Judgmental About Your Drink Order

“The secret truth of the martini is that ordering it up is for dorks. Order that shit on the rocks and have your goddamn drink without having to balance it on a pancake. I’m sure there are people who think they look more sophisticated drinking martini glass drinks, but they’re wrong. Almost spilling your drink at all times isn’t sophisticated by any metric I’ve ever been hipped to. You are vastly more sophisticated knowing what you don’t have to do and doing what works for you. this is the lesson of the day, apparently.”

-Brendan Kelly, “Sir, a drink please….Bad Sandwich Chronicles. February 19, 2021

Enjoyed this judgmental rant. I haven’t had half the drinks on the list, but I kind of want to collect the whole set. As an up martini drinker, the only response I can make is that if it has ice (or worse, vodka), it isn’t a martini. If that means you either need a little balance or have a little spillage, such is life.

Also, daiquiris are fine. You can drink four daiquiris. If you are in Chicago, space them out with a little Malört, and shift the whole thing into weird territory.

Meritocracy, Intelligence & Education

“…we need to dismantle meritocracy.

DeBoer is skeptical of “equality of opportunity”. Even if you solve racism, sexism, poverty, and many other things that DeBoer repeatedly reminds us have not been solved, you’ll just get people succeeding or failing based on natural talent…

…One one level, the titular Cult Of Smart is just the belief that enough education can solve any problem. But more fundamentally it’s also the troubling belief that after we jettison unfair theories of superiority based on skin color, sex, and whatever else, we’re finally left with what really determines your value as a human being – how smart you are. DeBoer recalls hearing an immigrant mother proudly describe her older kid’s achievements in math, science, etc, “and then her younger son ran by, and she said, offhand, ‘This one, he is maybe not so smart.'” DeBoer was originally shocked to hear someone describe her own son that way, then realized that he wouldn’t have thought twice if she’d dismissed him as unathletic, or bad at music. Intelligence is considered such a basic measure of human worth that to dismiss someone as unintelligent seems like consigning them into the outer darkness. So DeBoer describes how early readers of his book were scandalized by the insistence on genetic differences in intelligence – isn’t this denying the equality of Man, declaring some people inherently superior to others? Only if you conflate intelligence with worth, which DeBoer argues our society does constantly. 

-Scott Alexander, “Book Review: The Cult Of Smart
Summary and commentary on The Cult Of Smart by Fredrik DeBoer
.” Astral Codex Ten. February 17, 2021.

There’s a lot going on in this review. I’d highlight that Fredrik’s DeBoer’s blog has an RSS feed, which you can add to your RSS reader. I’m looking forward to reading more of his commentary.

Open Question: Is education an unqualified good?

I recently had an online discussion with someone who, in broad strokes, seems to agree with the above position, i.e., if we only had enough education, we would solve much of society’s problems. I think this is a standard U.S. liberal stance, which positions educational attainment as the means for advancement into the middle class.

Education is the great lie of U.S. liberal politics. Lest you think I’m a conservative trying to own the libs, let me first talk about the great lie of U.S. conservative politics in order to draw parallels.

The great lie of U.S. conservative politics is that you can have a global war-fighting capability and small government. The U.S. conservative lie is easy to grasp. There’s obviously a tension between government size and the ability to fight any war, much less a capability that involves nearly a thousand foreign military bases and nearly a trillion dollars of military spending every year, more if we include the debt servicing for past wars.

But, how is education like war? Isn’t education an unqualified good? The similarity is that just as small government caps one’s ability to fight wars, there is a demand limit on education. Most education is vocational instruction. People go to school in order to get a credential that gives them a better chance of getting a job. The education is, in large part, a secondary effect to the real demand for better employment opportunities.

It’s also possible to juice this demand. For example, I know of one university, and I imagine it is a feature of most universities, where jobs that used to employ people straight out of high school now require a university degree. The university, by implementing this requirement, increases demand for its product. But, does being an administrative assistant in the university organization really require this level of training? Does one need a Bachelor’s degree in communication, business, English, etc. in order to answer the telephone, write a Word document or navigate an Excel spreadsheet? Aren’t these skills acquired in the high school curriculum these days (and if not, shouldn’t they be)?

And you can see this happening at a broader scale as university administration has become professionalized. Instead of professors running university business in addition to their teaching, professors teach and the university business has been outsourced to administrators.

And, it’s not just universities. The same phenomena is happening across industries. It’s true of every level of government. It’s true of most industries, but particularly those that are tied closely to government. Look through the top industries by GDP in the United States: healthcare, durable goods manufacturing, food & travel, retail, etc. Almost everywhere you look, advancement implies management.

So, people go to school to learn a vocation. You get in the door, and then, in order to advance, no matter what industry you are in, you need to get into management. Leaving us to wonder, what exactly is vocational education for? Further, how large is the real need for managers, as opposed to front-line workers?

If you think it through, it is obviously a con, no different in its contradictions than talking about small government and global war. Management, by definition, has to be small. So, no amount of education is going to improve the lot of people getting educated to qualify for those relatively few positions. The only way that education works is if there are paths of advancement that actually require an education and aren’t management.

For example, if Dragon Naturally Speaking has taken over all the transcriptionist jobs, if Level 5 artificial intelligence has taken over from the teamsters, if 3D printing technologies have reduced the number of people working at construction sites, if fast food can become a largely automated process, etc., what will become of those people doing those jobs?

The most likely outcome is that there will be a compression of people into low skill jobs, driving down wages for everyone. There will be some people that will move into positions of managing machines. Someone will have to check on the artificial intelligence drivers, to make sure the results are as intended and to intervene when it starts to become very Sorcerer’s apprentice. But, the net is less jobs for people and more jobs for machines.

And, this is where the education argument starts to look plausible. People can be trained and are needed to supervise and inspecting the work of machines. In some ways, we are already preparing for that world, where people in low skill jobs are treated as if they are machines. For example, see some of the discussion about the conditions in Amazon warehouses and how that is breathing new life into the labor movement.

But, in the end, there is limited demand for education. Most people go through the process of getting an education credential for the vocational dividends that pays. But, it is clear that the university model and the push for education doesn’t deliver on its promise. And, when people are sitting on a mountain of debt and cannot find work, are they going to sell the educational dream to their children?

Another detail worth consideration, did the COVID-19 pandemic finally show that the promise of MOOCs are not something that can be delivered using the university model and university price points? At the very least, the focus on education and how it is delivered needs to be completely rethought. And, as DeBoer points to a deeper problem, our society’s focus on intelligence and expanding it through education is a fundamentally flawed project, as bad as small government and global war-fighting.

The Burrito Test

“The anti-psychiatric-abuse community has invented the ‘Burrito Test’ – if a place won’t let you microwave a burrito without asking permission, it’s an institution. Doesn’t matter if the name is “Center For Flourishing” or whatever and the aides are social workers in street clothes instead of nurses in scrubs – if it doesn’t pass the Burrito Test, it’s an institution.”

–Scott Alexander, “Book Review: The Cult Of Smart
Summary and commentary on The Cult Of Smart by Fredrik DeBoer
.” Astral Codex Ten. February 17, 2021.

Manufacturing Intellect

“The primary focus of Manufacturing Intellect is to rescue and preserve the greatest intellectual voices and bring them to you. I do this by assiduously searching for rare and unavailable video and audio; restoring video quality through denoising and deartifacting, upscaling, color correction, and careful sharpening; and meticulously repairing and conforming audio to the greatest listening quality. My quest to preserve rare content takes me to various public, private and university libraries, thrift stores, used video, music and book stores, and into databases and archives all over the net.”

https://www.youtube.com/user/Vaipan

Data Voids

“There are many search terms for which the available relevant data is limited, non-existent, or deeply problematic. We call these “data voids.” Most of these searches are rare, but in the cases where people do search for these terms, search engines tend to return results that may not give the user what they want because of limited data and/or limited lessons learned through previous
searches…In this paper, we want to offer some basic background on search engines before discussing the different types of data voids; the challenges that search engines face when they encounter queries over spaces where data voids exist; and the ways data voids can be exploited by those with ideological, economic, or political agendas.

-Michael Golebiewski and Danah Boyd, “Data Voids: Where Missing Data Can Be Easily Exploited.” Data & Society. May 2018

The Dunning-Kruger Effect Is Probably Not Real

“For an effect of human psychology to be real, it cannot be rigorously replicated using random noise. If the human brain was predisposed to choose heads when a coin is flipped, you could compare this to random predictions (heads or tails) made by a computer and see the bias. A human would call more heads than the computer would because the computer is making random bets whereas the human is biased toward heads. With the Dunning-Kruger effect, this is not the case. Random data actually mimics the effect really well…

…Measuring someone’s perception of anything, including their own skills, is fraught with difficulties. How well I think I did on my test today could change if the whole thing was done tomorrow, when my mood might differ and my self-confidence may waver. This measurement of self-assessment is thus, to a degree, unreliable. This unreliability–sometimes massive, sometimes not–means that any true psychological effect that does exist will be measured as smaller in the context of an experiment. This is called attenuation due to unreliability. ‘Scores of books, articles, and chapters highlight the problem with measurement error and attenuated effects,’ Patrick McKnight wrote to me. In his simulation with random measurements, the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect actually becomes more visible as the measurement error increases. ‘We have no instance in the history of scientific discovery,’ he continued, ‘where a finding improves by increasing measurement error. None.'”

—Jonathan Jarry, “The Dunning-Kruger Effect Is Probably Not Real.” McGill: Office for Science and Society. December 17, 2020.

Yamuna Body Rolling Foot Savers

I came across this review for Yamuna Body Rolling Foot Savers. Key quote:

“Like a hard racquetball that has been sliced in half, the Footsavers are designed to help realign the bones, muscles and tendons in your feet. You stand on them and work your feet, positioning each foot down the inside line, outside line and mid-line.

It’s a simple routine that’s explained on the instructional DVD it comes with. If you have any foot discomfort, the kind you get from imperfect shoes or simply being on your feel all day, these really can make a difference.

Turns out there is a ball for whole body work, and Yamuna is a whole lifestyle brand. This is not normally something I would be interested in, but I’ve had tingling in my feet and the pinky and ring finger on my left hand for a few years now. So, I’m willing to try anything that might help. Bookmarking to check out later, and I’ll return to this and post a discussion of anything interesting, even if it doesn’t work, after I’ve done their four week foot fix challenge. Even if it doesn’t fix my tingling, perhaps I’ll be able to do an Asian squat without rolling to the balls of my feet because of limited ankle flexibility? I’m open to whatever benefits it may bring.