Daniels on bogus illnesses

Anthony Daniels (a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple) on “bogus illnesses” and their relationship to tort law.

Miracles are usually taken to mean that saints or relics cause miraculous improvements, but the tort law system causes miraculous deterioration in people. According to this law, if a person does you wrong by act, omission or negligence, and you suffer from it, you are entitled to compensation. And this sounds like a natural justice, but as we know – anything that can be corrupted by perverse incentives will be corrupted by perverse incentives.

It is in the power of any man to exaggerate what he has suffered, and continues to suffer. And in this case, the alleged injury – namely, whiplash – exists only in those countries in which the sufferer of it can be legally compensated for it. It does not exist in those jurisdictions where it is not recognized as an injury that can be compensated.

Apart from a slight soreness of the neck for a day or two, in other jurisdictions people get better straight away. But not in England or America.

Are you as busy as you think?

Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.

– Laura Vanderkam, Are you as busy as you think?

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

Death comes for all of us. For us, for our patients: it is our fate as living, breathing, metabolizing organisms. Most lives are lived with passivity toward death — it’s something that happens to you and those around you. But Jeff and I had trained for years to actively engage with death, to grapple with it, like Jacob with the angel, and, in so doing, to confront the meaning of a life. We had assumed an onerous yoke, that of mortal responsibility. Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

– Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

WikiLeaks spreads truth

This piece was published in The Collegian (Grove City College) on December 10, 2010. I was 19 years old when I wrote it. I’m 25 now, and it has once again become relevant.

WikiLeaks.org, media organization of journalist Julian Assange, came under harsh criticism last week for its recent and ongoing release of sensitive United States diplomatic cables. Firmly condemned by several prominent politicians, some called for Assange’s arrest, as secrets of American foreign policy are being made available to every Internet user in the world.

At first glance, it is easy to condemn the methods WikiLeaks employed as it exposed sensitive government material. Echoing the world’s most powerful political figures has always been the easy way out when faced with this sort of moral dilemma.

But the mark of the exceptional man has always been to look beyond first impressions to the underlying truth. In this case, even the most basic investigation of the WikiLeaks’ vision should be enough to convince the strongest critic of the vital importance of preserving and encouraging this new species of journalism.

A healthy free press has historically been the common man’s most powerful defense against the abuses of oppressive government. Indeed, the unique liberty enjoyed by the modern journalist has brought the poorest of people a medium of expression unparalleled in all world history. The dignity of the individual, human rights, and a vicious hate of injustice have no roots in despotic government or powerful regimes, but in the pens of sincere and concerned activists.

Julian Assange recognized this when he formed WikiLeaks in 2006. “The aim of WikiLeaks” he said, “is to achieve just reform around the world and do it through the mechanism of transparency.”

In this he has been very successful. WikiLeaks has received praise from such organizations as the Index on Censorship and Amnesty International for its work in exposing underground human rights violations. It has also served as a blueprint for other journalists seeking to use the Internet to breach the confidentiality of fraudulent establishments to protect human life and dignity.

But when WikiLeaks turned its sights toward the U.S. last week, revealing dishonesty at the federal level, its credibility as a media agency went down the drain. Almost unanimously, Western politicians condemned WikiLeaks, some even going so far as to call for Assange’s assassination. They argue that his efforts endangered innocent lives. Sarah Palin, for example, named him “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands,” and she was joined by others calling for his eventual execution.

But what is the press worth if its operation is subject to government regulation? If government is allowed to silence the press with the force of law, accountability is lost and the government becomes their own interpreter.

Many will argue, however, that secrecy in diplomacy is necessary to ensure an efficient international system. This is a reasonable argument in the modern context; the status quo rests on an intricate network of secrets and political back-dealing.

But as reformers, these journalists’ vision transcends boundaries, seeking a society free from dependence on fragile confidentiality. “It shouldn’t really be ‘should something be kept secret?’” Assange said. “I would rather it be thought, ‘who has a responsibility to keep certain things secret, and who has a responsibility to bring matters to the public?’ Those responsibilities fall on different players. And it is our responsibility to bring matters to the public.”

Just as international politics evolves, so must investigative journalism. WikiLeaks represents the next step in the evolution of the press to maintain its role as the guardian of truth in a world of increasingly intricate politics. If the national interest overrides the role of truth in the world, we are very hopeless indeed – the common man most of all. In this age when the plight of the individual can appear exceedingly insignificant amidst the web of excessive political activity, the free press is desperately needed.

It is only to be expected that the world’s most powerful regimes would condemn the revelation of truth. But it is up to us whether we will consider the facts as they exist, or refuse to accept all who might expose our faults. If we cannot compete with the truth, are we to kill its messenger? Truth is worthless if accepted selectively.

Congressman Ron Paul put it this way: “In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”

Me on the “uber of giving”

Me at FEE.org yesterday:

That’s the key here—the difference that makes DonorSee an actual revolution in the way people give to the overseas poor. The app crowdsources fundraising and rewards aid workers who devise the most rewarding and effective ways to raise money. Almost like Reddit, users promote posts and projects they like the best—a function of the uploaders’ creativity and the details of the project itself.

Read the full article.

How to find a lost Android phone

Ever lost your phone? It’s the worst. So frustrating.

Google to the rescue (at least, for Android users).

Next time you lose your phone, go to myaccount.google.com. Scroll to the bottom and click “Get started” under Find your phone. Select your phone from the list, and you’ll see what to do next. You can have it ring on full volume even if muted. You can locate it (though if it’s in your house, that’s about as specific as you’ll get). You can even lock your phone or erase the data. It’s amazing, really.

That’s it. Don’t lose your phone. If you do, find it this way.

Just a helpful hint!

 

Online search comes full-circle

From Matthew Capala at TheNextWeb.com.

In his recent takedown of tech culture, Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Startup Bubble, Dan Lyons writes about blogging purely for SEO optimization — basically, great content that is devoid of value but stuffed full of buzzwords to fool Google’s search algorithm.

It’s a funny and probably overblown passage, but it raises a serious point for content marketers; in the past, they’ve had to write around keywords, often at the expense of creating content and telling stories people want to read. The introduction of Google’s Rankbrain could put an end to all this, once and for all.

With it’s honed ability to collect and interpret massive user data from Google.com, Chrome, and Android, Google now allows readers to give feedback — in the form of bounce-backs, click patterns, pogosticking, and click-through-rates — on whether your content piece actually does what it promised to do.

So if you wrote a compelling, educational piece, including a lot of research and diligence, you’re in the clear; but if you wrote a piece that didn’t provide enough value, you could easily lose the top spot if enough readers felt like you were wasting their time.

In short, keyword search is maturing. Google is getting smarter, and “hacking” content to boost its search engine rating isn’t going to work anymore.

In a sense, this is web search coming full-circle. In the very near future, online content creators aren’t going to worry about keywords. They will worry only about providing actual value to real human beings with their content. They won’t think anymore about the medium – AI is taking care of that – and won’t have to optimize their content for anything other than their audience’s preferences.

This is the web, in a sense, becoming “invisible.” The medium of the internet will be harder and harder to detect in the future. I don’t mean we won’t need to connect to WiFi or that we won’t ever have problems logging on. I mean our interaction with web content will be more intimate. There will be less and less “calibrating” that goes on between us and the content we’re consuming. It will speak to us more clearly and more directly.

The effect of this type of AI extends beyond our life online. It affects the evolution of our language and how we communicate with each other. That’s another topic, but suffice it to say that as AI improves our experience consuming web content, which interplays tremendously with language, we’ll see changes (improvements, I think) in language itself. For example, we may search for X, but AI means Google knows that information on Y is actually what we want, even though we don’t know it, and gives us information on Y. This changes the way we think about X and helps us understand better just what it is we’re all trying to get at, and thereby, just what words we really ought to be using.

 

All is speculation

From Philip Carret’s The Art of Speculation:

It is unfortunate that the word “speculation” immediately suggests the word “stocks” to most people. When his neighbors gather at the 19th hole of the local country club and discuss the apparent prosperity of Henry Robinson, the local miller, their natural comment is that Henry is a shrewd businessman. It occurs to no one to say that Henry is a successful speculator, though the flourishing state of his business may be due far more to his correctness in judging the wheat market than to his skill as a manufacturer or merchant. Though the speculation involved in the miller’s operations is incidental to his main business, it is speculation nonetheless.

It’s important to consider the extent of any action’s speculative aspect in light of a risk-reward paradigm. Is something more “speculative” or riskier because it entails a higher likelihood of major loss? It’s likely that such an action also entails a higher likelihood of major gain. This is about expected outcomes – if it’s no lower than alternative, less risky investments, then is it any more “speculative”?

Go with the flow

An interesting selection from Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

For Csikszentmihalyi, the signature experience of experts is flow, a state of complete concentration “that leads to a feeling of spontaneity.” Flow is performing at high levels of challenge and yet feeling “effortless,” like “you don’t have to think about it, you’re just doing it.”

For example, an orchestra conductor told Csikszentmihalyi:

You’re in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. … My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out by itself.

And a competitive figure skater gave this description of the flow state:

It was just one of those programs that clicked. I mean everything went right, everything felt good. …it’s just such a rush, like you could feel it go on and on and on, like you don’t want it to stop because it’s going so well. It’s almost as though you don’t have to think, everything goes automatically without thinking.

Csikszentmihalyi has gathered similar first-person accounts from hundreds of experts. In every field studies, optimal experience is describes in similar terms.