The Hitler Anomaly

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Mencius Moldbug looks at The Hitler Anomaly:

The anomaly, to reprise, is that Hitler today is detested for his human-rights violations, ie, the Holocaust. And the Allies are therefore revered for defeating Hitler, wrapping the whole problem up in a neat little bow. The only problem with this human-rights theory of World War II is that it has no resemblance to reality.

First, the Allies included a fellow whose human-rights record was at least as bad as Hitler’s. Second, Roosevelt and Churchill not only didn’t seem to much mind the extermination of the Jews (whom they had many opportunities to save) — if anything, they covered it up. (Which makes neo-Nazi claims that the Holocaust was Allied war propaganda grimly comical, to say the least.) And third, the Allies didn’t at all mind barbecuing as many enemy civilians as they could fit on the grill.

Put these facts together, and the human-rights theory of World War II makes about as much sense as the suggestion that Caesar invaded Britain because he wanted to see Manchester United play Chelsea. So why did it happen? The nominal cause of the European war was that Britain wanted to preserve a free Poland. You’d think that if this was their key goal, they would have found a way to come out of the war with a free Poland — especially having won, and all. Much the same can be said with respect to the US and China.

Note that what we are interested in, here, is not the motives of Hitler and Mussolini and Tojo. These men are dead and so are their movements. The movements that defeated them, however, live on — I think it’s pretty clear that the “international community” and the Allies are one and the same. Our question is why said community had such a harsh reaction to Nazi Germany. Especially since its response to Soviet Russia, which was just as aggressive and just as murderous, was so different.

Scientists Create First Memristor

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Scientists Create First Memristor:

Researchers at HP Labs have built the first working prototypes of an important new electronic component that may lead to instant-on PCs as well as analog computers that process information the way the humain brain does.

The new component is called a memristor, or memory resistor. Up until today, the circuit element had only been described in a series of mathematical equations written by Leon Chua, who in 1971 was an engineering student studying non-linear circuits. Chua knew the circuit element should exist — he even accurately outlined its properties and how it would work. Unfortunately, neither he nor the rest of the engineering community could come up with a physical manifestation that matched his mathematical expression.

Thirty-seven years later, a group of scientists from HP Labs has finally built real working memristors, thus adding a fourth basic circuit element to electrical circuit theory, one that will join the three better-known ones: the capacitor, resistor and the inductor.

Researchers believe the discovery will pave the way for instant-on PCs, more energy-efficient computers, and new analog computers that can process and associate information in a manner similar to that of the human brain.

According to R. Stanley Williams, one of four researchers at HP Labs’ Information and Quantum Systems Lab who made the discovery, the most interesting characteristic of a memristor device is that it remembers the amount of charge that flows through it.

Indeed, Chua’s original idea was that the resistance of a memristor would depend upon how much charge has gone through the device. In other words, you can flow the charge in one direction and the resistance will increase. If you push the charge in the opposite direction it will decrease. Put simply, the resistance of the devices at any point in time is a function of history of the device — or how much charge went through it either forwards or backwards. That simple idea, now that it has been proven, will have profound effect on computing and computer science.

Homesteading on the High Seas

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Now Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason looks at Homesteading on the High Seas:

If Peter Thiel funds something, it’s bound to be cutting-edge awesome.

He is a supporter of the Methuselah Mouse Prize, which seeks to slow, stop, and eventually reverse aging. He was a producer of the film Thank You for Smoking, based on Christopher Buckley’s charmingly ambiguous novel about a pro-tobacco lobbyist. An early investor in social networking, he was involved with Linked In and was the first investor in Facebook. He’s big at the Singularity Institute (reason‘s Ronald Bailey caught up with him at the Singularity Summit earlier this year, check out the interview in the May print edition), which ponders and pushes artificial intelligence in preparation for a Vernor Vingeian “intelligence explosion.” His first success was PayPal, which he originally hoped “would grow to become an extra-governmental system of currency, something reminiscent of the world described in Neal Stephenson’s novel Cryptonomicon, in which programmers use encryption to create an offshore data haven free from government control.”

And last week, Thiel announced a $500,000 investment—the same amount he put into Facebook in June 2004—in the Seasteading Institute. Seasteading, or “homesteading on the high seas,” is an idea that has long attracted libertarians and others who would like to see a little more competition between forms of government. The idea is to get out into international waters and set up a floating outpost (or 12, or 1,200) from which people can come and go, experimenting with different types of legal, social, and contractual arrangements.

Thiel’s co-conspirator and resident big thinker is none other than the impeccably credentialed Patri Friedman, son of David “Machinery of Freedom” Friedman, grandson of Milton “Capitalism and Freedom” Friedman. Patri, 31, has been beating the drums for various floating autonomous entities for several years, whenever he can steal time from his work as a software engineer at Google and from his now 2-year-old son, Tovar.

Despite the seemingly radical idea he’s championing, Patri sees himself as a practical guy: “Starting a new country is actually a much less hard problem than, say, a libertarian winning a U.S. election,” he says. He says that most of his competitors in the libertarian/anarchist autonomous entity business have been too ambitious, citing efforts from Sealand (the abandoned offshore fort-turned-free-state “which sort of worked” until it was devastated by fire in 2006) to more dramatic failures like Freedom Ship (current estimated cost >$11 billion, construction not yet begun) and the Aquarius phase of the Millennial Project (“colonizing the galaxy in eight easy steps!“) to Minerva Reef (an uninhabited dredged island “invaded” by neighboring Tonga and eventually more or less reclaimed by the sea).

Learning a valuable lesson from his predecessors, Friedman is an incrementalist. “I want to talk about what to do this year, not how to colonize the galaxy.” One way to start small, he says, is to hold a kind of floating Burning Man, called Ephemerisle, an idea inspired by childhood pilgrimages with his father to Pennsic, a Society for Creative Anachronism medieval reenactment held outside Pittsburgh, and college stints at Burning Man.

“There aren’t that many people who are wiling to drop their lives and move to the ocean.” Instead, he says, “it could start as a one week vacation, but then unlike Burning Man it could grow and eventually become permanent.” Friedman hopes to hold the first Ephemerisle next summer, inviting many types of floating vessels to join him in international waters. Even an ordinary cruise ship might be enough to get started, since the cruise industry has proven that “providing power, water, food, and internet on the ocean is not only possible but can be profitable.” But some of Thiel’s grant is going toward figuring out the best way to throw up some small, cheap seasteads to provide a little non-state infrastructure and get things rolling (or floating, as the case may be).

How your taxes turn into manure

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Dave Barry explains how your taxes turn into manure — and, as a bonus, he explains stimulus payments:

Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?
A. It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.

Q. Where will the government get this money?
A. From taxpayers.

Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?
A. Only a smidgen.

Q. What is the purpose of this payment?
A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.

Q. But isn’t that stimulating the economy of China?
A. Shut up.

Garibaldi didn’t unite Italy

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Moldbug, in discussing the larger issue of progressivism, notes that Garibaldi didn’t unite Italy:

Quick association test! The unification of Italy — good or bad? I’ll bet you said “good.” Well, here’s a little story.

A couple of years ago Mrs. Moldbug and I spent three weeks in Italy. For the first week we split a villa in Cilento with some friends, which was lovely if a little buggy, and involved inhaling enormous quantities of Limoncello. Next we thought we’d take our backpacks and bop around on the train a little. Our first stop: Naples.

I’m afraid it’s not for nothing that northern Italians say “Garibaldi didn’t unite Italy, he divided Africa.” Obviously, this is a racist statement and I can’t condone it. But even the Lonely Planet warns travellers that “you might think you’re in Cairo or Tangier.” I have never been to Cairo or Tangier, but if they are anything like Naples, God help them.

The 3000-year-old city of Naples is a reeking, garbage-ridden sewer. This year there was an actual garbage strike, but the problem is perennial — there was a giant, seemingly permanent mound of it right across the street from our LP-recommended albergo. At all times, almost everyone on the street appears to be a criminal, especially at night. The streets are ruinous, unlit, and patrolled by thieves on mopeds. We saw one pull up in front of an old lady carrying a bag of groceries, openly inspect her goods for anything worth stealing, then scoot away. Apparently they have a reputation for ripping earrings out of womens’ ears.

From Naples you can take the Trans-Vesuviano to Pompeii. This train has a wonderful name, but its main purpose appears to be to transport criminals from the Stalinist banlieues in which they live, to the city in which in which they steal. Signs in every language known to humanity warn the tourist that pickpockets are everywhere. The trains are stripped to the metal and covered with graffiti, which is not in Latin. As the train stopped at one station, we saw a couple of carabinieri carrying a body-bag away from the platform.

He goes on. But here’s the greater point:

Obviously, Naples being this way, I assumed that Naples had always been this way. There was that old line, “see Naples and die,” but presumably it referred to a knife in the ribs. That poor bastard on the Trans-Vesuviano had seen Naples, and died. Was it worth it?

So I was surprised to discover a different version of reality, from British historian Desmond Seward’s Naples: A Travellers’ Companion:

‘In size and number of inhabitants she ranks as the third city of Europe, and from her situation and superb show may justly be considered the Queen of the Mediterranean,’ wrote John Chetwode Eustace in 1813. Until 1860 Naples was the political and administrative centre of the Kingdom of The Two Sicilies, the most beautiful kingdom in the world. Consisting of Southern Italy and Sicily, it had a land mass equal to that of Portugal and was the richest state in Europe… For five generations — from 1734 till 1860 — it was ruled by a branch of the French and Spanish royal family of Bourbon who filled the city with monuments to their reign…

The ‘Borboni’ as their subjects called them, were complete Neapolitans, wholly assimilated, who spoke and thought in Neapolitan dialect (indeed the entire court spoke Neapolitan)… Until 1860, glittering Court balls and regal gala nights at the San Carlo which staggered foreigners by their opulence and splendour were a feature of Neapolitan life… In 1839 that ferocious Whig Lord Macaulay was staying in the city and wrote, ‘I must say that the accounts I which I have heard of Naples are very incorrect. There is far less beggary than in Rome, and far more industry… At present, my impressions are very favourable to Naples. It is the only place in Italy that has seemed to me to have the same sort of vitality which you find in all the great English ports and cities. Rome and Pisa are dead and gone; Florence is not dead, but sleepeth; while Naples overflows with life.”

The Borboni’s memory have been systematically blackened by partisans of the regime which supplanted them, and by admirers of the Risorgimento. They have had a particularly bad press in the Anglo-Saxon world. Nineteenth-century English liberals loathed them for their absolutism, their clericalism and loyalty to the Papacy, and their opposition to the fashionable cause of Italian unity. Politicians from Lord William Bentinck to Lord Palmerston and Gladstone, writers such as Browning and George Eliot, united in detesting the ‘tyrants’; Gladstone convinced himself that their regime was ‘the negation of God.’ Such critics, as prejudiced as they were ill informed, ignored the dynasty’s economic achievement, the kingdom’s remarkable prosperity compared with other Italian states, the inhabitants’ relative contentment, and the fact that only a mere handful of Southern Italians were opposed to their government. Till the end, The Two Sicilies was remarkable for the majority of its subjects’ respect for, and knowledge of, its laws — so deep that even today probably most Italian judges, and especially successful advocates, still come from the south. Yet even now there is a mass of blind prejudice among historians. All too many guidebooks dismiss the Borboni as corrupt despots who misruled and neglected their capital. An entire curtain of slander conceals the old, pre-1860 Naples; with the passage of time calumny has been supplemented by ignorance, and it is easy to forget that history is always written by the victors. However Sir Harold Acton in his two splendid studies of the Borboni has to some extent redressed the balance, and his interpretation of past events is winning over increasing support — especially in Naples itself.

Undoubtedly the old monarchy had serious failings. Though economically and industrially creative, it was also absolutist and isolationist, disastrously out of touch with pan-Italian aspirations… Beyond question there was political repression under the Bourbons — the dynasty was fighting for its survival — but it has been magnified out of all proportion. On the whole prison conditions were probably no worse than in contemporary England, which still had its hulks; what really upset Gladstone was seeing his social equals being treated in the same way as working-class convicts, since opposition to the regime was restricted to a few liberal romantics among the aristocracy and bourgeoisie…

The Risorgimento was a disaster for Naples and for the south in general. Before 1860 the Mezzogiorno was the richest part of Italy outside the Austrian Empire; after it quickly became the poorest. The facts speak for themselves. In 1859 money circulating in The Two Sicilies amounted to more than that circulating in all other independent Italian states, while the Bank of Naples’s gold reserve was 443 million gold lire, twice the combined reserves of the rest of Italy. This gold was immediately confiscated by Piedmont — whose own reserve had been a mere 27 million — and transferred to Turin. Neapolitan excise duties, levied to keep out the north’s inferior goods and providing four-fifths of the city’s revenue, were abolished. And then the northerners imposed crushing new taxes. Far from being liberators, the Piedmontese administrators who came in the wake of the Risorgimento behaved like Yankees in the post-bellum Southern States; they ruled The Two Sicilies as an occupied country, systematically demolishing its institutions and industries. Ferdinand’s new dockyard was dismantled to stop Naples competing with Genoa (it is now being restored by industrial archeologists). Vilification of the Borboni became part of the school curriculum. Shortly after the Two Sicilies’ enforced incorporation into the new Kingdom of Italy, the Duke of Maddaloni protested in the ‘national’ Parliament: ‘This is invasion, not annexation, not union. We are being plundered like an occupied territory.’ For years after the ‘liberation,’ Neapolitans were governed by northern padroni and carpet-baggers. And today the Italians of the north can be as stupidly prejudiced about Naples as any Anglo-Saxon, affecting a superiority which verges on racism — ‘Africa begins South of Rome’ — and lamenting the presence in the North of so many workers from the Mezzogiorno. (The ill-feeling is reciprocated, the Neapolitan translation of SPQR being Sono porci, questi Romani.) Throughout the 1860s 150,000 troops were needed to hold down the south.

Note the pattern. What made Italian unification happen? Why did Ferdinand of Naples, with his 443 million gold lire, just roll over for Charles Albert of Piedmont, with his mere 27? Two reasons: Lord Palmerston and Napoleon III. Where did exiles such as Mazzini and Garibaldi find their backers? Not in Pompeii, that’s for sure.

The unification of Italy was an event in the 19th century’s great struggle between liberalism and reaction. The international liberal movement of the 20th century, in which a figure such as Carl Schurz could go from German revolutionary in 1848 to Civil War general in 1861, was the clear precursor of today’s “international community.” And once again, we see it playing the same predatory role: conquering and destroying in the name of liberation and independence.

Tribe and State

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Arnold Kling reads Philip Carl Salzman’s Culture and Conflict in the Middle East — which describes farming peasant cultures as easy to “shear” and tribal livestock-raising cultures as always feuding, but with a flexible “us vs. them” mentality — and draws his own conclusions about Tribe and State:

The culture of balanced opposition creates an almost Newtonian dynamic. Any aggregation of power tends to result in an equal and opposite aggregation of power. This makes “nation-building” a very frustrating enterprise. The more assertive the central government seeks to be, the more united will be the opposition to it.

If Salzman is correct, and a tribal culture of balanced opposition prevails in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, then it is unlikely that a democratic central government will emerge. Instead, a decentralized tribal order can be maintained, as long as tribes can be sufficiently separated to minimize friction and conflict. This might be possible in much of Afghanistan and parts of Iraq, but it seems unlikely in Baghdad.

The other way to maintain order is through severe repression. That is the way that small cliques have been able to govern in many Arab countries, including Syria as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Over the past eighteen months, the United States in Iraq has been pitting local tribes against Al Qaeda insurgents. Thus, we have been getting “balanced opposition” to work for us rather than against us. Working with local tribes helps our military combat the elements in Iraq that we fear the most–those associated with Al Qaeda. However, it is unlikely in the long run to produce stability.

In the countryside, Iraq may achieve a stable order based on tribal separation. In Baghdad, tribal equilibrium is too fragile, and some other solution will be needed. From this distance, I cannot see where such a solution might come from. Rather than providing comfort to the hawks, reading Salzman increased my fears that the U.S. could be mired permanently in conflict in Iraq. For every insurgency we defeat and every conflict that we quell, new ones will keep popping up.

America’s Most Overrated Product

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Marty Nemko attacks America’s Most Overrated Product — the bachelor’s degree:

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: “I wasn’t a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I’d be the first one in my family to do it. But it’s been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go.”

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later.
Today, amazingly, a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science.

Perhaps more surprising, even those high-school students who are fully qualified to attend college are increasingly unlikely to derive enough benefit to justify the often six-figure cost and four to six years (or more) it takes to graduate. Research suggests that more than 40 percent of freshmen at four-year institutions do not graduate in six years. Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than nongraduates, but that’s terribly misleading. You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they’d still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound — they’re brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections.

How much do students at four-year institutions actually learn? Not much — since that’s not the university’s goal:

Colleges and universities are businesses, and students are a cost item, while research is a profit center. As a result, many institutions tend to educate students in the cheapest way possible: large lecture classes, with necessary small classes staffed by rock-bottom-cost graduate students.
The more prestigious the institution, the more likely that faculty members are hired and promoted much more for their research than for their teaching. Professors who bring in big research dollars are almost always rewarded more highly than a fine teacher who doesn’t bring in the research bucks. Ernest L. Boyer, the late president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, used to say that winning the campus teaching award was the kiss of death when it came to tenure.

Again, students don’t learn much:

A 2006 study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below “proficient” levels on a test that required them to do such basic tasks as understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit-card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.

Unbelievably, according to the Spellings Report, which was released in 2006 by a federal commission that examined the future of American higher education, things are getting even worse: “Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined. … According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, for instance, the percentage of college graduates deemed proficient in prose literacy has actually declined from 40 to 31 percent in the past decade. … Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today’s workplaces.”

Nemko makes a number of recommendations:

  • Value added. A national test, which could be developed by the major testing companies, should measure skills important for responsible citizenship and career success. Some of the test should be in career contexts: the ability to draft a persuasive memo, analyze an employer’s financial report, or use online research tools to develop content for a report.
  • Just as the No Child Left Behind Act mandates strict accountability of elementary and secondary schools, all colleges should be required to administer the value-added test I propose to all entering freshmen and to students about to graduate, and to report the mean value added, broken out by precollege SAT scores, race, and gender. That would strongly encourage institutions to improve their undergraduate education and to admit only students likely to derive enough benefit to justify the time, tuition, and opportunity costs. Societal bonus: Employers could request that job applicants submit the test results, leading to more-valid hiring decisions.
  • The average cash, loan, and work-study financial aid for varying levels of family income and assets, broken out by race and gender. And because some colleges use the drug-dealer scam — give the first dose cheap and then jack up the price — they should be required to provide the average not just for the first year, but for each year.
  • Retention data: the percentage of students returning for a second year, broken out by SAT score, race, and gender.
  • Safety data: the percentage of an institution’s students who have been robbed or assaulted on or near the campus.
  • The four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates, broken out by SAT score, race, and gender. That would allow institutions to better document such trends as the plummeting percentage of male graduates in recent years.
  • Employment data for graduates: the percentage of graduates who, within six months of graduation, are in graduate school, unemployed, or employed in a job requiring college-level skills, along with salary data.
  • Results of the most recent student-satisfaction survey, to be conducted by the institutions themselves.
  • The most recent accreditation report. The college could include the executive summary only in its printed recruitment material, but it would have to post the full report on its Web site.

    Being required to conspicuously provide this information to prospective students and parents would exert long-overdue pressure on colleges to improve the quality of undergraduate education. What should parents and guardians of prospective students do?

  • If your child’s high-school grades and test scores are in the bottom half for his class, resist the attempts of four-year colleges to woo him. Colleges make money whether or not a student learns, whether or not she graduates, and whether or not he finds good employment. Let the buyer beware. Consider an associate-degree program at a community college, or such nondegree options as apprenticeship programs (see, shorter career-preparation programs at community colleges, the military, and on-the-job training, especially at the elbow of a successful small-business owner.
  • If your student is in the top half of her high-school class and is motivated to attend college for reasons other than going to parties and being able to say she went to college, have her apply to perhaps a dozen colleges. Colleges vary less than you might think (at least on factors you can readily discern in the absence of the accountability requirements I advocate above), yet financial-aid awards can vary wildly. It’s often wise to choose the college that requires you to pay the least cash and take out the smallest loan. College is among the few products that don’t necessarily give you what you pay for — price does not indicate quality.
  • If your child is one of the rare breed who knows what he wants to do and isn’t unduly attracted to academics or to the Animal House environment that characterizes many college-living arrangements, then take solace in the fact that countless other people have successfully taken the noncollege road less traveled. Some examples: Maya Angelou, David Ben-Gurion, Richard Branson, Coco Chanel, Walter Cronkite, Michael Dell, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Alex Haley, Ernest Hemingway, Wolfgang Puck, John D. Rockefeller Sr., Ted Turner, Frank Lloyd Wright, and nine U.S. presidents, from Washington to Truman.

Of course, the university system and its supporters don’t want such transparency. A standardized value-added test would reveal (a) not much value added, and (b) huge differences in ability between students. No one wants that — except for employers, employees, and anyone else living in the real world.

Kaibo Zonshinzu Anatomy Scrolls

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Kyoto-area physician Yasukazu Minagaki (1784-1825) produced the Kaibo Zonshinzu anatomy scrolls in 1819.

(Hat tip to Drawn!)

Solar without the Panels

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

This piece on Solar without the Panels points out an interesting trade-off in solar thermal power station design:

In fact, the capacity to store energy is critical to the economics of the solar thermal plant. Without storage, a solar thermal plant would need a turbine large enough to handle peak steam production, when the sun is brightest, but which would otherwise be underutilized. Stored heat means that a plant can use a smaller, cheaper steam turbine that can be kept running steadily for more hours of the day. While adding storage would substantially increase the cost of the energy produced by a photovoltaic array or wind farm, it actually reduces the cost per kilowatt of the energy produced by solar thermal plants.

The amount of storage included in a plant — expressed as the number of hours that it can keep the turbine running full tilt — will vary according to capital costs and the needs of a given utility. “There is an optimal point that could be three hours of storage or six hours of storage, where the cents per kilowatt-hour is the lowest,” says Fred Morse, senior advisor for U.S. operations with Abengoa Solar. Morse says that the company’s 280-megawatt plant in Arizona, set to begin operation by 2011, will have six hours of storage, while other recent projects promise seven to eight.

Only in Saudi Arabia

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

I had heard about the roads being crazy in Saudia Arabia, but this is a whole ‘nuther level of crazy:

Albert Hofmann, the Father of LSD, Dies at 102

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Albert Hofmann, the Father of LSD, Dies at 102:

Albert Hofmann, the mystical Swiss chemist who gave the world LSD, the most powerful psychotropic substance known, died Tuesday at his hilltop home near Basel, Switzerland. He was 102.
It was during his work on the ergot fungus, which grows in rye kernels, that he stumbled on LSD, accidentally ingesting a trace of the compound one Friday afternoon in April 1943. Soon he experienced an altered state of consciousness similar to the one he had experienced as a child.

On the following Monday, he deliberately swallowed a dose of LSD and rode his bicycle home as the effects of the drug overwhelmed him. That day, April 19, later became memorialized by LSD enthusiasts as “bicycle day.”

Dr. Hofmann’s work produced other important drugs, including methergine, used to treat postpartum hemorrhaging, the leading cause of death from childbirth. But it was LSD that shaped both his career and his spiritual quest.
After his discovery of LSD’s properties, Dr. Hofmann spent years researching sacred plants. With his friend R. Gordon Wasson, he participated in psychedelic rituals with Mazatec shamans in southern Mexico. He succeeded in synthesizing the active compounds in the Psilocybe mexicana mushroom, which he named psilocybin and psilocin. He also isolated the active compound in morning glory seeds, which the Mazatec also used as an intoxicant, and found that its chemical structure was close to that of LSD.

Remedial Condescension

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Fred Reed says a number of unpleasant things in Remedial Condescension, but this point caught my attention:

Decades ago, I decided that blacks should be judged on their individual merits, just as everyone else should be, without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin. For this I was called a liberal and sometimes a commy.

Since then, my views have evolved. Today I think that blacks should be judged on their individual merits, as everyone else should be, without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin. I am fascinated to find that in the intervening years I have become a racist and a Nazi.

GM Rethinks Engine With Homogeneous Charge-Compression Ignition

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

GM Rethinks Engine With Homogeneous Charge-Compression Ignition:

Dismissed as a laboratory curiosity in the 1970s, homogeneous charge-compression ignition (HCCI) has now emerged as a more feasible alternative to alternative fuels — and it’s almost ready to roll out en masse. When used in conjunction with other advanced engine technologies, this combustion process can help deliver a whopping 25- to 30 -percent better fuel economy than today’s spark- or compression-ignited internal combustion engines (ICE). HCCI does all this with near-zero emissions, just like a hybrid — and it won’t have any impact on your driving habits or come at a premium price.
So what makes the HCCI process different from spark or compression ignition? It delivers a more complete, efficient burn at temperatures too low for the formation of harmful nitrous oxides. As a result, the job of cleaning the exhaust becomes much easier, resulting in fewer greenhouse gases being expelled into the atmosphere. It also requires a much leaner air/fuel mixture (less fuel, more air) for detonation than in a standard four-stroke engine — hence the 25- to 30- percent bump in fuel economy. Plus, burning gasoline at a lower temperature means that considerably less energy is lost through the exhaust pipe, or transferred as waste heat into the engine’s cooling system.

Originally known as active thermo-atmosphere combustion, HCCI was first discovered in 1979 by engineers at the Nippon Clean Engine Research Institute in Japan trying to perfect a cleaner, more efficient two-stroke engine. But at the time HCCI couldn’t be controlled well enough to work in a four-stroke engine. Advances in microprocessors, sensors and control systems have somewhat rectified that problem, sending nearly every top-tier carmaker (notably GM with the process explained above, Honda with activated radical combustion and Mercedes-Benz with its DiesOtto program) as well as a consortium of U.S. universities and government labs (recently contracted by the Department of Energy) into overdrive as they scramble to perfect an engine that employs HCCI.

Watch the video.

A Crushing Issue

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Joel Millman looks at A Crushing Issue facing Mazda — how to destroy brand-new cars:

It all started about two years ago, when a ship carrying 4,703 shiny new Mazdas nearly sank in the Pacific. The freighter, the Cougar Ace, spent weeks bobbing on the high seas, listing at a severe 60-degree angle, before finally being righted.

The mishap created a dilemma: What to do with the cars? They had remained safely strapped down throughout the ordeal — but no one knew for sure what damage, if any, might be caused by dangling cars at such a steep angle for so long. Might corrosive fluids seep into chambers where they don’t belong? Was the Cougar Ace now full of lemons?

The Japanese car maker, controlled by Ford Motor Corp., easily could have found takers for the vehicles. Hundreds of people called about buying cheap Mazdas. Schools wanted them for auto-shop courses. Hollywood asked about using them for stunts.

Mazda turned everyone away. It worried about getting sued someday if, say, an air-bag failed to fire properly due to overexposure to salty sea air.

It also worried that scammers might find a way to spirit the cars abroad to sell as new. That happened to thousands of so-called “Katrina cars” salvaged from New Orleans’ flooding three years ago. Those cars — their electronics gone haywire and sand in the engines — were given a paint job and unloaded in Latin America on unsuspecting buyers, damaging auto makers’ reputations.

Mazda saw no easy way to guard against these outcomes. So it decided to destroy approximately $100 million worth of factory-new automobiles.

Sad, really.

The International Community is not a fundamentally predatory force

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Mencius Moldbug recently looked at three anomalies in progressive political thought: a surprising definition of the word independence, an oscillatory ambivalence around the concept of nationalism, and a chiral gradient in sensitivity to human rights violations.

These anomalies all make a certain sense if we assume that the International Community is a fundamentally predatory force. It’s not, Moldbug notes; it just looks that way:

The hypothesis is that the “international community” — a phrase we see used on a pretty regular basis, although perhaps we are not quite as clear as we might be as to what exactly it might mean — is, and always has been, a fundamentally predatory force.

The fact that falsifies the hypothesis — at least for me — is that my father was a US diplomat, and if the “international community” means anything it must mean Foggy Bottom. And I can tell you that it is simply impossible to mistake a transnational bureaucrat (or tranzi) for an SS officer, or vice versa. If the Third Reich is your image of an international predator — and why shouldn’t it be? Can’t we make Hitler work for us? — the adjective is clearly misapplied.

As anyone who has ever known any number of progressives knows, progressives are generally decent, intelligent and well-meaning people. Moreover, this fact does not stop at the edges of government. By definition, decent, intelligent and well-meaning people are not predatory. Since the “international community” is clearly progressive, the hypothesis is falsified. Whew!

But, not endorsing this false hypothesis, but simply using it as a tool of argument, it sure is interesting to look at how nicely it explains our little anomalies. It may or may not be productive to replace three poorly explained phenomena by one incorrect assumption. But at least it reduces the number of problems. Let’s work through them one by one.

Yes, let’s:

First: what happened to the Third World?

Well, that’s pretty easy. It was conquered and devastated by the “international community.” Admittedly, the “devastated” part kind of sucks. But when you’re a predator, it’s better to conquer and devastate than not to conquer at all, n’est ce pas?

Let’s take a look at this independence thing. What exactly is a multilateral declaration of independence? Since it’s not this?

Well, on the sweet and good and true side, MDI seems to involve a change in the ethnicity of government officials. Foreign officials are replaced by native-born officials. Clearly, for example, it would be an outrage for true-born Americans to be governed by a dirty no-good Mex— oh, wait. We’re progressives. We’re not racists. Ethnicity means nothing to us.

Well, the postcolonial regimes are no longer controlled from overseas. They can do whatever they want. They’re free!

Sure they are. They’re so free that they’ve received $2.6 trillion in aid since 1960. Does the phrase “who pays the piper calls the tune” ring any bells? Again, in English at least, the word “independence” is a compound of the prefix in-, meaning not, and dependent, meaning dependent.

You would expect independent states to follow their own political traditions:

Across most of the Third World, however, we see a very simple transition: from the traditional forms of government and tribal leaders whom the British, French, Rhodesians, etc, supported at a local or even regional level in the policy of indirect rule, to a new elite selected and educated in Western missions, schools and universities. In Africa these men are called the wa-Benzi — “wa” is the Swahili prefix for “tribe,” and I think “Benzi” speaks for itself.

Moreover, the rhetoric of tiers-mondisme is and was almost the same everywhere. If Algeria and Vietnam were truly growing up and following their own destinies, you might think the former would be ruled by a Dey and the latter by emperors and mandarins. You’d certainly be surprised to find that they both had an organization called the “National Liberation Front.”

Moldbug notes that “the English language has a perfectly good word for a regime which appears to be independent” — puppet state. But these regimes aren’t quite puppet states:

A muppet state is not quite a puppet state. It delivers a far more lifelike impression of individual identity. It has not just an invisible hand supporting it from below, but invisible strings pulling it from above. In fact, muppet states often appear quite hostile to their masters. There are a variety of reasons for this — one is internal conflict within the master state, which we’ll get to in a bit — but the simplest is just camouflage.

The classic story is de Gaulle’s legendary obstreperousness during World War II. De Gaulle had to cause problems for the British and Americans, because his whole story was that he represented the true spirit of oppressed France — rather than being just some guy that Churchill set up in an office, which is of course exactly what he was. Furthermore, because a blatant display of puppetry would have been no use to the Allies, they had to tolerate his acting out.

The phenomenon of dependent rebellion is quite familiar to anyone who has ever been a teenager, an analogy that’s a good guide to the sort of “independence” we see in the likes of a Mugabe, a Castro or even a Khomeini — each a member of the “I got my job through the New York Times” club.

It’s easy to see what a network of postcolonial muppet states harnessed to the hegemonic will of an imperial alien overlord looks like. We have the perfect example: the Warsaw Pact, and its assorted flunkeys in Africa and Asia. (In fact, we have two evil muppet empires to look at, because the Maoists spun off their own.) The Marxist-Leninist muppet states all insisted fervently that they were liberated, independent, etc, and that their alliances were brotherly partnerships of equals, with their own Politburos and everything. And of course the whole enterprise was run by Comrade Brezhnev, from the white phone in his petit salon. Even Hitler’s quislings in New Order Europe did not exhibit quite this level of gall — there was no pretence that Vichy France, for example, was an equal of the Third Reich.

And since the Soviet and Western blocs often competed for the same set of muppets — for example, Nasser, Tito, and even Ho Chi Minh, who never lost his popularity out in Langley — I’m afraid the pattern is really quite clear.

The original piece says much, much more, but I must include at least this next bit:

What’s especially interesting is that when we step back and consider the history of the non-Western world since 1500, we see a broad trend that does not reverse course at all the 20th century. If anything, the 20th century is more of the same, only more so.

We see four basic structures of government: native rule with private Western trade, native rule under the protection of chartered companies or other monopolies (like the East India Company, the British South Africa Company, Anaconda Copper, etc, etc), classic nationalized colonialism with indirect rule, and the postcolonial muppet states.

Across all these stages, as time increases, we see the following trends. One, the non-European world becomes culturally and politically Westernized. Two, more and more Westerners are employed in the actual task of governing them. (I don’t know the ratio of aid workers today to colonial administrators 50 years ago, but I’m sure it’s tremendous.) And three, the profits accruing to the West from all of this activity dwindle away and are replaced by massive losses. (“Aid” is essentially a subsidy to the muppet states, which are to the old chartered companies as a Lada factory is to a Honda factory.)

Who benefits from these trends? The “international community,” ie, the vast army of international administrators who labor diligently and ineffectively at healing the great wounds they have torn in the side of the world. Who loses? Everyone else — Western taxpayers in the usual slow, relentless dribble, Africans and Asians in the gigantic revolutionary hemorrhage of “civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care.”

If you read travel narratives of what is now the Third World from before World War II (I’ve just been enjoying Erna Fergusson’s Guatemala, for example), you simply don’t see anything like the misery, squalor and barbarism that is everywhere today. (Fergusson describes Guatemala City as “clean.” I kid you not.) What you do see is social and political structures, whether native or colonial, that are clearly not American in origin, and that are unacceptable not only by modern American standards but even by 1930s American standards.

So, again, we have two theories of the “international community.” One, its own, depicts it as the savior and liberator of the planet, and essentially global and universal in nature. Two, the one I’ve just developed, shows it as a ravenous predator, the dominant player in a second Scramble for Africa with Asia and South America added to the plate — essentially, a new version of the Delian League, with Washington in the part of Athens.

And neither quite makes sense. The first hypothesis is very hopeful and reassuring, and most people believe it, but it has these odd, Orwellian tics in the way it uses English. And the second is, once again, quite counterfactual. I know these people. They are not at all predatory. There is no denying that transnational bureaucrats have the world’s best interests at heart, and they are certainly not in any way American nationalists. They simply do not remind me, in any way, shape or form, of Corner Man.