Ebola in the USA

Apparently travel to and from West Africa is more important than keeping Ebola out of the country:

A patient being treated at a Dallas hospital is the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday.

The person, whose identity was not released, left Liberia on September 19 and arrived in the United States on September 20, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC.

At that time, the person did not have symptoms. “But four or five days later,” that person began to show symptoms, Frieden said. The person was hospitalized and isolated Sunday at a hospital in Texas.

Fabulous. One hopes this will work out better than the failure to quarantine those with AIDS did.

Competitive asset-stripping

Russia calls the globalist bluff:

Russian courts could get the
green light to seize foreign assets on Russian territory under a draft
law intended as a response to Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. The draft, which was submitted to parliament on Wednesday
by a pro-Kremlin deputy, would also allow state compensation for an
individual whose property is seized in foreign jurisdictions.
Italian authorities this week seized property worth about
30 million euros ($40 million) belonging to companies controlled by
Arkady Rotenberg, an ally of President Vladimir Putin targeted by the
U.S. and European Union sanctions.
The draft law, published on a parliamentary database,
would allow for compensation for Russian citizens who suffer because of
an “unlawful court act” in a foreign jurisdiction and clear the way to
foreign state assets in Russia being seized, even if they are subject to
international immunity.

Asset-stripping sanctions aren’t going to be very effective if the Russians simply compensate those whose assets are stripped by taking them from Western companies with Russian assets. This could have some interesting knock-on effects in the NBA.

And isn’t it remarkable how the sanctity of free trade is so readily disrupted when something is at stake besides the livelihoods and standards of living of the working and middle classes?

Gladwell gets it wrong… again

The 10,000 hours rule is determined to be considerably exaggerated:

Recent research has demonstrated that deliberate practice, while undeniably important, is only one piece of the expertise puzzle—and not necessarily the biggest piece. In the first study to convincingly make this point, the cognitive psychologists Fernand Gobet and Guillermo Campitelli found that chess players differed greatly in the amount of deliberate practice they needed to reach a given skill level in chess. For example, the number of hours of deliberate practice to first reach “master” status (a very high level of skill) ranged from 728 hours to 16,120 hours. This means that one player needed 22 times more deliberate practice than another player to become a master.               

A recent meta-analysis by Case Western Reserve University psychologist Brooke Macnamara and her colleagues (including the first author of this article for Slate) came to the same conclusion. We searched through more than 9,000 potentially relevant publications and ultimately identified 88 studies that collected measures of activities interpretable as deliberate practice and reported their relationships to corresponding measures of skill. (Analyzing a set of studies can reveal an average correlation between two variables that is statistically more precise than the result of any individual study.) With very few exceptions, deliberate practice correlated positively with skill. In other words, people who reported practicing a lot tended to perform better than those who reported practicing less. But the correlations were far from perfect: Deliberate practice left more of the variation in skill unexplained than it explained. For example, deliberate practice explained 26 percent of the variation for games such as chess, 21 percent for music, and 18 percent for sports. So, deliberate practice did not explain all, nearly all, or even most of the performance variation in these fields. In concrete terms, what this evidence means is that racking up a lot of deliberate practice is no guarantee that you’ll become an expert. Other factors matter.

To put it bluntly, it’s bullshit. You will NEVER rise to the top of any skill-related activity through nothing more than determination and practice. I have played far more than 10,000 hours of soccer in my life, and while I am an effective club veteran’s team player, I still don’t have one-tenth the soccer ability that some of the club juniors had by the age of 13.

There is no question that one will improve with practice. But one does not achieve superlative mastery through practice alone. Talent matters, and it matters more in certain activities. No amount of practice will make the average individual into a mediocre sprinter; sprinters are born, not made. Nor will 10,000 hours of practice turn a 5’7″ man into an NBA center or a plodding wordsmith into Shakespeare.

Moreover, the entire concept is fundamentally based on a questionable foundation. Recall that the Swede and his colleagues asked various musicians at a single German academy to estimate how much time they’d spent practicing their instruments since the time they began playing it as children. That wasn’t science, that didn’t even rise to the level of credible polling.

The myth of austerity

The Geneva Report observes that the global economy is more awash in debt than during the financial crisis of 2008:

Contrary to widely held beliefs, the world has not yet begun to delever. Global debt-to-GDP is still growing, breaking new highs. Figure 1 shows the evolution of total debt (excluding the financial sector) for our global sample (advanced economies plus major emerging market economies). While there was a pause during 2008-09, the rise of the global debt-GDP ratio recommenced in 2010-2011.  Data in the report also show that debt-type external financing (leverage) continues to dominate equity-type financing (stock market capitalisation).

The chart they provide on global debt-to-GDP makes it perfectly clear how much worse the debt situation has gotten. There is actually 20 percent more global debt-to-GDP during this period of supposed “deleveraging” than there was when the crisis began.

There is definitely some funny business going on in the economic statistics. As you may know, I track the Fed’s L1 report, and I noticed an anomaly in the most recent report. Whereas the non-financial corporate credit sector was reported at an all-time high of $9.6 trillion in Q1-2014, in Q2 it rapidly declined to $7.4 trillion. But this decline was eliminated from the past data through historical revisions, thus hiding what would otherwise be a bigger decline in total credit market debt outstanding ($1,860 billion) than we saw from Q1-2009 through Q1-2010 ($948 billion).

This suggests that the inevitable transformation from credit disinflation to credit deflation may have already begun.

“A universal and immutable rule”

I don’t quite see how blatantly lying about readily observable human behavior and presenting a completely illogical argument is going to help Jeffrey Goldberg convince anyone that prejudice springs, ex nihilo, out of the irrationality of the human mind.

A few days ago, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, tweeted the following statement: “Germans rally against anti-Semitism that flared in Europe in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza war. Merkel joins.” Roth provided a link to a New York Times article about the rally, which took place in Berlin.

Roth’s framing of this issue is very odd and obtuse. Anti-Semitism in Europe did not flare “in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza,” or anywhere else. Anti-Semitic violence and invective are not responses to events in the Middle East, just as anti-Semitism does not erupt  “in response” to the policies of banks owned by Jews, or in response to editorial positions taken by The New York Times. This is for the simple reason that Jews do not cause anti-Semitism.

It is a universal and immutable rule that the targets of prejudice are not the cause of prejudice. Just as Jews (or Jewish organizations, or the Jewish state) do not cause anti-Semitism to flare, or intensify, or even to exist, neither do black people cause racism, nor gay people homophobia, nor Muslims Islamophobia. Like all prejudices, anti-Semitism is not a rational response to observable events; it is a manifestation of irrational hatred. Its proponents justify their anti-Semitism by pointing to the (putatively offensive or repulsive) behavior of their targets, but this does not mean that major figures in the world of human-rights advocacy should accept these pathetic excuses as legitimate.

Anti-Semitism in Europe did not flare “in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza? It’s passing strange, then, that European anti-semitism should randomly happen to have flared up at the very moment that Israel launched its Gaza offensive. And isn’t it astonishing to be informed that that absolutely no prejudices are the result of rational responses?

Goldberg is a more cartoonish example of an anti-Jewish stereotype of a perfidious Jew speaking with forked tongue than most anti-Semites could produce. His behavior is sufficiently dishonest to generate a perfectly rational distrust of anything he says; it is not a manifestation of irrational hatred to disbelieve an obvious liar.

The amusing thing is that his position can be shown to be obviously nonsensical by simply looking at Jewish prejudices. Israelis quite reasonably point to historical Arab behavior to justify their anti-Palestinian prejudices and policies and Jews frequently point to medieval Christian behavior to justify their anti-Christian biases, so how is it even theoretically possible to claim that Jews do not cause any anti-Semitism? Are they not human? Do they not act? Are they not independent moral agents? Is it truly not even possible that their every act does not meet with universal approval?

The fact is that some prejudices are entirely rational and the logical result of the behavior of those who share identifiable characteristics with the targets of prejudice. The woman who is raped tends to fear men. The white man who was beaten up by blacks at school tends to dislike Africans. A Palestinian whose house was bombed by Israelis is likely to be anti-semitic. These are not manifestations of irrational hatred, they are perfectly rational and understandable prejudices with causes based in human action.

The fact that some prejudices may be irrational does not mean that they all necessarily are, and it is unfortunate that Jeffrey Goldberg should further fan the flames of anti-semitism by providing those who hate Jews with such an egregious example of Jewish intellectual dishonesty.

Castalia mailing list

I’ve tended to assume in the past that whatever I post here will reach all of Castalia House’s readers, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is no longer the case. So, it’s been suggested that we start a mailing list which will let people know whenever we have a new release out.

I was a little hesitant about the idea, because I often find myself added to mailing lists in which I have no interest, so I didn’t want to do it unless we could offer some material benefit to those on the mailing list. After some consultation with a few of our Authors and Associates, I believe we have come up with a reasonable solution of potential benefit to everyone involved.

Here is the plan. We will email the entire list when we have a new release. This may be what we consider to be a major release such as SOMEWHITHER by John C. Wright, or a minor release, such as a new Castalia Classic, a new foreign language translation, or a new set of Associate works.

In the case of a minor release, it’s just a notification. But when we have a major release, anyone from the mailing list who buys the new release within three days of the email announcement will, in addition to the book purchased, receive a second book of his choice free from the list of five books that are on offer for that particular new release. So, if you’re on the mailing list, you’ll receive two books for the price of one if you buy a new book upon release.

If you’ve purchased a book directly from the Castalia Store, then you’re already on the mailing list, which is good to go. (We will, of course, provide an unsubscribe option for those customers who don’t want to be on it.) If you haven’t bought a book directly from the Castalia Store but would like to be on the mailing list, please send me an email with LIST in the subject. We’re not going to spam anyone or sell the list, just announce new releases. Keep in mind that the Castalia Store sells books in DRM-free EPUB format, so if your primary ereader is Kindle and you don’t know how to convert ebook formats, or don’t want to bother, you should continue buying your books from Amazon. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t be on the list if you simply want to be informed whenever we have a new release out.

If you have any suggestions for improving this mailing list, please feel free to share your ideas here.

Since we’re on the subject of Castalia House, the blog now features a short interview that I did as part of a college student’s research paper, JartStar offers observations on cover design, Jeffro continues his literary spelunking into Appendix N with a book that might make for a great Castalia Classic, and Mascaro reviews the first book in THE THEOGONY by one of Castalia’s Associates.

Before the end of the year, we expect to publish at least four more books, two by William S. Lind, one by John C. Wright, and the aforementioned anthology of military science fiction.

Baghdad falling

Baghdad stands on the brink as we observe 4th Generation Warfare in action:

Fierce fighting has been reported on the outskirts of Baghdad where ISIS militants are attempting to seize control of the Iraqi capital – despite ongoing Western airstrikes against the terror group.

The fighting is taking place just one mile to the west of the city, with government forces desperately trying to hold off the militants, who allegedly killed up to 1,000 soldiers during clashes yesterday.

ISIS have held a number of towns and villages close to the Iraqi capital since earlier in the year, when government troops melted away following a lightning advance in the west of the country – enabling the terrorist group to seize further swaths of territory for their so-called caliphate.

Once ISIS takes Baghdad, I think it will be time to drop the “so-called” from the description of the caliphate. I’m far from only one who expected a new caliphate to arise in the Middle East, but I am a little astonished at the speed with which it has risen and filled the vaccuum left by the ill-considered American conquest of Ba’athist Iraq. Consider William Lind’s predictions back in 2004:

An article in the Friday, March 29 Washington Post pointed to the long-expected opening of Phase III of America’s war with Iraq. Phase I was the jousting contest, the formal “war” between America’s and Iraq’s armies that ended with the fall of Baghdad. Phase II was the War of National Liberation waged by the Baath Party and fought guerilla-style. Phase III, which is likely to prove the decisive phase, is true Fourth Generation war, war waged by a wide variety of non-state Iraqi and other Islamic forces for objectives and motives that reach far beyond politics.

The Post article, “Iraq Attacks Blamed on Islamic Extremists,” contains the following revealing paragraph:

In the intelligence operations room at the 1st Armored Division’s headquarters (in Baghdad), wall-mounted charts identifying and linking insurgents depict the changing battlefield. Last fall the organizational chart of Baathist fighters and leaders stretched for 10 feet, while charts listing known Islamic radicals took up a few pieces of paper. Now, the chart of Iraqi religious extremists dominates the room, while the poster depicting Baathist activity has shrunk to half of its previous size.

The article goes on to quote a U.S. intelligence officer as adding, “There is no single organization that’s behind all this. It’s far more decentralized than that.”

Welcome to Phase III. The remaining Ba’athists will of course continue their War of National Liberation, and Fourth Generation elements have been active from the outset. But the situation map in the 1st Armored Division’s headquarters reveals the “tipping point”: Fourth Generation war is now the dominant form of war against the Americans in Iraq.

And with the fall of Baghdad, Phase III of America’s war with Iraq will be complete and mark America’s defeat by the very 4th Generation elements of whom Lind warned ten years ago.

The vanishing black hole

Laura Mersini-Houghton is taking the “women ruin everything” mantra a little too far in literally destroying huge swaths of science fiction, albeit not in the usual manner:

Black holes have long captured the public imagination and been the subject of popular culture, from Star Trek to Hollywood. They are the ultimate unknown – the blackest and most dense objects in the universe that do not even let light escape. And as if they weren’t bizarre enough to begin with, now add this to the mix: they don’t exist.

By merging two seemingly conflicting theories, Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill in the College of Arts and Sciences, has proven, mathematically, that black holes can never come into being in the first place. The work not only forces scientists to reimagine the fabric of space-time, but also rethink the origins of the universe.

“I’m still not over the shock,” said Mersini-Houghton. “We’ve been studying this problem for a more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about.”

For decades, black holes were thought to form when a massive star collapses under its own gravity to a single point in space – imagine the Earth being squished into a ball the size of a peanut – called a singularity. So the story went, an invisible membrane known as the event horizon surrounds the singularity and crossing this horizon means that you could never cross back. It’s the point where a black hole’s gravitational pull is so strong that nothing can escape it.

The reason black holes are so bizarre is that it pits two fundamental theories of the universe against each other. Einstein’s theory of gravity predicts the formation of black holes but a fundamental law of quantum theory states that no information from the universe can ever disappear. Efforts to combine these two theories lead to mathematical nonsense, and became known as the information loss paradox.

In 1974, Stephen Hawking used quantum mechanics to show that black holes emit radiation. Since then, scientists have detected fingerprints in the cosmos that are consistent with this radiation, identifying an ever-increasing list of the universe’s black holes.

But now Mersini-Houghton describes an entirely new scenario. She and Hawking both agree that as a star collapses under its own gravity, it produces Hawking radiation. However, in her new work, Mersini-Houghton shows that by giving off this radiation, the star also sheds mass. So much so that as it shrinks it no longer has the density to become a black hole.

Before a black hole can form, the dying star swells one last time and then explodes. A singularity never forms and neither does an event horizon. The take home message of her work is clear: there is no such thing as a black hole.

Well, this is a little embarrassing now, isn’t it? How reliable can we consider the science that was used to show that nonexistent entitities emit radiation? I shall be very interested to see what Stickwick makes of this. And if singularities never form, what are the philosophical implications of this for the technocult of the Singularity and the rise of posthumanity?

Then again, as disappointing as it may be to be informed that black holes are bound to disappear from the science fiction of the future and go the way of Martians, steamy Venusian colonies inhabited by green-skinned babes, and other now-abandoned SF tropes, perhaps a fundamental reimagination of the fabric of space time will lead to some interesting new concepts with which we can play.

UPDATE: Astrophysicist Brian Koberlein says Ms Mersini-Houghton is wrong, black holes do exist, and women should stay out of science and remain in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, where they belong. Or something more or less to that effect in Yes, Virginia, There Are Black Holes.

Horizontality and the keeper’s friend

Last weekend, I had a great game and Ender’s was merely passable. This weekend, things were reversed as I had a frustrating game and he did very well. After last week’s two-goal performance, I had high expectations when I saw that the other team’s goalie was older and not very good. I knew they had a decent defense anchored by a fast Portuguese sweeper, but I also knew I could score on them since I had a goal and an assist in both previous games against them.

But various factors conspired to deny me. The first chance blown was when a rebound bounced wide rather than to me waiting for it in the center, the second when a beautiful pass from the other striker was ruined by a stealthy two-handed push in the back from the sweeper that knocked me off balance just as the ball arrived. The third was a phantom offsides call, the fourth when instead of simply passing the ball forward, our attacking midfielder decided to shoot the ball wide, and the fifth when I had a clear run on the left side of goal, but badly scuffed the shot under pressure from the sweeper. We’d dominated the run of play, but nevertheless the score was tied at 3-3 when our captain replaced me 15 minutes into the second half. As I feared, that promptly shut down our attack, as we no longer had anyone on the field to stretch it horizontally or vertically. We spent the last half hour under constant pressure and wound up losing 5-3.

I know it probably confuses the guys to repeatedly observe that taking off a lesser player for a better one reliably provides negative results, but it all comes down to geometry. It’s not just that I have more speed, but also that if I am the attacker further away from the ball, I move out wide when we attack, which usually draws two defenders after me. The outside defender has to stay with me, and since they know I can beat him, the inside defender also has to cheat 10-15 meters in that direction as well. Not only do we get whatever opportunities are created when the ball is passed my way, but more importantly, taking 1.5 defenders out of the equation creates the space our midfielders need to bring up the ball and attack.

For example, there is a very good reason that an important aspect of the Barcelona tika-taka approach often involved one wing standing literally on the left chalk and the other on the extreme right side of the field. When you’ve got Lionel Messi in the middle, the single most useful thing you can do if you are not Messi is to pull a defender wide with you and leave the man room to operate. Fortunately, one of our new attackers has good speed, so I think I can teach him to do what I’m doing and we can stop playing a half-court game when I’m not on the field.

Ender and his defense started their game in a very shaky manner. They very nearly gave up a goal in the first minute, and the opponents had a pair of attackers with enough speed to make the defenders visibly nervous. One nominal backpass from the right defender (who subsequently had a very good game) was more akin to a shot than a pass; Ender had to volley it clear as it bounced. However, I was coaching from behind the goal and pointed out to Ender that they were attacking pretty much the same way every time up their left, so he blunted its effect by aggressively coming out of goal to intercept passes into the box, or, on one occasion, stuffing an attacker one-on-one at the top of the box. He also made a fantastic diving save on a low ground shot towards the right post after a corner, then pushed another shot onto the near post when the left defender was beaten. He did a nice job of intercepting a corner kick by leaping up and slapping it away before an attacker could get a head on it, and then was fortuitously bailed out by the crossbar on a free kick that was too high for him.

After ten minutes of Ender and the defense withstanding moderately heavy pressure, the star player finally did his patented “run through four defenders and pass off to an open man” for the first goal against the run of play. That shook the other team, and a second goal on the first corner kick they gave up – which, to Ender’s amusement, I correctly called in advance – broke them entirely. It was 3-0 at halftime and Ender didn’t have much to do in the second half as his team put in five more goals. Then, as is usual in such situations, the defenders got greedy to score and lazy about getting back, thereby leading to two goals that he had no serious chance of stopping, both from inside the 6-meter box. They ruined his chance at a clean sheet, but his team put in one more goal to close out the game at 9-2. It looked like an easy win after the fact, but as I pointed out after the game, if they had scored one or two of those early chances, the game might well have gone the other way.

One amusing note. The one girl on the team, who has played with these boys for years, is hopelessly overmatched but hard-working and uncomplaining, scored two goals as a result of her perfect positioning at the far post. It’s funny to watch her play, because she knows exactly what to do whenever she gets the ball: immediately pass it to the star player. The moment the ball is heading her way, he accelerates towards her and she will find him and pass it to him even if he’s got three opponents around him. After she scored the first time, all the guys mobbed her and the star, who had cross the ball to her, nearly knocked her down by enthusiastically pounding her on the back. The truth is that the boys don’t mind girls playing with them at all so long as they play hard and play on the boys’ terms without any expectations of special treatment.

Two wins in two games as the starter, with three goals allowed per game, isn’t bad at this level. The regular goalie will be back in two weeks, but Ender appears to have secured his place as next year’s starter in the interim. I think he’ll be entirely content to return to his role as backup goalie and substitute defender for the rest of the season. The new coach clearly appreciates his multi-positional utility, and it’s nice to see that someone who knows what he is doing is finally in charge.

No need to be a whiny bitch

I was contacted about contributing to a forthcoming anthology this week. When I informed the anthologist that while I was willing to contribute to it, I was not of the particular persuasion being featured, the anthologist explained that she had been misinformed about me and politely disinvited me.

I did not write her an angry email explaining why the anthology needed more diversity. I am not going to launch an organization or a YouTube channel dedicated to increasing the diversity of her anthology. I am not going to angrily denounce the absence of people like me from the collection or complain about her insufficient inclusivity or her failure to implement a program of outreach to Native American authors.

This is how civilized adults who respect the basic human right of free association behave. Blacks, women, and homosexuals would do well to take note. If an editor doesn’t want your work for one reason or another, it’s not something that justifies taking offense, let alone an angry political campaign aimed at destroying the editor’s ability to perform his core function, which is selecting the authors he wishes to publish. This is true even if you are being rejected simply because of who, or what, you are.