Niggard of question;

but, of our demands,
Most free in his reply.*

Speaking of questions, let’s do another entry in our Questions Instead of Commentary series.

  1. At which exact point in history did real life become Life of Brian?
  2. [re-asking] “How long before provocateurs deliberately utter the ineffable in conversation and then rush to denounce their friends and colleagues for failure to report?”
  3. How long before the n-w*rd itself becomes taboo and needs to be replaced by something else (perhaps, “the word“)?


*Hey, it’s posted on an MIT site, go after them — they’ve got deeper pockets than yours truly. And while you’re at it, go ahead and take dead-white-male Shakespeare down a notch. Buildings? Monuments? You know what to do.






My money is still

on the hairy nutsack (prompted by: “Feminists Clash with Transgenders at London Pride Parade”). The rationale follows a simple rule of thumb: the more commonsensical view (in this case, that of the radical lesbians) tends to lose in the culture war. Filed under: Coalition of the fraying fringes.

Latent variable fallacy

There was something bothering us about that Mark Steyn quote from the previous post: “Skin color and biological determinism don’t get you very far”; it’s the skin color bit. One occasionally encounters conservatives* arguing against HBD along the lines of causation: By what conceivable mechanism could higher melatonin levels induce higher criminality? As a former adamant defender of cultural explanations, I can certainly appreciate their allure over biological ones: they’re much nicer. You can hope to change culture; biology — not so much (although…). The HBD outlook is an inherently pessimistic one: it has nothing good to forebode for multiracial societies. So you can see Mark Steyn engaging in a bit of that niceness with the skin color poke.

It’s been a while since PTT had introduced a logical fallacy, so we’re ripe for a new one. The latent variable fallacy ignores possible hidden variables controlling (apparently) causally unrelated surface features. Fringe claims of melanin directly causing criminality notwithstanding, the HBD argument for racial disparities on behavioral traits holds up perfectly well without direct causation. All you need is a latent variable (genes) controlling both melanin and aggression levels.

For example, we tend to associate wearing glasses with intelligence, and let’s pretend for the sake of argument that the two variables are indeed strongly positively correlated. Nobody in his right mind would imagine that taking a man with 20/20 vision and surgically degrading it to the point where he needs glasses would make him any smarter — much like most of the HBD folks (presumably) don’t think that artificially manipulating melanin levels will have an effect on aggression. You just need to postulate a hidden variable, such as intelligence coupled with curiosity, which drives people to read a lot of books and occasionally degrades their vision.

Conditional on the latent variables, the observed variables become independent. For example, suppose two doctors, A and B, are independently trying to diagnose a patient as “sick” or “healthy”. For any given patient, A and B will each, independently, give the correct diagnosis with probability 90% . But of course, A and B are not statistically independent: since each is highly accurate, they’ll tend to agree a lot on their diagnoses! In the language of probability, A and B are conditionally (but not unconditionally) independent. This stuff is taught in intro statistics courses, and if I were King of the World, I would enjoin, on pain of death, anyone from engaging in any discussion of HBD-related topics without first successfully passing an intro stats course.

*It’s always the conservatives — the liberals will just point and sputter and try to get you fired, or worse.

HBD asymmetry

Why do some societies succeed while others fail? This age-old question is above our humble pay-grade, but not all thinkers have been this humble. Providing answers to Big Questions is a crowded market; PTT merely provides the generic guideline to avoid simplistic, single-issue explanations. Some HBD folks are definitely guilty of this. This blog is solidly race-realist, and yet we are stymied by Mark Steyn’s challenge to Derbyshire:

Why is Haiti Haiti and Barbados Barbados? Why is India India and Pakistan Pakistan? Skin color and biological determinism don’t get you very far on that.

There is a certain asymmetry to arguments-by-HBD. The Zman’s facile dismissal of Venezuela as a pure HBD story (“In other words, what ails Venezuela is not ideology. It is biology.”) crashes and burns against Steyn’s challenge. Sure, nice places tend to be run by ice people while hell-holes by sun people*. Now what if, hypothetically, some demon were to possess the leaders of wealthy, well-run ice-people places to import hordes of sun-people, ultimately causing these places to become sun-people-level dysfunctional? Would that be a failure of biology, or politics, or what?

The asymmetry consists of simple HBD arguments being valid in the other direction: not when predicting failure from success, but rather success from failure. This blog has used poor Zimbabwe‘s example as a punching bag to claim, without any need for copious argument, that no amount of copy-paste of US constitution and laws will turn the latter into a thriving, functional democracy. Men of greater stature can afford to be even more laconic.


*Stalin and Mao strove mightily to buck the trend.

The Hamas strategy

— a follow-up to our parable.

In a world where placing missile launchers in kindergartens and hospitals makes one immune* from retaliation, it makes perfect sense to use children as smuggling tokens.

As this blog abhors asinine and obscene Nazi analogies, let us hasten to point out that we do not liken the illegal border crossers to terrorists. But the strategy of using children as human shields is straight out of the Hamas playbook, and warrants a correspondingly uncompromising response. There can only be one party to hold responsible, legally and morally, for any harm incurred by the human shield victims — the party cynically hiding behind their backs.

*only against media approved targets of course


Throwing babies: a PTT parable

Imagine that you’re walking down the street and suddenly a woman throws a baby at you. Following your instinct, you catch the baby — and immediately, the woman’s other children proceed to go through your pockets. [For an audiovisual aide, jump to 19:03 of this Dr. Katz classic.] Now suppose this happens every single day, several times a day — as in that other PTT classic. Do you dutifully catch the baby (and part with your pockets’ contents) every time? Do you start to dodge the baby — or perhaps even “swat it to the ground and scream, ‘I don’t think so'” (as per the Dr. Katz character’s suggestion)?

This parable seems apt for something or other in the current affairs, we just can’t figure out what.


Update: a follow-up.