The million dollar question

Via Megan McArdle.

May 28, 2010 Posted by | economics | 3 Comments


1. Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares. (Daniel Dennett)

2. When comparing the time scales of genetic and cultural evolution, it is useful to bear in mind that we today – every one of us – can easily understand many ideas that were simply unthinkable by the geniuses in our grandparents’ generation! (-ll-)

3. It really is a nice theory. The only defect I think it has is probably common to all philosophical theories. It’s wrong. (Saul Kripke)

4. No matter how good you are at something, there’s always about a million people better than you. (Homer Simpson)

5. We rarely recognize how wonderful it is that a person can traverse an entire lifetime without making a single really serious mistake — like putting a fork in one’s eye or using a window instead of a door. (Marvin Minsky)

6. The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat. (Norbert Wiener)

7. I don’t mind your thinking slowly; I mind your publishing faster than you think. (Wolfgang Pauli)

May 28, 2010 Posted by | philosophy, quotes | 5 Comments

Witchcraft in the 21st century

“By some estimates, about 40 percent of the cases in the Central African court system are witchcraft prosecutions. (Drug offenses in the U.S., by contrast, account for just 12 percent of arrests.) In Mbaiki — where Pygmies, who are known for bewitching each other, make up about a tenth of the population — witchcraft prosecutions exceed 50 percent of the case load, meaning that most alleged criminals there are suspected of doing things that Westerners generally regard as impossible.”


““The problem is that in a witchcraft case, there is usually no evidence,” said Bartolomé Goroth, a lawyer in Bangui, who recently defended (unsuccessfully) a coven of Pygmies who had been accused of murder-by-witchcraft in Mbaiki. Goroth said the trials generally ended with an admission of guilt by an accused witch in exchange for a modest sentence. I asked how one determined guilt in cases where the alleged witches denied the charges. “The judge will look at them and see if they act like witches,” Goroth said, specifying that “acting like a witch” entailed behaving “strangely” or “nervously” in court. His principal advice to clients, he said, was to act normally and refrain from casting any spells in the courtroom.”

Here’s the link, via MR.

May 27, 2010 Posted by | Africa, culture | Leave a comment

Random wikipedia links of interest

1. Operation Crossroads. The US conducted nuclear weapon tests at the Bikini Atoll in 1946, this article is about those tests, the purpose of which were to figure out how effective the new weapon was against naval units. That wasn’t the only kind of relevant information they obtained though. From the article:

Because of radioactive contamination, Bikini remains uninhabited as of 2010, though it is occasionally visited by sport divers. […] The brief attempt to resettle Bikini from 1974 until 1978 was aborted when health problems from radioactivity in the food supply caused the atoll to be evacuated again. Sport divers who visit Bikini to dive on the shipwrecks must eat imported food. The lagoon is teeming with fish, but none of it is safe to eat.

2. Mantle (geology). Did you know that the Earth’s mantle, the layer between the crust and the core, constitutes close to 84 % of the volume of the Earth? I didn’t.

3. Wernicke’s area. A part of the brain involved in the understanding of written and spoken language. In a world-view incorporating stuff like this there’s very little room for a ‘soul’.

4. Gills.

A gill: “extracts dissolved oxygen from water, afterward excreting carbon dioxide. It does not break up water molecules in hydrogen and oxygen and absorb oxygen. The microscopic structure of a gill presents a large surface area to the external environment.

Many microscopic aquatic animals, and some that are larger but inactive, can absorb adequate oxygen through the entire surface of their bodies, and so can respire adequately without a gill.”

5. Pirate game.

May 27, 2010 Posted by | biology, economics, Geology, history, mathematics, wikipedia | 2 Comments

The Dirk Gently Omnibus

On the twitter, I promised some quotes from the book on the blog later on, and this post contains a few. Just like The Hitchhiker’s Guide…, the book is made up of more than one ‘book’; it’s actually two different books, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul. They don’t need to be read in any specific order though and the plots do not overlap (…much). The books are hilarious, even if I liked the first one better. If you haven’t read anything by Douglas Adams, read this one first.

Below I’ve quoted a few passages from the books:

1. “”Reg” had never actually taught Richard, he had only been his college tutor, which meant in short that he had had charge of his general welfare, told him when the exams were and not to take drugs, and so on. Indeed, it was not entirely clear if Reg had ever taught anybody at all and what, if anything, he would have taught them. His professorship was an obscure one, to say the least, and since he dispensed with his lecturing duties by the simple and time-honoured technique of presenting all his potential students with an exhaustive list of books that he knew for a fact had been out of print for thirty years, then flying into a tantrum if they failed to find them, no one had ever discovered the precise nature of his academic discipline. He had, of course, long ago taken the precaution of removing the only extant copies of the books on his reading list from the university and college libraries, as a result of which he had plenty of time to, well, to do whatever it was he did.” (DGHDA, p.12)

One word: Tenure.

2. “Dirk turned.
Framed in the doorway stood a tall dark figure.
The tall dark figure appeared to be not at all happy with what it saw, to be rather cross about it, in fact. To be more than cross. It appeared to be a tall dark figure who could very easily yank the heads off half a dozen chickens and still be cross at the end of it.
It stepped forward into the light and revealed itself to be Sergeant Gilks of the Cambridgeshire Constabulatory.
“Do you know,” said Sergeant Gilks of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, blinking with suppressed emotion, “that when I arrive back here to discover one police officer guarding a sofa with a saw and another dismembering an innocent wastepaper basket I have to ask myself certain questions? And I have to ask them with the disquieting sense that I’m not going to like the answers when I find them.”
“I then find myself mounting the stairs with a horrible premonition, Svlad Cjelli [this is Dirk Gently’s ‘real name’], a very horrible premonition indeed. A premonition, I might add, that I now find horribly justified. I suppose you can’t shed any light on a horse discovered in a bathroom as well? That seemed to have an air of you about it.” (DGHDA, p.161)

3. “”You are a driver,” he said, “and I use the word in the loosest possible sense, i.e. meaning merely somebody who occupies the driving seat of what I will for the moment call – but I use the term strictly without prejudice – a car while it is proceeding along the road, of stupendous, I would even say verging on the superhuman, lack of skill. Do you catch my drift?”
“I mean you do not drive well. Do you know you’ve been all over the road for the last seventeen miles?”
“Seventeen miles!” exclaimed Kate. “Have you been following me?”
“Only up to a point,” said Dirk. “I’ve tried to stay on this side of the road.” […]
“May I ask you why you were following me?”
“You looked as if you knew where you were going. To begin with at least. For the first hundred yards or so.”
“What the hell’s it got to do with you where I was going?”
“Navigational technique of mine.” […] “There is a school of thought which says that you should consult a map on these occasions, but to such people I merely say, ‘Ha! What if you have no map to consult? What if you have a map but it’s of the Dordogne?’ My own strategy is to find a car, or the nearest equivalent, which looks as if it knows where it’s going and follow it.” (TLDTTotS, p.120-21)

Btw. while I was in Copenhagen this weekend, I met up with one of the regular and long-time readers of this blog and I ended up borrowed him my copy of Machiavelli. So the last post in that series will have to wait a bit.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | books | Leave a comment

Quote of the day

There is NO single payor system that compensates physicians on health outcomes. None. There are a bunch that pay for ticking boxes (e.g. did you talk about smoking cessation, did you talk about weight loss, etc.) But not a damn one pays based on outcomes. Why you ask? Because as sure as the sun rises I and every other general surgeon would IMMEDIATELY stop operating on 1. smokers, 2. the obese, and 3 diabetics on an elective basis. They talk a big game, but every time someone points that out to the powers that be they back down. Hell, even REPORTING outcomes has caused a drop in elective CABGs in NY, a rise in emergent ones and worse outcomes across the board.

William Bromberg, in a comment here. I don’t know if that’s completely true, but I’m sure this fundamental problem is in no way limited to surgery even if that’s probably (one of?) the field(s?) where such a change in incentives structures would have the highest impact; in general, if you compensate doctors based on whether the patients get better or not, then it gets harder to get (/enough) doctors to treat the risky cases and/or the very sick.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | health care, medicine | Leave a comment

“My life matters!” yelled the moskito

(Click to watch in a higher resolution. Link.)

(again, click to watch in a higher resolution. Link. Most of it is speculation and you can always quibble about the details, but the main point stands.)

(-ll-, link)

It is estimated that there are more than three times as many neurons in an adult human cerebral cortex alone than there are humans on Earth. The total number of neurons in the human brain is estimated at appr. 14 times the number of humans.

Between 50 and 70 billion cells die each day due to apoptosis in the average human adult (link). There are approximately ten times as many bacterial cells in the human flora of bacteria as there are human cells in the body (link). One might say ‘humans are complex creatures’ or one might say ‘humans are nothing special’. One might also be tempted to say something about the importance of any given individual alive here. Now combine the above with this (click to view in a higher res. – warning, it’s a very big file but you should open it anyway):

Stuff like this (once you start to think about it, you can come up with a lot of similar arguments) is part of the reason why I have great difficulty taking seriously any religious concept ‘explaining the universe’ that even mentions humans. Hell, it’s very hard to take seriously a God(TM) that’d even care about the Milky Way – there are more than 100 billion galaxies out there to choose from, and the Milky Way alone contains 400 billion stars. We don’t matter, a God that would care about what we do is too improbable for us to care about and a God like that raises way more questions than he/she/it answers. To use a God(TM) like that to answer any of the ‘fundamental questions’ is intellectually dishonest, because it’s the same thing as evading the questions entirely and just make up stuff that make us feel important. One of the first thoughts that crosses my mind when thinking about a God that actually cares about humans is ‘stamp collector’. One of the others is, as I’m sure you know, ‘evil bastard’.

May 16, 2010 Posted by | astronomy, biology, Geology, knowledge sharing, personal, philosophy, random stuff, wikipedia | 5 Comments


1. Kongen skal bruges aktivt.
2. Tag oppositionen.
3. Det er ikke kun kongen, der skal bruges aktivt. En passiv officer er et problem, som bør søges løst.
4. Fribønder vinder partier.
5. Dobbeltbønder taber partier.
6. Træktvang.
7. Spil præcist og vær tålmodig. Selv små fejl kan (også) koste meget dyrt i slutspillet.

Der kunne skrives meget mere, men det er et sted at starte. Jeg har udvalgt to partier til at illustrere nogle af disse principper i praksis. Jeg har brugt mange diagrammer, næsten et diagram pr. træk, så der burde ikke været noget problem med at følge med, heller ikke for begyndere og let øvede, som ikke er vant til at tænke mange træk frem. Eftersom posten pga. de mange diagrammer fylder temmeligt meget her på siden, har jeg valgt at afkorte posten.

Continue reading

May 14, 2010 Posted by | skak | Leave a comment

Promoting the unknown, a continuing series

May 12, 2010 Posted by | music | Leave a comment


1. “…people are uncomfortable comparing their friends and partners with others they might have had instead, and in the absence of comparison most people think those they love are pretty good. You rarely hear ‘there are likely about half a billion wives I would like more than you out there, but you are the one I’m arbitrarily in love with’.” (Katja Grace)

2. “Much of what our moral intuitions tell us is in contradiction with what we think are worthy principles. We like to think life is worth a lot for instance, yet in practice life more than a few miles away is worth nothing unless we are personally acquainted with the potentially deceased. Even if we calculate that organ markets would benefit users, many of us feel bad about them. What do you do when feeling virtuous comes into conflict with doing good? Most people go with their feelings.” (-ll-)

3. “There is simply too much to think about. It is hopeless — too many kinds of special preparation are required. In electronics, in economics, in social analysis, in history, in psychology, in international politics, most of us are, given the oceanic proliferating complexity of things, paralyzed by the very suggestion that we assume responsibility for so much. This is what makes packaged opinion so attractive.” (Saul Bellow)

4. “You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.” (John Steinbeck)

5. “It would be different if the Government were a team, but in fact they’re a loose confederation of warring tribes.” (Permanent Secretary for Health, Yes Prime Minister, The Smoke Screen)

May 12, 2010 Posted by | ethics, philosophy, Psychology, quotes | 2 Comments

The word ‘probably’ is ‘probably’ not necessary…

Link. A few others to add to the list:

“The title of our paper changed three times because it was impossible to massage the data enough to prove what we set out to prove initially.”

“Our results are actually completely bogus under settings (X, Y and Z), all of which applies to the real world, but we know that pretty much no one who’ll read a paper like this actually cares anyway.” (one word: Macroeconomics)

Along the same lines: “This paper actually has no real-world applications…”

“I primarily wrote this paper in order to make my mother proud.”

“In five years, the results of this study will be completely (obsolete/useless/disproven).”

“We deliberately omitted the significant variables (X, Y and Z) from our model in order to be able to publish at least a dozen follow-up studies along the way.”

“We are very glad and grateful that (supposedly prestigious journal X) was willing to publish our results as we tried to publish them a lot of other places first without luck…”

“We consider this paper a great contribution to (relevant theory X), even though we know perfectly well that most sane people out there would rather get hit by a bus than being forced to read this crap.”

“I would never have sent this paper to publication if the paper’s conclusions regarding the importance of career path dependence in the labor market were incorrect…”

“Our models’ main problems are primarily a result of an effect closely related to our main finding that most editors are grossly underpaid, namely that it would be a lot easier to get a paper published by bribing the editor than it would be to do it by actually writing a decent paper.”

May 6, 2010 Posted by | academia, comics | Leave a comment

British libel law fact of the day

Yes, I know I just posted a post on the same subject in Danish, but I thought this deserved a post of its own. It’s your fault too: Unless a given post is nothing but a collection of links (like my wikipedia posts), the likelihood that someone – no wait, anyone – will follow more than one link in any given post (almost always, but not quite always, the first link provided) is going towards zero very fast in the total number of links in the post. Almost nobody follows that third link, even if I think it’s some very interesting stuff. So, yeah… Oh yes, the fact:

Currently, defamation lawsuits in England and Wales are approximately 140 times more expensive than the average defamation lawsuit in other European countries.

The article the post links to has more. Btw., Simon Singh, the guy mentioned in the blogpost, won his trial (yes, I know, that was the third link…).

If you dislike the idea of foreigners dragging you, and other people they don’t like, to court in the UK, having you(/them… -ect.) go through a very expensive and long legal battle defending yourself against charges for doing stuff that’s not even remotely illegal in Denmark (or elsewhere, people living in the US are not much less vulnerable), and if you want to prove me wrong about people following the last links of a blog post, go here and sign the petition, if you haven’t already.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | freedom of speech | 2 Comments

Joke of the day

Two men are talking on a Pyongyang subway train:

“How are you, comrade?”

“Fine, how are you doing?”

“Comrade, by any chance, do you work for the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Have you worked for the Central Committee before?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Then, are any of your family members working for the Central Committee?”


“Then, get away from me! You’re standing on my foot!”

There’s more along the same lines at the link, via MR.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | communism, North Korea | Leave a comment

Il Principe III

Min første (korte) post om bogen kan læses her, anden (betydeligt længere) post kan læses her. Vil springe lige ud i det og anvende samme fremgangsmåde som i post II, alle fremhævninger i teksten er mine egne:

1) Machiavelli skelner i kapitel 10 mellem de fyrster, der er magtfulde nok til at forsvare sig selv i nødstilfælde, og så de fyrster, der behøver andres hjælp og beskyttelse. De første er stærke nok til at rejse en hær og møde fjenden på åben mark, de andre er afskåret fra denne mulighed. Det bedste de ‘svage’ fyrster kan gøre, er iflg. Machiavelli at opgive landet og befæste byen godt. Han nævner i denne sammenhæng de samtidige tyske byer, der alle har velanlagte mure, grave og rigeligt skyts. I de offentlige magasiner er der altid mad, drikke og brænde for et år. Disse byer var således særdeles godt rustede til at modstå selv langvarig belejring. Det følgende citat relaterer til belejringssituationen, og det er meget betegnende for Machiavelli’s måde at tænke på, så jeg vil citere i nogle detaljer:

“Man kan indvende, at folket, der har besiddelse uden for murene og ser dem gå op i flammer, vil tabe tålmodigheden over den lange belejringstid og glemme fyrsten. Hertil svarer jeg, at en mægtig og modig fyrste altid vil overkomme disse vanskeligheder ved snart at give sine undersåtter håb om, at ulykken ikke skal vare længe, snart indgive dem frygt for fjendens grusomhed og behændigt sikre sig dem, der synes ham for fremtrængende. For øvrigt vil fjenden naturligvis hærge og brandskatte landet ved indmarchen på en tid, hvor borgerne er begejstrede og parat til forsvar. Fyrsten har endnu mindre grund til at være bekymret, når begejstringen er afkølet, skaden allerede er sket, lidelserne gennemgået og ingen hjælp mere mulig, hvorfor undersåtterne knyttes endnu fastere til fyrsten, da de tror, at han har forpligtelser over for dem, fordi de har tabt hus og jord for hans skyld. Menneskene er skabt således, at de ydede velgerninger forpligter lige så meget som modtagne.” (s.47)

‘De tror, at han har forpligtelser over for dem.’

2) “Der er nu kun tilbage at tale om de gejstlige fyrstevælder. Her kommer vanskelighederne før erhvervelsen, da de erhverves enten ved held eller dygtighed, men bevares uden nogen af delene. De støtter sig nemlig på urgamle, hellige traditioner, der er så mægtige, at de bevarer tronen, ligegyldigt hvordan fyrsten lever og handler. De er de eneste herskere, der har stater og ikke forsvarer dem, og undersåtter uden at regere dem; men staterne fratages dem ikke, selv om de er uden beskyttelse, og borgerne bryder sig ikke om, at de ikke regeres, de hverken kan eller vil løsrive sig. Kun disse fyrster nyder sikkerhed og lykke.” (s.49)

Long story short: De her folk har den bedste deal overhovedet – det er faktisk umuligt for dem at fucke up, lige meget hvad de gør, og selvom de gør det alligevel, kan de ikke stilles til ansvar for noget som helst. Den siddende pave er et glimrende eksempel. De fleste andre mennesker ville som minimum blive personligt involveret i politiets efterforskning på den ene eller anden måde, hvis det kunne bevises, at de var vidende om andres sex-misbrug af børn og undlod at gribe ind og/eller informere myndighederne. Men den slags småting kan man selvfølgelig ikke spilde en ufejlbarlig paves tid med. Sådan var det for 500 år siden, sådan er det i dag. Religion har virkelig noget at bidrage med, når det kommer til etik og moral, og religiøse institutioner er så sandelig en garanti for, at der sker en fortsat udvikling på området, i takt med at vi får mere viden og vores præferencestrukturer udvikler sig over tid.

3) “Vi har ovenfor sagt, at et fyrstevælde først og fremmest må have en god grundvold, og de bedste grundvolde er gode love og en god hær. Da de gode love kun kan bestå der, hvor der findes gode hære, vil jeg undlade at beskæftige mig med lovene og kun tale om hærvæsenet.
Den hær, hvormed en fyrste forsvarer sin stat, er enten hans egen eller består af lejetropper, af hjælpetropper, eller af blandede tropper. Leje- og hjælpetropper er til ingen nytte og farlige, og den, der støtter sig på lejede tropper, vil aldrig leve længe og aldrig være tryg. […] [Lejetropper] vil gerne være fine soldater, så længe der ikke føres krig, men kommer krigen, vil de flygte eller rømme. […] Lejetroppernes fører er enten en fremragende mand eller ikke. I det første tilfælde kan fyrsten ikke stole på ham, da han altid vil stræbe efter personlig magt ved enten at ødelægge sin herre eller, mod hans vilje, andre. Er han ikke dygtig, fremkalder han fyrstens undergang på den almindelige måde. […] Det ligger i lejetroppernes væsen, at deres fremskridt er små, tager lang tid og er meget usikre, men deres tab er pludselige og uhørte.” (s.52-53,56)

Fremskridtene er også meget dyre, for lejetropper koster kassen.

“Man kan tale om hjælpetropper, den anden art unyttige tropper, en fyrste erhverver sig, når han henvender sig til en anden magt for at få stridskræfter til hjælp og beskyttelse […] hjælpetropper kan være både brugbare og dygtige, men skader altid den, der må tilkalde dem. […] Med hjælpetropper er din undergang en sikker sag, de er enige og vant til lydighed mod en anden; lejetropper derimod behøver, når de har sejret, mere tid og bedre anledning for at blive farlige, da de ikke danner nogen enhed og er hvervede og bliver betalt af fyrsten. […] Kort og godt: ved lejetropperne er det fejheden, hos hjælpetropperne er det tapperheden, man må frygte. En klog fyrste vil derfor altid undgå sådanne tropper og kun benytte sine egne; han vil hellere tabe med egne end vinde med fremmede våben i erkendelsen af, at en sejr, der er opnået med fremmede våben, ikke er nogen virkelig sejr.” (s.58-59)

Jeg ved ikke, om citaterne får dette forhold med, men problemet med hjælpetropperne er, at de ikke nødvendigvis vil drage afsted igen, når du har vundet, hvis du vinder. Hvis de er nok eller bare velkoordinerede og illoyale, kan de vælte dig også efter, du har vundet krigen.

4) Jeg fandt nogle få bemærkninger i kapitel 14 (‘om en fyrstes militære opgaver’) interessante, fordi der blev lagt vægt på variable, som Sun Tzu også fokuserer på i sit hovedværk, navnligt naturen i det omkringliggende landskab og geografiske forhold. Disse ting spillede en betydelig rolle før i tiden i militær sammenhæng, og gør det for så vidt sandsynligvis stadig til en hvis grad; at kende terrænet bedre end din modstander er at give dig selv en fordel. Prøv selv at gætte, hvad kombinationen af hård modvind og det forhold, at modstanderen står på en bakketop, ville betyde for dine bueskytters rækkevidde og præcision i forhold til din modstanders samme. Machiavelli bemærker i det foregående kapitel, at “en fyrste uden hær aldrig er sikker”, så udgangspunktet for kapitlet kan næppe overraske:

“En fyrste må altså ikke have noget andet mål, ikke nogen anden tanke, ikke interessere sig for andre ting end krigen, dens regler og forudsætninger. Dette er den eneste kunst, der passer til en fyrste, og den har så stor betydning, at den ikke alene sikrer de fødte fyrster deres rettigheder, men mange gange hæver en mand fra borger til fyrste. […] At foragte krigskunsten er begyndelsen til rigets forlis; den bedste måde at vinde et rige er at være mester i denne kunst. […] Bortset fra alle de andre uheldige sider, som manglende krigsdygtighed fører med sig, skaber den ringeagt, noget enhver fyrste må vogte sig for. En bevæbnet lader sig selv ikke sammenligne med en ubevæbnet, og man kan ikke vente, at den bevæbnede skal vise lydighed over for den ubevæbnede, og at den ubevæbnede skal føle sig sikker mellem bevæbnede tjenere. […] Til alle de øvrige uheldige sider kommer der som nævnt, at en fyrste, der ikke forstår krigshåndværket, ikke har sine soldaters agtelse og ikke kan stole på dem. Han må derfor aldrig have andet i tankerne end krigsøvelser, og endda mere i fredstid end i krigstid. Dette kan gøres på to måder: ved handlinger og ved studium. Hvad det første angår, må han foruden at holde sine soldater i tugt og øvelse dyrke jagten og på denne måde vænne sin krop til besværligheder. Han må også studere forskellige egnes natur, bestige bjerge, undersøge flodernes beskaffenhed, hvordan dalene løber ud, hvorledes sletterne strækker sig og sumpenes karakter, og han må anvende stor omhu på dette…” (s.63-64)

Resten af det lange afsnit omhandler samme emne og en understregning af, hvor vigtig en sådan viden er (‘den vigtigste forudsætning for at være hærfører’) for en fyrste; viden om lokale geografiske forhold kan, hvis fyrsten vænner sig til at tænke i militære baner, bruges også i ukendte områder, fordi mange grundprincipper er ens; uden en sådan erfaring og viden vil fyrsten ikke være i stand til på den bedst mulige måde at ‘finde fjenden’, ‘finde en heldig lejringsplads’, ‘bestemme marchretningen’, ‘vælge kamppladsen’, ‘omringe en fæstning på den bedst mulige måde’ osv.

Jeg har valgt at cutte posten her, selvom det faktisk er nu, vi er ved at være nået til den del, jeg vel nok anskuer som bogens bedste. De næste sektioner fortjener dog en post for sig, og denne post er allerede blevet mere omfangsrig end jeg havde antaget, den ville blive, i udgangspunktet.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | bøger | Leave a comment

Alcohol consumption, a few numbers

Two great graphs, from gnxp (there’s more at the link):

The ‘wordsum’ variable above is a vocabulary test; a higher score indicates that an individual has a more extensive vocabulary.

This report (pdf) concludes that in Denmark, “there’s no (/significant? /clear? /obvious?) connection between average alcohol-consumption and length of education.”

(“Der er ingen tydelig sammenhæng mellem gennemsnitligt alkoholforbrug og
uddannelseslængde, men umiddelbart har skoleelever det højeste gennemsnitlige forbrug.”)

I’m not sure that’s the right conclusion to draw and they make no attempt to justify it, they just state it as if it was a fact without any further comments. Here’s a graph of the results:

I have excluded from the graph the two variables ‘skoleelev’ and ‘anden skoleuddannelse’ because I have no clue precisely what those varibles mean and who they include (both relate to people somewhere in the educational system, but that’s all I know). Does a high school student belong to the ‘skoleelev’ or the ‘anden skoleuddannelse’ segment? When is something a ‘skoleuddannelse’? I have no idea. Stuff like that can just really make me mad – the communication here is so damn poor that I’d rather throw away the results than post them here. Anyway, I was surprised that people with the shortest education drink (much) less than average and less surprised that people with a long education drink more than average. I’d assumed that the relationsship between education and alcohol consumption was v-shaped. Maybe selection bias is at work here, I don’t know, but these data certainly do not support the hypothesis of a v-shaped relationsship. The reason why I believe their conclusion (‘no connection btw…’) is incorrect is that there do seem to be a relationsship between education and alcohol consumption; it looks like people without much schooling drink much less than average and that people with a relatively long education drink more than average. No, you can’t draw a straight line, but who says the ‘relationsship’ should necessarily be a straight line? The fact that alcohol consumption varies widely across education levels is a clear sign that the two variables are in fact connected, even if we don’t know precisely how they are connected. Note that these numbers are not age-adjusted and that I’ve taken out people from the educational system. There are a lot more 20-30 year old plumbers who’re no longer in the educational system than there are people with phd’s. That’s another way to say that the group of people with long educations should actually be drinking less than the other groups, all else equal, because they’re on average a few years older (and ‘older’ here means ‘drink less’ for the relevant age demographic).

The report has a lot more data. Some of the results are quite surprising. Here’s one bit that took me by surprise: ‘41,9 % of the participants think that it is ok to drink alcohol in order to become inebriated. 58,1 % do not think it is ok.’ (41,9% af deltagerne i denne undersøgelse mener, at det er i orden at drikke alkohol for at blive beruset. Tilsvarende mener 58,1% at det ikke er i orden.). Ok – so more than half don’t think it’s ok to drink alcohol in order to get drunk? Seriously?

May 2, 2010 Posted by | alcohol, data, demographics | 10 Comments

Il Principe (II)

Ok, dette bliver første (længere) post i rækken – endelig…

Bogen, når det kommer til struktur og opbygning, minder en hel del om Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Korte afsnit, meget systematisk og få, om nogen, irrelevante passager. Det gør den også svær at blogge. Udgangspunktet for værket er magthaveren, fyrsten. Bogen er mildt sagt ikke skrevet i en periode af Europas historie domineret af liberale, demokratiske og sekulære stater. Det er en bog om statsmandskunst, og dengang var en statsmand også en hærfører, ellers var han ikke statsmand ret længe. På nogle områder er den, i forhold til en nutidig vestlig, europæisk kontekst, derfor dateret – især når det kommer til det store fokus på militærets rolle – på andre områder vil den sagtens kunne bruges også den dag i dag (det samme kunne i øvrigt siges om Art of War, sådan lidt à propos).

Jeg havde i starten en forestilling om, at jeg ville blogge en mere eller mindre samlet fremstilling af værket, men den ide er jeg gået væk fra igen, for jeg får det ikke gjort. I stedet vil jeg, som jeg plejer, bare nøjes med at poste udvalgte citater og evt. kommentere på dem. Citater er kun omgivet af citationstegn, da jeg ved, at det for nogen er ubehageligt at læse lange passager i kursiv. Hvert citat samt eventuelle kommentarer vil være adskilt fra de øvrige med linjeskift og […] som er blevet standardmetoden for denne blog. Here goes.

1) Første kapitel er faktisk værd at citere i sin helhed, for det er ikke særligt langt og resten af bogen tager sit udgangspunkt i disse metoder til at skelne mellem forskellige fyrstevælder:

“Alle stater og styrer, hvorunder mennesker har levet og lever, har været og er enten republikker eller monarkier. Sidstnævnte er enten arvelige, når den samme herskeræt har regeret dem i lange tider, eller de er nyerhvervede. De nyerhvervede er enten helt nye, som Milano var det for Francesco Sforza(1), eller de danner nye led, som føjes til erobrerens arvestat, som Napoli for kongeriget Spanien(2). Sådanne erhvervede områder er enten vante til at leve under en fyrste eller fra gamle tider at være frie; og de erhverves ved fremmed eller egen hærmagt, ved lykkens magt eller ved personlig dygtighed.” (s.7)

2) “Menneskene skifter gerne herrer i troen på, at de nye herrer forbedrer deres kår. Og denne tro får dem til at gribe til våben mod deres herrer. Men de skuffes i deres håb, fordi erfaringen viser, at de får det værre. Dette beror igen på almen og naturlig lov, som tvinger den nye fyrste til at plage sine undersåtter med militær besættelse og utallige voldshandlinger, som er en naturlig følge af erobringen. Sådan får du til fjende alle dem, som din erobring har skadet, og du kan ikke bevare dine hjælperes venskab, fordi du ikke kan belønne dem i det omfang, de har ventet, og også fordi du ikke kan anvende skarpere metoder imod dem, da du har forpligtelser over for dem. Selvom en hær er nok så stærk, så er dog indbyggernes gunst alligevel en nødvendighed for et lands besættelse.” (s.10)

3) “Kolonier volder kun få udgifter. Fyrsten kan grundlægge dem med ringe personlige, eller slet ingen udgifter, og han skader kun dem, hvis hus og jord han tager, for at give det bort til de nye indbyggere. Altså kun en ringe del af befolkningen. Dertil kommer, at de forurettede bliver fattige og fordrives og derfor ikke kan blive farlige. De øvrige mister intet og holder sig i ro; ikke mindst angsten for, at også de skal miste jord og hus, får dem til at være forsigtige. Altså, kolonierne koster intet, er pålidelige og skader befolkningen i ringe grad, og de forurettede er som sagt fattige og er derfor ingen trussel.” […] Holder fyrsten i stedet for kolonier en besættelseshær, forårsager dette meget større udgifter, og da alle indtægter på denne måde anvendes til bevogtning, bliver erobringen til tab. Desuden bliver befolkningens forbitrelse større […] Den art bevogtning er i enhver henseende lige så uhensigtsmæssig, som kolonierne er praktiske.” (s.12-13)

En ting Machiavelli også kunne have nævnt men ikke gør er, at kolonier også styrker fyrstens position i hjemlandet, fordi undersåtterne får meget billig eller gratis jord i fremmede lande, hvilket gør dem glade, eller alternativt fordi fyrsten kan slippe af med alle de utilfredse i hjemlandet ved at sende dem afsted til kolonierne. Hvis landet har et befolkningsoverskud er dette en oplagt måde at afhjælpe problemet. Lyder noget af dette på nogen måde relevant for situationen i det 21. århundrede? Hvordan påvirkes alt dette af, at det i dag er langt billigere for mange magthavere at få den marginale indbygger til at forlade landet end det er at beholde vedkommende, fordi uproduktive og utilfredse arbejdsløse har det med at lave ballade og modtagerlandene så i øvrigt selv helt frivilligt modtager kolonimagten med åbne arme og selv afholder alle omkostninger forbundet med etableringen af kolonierne?

4) “Den, som hjælper en anden til magten, ødelægger sig selv. For at hjælpe en anden til magten hører der dygtighed eller styrke, og begge dele gør den, man har hjulpet frem, mistroisk.” (s.18).

Machiavelli kalder dette en almengyldig regel, som sjældent eller aldrig fejler.

5) “Hvis en erobret stat er vant til at leve i frihed og efter egne love, er der kun tre muligheder for at bevare den. For det første ved at udslette den, for det andet ved personlig at bosætte sig der, og for det tredje ved at lade dem beholde deres love, ved at kræve årlige afgifter, og ved at indsætte et styre, der kan sikre landets loyalitet. […] I hvert tilfælde er det lettere at styre en hidtil fri by med hjælp af dens egne borgere end på nogen anden måde, hvis man ikke vil ødelægge den. […] Ligegyldig hvilke forholdsregler erobreren anvender, hvis ikke han splitter befolkningen ad, glemmer de aldrig deres frihed og skikke og vil ved første lejlighed forsøge at generobre dem, som pisanerne gjorde det, efter at de havde levet 100 år under florentinernes åg.” (s.23)

6) “Intet er så vanskeligt at gennemføre, eller hvis heldige udfald så usikkert, som nyordninger. Man har her alle dem til fjende, som en bevarelse af de gamle forhold gavner, og finder kun lunkne forsvarere i dem, der venter sig fordele af det nye. Årsagen til denne lunkenhed består dels i frygten for modstanderen, der har loven på sin side, dels i at mennesker kun tror på nyordninger, hvis erfaringerne viser deres rigtighed. […] Er det sagt, skal det tilføjes, at mængden, som af naturen er vankelmodig, nemt kan overbevises om noget, men vanskeligt holdes fast ved denne overbevisning. Derfor skal man have midler til at tvinge dem til at tro, når de bliver vægelsindede.” (s.26)

7) “Man kunne spørge efter årsagen til, at Agathocles lige efter utallige grusomheder og forræderier kunne leve trygt i sin fødeby og forsvare sig mod ydre fjender, uden at hans medborgere nogen sinde stiftede nogen sammensværgelse imod ham, medens andre, der har begået grusomheder, ikke har kunnet fastholde magten i fredstid, for slet ikke at tale om krigstid. Jeg tror, at det afhænger af, om grusomhederne bliver anvendt godt eller dårligt. Godt anvendt – hvis man i det hele taget kan bruge ordet godt om det slette – er grusomheder, som en fyrste begår under nødvendigheden af at sikre sig, og som han ikke senere bliver stående ved, men så vidt det er muligt forandrer til sine undersåtters vel. Dårligt anvendt er de grusomheder, som i begyndelse kun er få, men efterhånden tiltager i stedet for at aftage i antal. […] Man kan lære heraf, at erobreren, så snart han tager staten i besiddelse, må gennemtænke alle mulige voldshandlinger og udføre dem på en gang for at undgå at begå nye hver dag, og for at kunne berolige sit folk ved at standse grusomhederne og vinde deres hjerter med velgerninger. Den, som af frygt eller manglende forståelse handler anderledes, må bestandig føre sværdet i hånden og kan aldrig stole på sine undersåtter, da disse på grund af stadig nye voldshandlinger ikke har nogen tiltro til ham. […] Fremfor alt må fyrsten indrette sin optræden over for sine undersåtter således, at han ikke behøver at ændre den ved held eller uheld; for hvis han ved uheld kommer i en nødssituation, savner han magten til at straffe, og velgerningerne nytter ikke, da de virker aftvungne og derfor ingen tak høster.” (s.40-41)

Aftvungne velgerninger høster ingen tak. Lyder det igen bekendt?

8 ) “en fyrste skal have folket til ven, da han ellers står uden hjælp i ulykkestider. […] Derfor må en klog fyrste indrette sig således, at borgerne altid har brug for ham og hans styre; så vil de altid være ham tro.” (s.45)

Posten havde uddrag fra de første 9 kapitler. Jeg håber, at jeg kan få skrevet mindst en post mere, for noget af det bedste fra bogen kom efter min opfattelse ikke med i denne omgang.

May 2, 2010 Posted by | bøger | 3 Comments

Random wikipedia links of interest

I’m not posting what I’m ‘supposed to’ at the moment (books, serious stuff, stuff where I do a lot of the thinking and writing) but I am posting. It’s gotta count for something.

1) Hagen–Poiseuille equation. I’d probably archive this one under: ‘Stuff you think is quite simple and easy to deal with really never is.’

2) List of chess openings. Archive under: ‘Why nobody can know all openings by heart and why it takes years to build up an opening repertoire worth a damn’. Also, ‘why you need to emphasize learning general opening principles rather than memorizing lines when you start out.’ ‘Why computers beat us’. There are a lot of options here…

3) Mining. The article’s maps are great: 1 and 2. ‘Stuff nobody knows much about, stuff we take for granted’.

4) Birds. ‘Amazing creatures’.

5) Preventable causes of death. A US-centric article, but I found the ‘Leading causes worldwide’-table quite interesting. Hypertension is dangerous and it affects a lot of people, many of which probably do not realize how much greater their risk of dying is because of their untreated high blood pressure. Type 2 diabetes surely is/ought to be working it’s way up that list these years.

May 1, 2010 Posted by | biology, Chess, health care, Physics, wikipedia | Leave a comment