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Frank Loesser and corruption in America

The movie musicals of Frank Loesser (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Guys and Dolls) are a straightforward celebration of a certain sort of peculiarly American form of corruption and adulteration. Both are about people dressing up formally and obeying elaborate forms of etiquette while optimizing for nothing but scamming one another. Highly recommended if you haven't already seen them - Frank Loesser is also a gifted lyricist and the choreography is great, so they're fun to watch.

Guys and Dolls is about how the occasional infusion of a person of integrity leads to the corruption of other people of integrity. Almost all the characters are gamblers, except for people who literally work as Salvation Army missionaries or police officers, and one stage performer. The gambling is made to seem charming since it resembles a children's game (all these grown up children just want to play with cards and dice and watch horses run fast and argue over who’s going to win), but it's clearly compulsive and antisocial behavior. The gamblers all dress up smartly and speak with elaborately formal diction, and in general it's a lot like The Godfather as an extreme romanticization of gangster culture (h/t Cracked) which plays up the honor ethic and sense of style. However, at one point a big out-of-town gambler who's lost a lot of money at a crap game pulls out a gun and a set of blank dice, claiming he remembers which side is which, in order to "win" his money back from the game organizer at gunpoint. So the honor is clearly sort of fake, but there’s some pressure to preserve appearances.

Marlon Brando's male lead character falls in love with a woman working for the Salvation Army, but in the process of being reformed by her, manipulates her into leaving town one night, leaving her mission unstaffed so that some gamblers can use it as a venue, and then lying to the police to protect them. The other male lead, played by Frank Sinatra, finally agrees to get married to throw police off his trail, and in the process gives an engagement speech in front of his fiancée about how happy he is that she's trusting him even though she knows he's scamming her.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is based on a satirical business handbook with the same title, and it's about how to use sociopathic Machiavellian manipulation to advance in a corporation. It's explicitly about clubbiness among graduates of the same college - at one point the young talented protagonist following the book's advice pretends to have gone to the same college as the CEO to curry favor with him. More generally, it is about coordination between people of a privileged class who want to continue extracting monopoly rents together instead of facing real competition - there's a scene where the other executives are meeting in the executive washroom to try and coordinate against the upstart. Near the climax there's a song called "Brotherhood of Man" about how top executives and board members should show solidarity with the rest of privileged middle and upper management and keep employing them them even if they don't add value. The protagonist becomes chairman of the board, and at the very end decides that he'd rather be President of the United States, so he shows up at the White House to implement the exact same strategy.

Increase bottleneck throughput by shortening queues?

I've been reading Yes to the Mess by Frank Barrett, and I'm confused about a queueing problem mentioned in it. He gives an example from Kip Hawley's book Permanent Emergency, which I'll quote here:

The Powder River Basin was the single biggest leverage point for increasing profitability in Union Pacific territory [...] one of the most important coal-producing areas in the United States - a place where our trains always seemed to get bottlenecked at a single line of rail leading to the coal fields while transporting coal to many of the nation's electric power plants.

Because on-time performance from this particular spot was so important - a serious delay in delivery could endanger the supply of electricity to the entire city of Atlanta - Union Pacific spent enormous energies trying to improve efficiency. We rushed high-priority coal cars to a continuous queue just outside the single-point entry to the basin. We advanced new, empty cars right after the previous train moved out loaded with coal. But instead of maximizing efficiency, we were overdoing it. One of the consequences of focusing so much operational and tactical energy on wringing every last second out of the process is that we left ourselves precious little slack when something did go wrong. [...]

It is simply the nature of large, heterogeneous systems like a railroad network to have things go wrong all the time. And as soon as something went wrong with one train, the other trains we'd stacked up behind it were stuck. Lining up all the trains in a row, we realized, had effectively squeezed all room for error out of the system and was slowing down our delivery schedule.

After letting that conundrum soak in, one of our brainstorming teams proposed a solution that directly contradicted the time-maximization mode we'd been toiling in. What if, rather than rushing the empties to the gridlock point, we staged the coal cars far away from the troublesome intersection and then flowed them in, so they arrived when the intersection was clear? Rather than trying to cram in as many priority trains as possible, we dispatched the cars to a collection of holding points dispersed across the railroad, making sure that the Powder River Basin's access point wasn't idle for very long. It worked. Not only did it clear up the gridlock, it also increased the number of daily coal trains by 30 percent. [...]

Another way of thinking about that solution was that railroad dispatchers were building resilience into the process. Previously, we'd put all our eggs in one perfect basket, leaving us no viable secondary options if the basket filled up. It was true that our new system of flowing in trains was not technically as time-efficient as the first system, but by accounting for the time eaten up by unpredictable problems that plague any complex network, it was ultimately more successful.

I don't understand how this can possibly be true.

I understand how this could improve average on-time performance. Keeping all available coal trains queued at the Powder River Basin means that they are not available elsewhere, so if there's a delay at that single bottleneck, it will cascade throughout the network. The first queueing train probably increases utilization of the one coal field line, but the tenth improves performance much less in expectation there, while it could easily improve performance in emptier areas of the network by quite a lot.

What I don't understand is how this could possibly improve throughput at the intersection, unless there's some key factor I'm missing. It's conceivable that the bottleneck could have been overutilized, or that there wasn't just the one line and there was an alternate route that farther-away trains could have gotten to, or that the section of track trains were queueing on was also sometimes needed as an exit, but nothing like that gets mentioned by Hawley as far as I can tell. The claim seems to be, simply, that shorter queues caused higher throughput.

What am I missing?

Some excerpts from Catistotle's Kittycatean Ethics

Every art and every inquiry, and likewise every action and pounce, seems to aim at some red dot, and hence it has been beautifully said that the red dot is that at which all cats aim. But a certain difference is apparent among ends, since some are ways of being at play, while others are certain kinds of works produced, over and above the being-at-play.
[...]
If, then, there is some end of the things we do that we want on account of itself, and the rest on account of this one, and we do not choose everything on account of something else (for in that way the pounces would go beyond all bounds, so that desire would be empty and pointless), it is clear that this would be the red dot, and in fact the reddest dot. Then would not an awareness of it have great weight in one's life, so that, like mousers who see a mouse, we would be more apt to hit on what is needed? But if this is so, one ought to try to get a grasp, at least in outline, of what it is and to what kind of knowledge or capacity it belongs.
[...]
And it would seem to belong to the one that is most governing and most a master art, and politics appears to be of this sort, since it prescribes which kinds of knowledge ought to be in the cities, and what sorts each cat ought to learn and to what extent; also, we see that the most honored capacities, such as mousing, household cattery, and meowing skill, are under this one. Since this capacity makes use of the rest of the kinds of knowledge, and also lays down the law about what one ought to do and from what one ought to refrain, the end of this capacity should include the ends of the other pursuits, so that this end would be the feline red dot. For even if the red dot is the same for one cat and for a city, that of the city appears to be greater, at least, and more complete both to achieve and to preserve; for even if it is achieved for only one cat that is something to be satisfied with, but for a litter or for cities it is something more beautiful and more divine. So our pursuit aims at this, and is in a certain way political.
[...]
Now taking up the thread again, since every kind of knowing and every pounce reach toward some red dot, let us say what it is that we claim politics aims at, and what, of all the dots aimed at by action, is the reddest. In name, this is pretty much agreed about by the majority of cats, for most cats, as well as those who are more refined, say it is being in a box, and assume that living well and doing well are the same thing as being in a box. But about being in a box-what it is-they are in dispute, and most cats do not give the same account of it as the wise. Some cats take it to be something visible and obvious, such as pleasure or wealth or honor, and different ones say different things, and even the same cat often says different things; when sick one thinks it is health, but when poor, that it is wealth, and when they are conscious of ignorance in themselves, cats marvel at those who say it is something grand and above them. And some cats believe that, besides these many red dots, there is some other red dot, by itself, which is also responsible for the being red of all these other dots.

PSA on outing

If your friend is out about something to one group (say, their friends) and closeted to another group (e.g. their family or workplace) it's generally wrong to out them without their consent. If you want to avoid doing this, you should not tag or full-name them in public posts that refer to the thing they're closeted about, even on social media with privacy settings such as Facebook. If you do this, anyone who searches for them will be able to find your post. There is no privacy setting that can prevent this from being searchable, at least on Facebook. Nor does blocking such posts from their wall prevent them from being searchable on yours.

Examples of things people may be closeted about in some contexts include but are not limited to sexual orientation (e.g. homosexuality or bisexuality), gender identity (e.g. being transgender), atheism, polyamory, mental illness or disability (e.g. having bipolar or depression), or physical illness or disability.

They can't say this in public posts, because the fact that there is a secret is already more info than they want to disclose. But I don't have that kind of problem - so it falls on me to post this sort of PSA.

On the display of negative emotions

Seems like some people are getting the impression that I'm especially unhappy right now, from reading my blog.

I've been thinking that maybe I should write some happier posts, but problems are where the best insights are at. Also my posting tends to be at least a couple of months behind current my state, since things take a while to crystallize, and sometimes are about lifelong stuff I've only just figured out rather than new problems.

I seem to systematically underestimate the extent to which, when I examine tacit assumptions by making them explicit, people will assume that I endorse them. I'm often consciously trying to make a wrong narrative explicit as a way of "naming the demon" in order to acquire power over it. I try and write about my problems in hopes that other people with the same thing will recognize themselves and feel less alone, and may be more empowered once they have language to describe it.

I also seem to underweight the extent to which, if I note an emotion, people will assume that it's a good summary of how I feel about things in my life. I'm a Skroderider. I've worked hard lately to have subtler and swifter awareness of my emotions, but the emotions of the moment still don’t feel like the real me.

My recent post on community might have read as sadder than I was, because I felt like sad was a more polite emotion to express than annoyed. It never occurred to me that this would cause people to reach out, out of concern. I'm grateful for their care and attentiveness. Also I'm fine.

My life so far: motives and morals

This is the story of my life, through the lens of motivations, of actions I took to steer myself towards long-term outcome, of the way the self that stretches out in causal links over long periods of time produced the self I have at this moment. This is only one of the many ways to tell the story of my life. Continue reading

Idolatry taboo as integrity constraint

I have a lot of reasons for doing things, but the iron law that governs all the others is integrity. Things that help my friends are good, things that promote human flourishing and alleviate suffering are good, but when there’s even a whiff of embracing falsehood or ignoring the facts in an action, the gates slam shut against it.

But that just describes - it doesn’t explain. Why am I this way. Was I born with a commitment to the truth above all else? Is it in my genes? Or was I taught it? My parents seem hold other values like tradition or caring about equally, not assigning such an unique place of honor to epistemic integrity, which is evidence against both heredity and direct acculturation as explanations.

My hypothesis is that I have a basic impulse to systematize my understanding of things, and that when I learned about Jewish idolatry taboos, I generalized this into an abhorrence of falsehood. Continue reading

Three puzzles

3-RFTEKUTS
7-FTDLITHOS
What is the next item in the sequence?

My partner's name is Kitty. Our children's names are Bishop and Cantor. What is my name?

Eight American tourists were vacationing in the Lesser Antilles. They were staying on a large island, but decided to take an overnight trip to a smaller island that was supposed to have spectacular beaches, and was less crowded because it was harder to get to. The day before they were supposed to take a boat over to the smaller island, one couple fell ill, but the others continued on. When they arrived, they found there was only one bed-and-breakfast inn on the island, which already had many guests - seven Germans, four Italians, and five Swedes. Fortunately, there was room at the inn to accommodate the Americans, so after enjoying sunset on the beach, they stayed overnight at the inn. To their surprise, when they came into the common area for breakfast, the Swedes and Italians were not present. The Germans were there, but were not eating - they looked full. One of the Americans asked one of the Germans whether their number had already eaten the breakfast served by their hosts, and the German indicated in her native tongue that they had not. Why were the Americans terrified?

Two free verse poems in the bitter aesthetic

I’m in Portland, OR right now. I came here to try to absorb by some osmotic process the local culture of self-cultivation, people engaging in projects not because the projects are useful or justified, but because they want to. People living out their aesthetic vision for their lives. But when I got here, I found that it is not Rivendell, where lonely Elf-friends can heal their wounds, but the Shire. You can visit and be welcome, but you won’t really be a part of it. It’s not Elfsongs and stories and public feasts, but people living out their private lives in communities. You can visit a person in Portland, but you can’t really visit Portland.

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The cost of cryopreservation

I put together a spreadsheet for a couple of friends calculating how much cryonics costs, and I figured I'd publish it here in case it's useful for anyone else. I can't promise that these numbers are perfect, but this should help you get at least a rough handle on how much cryonics really costs.

Cryonics costs present value worksheet

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