The ninth Atlanta SSC Meetup – If by Whiskey You Get One Miracle

On Saturday, June 22nd we had the ninth SSC Atlanta meetup. Six people attended (up a bit) and the topics included

  1. The Nile river and the development of the calendar (revising my opinion of the ancient Egyptians a bit upward)
  2. Social Media – it’s purposes and anti-purposes. I’m currently thinking that the main purpose of Facebook is to keep people off reddit so it can still be interesting – that was my conclusion, not the groups
  3. Open Source hiveminds
  4. Neural networks
  5. Failing faster

The quotes of the meeting were “Give me one miracle and I’ll explain the rest” and the “If By Whiskey” speech (as an example of speechcraft) – which is below in it’s entirety

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

An interesting interview on urban planning

One wouldn’t think it would be that good, but I found this interview with Alain Bertaud on EconTalk fascinating. The gist –

  • Cities are a large, people dense labor market first and foremost, whether you want them to be or not.
  • All urban planners should focus on is affordability and mobility – anything else is not doable through urban planning
  • A good metric/optimization is – can a schoolteacher afford to live within 30 minutes of her school. Optimize for that and you’re taking care of pretty much everyone.

Ideas to explore

  1. Ideology as the usable consensus of extreme personality types – see my “Let’s Kill Hitler” book idea. Basically the ideology evolves not as the continuation of first principles, but as a series of compromises on the part of part of the extreme personalities involved – basically the ideology is whatever allows a certain collection of extreme personalities to work together. Cooperation is the important thing – not the consequences. An extreme ideology will be composed of extreme members and so forth. See the the alt-right and modern wokeness. This seems graphable.
  2. Historical changes and atmospheric pollutants – this idea needs more research, but ideological and religious extremism tracks quite nicely with leaded gas and high tobacco usage. A doubtful relationship – but seemingly possible.

Quote of the moment – big data edition

From HP Lovecraft

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

The looming specter of the Murder Ghandi

One of the things that came up at the last SSC Atlanta meetup was the notion of the Murder Ghandi (read the link for an explanation). It’s easy to think of the whole concept as a good example of slippery slopes, i.e. where the same person faces different incentives over time. However, I think the true point is a bit more lasting than that – and much more useful and interesting.

The “make me 1% less pacifistic” pill does not just change the incentives – it is fundamentally a transformative experience for the pill taker. The person who takes the second pill is not the same as the person who took the first pill. The person is different, not the incentives. This should be explained by mathematical formula.