How News is Generated.

On December 1st, Vox published an article titled

A game of naked tag at a Nazi death camp was a Polish filmmaker’s idea of art

It’s got all the right buzzwords: Naked, Nazi, Filmmaker’s idea of art. Most importantly, the title conveys a sense of immediacy to the event, like it just happened.

You have to read past the opening paragraphs and scroll past the free rebroadcast of the video so offensive it sparked the article, to get to the little tidbit of information that the film was screened two years ago.

The only reason anyone is able to even call this news is that the exact location of the shoot has been uncovered as a chamber in the Stutthof camp. Oh yeah, and the film as shot in ’99.

The film found equally poor reception in ’15 when it was displayed at a polish museum. AP reports that it was taken down from Krakow and Estonia. In Poland the display was placed in a separate room with a warning.

The artist’s page defends the work as contextualizing the horrors of the holocaust. A fairer interpretation is that of dancing on the graves of sixty five thousand people. Its no secret that art has been shitting on important matters for the later half of a century, and this is nothing particularly new. It was filmed  18 years ago. There’s not much outrage left to be had over this one.

The question then is, why is this story being picked up by the likes of BBC, VOX, the daily mail, ABC, and BuzzFeed?

The Times of Israel seems to be the one that broke the story, stating “the Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and several other groups sent the request for clarification to President Andrzej Duda”. The OHSI sent a letter. That’s why we’re hearing about this for a second time around.

This story is not news today. It barely passed as news when it was published the first time and even then it was 16 years after the actual occurrence. What pushes this particular matter to the front of left leaning news is the ability to once again use the word Nazi.

There are other art exhibitions that have sparked controversy in their time. There are other videos by the same artist. This one, however, hits the right tone to be featured in media. It sings with flagrant disregard for past tragedy and invokes the possibility in the readers mind that the newfound active Nazi party in america is in fact out there dancing on the graves of dead Jews. It’s perfect.

And to further dispel any lingering hint of sincerity to the outrage over this video, note that articles from 2017 show the video while the ones from 2015 do not.

Oh, and Trump is expected t make an announcement about Israel soon.

 

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AI: not a big problem after all.

Yesterday, insiders from numerous think tanks and advanced computing companies came together to announce to the world that everything they’ve heard about Artificial Intelligence (or “AI”) over the last few years has been false. “There are still no computers that can think unique thoughts on their own. It’s all techno mumbo-jumbo and marketing speak to convince investors to invest in one company or the next. In fact, you may have been part of the entire effort to make AI seem more real.,” said the spokesman for the group, Nerdy McSoontobejobless. “Chances are that you’re in on the act, but just don’t know it. If you’ve ever been asked to prove that you’re ‘not a robot’ by selecting squares that include street signs, you’re basically spoon-feeding an database algorithm what a sign is so that standard text-recognition software can figure out what the sign says.”

Eepok

Ok, I understand that this user’s comments were in part satirical, but oddly enough they express a notion that is growing in popularity.

Robotic surgery isn’t any better.

Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Productivity Paradox – Paywall

Without Humans, Artificial Intelligence Is Still Pretty Stupid

If you happen upon these and other similar headlines enough times in a short period, you might think that something has changed in our outlook on technology. “Oh, sorry guys. We were pretty sure we could build something amazing, but we just finished adding up the numbers and, turns out, it’s impossible to do anything more that what were currently doing with computers. Yep, that’s right. Seems we’ve hit a ceiling.”

This is of course in stark contrast to other headlines like:

Technology invading nearly all U.S. jobs

It gets to a place where the average Joe might wonder what the real turn out of all this technology is really going to be. On one side we’ve go people saying that we can just fix the economy with a few tariffs and on the other you have Stephen Hawking warning us to arm up for the impending eradication of life at the hands of computers. We seem to be lacking a good way of judging the reality of AI and automation.

So, lets break out my favorite analysis tool” Process vs. outcome. We are, in a sense, concerned with the outcome of AI, more exactly we’re concerned about the future outcome. We want to predict where it will take us. To make that prediction we have two ways of thinking.

Outcome thinking will attempt to gather information about our current state in the present, maybe some previous historical states, and extrapolate on that information. It’s pretty weak at this sort of thing because it relies on accurately measuring parts of the real world we don’t really have access to. We personally don’t know how many jobs have been taken over by computers. We can try to estimate based off what articles in the news say, but then were back to the issue of sifting through contradictory headlines.

Process thinking requires that we simply attempt to answer a series of questions. Have computers ever proven capable of performing the same task as a human? Does the capacity of a computer to perform a task increase or decrease with the amount of computing power available to it? Does computing power per dollar increase or decrease over time? Is leveraging automation profitable? Is there something functionally non-reproducible about the human mind?

These aren’t meant to be leading questions. The answers to them do matter in how we draw our conclusions. What is important here is that the questions do not attempt to measure actual events or information, but rather the mechanism behind the trends. We don’t need to measure progress directly, we just need to know that it is inevitable through natural market forces.

The Demand for PTSD

PTSD is a difficult topic to grasp. Every case is different, and over all our understanding of the human mind just isn’t that good. Recently there has been a trend, a result of the Iraq war most likely, towards rear-stationed troops demonstrating similar post war PTSD rates as front-liners. It would seem that the cause of this condition is is not only in major traumas involving death and killing. It is also present in the day to day operations of relatively safe bases.

This is not my speculation, but that of Sebastian Junger in his book “Tribe – Homecoming and reunion”. In the book he makes the case that separation from one’s fellow soldiers is in itself a significant trauma, and responsible for at least some of the cases of PTSD upon returning from war. This is because the bonds between soldiers becomes so strong that departure from a deployment feels like leaving a family behind. Or, more aptly in the metaphor of book, leaving one’s tribe.

The importance of this is that the very brotherhood the soldiers form, and is so damaging to leave, is the result of a conscious and concerted effort on the part of military’s training system. Such strong bonds are not only needed to improve teamwork and cooperation, they are needed to impel soldiers to kill.

Getting soldiers to actually kill has been notoriously difficult throughout history. Dave Grossman’s “On Killing” is a study of the tremendous resistance the average soldier has towards killing, even in the face of his own death. The only time soldiers seem to be liberated to kill without compunction in in the setting of an atrocity.  When the soldiers feel their enemy is sufficiently “Other” or not fully human, they lose their resistance to killing and fall in line with social pressure or orders to do so.

This othering tactic is well known and has been implemented to varying success throughout the history of warfare. Only now in the modern era has is been perfected, not through propaganda and hate for the enemy, but through team building and bonding with one’s fellow soldiers. The reasoning does like this: The stronger the bonds between the soldiers, the more “other” all outsiders appear.

It’s wildly effective and todays troops have successfully been conditioned to execute their jobs, killing if need be, without the same turmoil as previous generations. The downside to this camaraderie is that it isolates the soldiers utterly. Not only does the enemy becomes more distant and less human, but friends and family back home do so as well.

A return back home is not a return to normalcy for the conditioned soldier. It is being torn away from the only world he knows and thrown back into an alien planet with people and places he is only partially bonded with. This creates the massive culture shock of returning from deployment, and in turn the high incidence of PTSD.

TO further this problem, returning soldiers find that there is no analogue for the camaraderie of the military. They leave a highly concentrated form of tribalism and loyalty to return to a disparate world of individualism. No longer possessing the tools, or perhaps having been given a taste of something more satisfying, they struggle to reintegrate.

The military can’t and wont give up this form of conditioning for its soldiers. THe civilian world will continue to be an increasingly individualist place. Thus, PTSD is an endemic and inexorable part of modern warfare.

2020 Election Predictions

It’s time to get the ball rolling on some 2020 predictions because I see the outcome of that election as being a major factor in the trajectory of this nation’s culture. It’s not because I believe the office of the president holds that much importance, rather because the election is the largest social experiment in the world. This past cycle we successfully brainwashed half the nation into believing we were reliving 1940’s German history, and the other half into thinking the host of Miss-America had the secret fix for a failing economy. The president is unimportant; the stories told about the president mean everything.

The teeter totter of Dem/Rep victory is the main mechanic of altering our social narrative. What I mean by social narrative is the set of ideas that are acceptable to promote and repeat. In our current cultural narrative is acceptable to promote and repeat that women suffer discrimination. It is not acceptable to suggest that our borders should be secured. Sure there are people saying it, the president is saying it, but the narrative has made it controversial.

Narrative is awarded to the party that can claim the greatest victim-hood. With the recent Rep. win, the conservatives are placated and the Liberals are in overdrive. The cultural narrative is predominantly a liberal one now because they are motivated to retake power and fight injustice. The conservatives basically have what they want and can only muster a few passing laughs at the fever of the other side.

Should the 2020 go to the democrats, the Republicans may regain their initiative and take back the cultural narrative, but only after the fact. They’re going to be sluggish compared to the left. Should it go to the republicans however, the left will essentially lock down their ownership of cultural narrative for the foreseeable future. It’s this dynamic that has me interested in the outcome of the next election cycle. The shape of this country rests on it.

There is little point in pondering the republican candidate. I see almost no chance, barring immense stupidity, that the RNC would make a serious effort to run someone other than Trump. If they did, it would be a huge risk based largely on a sense that Trump has become fatiguing. The left puts up so much resistance that even his supporters don’t want to hear about him anymore. Still, they would need to hit it out of the park with the new guy and I just don’t think they have anyone in the wings for that. Trump it is, then.

The Democratic candidate is the real area of interest. who that might be boils down to whether the DNC learned anything from their defeat in 2016. Based on their new slogan “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” It would seem they haven’t. They’re still clunky, awkward, and relying on their grasp of the social narrative to pull them through. They may still think their approach with Hillary was good and only failed because of exigent circumstances.

If they did learn from their mistakes, first round pick would be Joe Biden. He’s well liked, had a solid resume, doesn’t hold the same negativity as Hillary but can still project the message “Back to business as usual”. He would be seen as a return to the center, which is dearly needed. In a race between Biden and Trump, I think the vote might go to Biden. He could project  the sensibility and stability the swing voters desperately craved in 2016.

Problem being, he’s a white male. While adding no points for the swing voters, this absolutely deducts points for the core democratic base. The last white democrat to make it to the general was Kerry. Think about that. Somewhere along the way, the party made the decision to run the firsts game. First black president, first woman president, etc. Biden would be seen as a step backwards. They’d support him, but not with the same energy.

The alternative, the Hillary-should-have-won approach, is to bring in an outsider. I don’t have an actual pick for this option, and in talking with the politically informed, don’t think this person exists in real life, but he certainly was a character in the last season of West-Wing. Matt Santos, the vaguely Hispanic representative from Texas that ran and won after the end of the Bartlett administration. He’s a ready pick because he gets to continue the pattern of minority candidates but doesn’t shove anything down down our throats. Think of him like a Hispanic, probably not Mexican, Obama.

He could remain centrist on most of the divisive stuff while allowing his presence to signal social justice. His base could sling shit for him all day without his needed to say a word. He’d look clean to the opposition while still energizing the fanaticism of a culture war. Between Santos and Trump, I’m honestly not sure who’d win. And there in lays the danger.

A republican win proves to the fanatical left that they are in Nazi Germany after all. There will be no getting them back after that. Given their individualist/separatist leanings, it would drive the wedge deeper into the heart of this country.

A democratic win would leave the right feeling like they’ve lost their rightful turn. We’re used to two term presidents. To loose that on the grounds of the left shouting about social justice would leave a welt. Given the already high tension, it might be enough for the right to shake off it’s lethargy. A politically motivated conservative base is not something this country has seen in decades and isn’t something we’re ready to stomach.

The teeter totter would devolve into a tug-o-war. Balance would be traded in for domination. We as a country, unable to reconcile our differences, would only in-fight further. Without a centrist Democrat in office, there is no hope for america.

 

 

Projecting Fragility

It’s finally happening. Trumps wave of hate crimes are rolling in starting with the ban of heroic transgenders from the military. Only problem is that Trump’s base still doesn’t seem to see the problem. The disagreement on the nature of the problem is actually more interesting than the problem it’s self. Let me explain.

Trans have, are, and will continue to serve in our military to some extent and in some fashion. They were not allowed before, and still managed to find ways to serve, and may be banned again, and still find ways to serve under the radar.

What is being ruled out is transgenders openly serving. This is not like the Tuskegee Airmen being allowed to fly despite the color of their skin. A ban on transgender does not actually bar them from serving. It bars certain types of behavior. The whole argument is over behavior, not the nature of transgender as a life.

The pro-argument goes like this: Trans people are people and should be afforded all the same opportunities as everyone else. One such opportunity is to serve in the military. Under the ban, a dedicated soldier could be dishonorably discharged or even court-marshaled just for the fact that they identify differently. That is discrimination

The con-argument goes like this: Anyone who can be a combat effective soldier should be allowed, but trans people have major complications that routinely distract and hinder combat effectiveness. They are fragile, possibly mentally ill, and complicate every rule set in place. If they really want to serve so bad, they can suck it up and pretend to be normal.

The key to all this is that transgender is an identity. Being a soldier is in part about dropping one’s identity and becoming a piece in the greater whole. If trans feel that giving up an open expression of their identity is enough to keep them out of the military, then they should not be in the military. Even if that identity is deeply rooted, it’s not a part of the soldiers’ job to express it. Having sex is another deep;y rooted behavior that the military does not permit while on the clock.

 

The Wage Wall

Rather consistently we hear mentions to the gap in pay between women and men. The line that is most often use is that women make $.75 for every man’s dollar. This of course has been soundly refuted by a number of studies that show the apparent difference in pay is more a result of career and life choices than systemic oppression.

What I find more interesting than the truth of the statistic, is it’s persistence. You would think if there were such a noticeable difference, it would be clear as day. And yet the effects, if ever there were any, remain invisible to us. We need the use of sophisticated statistics to show what should be everyday common knowledge. The wage gap is supposed to be pervasive meaning people should be able to tell if they are direct victims of it or not. But we can’t and the reason for that is much more dangerous that the issue of the wage gap.

Employers work hard to obfuscate wages. Culture has a shyness towards discussing the topic of wages. Everything in society is fashioned around the idea of keeping wage information compartmentalized and isolating workers. Let’s imagine that there was a wage gap, it would be great for employers. If they could cut costs on personnel by 25%, you bet they’d do it, sexism or no.

The ability of employers to segment their workforce and manipulate wages without transparency should worry everyone, not just women. and this is where I see the divide between process thinkers and outcome thinkers.

Right now the outcome is being shouted from the roof-tops and presidential podiums – It’s bad that employers are paying women unfairly. The acceptable solution to this is that women not be paid unfairly. A mandate might be put in place that wages not be assigned with any knowledge of the employee’s gender. There might be audits to asses any statistical preferential treatment of one sex over the other. It’s possible that there is a good solution to fix this exact problem.

But the process thinker is more concerned with how the problem might come about in the first place. Why are employers able to operate with such impunity that they could segment a half of the workforce into a lower wage bracket? Why, on a case by case basis would workers accept these lower wages? Why is the force of the free market favoring job creators over job workers?

The most robust answer to all of these questions is that we have begin wage comparison. It needs to become not only acceptable but encouraged to discuss wages with one’s peers. This will not only fix any sex wage gap that might exist, but any race, orientation, marital status, and what not discrimination.  Most importantly, it will put a stop to the A/B testing style wage assignment.

 

Paper Men

Men are being subjected to a particularly uncomfortable form of selection these days. I call it the line up. It’s the resume. It’s the dating profile. It’s not entirely a male issue, women are subjected to the hostilities of the job market as well, but the line up is a uniquely male experience.

Increasingly, individual males are having to represent themselves in a virtual format. They must boil themselves down to a list of qualifications, perhaps a picture, and slot that profile in along side a couple hundred others. It is a distillation of male utility. “Tell us what you can do for us. Tell us why you’re useful.”

The sad but predictable result of submitting to lineups is that fewer men find success. The broader the market, the higher the bar for entry. Odds are most men are somewhere around average in looks, capabilities, and credentials. Those doing the selection will want the best applicants and so will not select most men.

In a time where geography and immediate availability were significant factors in a man’s worth, average men had a chance. In face to face interactions, men could make up for lacking “specs” on their resume or dating profile by showing character and gameness. Those qualities are impossible to certify, so there is no place for them in today’s selection process.

This leads to a selection bias towards men who look good on paper. Photogenic, participated in higher education, took only high paying jobs, never made recorded mistakes. I know some men like and I do not consider them reliable. Never straying from the beaten path does not make strong men.

Come Together

Before the dust even had time to settle and the smell of gunpowder still hung in the air, Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., specifically blamed “political rhetorical terrorism” for the shooting. “I stand here today and say stop, we have to stop,” Davis said, urging the country to come together as Americans, not Republicans and Democrats.

At the same time, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) immediately called for more gun control. McAuliffe said “there are too many guns on the street” but then said the issue shouldn’t be raised today. A reported then remarked, “If it’s not the day for it, why are you bringing it up?” The governor said he talks about the need for more background checks on gun purchases and for closing the gun show loophole all the time.

There has never in American history been an act of violence so ready made for political punditry, and never have the democrats been so tone deaf in their response. Just as the republicans are framing this as an issue with partisan politics, the democrats feel the need to engage in some partisan politics. Of particular note, they look for answers that take the blame away from them and place it back on others involved in the events of the day. For them, the reasons behind this man’s madness are unimportant, only the fact that he had the power to enact his mad will.

If the democrats had any one smart on their team, they would be framing this as an attack on American ideals. Most assassination attempts are seen as the result of sad deranged mad men, not the logical extension of a political association. If the democrats let this stick to them, it’s a failing on their part.

That being said, while the republican response of “Come together” is the right one for the time, it rings hollow. When given a little more thought, what is really says is that we should embrace the homicidal psychopaths in hopes that they’re murderous intentions might be quelled. It is the same approach that has been failing to stop Islamic extremism for decades. We do not need to come together in a mutual compromise. We need to come together to reproach the aggression growing in political discourse and that requires the liberal portion of this nation to take a seat for a moment.

Climate Accord Unconvincing

I’ve been cajoled once again into wrapping my head around an insane political battle. This time it’s the US withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Taking the US out of a huge world unifying attempt to save the environment for the purposes of preserving coal jobs is exactly the kind of thing we all expect from the sea-monster-in-chief.  But I wanted to go a little further into the matter and see what reasoning other people were using to justify this deplorable move.

The first clue I got was the number $100 Billion. It’s the annual amount that was set to be raised by involved countries to ease poorer countries into environmental stability. Notably this amount is annual and a “floor” meaning the commitment was well expected to rise over time. There is no mention of how this burden was meant to be portioned up, only that it was the responsibility of developed first wold countries to do their part because they produce more green house gasses per capita.

Following a long tradition of using shame to coerce others into action, the left has taken a particularly subtle approach to convincing us we want the accord. This is done in two steps: first make us believe the accord has meaningful impact on the environment, then shame developed countries for their production of green-house gasses by describing them as disproportionate polluters. This is reminiscent of the white shame tactic here. Richer countries foot the bill because they are at fault for the problem. China, the primary global source of pollution, is seen by the accord as one of the poor countries and will likely not be held to the same standards as the US.

I think this all is another great example of the parallel systems of thinking butting heads. On the Paris side we have the Outcome Oriented thinkers who want to control a specific variable they see as an indicator of a problem. The Pull-out side sees how thoroughly some top down imperative could screw with the process of building a strong economy. The two sides don’t even need to disagree on the matter of climate change or the seriousness thereof.

In fact, climate is the only matter not up for debate on this one. The argument sits squarely in the economic ring. The Paris accord is about enforcing non-market pressures on the global economies to change their behavior. Drawing out of the accord is about avoiding the potential economic damage that might do. The problem here is that economic models are almost entirely useless. They are poor predictors of real world variables and no one can seem to agree on which ones to use. Therefore making your argument for or against the Paris accord in economic terms is accomplishes less than nothing.

Trump highlighted this fact by siting economic reasons to not ratify the accord, and those have mostly fallen on deaf ears. In a feat of mental gymnastics, one report called his numbers fake because they describe the economic impact assuming an actual execution of the plan set out be the Obama administration. Climate/economic models are at this point so defunct even those fighting for them don’t expect their execution in any meaningful manner.