[Medium] Snowden, Phony hence Traitor?

When you catch someone with a shoddy-but-carefully-curated story, Edward Snowden, producing the mother of bad faith arguments (in effect, lying) while, in addition, facilitating a character assassination (and severe cyberharassment), something very, very sinister about the person emerges that can help answer some fundamental yet still hanging questions.

Continue reading on Medium: medium.com/incerto/snowden-phony-hence-traitor-86ee41197578

[Medium] Foreword to Mark Spitznagel’s book Safe Haven

Santa Marina — Karl Popper — Herman Hesse’s Sidharta — Mutua Muli — Porsche’s no substitute

Santa Marina

In my ancestral village in the Northern Levant, on top of a hill, stands a church dedicated to Santa Marina. Marina is a local saint, though, characteristically, some other traditions claim her –such as Bithynia or other Anatolian provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Read the complete foreword on Medium.

Get the book on Amazon.

[Medium] Foreword for Cut the Knot: Probability Riddles by Alexander Bogomolny

How do you learn a language? There are two routes; the first is to memorize imperfect verbs, grammatical rules, future vs. past tenses, recite boring context-free sentences, and pass an exam. The second approach consists in going to a bar, struggling a little bit and, out of the need to blend-in and integrate with a fun group of people, then suddenly find yourself able to communicate. In other words, by playing, by being alive as a human being. I personally have never seen anyone learn to speak a language properly by the first route. Also, I have never seen anyone fail to do so by the second one.

Read the complete foreword on Medium.

Get the book on Amazon.

[Medium] Lebanon: from Ponzi to Antifragility

About two years before the recent collapse, at a dinner, a then (slow thinking) member of the Lebanese parliament kept bugging me for an economic forecast. There was already some anxiety in the air. My answer was that we were facing imminent financial disaster, but that it was not necessarily bad news, long term. Why? Because such a total collapse could lead to natural responses that are better than the one we would have spontaneously, going from patching bad stuff to patching worse stuff. The lira was artificially kept too strong for any industry to survive and the financial system (the Ponzi) was sucking up all the money and destroying the economic substructure. But my point was that the (unavoidable) collapse would lead to an adaptation, the weaning from chronic foreign “loans” and, possibly, a huge bounce. De-financializing the country was a necessity, and people never do that spontaneously. Nothing was going to be fixed without a collapse. Was I optimistic? pessimistic? He was trying to figure out what I was saying and couldn’t get it as it did not fit his elementary static classification.

Continue reading on Medium: medium.com/@nntaleb/lebanon-from-ponzi-to-antifragility

[Medium] The Masks Masquerade

I want to travel this summer

Incompetence and Errors in Reasoning Around Face Covering

SIX ERRORS: 1) missing the compounding effects of masks, 2) missing the nonlinearity of the probability of infection to viral exposures, 3) missing absence of evidence (of benefits of mask wearing) for evidence of absence (of benefits of mask wearing), 4) missing the point that people do not need governments to produce facial covering: they can make their own, 5) missing the compounding effects of statistical signals, 6) ignoring the Non-Aggression Principle by pseudolibertarians (masks are also to protect others from you; it’s a multiplicative process: every person you infect will infect others).

In fact masks (and faceshields) supplemented with constraints of superspreader events can save us trillions of dollars in future lockdowns (and lawsuits) and be potentially sufficient (under adequate compliance) to stem the pandemic. Bureaucrats do not like simple solutions.

Continue reading on Medium: medium.com/incerto/the-masks-masquerade

Medium: No, Lebanese is not a “dialect” of Arabic

The anachronism shown. The Phyla and Waves Models of Classification by Semiticists is not very scientific.

It would be an anachronism to assert that Italian is a dialect of Catalan, but safe to say that Italian comes from Latin. But when it comes to Lebanese (more generally NorthWestern Levantine), the “politically correct” Arabist-think-tank view is that is is derived from Arabic (Lebanese “dialect” of Arabic) to accommodate sensitivities — even linguists find arguments to violate the arrow of time to serve the interest of panArabism. In situations where there are similarities between a word used in Leb and Arabic, they insist it comes from Arabic not from a common root. (Most Lebanese are confused by diglossia as one is not supposed to write in the spoken language).

https://medium.com/east-med-project-history-philology-and-genetics/no-lebanese-is-not-a-dialect-of-arabic-e95320c164c

Medium: The Logic of Risk Taking

The difference between 100 people going to a casino and one person going to a casino 100 times, i.e. between (path dependent) and conventionally understood probability. The mistake has persisted in economics and psychology since age immemorial.

A central chapter that crystallizes all my work. In forth. Skin in the Game
Time to explain ergodicity, ruin and (again) rationality. Recall from the previous chapter that to do science (and other nice things) requires survival but not the other way around?

Consider the following thought experiment.

First case, one hundred persons go to a Casino, to gamble a certain set amount each and have complimentary gin and tonic –as shown in the cartoon in Figure x. Some may lose, some may win, and we can infer at the end of the day what the “edge” is, that is, calculate the returns simply by counting the money left with the people who return. We can thus figure out if the casino is properly pricing the odds. Now assume that gambler number 28 goes bust. Will gambler number 29 be affected? No.

You can safely calculate, from your sample, that about 1% of the gamblers will go bust. And if you keep playing and playing, you will be expected have about the same ratio, 1% of gamblers over that time window.

Now compare to the second case in the thought experiment. One person, your cousin Theodorus Ibn Warqa, goes to the Casino a hundred days in a row, starting with a set amount. On day 28 cousin Theodorus Ibn Warqa is bust. Will there be day 29? No. He has hit an uncle point; there is no game no more.

No matter how good he is or how alert your cousin Theodorus Ibn Warqa can be, you can safely calculate that he has a 100% probability of eventually going bust.

The probabilities of success from the collection of people does not apply to cousin Theodorus Ibn Warqa. Let us call the first set ensemble probability, and the second one time probability (since one is concerned with a collection of people and the other with a single person through time). Now, when you read material by finance professors, finance gurus or your local bank making investment recommendations based on the long term returns of the market, beware. Even if their forecast were true (it isn’t), no person can get the returns of the market unless he has infinite pockets and no uncle points. The are conflating ensemble probability and time probability. If the investor has to eventually reduce his exposure because of losses, or because of retirement, or because he remarried his neighbor’s wife, or because he changed his mind about life, his returns will be divorced from those of the market, period.

We saw with the earlier comment by Warren Buffet that, literally, anyone who survived in the risk taking business has a version of “in order to succeed, you must first survive.” My own version has been: “never cross a river if it is on average four feet deep.” I effectively organized all my life around the point that sequence matters and the presence of ruin does not allow cost-benefit analyses; but it never hit me that the flaw in decision theory was so deep. Until came out of nowhere a paper by the physicist Ole Peters, working with the great Murray Gell-Mann. They presented a version of the difference between the ensemble and the time probabilities with a similar thought experiment as mine above, and showed that about everything in social science about probability is flawed. Deeply flawed. Very deeply flawed. For, in the quarter millennia since the formulation by the mathematician Jacob Bernoulli, and one that became standard, almost all people involved in decision theory made a severe mistake. Everyone? Not quite: every economist, but not everyone: the applied mathematicians Claude Shannon, Ed Thorp, and the physicist J.-L. Kelly of the Kelly Criterion got it right. They also got it in a very simple way. The father of insurance mathematics, the Swedish applied mathematician Harald Cramér also got the point. And, more than two decades ago, practitioners such as Mark Spitznagel and myself build our entire business careers around it. (I personally get it right in words and when I trade and decisions, and detect when ergodicity is violated, but I never explicitly got the overall mathematical structure –ergodicity is actually discussed in Fooled by Randomness). Spitznagel and I even started an entire business to help investors eliminate uncle points so they can get the returns of the market. While I retired to do some flaneuring, Mark continued at his Universa relentlessly (and successfully, while all others have failed). Mark and I have been frustrated by economists who, not getting ergodicity, keep saying that worrying about the tails is “irrational”.

Now there is a skin in the game problem in the blindness to the point. The idea I just presented is very very simple. But how come nobody for 250 years got it? Skin in the game, skin in the game.

It looks like you need a lot of intelligence to figure probabilistic things out when you don’t have skin in the game. There are things one can only get if one has some risk on the line: what I said above is, in retrospect, obvious. But to figure it out for an overeducated nonpractitioner is hard. Unless one is a genius, that is have the clarity of mind to see through the mud, or have such a profound command of probability theory to see through the nonsense. Now, certifiably, Murray Gell-Mann is a genius (and, likely, Peters). Gell-Mann is a famed physicist, with Nobel, and discovered the subatomic particles he himself called quarks. Peters said that when he presented the idea to him, “he got it instantly”. Claude Shannon, Ed Thorp, Kelly and Cramér are, no doubt, geniuses –I can vouch for this unmistakable clarity of mind combined with depth of thinking that juts out when in conversation with Thorp. These people could get it without skin in the game. But economists, psychologists and decision-theorists have no genius (unless one counts the polymath Herb Simon who did some psychology on the side) and odds are will never have one. Adding people without fundamental insights does not sum up to insight; looking for clarity in these fields is like looking for aesthetic in the attic of a highly disorganized electrician.

Continue reading on Medium: https: // medium. com/ incerto / the-logic- of -risk- taking- 107bf41029d3

Medium: How to be Rational about Rationality

[One of the more technical (and optional) chapters, at the end of Skin of the Game]

Rory Sutherland claims that the real function for swimming pools is allowing the middle class to sit around in bathing suits without looking ridiculous. Same with New York restaurants: you think their mission is to feed people, but that’s not what they do. They are in the business of selling you overpriced liquor or Great Tuscan wines by the glass, yet get you into the door by serving you your low-carb (or low-something) dishes at breakeven cost. (This business model, of course, fails to work in Saudi Arabia).

Link: https://medium.com/incerto/how-to-be-rational-about-rationality-432e96dd4d1a

Medium: The insidious racism of Mary Beard and the “diversity” operators

The diversity discourse appears to serve an insidious form of racism and Northern Euro supremacist agenda (with a redefinition of the Western world and a reframing of the classics). Please stop classifying people according to race, and stop creating racial stereotypes and divisions in the name of “diversity”, while doing some smug virtue signaling. Look up “framing” in a decision theory textbook and you can see what I mean. This is no different from funding Al Qaeda headcutters and women-enslavers in Syria in the name of “democracy”.

Read the full piece on Medium: https: // medium. com/ @nntaleb/ the- insidious- racism- of- mary- beard- et- al- 8b6b768b4575