knight September 26, 2013 at 1:24 pm

The Romans used torpedo fish.

Maybe electroshock therapy has never ceased entirely since 1938, but it has certainly had huge ups and downs.

Andrew' September 26, 2013 at 5:15 am

We don’t need to concern ourselves with whether economics is a real science.

Bill Benzon September 25, 2013 at 5:56 pm

The Mingus piece IS superb. I’ve listened to a lot of his music and read his wacked-out autobiography, which needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

I only ever heard him live once. Mingus himself wasn’t really into it on that occasion, but George Adams was having a grand old time on the tenor sax.

vetr September 25, 2013 at 10:39 pm

I would rather not be a jazz musician at all than be a jazz musician who charged people to listen to my music when I did not care about my music.

dan1111 September 26, 2013 at 2:42 am

Whatever your job is, it’s extremely unlikely that you can care about it every single day.

Overall, Mingus was notable for the great extent to which he was passionate about his music. But he was emotionally unstable, as the article vividly portrays.

So Much For Subtlety September 25, 2013 at 6:46 pm

6. “Finally, I am not an aesthetic Stalinist.”

Does that mean she is some other sort of Stalinist? A culinary Stalinist perhaps?

Is it really the case that pretty much all the Important Male Novelists of the mid to late 20th-century are such sexist dillweeds that it is actually impossible to enjoy the books, for many intelligent people?

I think she is half way to a point, but she has not quite got it right. It is true that pretty much all the Important Male Novelists of the mid- to late-20th century are unreadable. But that is because they are unreadable, not because they are sexist. And the publishing industry, like the rest of the Arts scene, exists to push books people think are Serious on the up-coming Middle Classes who want to appear cultured but don’t know what to read. So people who hate their customers pick books from among those they are (or would like to be) sleeping with and proclaim them Serious Novels. Even though they are largely crap. People like Norman Mailer are well on their way to being forgotten and he probably would have arrived there sooner if only he didn’t, you know, get oodles of free publicity by stabbing his wife and so on.

What Belle Wearing fails to consider is that perhaps these novels have so few good female characters because there are actually so few good female characters to write about. That is, women are generally boring. Which is not to single out women. Most people are boring. But then most men don’t want to sleep with most people. As long as men want to sleep with a woman, it does not matter if she is interesting or intelligent, they will still laugh at her jokes. So they don’t bother. Thus the endless internet discussions of why there are no funny women comedians. It is not hard to capture that play of sexual desire and a lack of intellectual interest on paper, but it is hard to make the woman sound interesting.

Now I am not saying this is the correct explanation, but she ought to at least consider the possibility. After all, how many well rounded female characters are there in female fiction? Hermoine Grainger? Please.

Matt September 25, 2013 at 7:02 pm

6. The other funniest quote–besides the one that Tyler has pointed out–is her (or his?) closing line: “Please be civil.”

Also, why the multiple references to how fast she has read various long, famous books? Is she trying to signal her intelligence to 10th graders who don’t know better? It’s fiction, any fool can flip through the pages as fast as they please.

Daniel Dostal September 25, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I know nothing about the blogger or the books she wrote about, but it was an entertaining read. Seemed strict posturing, not a lot of real take-away.

So Much For Subtlety September 26, 2013 at 1:38 am

You’re being too nice. Does she say anything useful or constructive at all? At least anything she could not have cribbed off Wikipedia. She does not like the books she alleges she has read. Fine. Neither do I. But she insists that she is morally and intellectually entitled to criticise these authors. Well, OK, perhaps. I wouldn’t deny it. But I would prefer it if she had anything interesting to say. And she doesn’t.

D.F. Wallace: a good writer who is not such a sexist dillweed that it prevents one from enjoying his work, and is nonetheless an officially canonized Important Novelist. How satisfactory! He also needed an editor, though. Does no one have an editor? Do they rely on the firm rock of the horrible-looking PC OS to keep them real?

Come on. If she was a character in a novel she would condemn herself for being a sexist construction.

She also seems to have a thing about rape.

We are moved by the ideals of Thomas Jefferson even though we know he took his wife’s little sister, the sister she brought with her as a six-month old baby, the very youngest part of her dowerage when she married him—he took that grown girl as a slave concubine, and raped that woman until he died.

We do not know this. We do not know this at all. She supposes that Jefferson raped Sally Hemmings. In reality we have no evidence whether it was consentual or not. Given Hemmings went to Paris with him and then chose to go back to America when she could have stayed and been free suggests that she did not greatly object to the relationship.

This is despite the fact that he and Telemachus go on to hang the 12 faithless maids with a ship’s cable strung between the courtyard and another interior building, … the suitors raped those women, at least some of them, and likely all, if we use our imagination even in the most limited and machine-like fashion on the situation.

Actually there is not a lot of evidence that any of those suitors raped anyone either. That is the point of the maids being faithless – they can only betray a faith if they choose other than they should.

So we have a flat, fatuous poser who sees rape everywhere. Thinks about it a lot. This is going to work out well.

Thor September 26, 2013 at 4:40 am

Yes, my take on her writing exactly. What on earth made Tyler link to her–at least what she wrote in that piece? I am not inclined to see if her other contributions elsewhere are better.

ladderff September 25, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Why is every woman everywhere so angry about everything? Write a better novel if you’re so inspired by these ‘problems.’ Probably harder than hucking spoiled anger, but possibly more honorable.

Jamie_NYC September 25, 2013 at 9:39 pm

There is another element here. As Charles Bukowski said: “I can invent male characters, because I’m one of them, but to write about a female character, I have to know her in real life.” In general, I find that the male characters in the novels written by women are more convincing than female characters in the novels written by men.

Matt September 26, 2013 at 3:07 am

I can remember reading an analysis online which compared male and female 19th century novelists and characterisation, when traits were ranked as metrics, which found that female characters as written by male novelists tended to be more similar to female characters written by female novelists than male characters written by female novelists were close to male characters written by male novelists.

So if you assume that the male novelists are accurate about males and females are accurate about females (dubious assumption?), it would seem that from that at least (whether it was reproduced or not) males would be more accurate – that might not be a question of psychological insight so much as tendencies towards realism, typical / gender typical personalities, writing from life and non-fiction in writing generally though.

The true psychological intricacy might have been lost by a simple mass stastical averaging of traits though, but that would be an interesting approach. Or women (or at least those women that succeed enough to get attention, assuming glass ceilings et al) might be such good writers that their male characters end up being “convincing” despite not really being particularly like men.

John C September 25, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Re #6, it’s really an awful thought that anyone so unvaryingly humorless, and simultaneously crude, overwrought, and flat as D.H. Lawrence could be called important. For Pete’s sake, the man wrote this:

She ran, and he saw nothing but the…wet back leaning forward in flight, the rounded buttocks twinkling: a wonderful cowering female nakedness in flight…when he came up and flung his naked arm round her soft, naked-wet middle. … He gathered her lovely, heavy posteriors one in each hand and pressed them in towards him in a frenzy, quivering motionless in the rain.

Heavy, twinkling buttocks? Really?

So Much For Subtlety September 25, 2013 at 8:16 pm

It is worth just pausing and remembering those who testified in Court about the merits of D. H. Lawrence’s work:

Graham Hough, Helen Gardner, Joan Bennett, Rebecca West, Bishop of Woolwich, Vivian de Sola Pinto, William Emrys Williams, A Stephen Hopkinson, Richard Hoggart, Francis Cammaerts, Sarah Beryl Jones, C V Wedgwood, Francis Williams, E. M. Forster, Roy Jenkins, Walter Allen, Anne Scott-James, James Hemming, Raymond Williams, Norman St John-Stevas, J W Lambert, Allen Lane, Canon Milford, Kenneth Muir, Stanley Unwin, Cecil Day-Lewis, Stephen Potter, Janet Adam-Smith, Noel Annan, Donald Tytler, John Connell, Dilys Powell, C K Young, Hector Hetherington, and Bernardine Wall.

I suppose if they all got hit by a bus I would miss Rebecca West and Noel Annan.

But his book was important. It not only got people to lie under oath, but it changed censorship laws.

JohnC September 26, 2013 at 12:09 am

Not really. Parliament had changed the obscenity law the year before to include a provision under which the interests of art, literature, or science could override a work’s otherwise “obscene” nature, and also allowed for expert evidence to be called in defense of the artistic or literary merit of an allegedly obscene work.

D.H. was, at best, Penguin’s expendable canary in the coal mine (Penguin, incidentally, being the publisher of many of the witnesses): Read the record, and it’s pretty clear the witnesses weren’t testi-lying for him, they were testifying for/about themselves (think Christie and the GOP nomination x 10).
Important only in the sense that Roe herself was important for abortion.

The entire trial record itself is pretty interesting reading. You get a sense the case was doomed from the beginning when, in closing, the prosecution argued, “[W]ould you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys-reading this book? … Is it a book you would even wish your wife and servants to read?”

Robin September 25, 2013 at 8:06 pm

#4. Whose “we” here? I did not think that libertarians were so jingoistic, or certainly not to the point where they link a strong Israeli supporter.

Peter Metrinko September 25, 2013 at 10:57 pm

I think the “we” refers to the US, but you are correct about linking to a piece by Goldberg, who as far as I know did not serve in the military of the United States, but did serve in the IDF. I cannot imagine he is a disinterested observer, and his piece seems hysterical (and not in the humorous form of the word). See my further comments below.

Beefcake the Mighty September 26, 2013 at 11:10 pm

“Hysterical” is quite a mild way of putting it. Goldberg is shockingly unbalanced (unhinged is probably a better word), even by Zionist standards. He writes things like this on almost a daily basis for Bloomberg.

Peter Metrinko September 25, 2013 at 10:52 pm

As to Mr. Goldberg’s piece about Iran, I offer this observation from an article in the London Telegraph: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/while-iran-and-the-us-talk-of-peace-the-real-war-keeps-going-8831721.html

“But there is another aspect of Iran’s status as a threat to Israel, the US and the region that is often forgotten. In the years after the Iranian revolution in 1979 Israel was surprisingly relaxed about developments in Iran, but this changed with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Scott Peterson in his magisterial account of Iran in recent years, Let the Swords Encircle Me, succinctly summarises Israeli concerns: “Anxious that its own strategic utility as a ‘bulwark’ against Soviet-allied Arab states was losing its shine after the Cold War, Israel launched a campaign in 1992 to convince the US that a new and more dangerous threat had emerged from Iran and the Islamic extremism that the revolution inspired.” It is a campaign that has never ended.”

It is also noteworthy that the UK’s former foreign secretary Jack Straw, who generally is hawkish in his foreign policy, said: that in 2003 when Rouhani was negotiating with Germany, France and the UK over Iran nuclear policy, Rouhani worked very hard to secure a deal. In fact, there was a preliminary agreement but the US nixed the agreement, and thereafter George W. Bush attacked Iran (likely at the behest of his neocon advisers). (I cannot find the link to this story, but read it very recently.) It is possible that had a more clear thinking administration been in power in 2003-05, the Iran nuclear question would have been resolved.

Chip September 25, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Iranian support for Hezbollah, it’s hanging of gays and heretics, repeated assertions that it will use nukes on Israel and long, severe crushing of any domestic dissent were all a misunderstanding.

They wanted to talk and make friends. Curse the evil Bush and the neocons.

Peter Metrinko September 26, 2013 at 12:12 am

Iran does not have nuclear weapons, though for many years Israel and the US neocons have been saying Iran is six months or a year away from having them. In 2003 it was willing to give them up, something which you have not contradicted I spoke with likely the foremost authority on Iran in the US (he is asked to lecture the US military about Iran repeatedly) and he agrees with my assessment if Israel’s strategy. In terms of repression, Iran is far less criminal in that regard than Saudi Arabia, our “ally.” It also treats women better than almost every Muslim country. The last I looked, Iran (unlike the US and Israel) has not invaded foreign countries.

I commend to open-minded thinkers the articulate criticism of Netanyahu’s foreign policy in Haaretz recently. http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/a-special-place-in-hell/.premium-1.548825 There are many in Israel who understand what the government’s game is — to bleed the US for more money.

mike September 26, 2013 at 12:43 am

Remind me again why I, resident of Sleepytown USA, should want my paycheck whittled away further to interfere in any of this?

So Much For Subtlety September 26, 2013 at 1:01 am

How much of that applies to Saudi Arabia? I don’t think George W’s policies were wrong. But I do think America’s blindness when it comes to Israel is a bit foolish. Saudi Arabia has funded al-Qaeda. And whatever else you can say about Hezbollah they have kept their murders local to their neighborhood. Saudi Arabia hangs gays and heretics (actually I think Iran just hangs gays but even then, these days, they are ashamed of it enough to invent a different reason). Saudi Arabia certainly is not shy of crushing dissent.

And it probably has nuclear weapons aimed at Israel.

The Middle East is a vile region. The West has no friends there. None at all. They are all like this to varying degrees. Why one of them should be elevated to the position of Supreme Satan escapes me when we are friends with so many others.

Therapsid September 26, 2013 at 2:01 am

You’re right, the U.S. has no friends in the Middle East.

Which is precisely why we should finally listen to President Washington’s wise counsel and cut off aid to Israel and Egypt, and withdraw the Fifth Fleet from the region.

Douglas Knight September 26, 2013 at 2:35 am

Charles Mingus on training your cat to use the toilet. His called his cat Nightlife.

Douglas Knight September 26, 2013 at 2:38 am
Andrew' September 26, 2013 at 5:21 am

Train your cat to use the toilet for sex?

Andrew' September 26, 2013 at 8:35 am

Dagney Taggert was well-rounded.

Peter Metrinko September 26, 2013 at 8:44 am

There is great dispute whether the former Iranian president (and notice I said former) made nuclear threats against Israel. I think this Politifact discussion puts that to rest. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/nov/23/michele-bachmann/michele-bachmann-says-iran-has-threatended-launch-/ I agree with the sentiment above that we have no friends in the region, in the true sense of the word. All of the governments are repressive, with differing emphases. That includes Israel, which should be a more enlightened country. And based on recent NSA revelations, the US regards Israel as a security threat. (The US seems to be a willing supplier of weapons to many countries in the region, however. Saudi Arabia is a huge customer. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/checkpoint-washington/post/us-saudi-arabia-strike-30-billion-arms-deal/2011/12/29/gIQAjZmhOP_blog.html Cash triumphs morals.

Stefan September 26, 2013 at 9:04 am

I just thought I would say something about Ravi Ramrattan. I didn’t know him personally but a few of my colleagues and friends did. He went to my high school’s ‘sister school’, and from what I know he started out as a math student and fell in love with economics after being exposed to it before he left for college. He was bright enough to earn the President’s Medal Open Scholarship, which means that of the thirty or forty thousand kids that graduated high school in our year, his grades were the best. Thats about what I remember of him. Everything else I know comes from stuff that was said after he was murdered.

The wilfulness behind the killing of this bright young guy baffles me. It vexes me as well to think about the potential for discovery that was taken from the world by the barbarians that killed him. If we had met, though, we would probably have quarrelled. From what I read about the work he was doing, I suspect he had more faith in finance as a tool to support the poor than I do. A debate along those lines I think would have been quite useful, but given the circumstances, that opinion is now moot. His body is supposed to come home tomorrow.

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