Month: March 2017

The Left and Violence

Much has been made, and rightly so, of leftists’ physical and verbal violence toward conservatives. That the left is inherently violent when faced with opposition to its ideas and aims is unsurprising to me. Leftism is a state of mind that demands control. Leftists project their authoritarianism onto conservatives, one result of which is the false portrayal of Hitler as a right-wing dictator.

Just think about the means by which leftists attain their ends. First, they rely on government — which is the big kahuna of coercive institutions. After that it’s just a matter of selecting the preferred instrument of coercion: regulation, taxation, redistribution, hate-thought-crime legislation, abridgement of property rights and freedom of association, affirmative action racial quotas, and so on.

Leftism is built on control. Control is attained by coercion. Coercion is based on the threat of violence — the ability of the state’s agents to search, seize, summon, compel, fine, and imprison at will — and to use force in doing any of those things.

In sum, leftism depends on violence — or the clear threat of it. Violent outbursts from the left should surprise no one but naifs and leftist hypocrites.

Special Relativity II: A Fatal Flaw?

This post revisits some of the arguments in “Special Relativity: Answers and Questions,” and introduces some additional considerations. I quote extensively from Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and General Theory (1916, translated 1920).

Einstein begins with a discussion of the coordinates of space in Euclidean geometry, then turns to space and time in classical mechanics. In the following passage he refers to an expository scenario that recurs throughout the book, the passage of a railway carriage (train car) along an embankment:

In order to have a complete description of the motion [of a body], we must specify how the body alters its position with time; i.e. for every point on the trajectory it must be stated at what time the body is situated there. These data must be supplemented by such a definition of time that, in virtue of this definition, these time-values can be regarded essentially as magnitudes (results of measurements) capable of observation. If we take our stand on the ground of classical mechanics, we can satisfy this requirement for our illustration in the following manner. We imagine two clocks of identical construction; the man at the railway-carriage window is holding one of them, and the man on the footpath [of the embankment] the other. Each of the observers determines the position on his own reference-body occupied by the stone at each tick of the clock he is holding in his hand. In this connection we have not taken account of the inaccuracy involved by the finiteness of the velocity of propagation of light.

To get to that inaccuracy, Einstein begins with this:

Let us suppose our old friend the railway carriage to be travelling along the rails with a constant velocity v, and that a man traverses the length of the carriage in the direction of travel with a velocity w. How quickly, or, in other words, with what velocity W does the man advance relative to the embankment [on which the rails rest] during the process? The only possible answer seems to result from the following consideration: If the man were to stand still for a second, he would advance relative to the embankment through a distance v equal numerically to the velocity of the carriage. As a consequence of his walking, however, he traverses an additional distance w relative to the carriage, and hence also relative to the embankment, in this second, the distance w being numerically equal to the velocity with which he is walking. Thus in total he covers the distance W = v + w relative to the embankment in the second considered.

This is the theorem of the addition of velocities from classical physics. Why doesn’t it apply to light? Einstein continues:

If a ray of light be sent along the embankment [in an assumed vacuum], … the tip of the ray will be transmitted with the velocity c relative to the embankment. Now let us suppose that our railway carriage is again travelling along the railway lines with the velocity v, and that its direction is the same as that of the ray of light, but its velocity of course much less. Let us inquire about the velocity of propagation of the ray of light relative to the carriage. It is obvious that we can here apply the consideration of the previous section, since the ray of light plays the part of the man walking along relatively to the carriage. The velocity W of the man relative to the embankment is here replaced by the velocity of light relative to the embankment. w is the required velocity of light with respect to the carriage, and we have

w = c − v.

The velocity of propagation of a ray of light relative to the carriage thus comes out smaller than c.

Let’s take that part a bit more slowly than Einstein does. The question is the velocity with which the ray of light is traveling relative to the carriage. The man in the previous example was walking in the carriage with velocity w relative to the body of the carriage, and therefore with velocity W relative to the embankment (v + w). If the ray of light is traveling at c relative to the embankment, and the carriage is traveling at v relative to the embankment, then by analogy it would seem that the velocity of the ray of light relative to the velocity of the carriage should be the velocity of light minus the velocity of the carriage, that is c – v. (Einstein introduces some confusion by using w to denote this hypothetical velocity, having already used w to denote the velocity of the man walking in the carriage, relative to the embankment.)

It would thus seem that the velocity of a ray of light emitted from the railway carriage should be c + v relative to a person standing still on the embankment. That is, light would travel faster than c when it’s emitted from an object moving in a forward direction relative to an observer. But all objects are in relative motion, even hypothetically stationary ones such as the railway embankment of Einstein’s through experiment. Light would therefore move at many different velocities, all of them varying from c according to the motion of each observer relative to the source of light; that is, some observers would detect velocities greater than c, while others would detect velocities less than c.

But this can’t happen (supposedly). Einstein puts it this way:

In view of this dilemma there appears to be nothing else for it than to abandon either the [old] principle of relativity [the addition of velocities] or the simple law of the propagation of light in vacuo [that c is the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion]. Those of you who have carefully followed the preceding discussion are almost sure to expect that we should retain the [old] principle of relativity, which appeals so convincingly to the intellect because it is so natural and simple. The law of the propagation of light in vacuo would then have to be replaced by a more complicated law conformable to the [old] principle of relativity. The development of theoretical physics shows, however, that we cannot pursue this course. The epoch-making theoretical investigations of H.A.Lorentz on the electrodynamical and optical phenomena connected with moving bodies show that experience in this domain leads conclusively to a theory of electromagnetic phenomena, of which the law of the constancy of the velocity of light in vacuo is a necessary consequence…..

[I]n reality there is not the least incompatibility between the principle of relativity and the law of propagation of light, and that by systematically holding fast to both these laws a logically rigid theory could be arrived at. This theory has been called the special theory of relativity….

Einstein gets to the special theory of relativity (STR) by next considering the problem of simultaneity:

Lightning has struck the rails on our railway embankment at two places A and B far distant from each other. I make the additional assertion that these two lightning flashes occurred simultaneously. If now I ask you whether there is sense in this statement, you will answer my question with a decided “Yes.” But if I now approach you with the request to explain to me the sense of the statement more precisely, you find after some consideration that the answer to this question is not so easy as it appears at first sight.

After thinking the matter over for some time you then offer the following suggestion with which to test simultaneity. By measuring along the rails, the connecting line AB should be measured up and an observer placed at the mid-point M of the distance AB. This observer should be supplied with an arrangement (e.g. two mirrors inclined at 90 ◦) which allows him visually to observe both places A and B at the same time. If the observer perceives the two flashes of lightning at the same time, then they are simultaneous.

I am very pleased with this suggestion, but for all that I cannot regard the matter as quite settled, because I feel constrained to raise the following objection: “Your definition would certainly be right, if I only knew that the light by means of which the observer at M perceives the lightning flashes travels along the length A → M with the same velocity as along the length B → M. But an examination of this supposition would only be possible if we already had at our disposal the means of measuring time. It would thus appear as though we were moving here in a logical circle.”

After further consideration you cast a somewhat disdainful glance at me— and rightly so— and you declare: “I maintain my previous definition nevertheless, because in reality it assumes absolutely nothing about light. There is only one demand to be made of the definition of simultaneity, namely, that in every real case it must supply us with an empirical decision as to whether or not the conception that has to be defined is fulfilled. That my definition satisfies this demand is indisputable. That light requires the same time to traverse the path A → M as for the path B → M is in reality neither a supposition nor a hypothesis about the physical nature of light, but a stipulation which I can make of my own freewill in order to arrive at a definition of simultaneity.”

It is clear that this definition can be used to give an exact meaning not only to two events, but to as many events as we care to choose, and independently of the positions of the scenes of the events with respect to the body of reference (here the railway embankment). We are thus led also to a definition of “time” in physics. For this purpose we suppose that clocks of identical construction are placed at the points A, B and C of the railway line (co-ordinate system), and that they are set in such a manner that the positions of their pointers are simultaneously (in the above sense) the same. Under these conditions we understand by the “time” of an event the reading (position of the hands) of that one of these clocks which is in the immediate vicinity (in space) of the event. In this manner a time-value is associated with every event which is essentially capable of observation.

This stipulation contains a further physical hypothesis, the validity of which will hardly be doubted without empirical evidence to the contrary. It has been assumed that all these clocks go at the same rate if they are of identical construction. Stated more exactly: When two clocks arranged at rest in different places of a reference-body are set in such a manner that a particular position of the pointers of the one clock is simultaneous (in the above sense) with the same position of the pointers of the other clock, then identical “settings” are always simultaneous (in the sense of the above definition).

In other words, time is the same for every point in a frame of reference, which can be thought of as a group of points that remain in a fixed spatial relationship. Every such point in that frame of reference can have a clock associated with it; every clock can be set to the same time; and every clock (assuming great precision) will run at the same rate. When it is noon at one point in the frame of reference, it will be noon at all points in the frame of reference. And when the clock at one point has advanced from noon to 1 p.m., the clocks at all points in the same frame of reference will have advanced from noon to 1 p.m., and ad infinitum.

As Einstein puts it later,

Events which are simultaneous with reference to the embankment are not simultaneous with respect to the train, and vice versa (relativity of simultaneity). Every reference body (co-ordinate system) has its own particular time; unless we are told the reference-body to which the statement of time refers, there is no meaning in a statement of the time of an event.

Returning to the question of simultaneity, Einstein poses his famous thought experiment:

Up to now our considerations have been referred to a particular body of reference, which we have styled a “railway embankment.” We suppose a very long train travelling along the rails with the constant velocity v and in the direction indicated in Fig. 1. People travelling in this train will with advantage use the train as a rigid reference-body (co-ordinate system); they regard all events in reference to the train. Then every event which takes place along the line also takes place at a particular point of the train. Also the definition of simultaneity can be given relative to the train in exactly the same way as with respect to the embankment. As a natural consequence, however, the following question arises:

Are two events ( e.g. the two strokes of lightning A and B) which are simultaneous with reference to the railway embankment also simultaneous relatively to the train? We shall show directly that the answer must be in the negative.


FIG. 1.

When we say that the lightning strokes A and B are simultaneous with respect to the embankment, we mean: the rays of light emitted at the places A and B, where the lightning occurs, meet each other at the mid-point M of the length A → B of the embankment. But the events A and B also correspond to positions A and B on the train. Let M’ be the mid-point of the distance A → B on the travelling train. Just when the flashes of lightning occur, this point M’ naturally coincides with the point M, but it moves towards the right in the diagram with the velocity v of the train. If an observer sitting in the position M’ in the train did not possess this velocity, then he would remain permanently at M, and the light rays emitted by the flashes of lightning A and B would reach him simultaneously, i.e. they would meet just where he is situated. Now in reality (considered with reference to the railway embankment) he is hastening towards the beam of light coming from B, whilst he is riding on ahead of the beam of light coming from A. Hence the observer will see the beam of light emitted from B earlier than he will see that emitted from A. Observers who take the railway train as their reference-body must therefore come to the conclusion that the lightning flash B took place earlier than the lightning flash A. We thus arrive at the important result:

Events which are simultaneous with reference to the embankment are not simultaneous with respect to the train, and vice versa (relativity of simultaneity). Every reference body (co-ordinate system) has its own particular time; unless we are told the reference-body to which the statement of time refers, there is no meaning in a statement of the time of an event.

It’s important to note that there is a time delay, however minuscule, between the instant that the flashes of light are are emitted at A and B and the instant when they reach the observer at M.

Because of the minuscule time delay, the flashes of light wouldn’t reach the observer at M’ in the carriage at the same time that they reach the observer at M on the embankment. The observer at M’ is directly opposite the observer at M when the flashes of light are emitted, not when they are received simultaneously at M. During the minuscule delay between the emission of the flashes at A and B and their simultaneous receipt by the observer at M, the observer at M’ moves toward B and away from A. The observer at M’ therefore sees the flash emitted from B a tiny fraction of a second before he sees the flash emitted from A. Neither event corresponds in time with the time at which the flashes reach M. (There are variations on Einstein’s thought experiment — here, for example — but they trade on the same subtlety: a time delay between the flashes of light and their reception by observers.)

Returning to Einstein’s diagram, suppose that A and B are copper wires, tautly strung from posts and closely overhanging the track and embankment at 90-degree angles to both. The track is slightly depressed below the level of the embankment, so that observers on the train and embankment are the same distance below the wires. The wires are shielded so that they can be seen only by observers directly below them. Because the shielding doesn’t deflect lightning, when lightning hits the wires they will glow instantaneously. If lightning strikes A and B at the same time, the glow  will be seen simultaneously by observers positioned directly under the wires at the instant of the lightning strikes. Therefore, observers on the embankment at A and B and observers directly opposite them on the train at A’ and B’ will see the wires glow at the same time. (The observers would be equipped with synchronized clocks, the readings of which they can compare to verify their simultaneous viewing of the lightning strikes. I will leave to a later post the question whether the clocks at A and B show the same time as the clocks at A’ and B’.)

Because of the configuration of the wires in relation to the  track and the embankment, A and B must be the same distance apart as A’ and B’. That is to say, the simultaneity of observation isn’t an artifact of the distortion of horizontal measurements, or length contraction, which is another aspect of STR.

Einstein’s version of the thought experiment was designed — unintentionally, I assume — to create an illusion of non-simultaneity. Of course an observer on the train at M’ would not see the lightning flashes at the same time as an observer on the embankment at M: The observer at M’ would no longer be opposite M when the lightning flashes arrive at M. But, as shown by my variation on Einstein’s though experiment, that doesn’t rule out the simultaneity of observations on the train and on the embankment. It just requires a setup that isn’t designed to exclude simultaneity. My setup involving copper wires is one possible way of ensuring simultaneity. It also seems to rule out the possibility of length contraction.

Einstein’s defense of his thought experiment (in the fifth block quotation above) is also an apt defense of my version of his thought experiment. I have described a situation in which there is indubitable simultaneity. The question is whether it forecloses a subsequent proof of non-simultaneity. Einstein’s thought experiment didn’t, because Einstein left a loophole — intentionally or not — which discredits his proof of non-simultaneity. (I am not the first person who claims to have discovered the loophole.) My thought experiment leaves no loophole, as far as I can tell.

If my thought experiment has merit, it points to an invariant time, that is, a time which is the same for all frames of reference. A kind of Newtonian absolute time, if you will.

To be continued.

Rock and Roil

Have you noticed the prevalent use of emotive words in “news” headlines and stories? I’m referring to verbs like “rock” and “roil” and nouns like “chaos” that seem to occur with great frequency, especially since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.

Trump’s pronouncements and policies are said to “rock” the foundations of the republic, and “roil” the political scene. It is only natural that such pronouncements and policies emanate from a White House that is “mired” in “chaos.”

Whatever happened to neutral language in headlines and stories? I submit that it vanished with the pretense of objectivity during the Vietnam War. I’m not ignoring the age of “yellow journalism” around the turn of the twentieth century. But it seems to me that reportage became rather neutral, by comparison, in the several decades leading up to the 1960s. It was then that the media began blatantly to take sides instead of relying on subtle forms of bias: what to cover, what “facts” to present, where to position a story, and so on. The subtlety is still there, but as a mere adjunct to overt bias. Were I writing a headline about it, I would say the the bias has become “shrill” since the ascendancy of Donald Trump.

The advantage of the blatant side-taking is that readers, listeners, and viewers are left in no doubt as to the leanings of the reporters, editors, and publishers of particular media outlets. The disadvantage is that many of those same readers, listeners, and viewers are too gullible to see where they are being led by “rock” and “roil,” and take it for granted that such-and-such a policy is in fact unwise, unconstitutional, and widely resisted among the electorate.

Here’s the (obvious) key to understanding the outpourings of most media outlets: They consist of pro-governement propaganda when Democrats are in power and anti-anti-government propaganda when Republicans are in power.

Time for a Jacksonian Response?

Mr. Trump’s revised executive order on visas has been rejected by two federal courts, despite compelling arguments that the rulings are unconsitutional.

Were I in Mr. Trump’s shoes, I would emulate Andrew Jackson:

On March 3, 1832, Chief Justice Marshall handed down the unanimous opinion of the [U.S. Supreme] Court. The Cherokee Nation was sovereign. Georgia law no longer applied to the Cherokee. Justice Story wrote “The Court has done its duty. Now let the Nation do theirs.” At some point, Andrew Jackson supposedly said “Marshall made the ruling, let him enforce it.”

It’s not certain that Jackson uttered those words, but they seem true to the man’s character. And they would seem true to Mr. Trump’s character, and — in this case — to the Constitution.

Mencken’s Pearl of Wisdom

I am not a big fan of H.L. Mencken (see this), nor of Lee Jussim (see this). But I do follow Jussim’s blog, just to keep track of his intellectual outrages. In a recent, quotation-filled post, Jussim quotes Mencken:

The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.

Exactly. Thus we have

  • economic destruction to “save the planet” in the name of a pseudo-science that can’t even depict the pre-1975  and post-1998 past accurately
  • cries of “white privilege” and “racism” — accompanied by violence and suppression of speech, aimed at law-abiding persons who don’t think the “right” thoughts and say the “right” things (i.e., conservatives)
  • “gender equality” and “marriage equality” as blanket justifications for the destruction of property rights and freedom of association
  • “income inequality” as the rallying cry of redistributive schemes that penalize success and stifle the very economic growth that would materially enrich the poor
  • shackled, inefficient markets because someone, somewhere made a mistake (from which he and others might have learned) or defrauded someone (for which ample publicity and a prison sentence somehow weren’t a sufficient remedy and caution)
  • massive, costly, authoritarian bureaucracies dedicated to all of those causes, and many more.

It’s all very Orwellian.

Daylight Saving Time Doesn’t Kill…

…it’s “springing forward” in March that kills.

There’s a hue and cry about daylight saving time (that’s “saving” not “savings”). The main complaint seems to be the stress that results from moving clocks ahead in March:

Springing forward may be hazardous to your health. The Monday following the start of daylight saving time (DST) is a particularly bad one for heart attacks, traffic accidents, workplace injuries and accidental deaths. Now that most Americans have switched their clocks an hour ahead, studies show many will suffer for it.

Most Americans slept about 40 minutes less than normal on Sunday night, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology…. Since sleep is important for maintaining the body’s daily performance levels, much of society is broadly feeling the impact of less rest, which can include forgetfulness, impaired memory and a lower sex drive, according to WebMD.

One of the most striking affects of this annual shift: Last year, Colorado researchers reported finding a 25 percent increase in the number of heart attacks that occur on the Monday after DST starts, as compared with a normal Monday…. A cardiologist in Croatia recorded about twice as many heart attacks than expected during that same day, and researchers in Sweden have also witnessed a spike in heart attacks in the week following the time adjustment, particularly among those who were already at risk.

Workplace injuries are more likely to occur on that Monday, too, possibly because workers are more susceptible to a loss of focus due to too little sleep. Researchers at Michigan State University used over 20 years of data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration to determine that three to four more miners than average sustain a work-related injury on the Monday following the start of DST. Those injuries resulted in 2,649 lost days of work, which is a 68 percent increase over the hours lost from injuries on an average day. The team found no effects following the nation’s one-hour shift back to standard time in the fall….

There’s even more bad news: Drivers are more likely to be in a fatal traffic accident on DST’s first Monday, according to a 2001 study in Sleep Medicine. The authors analyzed 21 years of data on fatal traffic accidents in the U.S. and found that, following the start of DST, drivers are in 83.5 accidents as compared with 78.2 on the average Monday. This phenomenon has also been recorded in Canadian drivers and British motorists.

If all that wasn’t enough, a researcher from the University of British Columbia who analyzed three years of data on U.S. fatalities reported that accidental deaths of any kind are more likely in the days following a spring forward. Their 1996 analysis showed a 6.5 percent increase, which meant that about 200 more accidental deaths occurred immediately after the start of DST than would typically occur in a given period of the same length.

I’m convinced. But the solution to the problem isn’t to get rid of DST. No, the solution is to get rid of standard time and use DST year around.

I’m not arguing for year-around DST from an economic standpoint. The evidence about the economic advantages of DST is inconclusive.

I’m arguing for year-around DST as a way to eliminate “spring forward” distress and enjoy an extra hour of daylight in the winter.

Don’t you enjoy those late summer sunsets? I sure do, and a lot other people seem to enjoy them, too. That’s why daylight saving time won’t be abolished.

But if you love those late summer sunsets, you should also enjoy an extra hour of daylight at the end of a drab winter day. I know that I would. And it’s not as if you’d miss anything if the sun rises an hour later in the winter. Even with standard time, most working people and students have to be up and about before sunrise in winter, even though sunrise comes an hour earlier than it would with DST.

How would year-around DST affect you? The following table gives the times of sunrise and sunset on the longest and shortest days of 2017 for nine major cities, north to south and west to east:

I report, you decide. If it were up to me, the decision would be year-around DST.

Thoughts for the Day

Excerpts of recent correspondence.

Robots, and their functional equivalents in specialized AI systems, can either replace people or make people more productive. I suspect that the latter has been true in the realm of medicine — so far, at least. But I have seen reportage of robotic units that are beginning to perform routine, low-level work in hospitals. So, as usual, the first people to be replaced will be those with rudimentary skills, not highly specialized training. Will it go on from there? Maybe, but the crystal ball is as cloudy as an old-time London fog.

In any event, I don’t believe that automation is inherently a job-killer. The real job-killer consists of government programs that subsidize non-work — early retirement under Social Security, food stamps and other forms of welfare, etc. Automation has been in progress for eons, and with a vengeance since the second industrial revolution. But, on balance, it hasn’t killed jobs. It just pushes people toward new and different jobs that fit the skills they have to offer. I expect nothing different in the future, barring government programs aimed at subsidizing the “victims” of technological displacement.

*      *      *

It’s civil war by other means (so far): David Wasserman, “Purple America Has All but Disappeared” (The New York Times, March 8, 2017).

*      *      *

I know that most of what I write (even the non-political stuff) has a combative edge, and that I’m therefore unlikely to persuade people who disagree with me. I do it my way for two reasons. First, I’m too old to change my ways, and I’m not going to try. Second, in a world that’s seemingly dominated by left-wing ideas, it’s just plain fun to attack them. If what I write happens to help someone else fight the war on leftism — or if it happens to make a young person re-think a mindless commitment to leftism — that’s a plus.

*     *     *

I am pessimistic about the likelihood of cultural renewal in America. The populace is too deeply saturated with left-wing propaganda, which is injected from kindergarten through graduate school, with constant reinforcement via the media and popular culture. There are broad swaths of people — especially in low-income brackets — whose lives revolve around mindless escape from the mundane via drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, etc. Broad swaths of the educated classes have abandoned erudition and contemplation and taken up gadgets and entertainment.

The only hope for conservatives is to build their own “bubbles,” like those of effete liberals, and live within them. Even that will prove difficult as long as government (especially the Supreme Court) persists in storming the ramparts in the name of “equality” and “self-creation.”

*     *     *

I correlated Austin’s average temperatures in February and August. Here are the correlation coefficients for following periods:

1854-2016 = 0.001
1875-2016 = -0.007
1900-2016 = 0.178
1925-2016 = 0.161
1950-2016 = 0.191
1975-2016 = 0.126

Of these correlations, only the one for 1900-2016 is statistically significant at the 0.05 level (less than a 5-percent chance of a random relationship). The correlations for 1925-2016 and 1950-2016 are fairly robust, and almost significant at the 0.05 level. The relationship for 1975-2016 is statistically insignificant. I conclude that there’s a positive relationship between February and August temperatures, but weak one. A warm winter doesn’t necessarily presage an extra-hot summer in Austin.

“They Deserve to Die”?

In “Prosperity Isn’t Everything” I quoted Megan McArdle’s observations about how thing have gotten better and worse for Americans. Here’s some of what she wrote:

By the standards of today, my grandparents were living in wrenching poverty. Some of this, of course, involves technologies that didn’t exist—as a young couple in the 1930s my grandparents had less access to health care than the most  neglected homeless person in modern America, simply because most of the treatments we now have had not yet been invented. That is not the whole story, however. Many of the things we now have already existed; my grandparents simply couldn’t afford them.  With some exceptions, such as microwave ovens and computers, most of the modern miracles that transformed 20th century domestic life already existed in some form by 1939. But they were out of the financial reach of most people….

[Not] everything has gotten better in every way, all the time. There are areas in which things have gotten broadly worse….

  • … Substance abuse, and the police response to it, has devastated both urban and rural communities.
  • Divorce broke up millions of families, and while the college educated class seems to have found a new equilibrium of stable and happy later marriages, marriage is collapsing among the majority who do not have a college degree, leaving millions of children in unstable family situations where fathers are often absent from the home, and their attention and financial resources are divided between multiple children with multiple women.
  • Communities are much less cohesive than they used to be, and while the educated elite may have found substitutes online, the rest of the country is “bowling alone” more and more often—which is not merely lonely, but also means they have fewer social supports when they find themselves in trouble.
  • A weekly wage packet may buy more than it did sixty years ago, but the stability of manufacturing jobs is increasingly being replaced by contingent and unreliable shift work that is made doubly and triply difficult by the instability of the families that tend to do these jobs. The inability to plan your life or work in turn makes it hard to form a family, and stressful to keep one together….

Charles Murray writes candidly but not unsympathetically about the plight of low-income white Americans in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010:

Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.

The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness.

Along comes Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review to pour scorn upon low-income whites. Williamson’s article, which appeared in the print edition of March 28, 2016, was originally titled “The Father-Fuhrer,” a reference to Donald Trump. The online version is called “Chaos in the Family, Chaos in the State: The White Working Class’s Dysfunction.” Written before Trump had clinched the GOP nomination, the piece is a transparent attempt to discredit Trump by discrediting a key source of his support: low-income whites in chronically depressed regions of the country.

Here’s a key passage:

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs…. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

Disgusting.

Scott Grier, writing in The Daily Caller (“National Review Writer: Working-Class Communities ‘Deserve To Die’,” March 12, 2016), seems to share my disgust. He closes with this:

While Williamson blames the people living in run-down white communities for their own woes, he does not apply the same principle to run-down minority communities. In his book and articles on the failures of Detroit, for instance, the National Review writer blames “progressivism” and unions for ruining the predominately African-American city.

Spot on. As I say in “Prosperity Isn’t Everything,”

Let’s begin with social norms, which are the basis of social ties. If you and I observe the same social norms, we’re likely to feel bound in some way, even if we’re not friends or relatives. This, of course, is tribalism, which is verboten among those who view all of mankind as brothers, sisters, and whatevers under the skin — all mankind except smarty-pants Americans of East Asian descent, Israeli Jews and American Jews who support Israel, Southerners (remember the Civil War!), and everyone else who is a straight, non-Hispanic white male of European descent. To such people, the only legitimate tribe is the tribe of anti-tribalism.You may by now understand that I blame leftists for the breakdown of social norms and social ties. But how can that be if, as McArdle says, “the college educated class seems to have found a new equilibrium of stable and happy later marriages”? The college-educated class resides mostly on the left, and affluent leftists do seem to have avoided the rot.

Yes, but they caused it. You could think of it as a non-suicidal act of terror. But it would be kinder and more accurate to call it an act of involuntary manslaughter.  Leftists meant to make the changes that caused the rot; they just didn’t foresee or intend the rot. Nor is it obvious that they care about it, except as an excuse to “solve” social problems from on high by throwing money and behavioral prescriptions at them — which is why there’s social rot in the first place.

The good intentions embedded in governmental acts and decrees have stealthily expanded and centralized government’s power, and in the process have sundered civil society….

The undoing of traditional mores began in earnest in the 1960s, with a frontal assault on traditional morality and the misguided expansion of the regulatory-welfare state. The unraveling continues to this day. Traditional morality is notable in its neglect; social cohesion is almost non-existent, except where the bonds of religion and ethnicity remain strong. The social fabric that once bound vast swaths of America has rotted — and is almost certainly beyond repair.

The social fabric has frayed precisely because government has pushed social institutions aside and made dependents of hundreds of millions of Americans. As Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

Now for an ironic twist. Were the central government less profligate and intrusive, Americans would become much more prosperous.

Clearly, Kevin Williamson wants to distance himself from people who don’t share his elevated norms. In that respect, he’s no different from a sneering, leftist-voting yuppie. If he were truly conservative, he’d have compassion for the people about whom he writes.

But Williamson has shown himself to be a faux conservative: all economic efficiency and no heart.

Is Consciousness an Illusion?

Scientists seem to have pinpointed the physical source of consciousness. But the execrable Daniel C. Dennett, for whom science is God, hasn’t read the memo. Dennett argues in his latest book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, that consciousness is an illusion.

Another philosopher, Thomas Nagel, weighs in with a dissenting review of Dennett’s book. (Nagel is better than Dennett, but that’s faint praise.) Nagel’s review, “Is Consciousness an Illusion?,” appears in The New York Review of Books (March 9, 2017). Here are some excerpts:

According to the manifest image, Dennett writes, the world is

full of other people, plants, and animals, furniture and houses and cars…and colors and rainbows and sunsets, and voices and haircuts, and home runs and dollars, and problems and opportunities and mistakes, among many other such things. These are the myriad “things” that are easy for us to recognize, point to, love or hate, and, in many cases, manipulate or even create…. It’s the world according to us.

According to the scientific image, on the other hand, the world

is populated with molecules, atoms, electrons, gravity, quarks, and who knows what else (dark energy, strings? branes?)….

In an illuminating metaphor, Dennett asserts that the manifest image that depicts the world in which we live our everyday lives is composed of a set of user-illusions,

like the ingenious user-illusion of click-and-drag icons, little tan folders into which files may be dropped, and the rest of the ever more familiar items on your computer’s desktop. What is actually going on behind the desktop is mind-numbingly complicated, but users don’t need to know about it, so intelligent interface designers have simplified the affordances, making them particularly salient for human eyes, and adding sound effects to help direct attention. Nothing compact and salient inside the computer corresponds to that little tan file-folder on the desktop screen.

He says that the manifest image of each species is “a user-illusion brilliantly designed by evolution to fit the needs of its users.” In spite of the word “illusion” he doesn’t wish simply to deny the reality of the things that compose the manifest image; the things we see and hear and interact with are “not mere fictions but different versions of what actually exists: real patterns.” The underlying reality, however, what exists in itself and not just for us or for other creatures, is accurately represented only by the scientific image—ultimately in the language of physics, chemistry, molecular biology, and neurophysiology….

You may well ask how consciousness can be an illusion, since every illusion is itself a conscious experience—an appearance that doesn’t correspond to reality. So it cannot appear to me that I am conscious though I am not: as Descartes famously observed, the reality of my own consciousness is the one thing I cannot be deluded about….

According to Dennett, however, the reality is that the representations that underlie human behavior are found in neural structures of which we know very little. And the same is true of the similar conception we have of our own minds. That conception does not capture an inner reality, but has arisen as a consequence of our need to communicate to others in rough and graspable fashion our various competencies and dispositions (and also, sometimes, to conceal them)….

The trouble is that Dennett concludes not only that there is much more behind our behavioral competencies than is revealed to the first-person point of view—which is certainly true—but that nothing whatever is revealed to the first-person point of view but a “version” of the neural machinery….

I am reminded of the Marx Brothers line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” Dennett asks us to turn our backs on what is glaringly obvious—that in consciousness we are immediately aware of real subjective experiences of color, flavor, sound, touch, etc. that cannot be fully described in neural terms even though they have a neural cause (or perhaps have neural as well as experiential aspects). And he asks us to do this because the reality of such phenomena is incompatible with the scientific materialism that in his view sets the outer bounds of reality. He is, in Aristotle’s words, “maintaining a thesis at all costs.”

Nagel’s counterargument would have been more compelling if he had relied on a simple metaphor like this one: Most drivers can’t describe in any detail the process by which an automobile converts the potential energy of gasoline to the kinetic energy that’s produced by the engine and then transmitted eventually to the automobile’s drive wheels. Instead, most drivers simply rely on the knowledge that pushing the start button will start the car. That knowledge may be shallow, but it isn’t illusory. If it were, an automobile would be a useless hulk sitting in the driver’s garage.

Some tough questions are in order, too. If consciousness is an illusion, where does it come from? Dennett is an out-and-out physicalist and strident atheist. It therefore follows that Dennett can’t believe in consciousness (the manifest image) as a free-floating spiritual entity that’s disconnected from physical reality (the scientific image). It must, in fact, be a representation of physical reality, even if a weak and flawed one.

Looked at another way, consciousness is the gateway to the scientific image. It is only through the  deliberate, reasoned, fact-based application of consciousness that scientists have been able to roll back the mysteries of the physical world and improve the manifest image so that it more nearly resembles the scientific image. The gap will never be closed, of course. Even the most learned of human beings have only a tenuous grasp of physical reality in all of it myriad aspects. Nor will anyone ever understand what physical reality “really is” — it’s beyond apprehension and description. But that doesn’t negate the symbiosis of physical reality and consciousness.

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Related posts:
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
A Non-Believer Defends Religion
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
Nothingness
The Glory of the Human Mind
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness
Is Science Self-Correcting?
“Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings”
Words Fail Us
Hayek’s Anticipatory Account of Consciousness

Race and Social Engineering

It’s well known that the white-black gap in intelligence is persistent. (See, for example, the section headed “Race” in this post, and the graphs of average SAT scores by ethnicity in this one.) But according to this paper, those

group mean differences in cognitive test scores arise from the following racially disparate conditions: family income, maternal education, maternal verbal ability/knowledge, learning materials in the home, parenting factors (maternal sensitivity, maternal warmth and acceptance, and safe physical environment), child birth order, and child birth weight.

You should now ask yourself whether family income, maternal education, etc., are the causes of the intelligence gap or evidence of it. My money is on the latter.

But that won’t keep the social engineers at bay. Segregation is a perennial whipping-boy for those who are still seeking the Great Society, even if it’s voluntary, socioeconomic segregation rather than involuntary, state-mandated segregation. People can’t just be allowed to live among the kinds of people they prefer. No, they must be forced to integrate in the (vain) hope of bettering the groups favored by social engineers.

How can integration be forced? Well, the Obama administration found a way to get the ball rolling. It’s a HUD regulation called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which Wikipedia summarizes as follows:

It requires cities and towns which receive Federal money to examine their housing patterns and look for racial bias. The intention is to promote racial integration….

Under the rule, any jurisdiction that receives money from HUD must analyze its housing occupancy by race, class, English proficiency, and other categories. It must then analyze factors which contribute to any imbalance, and formulate a plan to remedy the imbalance. The plan can be approved or disapproved by HUD. This is done at both the local and regional level. For example, a major city, such as Chicago, will have to analyze any racial disparities within Chicago, and Chicago suburbs will analyze their own racial disparities. In addition, Chicago and the suburbs will have to analyze any disparities as compared with each other. Thereafter, the community has to track progress (or lack thereof). The planning cycle will be repeated every five years. If the Federal Government is not satisfied with a community’s efforts to reduce disparities, then under the disparate impact doctrine, this could be considered illegal discrimination. As a result, federal funds could be withheld, or the community could be sued, using the racial disparity statistics as evidence.

You know about disparate impact, of course. It’s a legalistic contrivance which says, in effect, that outcomes which are attributable to inherent differences between races and genders amount to illegal discrimination. In other words, it’s illegal to pick the best-qualified candidate for a job if the best-qualified candidate is of the “wrong” color or gender. “Disparate impact” effectively outlaws tests of intelligence for jobs that require above-average intelligence because otherwise “not enough” blacks will qualify for such jobs. “Disparate impact” effectively requires the lowering of physical standards for jobs that require strength because otherwise “not enough” women will qualify for such jobs. It’s affirmative action with a vengeance.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing is reverse discrimination with a vengeance. Luckily, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing may not survive the Trump administration.

Why would social engineers seek forced integration, other than for the sheer enjoyment of exerting their power and doing unto others as they wouldn’t do unto themselves? The pretext for social engineering, in this case, is the existence of supportive academic studies (shades of the “doll tests” that influenced Brown v. Board of Education). Several of the studies are cited by Thomas B. Edsall in “Integration Works. Can It Survive the Trump Era?” (The New York Times, February 9, 2017). According to Edsall, the studies purport to show that

segregation, especially neighborhood segregation, exacerbates the racial test score gap….

[T]he higher the level of racial and economic segregation in an area, the larger the achievement gap.

Thus:

Among the scholars cited here, there is virtual unanimity on the conviction that one way to improve the prospects of poor minorities, black and Hispanic, is to desegregate both schools and housing.

It’s utilitarianism upon stilts.* And the stilts — the studies — are of dubious quality. Consider, for example, the one that seems to be the least circular of the lot, and which claims to prove that desegregation raises the measured intelligence of blacks. I’m referring to Rucker C. Johnson’s “Long-Run Impacts of School Desegregation & School Quality on Adult Attainments” (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 16664, January 2011). According to the abstract, the study

analyzes the life trajectories of children born between 1945 and 1968, and followed through 2013, using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). The PSID data are linked with multiple data sources that describe the neighborhood attributes, school quality resources, and coincident policies that prevailed at the time these children were growing up. I exploit quasi-random variation in the timing of initial court orders, which generated differences in the timing and scope of the implementation of desegregation plans during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Event study analyses as well as [two-stage least-squares] and sibling-difference estimates indicate that school desegregation and the accompanied increases in school quality resulted in significant improvements in adult attainments for blacks. I find that, for blacks, school desegregation significantly increased both educational and occupational attainments, college quality and adult earnings, reduced the probability of incarceration, and improved adult health status; desegregation had no effects on whites across each of these outcomes. The results suggest that the mechanisms through which school desegregation led to beneficial adult attainment outcomes for blacks include improvement in access to school resources reflected in reductions in class size and increases in per-pupil spending [emphasis added].

Before I get to the italicized assertions, I must comment on Johnson’s method. Convoluted and speculative are the best words to describe it. Here are some apt quotations directly from Johnson’s paper:

I compiled data on school spending and school segregation, linked them to a comprehensive database of the timing of court-ordered school desegregation, and linked these data to a nationally representative longitudinal dataset that follows individuals from childhood into adulthood. Education funding data come from several sources that are combined to form a panel of per-pupil spending for US school districts in 1967 and annually from 1970 through 2000. School segregation data come from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and are combined to form a panel used to construct school segregation indices that span the period 1968 through 1988. The school segregation and spending data are then linked to a database of desegregation litigation between 1954 and 2000.

The data on longer-run outcomes come from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) that links individuals to their census blocks during childhood. The sample consists of PSID sample members born between 1945 and 1968 who have been followed into adulthood through 2013; these individuals were between the ages of 45 and 67 in 2013. I include all information on them for each wave, 1968 to 2013. Due to the oversampling of black and low-income families, 45 percent of the sample is black.

I match the earliest available childhood residential address to the school district boundaries that prevailed in 1969 to avoid complications arising from endogenously changing district boundaries over time…. Each record is merged with data on the timing of court ordered desegregation, data on racial school segregation, student-to-teacher ratios, school spending at the school district level that correspond with the prevailing levels during their school-age years. Finally, I merge in county characteristics and information on other key policy changes during childhood (e.g., the timing of hospital desegregation, rollout of “War on Poverty” initiatives and expansion of safety net programs…) from multiple data sources. This allows for a rich set of controls.

The comprehensive desegregation court case data I use contains an entire case inventory of every school district ever subject to court desegregation orders over the 1955-1990 period (American Communities Project), and major plan implementation dates in large districts (compiled by Welch/Light). Every court case is coded according to whether it involved segregation of students across schools, whether the court required a desegregation remedy, and the main component of the desegregation plan. The combined data from the American Communities Project (Brown University) and Welch/Light provide the best available data that have ever been utilized to study this topic for several reasons. First, the year of the initial court order (available for all districts) is plausibly more exogenous than the exact year in which a major desegregation plan was implemented because opposition groups to integration can delay major desegregation plan implementation by lengthening the court proceedings or by implementing inadequate desegregation plans…. And, court-ordered desegregation by legal mandate is plausibly more exogenous than other more voluntary forms of desegregation. Second, the date of the initial court order is precisely measured for all districts.

Sixty-nine percent of the PSID individuals born between 1945-1968 followed into adulthood grew up in a school district that was subject to a desegregation court order sometime between 1954 and 1990 (i.e., 9,156 out of 13,246 individuals), with the timing of the court order not necessarily occurring during their school-age years. Eighty-eight percent of the PSID black individuals born between 1945-1968 followed into adulthood grew up in a school district that was subject to a desegregation court order sometime between 1954 and 1990 (i.e., 4,618 out of 5,245 black individuals). The share of individuals exposed to school desegregation orders during childhood increases significantly with birth year over the 1945-1970 birth cohorts analyzed in the PSID sample….

After combining information from the aforementioned 5 data sources, the main sample used to analyze adult attainment outcomes consists of PSID individuals born between 1945-1968 originally from 8 school districts that were subject to desegregation court orders sometime between 1954 and 1990; this includes 9,156 individuals from 3,702 childhood families, 645 school districts, 448 counties, representing 39 different states. I restrict the estimation sample to individuals who grew up in school districts that were ever subject to court-ordered desegregation, since school districts of upbringing that were never under court order are arguably too different to provide a credible comparison group.

That’s just a small sample of Johnson’s statistical gyrations. Given the complexity of his sources, assumptions, and statistical manipulations, there was ample opportunity for cherry-picking to arrive at the desired result: integration is good for blacks and doesn’t harm whites.

If Johnson has shown anything, it’s that throwing money at the problem is the way to get results. That’s all integration means in the context of his study; it has nothing to do with whatever beneficial effects might arise from the commingling of blacks and whites. (About which, see below.)

And throwing money at the problem most certainly harms whites because most of the money undoubtedly cames from whites. How many white children are denied a chance to go to college, or to a better college, because of the school taxes levied on their parents? Johnson doesn’t bother to consider that question, or any other reasonable question about the deprivations visited upon whites because of higher school taxes.

Moreover, throwing money at the problem doesn’t really work:

Academic performance and preparation for college success are widely shared goals, and so it is useful for the public and policymakers to know how they have varied over time at the state level. The present paper estimates these trends by adjusting state average SAT scores for variation in student participation rates and demographic factors known to be associated with those scores.

In general, the findings are not encouraging. Adjusted state SAT scores have declined by an average of 3 percent. This echoes the picture of stagnating achievement among American 17-year-olds painted by the Long Term Trends portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of tests administered to a nationally representative sample of students since 1970. That disappointing record comes despite a more-than-doubling in inflation-adjusted per pupil public-school spending over the same period (the average state spending increase was 120 percent). Consistent with those patterns, there has been essentially no correlation between what states have spent on education and their measured academic outcomes. In other words, America’s educational productivity appears to have collapsed, at least as measured by the NAEP and the SAT.

That is remarkably unusual. In virtually every other field, productivity has risen over this period thanks to the adoption of countless technological advances—advances that, in many cases, would seem ideally suited to facilitating learning. And yet, surrounded by this torrent of progress, education has remained anchored to the riverbed, watching the rest of the world rush past it.

Not only have dramatic spending increases been unaccompanied by improvements in performance, the same is true of the occasional spending declines experienced by some states. At one time or another over the past four decades, Alaska, California, Florida, and New York all experienced multi-year periods over which real spending fell substantially (20 percent or more of their 1972 expenditure levels). And yet, none of these states experienced noticeable declines in adjusted SAT scores—either contemporaneously or lagged by a few years. Indeed, their score trends seem entirely disconnected from their rising and falling levels of spending. [Andrew J. Coulson, “State Education Trends Academic Performance and Spending over the Past 40 Years,” Cato Institute, Policy Analysis Number 746, March 18, 2014]

Similar findings emerged from an earlier study by Dan Lips, Shanea J. Watkins, and John Fleming, “Does Spending More on Education Improve Academic Achievement?” (The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder Number 2179, November 8, 2008). The answer to the question posed by the title is “no.”

Johnson’s expedition through a maze of data sets somehow miraculously arrives at a conclusion that isn’t supported by following the much more direct route of the Cato and Heritage studies: Throwing money at public schools has had almost no effect on the academic performance of students. Johnson report of exceptional results for a select set of public schools that had been integrated is incredible, in the proper meaning of the word: ” So implausible as to elicit disbelief; unbelievable.”

Don’t try to tell me that court-ordered integration has been worth the cost — in money and liberty — because it has fostered brotherly and sisterly love between whites and blacks. The opposite effect is the more likely one. Rather than repeat myself, I refer you to “Genetic Kinship and Society,” especially the discussions of Robert Putnam’s “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century“ and Byron M. Roth’s The Perils of Diversity: Immigration and Human Nature. A clear implication of those analyses is that conflict — political, if not violent — is bound to result from racial-ethnic-cultural commingling, especially if it’s forced.

Forced integration is on a moral par with with forced segregation. Don’t let the social engineers tell you otherwise.
_________
*This is an allusion to Jeremy Bentham’s characterization of natural rights as “simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense,—nonsense upon stilts.” It is a characterization with which I agree.

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Related posts:
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
“Conversing” about Race
Evolution and Race
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
Let’s Have That “Conversation” about Race
Affirmative Action Comes Home to Roost
The IQ of Nations
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined