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quotes ranting

They think they know

Never before have so many people understood so little about so much.

James Burke, in Connections [wikipedia.org] episode 1 “The Trigger Effect”

James Burke said that in 1979, a year after I was born, in his TV show Connections. As a kid watching reruns of Connections I doubt I understood what he meant. That as society advances people come to use and depend more and more on technology that requires specialized knowledge to understand. We are surrounded by technology that our lives depend on, but few of us understand very much of it at all. Think about all the technology you use every day do you understand it? Even the basics; electricity? The turbines that generate it and the grid that delivers it to you can charge your phone, or laptop, to read this? Forget about the phone or laptop themselves with literally hundreds of components that are each a technical marvel —touch screens, accelerometers, radios for bluetooth, cellular and wifi, and the processor, even the battery. And don’t forget the tens or hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code that make all those physical bits work together so you can look at cat memes on the internet. What about the technology required to grow food on far off farms to feed more than half of the world that lives in cities today? The trains, planes and automobiles that deliver it in an edible state? The list goes on. How many of us could really survive an apocalypse?

The complexity of the world has increased in what feels like an exponential rate over the 40-plus years since Connections was made. Each of us has been reduced from a cog in vast machine to a single tooth on a very small cog in a massive world spanning machine. When I was a kids cars were complex machines but I could learn enough about how they worked, as mechanical things, to understand them. I was far from a gear head but I could even do basic maintenance and little repair. I could change the oil or clean the spark plugs because I could understand what was going on under the hood and apply that knowledge with my hands. Today, the principles haven’t changed (as long as we are talking about internal combustion engines, ignoring hybrid and electric cars for now…) but cars are computers and they require specialized equipment to even diagnose many problems. My car throws an error if you replace the battery without the manufacturer provided software to tell the car what you did. As the world gets more and more advanced we all see less and less of the overall machine and it can be overwhelming. More and more we are surrounded by black boxes we don’t understand. It reminds me of another quote:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke, in Profiles of the Future

Everything around us is magic today, the technology behind you seeing these words on your mobile phone requires armies of people to design, build and manage. You can’t even name or imagine all the people and tasks along the way much less how it works, unless it’s your job to design it or build it or manage it, or to study it. And that would make you what we call an expert. But these days people don’t seem to believe they need to listen to experts about the things they don’t know.

Even the most venerated experts, the canonical example of an expert: doctors, aren’t safe from the disrespect for expertise today. There are many issues with the practice of medicine [ted.com] but when I’m sick I still want an expert to take a look, to diagnose and to treat me. I want someone who trained for years to understand how the human body works, continues to keep up with advances and is certified to apply that knowledge. The human body is magic to me, because I don’t have the knowledge. How is it that people can think a random talking head on the Internet knows better than almost all the trained doctors and medical researchers in the world? People are drinking bleach! Or worse making their autistic kids drink Clorox like Kool Aid in Jonestown.

Do you remember, before the Internet, that it was thought that the cause of collective stupidity was the lack of access to information? Yea… It wasn’t that.

Anonymous meme

I can’t find a source to cite for that, I’ve seen different versions of the theme on the internet many times over the past few years, it seems appropriate. But we did know, or some people knew, that the idea, in the early days of the Internet, that access to information would make everyone smarter, was bullshit. We were warned:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Isaac Asimov, “A Cult of Ignorance”, Newsweek (21 January 1980) (more about it on Open Culture [openculture.net])

This thread of anti-intellectualism is the direct parent of the disrespect, and hostility, towards “experts” on display today. And there does seem to be something fundamental about it as it affects people on both sides of the political spectrum, liberal anti-vaxxers and conservative anti-maskers alike, rich hollywood stars and struggling middle class workers, and don’t get me started on flat-earthers. Ignorance, individualism and the internet are a potent brew.

I don’t know where to go from here, I don’t know how it can be fixed but I suspect it will take many experts…

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quotes

Elected politicians, in short

Forgetting the good in the search for the power to affect it.

J. R. R. Tolkien, Essay on the Istari, published in Unfinished Tales

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quotes

Parenting-Work Life Balance

I’m super worried, by the way, about the generation of workers who have kids under the age of 10 during the pandemic. Because in the short term, co-workers can be like, “Oh, so cute, your kids are on the Zoom call!” and then try to make accommodations for that. But in the long term, those workers are fundamentally not going to be able to be as productive as someone who’s been on their computer for eight hours at home with grown kids or without kids. Who’s going to get promoted two years from now? Or who’s going to lose their job two months from now? I really worry about that.

Melissa Mazmanian, interviewed by Joe Pinsker in The Atlantic for What America Asks of Working Parents Is Impossible [theatlantic.com]

I wonder if that will be the same visible impact on things like lifetime earnings and job advancement as graduating college during a recession?

I remember reading long ago that people who graduated in the middle of the dotcom bust were affected long term because they could not get jobs for a long time or had to take jobs with a lower salary (compared to what they would have expected a few years before or a few years after) and that dragged them down, as a group, year after year. They were something like three years behind for salary and position at any age versus the people who graduated a few years before or after them.

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quotes

Class War in America

For all the talk of market efficiency, the “information economy” has created a vast category of professionals who do nothing but copy and paste McKinsey info­graphics into presentations for no social or even narrowly commercial purpose.

Julius Krein, in The Real Class War article in American Affairs Journal

I know people like that.

A friend shared this some time ago. It’s an interesting, if long, article on where the classes and allegiances of Americans are and how they got to where they are. There is some emphasis on the rise of bullshit jobs and how they have somehow granted authority to loudmouths.

Best line:

Many of these people presumably possess some narrow technical ability, though if so, it is less and less evident. But they conspicuously lack any self-awareness, much less insight into issues of broader human concern, … The case of Donald Trump speaks for itself.

Julius Krein, in The Real Class War article in American Affairs Journal

Emphasis mine.

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quotes

These are the rules of the internet

“People love koalas and countries not being consumed by fires, but what people really love is nudes. These are the rules of the Internet.

James Felton, in US Model Raises Over 500,000 for Australia Bushfires by Sending Nudes [iflscience.com]

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quotes ranting

We don’t have the bus to ourselves

“I see we have the bus to ourselves,” she said. Julian cringed.

“For a change,” said the woman across the aisle, the owner of the red and white canvas sandals. “I come on one the other day and they were thick as fleas—up front and all through.”

“The world is in a mess everywhere,” his mother said. “I don’t know how we’ve let it get in this fix.”

Flannery O’Conner, in Everything That Rises Must Converge

O’Connor’s story is speaking about racisim in the 50s against blacks in the American south, the line before is “Everybody [on the bus] was white”. But, it would work today for others, Hispanics in America, Polish in England, Africans or Syrians in much of Europe. Bigotry is bad and the world is once again in a mess everywhere; people, even politicians, thinking and saying things like this.

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quotes

Progress…?

The world is much better than in the past and it is still awful.

Dr. Max Roser, in Memorizing these three statistics will help you understand the world [gatesnotes.com] on Gatesnotes.com.

The idea of the article is important; knowing a few basic statistics about the world will help everyone to understand and contextualize the news and social media noise we encounter all day. To make an informed judgment on the veracity of online, and offline, claims, too often qualitative and editorial, about the world. Doom and gloom sell, “if it bleeds, it leads” but now is the best time to be alive.

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quotes ranting

Banks are watching…

This article [newyorker.com] in the New Yorker is depressing in third world corruption stench of the whole thing, but there is some silver lining: The fact that banks are submitting such detailed reports about possible fraudulent activities, and beyond just money movement they are paying attention to the context. This is heartening, if a bit Big Brother scary.

Banks are legally mandated to file suspicious-activity reports with the government in order to call attention to activity that resembles money laundering, fraud, and other criminal conduct

In paperwork filed with the bank, [Cohen] said that the company would be devoted to using “his experience in real estate to consult on commercial and residential” deals. Cohen told the bank that his transactions would be modest, and based within the United States. In fact, the compliance officers wrote, “a significant portion of the target account deposits continue to originate from entities that have no apparent connection to real estate or apparent need to engage Cohen as a real estate consultant.” Likewise, “a significant portion of the deposits continues to be derived from foreign entities.”

Ronan Farrow, in Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records [newyorker.com]
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quotes

Money-humping

New favorite term: Money-Humping. Ah Gizmodo:

“When the rich and ethically disinclined are busy money-humping each other, all kinds of weird connections are bound to pop up.”

Tom McKay, in It’s Sure Weird That the Russian-Linked Firm That Paid Michael Cohen $500,000 Also Registered Alt-Right Websites [gizmodo.com]
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quotes

Don’t they breed well enough on their own?

In the city of Xichang, located in the southwestern Sichuan province, there is a massive, artificial intelligence-powered roach breeding farm that is producing more than six billion cockroaches per year.

AJ Dellinger, in This AI-Controlled Roach Breeding Site Is a Nightmare Factory [gizmodo.com].

Read the article. Really, read it. This is the setup for a horror or armageddon movie plot. Six billion AI raised cockroaches escape and take over Southern China… Armageddon. Or Horror. Actually, horror-armageddon.