End-of-the-World Fiction

October 21st, 2016

Rebecca Onion “ate up” the canon of traditionally literary end-of-the-world science fiction — Alas, Babylon; The Sheep Look Up; Lucifer’s Hammer — and some newly published respectably literary postapocalyptic books — California, The Dog Stars, Station Eleven — and then found Audible recommending something subtly differentPatriots, by James Wesley, Rawles (the comma is intentional):

I didn’t understand that I was making a leap between genres when I purchased Patriots, which turned out to be a best-selling 2009 book of prepper fiction. Downloading it sent me down a new rabbit hole that I have yet to exit. Through prepper fiction, I find myself experiencing a subculture by way of its novels, finding some of its ideals repellent, while slowly — and unhappily — coming to agree with others.

One feature, I found, differentiates prepper fiction from mere apocalypse fiction: lists. Apocalyptic stories sacrifice some details of characters’ survival tactics on the altar of narrative. But in prepper tales, lists are inevitable. I have to quote this whole paragraph, about a survival group’s knife-buying tactics, to give you a sense of how Rawles, a notorious lister, does it:

For skinning knives, most of the members bought standard mass-produced Case and Buck knives, but a few opted for custom knives made by Andy Sarcinella, Trinity Knives, and Ruana. Most of them also bought a Leatherman tool and a CRKT folding knife. For fighting knives, most purchased standard factory produced knives made by Benchmade or Cold Steel. Kevin bought an expensive New Lile Gray Ghost with Micarta grip panels. Against Kevin’s advice, Dan Fong bought a double-edged Sykes-Fairbairn British commando knife. Kevin warned him that it was an inferior design. He preferred knives that could be used for both utility purposes and for combat. He observed that the Fairbairn’s grip was too small, and that the knife’s slowly tapering tip was too likely to break, particularly in utility use. Dan eventually wrapped the knife’s handle with green parachute cord to give it a more proper diameter. Because the Fairbairn did indeed have a brittle tip, Dan did most of his utility knife work with a CRKT folder with a tanto-type point.

The lists are a point of complaint for some reviewers online, but the authors of these books know that they’re writing something that’s a cross between a novel, a shopping list, a survival manual, and a field guide; this is a wholly experimental form, and the results can be awkward. After a while, though, I relaxed into it. Like a high school junior struggling through Moby-Dick’s whaling chapters, the new reader has to realize that prepper fiction’s blend of description and plot is meant to make the minute details of a supercomplex material phenomenon more visible. Those lists soothed me, since they spoke a language I — a cook, a sometime backpacker, and a committed cataloger of household goods — found easy to understand.

Here’s where things take a hard right turn:

Even as these books revel in the virtues of self-reliance, they graphically condemn the uselessness of other people who refuse to help themselves. Inevitably, after a catastrophic event, a prepared protagonist encounters people who just cannot believe that their water isn’t going to come back on or that the government isn’t going to come to bring them their refrigerated insulin.

These sheeple are unreasonable, fussy, picky, and stupid. Are there really people who still can’t understand that grocery stores don’t fill up by magic? In these books, they are legion.


In more than one of these books, the prepper encounters people who expect him to share the resources he’s planned ahead to store. The analogy with communism or socialism is often explicit.


October 20th, 2016

The Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model, or C-WAM, combines an old-fashioned tabletop map — typically about five-feet long and four-feet wide — and pieces with a simple computer database — the Battle Tracker:

The 76-page C-WAM game manual, a copy of which was provided to GovTechWorks under the Freedom of Information Act, contains 27 dice-driven tables.

To keep the wargame playable but realistic, some aspects are simulated abstractly.


Dice tables adjudicate everything from weather to special forces strikes. But the aim is less about specific results than to prove whether or not a concept has merit. “We tell everybody: Don’t focus on the various tactical outcomes,” Mahoney says. “We know they are wrong. They are just approximations. But they are good enough to say that at the operational level, ‘This is a good idea. This might work. That is a bad idea. Don’t do that.’”

In other words, like any good military simulation, the goal is cognitive.


C-WAM was created about eight years [ago] as a solution to a problem: JICM requires a human analyst to create detailed plans for both friendly and enemy forces, which can be fed into the model for adjudication. But sometimes initial plans lacked the detail needed to engage JICM successfully. For example, a combatant command (COCOM) might submit a theater-level plan for evaluation, but leave out specifics, such as whether friendly or enemy forces will attack on the right or left flank, or whether the attacker or defender will emphasize maneuver or rely on artillery. That meant that analysts had to subjectively decide how the battle would be fought.

“Somebody would give an analyst a very high-level document, that says, ‘You’ve got three divisions, they’re attacking in this terrain, here’s the enemy. Go forth and do great things,’” Mahoney says. “But the analyst didn’t know what the campaign looked like, how the terrain might impact operations, how the enemy’s capabilities — or our own — might affect things, the flow of friendly forces into theater and so on.”

Analysts weren’t necessarily equipped to make those decisions.

That’s where CWAM comes in. The game allows military organizations to come up with multiple Courses of Action (COAs) or alternative plans, and then test those out on tabletop to help leaders develop a final battle plan incorporating the best of each COA. Only then is the plan submitted to JICM for a detailed analysis.

Crossroads Center Mall Attack Video

October 19th, 2016

If you watch the surveillance camera video from the Crossroads Center Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, you can learn some lessons:

People DO use the overhand stab in knife attacks. The attacker Dahir Adan certainly did in the initial attack captured in the security video. People instinctively understand that they can strike powerful blows to the vulnerable regions of the upper body using the over hand stab, holding the knife in the ice pick grip. This technique allows the knifer to sink the blade deep into the chest, back, neck and head. At the same time most people recognize that if they launch a frontal assault with the downward stab they are telegraphing their attack such that even untrained people can do much to block the thrust. A cursory study of knife assaults indicates that most downward stab attacks are made from the side and rear for that reason. The attacker will frequently stabilize the victim, that is hold on to him in some fashion to unbalance him and prevent him from evading or warding off the blows. As was the case here. Apparently Adan wanted to stab as many people as he could, so he didn’t spend too much time on any one victim. Just delivering a few stabs and then moving on. This of course clearly devolved to the benefit of the stabbing victims since all survived.

The Crossroads Center Mall is a posted “gun free” zone. Meaning that under state law no civilian concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit holders are allowed to carry their guns on the premises at the behest of the owners and management of the mall. Jason Falconer, the good guy with a gun who stopped the attacks, is a part-time cop from another jurisdiction. He chose to ignore the gun free zone signs and carried his gun into the mall anyway.


In a bizarre turn of events, after being shot several times, Adan advanced on Falconer by walking backwards. Actually it is not uncommon for people being shot to reflexively turn their back to the shooter in a vain effort to protect their vitals. Since action time beats reaction time the shooter will be unable to stop firing when his assailant first shows his back. Then the unfortunate cop or armed citizen will be left with the difficult task of explaining why he shot his assailant in the back.

Falconer moves well, but he ends up tripping while retreating from the charging knifeman.

Black Lies Matter

October 19th, 2016

The Black Lives Matter movement is based on a lie, Heather MacDonald argues:

Last year, the police shot 990 people, the vast majority armed or violently resisting arrest, according to the Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings. Whites made up 49.9 percent of those victims, blacks, 26 percent. That proportion of black victims is lower than what the black violent crime rate would predict.

Blacks constituted 62 percent of all robbery defendants in America’s 75 largest counties in 2009, 57 percent of all murder defendants and 45 percent of all assault defendants, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, even though blacks comprise only 15 percent of the population in those counties.

In New York City, where blacks make up 23 percent of the city’s population, blacks commit three-quarters of all shootings and 70 percent of all robberies, according to victims and witnesses in their reports to the New York Police Department. Whites, by contrast, commit less than 2 percent of all shootings and 4 percent of all robberies, though they are nearly 34 percent of the city’s population.

In Chicago, 80 percent of all known murder suspects were black in 2015, as were 80 percent of all known nonfatal shooting suspects, though they are a little less than a third of the population. Whites made up 0.9 percent of known murder suspects in Chicago in 2015 and 1.4 percent of known nonfatal shooting suspects, though they are about a third of the city’s residents.

Such racially skewed crime ratios are repeated in virtually all American metropolises. They mean that when officers are called to the scene of a drive-by shooting or an armed robbery, they will overwhelmingly be summoned to minority neighborhoods, looking for minority suspects in the aid of minority victims.

Gang shootings occur almost exclusively in minority areas. Police use of force is most likely in confrontations with violent and resisting criminals, and those confrontations happen disproportionately in minority communities.

You would never know it from the activists, but police shootings are responsible for a lower percentage of black homicide deaths than white and Hispanic homicide deaths. Twelve percent of all whites and Hispanics who die of homicide are killed by police officers, compared to 4 percent of black homicide victims.

That disparity is driven by the greatly elevated rates of criminal victimization in the black community. More blacks die each year from homicide, more than 6,000, than homicide victims of all other races combined. Their killers are not the police, and not whites, but other blacks. In Chicago this year through Aug. 30, 2,870 people, mostly black, were shot.

If you believed the Black Lives Matter narrative, you would assume that the assailants of those black victims were in large part cops. In fact, the police shot 17 people, most of whom were threatening lethal force, accounting for 0.6 percent of the total.

Gun-related murders of officers are up 52 percent this year through Aug. 30 compared to last year.

Police critics have never answered the question of what they think non-biased policing data should look like, in light of the vast differences in rates of criminal offending. Blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. Black males between the ages of 14-17 commit gun homicide at nearly 10 times the rate of white and Hispanic male teens combined.

Should police stops, arrests and those rare instances of police shootings nevertheless mirror population ratios, rather than crime ratios?

The Usual You-Go-Girl Fare

October 18th, 2016

The creators of Zootopia explain the original concept and the big story shift that turned the film upside down:

Steve Sailer suggests that it “started out culturally rebellious but then got throttled by the test marketers and executives into the usual You-Go-Girl fare.”

Instructional Videos

October 18th, 2016

Instructional videos are popular and effective, because we’re designed to learn through imitation:

Last year, it was estimated that YouTube was home to more than 135 million how-to videos. In a 2008 survey, “instructional videos” were ranked to be the site’s third most popular content category — albeit a “distant third” behind “performance and exhibition” and “activism and outreach.” More recent data suggest that distance may have closed: In 2015, Google noted that “how to” searches on YouTube were increasing 70 percent annually. The genre is by now so mature that it makes for easy satire.


A 2014 study showed that when a group of marmosets were presented with an experimental “fruit” apparatus, most of those that watched a video of marmosets successfully opening it were able to replicate the task. They had, in effect, watched a “how to” video. Of the 12 marmosets who managed to open the box, just one figured it out sans video (in the human world, he might be the one making YouTube videos).


“We are built to observe,” as Proteau tells me. There is, in the brain, a host of regions that come together under a name that seems to describe YouTube itself, called the action-observation network. “If you’re looking at someone performing a task,” Proteau says, “you’re in fact activating a bunch of neurons that will be required when you perform the task. That’s why it’s so effective to do observation.”


This ability to learn socially, through mere observation, is most pronounced in humans. In experiments, human children have been shown to “over-imitate” the problem-solving actions of a demonstrator, even when superfluous steps are included (chimps, by contrast, tend to ignore these). Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine, puts it this way: “Humans are fundamentally unique not because they are especially clever, not just because they have big brains or language, but because they are capable of extensive and generalised imitation.” In some sense, YouTube is catnip for our social brains. We can watch each other all day, every day, and in many cases it doesn’t matter much that there’s not a living creature involved. According to Proteau’s research, learning efficiency is unaffected, at least for simple motor skills, by whether the model being imitated is live or presented on video.

There are ways to learn from videos better:

The first has to do with intention. “You need to want to learn,” Proteau says. “If you do not want to learn, then observation is just like watching a lot of basketball on the tube. That will not make you a great free throw shooter.” Indeed, as Emily Cross, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University told me, there is evidence — based on studies of people trying to learn to dance or tie knots (two subjects well covered by YouTube videos) — that the action-observation network is “more strongly engaged when you’re watching to learn, as opposed to just passively spectating.” In one study, participants in an fMRI scanner asked to watch a task being performed with the goal of learning how to do it showed greater brain activity in the parietofrontal mirror system, cerebellum and hippocampus than those simply being asked to watch it. And one region, the pre-SMA (for “supplementary motor area”), a region thought to be linked with the “internal generation of complex movements,” was activated only in the learning condition — as if, knowing they were going to have to execute the task themselves, participants began internally rehearsing it.

It also helps to arrange for the kind of feedback that makes a real classroom work so well. If you were trying to learn one of Beyonce’s dance routines, for example, Cross suggests using a mirror, “to see if you’re getting it right.” When trying to learn something in which we do not have direct visual access to how well we are doing — like a tennis serve or a golf swing — learning by YouTube may be less effective.


The final piece of advice is to look at both experts and amateurs. Work by Proteau and others has shown that subjects seemed to learn sample tasks more effectively when they were shown videos of both experts performing the task effortlessly, and the error-filled efforts of novices (as opposed to simply watching experts or novices alone). It may be, Proteau suggests, that in the “mixed” model, we learn what to strive for as well as what to avoid.

Blade Runner’s Uplifting Ending

October 17th, 2016

Ridley Scott discusses his way of working — and drops a fun bit of trivia about Blade Runner at the end:

Crowds and Technology

October 17th, 2016

Mobs, demagogues, and populist movements are obviously not new:

What is new and interesting is how social media has transformed age-old crowd behaviors. In the past decade, we’ve built tools that have reconfigured the traditional, centuries-old relationship between crowds and power, transforming what used to be sporadic, spontaneous, and transient phenomena into permanent features of the social landscape. The most important thing about digitally transformed crowds is this: unlike IRL crowds, they can persist indefinitely. And this changes everything.


To translate Canetti’s main observations to digital environments:

  1. The crowd always wants to grow — and always can, unfettered by physical limitations
  2. Within the crowd there is equality — but higher levels of deception, suspicion, and manipulation
  3. The crowd loves density — and digital identities can be more closely packed
  4. The crowd needs a direction — and clickbait makes directions cheap to manufacture

Translating Eric Hoffer’s ideas to digital environments is even simpler: the Internet is practically designed to enable the formation of self-serving patterns of “true belief.”

If We Want to Restore Balance

October 16th, 2016

Irrational optimism works, but Spandrell’s not very good at it, so he has been thinking about how to generate it exogenously:

The main issue people ask is that you can’t just make up a new religion. That’s a good point. It’s also a bummer, given that my shtick for 5 years has been that We Need a New Religion (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). But once you understand what religion is about, what it is for, it’s obvious that you can’t just make one up from thin air. Any coordination mechanism for groups, any set of ideas to generate loyalty is more likely to work if it feeds upon previous ideas which are out there, preferably for a long time. If only to make people not feel inadequate about their past ideological stances. If you want Christians to join your group you should make them feel good about having been a Christian; at least parts of it. Ever read the Quran? The writer was very, very familiar with Christianity and Judaism. Christianity was of course also based on Judaism. And Judaism on ages old tribal traditions of the Hebrew tribes. Hardly any religion has ever been produced ex-nihilo. Japan tried to make a religion out of the (purported) tribal traditions of the Japanese people but they just couldn’t beat up centuries of Buddhist faith.

It follows that the solution would be to come up with a slightly modified version of Christianity. It would make it easier to get our natural allies on the right side of the Christian community to join the institution of a reactionary society. The problem is, as many correctly argue on the comments at Jim’s, that Christianity is a leftist cult. The teachings of Jesus are pure and simple leftist agitation. The rich go to hell. The poor will inherit the earth. Prostitutes are as noble as any of you. If some white guy wrote a Medium long-form post talking on his experiences touching and healing lepers we would all call him a holier-than-thou virtue signaller.


What made Christianity so successful?

Well first of all Christianity wasn’t successful everywhere. It certainly was in Europe. But not in the Middle East. Islam surely beat it there. And the few Christian communities that remained since antiquity until the 2003 Iraq War weren’t anything to call home about.

It seems to me that Christianity as a mildly leftist, i.e. socialist and feminist cult, it had an important role to play in the ancient and medieval world. Especially the medieval world, where barbarians roamed Europe at will. The world of a barbarian is the complete opposite of a modern one. Barbarians are manly. Very much so. There’s this Jack Donovan guy pulling a Yukio Mishima and translating his gayness into poetry about how cool the barbarian Way of Man is, how awesome are the men it produces. Which it is. We all love Conan. It’s cool. It looks like tons of fun.

It’s still messed up in many ways. In modern parlance, the barbarian world is a world of toxic masculinity. It’s a world where men do whatever the hell they want. In my parlance, it’s a world of bro signalling spirals. Which is a lot of fun for men. But it produces pretty crappy societies. It’s stupidly violent. It despises menial, boring work. It despises family life for the pursuit of vainglory and pussy. It’s nasty, brutish and short. That’s what you get when men do what their feel like.

In that kind of world, having Christian institutions trying to get men to stop hunting for a while and just fucking till the land and feeding their children, is actually a pretty good idea. Shaming a man to sticking with his ugly and nagging wife even though she’s a total bitch is a pretty good idea if you want children to survive and food surplus to get grown. Getting elite men to not shoot each other over stupid slights, to not drink too much and moderate their appetites, to don’t spend their inheritance in women and parties… was pretty much hopeless for the most part. But to the extent it succeeded it had a civilizing effect.

So to speak in modern terms, if you have a society which is, due to its historical background or its technological level, naturally shifted to the right, having a pole of lefty ideas produces a pretty healthy balance, one where men get a bit of what they want, women get a bit of what they want, and we’re all better off thanks to it.

That’s obviously not what we got today. The situation in 2016 is one where feminism is the law of the land, men doing what men do by nature (cf. Trump) is illegal and strictly punished, and every single institution with some power just pushes the same leftist ideas. Women are better, open borders is good, everybody has the right to organize and fight for their selfish interests except white men. In this circumstances if we want to restore some balance, if we want civilization to work, we need the complete opposite of what Christianity was. We need a big fat magnet of rightist ideas, a rightist pole to exert the same influence on our feminized society that Christianity had on the manly society of the Middle Ages.

It seems to me that Christianity can’t possibly be that. What could be? Your guess is as good as mine. If you’ve been reading this blog you probably know one answer. But again I like it as little as you do. For all purposes I’m still for a New Religion.

Albion’s Ashes

October 16th, 2016

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is not a tale of economic privation among the Kentucky Scots-Irish exodus:

It is closer to the opposite: His Kentucky-exile grandparents are secure and prosperous in spite of their own humble origins and a long period of alcohol-fueled domestic strife; they own a nice, four-bedroom home and drive new high-end cars — convertibles, even. Growing up in a small town in Ohio in the 1990s, Vance lived in a household with an annual income exceeding $100,000, or the equivalent of about $175,000 a year in today’s dollars. He had a close-knit extended family, including a grandmother who read to him and a grandfather who helped him get ahead of the other children in math, which served him well: After college and law school — at Yale — Vance went on to become the principal of a Silicon Valley investment firm. He is 31 years old.

His family was indeed miserable, but theirs wasn’t the misery of poverty and privation. It was the misery of people determined to be miserable at any price. The great American bounty was wheeled out for their enjoyment like room service at the Ritz Carlton, and they decided they preferred Wendy’s and Night Train and OxyContin and desultory sex with strangers from bars.

Nothing happened to them — they happened.

The main difference between Vance and his unhappy forebears with their Byzantine marital histories and “Mountain Dew mouth” — exactly what it sounds like — is that he had the good sense to say yes to the happiness that was offered him.

What’s interesting about his story — his only real excuse for writing a memoir, in fact — is that he almost said no, and that he is one of those unusual men who actually understands the decisions he has made, why and how he made them, and the effects they have had.

Vance was saved by the intervention of certain “loving people”:

That is not usually how one hears Marine drill instructors described.

Vance had the good sense to delay college and enlist in the Marine Corps instead. And the Marine Corps is one of the few remaining American institutions that delivers more or less exactly as advertised. Vance entered the boot camp pudgy, disorganized, immature, and lacking in confidence. He left it harder, wiser, and more capable. His account of his time in the Marines is in fact one of the most interesting sections of the book, and the one that points both to the promise and shortcomings of public-policy interventions to counter the dysfunction of the white underclass. As Vance puts it, the Marines take in new recruits under an assumption of maximum ignorance, i.e., that they do not know the basics of anything, from personal hygiene to keeping a schedule. The Marine Corps interferes in Vance’s life in intensely invasive and personal ways: When he decides he needs to buy a car, an older Marine is dispatched to make sure he doesn’t buy something stupid and stops him from signing a high-interest financing contract with the dealer, steering him instead toward a much better deal available through the Marines’ credit union.

The man who did not know how to handle automotive financing works in finance today. By his own account, he did not know that “finance” was an industry and a career option until well into his college education. Things like how to dress for a job interview and how to conduct himself at a business dinner — he’s flummoxed to learn that there’s more than one kind of white wine — simply were not within his experience.

That sort of thing is awkward, and there are tens of millions of Americans who have had such fish-out-of-water experiences on their way up. The truth is, our schools and other institutions do a pretty good job of identifying the J.D. Vances of the world, thanks in no small part to standardized testing, though of course committed and engaged teachers play an indispensable role, too. But consider what it took to turn Vance’s life around and get him ready for Ohio State and Yale. Short of universal or near-universal military conscription — something that would be resisted both by the public and by the military, which is still resisting the politicians’ efforts to transform it entirely into a social-services agency — what policy options do we have to intervene in the lives of young men and women who come from backgrounds like Vance’s, but who are even worse off in both economic and social-capital terms, and who do not have the innate intelligence to cut it in Silicon Valley or who lack comparable skills and talents? We know what to do about poor kids with IQs of 120 — what about the ones with IQs of 100? What about those with IQs of 90?

See What I Did There?

October 15th, 2016

Alan Moore progresses from eccentric comic-book writer to insane novel writer with his latest work, Jerusalem:

Like Joyce’s “Ulysses,” “Jerusalem” largely hinges on the events of a single day (in this case May 26, 2006) and a particular place: the Boroughs, the depressed neighborhood in Northampton where Moore grew up. (The Jerusalem of the title is the metaphorical one William Blake imagined building “in England’s green and pleasant land.”) As with “Ulysses,” Moore shifts his narrative technique and point of view from chapter to chapter. And, as with “Ulysses,” no detail, however minute, is purely decorative; it’s all part of the mammoth Rube Goldberg machinery, including an actual mammoth (or, rather, its ghost) that sets the story’s denouement into motion.

The equivalent of Stephen Dedalus here — Moore’s stand-in — is a painter in her 50s named Alma Warren (her name is a clear play on the author’s), who comes from a long line of artists, lunatics and “deathmongers,” that being a Northampton tradition of midwife/morticians. The moment during which the characters and their actions converge is the eve of Alma’s opening reception for a series of paintings inspired by her brother’s recollections of a near-death experience from when he choked on a cough drop at the age of 3. But then there’s also a chapter concerning the then-unknown Charlie Chaplin’s experiences in Northampton in 1909, and one in which a Christian pilgrim brings a relic to “Hamtun” (as it was then called) in 810, and one about how Alma’s great-great-grandfather lost his mind in 1865 when the fresco he was repairing in St. Paul’s Cathedral started talking to him, and so forth.

That’s all to prime the reader for the central third of “Jerusalem,” which takes place above time itself, in “Mansoul” (as in John Bunyan’s allegory “The Holy War”), where “The Dead Dead Gang,” a crew of ghostly children led by a girl in a cape made of decomposing rabbits, are having adventures and investigating mysteries. (Their Northampton accents are augmented by “wiz” and “wizzle,” the afterlife’s conflation of “was,” “is” and “will be.”) One advantage of being dead, it turns out, is that you can perceive space-time from the outside, as when the gang encounters the Platonic form of a Northampton landmark:

“The Guildhall, the Gilhalda of Mansoul, was an immense and skyscraping confection of warm-colored stone, completely overgrown with statues, carven tableaux and heraldic crests. It was as if an architecture-bomb had gone off in slow motion, with countless historic forms exploding out of nothingness and into solid granite. Saints and Lionhearts and poets and dead queens looked down on them through the blind pebbles of their emery-smoothed eyes and up above it all, tall as a lighthouse, were the sculpted contours of the Master Builder, Mighty Mike, the local champion.” (That would be the Archangel Michael, who is engaged in an eternal metaphysical snooker tournament that determines the fates of the city’s residents.)

Read that passage out loud, and you can’t miss its galumphing iambic rhythm. Moore, in fact, keeps that meter running for the entire length of the novel, and that’s just where his acrobatic wordplay begins. One chapter takes the form of rhymed stanzas. Another is blank verse, run together into paragraphs but pausing for breath every 10 syllables. A third is a play whose central seam is a conversation between Thomas Becket and Samuel Beckett.

The novel’s most difficult and wittiest chapter is written in a convincing pastiche of Joyce’s portmanteau-mad language from “Finnegans Wake,” and concerns Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, who spent her final decades in a Northampton mental hospital. At one point, the malign spirit of the River Nene tries to persuade her to drown herself: “It is a ferry splashionable wayter go, I’m trold, for laydies of o blitterary inclinocean. But then fameills of that sport are oftun willd, vergin’ near wolf, quereas with you there’s fomething vichy gugling on.” (Note the allusion to Virginia Woolf, who did drown herself.) Lucia declines, and goes on to encounter Dusty Springfield (“Dust’ny Singfeeld”), with whom she has sex while Number 6 from “The Prisoner” looks on. Yes, this is relevant to the plot, more or less.

Books this forbiddingly steep need to be entertaining in multiple ways to make them worth the climb, and Moore keeps lobbing treats to urge his readers onward: luscious turns of phrase, unexpected callbacks and internal links, philosophical digressions, Dad jokes, fantastical inventions like the flower resembling a cluster of fairies — the “Puck’s Hat” or “Bedlam Jenny” — that is the only food the dead can eat. Those who have read Moore’s comics will recognize some of his favorite themes too. Snowy Vernall, who experiences his life as predestined, is in the same boat as Dr. Manhattan from “Watchmen”; there’s a strain of Ripperology left over from “From Hell”; the demon Asmodeus, who appeared in “Promethea,” plays a prominent role here in a different guise.

If cleverness were all that mattered, “Jerusalem” would be everything. Its pyrotechnics never let up, and Moore never stops calling attention to them. Again and again, he threatens to crash into the slough of See What I Did There?, then comes up with another idea so clever he pulls out of the dive. (When the book, in its homestretch, hasn’t yet demonstrated much of a connection to William Blake, Alma Warren effectively engages a detective to work one out, in the person of the real-world actor Robert Goodman jokingly pretending to be a private eye called “Studs.”) The only way to endure “Jerusalem” is to surrender to its excesses — its compulsion to outdo any challenger in its lushness of language, grandness of scope, sheer monomaniacal duration — and confess it really is as ingenious as it purports to be.

What redeems the relentless spectacle, though, is that it’s in the service of a passionate argument. Behind all the formalism and eccentric virtuosity, there’s personal history from a writer who has rarely put himself into his own fiction before: the family legends and tragedies that Moore has blown up to mythical size to preserve them from the void, and the streets and buildings, lost and soon to be lost, whose every cracked stone is holy to him. Northampton, Moore suggests, is the center of all meaning, because so is every other place.

The ending of the liberal interregnum

October 15th, 2016

Razib Khan shares a talk from Alice Dreger, author of Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice, and notes a passage where she waxes eloquently about the Enlightenment, and freedom of thought:

At a certain point the cultural Left no longer made any pretense to being liberal, and transformed themselves into “progressives.” They have taken Marcuse’s thesis in Repressive Tolerance to heart.

Though I hope that Dreger and her fellow travelers succeed in rolling back the clock, I suspect that the battle here is lost. She points out, correctly, that the total politicization of academia will destroy its existence as a producer of truth in any independent and objective manner. More concretely, she suggests it is likely that conservatives will simply start to defund and direct higher education even more stridently than they do now, because they will correctly see higher education as purely a tool toward the politics of their antagonists. I happen to be a conservative, and one who is pessimistic about the persistence of a public liberal space for ideas that offend. If progressives give up on liberalism of ideas, and it seems that many are (the most famous defenders of the old ideals are people from earlier generations, such as Nadine Strossen and Wendy Kaminer, with Dreger being a young example), I can’t see those of us in the broadly libertarian wing of conservatism making the last stand alone.

Honestly, I don’t want any of my children learning “liberal arts” from the high priests of the post-colonial cult. In the near future the last resistance on the Left to the ascendency of identity politics will probably be extinguished, as the old guard retires and dies naturally. The battle will be lost. Conservatives who value learning, and intellectual discourse, need to regroup. Currently there is a populist moood in conservatism that has been cresting for a generation. But the wave of identity politics is likely to swallow the campus Left with its intellectual nihilism. Instead of expanding outward it is almost certain that academia will start cannibalizing itself in internecine conflict when all the old enemies have been vanquished.

Let the private universities, such as Oberlin, wallow in their identity politics contradictions. Dreger already points to the path we will probably have to take: gut the public universities even more than we have. Leave STEM and some professional schools intact, and transform them for all practical purposes into technical universities. All the other disciplines? Some private universities, the playgrounds of the rich and successful, will continue to be traditionalist in maintaining “liberal arts,” which properly parrot the latest post-colonial cant. But much learning will be privatized, and knowledge will spread through segregated “safe spaces.” Those of us who read and think will continue to read and think, like we always have. We just won’t have institutional backing, because there’s not going to be a societal consensus for such support.

I hope I’m wrong.

He shares two more conclusions in a comment:

It’s getting worse, not better, and it’s not about tenure or money. It’s about social sanction and approval. so two sad conclusions:

1) Truth can only move in hidden channels now if it conflicts with power. No one gives a shit if you appeal to truth; they know that it is not intrinsic value except in the serve of status and power. I admire Heterodox Academy, but part of me wonders if they’d be better served by being stealth and just creating a secret society that doesn’t put the academy on notice that some people know that reality is different from the official narratives.

2) The post-modernists are right to a first approximation: everything is power. So “we” have to capture and crush; it’s only victory or defeat. The odds are irrelevant. I put we in quotes because it doesn’t matter who you are, the game is on, whether you think you are a player or not.

Open data and crowd-sourcing mean that a whole ecosystem of knowledge can emerge that doesn’t need to be nakedly exposed and put people’s livelihoods and reputations at risk from the kommissars.

Some of my friends have argued this for a long time, and I resisted because I’m a liberal in the old sense. but reality is reality, and the fact is that no one wants the truth, and they’ll destroy you to deny it.

For every Alice Dreger there are 1,000 who support her. but they’ll stand aside while the 100 tear her to shreds, and talk sadly amongst themselves about what happened to her career…

Todd Orr, Bear Attack Survivor

October 14th, 2016

When Todd Orr‘s post-bear-attack video went viral, I had no idea he was competitive shooter Mike Seeklander’s cousin — until Mike interviewed him.

Chuck Yeager Describes How He Broke The Sound Barrier

October 14th, 2016

Chuck Yeager describes how he broke the Sound Barrier:

Everything was set inside X-1 as Cardenas started the countdown. Frost assumed his position and the mighty crack from the cable release hurled the X-1 into the abyss. I fired chamber No. 4, then No. 2, then shut off No. 4 and fired No. 3, then shut off No. 2 and fired No. 1. The X-1 began racing toward the heavens, leaving the B-29 and the P-80 far behind. I then ignited chambers No. 2 and No. 4, and under a full 6000 pounds of thrust, the little rocket plane accelerated instantly, leaving a contrail of fire and exhaust. From .83 Mach to .92 Mach, I was busily engaged testing stabilizer effectiveness. The rudder and elevator lost their grip on the thinning air, but the stabilizer still proved effective, even as speed increased to .95 Mach. At 35,000 ft., I shut down two of the chambers and continued to climb on the remaining two. We were really hauling! I was excited and pleased, but the flight report I later filed maintained that outward cool: “With the stabilizer setting at 2 degrees, the speed was allowed to increase to approximately .95 to .96 Mach number. The airplane was allowed to continue to accelerate until an indication of .965 on the cockpit Machmeter was obtained. At this indication, the meter momentarily stopped and then jumped up to 1.06, and the hesitation was assumed to be caused by the effect of shock waves on the static source.”

I had flown at supersonic speeds for 18 seconds. There was no buffet, no jolt, no shock. Above all, no brick wall to smash into. I was alive.

And although it was never entered in the pilot report, the casualness of invading a piece of space no man had ever visited was best reflected in the radio chatter. I had to tell somebody, anybody, that we’d busted straight through the sound barrier. But transmissions were restricted. “Hey Ridley!” I called. “Make another note. There’s something wrong with this Machmeter. It’s gone completely screwy!”

“If it is, we’ll fix it,” Ridley replied, catching my drift. “But personally, I think you’re seeing things.”

The Deep Roots of Prosperity

October 14th, 2016

Today’s rich countries tend to be in East Asia, Northern and Western Europe — or are heavily populated by people who came from those two regions:

The major exceptions are oil-rich countries. East Asia and Northwest Europe are precisely the areas of the world that made the biggest technological advances over the past few hundred years. These two regions experienced “civilization,” an ill-defined but unmistakable combination of urban living, elite prosperity, literary culture, and sophisticated technology. Civilization doesn’t mean kindness, it doesn’t mean respect for modern human rights: It means the frontier of human artistic and technological achievement. And over the extremely long run, a good predictor of your nation’s current economic behavior is your nation’s ancestors’ past behavior. Exceptions exist, but so does the rule.

Recently, a small group of economists have found more systematic evidence on how the past predicts the present. Overall, they find that where your nation’s citizens come from matters a lot. From “How deep are the roots of economic development?” published in the prestigious Journal of Economic Literature:

A growing body of new empirical work focuses on the measurement and estimation of the effects of historical variables on contemporary income by explicitly taking into account the ancestral composition of current populations. The evidence suggests that economic development is affected by traits that have been transmitted across generations over the very long run.

From “Was the Wealth of Nations determined in 1000 B.C.?” (coauthored by the legendary William Easterly):

[W]e are measuring the association of the place’s technology today with the technology in 1500 AD of the places from where the ancestors of the current population came from…[W]e strongly confirm…that history of peoples matters more than history of places.

And finally, from “Post-1500 Population Flows and the Economic Determinants of Economic Growth and Inequality,” published in Harvard’s Quarterly Journal of Economics:

The positive effect of ancestry-adjusted early development on current income is robust…The most likely explanation for this finding is that people whose ancestors were living in countries that developed earlier (in the sense of implementing agriculture or creating organized states) brought with them some advantage—such as human capital, knowledge, culture, or institutions—that raises the level of income today.

To sum up some of the key findings of this new empirical literature: There are three major long-run predictors of a nation’s current prosperity, which combine to make up a nation’s SAT score:

S: How long ago the nation’s ancestors lived under an organized state.

A: How long ago the nation’s ancestors began to use Neolithic agriculture techniques.

T: How much of the world’s available technology the nation’s ancestors were using in 1000 B.C., 0 B.C., or 1500 A.D.

When estimating each nation’s current SAT score, it’s important to adjust for migration: Indeed, all three of these papers do some version of that. For instance, without adjusting for migration, Australia has quite a low ancestral technology score: Aboriginal Australians used little of the world’s cutting edge technology in 1500 A.D. But since Australia is now overwhelmingly populated by the descendants of British migrants, Australia’s migration-adjusted technology score is currently quite high.

On average, nations with high migration-adjusted SAT scores are vastly richer than nations with lower SAT scores: Countries in the top 10% of migration-adjusted technology (T) in 1500 are typically at least 10 times richer than countries in the bottom 10%. If instead you mistakenly tried to predict a country’s income today based on who lived there in 1500, the relationship would only be about one-third that size. The migration adjustment matters crucially: Whether in the New World, across Southeast Asia, or in Southern Africa, one can do a better job predicting today’s prosperity when you keep track of who moved where. It looks like at least in the distant past, migrants shaped today’s prosperity.