i. “Without feeling abashed by my ignorance, I confess that I am absolutely unable to say. In the absence of an appearance of learning, my answer has at least one merit, that of perfect sincerity.” (Jean Henri Fabre)

ii. “It is right to be content with what we have, but never with what we are.” (James Mackintosh)

iii. “God is a hypothesis constructed by man to help him understand what existence is all about.” (Julian Huxley)

iv. “Sooner or later, false thinking brings wrong conduct.” (-ll-)

v. “A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather.” (Thomas Henry Huxley)

vi. “The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.” (-ll-)

vii. “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and, however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.” (-ll-)

viii. “The doctrine that all men are, in any sense, or have been, at any time, free and equal, is an utterly baseless fiction.” (-ll-)

ix. “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” (-ll-)

x. “The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land, to add something to the extent and the solidity of our possessions.” (-ll-)

xi. “There will always be people who are ahead of the curve, and people who are behind the curve. But knowledge moves the curve.” (Bill James)

xii. “No field of knowledge is so transparently simple as another’s.” (Michael Flynn)

xiii. “If we would have new knowledge, we must get us a whole world of new questions.” (Susanne Langer)

xiv. “Any ethics that needs religion is bad ethics […]  If you view religion as necessary for ethics, you’ve reduced us to the ethical level of 4 year olds. “If you follow these commandments you’ll go to heaven, if you don’t’ you’ll burn in hell” is just a spectacular version of the carrots and sticks with which you raise your children.” (Susan Neiman)

xv. “Truths are not relative. What is relative are opinions about truth.” (Nicolás Gómes Dávila)

xvi. “To tolerate does not mean to forget that what we tolerate does not deserve anything more.” (-ll-)

xvii. “At all times pseudoprofound aphorisms have been more popular than rigorous arguments.” (Mario Bunge)

xviii. “Instead […] of saying that Man is the creature of Circumstance, it would be nearer the mark to say that Man is the architect of Circumstance. It is Character which builds an existence out of Circumstance.” (George Lewes)

xix. “A man must be himself convinced if he is to convince others. The prophet must be his own disciple, or he will make none. Enthusiasm is contagious: belief creates belief.” (-ll-)

xx. “No deeply-rooted tendency was ever extirpated by adverse argument. Not having originally been founded on argument, it cannot be destroyed by logic.” (-ll-)

May 28, 2015 Posted by | quotes | Leave a comment


Sorry for the infrequent updates. I realized blogging Wodehouse books takes more time than I’d imagined, so posting this sort of stuff is probably a better idea.

i. Dunkirk evacuation (wikipedia ‘good article’). Fascinating article, as are a few of the related ones which I’ve also been reading (e.g. Operation Ariel).

“On the first day of the evacuation, only 7,669 men were evacuated, but by the end of the eighth day, a total of 338,226 soldiers had been rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 boats. Many of the troops were able to embark from the harbour’s protective mole onto 39 British destroyers and other large ships, while others had to wade out from the beaches, waiting for hours in the shoulder-deep water. Some were ferried from the beaches to the larger ships by the famous little ships of Dunkirk, a flotilla of hundreds of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, and lifeboats called into service for the emergency. The BEF lost 68,000 soldiers during the French campaign and had to abandon nearly all of their tanks, vehicles, and other equipment.”

One way to make sense of the scale of the operations here is to compare them with the naval activities on D-day four years later. The British evacuated more people from France during three consecutive days in 1940 (30th and 31st of May, and 1st of June) than the Allies (Americans and British combined) landed on D-day four years later, and the British evacuated roughly as many people on the 31st of May (68,014) as they landed by sea on D-day (75,215). Here’s a part of the story I did not know:

“Three British divisions and a host of logistic and labour troops were cut off to the south of the Somme by the German “race to the sea”. At the end of May, a further two divisions began moving to France with the hope of establishing a Second BEF. The majority of the 51st (Highland) Division was forced to surrender on 12 June, but almost 192,000 Allied personnel, 144,000 of them British, were evacuated through various French ports from 15–25 June under the codename Operation Ariel.[104] […] More than 100,000 evacuated French troops were quickly and efficiently shuttled to camps in various parts of southwestern England, where they were temporarily lodged before being repatriated.[106] British ships ferried French troops to Brest, Cherbourg, and other ports in Normandy and Brittany, although only about half of the repatriated troops were deployed against the Germans before the surrender of France. For many French soldiers, the Dunkirk evacuation represented only a few weeks’ delay before being killed or captured by the German army after their return to France.[107]

ii. A pretty awesome display by the current world chess champion:

If you feel the same way I do about Maurice Ashley, you’ll probably want to skip the first few minutes of this video. Don’t miss the games, though – this is great stuff. Do keep in mind when watching this video that the clock is a really important part of this event; other players in the past have played a lot more people at the same time while blindfolded than Carlsen does here – “Although not a full-time chess professional [Najdorf] was one of the world’s leading chess players in the 1950s and 1960s and he excelled in playing blindfold chess: he broke the world record twice, by playing blindfold 40 games in Rosario, 1943,[8] and 45 in São Paulo, 1947, becoming the world blindfold chess champion” (link) – but a game clock changes things a lot. A few comments and discussion here.
In very slightly related news, I recently got in my first win against a grandmaster in a bullet game on the ICC.

iii. Gastric-brooding frog.


“The genus was unique because it contained the only two known frog species that incubated the prejuvenile stages of their offspring in the stomach of the mother.[3] […] What makes these frogs unique among all frog species is their form of parental care. Following external fertilization by the male, the female would take the eggs or embryos into her mouth and swallow them.[19] […] Eggs found in females measured up to 5.1 mm in diameter and had large yolk supplies. These large supplies are common among species that live entirely off yolk during their development. Most female frogs had around 40 ripe eggs, almost double that of the number of juveniles ever found in the stomach (21–26). This means one of two things, that the female fails to swallow all the eggs or the first few eggs to be swallowed are digested. […] During the period that the offspring were present in the stomach the frog would not eat. […] The birth process was widely spaced and may have occurred over a period of as long as a week. However, if disturbed the female may regurgitate all the young frogs in a single act of propulsive vomiting.”

Fascinating creatures.. Unfortunately they’re no longer around (they’re classified as extinct).

iv. I’m sort of conflicted about what to think about this:

“Epidemiological studies show that patients with type-2-diabetes (T2DM) and individuals with a diabetes-independent elevation in blood glucose have an increased risk for developing dementia, specifically dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). These observations suggest that abnormal glucose metabolism likely plays a role in some aspects of AD pathogenesis, leading us to investigate the link between aberrant glucose metabolism, T2DM, and AD in murine models. […] Recent epidemiological studies demonstrate that individuals with type-2 diabetes (T2DM) are 2–4 times more likely to develop AD (35), individuals with elevated blood glucose levels are at an increased risk to develop dementia (5), and those with elevated blood glucose levels have a more rapid conversion from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to AD (6), suggesting that disrupted glucose homeostasis could play a […] causal role in AD pathogenesis. Although several prominent features of T2DM, including increased insulin resistance and decreased insulin production, are at the forefront of AD research (710), questions regarding the effects of elevated blood glucose independent of insulin resistance on AD pathology remain largely unexplored. In order to investigate the potential role of glucose metabolism in AD, we combined glucose clamps and in vivo microdialysis as a method to measure changes in brain metabolites in awake, freely moving mice during a hyperglycemic challenge. Our findings suggest that acute hyperglycemia raises interstitial fluid (ISF) Aβ levels by altering neuronal activity, which increases Aβ production. […] Since extracellular Aβ, and subsequently tau, aggregate in a concentration-dependent manner during the preclinical period of AD while individuals are cognitively normal (27), our findings suggest that repeated episodes of transient hyperglycemia, such as those found in T2DM, could both initiate and accelerate plaque accumulation. Thus, the correlation between hyperglycemia and increased ISF Aβ provides one potential explanation for the increased risk of AD and dementia in T2DM patients or individuals with elevated blood glucose levels. In addition, our work suggests that KATP channels within the hippocampus act as metabolic sensors and couple alterations in glucose concentrations with changes in electrical activity and extracellular Aβ levels. Not only does this offer one mechanistic explanation for the epidemiological link between T2DM and AD, but it also provides a potential therapeutic target for AD. Given that FDA-approved drugs already exist for the modulation of KATP channels and previous work demonstrates the benefits of sulfonylureas for treating animal models of AD (26), the identification of these channels as a link between hyperglycemia and AD pathology creates an avenue for translational research in AD.”

Why am I conflicted? Well, on the one hand it’s nice to know that they’re making progress in terms of figuring out why people get Alzheimer’s and potential therapeutic targets are being identified. On the other hand this – “our findings suggest that repeated episodes of transient hyperglycemia […] could both initiate and accelerate plaque accumulation” – is bad news if you’re a type 1 diabetic (I’d much rather have them identify risk factors to which I’m not exposed).

v. I recently noticed that Khan Academy has put up some videos about diabetes. From the few ones I’ve had a look at they don’t seem to contain much stuff I don’t already know so I’m not sure I’ll explore this playlist in any more detail, but I figured I might as well share a few of the videos here; the first one is about the pathophysiology of type 1 diabetes and the second one’s about diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease):

vi. On Being the Right Size, by J. B. S. Haldane. A neat little text. A few quotes:

“To the mouse and any smaller animal [gravity] presents practically no dangers. You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.

An insect, therefore, is not afraid of gravity; it can fall without danger, and can cling to the ceiling with remarkably little trouble. It can go in for elegant and fantastic forms of support like that of the daddy-longlegs. But there is a force which is as formidable to an insect as gravitation to a mammal. This is surface tension. A man coming out of a bath carries with him a film of water of about one-fiftieth of an inch in thickness. This weighs roughly a pound. A wet mouse has to carry about its own weight of water. A wet fly has to lift many times its own weight and, as everyone knows, a fly once wetted by water or any other liquid is in a very serious position indeed. An insect going for a drink is in as great danger as a man leaning out over a precipice in search of food. If it once falls into the grip of the surface tension of the water—that is to say, gets wet—it is likely to remain so until it drowns. A few insects, such as water-beetles, contrive to be unwettable; the majority keep well away from their drink by means of a long proboscis. […]

It is an elementary principle of aeronautics that the minimum speed needed to keep an aeroplane of a given shape in the air varies as the square root of its length. If its linear dimensions are increased four times, it must fly twice as fast. Now the power needed for the minimum speed increases more rapidly than the weight of the machine. So the larger aeroplane, which weighs sixty-four times as much as the smaller, needs one hundred and twenty-eight times its horsepower to keep up. Applying the same principle to the birds, we find that the limit to their size is soon reached. An angel whose muscles developed no more power weight for weight than those of an eagle or a pigeon would require a breast projecting for about four feet to house the muscles engaged in working its wings, while to economize in weight, its legs would have to be reduced to mere stilts. Actually a large bird such as an eagle or kite does not keep in the air mainly by moving its wings. It is generally to be seen soaring, that is to say balanced on a rising column of air. And even soaring becomes more and more difficult with increasing size. Were this not the case eagles might be as large as tigers and as formidable to man as hostile aeroplanes.

But it is time that we pass to some of the advantages of size. One of the most obvious is that it enables one to keep warm. All warmblooded animals at rest lose the same amount of heat from a unit area of skin, for which purpose they need a food-supply proportional to their surface and not to their weight. Five thousand mice weigh as much as a man. Their combined surface and food or oxygen consumption are about seventeen times a man’s. In fact a mouse eats about one quarter its own weight of food every day, which is mainly used in keeping it warm. For the same reason small animals cannot live in cold countries. In the arctic regions there are no reptiles or amphibians, and no small mammals. The smallest mammal in Spitzbergen is the fox. The small birds fly away in winter, while the insects die, though their eggs can survive six months or more of frost. The most successful mammals are bears, seals, and walruses.” [I think he’s a bit too categorical in his statements here and this topic is more contested today than it probably was when he wrote his text – see wikipedia’s coverage of Bergmann’s rule].

May 26, 2015 Posted by | biology, Chess, diabetes, history, Khan Academy, Lectures, medicine, wikipedia | Leave a comment

Providing practical support for people with autism spectrum disorder – supported living in the community

I actually wasn’t planning on blogging this book because of how disappointing it was. Here’s what I wrote in my goodreads review:

“The last few chapters managed to almost push me all the way towards giving the book one star. You can’t just claim in a book like this that very expensive and comprehensive support systems which you’re dreaming about are cost-effective without citing a single study, especially not in a context where you’ve just claimed that activities which usually end up costing a lot of money will end up saving money. If you envision a much more comprehensive support system, you can’t not address obvious cost drivers.

Some interesting stuff and important observations are included in the book, but the level of coverage is not high and you should not take my two star (‘ok’) rating to indicate that I am in agreement with the author. The main reason why I ended up finishing it was that it was easy to read, not that it was a good book.”

There are no inline citations, and examples of things people with ASD might need help with and ways to help them with these problems seem to be derived from anecdotes, not systematic research. The author repeatedly emphasizes that aid should be individualized and focused on the specific needs of the person with ASD, and although this makes a lot of sense it also makes recommendations very difficult to evaluate (it’s a bit like figuring out what’s going on in the context of other areas of psychological research, where therapists will often ‘mix methods’ when dealing with specific individuals, making it impossible to figure out which components of the treatment regime are actually helpful and which are not because even if people were to try to figure this out, power issues would make it impossible to estimate the relevant interaction effects even in theory); though it should be made clear that the author makes no attempt to do this.

I however found some of the observations included and specific points raised in the book to be interesting, and I’ll mention some of these in the coverage below.

“Professional support needs to be developed and executed in partnership with people and families. For support to be successful, all concerned need to be aware of its objectives and agree with the plan and strategies involved.”

I decided to start out the coverage with this quote because the book is full of postulates like these. Often specific cases will be used to illustrate points like these, but don’t expect any references to actual research on such topics – it’s not that kind of book. The approach employed makes the book incredibly hard for me to evaluate; some of the ideas are presumably sound, but it’s difficult to tell which because they didn’t do the research. In theory it’s sometimes easy to see how a given approach mentioned might lead to, or solve, specific problems, but you’ll often get the idea that perhaps there are tradeoffs at play here which the advice included does not take into account, meaning that in specific cases an alternative solution/piece of advice to the one proposed might lead to better outcomes by trading off the problems associated with the approach mentioned and the problems associated with an alternative approach. In some cases you perhaps would ideally prefer the parents of an adult child living outside the home of the parents to not have too much influence on support strategies employed even though they might traditionally have had a significant role to play in the context of support provision, because the family’s approach to problem solving might be counterproductive, in which case a support plan not supported by the parents might still in some cases be preferable to one which would be supported by them. The emphasis on individualized care throughout the book is, it must be said, on the other hand helpful in terms of thinking about such potential problems, but you still have this impression that a lot of the suggestions in the book are really not based on anywhere near a sufficient amount of data or research, and although they’re often ‘common sense suggestions’ it’s quite clear from a lot of different areas of psychological research by now that common sense can sometimes deceive us.

A general problem I have with the book is, I think, that I think the author is too confident about which support approaches/strategies/etc. might, or might not, work – and perhaps a key reason why she seems overconfident is that she’s not provided the research results in the book which one would in my opinion need in order to draw conclusions like the ones she draws, regardless of whether such research actually exists. A related problem is that quite a few of the concluding statements in the book are at least partly normative statements (which I generally dislike to encounter in non-fiction), not descriptive statements (which I do like to encounter). In the book she repeatedly makes claims about what people with ASD are like without referring to research on these topics, so you’re wondering how she knows these things, and whether or not those claims are actually true, or just true for a small subset of people with ASD which she’s encountered or read about. Many of the observations seemed familiar to me (having encountered them either in other textbooks, or having personal experience with the issues mentioned) so I’d be likely to grant that many of the observations are valid, but you are sometimes wondering how she knows the things she claims to know. A big problem is actually the way she covers the material; she covers various topics in various chapters, but the way she does is makes it relatively hard for a reader to know which parts of a given chapter might actually be useful for a specific individual curious about these things; another way to do things might have been to split the coverage up into chapters about support provision for people with low support requirements, and other chapters about support provision for people with high support requirements. It’s made clear in the book that needs are different for different individuals, but you’re often sort of wondering which passages are most relevant to which groups of people with ASD. One might argue that ‘people ought to be able to tell this on their own’, but then we get to the problems that people with ASD tend to be bad at asking for support, perhaps not realizing that they need it, and the problem that people without ASD who do not know much about ASD perhaps have a difficult time figuring out which types of help might be useful in a specific setting. This stuff is difficult as it is, but I don’t think the way the coverage is structured in this book is helping at all with solving these sorts of issues.

Oh well, let’s move on…:

“The ultimate aim of support should be to improve skills and develop strategies to enable the person with ASD to feel in control and better able to cope independently.”

“The fact is that extremely able people with ASD frequently struggle with day-to-day life skills. Very intelligent students cannot organize themselves to launder their clothes, and may get up to find they are all dirty or still wet in the machine from several days ago. This is one of those superficially trivial things that can be a major problem to the person it repeatedly happens to. On a practical domestic front, what may be a massive difficulty for a person with ASD, may be an easily solved problem for someone without it. […] People with ASD like to have regular routines. The ability to adhere to routine is an advantage in many situations, and this skill can be used productively. Structure and organization can be brought to running the household. As a plan is constructed, problems can be considered and systems put in place to deal with them. A planning session when the individual collaborates with support to work out a weekly menu and the necessary shopping plan, gives the person more autonomy, than having someone turn up to go shopping or cook with them. Having someone alongside is sometimes necessary, but has the disadvantage of creating dependence. The individual is empowered instead by being facilitated to complete tasks independently. […] The best support methods promote independence. […] The aspects of forward planning can be incredibly challenging for a person with ASD, regardless of their intellectual level. […] As people with ASD have great difficulty seeing consequences or planning ahead, they may find it hard to become motivated if the gratification is not instant. Things have to be broken down and explained in a practical way.”

“Most people instigate minor changes easily. It may be more convenient to vary a normal routine on a particular day, even pleasurable. I might decide that as it is a sunny day I will go out, and do the housework in the evening. As a supporter for someone with ASD it is vital to remember, that he will not have the flexibility of thought that people generally have and so may need routines to be more stringently adhered to. Such a simple adjustment may not be easy, and it may be preferable to stay with the usual unless there is a strong argument for change. The world becomes easier to interpret if as much as possible is held constant. […] Change is easier to manage if we know it is coming. The better prepared someone is for a change, generally the easier it is to cope. For people with ASD, it helps if the preparation can be as concrete as possible.”

“The paradoxical nature of ASD is demonstrated again in attention span. The person will be absolutely absorbed, blocking out the rest of the world, when he is engrossed in something of particular interest; but at other times his attention span can be low. Most people will recognize the experience of being called away to answer a phone call, or speaking to a visitor and completely forgetting that they were in the middle of doing something. This distractibility is a common experience for those with ASD. […] I often think that ASD is the source of the stereotype of the ‘absent-minded professor’.”

A personal remark on these topics is perhaps in order here, and I add it because it is my impression that mass media portrails of individuals with these sorts of traits are generally if anything favourably inclined; in the sense that distractibility, forgetfulness and these sorts of traits are in those contexts in general traits you smile about and which are mildly funny. My impression is that the first word that springs to mind in these contexts is ‘amusing’, or something along those lines, not ‘annoying’. The downsides are usually to some extent neglected. However I know from Real Life experience that things like forgetfulness and distractability can be really annoying. Forgetting the key to your flat and locking yourself out of your flat (multiple times); forgetting to bring home your laptop from the university and having to go back and get it while worrying about whether or not it’s been stolen in the meantime (it fortunately wasn’t); getting caught up in an interesting exchange on the internet causing you to you forget that you turned on the stove an hour ago (or was it two hours ago? Time flies when you’re engaged in stuff that interests you…), so now you’ll have to spend another hour trying to clean the pot and separate the charred chunks of vegetables and the metal; getting a burn while taking something out of the oven because you were thinking about something else and didn’t pay sufficient attention to the task at hand – these things border from annoying to dangerous, as also noted in the book: “Depending on what we were doing, finding that we have left something in the middle of it can be anything from mildly annoying (left the kitchen half cleaned) to very distressing (left the pan on the hob and burnt the house down).” Similar observations might be made in the context of ‘clumsiness’ (not a diagnostic trait, but apparently often observed) and combinations of these traits. The sorts of things people often find amusing when they happen to, say, cartoon characters are a lot less funny when they happen to you personally, especially if you are having difficulties finding ways to address the issues and other people are impacted by them as well. Problems like these may cause amusement among others, but I know from both personal experience and the experiences of a good friend of mine that they may also cause profound exasperation among the people around you.

“Difficulty with communication is a core problem for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some people have little or no speech, some have an extensive vocabulary, some make grammatical mistakes, some have a wide use of language – but all people with ASD have problems with communication. These problems are extremely complex, leading to much misunderstanding, confusion and stress. The more sophisticated the person’s language is the greater the problem may be. Ros Blackburn, a highly intelligent British woman with ASD who gives many talks on the subject, highlights that a person’s ability can also be their greatest disability. As a verbal, intellectually able woman, she finds that people do not appreciate the support that she needs in everyday and social situations. The power to have a seemingly normal conversation can cause many troubles for a person with ASD by giving a false impression of their comprehension. […] Care should be taken not to give too much information at one time. People with ASD generally process language slowly and have difficulty handling a lot of verbal input. […] People with ASD work through matters slowly, and speed of discussion is problematic. […] So time needs to be offered to assimilate information before a response is expected. […] For most people with ASD, it is easier to talk if there are fewer people in the group. In a large meeting there is too much to take in, and few silences in which to process what has been said. […] They almost always prefer one to one conversation to group discussion, and small intimate gatherings to parties.”

“We all make blunders in relationships. We misjudge what is acceptable in a situation, mistake another person’s intention or misinterpret someone’s meaning. We then feel upset, isolated and embarrassed. People with ASD are more prone to doing this sort of thing than most – and they do experience the same unpleasant aftermath. […] Coping well is a double-edged sword; the better a person manages, the more likely he is to be judged harshly when he does make a mistake. […]  Some people with ASD are able to think their way through social situations. They teach themselves or have been taught to interpret non-verbal signals. They can use cognition to remember that the other person may feel differently to them, and to compute what their perception and emotions may be. This is a slow, cumbersome method compared to the automatic, rapid assimilation that those without ASD make. Even those who compensate well appear slow, stilted, awkward, and are liable to make significant mistakes.”

“Neurotypical people (NTs) are as lacking in empathy towards people with ASD as vice versa.” This is in my opinion a bold claim and I’m not sure it’s true, but I think she does have a point here. I think it’s likely that NTs often judge people with ASD based on the standards of NTs; standards which may well be impossible for the person with ASD to ever meet, regardless of the amount of effort the individual puts into meeting those standards. She however argues later on in the coverage that: “Most people are not unkind, but are unthinking or, because of lack of knowledge about disability, make incorrect assumptions.” This seems plausible.

“The rigidity of AS thinking and the tendency to obsess means that a worry can escalate and dominate a person’s life. […] As a basic rule of thumb, regular, familiar routines are better stress busters than a novel idea. A holiday, for example, is more likely to add to stress than relieve it.” (This sounds very familiar, and I’ll keep this quote in mind…)

“Many people with ASD remain more susceptible to parental influence than the majority of their peers. […] All people with ASD, including the highly intelligent, are susceptible to being led by others and it is very easy for the person offering support, either knowingly or unwittingly, to lead the person down a route, which is not the course he wants to follow.”

“Social inabilities create problems for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in establishing peer relationships and so naturally accessing the support that evolves between members of groups, such as work colleagues, fellow students or regulars in the pub. Asking for assistance appropriately will be challenging for people with ASD. […] adults often only appear on the services ‘radar’ when they reach crisis point. Forty-nine per cent of adults with ASD are still living with their parents. […] Only 6 per cent of adults with ASD are in full-time employment [no sources provided, US]”

“It is not always possible to tell from meeting a person or even from having regular contact with him that he has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Individuals therefore face the decision as to whether or not to disclose that they have the disorder. […] Generally disclosure is on a sliding scale. Most people tell close family; whilst it would probably be inappropriate to tell a casual stranger. Some will disclose to professionals, but prefer to keep the information from social contacts. […] There are no easy answers as to who and when to tell. Disclosure to professionals in formal situations appears advisable so that all are aware of the condition and any differences are accepted and planned for. Informal social situations are more fluid and difficult to read.”

“NAS statistics show that only six per cent of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (12% of those with Asperger Syndrome (AS)) in the UK are in full-time employment. This compares with 49 per cent of people with general disabilities who are employed. […] Given the talents which many with ASD have, this is a great loss to the workforce. […] Traits common to ASD, such as conscientiousness, attention to detail, perseverance and loyalty, are great assets to an employer. […] People with ASD tend to be loyal, to stick to routines and dislike change. […] The characteristics of the disorder mean that the individual may not make a good impression at interview. Social skills will not be a forté. […] The employer needs to be aware of any ASD traits the person displays, such as lack of eye contact. Questions may be prepared with support so that they elicit the information needed, but are specific, factual and clear. Broad questions, such as, ‘Tell me about yourself ’, will leave the interviewee floundering. […] Interviews are not always the most appropriate way of assessing candidates, especially not those with ASD.”

The author does not address in the book the specific problems and tradeoffs related to the question of whether or not it’s optimal to disclose an autism spectrum disorder to a potential employer, but rather seems to take it for granted that the interviewee should always disclose, preferably beforehand. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’m really not convinced this is always the right approach.

May 17, 2015 Posted by | books, medicine, personal, Psychology | Leave a comment

Random stuff/Open Thread

i. A lecture on mathematical proofs:

ii. “In the fall of 1944, only seven percent of all bombs dropped by the Eighth Air Force hit within 1,000 feet of their aim point.”

From wikipedia’s article on Strategic bombing during WW2. The article has a lot of stuff. The ‘RAF estimates of destruction of “built up areas” of major German cities’ numbers in the article made my head spin – they didn’t bomb the Germans back to the stone age, but they sure tried. Here’s another observation from the article:

“After the war, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey reviewed the available casualty records in Germany, and concluded that official German statistics of casualties from air attack had been too low. The survey estimated that at a minimum 305,000 were killed in German cities due to bombing and estimated a minimum of 780,000 wounded. Roughly 7,500,000 German civilians were also rendered homeless.” (The German population at the time was roughly 70 million).

iii. Also war-related: Eddie Slovik:

Edward Donald “Eddie” Slovik (February 18, 1920 – January 31, 1945) was a United States Army soldier during World War II and the only American soldier to be court-martialled and executed for desertion since the American Civil War.[1][2]

Although over 21,000 American soldiers were given varying sentences for desertion during World War II, including 49 death sentences, Slovik’s was the only death sentence that was actually carried out.[1][3][4]

During World War II, 1.7 million courts-martial were held, representing one third of all criminal cases tried in the United States during the same period. Most of the cases were minor, as were the sentences.[2] Nevertheless, a clemency board, appointed by the Secretary of War in the summer of 1945, reviewed all general courts-martial where the accused was still in confinement.[2][5] That Board remitted or reduced the sentence in 85 percent of the 27,000 serious cases reviewed.[2] The death penalty was rarely imposed, and those cases typically were for rapes or murders. […] In France during World War I from 1917 to 1918, the United States Army executed 35 of its own soldiers, but all were convicted of rape and/or unprovoked murder of civilians and not for military offenses.[13] During World War II in all theaters of the war, the United States military executed 102 of its own soldiers for rape and/or unprovoked murder of civilians, but only Slovik was executed for the military offense of desertion.[2][14] […] of the 2,864 army personnel tried for desertion for the period January 1942 through June 1948, 49 were convicted and sentenced to death, and 48 of those sentences were voided by higher authority.”

What motivated me to read the article was mostly curiosity about how many people were actually executed for deserting during the war, a question I’d never encountered any answers to previously. The US number turned out to be, well, let’s just say it’s lower than I’d expected it would be. American soldiers who chose to desert during the war seem to have had much, much better chances of surviving the war than had soldiers who did not. Slovik was not a lucky man. On a related note, given numbers like these I’m really surprised desertion rates were not much higher than they were; presumably community norms (”desertion = disgrace’, which would probably rub off on other family members…’) played a key role here.

iv. Chess and infinity. I haven’t posted this link before even though the thread is a few months old, and I figured that given that I just had a conversation on related matters in the comment section of SCC (here’s a link) I might as well repost some of this stuff here. Some key points from the thread (I had to make slight formatting changes to the quotes because wordpress had trouble displaying some of the numbers, but the content is unchanged):

“Shannon has estimated the number of possible legal positions to be about 1043. The number of legal games is quite a bit higher, estimated by Littlewood and Hardy to be around 1010^5 (commonly cited as 1010^50 perhaps due to a misprint). This number is so large that it can’t really be compared with anything that is not combinatorial in nature. It is far larger than the number of subatomic particles in the observable universe, let alone stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

As for your bonus question, a typical chess game today lasts about 40­ to 60 moves (let’s say 50). Let us say that there are 4 reasonable candidate moves in any given position. I suspect this is probably an underestimate if anything, but let’s roll with it. That gives us about 42×50 ≈ 1060 games that might reasonably be played by good human players. If there are 6 candidate moves, we get around 1077, which is in the neighbourhood of the number of particles in the observable universe.”

“To put 1010^5 into perspective:

There are 1080 protons in the Universe. Now imagine inside each proton, we had a whole entire Universe. Now imagine again that inside each proton inside each Universe inside each proton, you had another Universe. If you count up all the protons, you get (1080 )3 = 10240, which is nowhere near the number we’re looking for.

You have to have Universes inside protons all the way down to 1250 steps to get the number of legal chess games that are estimated to exist. […]

Imagine that every single subatomic particle in the entire observable universe was a supercomputer that analysed a possible game in a single Planck unit of time (10-43 seconds, the time it takes light in a vacuum to travel 10-20 times the width of a proton), and that every single subatomic particle computer was running from the beginning of time up until the heat death of the Universe, 101000 years ≈ 1011 × 101000 seconds from now.

Even in these ridiculously favorable conditions, we’d only be able to calculate

1080 × 1043 × 1011 × 101000 = 101134

possible games. Again, this doesn’t even come close to 1010^5 = 10100000 .

Basically, if we ever solve the game of chess, it definitely won’t be through brute force.”

v. An interesting resource which a friend of mine recently shared with me and which I thought I should share here as well: Nature Reviews – Disease Primers.

vi. Here are some words I’ve recently encountered on augury, spangle, imprimatur, apperception, contrition, ensconce, impuissance, acquisitive, emendation, tintinnabulation, abalone, dissemble, pellucid, traduce, objurgation, lummox, exegesis, probity, recondite, impugn, viscid, truculence, appurtenance, declivity, adumbrate, euphony, educe, titivate, cerulean, ardour, vulpine.

May 16, 2015 Posted by | Chess, Computer science, history, Lectures, mathematics | Leave a comment


i. “Calumny can injure you only if you reflect yourself in others and not in your conscience.” (Fausto Cercignani).

ii. “Emulation can be positive, if you succeed in avoiding imitation.” (-ll-).

iii. “Your identity is like your shadow: not always visible and yet always present.” (-ll-).

iv. “Sometimes moderation is a bad counselor.” (-ll-).

v. “It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.” (Thomas Paine)

vi. “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” (-ll-)

vii. “A body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody, ought not to be trusted by any body.” (-ll-)

viii. “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” (-ll-)

ix. “Example has more followers than reason.” (Christian Nestell Bovee)

xii. “Education is an ornament for the prosperous, a refuge for the unfortunate.” (Democritus)

xiii. “There is no such thing as a Scientific Mind. Scientists are people of very dissimilar temperaments doing different things in very different ways. Among scientists are collectors, classifiers and compulsive tidiers-up; many are detectives by temperament and many are explorers; some are artists and others artisans. There are poet-scientists and philosopher-scientists and even a few mystics. What sort of mind or temperament can all these people be supposed to have in common? Obligative scientists must be very rare, and most people who are in fact scientists could easily have been something else instead.” (Peter Medawar)

xiv. “The purpose of scientific enquiry is not to compile an inventory of factual information, nor to build up a totalitarian world picture of natural Laws in which every event that is not compulsory is forbidden. We should think of it rather as a logically articulated structure of justifiable beliefs about nature.” (-ll-)

xv.  “the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.” (-ll-)

xvi. “If a person a) is poorly, b) receives treatment intended to make him better, and c) gets better, no power of reasoning known to medical science can convince him that it may not have been the treatment that restored his health.” (-ll-)

xvii. “I once spoke to a human geneticist who declared that the notion of intelligence was quite meaningless, so I tried calling him unintelligent. He was annoyed, and it did not appease him when I went on to ask how he came to attach such a clear meaning to the notion of lack of intelligence. We never spoke again.” (-ll-)

xviii. “There is no feeling so simple that it is not immediately complicated and distorted by introspection.” (André Gide)

xix. “Men need history; it helps them to have an idea of who they are.” (V. S. Naipaul)

xx. “There is a great deal of difference between the eager man who wants to read a book, and the tired man who wants a book to read.” (G. K. Chesterton)

May 15, 2015 Posted by | quotes | Leave a comment

Wodehouse (II)

Here’s a link to the first post in this series. The quotes below are from the book Full Moon, which is one of the books in Wodehouse’ Blandings Castle series. I have not read a book in that series which I did not enjoy reading.

“I really am feeling astoundingly well. It’s what I’ve always said – alcohol’s a tonic. Where most fellows go wrong is that they don’t take enough of it. […] He never drank tea, having always had a prejudice against the stuff since his friend Buffy Struggles back in the nineties had taken to it as a substitute for alcohol and had perished miserably as a result. (Actually what had led to the late Mr Struggles’s turning in his dinner pail had been a collision in Piccadilly with a hansom cab, but Gally had always felt that this could have been avoided if the poor dear old chap had not undermined his constitution by swilling a beverage whose dangers are recognized by every competent medical authority.)”

“Some little while later Veronica, starting the conversational ball rolling once more, said that she had been bitten on the nose that afternoon by a gnat. Tipton, shuddering at this, said that he had never liked gnats. Veronica said that she too, did not like gnats, but that they were better than bats. Yes, assented Tipton, oh, sure, yes a good deal better than bats. Of cats Veronica said she was fond, and Tipton agreed that cats as a class were swell. On the subject of rats they were also as one, both holding strong views regarding their lack of charm.
The ice thus broken, the talk flowed pretty easily until Veronica said that perhaps they had better be going in now. Tipton said, “Oh, shoot!” and Veronica said, “I think we’d better,” and Tipton said, “Well, okay, if we must.” His heart was racing and bounding as he accompanied her to the drawing-room. If there had ever been any doubt in his mind that this girl and he were twin souls, it no longer existed. It seemed to him absolutely amazing that two people should think so alike on everything – on gnats, bats, cats, rats, in fact absolutely everything.”

“Tipton removed his gaze from the cow. As a matter of fact, he had seen about as much of it as he wanted to see. A fine animal, but, as is so often the case with cows, not much happening.”

“‘Look here, Guv’nor, will you do something for me?’
‘What?’ asked Lord Emsworth, cautiously.
‘What were you thinking of buying Vee?’
‘I had in mind some little inexpensive trinket, such as girls like to wear. A wrist watch was your aunt’s suggestion.’
‘Good. That fits my plans like the paper on the wall. Go to Aspinall’s in Bond Street. They have wrist watches of all descriptions. And when you get there, tell them that you are empowered to act for F. Threepwood. I left Aggie’s necklace with them to be cleaned, and at the same time ordered a pendant for Vee. Tell them to send the necklace to … Are you following me, Guv’nor?’
‘No,’ said Lord Emsworth.
‘It’s quite simple. On the one hand, the necklace; on the other, the pendant. Tell them to send the necklace to Aggie at the Ritz Hotel, Paris—‘
‘Who’, asked Lord Emsworth, mildly interested, ‘is Aggie?’
‘Come, come, Guv’nor. This is not the old form. My wife.’
‘I thought your wife’s name was Frances.’
‘Well, it isn’t. It’s Niagara.’
‘What a peculiar name.’
‘Her parents spent their honeymoon at the Niagara Falls hotel.’
‘Niagara is a town in America, is it not?’
‘Not so much a town as a rather heavy downpour.’
‘A town, I always understood.’
‘You were misled by your advisers, Guv’nor. But do you mind if we get back to the res. Time presses. Tell these Aspinall birds to mail the necklace to Aggie at the Ritz Hotel, Paris, and bring back the pendant with you. Have no fear that you will be left holding the baby—‘
Again Lord Emsworth was interested. This was the first he’d heard of this.
‘Have you a baby? Is it a boy? How old is he? What do you call him? Is he at all like you?’ he asked, with a sudden pang of pity for the unfortunate suckling.
‘I was speaking figuratively, Guv’nor,’ said Freddie patiently. ‘When I said, “Have no fear that you will be left holding the baby,” I meant, “Entertain no alarm lest they may shove the bill off on you.” The score is all paid up. Have you got it straight?’
‘Let me hear the story in your own words.’
‘There is a necklace and a pendant—‘
‘Don’t go getting them mixed.’
‘I never get anything mixed. You wish me to have the pendant sent to your wife and to bring back—‘
‘No, no, the other way round.’
‘Or, rather, as I was just about to say, the other way round. It is all perfectly clear. Tell me,’ said Lord Emsworth, returning to the subject which really interested him, ‘why is Frances nicknamed Niagara?’
‘Her name isn’t Frances, and she isn’t.’
‘Isn’t what?’
‘Nicknamed Niagara.’
‘You told me she was. Has she taken the baby to Paris with her?’
Freddie produced a light blue handkerchief from his sleeve and passed it over his forehead.
‘Look here, Guv’nor, do you mind if we call the whole thing off? Not the necklace and pendant sequence, but all this stuff about Frances and babies—‘
‘I like the name Frances.’
‘Me, too. Music to the ears. But shall we just let it go, just forget all about it? We shall both feel easier and happier.’
Lord Emsworth uttered a pleased exlamation.
‘Not Niaraga. Chicago. This is the town I was thinking of. There is a town in America called Chicaco.'”

“‘I’ve got it,’ he said, returning. ‘The solution came to me in a flash. We will put the pig in Veronica’s room.’
A rather anxious expression stole across Freddie’s face. Of the broad general principle of putting pigs in girls’ rooms he of course approved, but he did not like that word ‘we’. […]
‘What’s the good of putting pigs in Vee’s room?’
‘My dear fellow, have you no imagination? What happens when a girl finds a pig in her room?’
‘I should think she’d yell her head off.’
‘Precisely. I confidently expect Veronica to raise the roof. Whereupon, up dashes young Plimsoll to her rescue. If you can think of a better way to bring two young people together, I should be interested to hear it.'”

“‘Is he wanted by the police?’
‘No, he is not wanted by the police.’
‘How I sympathize with the police,’ said Lady Hermione. ‘I know just how they feel.'”

May 12, 2015 Posted by | books | Leave a comment

Wodehouse (I)


I’ve been reading Wodehouse lately. I read some of his books on my Kindle as well (8, according to my updates on goodreads – it’s hard to keep track), but it’s harder to take pictures of those – for a complete list, go here or here.

Wodehouse’ novels are nice because you can pretty much read one each day even if you have other stuff going on as well, as least if you have a few hours you don’t know what to do with each day. According to one estimate from Statistics Denmark which I’ve blogged before, the average Dane spends something like 3 hours and 20 minutes per day watching TV; if they spent that time reading books like these ones instead, there’d be a lot more Danes reading more than 100 books per year than there are.

Over the last year or two I’ve in general limited my blogging of fiction to a minimum, and I’ve also actually dedicated a lot of effort into making this blog as mind-numbingly boring and irrelevant as possible. So of course it feels terrible to have to take this step now; to start suddenly blogging books which have a strong tendency to make their readers laugh and enjoy themselves. But there’s no way around it – this is stuff that’s easy to blog, and a very plausible alternative to me seems to be ‘no blogging’. I hope that by blogging books like these I’ll be able to sustain a relatively regular blogging schedule in the period to come. There’s no work involved in reading the books any longer, which should be very helpful; I already read the books, and I have more than 20 to choose from now in terms of what to cover. Wodehouse’ books are really funny, and my impression is that they’ll be easy for me to blog, in the sense that there’s a lot of funny stuff in those books and you can get away with quoting from the books without spoiling anything much. On the other hand as the picture illustrates these are mostly paper books, which are not as easy to blog as e-books are; I may find that these posts actually take so much time and effort that not much work is saved by switching (at the very least partially) to this sort of coverage. We’ll see how it goes.

I should mention that although I only discovered Wodehouse earlier this year, he’s already on my top five list of fiction authors (Terry Pratchett and Agatha Christie also belong on such a list, as do probably George R. R. Martin and Jasper Fforde – but it’s hard; there are a lot of good authors…).

The first book I’ll cover is Big Money, which I gave 4 stars on goodreads. Below I have added some quotes from the book to illustrate how Wodehouse writes and what he writes about.

“‘I wish I could find some way of making a bit of money,’ he said, resuming his remarks. ‘I don’t seem able to do it, racing. And I don’t seem able to do it at Bridge. But there must be some method. Look at all the wealthy blighters you see running around. They’ve managed to find it. I read a book the other day where a bloke goes up to another bloke in the street – and whispers in his ear – the first bloke does – “A word with you, sir!” Addressing the second bloke, you understand. “A word with you, sir. I know your secret!” Upon which, the second bloke turns ashy white and supports him in luxury for the rest of his life. I thought there might be something in it.’
‘About seven years, I should think.'”

“A low moan escaped Mr Frisby. His face, which was rather like that of a horse, twisted in pain. Of the broad principle of his sister going to Japan he approved, Japan being further away than New York. What rived his very soul was that she should be squandering her cash to tell him so [over the telephone]. A picture postcard from Tokyo, with a cross and a ‘This is my room’ against one of the windows of a hotel, would have met the case. […]
‘Do you know what she did last week?’
Mr Frisby gave a lifelike imitation of a man who has just discovered that he is sitting on an ant’s nest.’How the devil should I know what she did last week? Do you think I’m a clairvoyant?'”

“Lord Hoddesdon gasped.
‘You don’t imagine I would be fool enough to go touching Frisby?’
‘Wasn’t that your idea?’
‘Of course not. Certainly not. I was thinking – er – I was wondering – well, to tell you the truth, it crossed my mind that you might possibly be willing to part with a trifle.’
‘It did, eh?’
‘I don’t see why you shouldn’t, said Lord Hoddesdon plaintively. ‘You must have plenty. There’s a lot of money in this chaperoning business. When you took on that Argentine girl three years ago you got a couple of thousand pounds.’
‘I got fifteen hundred,’ corrected his sister. ‘In a moment of weakness – I can’t imagine what I was thinking of – I lent you the rest.’
‘Er – well, yes,’ said Lord Hoddesdon, not unembarrassed. ‘That is, in a measure, true. It comes back to me now.’
‘It didn’t come back to me – ever,’ said Lady Vera”.

“Ever since she had read in her paper that morning the plain, blunt statement that she was engaged to be married, she had been feeling oddly pensive. […] A sudden thirst for information seized her. She leaned towards her host.
‘Tell me about Godfrey,’ she said abruptly.
‘Eh?’ said Lord Hoddesdon, blinking. […] ‘What about him?’
It was a question which Ann found difficult to answer. ‘What sort of man is he?’ she would have liked to say. But when you have agreed to marry a man, it seems silly to ask what sort of man he is.
‘Well, what was he like as a little boy?’ she said, feeling that that was safe. […]
‘Boyish and vivacious,’ […] ‘Full of spirits. But always,’ he said impressively, ‘good.’
‘Good?’ said Ann with a slight shiver.
‘Always the soul of honour,’ said Lord Hoddesdon solemnly. Ann shivered again. Clarence Dumphry had been the soul of honour. She had often caught him at it.”

“A man who has so recently become engaged to be married as Lord Biskerton has, of course, no right to stare appreciatively at strange girls. But this is what Biscuit found himself doing. The fact that Ann Moon had accepted his hand had done nothing to impair his eyesight”.

“There are two schools of thought concerning the correct method of dealing with small boys who throw stones at their elders and betters in the public street. Some say they should be kicked, others that they should be smacked on the head. Lord Hoddesdon, no bigot, did both.”

“‘Biscuit,’ said Berry, ‘the most extraordinary thing has happened. There’s a girl …’
‘A girl, eh?’ said the Biscuit, interested. He began to see daylight. ‘Who is she?’
‘What?’ asked Berry, whose attention had wandered.
‘I said, who is she?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘What’s her name?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Where does she live?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You aren’t an Encyclopedia, old boy, are you?’ said the Biscuit. […]
‘Either a man clicks or he does not click,’ said the Biscuit firmly. ‘There are no half measures. You did?’
‘I think she was – pleased to see me.’
‘Ah! Well, then, of course you proceeded to ask her name?’
‘You didn’t?’
‘I hadn’t time.’
‘Did you ask her where she lived?’
‘Did she ask you your name?’
‘Did she ask you where you lived?’
‘What the dickens did you talk about?’ asked the Biscuit, curiously. ‘The situation in Russia?'”

“Mr Robbins, of Robbins, Robbins, Robbins, and Robbins, solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths, was just the sort of man you would have expected him to be after hearing his voice on the telephone.”

“‘I can’t stand Paris. I hate the place. Full of people talking French”.

“Few things in life are more embarrassing than the necessity of having to inform an old friend that you have just got engaged to his fiancée.”

“‘We’re engaged,’ he said.
‘Fine!’ said the Biscuit. ‘So you’re engaged? Well, well!’
‘Just to this one girl, I suppose?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You always were a prudent, level-headed fellow who knew where to stop,’ said the Biscuit enviously. ‘I’m engaged to two girls.’
The Biscuit sighed.
‘Yes, two. And I’m hoping that you may have a word of advice to offer on the subject. Otherwise, I see a slightly tangled future ahead of me.’
‘Two?’ said Berry, dazed.
‘Two,’ said the Biscuit. ‘I’ve counted them over and over again, but that’s what the sum keeps working out at. I started, if you remember, with one. So far, so good. A steady, conservative policy. But complications have now arisen.”

May 3, 2015 Posted by | books | 1 Comment

Civil Wars (III)

Here are my first two posts about the book.

Before I move on to the book coverage, I thought I should mention that people reading along here should expect few updates in the next month or two. I have considered simply taking a break from blogging for a month because I really need to focus on my work, but this seems a bit too radical an approach and I think what I’ll do instead is to e.g. occasionally blog one of the Wodehouse novels which I’ve been reading during the spring; this shouldn’t take too much time or effort, and ‘lazy blogging’ like that may well be all I can justify doing. Maybe I’ll talk about a textbook or two, but don’t expect much ‘serious’ blogging in the near future.

Okay, let’s move on to the book. I’ve read 25 of the 30 chapters, and the coverage will pick up where I left off in my second post.

“Few scholars today claim that there is a direct relationship between environmental scarcity and violent conflict. Accordingly, empirical research increasingly discusses and attempts to identify plausible intervening variables, notably social, political, demographic, or economic mechanisms that together with environmental scarcity may increase the risk of violent conflict. […] frequently suggested intervening variables include food security and migration […]. For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa, where inter- and intra-annual rainfall variation is extensive, almost 90 percent of total food production comes from rain-fed agriculture […], implying high social and economic vulnerability to volatile resource supplies.”

“Taken together, this broad literature [on environmental change and armed conflict] offers mixed evidence for a causal relationship. The majority of studies of civil wars and major armed conflict conclude that resource scarcity, population pressure, and weather patterns exhibit weak influences on conflict risk, compared to structural economic and institutional features. Moreover, those that report a significant correlation disagree on the direction and magnitude of the effect.”

“Children recruited into armed groups in one conflict often end up fighting in other regional conflicts as ‘floating warriors’ capitalising on porous borders to travel wherever there was a market for their newly learned trade. In certain regions of recurrent conflict, large pools of ex-combatants as well as children exist as potential recruits for armed groups lured by the opportunity to share in the spoils of war. […] Such dynamics underline the problem of regional zones of instability or ‘conflict complexes’. War economies spread beyond borders and networks of mercenaries, illegal trading and organised crime spread instability.”

“Scholars of civil war often mistake the causes of the onset of armed conflict with the factors which explain the continuation of war. Many studies seem to implicitly argue that when understanding its causes, we understand the continuation of war. […] War may [however] break out for one set of issues but might continue for a completely different and changing set of reasons. As a result of interaction between the belligerents new reasons and stimuli for conflict develop. […] These developments can significantly complicate the picture that civil war presents and do not necessarily make it easier to work towards resolution. […] Two important causal mechanisms can be distinguished that hold explanatory power for the continuation of conflict. […] For the continuation of violence one observed causal mechanism is the provocation trap. An important theory developed by insurgents since the nineteenth century aims to play on the calculations of the political decision-makers by provoking violence from the state, which generally acts as a forceful recruiting mechanism for insurgent groups […] The second mechanism can be called the counter-measure imperative. The counter-measure imperative is the commonly observable chain of events after an attack against unarmed and unwitting targets. A public outcry occurs and political decision-makers feel forced to respond. Doing nothing is often not an option in terms of political capital and electoral consequences, at least in most democratic societies. James Fearon has called this “audience costs” in the context of international crises […] Weakness in times of crisis can be political – or electoral – suicide. Therefore, there is a strong tendency to institute one stringent measure after another. Repression, the use of force and police action are just a few of the instruments that can be used […] These mechanisms trigger state violence both from a push and pull perspective and are very powerful to propel a struggle forward. Discontinuing civil war by not buying into the provocation trap and counter-measure imperative is extremely difficult, given the primary demands made of the state to uphold its monopoly of force and to protect its population.”

“Most studies looking into the dynamics or continuation of conflict see the increase or decrease in capabilities as an important explanatory factor for the continuation or discontinuation of civil war. […] The termination of civil war has in several studies been strongly linked to cutting off the capabilities and supplies of belligerents. Paul Staniland concludes that “the best offense is a fence” (Staniland 2006; see also Record 2007). When capabilities are compromised by cutting off the replenishment of men and material that are necessary to continue the struggle, wars wither down.”

“For those gathering conflict data, obtaining accurate numbers of fatalities is one of the most complicated and difficult tasks due to a plethora of problems, including misuse of the terms “casualties” and “fatalities,” political reasons for either the under-reporting or exaggeration of fatalities, and either a lack of information or the presence of conflicting information in the available sources […] In addressing the sources of bias in fatality statistics Gohdes and Price (2012: 9) note that the higher the visibility of the act of violence, the more likely it (and its fatalities) will be reported. Visibility can be reflected in the magnitude of armed conflict, wars are more visible than minor disputes; but visibility can also be related to the types of participants or fatalities, with deaths of those in uniform, whose job it is to fight being more visible than deaths of civilians. Visibility leads to a greater likelihood that fatalities will be reported, thus making them more reliable. As Lacina and Gleditsch note (2012: 3) the tallies provided by military agencies of personnel killed in action are very credible data. It was considerations such as these that led COW to make different choices than UCDP, in ways in which it codifies and gathers data about armed conflict: focusing primarily on higher fatality levels (war), using the war as the primary unit of analysis, and counting deaths only among combatants (rather than combatants and civilians).”

“Utilizing the COW datasets on war, one gains a perspective on the trends in warfare that varies significantly from those that utilize UCDP/PRIO data […] A fundamental difference is merely the timeframe covered, with COW examining wars after 1815 and UCDP/PRIO focusing upon the post-World War II era. An analysis of trends in all COW wars types for the period 1816 to 2007 […] concluded that there is a relative constancy over time in war behavior. […] Intra-state wars are the most numerous of the four major COW categories, constituting 52 percent of all of the COW wars [and there has been a] significant increase in intra-state wars since the end of World War II. […] Of the 192 years in the 1816–2007 period, there is an average number of 1.6 civil war onsets per year, and only 52 years (27 percent) experienced no civil war onsets. […] If one looks at the number of civil wars experienced by the various regions of the world […], the numbers look fairly comparable […] All in all, this analysis does not promote optimism about the trends in civil war for the remainder of the twenty-first century. The Human Security Report’s (2011) emphasis on the decline in civil war since the end of the Cold War ignores the fact that civil war onsets (even after the highpoints of 1989 and 1991) are at historically high levels with an average of 2.8 civil war onsets per year from 1992 to 2007 (compared to the yearly average of 1.6 onsets from 1816 to 2007). These figures hardly portend the end of civil war.”

“There are multiple ways to distinguish types of civil wars: whether they are ethnically motivated […], whether they are driven by attempts at secession or control of the central government […], or whether they involve lootable resources […]. Another way to distinguish different types of civil wars is to examine the military tactics used by each side in the conflict. […] Kalyvas and Balcells (2010) […] identify three technologies of rebellion that are used in civil war: irregular warfare, conventional warfare, and symmetric non-conventional warfare. Irregular war, or insurgency, occurs when the state’s military capabilities exceed those of the rebels. Conventional civil war occurs when both the state and the rebels are militarily matched at a high level, and symmetric non-conventional war happens when both the state and the rebels are militarily matched, but at a lower level. […] [They] show that irregular wars comprise just over half of the civil wars between 1944 and 2004 [and that] the end of the Cold War resulted in a decrease in the percentage of conflicts that were irregular […] from about two-thirds during the Cold War to about one-quarter after 1991 […] irregular wars last longer and are more likely to be won by the incumbent as compared to both conventional wars and symmetric non-conventional wars.”

“Findley and Young (2012) […] find that a majority of terrorist acts occur in the context of civil war, which suggests that this is an important tactic in the context of the larger struggle between state and non-state actors. […] Lake (2002), among others, has argued that terrorism is often used in conflicts to provoke a disproportionate response from the state. […] Kydd and Walter (2006) argue that terrorism can be used to spoil potential peace among moderate factions in a civil war and empirical evidence supports this claim (Findley and Young, 2013).”

“While sexual violence against civilians in conflict is pervasive, it is not ubiquitous. There are conflicts where systematic sexual violence is completely absent, showing that, contrary to popular belief, sexual violence is not an inherent component of conflict […] Sexual violence in conflict creates disorder in communities by violating social norms and dissolving social bonds through humiliation, shame, and terror […]. The breakdown of the rule of law and social norms has an impact upon the whole community, not just the victims of the violence. Formal and informal social controls are diminished during civil war and communities in conflict lack a functional formal system to maintain order. […] Whether sexual violence is primarily a consequence of the strategy or tactic of leaders or the lack of control of militaries is an ongoing debate.”

“forced migration is not simply a function of conflict and insecurity. Rather, security concerns interact with economic “push” factors in sending regions and “pull” factors in receiving areas. […] it is difficult to disentangle security motives from economic ones […] When governments deliberately target political or ethnic opponents, people are more likely to cross borders as compared with general turmoil in civil wars and dissident violence. […] In addition, better economic conditions and political stability in neighboring states make it more likely that individuals will cross an international border, demonstrating the importance of pull factors in receiving countries. […] Proximity to the conflict country exerts a very large effect on destination choice as does the presence of a large diaspora population. […] Bohra-Mishra and Massey (2011) find that low levels of violence actually discourage migration, perhaps because unsafe travel conditions make it more likely that people will hunker down and stay at home to protect their assets. Only at a high threshold of violence are people willing to leave. Engel and Ibáñez (2007) find that owning land interacts with violence. People with more land are less willing to move since they would lose a fixed asset, but at the same time, large landowners are more likely to be threatened with violence. Confronted with low levels of violence, landowners are more likely to stay put, but become increasingly likely to flee as violence gets worse. […] Greenhill (2010) examines the strategic use of forced migration as a negotiating tactic in interstate relations. In many cases, sending states have “engineered” refugee flows in such a way so as to extract concessions from migrant-receiving states. […] several themes have emerged in the literature on the causes of forced migration. First, refugees are not choice-less, but are strategic actors who weigh the various options available to them, even if choice is in the context of extreme violence. Second, forced migration and economic migration are not mutually exclusive categories; rather, security, economics, and social networks all shape migration decisions to a greater or lesser degree. Finally, perpetrators of violence understand the effects of forced migration and displacement, and use refugee flows and “cleansing” as a way to further their political aims.”

“Refugee communities can also foster conflict in host countries, either through mobilization into militant factions, or by the mere presence of ethnically different “foreigners” and economic competitors. Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) start with the observation that civil wars often cluster in space – when one country experiences civil war its neighbors are significantly more likely to fall into conflict themselves. They then argue that refugee migration facilitates the transnational spread of militant networks as well as presents negative externalities for receiving areas – such as ethnic competition or economic burdens – increasing the risk of conflict in refugee hosts. Through statistical testing they demonstrate that hosting a large number of refugees does indeed raise the risk of conflict. […] scholars have [also] noted a link between civil war and international conflict: countries that are faced with domestic unrest are more likely to become involved in disputes with their neighbors […] Refugee flows are one potential source of friction between states and can become a cause of international armed conflict. […] Statistically, Salehyan (2008) confirms a general pattern that refugee flows between two countries are associated with militarized interstate disputes (MIDs). Controlling for an array of factors known to be associated with international conflict, hosting 100,000 refugees from another country raises the probability that the host will initiate a conflict against the sender by 96 percent. On the flip side, the sending state is over 90 percent more likely to launch an MID against the host. Therefore, while international relations scholars have focused on variables such as the power balance, democracy, and territorial issues, a significant share of interstate conflict stems from the external effects of domestic unrest and refugee flows.”

“[One] typological approach to understanding violence against civilians is to focus on the military capacity of the actors, usually with a dyadic approach which identifies the relative strength of actors. A general finding is that relatively weak actors are more likely to target civilians. […] Regarding government violence, Valentino et al. (2004) show that governments who face strong rebel groups with a strong civilian base are more likely to engage in mass killings. […] While selective violence is useful for controlling a population (in areas where such control is feasible to uphold through violence), indiscriminate violence seems to follow a logic of weakening the adversary in their strongholds. […] A few studies have examined to what extent violence against civilians occurs as a response to violence against civilians by the adversary. […] Taken together, these studies suggest that there is some evidence for a cycle-of-violence dynamic. […] Hultman (2007) shows that when rebels lose on the battlefield, they tend to shift strategy towards more targeting of civilians and less targeting of government forces. Wood et al. (2012) also focus on shifts in relative power, showing that exogenously imposed power shifts through armed interventions into civil wars increase the level of violence against civilians by the actor that is disadvantaged by the intervention. Hence, rather than concluding that weak actors are more likely to target civilians, these findings show that actors are more likely to target civilians in response to being weakened as a consequence of the war.”

“Numbers from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) Conflict Termination Project1 (Kreutz 2010) reveal the average length of civil wars episodes from 1946 to 2009 is approximately 1647 days […] Fearon (2004) links war type to civil war duration. Coups and revolutions seek quick outright victories. Failing this, coup organizers will likely face imprisonment, death, or exile. The strategy in territorial wars – which are usually fought on the periphery – is to continue the fight to win more concessions at the bargaining table. Peripheral wars do not necessarily need outright military victory to realize important goals. Rebels in these wars have more time. […] There were approximately 30 military coups between 1946 and 2009 identified in the Uppsala Conflict Termination data […] Peripheral/territorial wars tend to endure and are unlikely to end conclusively with peace agreements or military victories. According to the Uppsala Conflict Termination data, the mean duration of territorial wars from 1946 to 2010 is 1826.7 days […] Wars over control of government, on the other hand, typically do not last as long […] we find that the mean duration of these wars is 1456.7 days between 1946 and 2010.”

“Whereas several scholars [have noted] that ethnic/secessionist wars are more intractable than wars over government, there is not a wealth of empirical evidence directly linking war type to recurrence. […] The duration of peace after a civil war has been shown to have a negative impact on recurrence […]. In other words if peace has lasted 20 years after a war has ended, the probability of war in a future year is quite low. […] Civil war duration tends to increase when credible commitment is lacking, the war is ethnic/ peripheral, there are lootable natural resources the rebels can exploit, there are spoilers and a good number of veto players, and when there is third-party intervention. “Reversing” these factors makes for shorter wars. The factors are cumulative in that an ethnic war in the presence of lootable resources, low credible commitment, and spoilers will be expected to last a very long time. Wars over government with no spoilers or lootables will be expected to be shorter. Civil wars are more likely to recur if the war is ethnic/peripheral, credible commitment is lacking, the outcome is one of negotiated settlement, the war did not see an exceptionally high death rate, there are factors conducive to rebel recruitment such as low democracy and a weak economy at war’s end, there are valuable natural resources present in the rebel territory, the war is not mediated, and there is no effective peacekeeping operation.”

May 1, 2015 Posted by | anthropology, books, history | Leave a comment