17 December, 2010

Playing Around With Google Ngram

Google Labs has released a cool new tool: Google Ngram Viewer. CNET News explains how it works:

Google's Ngram Viewer: A time machine for wordplay
Lancey Whitney. CNET News. 17 December 2010.

Courtesy of the folks at Google Labs, Ngram Viewer can work its analysis as a result of Google's sometimes contentious digitization of vast quantities of books--more than 15 million since the project began in 2004. The Ngram tool draws on what the company calls "a subset of that corpus" totaling more than 5 million books, around 4 percent of all the books ever published. By tracing the 500 billion or so unique words that show up in those 5 million books, the tool can offer a glimpse into their history and popularity over the years.

Ngram Viewer works rather simply. After you enter a word or phrase (up to five words), the tool displays a graph charting how frequently your term has appeared in books over that half a millennium. By default, the Ngram Viewer taps into books written in English. But you can change that to a different "corpus" or category of books, such as American English, British English, English Fiction, Chinese, French, German, Russian, or Spanish.

You can vary the years tracked, all the way from 1500 to 2008 or anywhere in between. Providing a wide range of years gives you more of an overview, while narrowing the years lets the tool graph a word's usage in a more granular fashion year by year.

You can enter multiple terms to compare their popularity. For example, typing the two terms "frankfurter" and "hot dog" shows that frankfurter's usage has remained steady over the years, but the hot dog has continued to jump in popularity since the early 1920s.
This has the potential to be a great quantitative research tool. Here are some of the more interesting graphs I've developed after fiddling with Ngram for the better part of an hour:

International Affairs

Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, and Beijing, 1900-2008

Communism, 1900-2008
Deterrence and Detente, 1950-2008 

Social Change

Negro and African American, 1900-2008

'hat', 1900-2008

IBM and Microsoft, 1940-2008
Language Use

Thee, Thou, Ye, and You, 1550-1700

Intellectual Change

Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, On War, and the Art of War, 1830-2008

I encourage my readers to play around with Ngram for a bit and report any interesting findings.

13 December, 2010

Notes From All Over (13/12/2010) and Assorted Miscellany

 I normally devote Notes From All Over posts to off-site material worth reading. This post shall be slightly different. As my computer access is is at the moment limited I shall use this post  to relate a few short thoughts on the issues of the day that would have otherwise have been published in separate posts, and shall place a few of the more notable 'Notes' at the end. 

1. Wikileaks is the flavor of the day; it seems that every expert and layman on the internet has proclaimed his or her view of the leak and its contents. The curious explosion of interest in Wikileaks and the documents it has released has been amusing to behold. Wikileaks is something of a Rorschach test for America's punditry and IR literati. Examples are easy to spot.  When Glenn Greenwald declares that the media's reaction to Wikileaks proves "there are few countries in the world with citizenries and especially media outlets more devoted to serving, protecting and venerating government authorities than the U.S." you can be sure that this is not a new conclusion formed after a reasoned examination of evidence newly available because of the leak, but an affirmation of a long held and much cherished belief in the servility of the American media. Those who distrust Prime Minister Putin's intentions thought the characterization of Mr. Putin as "Batman" to President Medvedev's "Robin" as brilliant; on the other handthose who have long decried Western perceptions of Russia as ill-informed and biased  sniveled at the "tiresome tropes and character assessments... lacking in sophistication " found within the cables. Latin American hand Boz (of Blogging by Boz fame) provides one of the more telling examples of this sort: in a post published last week he looks at the principle cable dealing with the 2009 Honduran coup. He highlights four radically different interpretations of the cable's meaning - interpretations which exactly match the view each analyst had before the cable was leaked!

 In the end this is what the brouhaha over Wikileaks amounts to. Precious little was revealed by the documents' release; a sharp observer of international politics will tell you that all of the 'revelations' trumpeted by the newspapers had already been reported by these same newspapers months ago. Containing no new information, the leaks are (by and large) a way for talking heads to validate previous predictions and existing presuppositions. A Wikileaks dump teaches us little about the world but much about those who pontificate about it.


2. An interesting response to my post on the EU debt crises, "A Dark Cloud Over Europe" was posted on facebook. A friend took issue with my claim that "if the Eurozone manages to survive then Europeans can look forward to nothing more but the loss of yet more freedoms to faceless EU bureaucrats and bankers", asserting that the many benefits the EU brought much to the European community could not be so easily discounted. My reply is worth repeating here:
The Euro gives many things. It lets a whole bunch of small countries act as a unitary entity on the world stage, making Europe as a whole a major player on that stage. It provides a sense of stability. It gives politicians the tools to kick doomsday down the road a bit more.  
But doomsday still must come. 
International standing, influence, and power are over rated. I have come to the conclusion that America would be much better off if we had less of all three; while it is not mine to decide, I imagine the same holds true for most of Europe. There is no room in Rome for both a Caesar and a Cato.

Stability and integration serve the interests of the great at the expense of the small. Ireland is the great example here - had they more control over their own markets, had they been able to use a currency as they wished, then this particular crisis would not have happened (
or at least, it would not have been half as bad).The EU sets its Euro policies to help Germany and France; smaller economies get dragged along beside them

Of course, Germany and France make amends by bailing out these small countries once they have been ground into the mud. But see how it is done! German taxpayers end up paying for the toxic investments made on the part of bankster and financiers across the continent, whilst the power Irishmen take the brunt of the cost, their entire safety net cut from under them. Germans pay, the Irish pray, and the bankers get to play.

That is the real problem with the EU. It doesn't represent the interests of its member states, or the citizens thereof. Its officials consist of a globalized pan-European elite , richer than most and with a vital stake in Euro integration. No wonder the bankers like the EU so much - they *are* the EU! Not too different from America, actually. Conservatives like to talk about how bad it is if America were like Europe - they have it all wrong. The real problem is that Europe is becoming like America! A great plutocratic machine dominated by multinational monopolies and utterly unaccountable bureaucrats.

The difference between the two is that America's plutarchy is much harder to get rid of. Texas cannot pull the plug on the entire Union. But in Europe - well, just how many more countries do you think the Germans are willing to bail out? The German people only need to say "no" once and the entire house of cards comes toppling down. Armageddon can only be put off for so long.

3. Sylvia Longmire, the security analyst and Mexico hand who writes Mexico's Drug War: Border Violence Analysis, has published her first op-ed. As with most of her work, it is excellent and well worth reading. You can find it here:
Sylvia Longmire. CNN Online. 9 December 2010.

Ms. Longmire's op-ed is similar in both form and content to a piece I wrote earlier this summer. Given the current state of affairs in Northern Mexico it may be worth reading a second time.

T. Greer. The Scholar's Stage. 24 June 2010.

 4. Two of my favorite bloggers, Razib Khan of Gene Expression and Nick Nielson of Grand Strategy: The View From Oregon, have been producing solid content since my last Notes From All Over. The two bloggers share many similarities: both have rather eccentric tastes, sometimes blogging about economics and history, sometimes philosophy and epistemology, and other times genetics or geometry. They both also manage to write at least one new post a day - a great achievement in my eyes, given the quality of what they produce. Here are some of the more interesting posts each has written over the last few weeks.

First Mr. Khan:

Taking the End of the Age Seriously
Razib Khan. Gene Expression. 27 November 2010.

Men at Work: Hoes, Ploughs, and Steel
Razib Khan. Gene Expression. 2 December 2010.

Was the Medieval European Peasant Wealthier Than an African?
Razib Khan. Gene Expression. 6 December 2010.

Admissions of Illiberalism
Razib Khan. Gene Expression. 8 December 2010.

The Unbearable "Whiteness" of Science
Razib Khan. Gene Expression. 9 December 2010.

Verbal vs. Mathematical Aptitude in Academics
Razib Khan. Gene Expression. 10 December 2010.

Now Mr. Nielson:

 Tit For Tat
Nick Nielson ("Geopoliticratus"). Grand Strategy: The View From Oregon. 6 November 2010

Cronyism With Chinese Characteristics
Nick Nielson ("Geopoliticratus"). Grand Strategy: The View From Oregon. 30 November 2010

The Aftermath of War
Nick Nielson ("Geopoliticratus"). Grand Strategy: The View From Oregon. 6 December 2010.

On a Definition of Grand Strategy
Nick Nielson ("Geopoliticratus"). Grand Strategy: The View From Oregon. 7 December 2010.

The Poverty Affect
Nick Nielson ("Geopoliticratus"). Grand Strategy: The View From Oregon. 10 December 2010.

5.  For singularity theorists:

The AI Box Experiment

That is all folks!

07 December, 2010

Out For a Bit

A rather nasty virus has taken my primary computer out of action. Blogging will be sparse until it is back up and running.

02 December, 2010

Historical Smack-down

Last month Zenpundit brought to my attention an interesting debate between military historian  Lt. Col. Robert Bateman and classicist Victor Davis Hanson. The topic up for debate was Carnage and Culture, the magnum opus of Mr. Hanson's career. For those unfamiliar with the work, the thesis of Carnage and Culture is stated eloquently on its fifth page:   

"for the past 2,500 years…there has been a peculiar practice of Western warfare, a common foundation and continual way of fighting that has made Europeans the most deadly soldiers in the history of civilization.
--Victor David Hanson, Carnage and Culture (New York: 2001), p. 5.

According to Mr. Hanson, Western societies possess a unique cultural affinity for rationality, free enterprise, civic militarism, individual initiative, and decisive, winner-takes-all engagements. This set of cultural dispositions have shaped the way Western armies wage war since the time of the Greeks - and since the time of the time of the Greeks Western armies have been the most lethal on the battlefield. Those asking why "the West has beaten the Rest" need look no further than the battlefields where the Rest were beaten.

According to LTC Bateman, this is all nonsense. His critique of Carnage and Culture (along with Hanson's response) can be found below:

I do not recommend reading the opening or concluding remarks of either gentleman, for they consist of nothing more than vile attacks ad hominem. Their assaults on the others' character serve only to degrade their own; I am afraid that any sense of respect I once had for either man has been lost. However, parts II and III of each man's argument do not suffer from these deficiencies. Found therein are the arguments worth reading.

I found the arguments penned by LTC Bateman far the more convincing. This may be a case of confirmation bias; when I first read Carnage and Culture I came to very similar conclusions. I read the book as a member of a long-distance reading circle that had chosen the book for that month's group discussion; the review I submitted to the group is perhaps the most savage I have ever written. I subsequently posted it to Amazon.com; those interested in my critique of Mr. Hanson's work can find it here.

In the discussion that followed another member of the reading circle offered a rather insightful observation on  the book's major shortcoming, and his point is worth repeating here: Mr. Hanson's dogmatic insistence that Western armies have always been the most lethal is not only impossible to defend, but is not necessary to prove Mr. Hanson's broader thesis. As my review notes, any claim that Western kingdoms and powers dominated the battlefield between the fall of Rome and the rise of Imperial Spain is fantasy. Yet Western powers did not just lose military preeminence during the Middle Ages - they also lost most of the cultural and societal  values Hanson claims are necessary to maintain this eminence! When the Roman Empire fell it was defended by mercenaries and barbarians, not yeoman citizens. The armies of the Byzantines and feudal kingdoms were dominated by cataphracts and mounted knights, not massed infantry. Byzantine commanders were famous for eschewing decisive battle in favor of diplomatic stratagem; the campaigns of feudal kings are marked by limited sieges designed not to annihilate, but to convince other Lords to switch their allegiance. The Middle Ages can be called many things, but a high point in the history of Western reason and enterprise is not one of them. Mr. Hanson's dogmatism forces him to make just such claims. Were he willing to admit that Western commitment to these values varied with time and place, his thesis would be much easier to defend. Alas, Hanson is unwilling to grant such concessions, and his entire work suffers for it. 

01 December, 2010

A Dark Cloud Over Europe

Read this:

Ireland's Debt Servitude
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. The Telegraph. 30 November 2010.

Having done so, please watch this:

My comment: It has become increasingly clear that the fate of the Euro project will be decided in the next few months. Even the Union's strongest defenders (much less its elected and appointed officials!) admit that if the current crisis is not quickly resolved the Euro may fall. All eyes now turn to Iberia, but my heart goes out to all of the citizens of the dozen countries that make up the EU. They are faced with two futures, both unpalatable and grim. If the Euro fails and the EU implodes then a deepening recession would be inevitable; if the Eurozone manages to survive then Europeans can look forward to nothing more but the loss of yet more freedoms to faceless EU bureaucrats and bankers.


The Euro Crisis: A contagious Irish disease?

The Economist. 25 November 2010.

EU to Ireland: Do You Want Your Pensions or Your Banks?
P.O. Niell. A Fitsfull of Euros. 29 November 2010.

First Greece, Then Ireland: Europe's Debt Problem has Gone From Bad to Worse
Phil Adrick. The Telegraph. 27 November 2010.