Bearing has a post on gluttony which made what I thought was a very apt observation:
Americans don't grok gluttony because they don't grok sin and human failings in general. We believe in an essential dichotomy: Either a man's failing is his own damn fault, so we stigmatize and punish it, and maybe (if we are religious) call it "sin;" or it is someone else's fault, so we try to pass laws and social programs, and de-stigmatize it and raise awareness. The only difference as you move from Left to Right is which failings are your own damn fault and which failings are someone else's.I was going to write some amplification and summing up, but after a couple tries I realized Bearing's next paragraph is better than anything I'm coming up with:
But the reality is that we each participate, with varying degrees of freedom, in the flaws and failings that nature and society have thrust upon us. Sin and failings beget sin and failings -- sometimes in other people -- so they spread like a disease. And so it can simultaneously be true that a fat person is sick through no fault of her own, and that she struggles with the sin of gluttony.So just go read it.
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The TOF Spot has a post on the coming and passing of the all consuming state. Rather in the way that one sometimes has to half close one's eyes while looking at some very busy image in order to see the underlying pattern come out, OFloinn takes a high level look at several hundred years of history as relating to "the state" and makes patterns pop out. One I was particularly grateful for was his point about how absolutist monarchy was in fact an early modern invention, something which one didn't see in the Middle Ages. It's appalling, how often one runs into the claim that ideas of a limited government grew up as people threw off "medieval" ideas of the absolute power of the monarch.
He also touches on something really interesting near the end as he talks about the way in which centralization of state power hit a natural barrier in the decentralized resistance, making "Big Brother" harder and harder to imagine in the modern world.
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Gabriel Rossman who is guest blogging for Megan McArdle had a fascinating post about the way in which apparent correlations can result from selection factors:
One of Pearl's most interesting deductions is the idea of conditioning on a collider. If a case being observed is a function of two variables then this will induce an artifactual negative correlation between the variables. This is true even if in the broader population there is no correlation (or even a mild positive correlation) between the variables.
For instance, suppose that in a population of aspiring Hollywood actors there is no correlation between acting ability and physical attractiveness. However assume that we generally pay a lot more attention to celebrities than to some kid who is waiting tables while going on auditions. That is, we can not readily observe people who aspire to be actors, but only those who actually are actors. This implies that we need to understand the selection process by which people get cast into films. In the computer simulation displayed below I generated a population of aspiring actors characterized by "body" and "mind," each of which follows a normal distribution and with these two traits being completely orthogonal to one another. Then imagine that casting directors jointly maximize talent and looks so only the aspiring actors with the highest sum for these two traits actually get work in Hollywood. I have drawn the working actors as triangles and the failed aspirants as hollow circles. Among those actors we can readily observe there then will be a negative correlation between looks and talent, even though there is no such correlation in the grand population. If we see only the working actors without understanding the censorship process we might think that there is some stupefaction of being ridiculously good-looking.