Dr. Raymond Kuo shares the Statecraft and Negotiations simulations he created for his class

August 8th, 2022

Dr. Raymond Kuo created a Statecraft and Negotiations course when he was a professor, and he has shared his Statecraft and Negotiation Simulations:

I created about a dozen original simulations that:

  • Could be played in ~1 hour or less.
  • Examined 1-3 concepts at once (I find the commercially available sims too sprawling and pedagogically confusing).
  • Could be scaled for many different class sizes, but with teams no larger than 4.
  • Ideally don’t use points.

They are listed and linked below. You might need WinRar to open the zipped files. A few notes/caveats:

  • Please attribute them to me.
  • If you modify the design, please let me know! I’m not a professional game designer, so many things need improving. I’d love to see what you’ve done and would be happy to host new, better versions here.
  • They are purely a teaching aid. Feel free to substitute fictional countries if you’d like. I think (?) the learning goals and teacher’s guides are in the negotiation packages, but please let me know if not.

Aid and Development
Three players (USAID, USTR, DRC) negotiate an aid package for the DRC. Explores aid conditionality.

Electoral System Design
Design an election system for an ethnically fractionalized country emerging from civil violence.

Human Rights
Acting as specific countries, players create the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Negotiate over wording and try to exclude certain rights to align the declaration with your domestic political, legal, and economic systems.

Nuclear Weapons
Go nuclear! Or try to mutually disarm. But don’t get tricked. A simple game requiring only 1-2 decks of cards for the whole class.

War Initiation
Can the players avoid starting World War 1? My largest sim, 5-6 countries, ideally represented by teams, not individuals.

War Termination
Companion to “War Initiation.” Players relive the Versailles conference, attempting to end World War 1 on the most advantageous terms. Can you do better than the real diplomats?

COIN and Laws of War
A four-stage tactical decision game that requires some instructor moderation/adjudication. Can you defend a town without violating the laws of war?

Trade
NOTE: A couple of my students designed this simulation, and I think it’s better than my trade sim. Negotiate NAFTA!

Bromberger pegged additive manufacturing at 2-3% of the $12 trillion production market

August 7th, 2022

Additive manufacturing — 3-D printing — is on the cusp of being adopted more widely by industry — still:

In May, Goodyear opened a $77 million plant in Luxembourg that centers on 3-D printing and can make tires four times faster in small batches than with conventional production. Goodyear also is testing its new 3-D printed airless tire technology on Tesla electric vehicles and Starship Technologies’ autonomous delivery robots. It has been working for the past several years on improved manufacturing techniques at an R&D center near Columbus, Ohio.

By 2030, Goodyear aims to bring maintenance-free and airless tires to market, and 3-D printing is part of that effort for the Akron-based tire-making leader founded in 1898 and named after innovator Charles Goodyear. Currently, about 2% of its production is through additive manufacturing and more integration into the mix is in sight.

“Like with any innovation, targeting the right use case is key. 3-D printing is not for every job. We’re using additive manufacturing for higher-end, ultra-high performance tires that require much more complexity, and in smaller lot sizes,” said Chris Helsel, senior vice president, global operations and CTO at Goodyear. “There is still a benefit of making large runs of tires efficiently through a normal assembly line.”

Leveraging the new technology takes patience. “You can’t bring it in, turn it on. It is not a short journey. We have been on this route for 10-12 years,” Helsel said. In an initial commercialization of its 3-D printed airless tires in 2017, Goodyear started equipping premium lawnmower models made by Bad Boy Mowers.

[...]

Primarily useful for making specialized high-value parts and smaller production volumes, Bromberger pegged additive manufacturing at 2-3% of the $12 trillion production market.

3-D printing industry consultant Wohlers Associates expects additive manufacturing to grow at a relatively strong pace and predicts the market worldwide will reach $85.3 billion in 2031 from $15.2 billion in 2021. The leading industrial sector using the technology is aerospace, followed by medical/dental and automotive, while the most common applications for 3-D printing are for making end-use parts and functional prototypes, according to the firm’s Wohlers Report 2022.

The main advantages of the technology include design flexibility in various 3-D shapes that can perform better or cost less, and customized production of parts. Other advantages are cutting out time-consuming, pre-production processes and making products on-demand from digital files.

A chief barrier to adoption is investment costs. Prices for industrial 3-D printing machines can vary from $25,000 to $500,000 and up to $1 million for huge systems. Further limitations are a lack of engineering talent to implement the technology, a knowledge gap among businesses about why and how to use it, cultural resistance on the shop floor to change, and too few end-to-end 3-D printing systems.

[...]

But stock market reception of 3-D printing as a pure-play investment theme has not been good in recent years. Desktop Metal has lost almost 80% of its value since going public in 2021, and the performance of other 3-D printing sector plays has been poor even as the technology advances.

[...]

For Boeing’s Millennium Space Systems subsidiary, acquired in 2018 as a maker of small satellites for the national security space, 100% 3-D printed satellites have been made this year with 30% less cost and a five-month reduction in production lead time. A regular user of the technology for several years, Boeing also has 3-D printed parts for helicopters and seats for the Starliner spacecraft, as well as components for the Boeing 787, and tooling for 787 aircraft wings.

Passenger trains generally travel on the same tracks as freight trains

August 6th, 2022

Modern American passenger trains take longer to travel the same routes than trains used to take:

First, Amtrak trains often have to make more stops than their pre-Amtrak counterparts. (Abrams didn’t go into detail why, but as a quasi-government corporation, Amtrak sometimes makes more stops along a route to please Congressional representatives who need to authorize its funding, unlike the private railroads that existed before Amtrak’s formation in the early 1970s.) As an example of the added stops Amtrak now makes, Abrams pointed out the 1959 New York Central’s New York-Chicago route took 16 hours and made eight stops, whereas Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited along the same route takes 19 hours 10 minutes making 18 stops, including a lengthy pause in Albany where train cars coming from Boston are linked up.

The second reason has to do with track priority. Passenger trains generally travel on the same tracks as freight trains. When the passenger and freight trains were owned by the same company, they typically prioritized passengers. Now, in the Amtrak era, freight rail companies no longer operate passenger train service but still own, operate, and maintain the tracks, which Amtrak uses. Although the law requires them to prioritize Amtrak trains, in practice they rarely do, resulting in an escalating beef between the freight companies and Amtrak.

[…]

One of the few places Amtrak does not have to contend with freight rail is along the Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C. to Boston via New York. Either Amtrak or regional commuter rail systems own those tracks. And it is one of the few routes with noticeable time improvements since the Eisenhower Era and the only stretch with anything approaching high speed rail service, saving riders some 45 minutes between New York and Washington when compared to Olden Times. And New York to Boston on Acela — until recently the only stretch of track in the U.S. with true “high-speed rail” — is 21 minutes faster than the fastest train in 1952.

Diamonds are forever

August 5th, 2022

Back in 1982, Edward Jay Epstein asked, Have you ever tried to sell a diamond?

Until the late nineteenth century, diamonds were found only in a few riverbeds in India and in the jungles of Brazil, and the entire world production of gem diamonds amounted to a few pounds a year. In 1870, however, huge diamond mines were discovered near the Orange River, in South Africa, where diamonds were soon being scooped out by the ton. Suddenly, the market was deluged with diamonds. The British financiers who had organized the South African mines quickly realized that their investment was endangered; diamonds had little intrinsic value — and their price depended almost entirely on their scarcity. The financiers feared that when new mines were developed in South Africa, diamonds would become at best only semiprecious gems.

The major investors in the diamond mines realized that they had no alternative but to merge their interests into a single entity that would be powerful enough to control production and perpetuate the illusion of scarcity of diamonds. The instrument they created, in 1888, was called De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd., incorporated in South Africa. As De Beers took control of all aspects of the world diamond trade, it assumed many forms. In London, it operated under the innocuous name of the Diamond Trading Company. In Israel, it was known as “The Syndicate.” In Europe, it was called the “C.S.O.” — initials referring to the Central Selling Organization, which was an arm of the Diamond Trading Company. And in black Africa, it disguised its South African origins under subsidiaries with names like Diamond Development Corporation and Mining Services, Inc. At its height — for most of this century — it not only either directly owned or controlled all the diamond mines in southern Africa but also owned diamond trading companies in England, Portugal, Israel, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland.

De Beers proved to be the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce. While other commodities, such as gold, silver, copper, rubber, and grains, fluctuated wildly in response to economic conditions, diamonds have continued, with few exceptions, to advance upward in price every year since the Depression. Indeed, the cartel seemed so superbly in control of prices — and unassailable — that, in the late 1970s, even speculators began buying diamonds as a guard against the vagaries of inflation and recession.

[…]

To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold.

[…]

Movie idols, the paragons of romance for the mass audience, would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love. In addition, the agency suggested offering stories and society photographs to selected magazines and newspapers which would reinforce the link between diamonds and romance. Stories would stress the size of diamonds that celebrities presented to their loved ones, and photographs would conspicuously show the glittering stone on the hand of a well-known woman. Fashion designers would talk on radio programs about the “trend towards diamonds” that Ayer planned to start. The Ayer plan also envisioned using the British royal family to help foster the romantic allure of diamonds. An Ayer memo said, “Since Great Britain has such an important interest in the diamond industry, the royal couple could be of tremendous assistance to this British industry by wearing diamonds rather than other jewels.” Queen Elizabeth later went on a well-publicized trip to several South African diamond mines, and she accepted a diamond from Oppenheimer.

The Amish have been breeding themselves for plainness

August 4th, 2022

The Amish population doubles every 20 years:

The North American Amish population grew by an estimated 195,710 since 2000, increasing from approximately 177,910 in 2000 to 373,620 in 2022, an increase of 110 percent. The Amish population doubles about every 20 years.

[…]

The primary forces driving the growth are sizable nuclear families (five or more children on average) and an average retention rate (Amish children who join the church as young adults) of 85 percent or more.

The Amish probably won’t pass 10 billion in the early 24th Century, Steve Sailer notes:

I wrote about the Amish in 2013, including the Cochran-Harpending theory that one reason their retention rate has gone up over the generations is because they have been boiling off Amish-born individuals with genomes that don’t put up well with the Amish lifestyle, that the Amish have been breeding themselves for their favorite trait: “plainness.”

A person who took a 500 mile flight every single day for a year would have a fatality risk of 1 in 85,000

August 3rd, 2022

Amtrak passengers are about 58 times as likely to get injured as train riders in France, but American trains are still much safer Than many alternatives:

Automobiles are one of the most deadly ways to get from Point A to Point B, with 7.28 deaths for every billion passenger miles.
This fatality rate was 17 times as high as the rate for trains, which stood at 0.43 deaths per billion miles. Subways, buses and planes are even safer still.

[…]

“A motorcyclist who traveled 15 miles every day for a year, had an astonishing 1 in 860 chance of dying,” Savage wrote. “The rate per passenger mile was 29 times that for automobiles and light trucks.” By contrast, “A person who took a 500 mile flight every single day for a year would have a fatality risk of 1 in 85,000.”

In 1820, Harvard paid lip service to meritocratic virtues while producing aristocrats

August 2nd, 2022

America’s elite universities have long fused the myth of meritocracy with the reality of aristocracy:

As early as 1820, critics accused Harvard — then a bastion of the Boston upper-class — of elitism, a charge to which administrators responded by introducing difficult entrance exams. These tests did not change the institution’s makeup, and deliberately so. From Latin and Greek to political philosophy, Harvard’s faculty selected themes and questions that no one but students from a handful of preparatory schools could address. In fact, the function of the new admissions process had little to do with access, and much to do with legitimacy. Hiding behind the convenient veil of meritocracy, Harvard could claim the mantle of equal opportunity while remaining exclusive.

Every time public schools managed to adapt and prepare their middle-class students for the entrance exam, the university would change the test’s structure to make it impossible for commoners to compete. In 1850, the exam lasted eight hours; by 1865, it lasted three days and covered twice as many subjects. Harvard justified these changes by re-affirming their desire to become more meritocratic. Far from a gatekeeping tool, the ever-changing exam would prevent the undeserving sons of the elite from corrupting an institution wherein achievement alone prevailed—or so the administration claimed. Of course, the leaders of the college knew that Harvard would remain as aristocratic as ever. But they understood the need to use the meritocracy narrative to protect the university from attacks in the name of democratic consistency.

[…]

On paper, every institution of elite production is accessible to all who deserve access. But the players who control the definition of merit and the metrics of achievement have evident incentives to limit the democratization of status. There lies the genius of meritocracy as we know it: the public mind does not grasp that a handful of institutions shape our perception of merit, that the selection processes change to protect dynastic privileges, and that meritocracy at-large consists of little more than a legitimating mechanism by and for elites. Dressed in the garb of equality, meritocracy allows hidden bastions of aristocracy to thrive in democratic societies.

[…]

Obsessed with erasing distinctions in rank, we run the risk of elevating mediocrity, failing to produce distinguished statesmen to steward the political order, and thereby endangering our own success.

The founding generation understood this inescapable tension. For them, aristocratic institutions were the best allies of democracies. To aspiring elites, the likes of Harvard provided a positive view of the good life, a sense of noblesse oblige, and a stellar education in the humanities. More than factories of statesmen, bastions of aristocracy served as a counter-cultural force, preserving sophisticated traditions of excellence against the vulgarization of popular culture. The hereditary character of these institutions facilitated their insulation. Responsible for the transmission of aristocratic virtues among a select set of families, elite universities ensured that a distinctive, functional approach to stewardship survived the corrosive entropy of time. Liberated from the pressures of society-at-large, distinguished colleges would act as incubators of elite creativity and talent.

[,,,]

In 1820, Harvard paid lip service to meritocratic virtues while producing aristocrats. In 2021, Harvard pays lip service to aristocratic virtues while producing meritocrats.

[…]

The managerial class’s relentless credentialism, obsession with expertise, disdain for leisure, unwillingness to marry before the age of 30, and workaholic disposition all constitute facets of a broader way of life.

[…]

Like the American framers, Confucians realize that functional elites integrate talent from non-elite circles, balancing functionality with continuity. Still, the frame of virtue politics departs from the liberal tradition in one central respect. Where liberal philosophers build systems to restrain the power of potentially vicious rulers with strict procedures, theorists of virtue politics elevate the selection of rulers over the restriction of their power.

The Confucian legacy still underpins many of China’s institutions, where the ideal of functionalist aristocracy often translates into an imperfect form of functionalist meritocracy. For centuries, Confucian theorists worked on a stack of institutions—selective examinations, evaluation by peers, modes of promotion, and so on—whose main objective was not to restrain state power, but to elevate the right people to wield it. In a post-communist China shaped by the intellectual influence of Mao, Confucians have not yet managed to impose an aristocratic model in which the system selects for real character virtues, as opposed to mere competence. Still, Confucian thought provides a roadmap for reform towards functionalist aristocracy, one from which both China and America would benefit.

[…]

Historically, functionalist meritocracies emerge in uncertain times during which the state’s survival demands raw efficiency. The British navy, for instance, began to select for hyper-competence when hereditary cadres could no longer preserve the empire on their own. Similar situations explain the rise of meritocracy in Napoleonic France and Imperial China. In every case, the urgent needs of the moment—be it a war, an expansionist foreign policy, internal conflicts, or the management of complex societies at scale—lead sclerotic ruling classes to open their ranks to the competent few. These systems are functionalist insofar as meritocrats justify their political power by their contribution to the common good, but they remain non-aristocratic since meritocratic institutions select for brute-force competence, not refined character.

Conversely, while desert-oriented systems can be meritocratic or aristocratic, they inevitably accompany times of decline. When aristocrats can no longer justify their privileges by pointing to the ways in which their superior character serves the common good, they construct narratives of desert — divine rights, hereditary titles, and so on — that hide their lack of virtue, tame popular discontentment, and delay the emergence of revolt.

Immigrant-founded companies are valued at $1.2 trillion

August 1st, 2022

Immigrants are 80 percent more likely than native-born Americans to found a firm, according to a study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but this might not be so impressive if the businesses are laundromats, nail salons, and gas stations:

According to the NFAP, a nonprofit that researches trade and immigration, immigrants have started 319 of 582, or 55 percent, of America’s privately-held startups valued at $1 billion or more. Over two-thirds of the 582 companies “were founded or cofounded by immigrants or the children of immigrants,” notes the NFAP. For comparison, approximately 14 percent of America’s population is foreign-born.

Together, the immigrant-founded companies are valued at $1.2 trillion and employ 859 people on average. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has the largest valuation at $125 billion, employing 12,000 workers; Gopuff, a food delivery service valued at $15 billion, has 15,000 employees; Stripe, a payment platform valued at $95 billion, employs 7,000; and Instacart, a grocery delivery service valued at $39 billion, has 3,000 workers.

These findings are notable, the NFAP points out, since “there is generally no reliable way under U.S. immigration law for foreign nationals to start a business and remain in the country after founding a company.” A large share of the immigrant startup founders came to the country as refugees, on family-sponsored green cards, or through employment-based pathways for other companies.

“Our employment-based pathways for immigrant entrepreneurship are so poorly designed, migrant businesses are often associated with non–employment based pathways,” points out Sam Peak, an immigration policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity. Peak notes that refugees “have the highest rates of entrepreneurship of any other immigrant group,” and family-based migration, “especially among siblings, is also strongly tied to new business formation.”

Now it has finished the job, and released predicted structures for more than 200m proteins

July 31st, 2022

In November 2020, the AI group DeepMind announced it had developed a program called AlphaFold that could rapidly predict how chains of amino acids fold up into complex shapes:

Last year, DeepMind published the protein structures for 20 species — including nearly all 20,000 proteins expressed by humans — on an open database. Now it has finished the job, and released predicted structures for more than 200m proteins.

“Essentially, you can think of it as covering the entire protein universe. It includes predictive structures for plants, bacteria, animals, and many other organisms, opening up huge new opportunities for AlphaFold to have an impact on important issues, such as sustainability, food insecurity, and neglected diseases,” said Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s founder and chief executive.

Scientists are already using some of its earlier predictions to help develop new medicines. In May, researchers led by Prof Matthew Higgins at the University of Oxford announced they had used AlphaFold’s models to help determine the structure of a key malaria parasite protein, and work out where antibodies that could block transmission of the parasite were likely to bind.

“Previously, we’d been using a technique called protein crystallography to work out what this molecule looks like, but because it’s quite dynamic and moves around, we just couldn’t get to grips with it,” Higgins said. “When we took the AlphaFold models and combined them with this experimental evidence, suddenly it all made sense. This insight will now be used to design improved vaccines which induce the most potent transmission-blocking antibodies.”

People who habitually compare themselves with others are more likely to have psychopathic traits

July 30th, 2022

Social comparison orientation is significantly correlated with psychopathy, Rob Henderson explains:

In other words, people who habitually compare themselves with others are more likely to have psychopathic traits (selfishness, callousness, cynicism).

And psychopathy, in turn, was associated with more comfort with sacrificing a few to save many.

Social comparison is also associated with narcissism. People prone to comparing themselves with others agree more strongly with statements such as “I am great” and “Other people are worth nothing.”

[…]

Later, I learned that psychopaths are overrepresented among college students by a factor of four. Roughly two percent of the general population are psychopaths, compared with 8 percent of college students.

[…]

Other studies find that people who frequently compare themselves with others are more likely to experience malicious envy.

They tend to agree with statements like “If other people have something that I want for myself, I wish to take it away from them” and “Seeing other people’s achievements makes me resent them.”

[…]

Social comparers prefer to make everyone else worse off, if it means they will obtain a relative advantage.

Also unsurprisingly, social comparison was highly correlated with competitiveness (“I judge my performance on whether I do better than others rather than on just getting a good result”).

The effects houses bend over backward to keep Marvel happy

July 27th, 2022

An anonymous VFX artist notes that working on Marvel shows is really hard:

When I worked on one movie, it was almost six months of overtime every day. I was working seven days a week, averaging 64 hours a week on a good week. Marvel genuinely works you really hard. I’ve had co-workers sit next to me, break down, and start crying. I’ve had people having anxiety attacks on the phone.

The studio has a lot of power over the effects houses, just because it has so many blockbuster movies coming out one after the other. If you upset Marvel in any way, there’s a very high chance you’re not going to get those projects in the future. So the effects houses are trying to bend over backward to keep Marvel happy.

To get work, the houses bid on a project; they are all trying to come in right under one another’s bids. With Marvel, the bids will typically come in quite a bit under, and Marvel is happy with that relationship, because it saves it money. But what ends up happening is that all Marvel projects tend to be understaffed. Where I would usually have a team of ten VFX artists on a non-Marvel movie, on one Marvel movie, I got two including myself. So every person is doing more work than they need to.

The other thing with Marvel is it’s famous for asking for lots of changes throughout the process. So you’re already overworked, but then Marvel’s asking for regular changes way in excess of what any other client does. And some of those changes are really major. Maybe a month or two before a movie comes out, Marvel will have us change the entire third act. It has really tight turnaround times. So yeah, it’s just not a great situation all around. One visual-effects house could not finish the number of shots and reshoots Marvel was asking for in time, so Marvel had to give my studio the work. Ever since, that house has effectively been blacklisted from getting Marvel work.

Part of the problem comes from the MCU itself — just the sheer number of movies it has. It sets dates, and it’s very inflexible on those dates; yet it’s quite willing to do reshoots and big changes very close to the dates without shifting them up or down.

[…]

The main problem is most of Marvel’s directors aren’t familiar with working with visual effects. A lot of them have just done little indies at the Sundance Film Festival and have never worked with VFX. They don’t know how to visualize something that’s not there yet, that’s not on set with them. So Marvel often starts asking for what we call “final renders.” As we’re working through a movie, we’ll send work-in-progress images that are not pretty but show where we’re at. Marvel often asks for them to be delivered at a much higher quality very early on, and that takes a lot of time. Marvel does that because its directors don’t know how to look at the rough images early on and make judgment calls. But that is the way the industry has to work. You can’t show something super pretty when the basics are still being fleshed out.

Their bloated administrations are the shock troops of the culture war

July 25th, 2022

There are two kinds of revolutionaries, Balaji Srinivasan argues, technological and political, and there are two kinds of backers, venture capitalists and philanthropists. There aren’t term sheets between philanthropists and political revolutionaries, with “exits” to the tune of billions of dollars, but impact certificates could fix that, Scott Alexander suggests.

Arnold Kling doesn’t want that “fixed”:

Profit-seeking investment is driven ultimately by what consumers want. Philanthropy is driven ultimately by what donors want. Unless you think that donors are morally superior to the rest of us, you should not be rooting for more philanthropy.

One can speculate that one of the causes of increased social tension is the rise in philanthropy. Our “cold civil war” is funded by George Soros, Peter Thiel, Tom Steyer, and the like. Universities are among the most popular “charitable causes,” and their bloated administrations are the shock troops of the culture war.

We are better off with Soros speculating on currencies and Thiel trying to take businesses from zero to one. We are better off when university alumni invest their money in search of profit.

[…]

A lot of philanthropy goes to colleges and universities. Much of this goes to fancy new buildings. I think that Scott would agree that this does not help poor people. But were the donors who funded buildings trying to help the poor but lacking skills at effective altruism? Obviously not.

The challenge is not to make philanthropists more efficient at getting performing-arts centers and sports complexes built on campus. The challenge is to change the focus of donors toward something more worthwhile.

On the other hand, over the years Wal-Mart has hired many low-skilled workers and lowered the cost of living in many poor rural areas. Wal-Mart did not set out to help poor people, but that was the result.

More generally, markets have been shown over time and across countries to reduce poverty. The market does not produce the results of a benevolent omniscient quasi-deity. But donors themselves are neither benevolent, omniscient, nor quasi-deities.

I think that there is too much money to be made nowadays in non-profits dedicated to causes. Think of people making money as “activists.” I worry that “impact markets” could lead to even greater investment in arms races between opposing advocacy groups.

Libertarianism in the United States is an awkward alliance

July 24th, 2022

Virginia Postrel notes that libertarianism in the United States is an awkward alliance between nasty “leave me alone” types and nice “don’t dictate to others” types, Arnold Kling reports:

She invoked David Hackett-Fischer’s classic Albion’s Seed. That might be a good book to discuss at some point. The nasties are the descendants of the Scotch-Irish “borderers.” The nice are the descendants of the Quaker migration. The former are Trump supporters. The latter are more likely to be #neverTrumpers.

There were standards of politeness that people followed

July 23rd, 2022

One factor driving Wokeness, Virginia Postrel notes, is a desire on the part of young people to be polite, and Arnold Kling doesn’t quite agree:

Calling people by their preferred pronouns and avoiding micro-aggressions can be seen as an attempt to be polite. Of course, by my standards these forms of politeness are not admirable, and the activists on Twitter are anything but polite.

Some more of my thoughts:

If you go back to the 1950s, there were standards of politeness that people followed. You were not supposed to use four-letter words. Men went to baseball games in white dress shirts. Nobody went to the theater or went on a plane trip in blue jeans.

We boomers treated these norms of politeness as at best unnecessary and at worst hypocritical. We threw out the whole concept.

But maybe there is a human longing for standards of politeness.

I’m reminded of Neal Stephenson’s defense of the (Neo-)Victorians against accusations of hypocrisy in The Diamond Age:

“We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy,“ Finkle-McGraw continued. “In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception — he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it’s a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing.”

A 9V battery feeding a capacitor provided the energy to ignite the new type of primer

July 22nd, 2022

The recent unpleasantness in Japan piqued my interest in DIY firearms and electronic ignition, which led me to the Remington Model 700 EtronX, which was introduced in 2000 and discontinued in 2003. Ian of Forgotten Weapons explains:

It consisted of a standard Remington 700 bolt action rifle, with the trigger and firing mechanisms replaced by electric versions. The firing pin itself became an insulated electrode, the trigger operated an electronic switch instead of a mechanical sear, and a 9V battery feeding a capacitor provided the energy to ignite the new type of primer — basically a resistor that would generate heat to ignite a charge of smokeless powder.

[…]

Unfortunately, the only practical advantage to the electronic workings was a reduction in lock time of the action (the delay from trigger press to cartridge ignition). They did in fact achieve a virtual elimination of lock time, but this was not a problem that needed to be addressed for the general sporting rifle market.

Now, if they introduced a gun that didn’t need conventional primers today, they might have some success.

One hobbyist found it surprisingly hard to ignite gunpowder:

Experiments performed a few years ago and shown on the web page here found that weak sparks, such as from static electricity, are incapable of igniting black powder. Since I wanted to use smokeless powder in the rifle, and since it has a much higher ignition point than the black powder shown here, my first attempts used sparks from a stun-gun to see if they could ignite the powder.

The stun gun shown here is advertised as producing a 100,000 volt spark. The sparks were certainly loud and impressive, and they easily burned tiny holes through a piece of paper placed between the electrodes, but would they ignite powder?

Hundreds of sparks were struck into a pile of Hodgdon’s Tite-Group smokeless powder (left) and Swiss black powder (right) with absolutely no effect except for bouncing the grains around. The sparks were striking the grains, and you can see flashes when the spark hits the surface of the granules, but never once would the powder ignite!

The photo below shows a spark from the stun gun going completely through a line of black powder stuck to a piece of masking tape, and although hundreds of grains were simultaneously hit, nothing happened.

[…]

About this time I was ready to give up, but after a few days of reflection, I thought I knew what was happening. The spark in the chamber was clearly extraordinarily hot and was vigorous enough to blow the tamper out of the chamber, which meant that the air in the chamber had to be heated to a high temperature. But why didn’t the powder ignite? I believed the reason was the extremely brief duration of the spark; in trying to capture it on a video, it was so brief that it took many tries to accidentally capture a video frame on a camera running 30 frames/second. My guess is that it lasted only a few micro seconds, and thus, no matter how hot it was, it couldn’t transfer enough heat into the powder granules during this brief time period for them to ignite. Therefore, slowing down the spark, even if it meant reducing its intensity, might be enough to do the job.

To slow down the spark, I simply added a resistor in series with the capacitor so the current was limited to about two amperes — which is still a lot of current going through a spark. As you can see from the image, the spark was much brighter than from the spark coil alone, but was very much less intense than without the resistor. However, it seemed to last a bit longer — about 2000 micro seconds, so that elongation might do the trick.

I added some smokeless powder (this time without a tamper) and sparked it. It worked! Not only did it work for the Tite Group smokeless powder, but for all others I tried, and all ignitions were instantaneous.