Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The "Cecil Effect" at work

Hwange National Park to Slaughter African Lions Due to Lack of Hunters

The fees paid by well-to-do hunters to kill game in Africa is a major source of funding for conservation efforts there. Now, because of the "Cecil Effect", the conservancy managers will have to pay someone to come in and kill up to 200 lions to bring the population back into balance.

A permit to kill a male lion, typically, costs about $20,000 USD. A lioness runs about $8,000. That is over-and-above the cost of lodging, a guide and transportation. Those two hundred lions represents over $2 million USD. That is just the loss from the lions. The fees for other dangerous game are similar. Now, $2 million may not be much to a self-righteous liberal asshole but in a dirt-poor, third word country like Zimbabwe is is a fortune. Losing that income means not just imperiling the preserve but also means fewer schools, clinics and, in some districts, no more meat to donate for the local human population.

Actions have consequences. Stupid actions usually lead to bad consequences.

Donald Trump as a Product of System 1 thinking.

I rarely delve into electoral politics but a recent essay I read on Facebook (of all places) started me thinking about the current election cycle.

In his book entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes two modes of thinking in the human mind. He gives these modes the the innocuous names of "System 1" and System 2". System 1 is the fast, intuitive, and emotional side whereas System 2 is more deliberative, logical and slower.

The two systems as Kahneman describe them, make perfect sense in an evolutionary context. I recall reading that a human neuron has a clock speed of about 15 Hz to 20 Hz. That means human reaction times are, at best, measured in tenths of a second. In a world where threats and opportunities happen unexpectedly, a system for selecting quickly from the available alternatives was necessary for survival. The System 1 we inherited from our ancestors was refined by millennia of a brutally efficient system of natural selection and it works very well for what it evolved for. By contrast, the more deliberative System 2 was patched on top of the older intuitive System 1 and is heavily influenced by it.

So, what does this a have do with Trump? Well, first politics is the real mind-killer. It may be an important aspect of life and we should certainly apply our individual rationality to it. However, it is an awful place to learn to be rational. To have a rational political discussion, all sides must first be rational. Trump, I think, represents the triumph of our atavistic evolutionary nature over the much more recent and less well proven rationality. He is in effect a super politician when seen through the filter of intuition and emotion. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing only time can tell

Which brings me to the essay. Like Mr. Yudkowsky I do not agree with everything Mr. Monroe wrote but the following does have a good exposition as to how a man like Trump can rise toward political power in a manner that appears nearly inevitable. The fault is not in our stars but in our genes.

Read it here. This is a Facebook post so it may not be visible to everyone.

Never go full Retard

Apparently that warning does not apply in California.

The California Legislature continues its headlong race to full retard with its latest gun control bills. I wonder how they will try to top this. Perhaps a permanent vegetative state would be the appropriate endgame.

ALERT: Assembly Public Safety Committee Passes 2 Anti-Gun Bills, Makes One Far Worse Than Before

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gavin Newsom wants me dead

I cannot say I am surprised at this. Wanting most people vulnerable to the depredation of criminals is entirely in keeping with the Left's attitude toward the hoi polloi. The endgame for the Left has always been the firing squad and the gulag.

On HBO, Gavin Newsom Defends Being a Sitting Duck at a Mass Shooting

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In Response to a Stupid Meme

There is no Christianity in the modern world. In its place is a bunch of squabbling sects; each with it's own vision of the Truth. The only real danger these little "c" christianities pose is when one or an alliance of a few powerful ones gains ascendancy within a government. That situation helped drive much of the warfare in post-Reformation Europe. The US avoided that problem largely -- and probably accidentally -- by mandating religious freedom so people no longer had to fight over stupid stuff. If you disagreed with your church, join another or make up your own.

The adherence to Scriptures is highly selective in modern Christianity and different sects emphasize different parts. God may hate fags but He loves bacon! In a real sense, Christians have gone from believing their religion to believing in their religion.

Maybe Islam is in a transitional state analogous to the Reformation. I don't think so but it may just be too early to tell. More likely, IMO, is that most Muslims really believe their religion is big "T" Truth and internalize its principles. All of them. That is not remotely like the situation in Christianity since the 19th Century.

Anyway, here is the Stupid Meme of the title.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ends and Means

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Suppose you are down a mine and five people are standing on the track. You see a trolley laden with coal coming down the track, you cannot warn the people, but you can flip a switch that will divert the trolley onto a side line. Unfortunately one person is standing on this line. What should you do (morally, that is).

You have probably heard of this or some similar "thought experiment" in ethics. They are generically called a Trolly Problem after a moral dilemma devised by the late Philippa Foote.

One thing about philosophers is they get to present only one side of the story and do so in any way they like. Setting up a scenario which stipulates that the only possible way to save the five lives is to kill one person at first seems seem unfair so I was tempted to just dismiss the scenario as unrealistic. However, after further thought I decided the Universe really is perverse enough that similar moral dilemmas will arise.

At various times, I tried two basic approaches to solve the dilemma. First was the utilitarian approach. This is an attractive solution because it is simple arithmetic: Five lives are greater than one life. So the utilitarian answer is to divert the train thus killing the one to save five.

The other approach is based on obedience to rules (deontological) and always seemed to devolve to some version of the Doctrine of Double Effect which I first encountered reading Thomas Aquinas in my misspent High School days. To justify an act, there are four criteria which must be met:

  1. The action must be either morally good or morally indifferent.
  2. The bad effect must not be a proximate cause of the good effect.
  3. The intention must be the achieving of only the good effect, with the bad effect being only an unintended side effect.
  4. The good effect must be at least equivalent in importance to the bad effect.

OK, so analyzing the question according to Aquinas:

  1. Pulling the switch is an indifferent act. Check
  2. The killing of the one person is not the proximate cause of the other five surviving. Check
  3. Saving the five is the intent. This is a bit if a push but I give it a check
  4. Arithmetic again: Five lives are greater than one life. Check.

So both approaches yield the same answer. When I understood that, my first inclination was to think "Wow! It must be the correct action!" However, the answer did not seem right to me. I know that a feeling of wrongness does not necessarily translate into an objective wrong but I believe there is value in letting my feelings serve my intellect. Feelings evolved alongside intelligence for a darned good reason -- It helped my ancestors survive and produce the next generation of my ancestors. If emotion and intellect are in disharmony then intellect can be used to sort out the controversy.

There is an unspoken assumption in the Trolley Problem that all six lives are essentially of equal value but that is not necessarily true. I suspect the arithmetic for a God (or a sufficiently advanced AGI) would be a little different. A God will have information about the people involved which can affect the decision. Perhaps the one is a brilliant medical doctor and the five are murders and rapists. Would that change the moral balance? If it does then some lives are less valuable than others and both of the above approaches are severely crippled.

If there was a God (or AGI) lacking any innate tendency to be corrupted by power, it could be right for She/He/It to deliberately kill the one innocent person to save the other five. However, human being are not Gods with perfect knowledge nor are we immune to the temptations of power.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Backdoor is Pretty Much Useless for Law Enforcement

Here is a good article from Bruce Schneier discussing why, even if a "law enforcement backdoor" could be made hacker proof, it will not solve the problem it is intended for.

Back Doors Won't Solve Comey's Going Dark Problem

A "backdoor" is a deliberately introduced security hole that, in this case, allows anyone with the relevant knowledge to eavesdrop on communication. This does more than introduce wiretapping capabilities into private communications. It increases the complexity of the system which decreases reliability. It makes patching bugs more difficult because the wiretap functions will have to be validated. Additionally, if anyone really thinks that a mandated backdoor will remain "law enforcement only" he needs to look up the Athens Affair.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Dem Bones

JERUSALEM — Hailed by some as the most significant of all Christian relics but dismissed by skeptics amid accusations of forgery, misinterpretation and reckless speculation, two ancient artifacts found here have set off a fierce archaeological and theological debate in recent decades.

At the heart of the quarrel is an assortment of inscriptions that led some to suggest Jesus of Nazareth was married and fathered a child, and that the Resurrection could never have happened.

Now, the earth may have yielded new secrets about these disputed antiquities. A Jerusalem-based geologist believes he has established a common bond between them that strengthens the case for their authenticity and importance.

Findings Reignite Debate on Claim of Jesus’ Bones

If true this would offer serious evidence that the tradition of Jesus as the unmarried, only child of a virgin mother is wrong. On the other hand, it would also be solid evidence that Jesus actually existed. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

What it will not do is cause any crisis of faith in followers of the various flavors of Christianity. Some will reject it out of hand. Some will ignore it as irrelevant. Some will just adapt their theology. Mormonism survived the revelation that much of its holy book doesn't correspond to New World archeology so I suspect few Christians will have much of a problem with this.

In the end, I doubt many minds will be changed. Still, it would be pretty neat to know the truth.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Warrant Canary is Illegal in Australia

For those who don't know, a warrant canary is the periodic transmission of a statement along the lines of, "We have not received any warrant demanding your data." If the message stops being sent then the recipient(s) can assume such a warrant has been served. The idea behind this is that the gag-order that often accompanies such demands from law enforcement cannot prevent a person from not speaking.

Until now. In Australia.

Australian government minister: Dodge new data retention law like this

Warrant canaries can't be used in this context either. Section 182A of the new law says that a person commits an offense if he or she discloses or uses information about "the existence or non-existence of such a [journalist information] warrant." The penalty upon conviction is two years imprisonment.

In truth the warrant canaries were unlikely to work for long. In the current, fear driven environment there is little reason for law enforcement to restrain itself from coercing the target of a warrant into sending false canary messages. By outlawing even the attempt to use a warrant canary, the Australians are just being more honest about being a bunch of progressive schmucks.

I anticipate similar wording will be added to US law.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Quebec: Stuck on Stupid?

Generally, I try to understand the peculiarities of other cultures and I get that firearms may scare people who learn about them from television and video games. However, this out of Quebec strike me as just plain stupid. The Canadian government already wasted over $1 billion on a registry that, allegedly, lists less than half the legal firearms in the country. Now, in a classic example of the Sunk Cost Fallacy, Quebec wants to throw good money after bad.

Update: Quebec will create its own long-gun registry.

The article includes this little gem:

Thériault was careful to add that a provincial registry wouldn’t be designed to limit hunting activities or to crack down on lawful gun owners.

Only "lawful gun owners" will register their firearms making them the only people a registry can be used against.

There have been credible allegations of corruption in the administration of the registry so maybe some Quebec politicans just want to keep the gravy train rolling. OTOH, maybe it is Global Warming causing a brain eating bacteria to proliferate in the province.