Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The most interesting data set I've seen in ages

The age old question, as most readers of this august diary will know, is the following:

Do you know what it takes to sell real estate?

The answer, of course, is that it takes brass balls to sell real estate.

A few years ago, Heartiste talked about the Apocalypse opener in picking up women. This was taken from Ciaran at Bristol Lair, and proceeds as follows:
You rock up to a chick and, in a confident, level voice you say
“Hey, how’s it going.”
She will say
You then say
“Cool. What are you doing later?”
She will say
“I’m not sure.”
You then say
“Do you want to come home with me?”
Then you hold.
HOLD IT MY SON……………………..
Boom. Makeout.
And that’s the Apocalypse opener. You don’t ‘build rapport.’ You don’t ‘elicit values.’ You don’t ‘kino escalate.’ You don’t even ask her fucking NAME. You ask if she wants to sleep with you in the THIRD SENTENCE, hold the line, and reap the whirlwind.

That my friends, is some serious real estate transacting right there.

The second, more interesting part, is Ciaran's analysis of how to make the thing work:
The key to making it work is not how you say it, but what you do in the 30 seconds after it’s left your mouth.
Before I talk specifics, let’s state the single CARDINAL SIN of the Apocalypse, which is the ONLY THING that can blow you out.
That’s it. Don’t be weird. You have to deliver the opener deadpan. Like you are talking about the WEATHER. You are not making a BIG THING of it. You’re just ASKING.
You are not MOCKING. You are not JOKING. You are not TOO SERIOUS.
It is NOT PLAYFUL however – it is REAL.
If she says no – you only need ONE COMEBACK.
It is this:
Then you strike up a ‘normal’ conversation about the colour of the wallpaper, or the music that’s playing, or the fact that you did your laundry earlier today.
In other words, the reason it works is not because girls have a desire to go home with any guy that asks. Rather, the reason is that it takes some sizable cojones to deliver this deadpan, and not lose your nerve. To the extent that it may work at all, it's that you definitely show yourself as being unusually self-confident. As long as you don't come across as autistic or a sociopath, this is a clear plus.

The question is, of course, how well does it work? Or more realistically, does it work at all?

Some guy decided to test it out. A hundred times. And what are the results?

The standard comments over at Reddit are pointing out that none of the girls say yes. This is the dog bites man aspect.

But I think it misses the much larger man bites dog story here.

Don't ask how many girls would sleep with him. Ask how many girls stick around, laugh, and don't run away immediately. And bear in mind that this guy guy has several handicaps relative to the stated method, namely:
-He isn't doing the crucial conversational follow up.
-He's doing it often on groups of girls, or guys with girls, both of whom are WAY less likely to be seen to say yes in front of their friends
-He's doing it in broad daylight
-He's doing it in girls who are stone cold sober, and whom are unlikely to be looking to score.

Because if you believe the stated explanation, if you did this in a better setting and kept up the conversation afterwards and sounded mostly normal, would they continue to respond positively?

So how does that metric work?

Look at girl number 6. Look at the way she continues to linger and smile at him after saying no.

Look at girl number 8. She laughs and says 'maybe, I don't know. Perhaps?'

Think about that for a second. Think about it and try to tell me that the real story here is that the guy didn't get a concrete yes immediately.

Number 21, in a group of two, says that he's made their day.

Number 44 says, 'Um no. I mean, you're attractive, I'd probably make out with you.'

More to the point, look at all 100, and count how many responded angrily. The answer is one. One out of a hundred throws a drink at him. Be honest, would you have estimated only a 1% rate of angry retaliation? Because I sure wouldn't. How many guys could claim that their opening line elicited at least a smile and a laugh in 50% of cases?

Again, the unsurprising part is that this doesn't work as implemented.

The remarkable part is how positive the overall response is. Bemused, sure. But positive.

This guy has a bright future ahead of him in the real estate sales business.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Short answers to stupid questions

"Because they enjoy it. Why does anyone do anything?"

Singapore and Hong Kong - A Tale of Two Reactionary Cities

Singapore is often held up as a kind of model reactionary state among the nations in existence today. It has incredibly low crime rates, low taxes, general social harmony, and has broadly built itself up from being a swamp to first world country in 60 years. It's also done this while juggling a tricky ethnic mix that's produced social conflict in many other countries. Lee Kuan Yew pulled this impressive feat off in part by restricting democracy and the freedom of the press, thus reducing the means by which ethnic tension can be whipped up. Most westerners dislike both of these aspects, but its hard to argue with results.

Back when I was but a wee Holmes in high school, I was a fervent (small 'd') democrat. I remember in an otherwise worthless social science class discussing with a Singaporean friend of mine about how his country was run. He was a defender of their system, and argued that it was actually popular with the people. I tended to not believe him, and always wanted to know why, if the government thought they were so popular, didn't they put matters to a fair vote? A failure to do so must mean that they suspected they'd lose.

It took me a long time to realise that on this point, I was wrong. The firstfact to understand about Singapore is that even though their 'democracy' is a joke, the government would very likely win an actual fair election. They are popular. The fact that people aren't voting on civic matters cannot be equated with them being unhappy about civic matters. Witness the outpouring of genuine joy and interest in the royal baby if you don't think this kind of thing is possible.

But here's the bigger question - what is the one, big genuine knock on Singapore as a place to live?

It's boring.

And this, alas, is true. There is really nothing interesting going on there. You can shop. That's about it.

It's tempting to dismiss this as a trivial concern, or as being a spurious one-off point, but I'm not sure that's true.

My guess is that the policies used to maintain the very high level of  social order -- restricting freedom of the press and voting, high alcohol taxes, large punishments for all crimes -- are indeed likely to discourage creative types from moving there, and potentially likely to discourage certain aspects of creativity in the local populace. 

In other words, you may not like the hippies of San Francisco, but it's not an accident that the interesting restaurants and art galleries are located nearby. When it comes to eccentric thinking and bon vivant lifestyles, there may be a certain amount of taking the bad with the good that's required.

But this is where (British) Hong Kong provides an interesting counterpoint.

Hong Kong managed to achieve a lot of the same material successes as Singapore. But it never had the same reputation for being boring. Hong Kong cinema was long famous, and the city is filled with interesting restaurants, bars and galleries. Also, notably, Hong Kong does not share Singapore's restrictions on civic life. The newspapers were largely free to publish whatever they wanted. The court system was actually applying genuine British Common Law, rather than twisting concepts like defamation to become de facto censorship tools against criticism of the government. And while the crime rate was not so famously low (the Triads, for instance, have no obvious Singaporean equivalent), it was fairly peaceful.

So what explains the difference? Should we just conclude that Singapore should just chill out a bit on the freedom of the press?

Well, maybe. But there's something else that may explain it.

If you haven't read it yet, Slate Star Codex gave a pretty good summary of reactionary ideas. In particular, consider the claim of Mencius Moldbug - that a truly secure sovereign would have no need to care what its citizens thought. This is true, and also would be a big benefit - you don't have to constantly wage a propaganda war over what people believe.

But Slate Star Codex also pointed out some of the conceptual problems with this idea - in particular, you can't just assume a hypothetical totally secure sovereign. Real sovereignty has to be enforced, and that almost always means caring about the opinions of at least some subset of the public, even if only the guys with guns. Cryptographic weapons are the Moldbug answer, but with 3D printed guns already available, it's not clear how feasible this is.

Still, this mental exercise helps to illuminate part of the difference between Hong Kong and Singapore. In Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew only had the resources of Singapore to secure Singapore. If enough people start agitating for change, and the army isn't willing to shoot them, then he's out on his @$$. Hence the somewhat draconian efforts to control the popular discourse.

But in Hong Kong, the British were able to entirely secure the colony almost without regard to what the subjects thought, should they desire. The reason is that they could just send in the Royal Navy. And because this force operated effectively without any concern for the average Hong Kong resident's opinion, Britain had a role much closer to the hypothetical Moldbug sovereign - they say what they want, I do what I want.

And this allowed for something closer to Moldbug's Fnargl - the sovereign immune to any attack from the locals. At least as predicted, this allowed for a much more relaxed attitudes towards civil society.

But we arrive at a somewhat awkward conclusion - the ideal sovereign is not truly sovereign, but reliant on some larger power to ensure its survival irrespective of local opinion.

And hence you can see why Hong Kong features perhaps less prominently in the reaction circles. Until you can find a way to make us all subjects of enlightened British civil servants, one may need the guarantee of some higher authority to get a sovereign that truly doesn't give a rat's. Or accept that order requires no freedom of the press and not many art galleries.

This is not an ideal conclusion, of course, but nobody said that reality had to conform to our highest hopes.

On the other hand, both Hong Kong's governors and Lee Kuan Yew would have likely done a damn sight better job at managing Detroit than democracy has done. No sense letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Two Hundred Millionth Verse, Same as the First…

So much has been said on the Trayvon Martin case already. It feels a little bit like World War I – when you try to explain that France is fighting Germany because a Serbian nationalist shot the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, it’s not immediately clear why either of the two belligerent parties would give a rat’s @$$.

So it is here – a Hispanic wannabe cop shoots a teenage black thug, but as always, the fault is white racism. Goyim kill Goyim, and they blame the Jews. And so everyone must take up cudgels again to defend their accustomed sides.

After almost a decade of living in this country, it’s hard to express just how dreary all this is. Lordy, I am sick to death of race, and the peculiar American preoccupation with the subject. The faux outrage, the sheer humourlessness, the constant walking on eggshells, the pissant cowardice it inspires, and the way it paralyses people from making even the most straightforward observations about the world around them.

This is the most uniquely American of pathologies. Not racism, of course. America today is perhaps the least racist country on the face of the earth. You may seem surprised, but honestly, who else would lay a claim to the title? The only other contenders are small, mono-ethnic  countries for which issues of race simply don’t arise in daily life.

No, it is the paranoia about racism, regardless of the absence of any actual racial animus, that is America’s most appalling invention. Even if you disagree with my claim that America is the least racist country on the planet, if you formed the ratio of Race Paranoia = (Worrying About Racism) / (Actual Racism), I defy anybody  to claim that America doesn't lead the world on this metric by miles and miles.

The question is not whether racism (that is, racial animus) is a problem. Like the Copernican view of the solar system, it’s absurd to pretend this is still any kind of social controversy. It is a problem, where it occurs. Rather, the question is whether you choose to see expressions of racial animus in ever more innocuous speech and actions. The question is whether you continue to view the possibility that someone, somewhere, is harbouring racial animus as the single most important problem in the world, even as the actual level of racial animus in society drops precipitously.

And what has all this brought? Has being ever more exquisitely sensitive to people’s possibly hurt feelings about the matter of race actually, you know, produced more social harmony? If it has, I can’t see much evidence of it. All I can see is what John Derbyshire memorably described as ‘an evolution towards the ever thinner-skinned’.

Like all American cultural traits, good or bad, race paranoia is slowly taking over the world.  When I left Australia, it was mercifully a place where one was largely spared the constant, relentless hand-wringing, the non-stop ‘Serious You Guys This Is The Most Important Issue In The Whole World’ evangelism of race hucksters, do-gooders and fools.

I suspect, with considerable resignation, that when or if I return, Australia will have become America in my absence.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Some PR advice for the PRC

If you look across the countries of the world, it is a reliable trend that any country featuring the word ‘Democratic’ in its name is both
a) A hellhole, and
b) Not at all democratic.
Think ‘The Democratic Republic of the Congo’ or ‘The German Democratic Republic’.

In many ways, this is isn’t surprising – the countries with the worst governance records and the least scruples want to cloak themselves with the veneer of respectability by claiming to be what they think polite society demands they be. This doesn’t fool anybody except the rubes, of course. But at least it indicates a clear estimate of where they think the positive brand equity lies, and it seems to be in ideas like ‘Democratic’.

Which makes China all the more puzzling.

The Chinese Communist Party has been becoming less communist ever since at least when Deng Xiaoping took over. These days, it is not meaningfully Communist at all.

In fact, if it were to rename itself ‘The Chinese Capitalist Party’, the description would probably actually be more accurate (although clearly imperfect).

But instead, they still want to keep clinging to the title ‘Communist’. This is odd to me. Maybe it just reveals my biases, but at least by my estimate of the ‘polite society’ metric, Communism has some pretty toxic brand capital – the forced labour camps, the gulags, the man-made famines, the hundred-odd million corpses piled up over the course of the 20th century. It’s not as toxic as the ‘Fasicm’ or ‘Nazi’ brands, of course (in public perception at a least, regardless of whether you think the relative ranking is deserved).  But if you just wanted to convey a sense of ‘caring about the workers and the poor’, what about ‘Socialist’ or ‘Social’? Surely that would be an improvement.It’s almost as if the Republican Party wanted to use its current policies but refer to itself as the Nazi Party.

My guess is that this is mainly due to wanting to maintain the legitimacy of the current regime by implying a historical continuity in the lineage of power (to disguise the almost 180 degree turn in some of the policies). How else do you explain the cultish devotion to images of Mao, notwithstanding that Mao would probably have a fit if he saw the current policies being implemented by the current ‘Communist’ party?

The best description to me of the current Chinese government, at least domestically, is ‘like Singapore in a number of its attitudes towards policy, but more corrupt and with a more puzzling internal party mechanism’.
But ironically, unlike the Democratic Republic of Congo, I think this current labeling does fool more people than just the rubes. I imagine it colors a fair bit of the instinctive hostility to the Chinese government in the west,  at least to extent that they continue to pay obeisance idolize a bankrupt and depraved ideology, even as they disavow it through their actions.

In other words, their actions have actually justified jettisoning what seems to me to be a disastrous linkage, but they cling to it tightly.

I guess they just don’t think that Communism is such a loathsome thing to be associated with. I’d like to think they’re totally wrong, but depressingly I’m not so sure.

Friday, July 12, 2013

On Shanghai

-One of the classic experiments in psychology to indicate overconfidence is to ask people to self-rate their driving ability. Nearly everybody is ‘above average’. Part of this is certainly everyone thinking they’re better than everyone else, but part of it is also people disagreeing on what it means to be a good driver. Shanghai really illustrates this distinction quite sharply. The drivers are not ‘good’ drivers in the sense of being safe and prudent. Instead, it’s hair-raising – squeezing  in between cars, non-stop games of chicken with buses and other cars trying to merge, motorbikes regularly just breezing through red lights while pedestrians are walking at a cross-walk. But in another sense, the drivers are highly skilled in their ability to navigate these hazards without crashing more often. The number of times my taxi driver would be totally comfortable driving maybe 10cm away from another car trying to merge was outrageous. And the games of chicken always end at the last minute, but without the driver seeming noticeably put out. I would be freaking the hell out long before.

-It is fascinating to watch the behaviour of the native Chinese in China versus the native Chinese when in America. The latter tend to be quiet, incredibly polite and soft-spoken, and give off a strong vibe of wanting to avoid causing offence. But in Shanghai, people yell and shout all the time, often in ways that make it difficult to tell if the people are irritated at each other, boisterous, or simply have difficulty controlling their volume. Their faces don’t necessarily indicate anger, but the other parts of their body language seem oddly loud and confrontational.

-The notion of body image is very different from the US, particularly among the men. I didn't see anybody that looked like they lifted weights, and few that looked like they even did regular exercise. Notwithstanding this, some of the men have a tendency when hot to simply lift their t-shirt up to expose their stomach. The men that would tend to do this on average had a slight pot belly, making it a hilarious image of not-giving-a-@#$%.

-To my mind, skyscrapers have enormous positive externalities simply in terms of producing interesting vistas. Shanghai has a particularly excellent skyline. The guidebooks wax lyrical about the elegant historical buildings near the Bund, with their classical early 20th century architecture. But the people, both Chinese and foreign alike, have voted with their eyes, which are all turned towards the massive skyscrapers of Pudong. They are right to do so. A hundred storey glass and steel structure is an amazing sight, and a fitting tribute to man’s mastery over a world that cares not one whit whether we perish or not.

-If I had to describe the city briefly, it would be thus: imagine Singapore, but ten times bigger, and considerably more chaotic.

-Inspecting the boarding passes and flight times for my flights from Beijing to Shanghai and Shanghai to Hong Kong reinforces in my mind that I have not the foggiest notion of Chinese geography, including even basic questions about how large the place is.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Mourning the Loyalist Cause

As a tribute to the dying hours of the National Holiday over here, everyone who hasn't yet read it should read the great Thomas Hutchinson's 'Strictures Upon the Declaration of Independence'. It is long, but I promise you it is worth it. You may be surprised to find that the best description ever written of the Declaration of Independence is from someone who was deeply skeptical of the entire affair.

Strictures Upon the Declaration of Independence is also a wonderful secret handshake of sorts, because my strong guess is that nearly everyone who has read it is no more than one degree removed from a Mencius Moldbug fan.

Egypt and the Endless Wellspring of Western Optimism

So the Military in Egypt decided they'd had enough of the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government and removed them in a coup.

Firstly, can you blame them?

This Business Insider article from May details quite well exactly how screwed the country has gotten since the Muslim Brotherhood took over in the glorious Arab Spring. Some highlights:
Homicide rates have tripled since 2011
The number of armed robberies rose from 233 in 2010 to 2,807 in 2012.
Brotherhood president Morsi declared no court is authorized to overturn the president's decisions.
And on, and on, and on...

Should these events have come as a surprise?

The average westerner, to the extent that they think about the matter at all, is convinced that democracy is both an inherent moral good and an effective intrumental good. It is morally just to put matters to a vote, and doing so produces outcomes that will be judged as good even aside from the manner of decision.

The reactionary viewpoint tends to view democracy as inherently a moral neutral - what does it matter if things are voted on? Is it better than just having a wise king decide on what he thinks is the best outcome? And in terms of the practical angle, it tends to produce permanent social conflict - the Cold Civil War, in John Derbyshire's description.

Still, a Cold Civil War is a hell of a lot better than a hot civil war. The current state of the west, however decayed, is still rather pleasant. And the governance, while sclerotic and disfunctional, works way better better than most non-democratic places in the world.

But even a passing familiarity of places that have tried to implement democratic systems will reveal plenty of places that actually got significantly worse once people started voting (Zimbabwe, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq), and way more that certainly didn't improve (see: all of Africa, nearly all of the Middle East).

So what to make of it?

A skeptic's middle ground might be to simply note that democracy is a tool whose outcomes depend entirely on the quality of the people voting and what they're minded to vote for. If you have civilised people voting for their best estimate of what will be in the overall national interest, then it will probably turn out pretty well. Then again, if you have a population of civilised people who are looking out for the national interest, your country will probably turn out pretty well even if they're not voting (see: Singapore).

But if you have people minded to vote for tribalism, or for tyrannical religious rule, or to attack and drive out minorities, or to eat the rich, or to start endless wars with their next-door-neighbours... well, then that's what you'll get.

Sometimes, you can shrug this off as a national comeuppance - if people want stupidity, they deserve to get it.

But what about when a majority votes to oppress the minority (e.g. the Copts)? Do the Copts 'deserve' their fate for simply not being numerically superior? Someone has to be a minority group, after all.

The real question is whether it is predictable that certain national populations are likely to view voting as an excuse to impose a tribal or religious totalitarianism.

Of course, to even begin to answer that question, you'd need to be willing to contemplate the possibility of such a thing as 'national character'.

And since nobody is willing to do that, when democracy seems to lead to disaster, it must be posited that there was some flaw in the voting or political process that prevented righteousness prevailing. This is No True Scotsman meets Whig History on steroids - the good are always more numerous than the evil, and so elections will always produce good outcomes, unless they're thwarted by some evil group. The protesters in Tahrir square must all be freedom-loving democrats, notwithstanding that they seem to keep raping female reporters that stray too close.

In other words, the answer to disastrous outcomes following elections is always more elections:
As acting leader, Mr Mansour will be assisted by an interim council and a technocratic government until new presidential and parliamentary elections are held. No details were given as to when the new polls would take place.
Second verse, same as the first.

Ex ante, I wouldn't have thought that Egypt was a particularly bad candidate for democratic elections, at least as far as third world countries go (certainly more so than Afghanistan). But it keeps not working out that way. At some point, it must be considered whether in Egypt, Liberty and Democracy are at inherent odds with each other.

This is Egypt under liberty but not democracy.

This is Egypt under democracy but not liberty.

The more things change...

In Egypt, a Dutch female reporter who was reporting on demonstrations in Tahrir Square was savagely raped. Apparently she was an intern covering the protests for Egyptian TV.

Lest you think this is just targeting western female reporters, the protesters are sportingly equal-opportunity when it comes to their rape targets. They've raped up to 91 women in the past 4 days, with reports saying they attacked a grandmother and a seven-year-old child.

This kind of thing is obviously tragic and repulsive.

And yet, this has happened so many times now that it's approaching a farce.

Back in October, I reported that female reporters covering protests in Tahrir Square were getting raped. And this was already thoroughly predictable at that time. It had already previously happened here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

Are you starting to see a pattern?

What in the name of all that is holy are news organisations doing sending female reporters into Tahrir Square? I know that the modern zeitgeist is that apparent differences between the sexes are entirely due to discrimination and that women are entirely as capable of doing any job as men.

Purely for the sake of argument, let's assume that this statement is largely true.

Do you think that at some point the equality fetishists might consider that men and women reporters at least may not be equally attractive rape targets for vicious third world mobs?

Or even if this possibility didn't occur to you immediately, do you think that after, what, the hundred-and-something-th such occurrence, you might at least partly reconsider your hypothesis?

I can only think of two possible reasons why as a female reporter you'd still sign up to report on protests in Tahrir Square.

One is that you're tragically and hopelessly naive about the darker aspects of human nature.

The other is that you have been paying no attention whatsoever to what's been going on at these protests.

Both possibilities suggest that you're probably in the wrong line of work.