31 July 2019

What Ideas Deserve Words?

At "English Language and Usage Stack Exchange", one common kind of question is "Is there a word or phrase that means . . . ."

Sometimes there is one in English, and sometimes there isn't.

What does one call the cognitive ability involved in being good at coming up with such words?

What makes a concept worthy of having its own word? 

Also, what makes a concept worthy of having its own "simple word" as opposed to one that strings lots of other prefixes, roots and suffixes together to form a "complex word"? Where do these words, especially the "simple words" come from?

How do people in linguistic communities make decisions like these in a language community like English or particular English dialects that doesn't have the equivalent of the French Academy to render official and formal judgments about what words are and are not correct.

Heroes, Good Conduct And Duty

Imagine that people take actions that help others for three different kinds of reasons that are qualitatively different, or at least, differ in degree.

A hero is someone who takes action that no reasonable person would be expected or obligated to under the circumstances for the benefit of another.

A person engaged in "good conduct" when they act in a certain way because it is the normal and right thing to do that anyone in the circumstances would do, rather than out of fear of punishment or because it is a minimum moral or legal mandatory obligation.

A person who acts out of a duty towards another does so because they are obligated to do so as a minimum acceptable standard of conduct, and conceivably could be punished for not doing so.

The debate between Confucianists arguing for the "rule of wise men" and their legal theory/political theory adversaries who argued for the "rule of law", in historical China (which the Confucianists largely won), is to a great extent a way to leverage the delta between people engaging in good conduct and people acting out of duty. Leaders motivated to act out of good conduct should act better on average towards others than leaders motivated solely by duty.

Does "heroism" really exist as something distinct from "good conduct" empirically at all? Or is it just an example of someone acting out of a sense of what constitutes "good conduct" that is particularly pro-social? I ask because so many people who are recognized as heroes deny that this is what they were and instead claim that they were only engaged in "good conduct".

UPDATE August 2, 2019:

Adding this meme.

Symbols That Are New To Me

A Common Form Of Transgender Pride Flag

30 July 2019

The State Of U.S. Military Technology

On Facebook, I saw a link to a short July 27, 2019 article at The Atlantic, by Thomas G. Mahnken and Roger Zakheim, entitled "Antiques Road Show: The Real State of the U.S. Military", with the introductory summary: "The wars of the future may depend not so much on the kinds of things you can put on parade, but on new technologies that reimagine warfare." 

This article inspired my reaction, reprinted and reformatted from a Facebook post with minor editing and some additional text below, amplifying the major themes of that story.
The U.S. military is very unbalanced in terms of how up to date its systems are. 
Some systems are grossly outdated. 
Nuclear weapons are controlled with computers that use 5.25" floppy disks and giant CRT screens. Our Ohio class nuclear missile submarines have 1970s designs and tech at their core (with upgrades as feasible) as well and are nearing the end of their useful lives. The work horse B-52 and C-130 have basic designs that are more than sixty years old although avionics and other key components have been upgraded, while our allies and adversaries have upgraded comparable aircraft and systems. 
But, some systems are state of the art. 
The F-22, F-35 and B-2 are state of the art warplanes, albeit with some glitches to be worked out and a great expense. Guided munitions are not ubiquitous and have revolutionized modern warfare, as have anti-missile missiles that, while not perfect, actually work much of the time. A few naval ships even have operational combat ready laser guns that are effective against incoming aircraft, small boat swarms and non-hypersonic missiles. We have unmanned submarine hunting ships and armed flying drones that tip the military balance. 
And, there is plenty of middle ground as well. 
We have an oversupply of many old but not outdated systems with 1980s designs that do what they were designed to do, even though that isn't really what we need now and wasn't what we actually needed then. 
For example, we have in this regard, destroyer class warships, amphibious assault ships, heavy battle tanks, and unguided shell hurling mobile howitzers We have the B-1 swing wing bomber that looked good on paper but was obsolete almost immediately as stealth bombers were developed and performs poorly in the close air support role military leaders tried to repurpose it for. We have lots of 1980s and 1990s design nuclear attack submarines that are remarkably superior blue sea naval warfare combatants in an era where the world has only one other remote significant, potentially adverse blue sea navy (Russia), which is smaller than what our existing fleet of nuclear submarines was designed to encounter during the cold war, when there haven't been blue sea naval battles that amount to more than minor one off skirmishes for more than forty years. We have more than a thousand F-15s and F-16 and F-18s that are competent non-stealth modern fighter aircraft designed for air to air combat or multi-purpose service that get the job done at great expense, but we have far more of than we need in an age of precision munitions in which dog fights are virtually non-existent reducing the number of aircraft needed for both air to ground and air to air fighter combat.
We have systems that are old but heavily used that are not being replaced because the services don't like their mission. 
For example, the 1970s era A-10 fighter that fills a critical need that the Air Force and is heavily used that the Air Force has been loath to replace because it doesn't like the mission, and are on the verge of retiring the AC-130 gunship which also received heavy use in counterinsurgency fights. We have only a handful of short range fixed wing transport aircraft smaller than the C-130 designed to carry smaller units of ground troops.
Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan have, however, have forced the Army and Marines to find remedies for the worst shortcomings of our ground forces, and to send unneeded systems back to yards to be stockpiled in case they are ever needed again. 
Our military's man shortcoming in terms of ground troops is not a lack of technology but a lack of raw numbers of soldiers, especially since we have laid off many of our most seasoned and skilled ground combat veterans. We also have a serious shortage of foreign language capabilities and nation building skill sets within our ground troops. This is, in part, because the Army and Marine brass would prefer not to have a military well suited to the counterinsurgency missions that politicians often want to undertake that the military finds to be thankless, undesirable and contrary to their perception of their mission and role.
We have systems that are neither cutting edge nor obsolete that get the job they were designed for done and receive heavy use, at a price that reflects the fact that they are no longer cutting edge technology. 
For example, we have the P-8 naval patrol aircraft and the M-22 Osprey and the Army's Stryker's and MRAPs and M-2 Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and an upgraded Army rifle and carbine in the process of being introduced. We have littoral combat ships and the Zumwalt destroyer that while not all that revolutionary in terms of military capabilities need only about a third of the crews of comparable warships with 1980s designs, that have the potential to fill niche needs that existing ships weren't meeting. Our anti-aircraft missile systems are not obsolete but also not state of the art.  
There are also whole classes of military systems that our best funded military in the world by far military could use but lacks entirely or almost entirely. 
For example, at sea, we have no small, fast, littoral missile boats unlike China, Iran and many of our European allies. We have no coastal, air independent combustion, diesel attack submarines. We don't have short range boats that we can deploy from larger ships further off shore to provide fire support to coastal ground forces. We have no warships optimized for escorting civilian ships in hostile waters at an affordable price even though that would be a major mission in any future naval conflict. We don't have transport submarines for running blockades with supplies, transporting retreating troops or fleeing civilians, or deploying troops on contested beaches. We have only a few high speed sealift ships and those are mostly rented rathe than owned. We have retired our fleet of naval mine sweeping ships even though the littoral combat ship replacement for them has not yet entered service. We are retiring our unique hospital ships without replacing them. 
In the air, we don't have short range aircraft large enough to carry Bradley fighting vehicles. We don't have airships to use as transports intermediate between fast ships and trucks on one hand, and fixed wing aircraft on the other, to use in roadless areas where anti-aircraft fire is unlikely. We don't have a transport bomber successor to the B-52 for use in uncontested airspace. We don't have fighter aircraft optimized for defending domestic airspace against civilian aircraft and improvised combatant aircraft at a fraction of the operational and purchase costs of the F-16s we use to do that job. We have very few light attack aircraft that could be used to fight asymmetric counterinsurgency conflicts more cost effectively. We designed and successfully tested prototype manned fighter replacement drones for both land and carrier use that are superior to their manned counterparts in many respects, but haven't bought any. We have very few unmanned cargo drones even though those we have have turned out to be very useful and saved lives. We don't have hypersonic missiles. 
For ground troops, we don't have carbines that can use video to shoot around corners that have been around for a decade. We haven't deployed computer assisted sniper guidance systems that allow civilians with a few hours of training to rival all but the very best of the best military snipers. We don't have smart bullets or use "smart guns" that only specific users can activate. We don't have the smart grenade launching guns that were supposed to enter service more than a decade ago. We don't have small airborne drones with the firepower of a single rifle or handgun even though civilians had made functional prototypes. We have very few mobile land based point defense systems comparable to the naval Phalanx CIWS and laser guns. We don't have systems well designed to respond to small drone swarm attacks like the one depicted in the upcoming movie "Angel has Fallen". We don't have a true light to medium weight missile tank, or any light tanks suitable for deployment with paratroopers or in jungles. We have only a few, if we have any, bullet proof vehicles optimized for the narrow streets found in much of the world. We also lack (perhaps wisely) tactical (i.e. for use in battles rather than destroying while cities) nuclear weapons that were once part of the U.S. arsenal.
The U.S. Navy also exists principally to respond to a very small number of potential adversaries, all of which except Russia, are largely confined to small geographic areas like the Persian Gulf and the coastal areas near North Korea and China. But, we have devoted almost no effort to find a way to reduce the cost of coming up with military resources to address these very expensive flash points with diplomatic efforts to secure conventional arms control in these regions.

To be clear, I'm not necessarily advocating military spending to bring all U.S. military systems up to the state of the art, or to have a large ground troop force ready to deploy, or to fill the many gaps associated with the many kinds of modern military systems that it lacks. But, there are definitely large swaths of military expenditures that are excessive at a tactical and strategic level in terms of our force mix, and there are definitely spots where spending a little more money would add disproportionate value to spending elsewhere.

Overall, the military budget in the U.S. is too big, however, and not too small. But, just as some regulations are excessive while other areas are under regulated, some parts of the military are grossly overfunded, while other areas are ignored, so far, at our peril

Economic Outcomes In Colorado Given Higher Education Received

The Colorado Sun summarizes a recent study on earnings outcomes based upon educational choices made after high school.

The Results

In a nutshell, education is a very poor economic return in Colorado. A four year education degree is still better than non-college, but is worse than any other four year college major and all other associates degrees except those in the social sciences. Educators with associates degrees actually do worse than high school graduates with no college. 

Non-STEM, non-business majors in college are better than no higher education or an education major, but only a little. Even an associates degree in STEM (including health) or a skilled trade is better than a four year degree in a non-STEM, non-business field. 

A two years degree in skilled trades has better outcomes than a four year degree in skilled trades, although I'm not quite sure what kind of major a four year degree in skilled trades would even involved.

Mostly, this is unsurprising, although more clear than some past studies that I've seen. The main notable difference from my "priors" is that four year business degrees have much higher returns in Colorado than in many previous studies that I have seen.


One fairly obvious conclusion is that in Colorado, where teachers wages are heavily influenced by state appropriations for K-12 education, we significantly under-compensate teachers who should be paid about 15% more than they are in non-STEM positions in order to be comparable to similar college graduates, and teachers in health and STEM field should make more like 45% more, with a combined blended educator's median pay that should be more like 20% (the median is not very sensitive to the impact of blending high subsets of the whole into it).

In the case of early childhood education, which is the main two year education degree, the degree arguably has negative economic value by directing people who take it to a career path less remunerative than the career path of an average high school graduate with no further education. 

Another fairly obvious conclusion is that STEM education, including health science and skilled trades, even in the case of two year degrees and certificate programs, add a lot of value and that we should encourage it, at least to the extent that we have prospective college students qualified to pursue those programs.

Business programs have gained economic value relative to the liberal arts in recent years.

And, it does show that getting higher education does add significant economic value with only a couple of modest exceptions.

Footnote and Caveats

The wage data above is based upon data from the roughly 50% of graduates who could be matched to income data.

Benchmarks for high school graduates with no higher education and for people who do not graduate from high school (with and without a GED) are not provided.

The study also does not evaluate the economic prospects of people who start a degree but don't finish it, which is a critical issue since dropout rates are high at almost every level of higher education in Colorado. It also appears to be limited to graduates of public colleges and universities.

And, the study makes no effort to engage in the admittedly difficult exercise of distinguishing income effects from education due to sorting from income effects of education due to value added. I suspect that if it did, STEM and business fields would fair even better.

It is also worth noting that graduating on time (let alone early as my daughter is about to and I did) is not the norm in Colorado.

29 July 2019

Beyond Stereotypes About Liberal Takes On Genetic Differences

“In the past few years, genetic evidence on human differences has become more obvious. The reaction, in the West, is to declare even more strongly that no differences exist, or even could exist.” 
This is something of a straw man argument. The more common and more refined argument is that the genetic differences that exist are not (or more elastically should not be considered) morally or socially or legally significant differences. 
Obviously, no informed person disputes, for example, that genetics cause visible differences in phenotype like eye color, hair color, skin color, height (interacting with environment) and stuff like epicanthic folds, and also that there a specific micro scale differences like sickle cell gene based malaria resistance. 
But, the notion is that those differences are not differences that are significant enough to discriminate against someone or treat them differently and don’t give rise to group differences that are meaningful in terms of policy or validating stereotypes. This also has a notion buried in it that physical differences are less important than differences in who a person is. 
For example, an illustration of this argument is the aphorism that you shouldn’t fault a turtle for not been fast at winning sprinting competitions. Sometimes this gets generalized to neurodiversity as well. 
This isn’t to say that this belief doesn’t have difficulties. At the individual level, there is strong evidence that traits like individual cognitive traits like IQ, personality and temperament have a significant hereditary component. 
Likewise, many Western liberals will acknowledge that small populations (e.g. communities of South Asians who recently immigrated to the U.S. on work related tech industry and medical profession visa available only to the most elite individuals) do exhibit group level average differences on certain work related IQ and spatial aptitude type abilities until diluted with other populations or the passage of time with a reversion to the mean. 
But, those belief holders presume (as an axiom not an empirically driven fact), while conceding this point, that the measured differences in traits like these that we do care about, in large representative samples of continental scale populations (e.g. Africans or South Asians generally) or large random samples of historically old caste or racial minorities, are almost entirely due to environmental effects as evidenced, for example, by the Flynn effect and by the apparent positive impacts of the reducing of lead poisoning rates in the U.S. This presumption is, at a minimum, difficult to test rigorously, and tends to support policy decisions that are hard to resolve empirically that Western liberals tend to think are good policies which promote a just society and emphasize individual merit over group stereotype based decision making. 
The truer description of the mainstream intellectual viewpoint of Western liberals is a close cousin of the idea that while culture differences absolutely exist (and indeed, should be respected) that all cultures are equal. More sophisticated individuals may qualify this position by saying that all cultures are equal in dignity and in a platonic sense, but that particular cultures may be better adapted to one set of circumstances in a given time and place than another, and that we nonetheless have a moral obligation to respect cultures not optimally adapted to current conditions in the present time and place.
This is a reprint with minor reformatting and editing of my comment to a post at Brown Pundits.

This said:

* The vast majority of people of all political stripes (except fiction authors when writing about royal children whose paternity has been denied) overestimate the relative importance of child rearing (within the normal range) relative to genetics in how a child turns out, and attribute more hereditary effects to child rearing and less to genetics than the best evidence supports.

* Most people underestimate the impact of genetic tendencies in how people turn out, more generally, relative to environmental factors, although liberals do so more than conservatives.

* Few liberals, but many conservatives embrace the notion that different continental or subcontinental or national scale populations or races have inherently different genetic traits and capabilities on things that matter where there is a clear good or bad side to them.

* Many more liberals than moderates or conservatives doubt the meaningfulness of IQ as a psychometric measure.

* Liberals tend to be especially skeptical of biological differences in important cognitive things based on sex relative to heredity more generally, and are strongly inclined to attribute gender differences to nurture to an extent not supported by the best evidence. But, there is diversity of thought within liberalism and within feminism on this matter.

* Almost everyone overestimates the extent to which their decisions are shaped by individual personal idiosyncratic choices they make, rather than cultural and genetic and social context and economic influences. Thus, they think that more of their decisions are purely a product of autonomous free will as opposed to more predictable deterministic influences. Put another way, people are more predictable than the vast majority of them believe themselves to be.

* Smart and well informed people of all political stripes have more nuanced views on these topics than less intelligence and less well informed people. Liberals tend to have more nuanced views on these topics than conservatives and conservatives tend to be oblivious to many of the nuances in hte views on these topics commonly held by liberals. 

24 July 2019

Some Things The U.S. Constitution Gets Wrong

The United States Constitution is not holy. Indeed, it is a seriously flawed document, the "M.S. Dos" of the democratic constitutions of the world. 

What are some things that it gets wrong?

1. While most state constitutions and many national constitutions are too easy to amend, the United States Constitution is too hard to amend.

2. Too little thought went into when it should be possible to remove federal elected officials, especially the President, mid-term, and it is too hard to remove the President in the middle of his term.

3. The Second Amendment was a bad idea that few other countries have copied and those that did have since amended out of their constitutions.

4. The Electoral College doesn't work as intended and is fundamentally unfair. The Electoral College, together with the equal representation of U.S. States in the U.S. Senate violates the principle of one man, one vote and would be illegal to adopt in any U.S. state or territory under well established U.S. Constitutional law.

5. The U.S. Constitution does not adequately address the pernicious problem of gerrymandering, or the problems caused by not having proportional representation.

6. The U.S. Constitution does a less than stellar job of handling judicial appointments and errs (for unforeseeable reasons) by giving federal judges tenure for their entire lives.

7. The U.S. Constitution makes it too easy to disenfranchise people.

8. The U.S. Constitution's rules for resolving disputed elections could be much better than the status quo.

9. Insisting that the President be a "natural born citizen" was a bad idea.

10. The U.S. Constitution's allocation of foreign policy and military power is insufficiently clear and has been interpreted badly to come up with bad black letter rules.

11. Diversity jurisdiction was a bad idea.

12. Too many important provisions such as the 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment and the privileges and immunities clause have been inappropriately diminished through judicial interpretation.

Millennial Economics

Our air is cleaner, our medicines work better, our buildings and our food and our factories and our cars are safer, and we are drinking new information out of a firehose. 

But, that doesn't mean that the current generation hasn't seriously regressed in terms of economic security and shared prosperity.

I also call attention to a reality that few politically active people on the left like to acknowledge, mangaka Riana's comment that: "This affects both of us since we live together" which is true of most people in our economy, despite our stubborn insistence on an individualistic oriented worldview. Even at the most basic personal household level, your well being is usually not entirely a product of your own personal fortunes.

This also calls attention to the recurring issue that we as a society don't do a wonderful job of funding the arts and cultural pursuits although we could certainly do worse as well.

From here.

19 July 2019

Little Earthquakes

There is a paper out there that says that to overcome poverty you need twenty years with almost nothing going wrong. In practice, that's hard and takes a lot of luck. Someone in my middle class to upper middle class shoes can weather these storms. But, the large percentage of people who can't handle a $400 emergency can't.

What do those little earthquakes look like? Consider a few that I've experienced reasonably recently.

* My son was in a skiing accident. This entailed an ambulance ride to the hospital, an ER visit with CT scans and lab tests, a night of observation at the hospital. No surgery or prescriptions were required to treat it, just refraining from serious exertion for a couple of weeks and a missed half season of contact sports (like lacrosse, for which he was a team captain and having his best year ever). It sucked, but it was hardly a catastrophic injury, although no one questioned that it was essential for him to be promptly evaluated as the symptoms he had could have indicated something far more serious. We have a "gold" class HMO style insurance plan from Kaiser and didn't go to any out of network providers at any time that network services were available. The Kaiser card says an ER visit is $500 on the card. But, the reality is that essentially every more than trivial ER visit involves additional services that are also added to the bill like CT scans (four each), and other charges. The price tag?  A little less than $7,500. It would have been more, but he hit his per person, per year out of pocket expense cap.

* A few months earlier, he was driving the used car he'd had for the last two and a half years. Suddenly, without warning, on his way to visit his girlfriend on Thanksgiving evening, the car died and came to a dead stop in a middle lane of I-25. A 911 call led to a prompt (and free) Denver fire department response that pushed him to the side of the road. We called AAA for a tow. A tow truck came and took the car to a nearby AAA approved mechanic. But, upon arrival we learned that the tow truck was not the one that AAA had ordered for us (which had taken ages) but one that a responding policeman had called which didn't accept AAA. So, we were out a hundred of two dollars there. The mechanic's estimate was that the engine was entirely shot and would have to be replaced. So, we had to pay another tow truck to get the car from the shop to our house. It turns out that there is a vigorous market for Mazda Miatas without working engines in Denver, so we were able to swiftly sell it (it was worth less than $1,500 when we bought it) for more than the cost of the two tows.

But, he needed a car to get to school and other activities at time I couldn't take him there. Our only other car was mine which I needed for work, and the Denver Public Schools don't provide high school students with transportation if they are attending a school of choice. So, we needed to buy a new car, ultimately we bought a used Subaru Legacy for a price greatly reduced because it had a lot of hail damage. But, again, it was a several thousand dollar uninsured bump in the road.

* This month, the screen on my daughter's computer, which she needs for college, stopped working. At first glance, it looked like it might require only a replacement backlight bulb, a tolerably expensive repair. But, the repair guys called, and it turns out that the logic board has something wrong with it and needs to be replaced. Between student discounts on new computers and some trade in value, the end result is going to be that we need to buy a new computer. It was under a service plan for a couple of years when we bought it, but that was four or five years ago.

* Recently, we noticed water damage in a corner of our living room, months of trying to figure out what was going on eventually revealed that there were gaps in the mortar in the 1925 brick wall that needed tuck pointing, followed by plaster and paint to repair the damage. It wasn't a huge repair, but it was an unexpected, uninsurable one.

* A couple of months later we noticed water damage in the ceilings of our two upstairs bedrooms and an adjacent hallway. It took a few months to figure out what was going on here as well, and this time, it was caulking around our nineteen year old swamp cooler that had been compromised with wear and tear over the time causing a leak. Once we figured out what was wrong with this, this too wan't a huge repair, but it took months of inconvenience and was unexpected and uninsurable.

* A few years ago, I was robbed at gun point. They took about $50 in cash from my wallet, my credit cards and driver's license, my phone, and my laptop. With my assistant's help, the credit cards were canceled, the phone service was deactivated, and all of my passwords including the one for the laptop itself were changed within an hour or two and almost everything had been backed up in the cloud. They never caught the guys. It was inconvenient for about a month and I now look like a drunk bum in my replacement driver's license photo. But, I had to pay for a replacement driver's license,  a new phone and a new computer (the one I'm using now). All told, it cost me perhaps $500 out of pocket. Not huge, but a big problem for many people.

* Over the years, we've had several incidents of fraud. The credit card fraud incidents could generally be undone, but we've lost more than a $1,000 over the years in cases where there was no viable remedy.

* There have been several times where I've gotten a couple hundred dollars of traffic tickets. And, there have been a couple of time when I've needed to fix a broken side view mirror for a few hundred dollars that wasn't big enough to exceed the insurance deductible.

None of these things we individually catastrophic, and we've always been able to pay what we need to pay to resolve them. But, if we hadn't had those reserves, they would have been disaster.

The Hope Diamond, The Sun King, And His Mistresses

The French Blue was one of the most prized possessions of Louis XIV. A humongous diamond that gave the illusion of a sun at its center when positioned against a gold background (fitting for the Sun King), it was stolen after the French Revolution. It reemerged in England as the Hope diamond, a 45.52-carat mineral that is arguably the most famous jewel in the world. Not until 2009 did experts confirm that, yes, the Hope Diamond and the French Blue were cut from the same stone.
From here (with minor unattributed editing). Confirmation at Wikipedia:
The Hope Diamond is one of the most famous jewels in the world, with ownership records dating back almost four centuries. Its much-admired rare blue color is due to trace amounts of boron atoms. Weighing 45.52 carats, its exceptional size has revealed new findings about the formation of gemstones. 
The jewel is believed to have originated in India, where the original (larger) stone was purchased in 1666 by French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier as the Tavernier Blue. The Tavernier Blue was cut and yielded the French Blue (Le bleu de France), which Tavernier sold to King Louis XIV in 1668. Stolen in 1791, it was recut, with the largest section acquiring its "Hope" name when it appeared in the catalogue of a gem collection owned by a London banking family called Hope in 1839. After going through numerous owners, it was sold to Washington socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, who was often seen wearing it. It was purchased in 1949 by New York gem merchant Harry Winston, who toured it for a number of years before giving it to the National Museum of Natural History in 1958, where it has since remained on permanent exhibition.
It is estimated to be worth about $250 million.

Fun fact: You can buy a plastic and cubic zirconia imitation of this gem as it is set today, that it is the same size, for about $20.

Also (with minor unattributed editing from the same source):
Louis XIV (1638-1715) was King of France was known as “the Sun King,” he inherited the French throne when he was only four years old. At 72 years and 110 days, his reign is the longest of any monarch of a sovereign state in European history. Anne of Austria, Louis’ mother, gave birth to her eldest son later in life—she was 37 when Louis was born and had suffered stillbirths before him. After dying of gangrene in 1715, Louis was buried in Saint-Dennis Basilica outside of Paris. His royal body remained undisturbed for about 80 years before being exhumed and destroyed by radicals in the French Revolution. 
Louis performed 80 roles in 40 major ballets, often (though not always) in leading or god-like roles (of course). Throughout the 1660s, he founded the Académie Royale de Danse and the Académie d’Opéra, two critical elements in the evolution of French ballet. 
Although he and his first wife, Maria Theresa, shared a mutual affection, the king was never faithful to her. Louis fathered 13 illegitimate children with three other women in addition to carrying on liaisons with countless other lovers. Later in life, Louis found himself taken by the piety and compassion of his children’s governess, Françoise d’Aubigné, otherwise known as “Madame de Maintenon.” He eventually married her. The union was never publicly declared, but it was an open secret at court. 
The most powerful mistress of Louis XIV was clearly Madame de Montespan. She rose to chief mistress (maistresse-en-titre) by cultivating a friendship with his current chief mistress, Louise de La Vallière, and then swooping in to “temporarily” fulfill her friend’s “duties” when both Louise and the queen found themselves pregnant. To make rejection a little less embarrassing for La Vallière, he did (at first) keep the women in the same apartments, so he could visit Montespan without drawing suspicion. Montespan was no upstart. She was born on October 5, 1640, to one of the most ancient noble families in France, the House of Rochechouart. As the king’s mistress, her legitimized children with him would go on themselves to found royal houses in Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, and Portugal. Montespan possessed a legendary beauty by the standards of her day. With her peculiar and large blue eyes, thick “corn-colored” blonde hair, and her fashionably voluptuous figure, she was held as “astonishingly beautiful,” even for a king’s mistress. Montespan’s big break in the king’s bed came as both his queen and his main royal mistress became pregnant at the same time. Louise de La Vallière trusted Madame de Montespan to be a “temp” of sorts while she was closed away for childbirth. Madame lived the contract laborer’s dream by staying on the job long after La Vallière had given birth. According to lore, Montespan dropped towel to get on top. It’s said she first seduced the king by letting her bath wrap fall down as he happened to be spying on her shower. King Louis’s transition period from de La Vallière to Montespan was awkward for all involved. At first, he made his discarded lover (La Vallière) and current lover (Montespan) share an apartment. Both Louis and Montespan were married (to other people), so they were committing double-adultery. This arrangement was so Louis could visit his new squeeze without arousing the suspicion of Montespan’s husband. Altogether, Madame de Montespan had seven illegitimate children with Louis XIV. The first three children who survived were legitimized in 1673, after the lack of male heirs for Louis put the succession in crisis. Montespan was known for openly disrespecting Queen Maria Theresa in public—an act for which even the lovestruck Louis himself had to reprimand his mistress.  
In 1679, Montespan was accused of using witchcraft and aphrodisiacs to stay ahead of King Louis’s other lovers. A midwife named Catherine Monvoisin, or La Voison, had been arrested as part of the Affair of the Poisons—and she had named the king’s chief mistress as one of her prolific clients. La Voison even alleged that Montespan performed black masses, a sacrilegious accusation that effectively destroyed Montespan’s reputation, regardless of the truth. In the specifics of La Voisin’s accusations against Montespan, the midwife alleged Montespan and a witch would call on the Devil to ensure the king’s love in his mistress. To seal the deal, they also sacrificed a newborn baby and used the blood and bones in a love potion for the king. It’s said the king’s food was poisoned for 13 years to keep his heart—and other parts—in line for her. It’s said that police up dug 2,500 baby corpses in La Voisin’s garden, all of whom were used in Montespan’s black mass love rituals. Of course, this is almost definitely a myth or exaggeration, as no contemporary evidence of such a mass grave exists.
How bad was health care in the late 1600s? 

Only three of the seven children of the most powerful and wealthy kings in the world and in the entire history of France from one of his mistresses survived to adulthood.

15 July 2019

Disclaimers In Fiction

A webcomic I stumbled upon recently contained this disclaimer in its description:
This comic is only for open-minded, patient, and understanding readers. If you don't have these characteristics, you will not be able to survive this comic.
From Unintentional Game.

As a rhetorical device, the notion of an author screening an author's readers, instead of the other way around (while simultaneously complimenting those who decide to read it anyway), is an eminently clever little device to set expectations and weed out readers who will be inclined to provide negative reviews of your work. This isn't the first time I've seen this trick used, although it isn't a very common one, but it only really struck me how sophisticated a game to play this is until now.

Denver Is Usually Nearly A Desert; Grand Junction Is In A Desert

Most sources define a desert as a place with an average of 10 inches of precipitation (250 mm) per year, although I've seen 11 inches and 12 inches (in print) also used as definitions.

Denver get an average of 14.30 inches of precipitation per year (although some measurements suggest that the average is a little higher), which is 4.3 inches more than a desert. Grand Junction, where I lived from 1996 to 1999, is a bona fide desert with an average of just 9.4 inches of precipitation per year (probably an overstatement as this average does not appear to include some recent very dry years).

It is also useful, however, to think about the range of precipitation that an area experiences, as the high and the low over a long period of time (the low was 7.48 inches and the high was 20.95 inches since I've lived in Denver) is important for purposes like planning things like landscaping choices, construction specifications, and urban planning considerations like storm sewer capacities. The range is also quite relevant in valuing water rights.

This year in Denver, however, will not be a dry one. We are already at 10.59 inches of precipitation though July 14, 2019, about 2.25 inches above the year to date norm.

Denver has had three years that are below the desert threshold since I've moved here, and five more within under twelve inches of precipitation.

2018: 8.48 
2017: 11.69
2016: 11.59
2015: 18.22
2014: 18.77
2013: 16.60
2012: 10.11
2011: 17.27
2010: 12.86
2009: 18.12
2008: 10.23
2007: 14.00
2006: 8.64
2005: 12.80
2004: 14.67
2003: 13.92
2002: 7.48
2001: 16.55
2000: 14.55
1999: 20.95
1998: 15.93
1997: 19.59
1996: 10.25
1995: 18.27

To some extent, precipitation in Denver is really tri-modal with modes corresponding roughly to years marked by El Niño and La Niña events, and year with neither, respectively, although temperature tracks El Niño and La Niña events more closely than precipitation does.

Since the winter of 1995-1996, eight winters have been El Niño winters (when the central to easter tropical pacific is warmer): 2015-2016 and 1997-1998 (strong), 2009-2010 (moderate), 2002-2003, 2006-2007, 2004-2005, 2014-2015, 2018-2019 (weak).

Seven winters have been La Niña winters (when the central to eastern tropical pacific is cooler): 2007-2008 (strong), 2010-2011, 1995-1996 (moderate), 2005-2006, 2008-2009, 2011-2012, 2018-2019 (weak).

And nine winters have been neither El Niño nor La Niña winters (when temperatures in the central to eastern tropical pacific are normal): 1996-1997, 1998-1999, 1999-2000, 2001-2002, 2003-2004, 2009-2010, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, 2016-2017.

09 July 2019

Air To Air Combat Has Been Very Rare For A Generation

The stereotypical dog fight is all but dead. Just one pilot still serving in the U.S. military as a pilot has ever participated in a dog fight that resulted in a manned fixed wing aircraft in flight that was part of the fight being shot down. The U.S. hasn't had a dog fight involving guns instead of missiles since 1975.

Dog Fights Have Grown Very Rare

In the last 28 years (since the end of the Gulf War) not more than 54 manned aircraft were shot down by other aircraft in the entire world. At least 2 were from a friendly fire incident. Many are downed helicopters. See here

Just one U.S. fixed wing aircraft has been shot down by another aircraft since the end of the Vietnam War (1975) when a U.S. Navy F/A-18 piloted by Scott Speicher was shot down in air to air combat on January 17, 1991 during the early days of the Gulf War. There is been just two incidents in which a U.S. fixed wing aircraft has shot down another fixed wing aircraft in flight since the Gulf War which ended in 1991, one in Kosovo in 1999 and one in Syria in 2017.

There hasn't been a fighter ace (a pilot who has made five or more career kills of enemy aircraft in air to air combat) actively serving as a pilot the U.S. military for decades.

At least some of the aircraft crews survived in a fair number of the incidents involving fixed wing aircraft that were shot down. 

Missiles Have Replaced Slug Throwers

A key factor in the modern trend this has been the use of guided missiles. Most of these are one shot, one kill incidents, with the first shot often fired before the other pilot knows that he engaged in air to air combat at that moment.

The last time a manned fixed wing aircraft in flight was shot down by another manned fixed wing aircraft, with anything other than a missile, anywhere in the world, by any country, was on October 5, 1982 when a South African fighter pilot shot down a Cuban fighter with his canon in the South African border war (about 37 years ago). Prior to that there were a number of such dog fights in the Vietnam War (which ended in 1975) and in the Yom Kippur War in Israel (in 1973). See here.  

There are a number of incidents of helicopters being taken down with slug throwers from other aircraft, however, most often with the 30mm canons of the A-10 ground attack fighter. There are also cases of ground targets being destroyed with an armed fixed wing aircraft's canons.

The lion's share of military aircraft that are shot down in flight in the modern era are shot down by ground to air fire, most often, but not always with anti-aircraft missiles, and the aircraft shot down are disproportionately helicopters and unmanned drones.

What Does The Modern Air Force Do?

This doesn't mean that armed aircraft are irrelevant. But, armed aircraft are now almost entirely deployed in conflicts where one side or the other in a conflict controls the air space of the theater of battle. And, where there are air to air combat campaigns they have been very brief - a matter of a few weeks at most.

Guided air to ground missiles, and long range sea or ground launched guided missiles, are one of the defining aspects of modern warfare, and close air support of ground troops continues to be a significant military mission. 

As of August 29, 2017, "every deployed squadron averages at least a 97 percent hit rate" when using guided missiles and/or smart bombs, a dramatic reduction from the era of non-guided bombs and missiles. This is a recent development. In the 1995 campaign in Bosnia, 98% of bombs dropped by American aircraft were guided.  But, while "Operation Desert Storm in 1991 often invokes images of stealth aircraft and laser-guided munitions. However, only 8 percent of all bombs dropped during that war were guided. . . . In Desert Storm, the F-117 (flown by highly experienced pilots) was lauded by an unprecedented (and inflated) 80 percent hit rate." In the Vietnam War, "to hit a half-dozen targets, aircraft packages were generally built around 16 strike aircraft (escorted by other fighters performing escort and suppression of enemy air defenses)." In the Gulf War and Vietnam, Air Force pilots flew 19-20 hours a month, now they fly 10 hours a month.

It now takes far fewer missions to hit a given number of targets, and there is very little ordinance wasted in strikes that don't hit their targets.

Effective countermeasures could limit this effectiveness. 
If the enemy can’t stop your weapons, you need to send just one to have 95 percent confidence of hitting any given target. But if the enemy can stop a significant fraction of your smart bombs, say 20 percent, you need to send two to achieve that same 95 percent confidence. If your weapons have only a 50-50 chance, you need to send five. . . .  
A staggering 96 percent of the precision weapons the Pentagon has bought since 9/11 have been “direct attack” munitions. These weapons are relatively short-ranged. For example, the new Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) II has wings to glide up to 40 nautical miles from the aircraft that launches it. The older and larger Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) can glide just 13 nm. 
Against a low-tech adversary like the Islamic State, a US aircraft 13 miles away might as well be on the moon. Against an adversary with modern anti-aircraft weapons, however, a US aircraft that comes within 13 or even 40 miles is begging to be shot down. . . . 
[W]e have far too few long-range weapons such as cruise missiles, which can be fired from outside enemy air defenses’ range, and the ones we do have are far too expensive to buy in bulk. The average direct-attack bomb bought since 2001 costs $55,500; the average long-range precision-guided weapon costs $1.1 million, twenty times as much.
But, the vast majority of wars, not just involving the U.S., but everywhere in the world, are asymmetric, not competitions between "near peers" where effective long range anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses aren't present.

Also, I believe that I read recently that in a recent month in the war in Afghanistan, most of the U.S. airstrikes were carried out by drones, which makes the costs of losing aircraft much more tolerable.

Spatial Ability and IQ

Spatial ability isn't entirely divorced from IQ, but it does have a very large hereditary component, a large share of its hereditary component is distinct from IQ, and all spatial ability draw on a largely shared spatial cognitive capacity.
Performance in everyday spatial orientation tasks (e.g. map reading and navigation) has been considered functionally separate from performance on more abstract object-based spatial abilities (e.g. mental rotation and visualization). However, evidence remains scarce and unsystematic. With a novel gamified battery, we assessed six tests of spatial orientation in a virtual environment and examined their association with ten object-based spatial tests, as well as their links to general cognitive ability (g). We further estimated the role of genetic and environmental factors in underlying variation and covariation in these spatial tests. Participants (N = 2,660) were part of the Twins Early Development Study, aged 19 to 22. The 6 tests of spatial orientation clustered into a single ‘Navigation’ factor that was 64% heritable. Examining the structure of spatial ability across all 16 tests, three factors emerged: Navigation, Object Manipulation and Visualization. These, in turn, loaded strongly onto a general factor of Spatial Ability, which was highly heritable (84%). A large portion (45%) of this high heritability was independent of g. The results from this most comprehensive investigation of spatial abilities to date point towards the existence of a common genetic network that supports all spatial abilities.
Margherita Malanchini, et al, "Evidence for a unitary structure of spatial cognition beyond general intelligence" (July 4, 2019). doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/693275

08 July 2019

Knowledge Is Constantly Forgotten And Then Rediscovered

It isn't entirely clear why this was forgotten in the first place.
The Air Force is turning to half-century-old refueling equipment to get its pilots off the flight lines and back up into the air as quickly as possible. 
The U.S. Air Force has used hot refueling in recent years -- a technique that fuels up a plane while its engines are on -- in an effort to save time. Now the 366th Logistics Readiness Squadron, based at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, is the first Air Force unit to take hot-pit refueling old school. 
The squadron, known as the 'Gunfighters,' began using a Type 1 hydrant system from the 1950s and hose cart from the 1970s to refuel F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that stop at the base, according to a service release. 
The systems connect directly to 500,000-gallon tanks, refueling a plane in roughly 15 minutes without requiring its engines to be shut off, the release states. 
"Mountain Home Air Force Base is proving that we can still fuel F-35 aircraft right off the production line with some of the oldest equipment at unheard-of turnaround times," Tech. Sgt. Zachary Kiniry, 366th LRS fuels service center noncommissioned officer, said in the release.