Interesting excerpts

From my recent reading, which I had time to go through on a long, long, uncomfortable and vexing – CX, what a disappointment, never again – flight from one side of the world to the other.

First, some paras from an FT lunch with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, from the November 17 edition, touching on both epistemic rationality and the latest news about US-NK relations that I wrote about earlier today:

From his first wife, who died 20 years ago, Guterres learnt other, more subtle skills. She was a trained psychoanalyst, and encouraged Guterres to put politicians – and politics – on the metaphorical couch during negotiations.

“A crucial lesson for my political life is this very simple [psychological] analysis,” he explains. “When you have two persons in a room, you do not have two, you have six: what each person is; what each person thinks he or she is; and what each person thinks the other is. This is the reason personal relations are so complex. But what is true for persons is true for groups, and countries,” he adds.

“This is why there are pre-emptive strikes. So what is essential for me, [with] Russia and the United States, or North Korea and the United States, is to make sure that these six become two, that the perception aligns with the realities.” That is hard, I observe. “Very hard,” he sighs.

Next, a para in an FT piece ‘Slow Burn – a gripping podcast about Watergate’, by Fiona Sturges, touching on poisoning the well:

[Journalist and author Leon] Neyfakh reveals how, when [wife of President Nixon’s attorney-general Martha] Mitchell finally told her version of events, thus revealing the skulduggery at the hear of the Nixon administration, few took her seriously. The president’s aides had leaked stories to the press about her fondness for alcohol, thus damaging her credibility. That she was later vindicated led to the invention of the phrase “the Martha Mitchell effect”, where a person’s outlandish claims are deemed delusional by psychiatrists despite their veracity.

From the FT’s lunch with author Edward St Aubyn, from the October 20 edition:

St Aubyn is, at his best, a moralist – someone who looks certain permanent features of human nature straight in the eye and for whom it is sentimental to suppose that we could overcome them. “There have always been parents who have been narcissistic, preoccupied or who simply don’t like children,” he says. “There are thousands of forms of parental behaviour which have deep psychological roots which are to do with the nature of human beings.”

What sort of parent is he? “I’m not the sort who replicates the things he loathed most. But I remain the sort of parent who, as a result of what he loathed most, is in the shadow of a sort of over-compensation. So many parents are so hypnotised by what they hated that by doing the opposite they create a new set of problems.”

From the FT’s lunch with family law lawyer Sandra Davis, from the October 6 edition, sentiments that recently caused James Damore to be fired from Google, but which are uncontroversial when stated by a woman:

Unusually for the top of the legal profession, women dominate those lists. To Davis, this is not surprising. “Clients are emotional, they’re under stress, they need support,” she says. “So the skills you require are not just strategic legal skills, they’re softer skills as well – how to communicate difficult messages, how to support people when they’re breaking down.”

From Stefan Stern’s FT article ‘Boardrooms’ missing voices undermine risk management’, from the November 16 edition, touching on the need to seek out contrary information and be receptive to bad news:

One seasoned consultant to many boards says there are two types of [General Council]. “There is one who puts the interests of the company first – not the CEO, not other directors, but the company. This sort is quite rare. There is another type who will say to you, ‘Oh yes, I can see that this is a serious problem, but I could never tell the CEO.’ These conversations are more common and can be quite shocking.”

A good chief executive will be on guard against the danger that he or she is not receiving all of the necessary information from colleagues. However, all-powerful bosses may find that bad news does not get through to them quickly. The board and senior management team need truth-tellers whose careers will not be damaged – and preferably are seen to be boosted – by their candour.

And lastly, from Edward Luce’s excellent write-up of his lunch conversation with the brilliant and brave Daniel Ellsberg, touching on the nature of risk and decision-making:

I was keen to go further back in Ellsberg’s life than that. When he was 15, his father crashed the car that was carrying his family. Ellsberg’s mother and younger sister were killed. Ellsberg nearly joined them. He was in a coma for almost four days. How has that affected him? “The car crash alerted me to the possibility that the world can change in a flash for the worst,” he says. “That is the story I have been telling myself for more than 70 years.”

But in the past few months he has been revising what he thinks of the tragedy. “Was it really an accident?” he asks. His new answer is complex. It also goes some way to explaining why Ellsberg is more worried about human fallibility than most people.

The tragedy occurred on the July 4 holiday in 1946. Ellsberg’s mother wanted to drive to Denver from Detroit, where they lived. She forgot to book a motel for the fir so they slept on the dunes of Lake Michigan. Ellsberg and his father shivered under blankets on the beach for most of the night. His mother and sister slept in the car. “I remember my father hardly got any sleep,” Ellsberg recalled. “I also remember waking up in the middle of the night and seeing falling stars, this shower of meteors – I’d never seen so many.”

The next day, Ellsberg’s father kept saying he was too tired to drive, and suggested they pull over. But his mother said they should press on. At some point in the middle of Iowa’s cornfields, Ellsberg’s father must have nodded off at the wheel. They veered calamitously off the road. “‘Accident’ is the wrong word,” says Ellsberg. “It was an accident in the sense that nobody intended it to happen. But both my parents knew the risks and they took the gamble anyway.”

Ellsberg relates this calmly but sadly. He also draws the natural parallel. “Nuclear war is also an accident waiting to happen,” he says. “The world has been preparing for nuclear catastrophe – for the end of civilisation – for 70 years now. I know: I have seen the plans.”

The incident taught Ellsberg that leaders whom you trust and even love – like his father – can gamble for little upside with everything they hold dear. “He should never have been driving,” Ellsberg says. “My mother should have listened to him.” It was a straight road. There were no other cars. “It was not as if we were hit by a meteor,” he adds.

 

 

 

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The End of Kita Cho-sen, part II

The latest from Jim Rickards:

The U.S. hopes to mitigate the collateral damage with a fearsome combination of cyber-warfare, psychological warfare, special operations, massive bombing, and limited air and amphibious invasion.

Either Jim is completely delusional, or key policy-makers have told him what they’re going to do.

And none of this is yet priced into factor markets!

The mainstream media are not telling you this war is coming. The stock market is not telling you this war is coming.

I am telling you the war is coming, but I’m not alone. The President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Director of the CIA, and the National Security Advisor are all saying the same thing. It’s just that no one is listening.

Trade accordingly! Epistemic rationality FTW!

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Israel-Palestine: an insight

Just a quick write-up of a comment, by WenellMurray, on an FT interview with Daniel Ellsberg – discoverer of the Ellsberg Paradox, exposer of the Pentagon Papers, and author of the superb book Secrets (a book which I highly recommend).

I thought the comment was excellent, getting to the nub of the problem of people confusing, for whatever reason, anti-Zionism with anti-semitism:

I would let it pass. Anti-semitism is an issue in some parts of the world, but barely extant elsewhere, in the USA, for example. Mr Kelso makes an accurate point above concerning grossly inflated claims of anti-semitism in order to divert attention from the Zionist push in Israel from its pre-state origins over 100 years ago that has resulted in the expulsion of native Palestinian Arabs from their homes. That has led to .statelessness and powerlessness in the apartheid state of Israel along with surrounding Arab countries for near tens of millions of Palestinian Arabs.

Posted in Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle, Flotsam and Jetsam | Leave a comment

WYSIATI: President Trump’s Cognitive Health

Many years ago, I don’t know exactly when but either back in the nineties or in the early noughties, back before the show’s relentless left-wing bias became too much for me, I listened to a programme of Philip Adams’ ABC RadNat show Late Night Live in which he and either David Brooks or Bruce Shapiro discussed President Eisenhower’s doddery, confidence-sapping speaking style when responding to questions from the press. Eisenhower gave everyone listening to him during these audiences the impression that he had lost, or was in the process of losing, the plot, as he rambled and went off-topic.

Brooks/Shapiro noted how surprised people were when, many years later, transcripts were released of Eisenhower’s cabinet meetings, in which the old soldier could be heard debating vigorously and giving orders, in full control of his mental faculties. Some of the Eisenhowerian phrases I remember (broadly) Brooks-Shapiro sharing during the show, even at possibly a twenty-year remove, are ‘You shut up, I’m sick of hearing from you. Now here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to screw these guys …’

The point being that the mind that Eisenhower presented to the world, and the mind that he revealed and used in his cabinet discussions were two entirely different things. Rather than being a doddery, senile old man, Eisenhower was a decisive, strong and prudent leader.

I was reminded of this episode this week when I came across an article, I think via the Financial Times’ FT Alphaville site, by someone called Ford Vox and titled ‘I’m a brain specialist. I think Trump should be tested for a degenerative brain disease‘.

The author discusses Trump’s speech patterns, apparently poor impulse control, and lapses in memory, attention and concentration, finally diagnosing mild cognitive impairment, and that the President is behaving as though he has pre-dementia and is progressing towards dementia.

This seems to me to be part of the usual anti-Trump garbage that is being spewed up by a leftist establishment determined to undermine the President in any way that they can. Whether by impeachment, unsubstantiated hysteria about Russian influence, or questioning the President’s cognitive functioning, these people have to muddy the waters and do whatever they can to deligitimise Trump. What Vox does is gives some professional support to the calls of the leftists for Trump to be removed on the grounds of incapacity.

The point I would like to make, drawing from the example of Eisenhower, is that Vox has seen only one part of Trump’s cognitive abilities, and a part which may be deliberately manufactured in such a way as to appeal to a broad section of the population. Trump may have weighed up the costs and benefits of appearing to look impulsive, inattentive and rambling in public, and decided that the benefits are much higher than the costs. But in private, he could be the attentive, clear-thinking, prudent and decisive leader that Eisenhower showed himself to be. From what I have read and heard, he is such a man, and the people around him – including senior, serious and accomplished people – both have confidence in him and draw confidence from him.

WYSIATI – What You See Is All There Is. Vox is making the mistake of thinking that what he sees of Trump’s performance is all that there is. This is not necessarily the case.

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Europeans shaping the Middle East: further information about the Balfour Declaration

Back in August, I wrote a piece about the role that Europeans, in particular Mark Sykes and Arthur Balfour, played in shaping the Middle East as it is today.

In response to an odd article on the Balfour Declaration by Simon Schama in the Financial Times of November 4, ’67 words that changed the world’, Ralph M Coury, Professor Emeritus of History of Fairfield University, wrote a letter, published on November 21, which exposes the duplicity of Balfour’s public declaration. I’ll quote the letter in full:

Sir, Simon Schama writes, in “67 words that changed the world” (Life & Arts, November 4) that the British and Zionists sought to reconcile “the ambitions of both Jewish and Arab reawakenings”. According to Professor Schama, the British effort was manifested in the “crucial proviso” to the Balfour Declaration which states that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”; and the Zionist effort was manifested in the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann’s belief that Zionists should “appreciate the Palestinian Arabs’ own sense of home”, and Weizmann’s acting upon this belief by negotiating with the Emir Faisal of Mecca to whom the British had promised a sovereign pan-Arab state after the war. Prof Schama’s arguments cannot withstand serious scrutiny.

The Balfour Declaration does indeed speak of “the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities” (90 per cent of the population!) but not of their political rights, and this in contrast to the British concern for the preservation of “the rights and political status of Jews” outside of Palestine, a phrase that follows the “proviso” and which Prof Schama does not mention. The use of the terms “rights and political status” for non-Palestinian Jews is clearly deliberate, inasmuch as it avoids calling attention to the fact that Jews are deemed to have”political rights”, implicitly in Palestine and explicitly outside of it, in contrast to the Arabs.

Balfour knew exactly what he was doing, as is shown by a secret memo that he sent to the British cabinet at the time: The “policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine than that of the ‘independent nation’ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the present inhabitants of the country … The Four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land … In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the powers have made no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.”

That clears it up. The public Balfour Declaration was a sham, the real intention of the British government was always to do in the Palestinian Arabs and hand their country to the Zionists.

Why do it? One of the hypotheses circulating around the internet is that in 1917 the British realised that, with the French army in mutiny, the Russian Empire close to collapse, and having allowed their generals to murder a significant proportion of their own army through patently idiotic tactics and strategies, there was an increasing chance that they would lose the war to a vengeful Germany. They needed to be rescued by the men, money and resources of the United States, which would require getting the United States into the war. To this end, a deal was struck with the Rothschild family, who were at the head of the Zionist movement, and who had the sway in Washington to bring the United States into the war in return for British facilitation of the Zionist project.

The British got their way, the United States came into the war and swung the balance in favour of the allies, Germany was trounced, and the Zionist project began its push towards statehood. One hundred years later, the British Empire is gone, Britain is defeated, demoralised, impoverished and islamicised, Germany has the European empire that it always wanted, and the costs to the Palestinians and to the Jews, in blood and treasure, of this vile betrayal continue to mount, with no end in sight.

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The Curse of Cassandra: Being Early is the Same as Being Wrong

Around three years ago, Yanis Varoufakis was elected to the Greek parliament and selected to be the new government’s finance minister. He came to the job with bold ideas about rescuing Greece from its terrible financial predicament, among which was the idea of a restructuring of the Greek government’s debts, which could never be repaid and the burden of which were weighing on the Greek economy.

Varoufakis’ ideas would be no panacea – Greece’s economic problems have deep and strong cultural and structural roots. But his plans were, in my view, a very intelligent way to restore economic activity in Greece and to maximise the returns that the creditors would receive for their lending.

The plans went nowhere. Greece’s fellow European states would have none of Varoufakis’ approach, and treated him, his packages and his arguments with contempt. He also gained no effective support from the IMF. Varoufakis also quickly lost the support of his prime minister and his fellow ministers. In six months, he was out of the job.

Move on three years, and I see this article printed in the English edition of the Greek newspaper Katherimini:

Lagarde Says Restructuring Greece’s Debt Essential

A restructuring of Greece’s debt is essential so that the future of the Greek economy can be sustainable, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement to the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Regarding Greece, Lagarde said the IMF’s position was “very clear” and that it has approved a stand-by loan in principle on the basis on certain elements, with chief among them being the need to restructure Greece’s debt.

An assessment by IMF experts that has just been completed, Lagarde explained, outlined a series of actions and benchmarks that need to be met.

“We must deal with these in order to be able to move forward. It is my estimate that this can happen at the start of the new year,” she said.

Varoufakis was exactly right in his diagnosis of the problem in Greece, and his proposed cure. But he was early. He saw things more clearly than others, but while this allowed him to generate solutions to existing problems, it also meant that it was difficult, if not impossible, to bring others of less insight with him.

The Curse of Cassandra. Responsible for so much needless misery in the world.

 

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Closed-Mindedness Leading to Extreme Beliefs: Homicidal Cult-Marx Nuttery

Society is progressing broadly in a way that I have long feared.

You know what’s next. It will just get worse when people realise that the money has run out and there isn’t anything left to spend on ‘social programmes’, welfare payments and the like.

Prepare accordingly.

UPDATE: the above wasn’t an isolated case.

Posted in Cult-Marx Inversion, Mind-sets and Logic-Bubbles, The Suicide of the West | Leave a comment

Sound reasoning: two recent examples

Three recent examples of sound reasoning that I would like to bring to your attention.

The first is a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation by the former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, delivered in London this last October 9 [film and transcript], under the title ‘Daring to Doubt’. Some of the paras from the speech:

It would be wrong to underestimate the strengths of the contemporary West. By objective standards, people have never had better lives. Yet our phenomenal wealth and our scientific and technological achievements rest on values and principles that have rarely been more widely challenged.

To a greater or lesser extent, in most Western countries, we can’t keep our borders secure; we can’t keep our industries intact; and we can’t preserve a moral order once taken for granted. Eventually, something will crystalize out of this age of disruption but in the meantime we could be entering a period of national and even civilizational decline.

In Australia, we’ve had ten years of disappointing government. It’s not just the churn of prime ministers that now rivals Italy’s, the internal divisions and the policy confusion that followed a quarter century of strong government under Bob Hawke and John Howard. It’s the institutional malaise. We have the world’s most powerful upper house: a Senate where good government can almost never secure a majority. Our businesses campaign for same sex marriage but not for economic reform. Our biggest company, BHP, the world’s premier miner, lives off the coal industry that it now wants to disown. And our oldest university, Sydney, now boasts that its mission is “unlearning” …

Everywhere, there’s a breakdown of public trust between voters and their leaders for misdiagnosing problems, for making excuses about who’s to blame, and for denying the damage that’s been done.

Since the Global Financial Crisis, at least in the West, growth has been slow, wages stagnant, opportunities limited, and economic and cultural disruption unprecedented. Within countries and between them, old pecking orders are changing. Civilizational self-doubt is everywhere; we believe in everyone but ourselves; and everything is taken seriously except that which used to be.

Just a few years ago, history was supposed to have ended in the triumph of the Western liberal order. Yet far from becoming universal, Western values are less and less accepted even in the West itself. We still more or less accept that every human being is born with innate dignity; with rights, certainly, but we’re less sure about the corresponding duties.

We still accept the golden rule of human conduct: to treat others as we would have them treat us – or to use the Gospel formula to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” – but we’re running on empty …

Beware the pronouncement, “the science is settled”. It’s the spirit of the Inquisition, the thought-police down the ages.  Almost as bad is the claim that “99 per cent of scientists believe” as if scientific truth is determined by votes rather than facts.

There are laws of physics; there are objective facts; there are moral and ethical truths. But there is almost nothing important where no further enquiry is needed. What the “science is settled” brigade want is to close down investigation by equating questioning with superstition. It’s an aspect of the wider weakening of the Western mind which poses such dangers to the world’s future.

It’s the great disappointment of the Abbott rise and fall, that he said all the right things, but didn’t believe them, so that when, after having been the victim of what I think was the most vile, ad hominem political campaign waged against anyone since the war, he finally won office, and found himself surrounded by the cultural marxists of the bureaucracy, he failed to follow through on his promises. And when he did rely on his own instincts, he seriously blundered. As a result, his strongest supporters quickly fell away, and after two years he found himself, for the first time in twenty years, on the back benches. So, he speaks a good game, but I’m under no illusions that he would ever deliver in accordance with his promises.

Faith, I have heard enough. For your words and
Performances are no kin together.

Just on that Sydney University mission being unlearning, I had to look it up for myself, as I was only recently a tutor there. Here it is, complete with film:

Why unlearn?

We’re changing the way we teach and how our students learn.

Throughout our lives we’re taught important lessons. We learn how to talk, to walk, and even how to behave. But there’s one important lesson most of us never get – a lesson in unlearning.

Unlearning is about challenging the established, and questioning the accepted.

It’s not about ignoring what you already know, but it’s about being brave enough to question it and break down old rules so we can write new ones. It’s about looking at things in the context of today, and tomorrow.

Take the future of work.

The World Economic Forum estimates that young people today will change careers at least seven times in their lives, while almost 5 million current jobs in Australia are expected to become obsolete by 2030.

That doesn’t mean those jobs won’t be replaced. But it does mean the jobs and careers of the future will be very different from today.

And so will students.

Many of today’s undergraduates have always lived in a world with smart phones, tablets, social media and always-on connectivity, and expect collaboration and social interactivity to be at the centre of their learning experience.

That’s why we’ve been doing some unlearning of our own: changing the way we teach and the way our students learn.

Our new curriculum provides students with the skills, capabilities and agility to thrive in a changing world. There are now more opportunities to study and combine a wider range of subjects, work on real-world projects, access cross-disciplinary learning tools and programs, and exchange and intercultural opportunities.

We’re committed to both learning and unlearning so our students can build the skills, confidence and resilience to manage the challenges, and make the most of the opportunities, the future offers.

So, it seems as though they’re using ‘unlearning’ as a word to represent the concept of keeping an open mind, critically appraising ideas and beliefs, and generating insights. In general I support this approach, but myself I’d be wary of using the term ‘unlearning’. And, sadly, the film at the bottom of the page associates unlearning with adopting all of the usual cultural marxist brainwashing baby-talk tropes: civil protest, aboriginal exceptionalism, sexual freakoidness, vandalism in the interests of marxist propaganda, islamic exceptionalism, open borders, drug legalisation, and homosexual marriage [but note that the film switches to another image before we see the two blokes pashing each other].

Hopefully the kids will see through the blatant propaganda, which surely must be getting old and tired by now, and apply ‘unlearning’ to the cultural marxist bullshit that they are bombarded with these days in order to make up their own minds about what is important in their worlds.

OK, enough editorialising. Following on from the Abbott speech is this excellent letter re. Australian energy policy by one Dr Michael Crawford, reprinted on the Catallaxy Files website. An absolutely scarifying condemnation of the stupidity, short-term thinking and gutlessness that has brought the island continent to crisis, ending with the wonderful line:

If you do not understand that, you are too clueless to be worth feeding.

The third piece of writing that impressed me was this essay from the consistently superb Slate Star Codex. I won’t extract any excerpts here: just go and read the whole thing.

 

 

Posted in Critical Thinking, Cult-Marx Inversion, Epistemic Rationality, Flotsam and Jetsam, Goal Rationality, Good Thinking, Groupthink, Narrative and Taboo, Principal-Agent Problems, The Mind & Society, The Suicide of the West | Leave a comment

Down The Memory Hole

In putting my course together, I’ve arrived at the section devoted to non sequiturs and, in looking for examples of utterly, mind-meltingly idiotic statements, I remembered a statement by Barack Obama, in response to yet another atrocity carried out in the name of islam, along the lines of:

This has less to do with islam than it has to do with any other religion.

So I went looking for it on the web.

I can’t find it.

Anywhere.

I know that it exists. Sam Harris has referred to it in one of his podcasts – No. 51: The Most Powerful Clown (the quotation appears around the 17:30 minute mark). Douglas Murray has referred to it, in a speech in Denmark handily made available on Youtube (for how much longer, I don’t know – anyway, relevant quotation at the 14 minute mark):

My favourite is the movement from: ‘This terrorist attack has nothing to do with islam”, to: ‘It has nothing to do with islam, and in any case islam is a religion of peace’, to Barack Obama’s best hit ever, which came last year after an American hostage was decapitated in Syria, and Barack Obama said: ‘It not only doesn’t have anything to do with islam, it has less to do with Islam than with any other religion’.

So if somebody cuts off someone’s head while shouting ‘allahu-akbar’, the Buddhists should get it?

So I know that Obama made this statement. Two scholars whom I respect have quoted the statement.

And yet it doesn’t appear anywhere on the internet.

The closest that I can find is a question that someone, going by the moniker tavhkog, in search of the same information as me, put on reddit. He received an answer, to which he replied ‘Thank you’.

That response, to which Tavhkog replied, has been deleted. 

What is going on? Are we truly living in Orwell’s 1984?

 

Posted in Informal fallacies in reasoning, The Suicide of the West | Leave a comment

Slothful Induction: an insight from Orwell

Continuing with the theme of Spain and Spanish history, this also appeared in the Financial Times recently:

George Orwell, who fought in Catalonia on the Republican side during the Spanish civil war, well understood this. “All nationalists,” he observed, “have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency.”

Because he can’t see the resemblances (involuntary blindness), or because he doesn’t want to see the resemblances (wilful blindness)?

Posted in Informal fallacies in reasoning, Slothful induction | Leave a comment