These are conditional virtues

October 22nd, 2020

Bryan Caplan doesn’t expect policies to get too much worse:

The same psychological force that thwarted the masses’ wishes before 2012 continues to shield us. What is that force? For want of a better term, ADHD — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Populist policy preferences go hand-in-hand with intellectual laziness and intellectual impatience. As a result, populist voters fail to hold their leaders’ feet to the proverbial fire — allowing wiser, elitist heads to prevail.

Take protectionism. Keeping imports out of our country is perennially popular. Never mind centuries of economics classes on the wonders of comparative advantage; the masses are convinced that cheap foreign products make us poorer. Given public opinion, then, it’s amazing that trade barriers are as low as they are. What’s particularly striking is that presidential candidates routinely make protectionist noises to curry favor with the masses. Once elected, however, they get convenient amnesia.

Why would vote-seeking politicians show so little follow-through? Because talking about foreign trade, titillating at first, gets old fast. And actually measuring the change in trade barriers bores the masses instantly. As a result, protectionist promises are cheap to break. The masses delight to hear politicians vow to get “tough on China,” but they don’t want to have to think about Chinese imports months after the election, much less monitor their leaders’ concrete efforts to cut China down to size.


Emotionally, I look down on the public’s ADHD. When I get an idea into my head, it stays there until someone (possibly myself) argues me out of it. I’m a puritan. Once convinced something is true, I tenaciously act on it. But I’m the first to admit that these are conditional virtues. If you’ve genuinely figured out the right thing to do, determination and follow-through are wonderful. Otherwise, though, they’re a menace.

Mankind can and should shape up across the board, but it won’t. I’ll bet on it. And since mankind won’t discover a passion for rationality anytime soon, we should be thankful its ADHD isn’t going away either.

Air patrolling over the mountains revealed what it had always revealed

October 21st, 2020

In late October, 1950, the South Koreans started capturing enemy soldiers who didn’t speak Korean, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and assumed these were Chinese volunteers:

Chinese troops were deliberately misschooled on their own order of battle, so that, captured, they might tell weird tales. There were clashes between Americans and Chinese “volunteers” in odd places — obviously to draw American attention from where the Chinese planned to strike.


Air patrolling over the mountains revealed what it had always revealed — nothing. Only heavy, aggressive ground patrolling into the hills could have revealed that the main bodies of two massive Chinese army groups lurked in those deep valleys and forlorn villages, and this action the U.N. never attempted.

In the frightful terrain such patrolling was dangerous. It could not be supported by wheels, and where wheels could not go, neither could sizable units of Americans. And in such horrendous terrain a vast army could be — and was — hidden in a very small area, observing perfect camouflage discipline, waiting.


As the month progressed, however, FECOM came more and more to the conclusion that there were Chinese troops in Korea. Their numbers were placed at between 40,000 and 70,000. Whether “volunteers,” as the Chinese Government claimed, or otherwise, the big question remained as to what they were doing in Korea.

There seemed to be three possibilities, all of which were suggested:

  1. The Chinese had come over in limited fashion to help the NKPA hold a base south of the Yalu;
  2. They had entered as a show of force to bluff the U.N. into halting south of the river;
  3. At the worst, they were a screening force to cover the advance of the main Chinese armies.

No one, either in FECOM or the two commands in Korea, suggested that the CCF were already in Korea in massive force.

Not every maverick is a new Galileo

October 20th, 2020

One of the hardest questions a science commentator faces, Matt Ridley says, is when to take a heretic seriously:

It’s tempting for established scientists to use arguments from authority to dismiss reasonable challenges, but not every maverick is a new Galileo. As the astronomer Carl Sagan once put it, “Too much openness and you accept every notion, idea and hypothesis—which is tantamount to knowing nothing. Too much skepticism—especially rejection of new ideas before they are adequately tested—and you’re not only unpleasantly grumpy, but also closed to the advance of science.” In other words, as some wit once put it, don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.

Peer review is supposed to be the device that guides us away from unreliable heretics. A scientific result is only reliable when reputable scholars have given it their approval. Dr. Yan’s report has not been peer reviewed. But in recent years, peer review’s reputation has been tarnished by a series of scandals. The Surgisphere study was peer reviewed, as was the study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, hero of the anti-vaccine movement, claiming that the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) caused autism. Investigations show that peer review is often perfunctory rather than thorough; often exploited by chums to help each other; and frequently used by gatekeepers to exclude and extinguish legitimate minority scientific opinions in a field.

Herbert Ayres, an expert in operations research, summarized the problem well several decades ago: “As a referee of a paper that threatens to disrupt his life, [a professor] is in a conflict-of-interest position, pure and simple. Unless we’re convinced that he, we, and all our friends who referee have integrity in the upper fifth percentile of those who have so far qualified for sainthood, it is beyond naive to believe that censorship does not occur.” Rosalyn Yalow, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, was fond of displaying the letter she received in 1955 from the Journal of Clinical Investigation noting that the reviewers were “particularly emphatic in rejecting” her paper.

The health of science depends on tolerating, even encouraging, at least some disagreement. In practice, science is prevented from turning into religion not by asking scientists to challenge their own theories but by getting them to challenge each other, sometimes with gusto. Where science becomes political, as in climate change and Covid-19, this diversity of opinion is sometimes extinguished in the pursuit of a consensus to present to a politician or a press conference, and to deny the oxygen of publicity to cranks. This year has driven home as never before the message that there is no such thing as “the science”; there are different scientific views on how to suppress the virus.

No ambitious second-year ROTC cadet would have dared quote him seriously

October 19th, 2020

Half contemptuously, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), American military men spoke of the “elusive” Lin Piao and the “poet” Mao Tse-Tung:

Mao Tse-tung, Premier of China, had already revealed to the world how his Communist armies operated — how they flowed from place to place, fighting when fighting was profitable, biding their time when it was not. What Mao Tse-tung had written was instructive, and intensely practical for a war in Asia — but because the Chinese wrote in poetic language, not in the military terminology popular in the West, no ambitious second-year ROTC cadet would have dared quote him seriously.

After November 1950, many men would grudgingly learn that the thought behind words is more important than the phrases in which the thought is couched. The time would come when every leader in the world would read the writings of the Chinese Communists — for it was barely possible that the war they waged was not so anachronistic as Americans believed. Quite possibly, it was the pattern of all future land wars.

In November 1950, then, one army, in open array, loudly proclaiming its every move to the world, marched against a phantom foe. For the CCF, all that month, was a ghost; now you saw it, now you didn’t. It marched by night, under a foggy moon; it sideslipped into the mountains in front of the advancing U.N., and lurked, biding its time.

When he was ready, the “elusive” Lin Piao would let the Americans find him.

Prepare for the worst, enjoy the present

October 18th, 2020

Fortitude Ranch — “prepare for the worst, enjoy the present” — describes itself as “a survival community equipped to survive any type of disaster and long-term loss of law and order, managed by full time staff,” and plans to activate for the first time over fears of violence following the presidential election on Nov. 3:

“This will be the first time we have opened for a collapse disaster, though it may end up not being so,” said Miller in an emailed statement. “We consider the risk of violence that could escalate in irrational, unpredictable ways into widespread loss of law and order is real.”

Fortitude Ranch set up its first camp in West Virginia in 2015 and has two more in Colorado. For an annual fee of around $1,000, members can vacation at camps in good times, and use them as a refuge in the event of a societal collapse. Members are required to own either a rifle or shotgun to defend the communities. The company does not disclose membership numbers.

If they did not act upon the field of battle as Western generals did, it was because they did not command a Western army

October 17th, 2020

By the middle of November, 1950, approximately 180,000 Chinese waited in front of the Eighth Army, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), while 120,000 lurked in the mountains surrounding Changjin Reservoir on X Corps’ flank:

While China broadcast to the world that Chinese “volunteers” would enter the Korean fighting, under Kim Il Sung, the leaders of the CCF never relinquished control of their forces.

And it would have been considerable news to the 300,000 Chinese soldiers massed in the cold valleys of Korea to learn that they had volunteered. Many of them did not even know in what part of the world they waited.

Lin Piao, and the major leaders of the Chinese Communist Forces, were not simple peasant leaders. The vast majority of the CCF generals were graduates of Whampoa Military Academy or of Russian schools. They had studied Clausewitz and Jomini and the battles of Cannae and Tannenberg as thoroughly as any West Pointer, and they had been engaged in war for all their adult lives. But if they did not act upon the field of battle as Western generals did, it was because they did not command a Western army.

The hordes of the Red Army were tough and battle-hardened, but they could not read or write. They had no radios, nor did they have much telephone equipment. They had no air force, or any massive artillery. They were weak in motor transport. Their arms were a miscellany of United States, Japanese, and Russian equipment. They had very few of the things a European or Western army required for war.


They had three immense advantages: their own minds, trained to war in the vast reaches of the Middle Kingdom, which instinctively thought in terms of fluid maneuver, without regard to battle lines: the hardihood and sturdy legs of their peasant troops, who could travel long miles on very little; and the enemy’s complete lack of belief in their own existence.


Americans believed it incredible that any army of significant size could cross the Yalu and deploy in Korea without observation by their air forces. Daily American aircraft flew over all North Korea; and no armies were ever sighted.

Each night, between nine and three, the Chinese troops covered eighteen miles:

When light came, every man, every gun, every animal, was hidden from sight. In the deep valleys, in the thick forests, in the miserable villages huddled on the forlorn plateaus, the Chinese rested by day.


It was not only cunning and hardihood, but this perfect march and bivouac discipline that caused U.N. aircraft to fly over the CCF hundreds of times without ever once seeing anything suspicious. Even aerial photography revealed nothing.

It was a feat that Xenophon’s hoplites, marching back from Persia to the sea, could have performed. Julius Caesar’s hard legions could have done it, and more — the Roman manuals stated that the usual day’s march for a legion was twenty miles, to be covered in five hours.

It is extremely doubtful if any modern Western army, bred to wheels, could have matched it. It was almost impossible for Western generals, even those who knew of Xenophon and Caesar, to credit it.

Researchers synthesize room temperature superconducting material

October 16th, 2020

When I heard that a team from the University of Rochester had synthesized a room-temperature superconductor, I was not expecting this footnote:

The carbonaceous sulfur hydride exhibited superconductivity at about 58 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of about 39 million psi.

Dias’s lab at Rochester used hydrogen-rich materials that metalize at lower pressures than pure hydrogen, producing picoliters of superconductor in a diamond anvil cell:

First the lab combined yttrium and hydrogen. The resulting yttrium superhydride exhibited superconductivity at what was then a record high temperature of about 12 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of about 26 million pounds per square inch.

Next the lab explored covalent hydrogen-rich organic-derived materials.

This work resulted in the carbonaceous sulfur hydride. “This presence of carbon is of tantamount importance here,” the researchers report. Further “compositional tuning” of this combination of elements may be the key to achieving superconductivity at even higher temperatures, they add.

Only peasants have any political importance

October 15th, 2020

From the first, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the Communists understood that in a nation almost wholly peasant, only peasants have any political importance:

Within two years, they won not only the war but the peasants’ minds. For the peasants would not understand, until too late, that the Communists wanted not justice for them, but to overthrow the entire fabric of Chinese life.

The popular morality of what the Communist Chinese have done will probably be judged only in the light of whether or not they made China a great power, and only the future will tell that. If they fail, history will condemn them for the enormous suffering they inflicted upon their land; if they succeed, their own history will largely regard them as heroes, even as Soviet history regards Peter the Great of Russia as a hero, or as the French revolutionists or the Irish Sinn Fein, who resorted to naked force and political murder, are looked upon favorably by millions of their countrymen.

It will never happen, and when it does, you will deserve it

October 14th, 2020

Two years ago, Handle reviewed Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option:

Almost all Dreher’s critics accuse him of crying wolf or being a Chicken Little at best… Meanwhile, I’m saying that Dreher is underestimating his enemy, painting an overly rosy picture, and not being nearly alarmist enough.

Now he reviews Dreher’s Live Not By Lies:

“Live Not By Lies” is a sequel of sorts to “The Benedict Option”, in what I’m sure will one day be called “Volume 2 of Dreher’s Benedict Option Trilogy.” It’s is a good book, you should read it, and Dreher is in general right about the soft totalitarianism, and if anything, not right enough.


As a friend of mine put it, “The single biggest problem is lag-seriousness. We are always just at best about grim enough for yesterday’s battle.”

That is where “Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility” comes from. “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.” If it were possible, despite denials, and by pointing out a clear logical implication of progressive ideology — and even going so far as to supplement with the early appearances of those explicit proposals — to scare conservatives enough, early enough, to do whatever it takes to avoid it, then the impossible wouldn’t keep happening to them, over and over again.


The anti-audience already believes Dreher is far more of a kook and Chicken Little than his Christian critics do, and just a continuation of “The Paranoid Style In American Politics.” To them, Dreher can get in the back of the line behind the McCarthyists, “Eisenhower was a Commie!” John Birchers, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and low-status judgment-day-is-just-around-the-corner-all-the-signs-are-actually-happening prepper types. They are once again proclaiming the first half of the law, “It will never happen.”

And without the list of lies, their argument wins the day. It seems fully plausible and convincing. It sounds like this:

Oh look at these idiots going off again. Here we are, just trying to make sure love wins and hate loses. Our ‘radical ideology’ amounts to “Don’t be a bigot, help your fellow man, and keep your toxic hatefulness to yourself.” Everybody should be included, and nobody ought to be unjustly discriminated against. Simple, self-evident, human universals, really, do real, loving Christians really disagree so much with any of those? And because the white supremacist homophobes can’t think of anything else to say in response, the hide behind ‘Christianity’ as a pathetic rationalization for their simple irrational animus, and resort to inventing fantasies like gulags and torture rooms and KGB agents. Like *they’re* the victims! Delusional! What kind of creepy psychological problems do they have to really imagine that with all their wealth, comfort, freedom, privilege, and petty first world problems, that they are remotely spiritual kin with people who endured the worst suffering possible? Crazy!

Do you see the problem? It’s the ‘merited’ part of the law. Dreher wants to respond with the simple truth, “We’re not bigots, and we don’t deserve it.” The response would be, “Ok, let’s find out. What is it exactly that you are going to insist on believing or doing, that we would possibly think was worth throwing you into a gulag?”

He can’t beat around the bush with something general and evasive, “For being devout Christians.”

The response (at least from the rare one who knows anything about Christianity) would be as follows:

Look, we just think your religion is mostly a collection of mythological fantasies and superstitious prohibitions, but combined with a salvageable core of a worthy moral perspective that, like almost all ancient and traditional lines of philosophy, represents an incomplete and imperfect grasping toward the same ethical framework we now hold dear. That’s why Jefferson rewrote the bible, removing all those superfluous distractions. Following the actual bible seems kind of nutty and backward to us, but now that it’s in clear political retreat in terms of numbers and influence, and since most self-identified Christians don’t really seem to live like they take most of it seriously, we regard it as mostly harmless. So long as you keep it to yourselves.

So, nobody is going to throw you in the gulag for going to church. Or for believing Jesus is Lord, that he is the Savior of humanity and God’s only son, that he was born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary who in turn was immaculately conceived, that he performed miracles, made water into wine, multiplied bread and fishes, walked upon water, healed the sick, raised the dead, died for our sins, and was resurrected. That he saves his people by means of their repentance and confession to sin and commanded his followers to love each other and their neighbors and their enemies, and to spread his word and the gospel of the good news of their salvation to every soul.

Seriously now, is that not Christian enough or you? Are these not the central claims of Christianity? Is that not enough freedom to be a Christian?

And we aren’t going to do a single thing to anyone for any of that. Why would we even care? Maybe if proselytizing is done obnoxiously in an imposing manner and makes people feel unsafe and not included. But let’s face it, 99.99% of American Christians aren’t ever doing that anymore, so it’s kind of absurd to spook them, right? Now we will insist that you not discriminate against LGBTs, and not to teach people to hate them, and yes, you will indeed get merited punishment if you persist in doing so. But seriously, is Hate the hill you are choosing to die on?

As another friend of mine put it, “We do not want you to subtract from your faith, only to add to it. Just don’t be a jerk and you’ll be just fine.”

It was a march without parallel in history

October 13th, 2020

One reason why the U.N. didn’t recognize that China would enter the war in Korea, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), is that China had had no success in war for a long, long time:

For more generations than men could count, soldiers in the Middle Kingdom had ranked low in the orders of society, far down the scale from the scholar and the poet. And for more generations than men could count, China had had no skill or success in war. For more than a hundred years, Chinese military forces had…


On 1 August 1927 the newly formed Communist Party of China began the fight against Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang. This date is still carried on CCF battle flags as the date of the Communist Army’s founding.

For decades the battle raged across China. In 1934, when it seemed that the Nationalist Army had the CCF ringed, approximately 100,000 CCF soldiers retreated north for Kiangsi Province into Shensi, to far Yenan. It was a march without parallel in history, and one almost without parallel for hardships.

One year later, after crossing 6,000 miles, eighteen mountain ranges, twenty-four rivers, and twelve provinces, 20,000 survivors under a general named Lin Piao made juncture with other Communist forces in Yenan.

During the actual time of march, Lin Piao’s forces had averaged twenty-four miles per day, on foot.

In Shensi Province, far removed from the Nationalists and the eyes of the world, the Communist Chinese began to rebuild their base of power. They began to wage guerrilla warfare against the Nationalists.

They were led by men who were now hardened soldiers, men who wanted above all else for China to be again a great power, and who felt that Marxism held out the only hope for its accomplishment.

The vast areas of China were still feudal; there had never been any true capitalism except that administered by foreigners in the coastal cities. And the pattern of Sinic culture had frozen five thousand years earlier.

The new Communist military leaders understood clearly that the pattern of Chinese culture must be thoroughly broken before China could again assume authority in the world. With cunning, courage, and great skill, aided by a centuries-old tradition of corruption that lay across China like a gray shadow, they began to break it.

Vitamin D reduced a patient’s risk of needing intensive care 25-fold

October 12th, 2020

In May, Matt Ridley notes, arguments on the link between Vitamin D deficiency and poor Covid outcomes started to gather speed:

That month, the Health Secretary’s attention was drawn to two studies showing a strong association between the incidence and severity of Covid-19 with vitamin D deficiencies in the patients. Vadim Backman of Northwestern University, one of the authors of one of those studies, said about healthy levels of vitamin D that “Our analysis shows that it might be as high as cutting the mortality rate in half.”

When asked to look at the evidence, Matt Hancock perfectly reasonably handed the question to Public Health England to answer. They attempted to analyse the statistical data and came up unconvinced. The problem is that a correlation is not a proof of cause and effect, and a correlation (albeit a very strong one) is all that we had at that point. Or almost all that we had.

The gold standard of medical research is the randomised controlled trial. Back in May, we had no such test for vitamin D and Covid-19. Now we do. The world’s first randomised control trial on vitamin D and Covid has just been published. The results are clear-cut. The trial, which took place in Spain at the Reina Sofía University Hospital, involved 76 patients suffering from Covid-19. Fifty of those patients were given vitamin D. The remaining 26 were not. Half of those not given Vitamin D became so sick that they needed to be put on intensive care. By comparison, only one person who was given Vitamin D requiring ICU admission.

Put another way, the use of Vitamin D reduced a patient’s risk of needing intensive care 25-fold.

Whatever happened the fault was Washington’s

October 11th, 2020

Early in September, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), Chinese forces began the long march from the south, where they had been deployed against Taiwan, to the mountains along the Yalu.

Chou En-lai told the Indian ambassador, “If the United States, or United Nations forces cross the 38th parallel, the Chinese People’s Republic will send troops to aid the People’s Republic of Korea. We shall not take this action, however, if only South Korean troops cross the border.” This message was passed along but was seen as diplomatic blackmail:

The Chinese had at least 38 divisions in 9 field armies garrisoned in Manchuria north of the Yalu. Of these, 24 divisions were disposed along the border in position to intervene. This estimate of CCF strength was reasonably accurate.


Willoughby’s analysis described the open failure of the North Koreans to rebuild their forces, and suggested that this indicated the CCF and Soviets had decided against further investment in a losing cause.


FECOM was at best a collective agency, not an evaluative one for matters of international policy; if Washington permitted FECOM both to collect and to make decisions, then whatever happened the fault was Washington’s.


And above all else, it was the terrain and a complete failure of Intelligence that brought disaster. Marching north, the U.N. trumpeted to the world its composition, its battle plan, and even the hour of its execution.

Without effort, the enemy knew everything there was to know about the U.N. forces.

The U.N., in turn, never knew the enemy existed — until it was much too late.

It does not present a grand universal rational system

October 10th, 2020

A progressive (but non-woke) friend asked Razib Khan why the bench of conservative intellectuals is much shallower than that of the Left:

First, if you are a high IQ individual you are more amenable and comfortable with abstraction, system-building, and rationality. Various forms of Leftism, liberalism, and libertarianism have something to offer you immediately since they start with rationalized systems. Historical materialism, Rawlsian political philosophy, and neoclassical economics or Natural Rights. Conservatism is a less clear and distinct option because it does not present a grand universal rational system. Rather, it leans on custom, tradition, and disposition. History in an empirical sense, not theoretical. There is suspicion of excessive rationalization of cultural practices and mores. Conservatives argue that you shouldn’t overthink things! You don’t understand the ultimate big picture. Intellectual conservatism, ironically, cautions against dense, clear, and compact answers.

That’s pretty infuriating for someone whose raison d’etre is to understand in a rational manner. Thinking is exactly what intellectuals are good at. Making systems where they have reflective access to the guts of the machine and the chains of cause and effect.

The conservative argument would be that this is not really possible in a deep way when comes to human affairs, as opposed to the natural sciences. Social and cultural practices have within them embedded wisdom accrued through trial and error. That is, it’s a natural Darwinian process. Bottom-up, not top-down “intelligent design.”


Professors themselves are overwhelming on the liberal/Left today. Far more so than in the past. What happened?

I think this goes to my second reason for why intellectuals are mostly progressive: humans tend to conform to their ingroup. All things equal progressivism appeals to the cognitive comforts and experiences of intellectuals more than conservatism. But there will be deviations from this expectation. But, in a group where 60% start out as progressive, over time more and more will become progressive due to pressures to align oneself to group identity. Only the most disagreeable will hold out, at least in public. I’ve seen this myself over the last ten years, as many people who were centrists or moderately liberal have now gone fully “woke.” There was no particular moment, rather, the whole subculture simply changed and most people moved along with it. These “woke” intellectuals often express great displeasure when I bring up their old pagan beliefs, before their baptism. They have been born anew in Justice.

The Americans had tacitly accepted war at secondhand with the Communist center of power

October 9th, 2020

The punishment the U.N. and its agent, the United States, proposed to visit upon the Communist world was greater than the Communist world was willing to accept, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

Just as the United States had not been able to stand idly by in June as a friendly dependency was overwhelmed, in October the men of Peiping and the Kremlin felt they could not permit the forcible separation of North Korea from their own sphere.


If the U.S.S.R.’s stance were different from America’s, if it could not cease pushing, probing, and risking, it was because Soviet foreign policy was aggressive and expansionist. Communist ideology was far more than a tool to such expansion. It remained a taskmaster forcing the Soviets to it. Unless, with time, Communist ideology could be diluted, or diverted from the narrow precepts of Lenin, there could never be any true peace between Communists and the West. Westerners, tending to be pragmatic and liberal in viewpoint, often miscounted the driving reality of Communist dogmatism.

Russians, determined to oppose the American action in Korea, saw clearly that a confrontation of American troops with Russian, a direct clash, must inevitably escalate into general war, whether the governments wanted it or not. But the West had accepted Soviet arms in the hands of a satellite people; even though they had been drawn into the bloodletting themselves, the Americans had tacitly accepted war at secondhand with the Communist center of power. To substitute another Communist people, the Chinese, for the North Koreans, was not to change materially the tenuous…

The Communist leaders, desperate to save both their face and North Korea, felt that if new forces were hurled into the Korean cockpit, so long as the move did not seem to be a direct confrontation of the major powers, the conflict could still be limited to the peninsula.

And on the peninsula they felt they still might win.

Equally important, Red China was ready and spoiling for war.

The Chinese Communists, newly come to power, were driven by that dynamic puritanism that accompanies all great revolutions. Like the French in 1793, they not only desired conflict with the “evil” surrounding them; they needed it. Their hold on the millions of the sprawling Middle Kingdom was far from consolidated, and a controlled, limited war would consolidate it as nothing else could do.


Just as the northern states of the American Union have overlooked and forgotten their occupation and reconstruction of the southern states, the West has dismissed the painful humiliations repeatedly visited upon the ancient Sinic culture in the past hundred years.

People like to earn miles on business trips and spend them on vacation

October 8th, 2020

Frequent flyer miles are worth big money — to the airlines:

The Financial Times pegs the value of Delta’s loyalty program at a whopping $26 billion, American Airlines at $24 billion, and United at $20 billion. All of these valuations are comfortably above the market capitalization of the airlines themselves — Delta is worth $19 billion, American $6 billion, and United $10 billion. In other words, if you take away the loyalty program, Delta’s real-world airline operation — with hundreds of planes, a world-beating maintenance operation, landing rights, brand recognition, and experienced executives — is worth roughly negative $7 billion. But economics of the loyalty program don’t work without a robust airline operation.


Spending money on a Delta-branded American Express card to earn points feels like getting free money, and redeeming it feels like getting a free flight. Since consumers mentally double count their points, they’re willing to accumulate them, which means banks and other counterparties have found it valuable to offer those points to consumers.

Typically, the airline will sell points to banks, who then offer those points to cardholders in exchange for spending. Once someone has picked out a loyalty program, they’re incentivized to be loyal and rack up points, so the bank knows they’ve acquired a credit card customer for the long haul. Exclusive partnerships between airlines and credit card issuers can be quite lucrative: Delta’s deal for American Express to be the sole issuer of its SkyMiles credit card was worth $3.4 billion in 2018, and the contract has since been extended to 2029. It’s a classic fintech play: provide a novel way to help exchange money now for money later at favorable rates. Since the loyalty rewards business is asset-light, grows fast, and is not as sensitive to economic cycles as the core airline business — United revealed that loyalty revenues dropped just 2% in 2009 — it raises the question: Why not just spin them off? That’s harder than it looks, and it gets to the crux of the airline industry’s problems.

Loyalty programs acquire customers because those customers want to earn and spend points with a particular airline that has flight routes optimized for their needs. That means they’re ultimately dependent on an airline’s route network. For example, if you do a lot of business in Atlanta, Delta’s your go-to airline; if work takes you up and down the West Coast, you’ll probably choose Alaska. When airlines decide which routes to expand and which to cut, they’re not just thinking about ticket prices — they’re also thinking about their loyalty members. Abandoning a major city, or even reducing routes to it, is a good way to permanently lose those lucrative customers.

That problem is especially hard because people like to earn miles on business trips and spend them on vacation. So an airline that cuts a route to the Bahamas or Vail might lose business in New York and Chicago.