Ancient and Modern Olympics

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

With the summer games approaching David Stuttard contrasts the ancient and modern Olympics:

While today’s Games stress inclusivity, their ancient counterparts were rigidly exclusive. To compete in this celebration of not just Greek (and, later, Greco-Roman) identity but of proud god-fearing masculinity, you had to speak Greek, be free from the pollution of murder — and be male. Women couldn’t even be spectators. Only the priestess of Demeter could attend.

The chief reason for these restrictions is that the original Games were not really about sport at all. Rather, they were one part of a major male religious festival in honor of the great god Zeus. Indeed, Olympia, site of the Games, was named for Mount Olympus, where Zeus was considered to have had his throne.

I’m not sure sure that the modern games aren’t religious — depending on your definition.

Olympic Vase by Pep Montserrat

The first Games, in 776 B.C., were small-scale and local:

Apart from sacrifices and other religious rites, it included only one sporting event, a footrace of 200 yards, a distance which the Greeks called a stade (hence our “stadium”), and which took well under a minute to run.


The stade race, run at the midpoint of the Games, remained the centerpiece — so much so that in the fifth-century B.C., when it became desirable to introduce an internationally recognized dating system, the polymath philosopher Hippias hit on the formula, “in the xth year of the yth Olympiad, when z was victor in the footrace.”

The formula caught on, not only promoting the importance of the Games still further but becoming the means whereby a triumphant runner could win everlasting fame.

The words gymnasium and gymnastics come from a time before lycra:

Like other athletes at the Games, runners competed naked. Again, the origins of this tradition were debated, but the most well-known involved Orisippus, a young man from Megara near Athens. Until 720 B.C., loincloths were de rigueur, but that year Orisippus raced so vigorously that his fell off. When he crossed the line to victory, it was seen as a sign from the gods and henceforth any kind of clothing was banned.

But the athletes probably didn’t look exactly naked. By Roman times, if not before, it was common first to anoint the bodies of competitors in oil, then to sprinkle them with dust or powder. One treatise recommended the dust of terra-cotta for helping to open pores, asphalt dust for heating the chilled and yellow earth for softening the skin, commenting that: “Yellow dust also adds glisten, and is a delight to see on a body which is in good shape.” Athletes may well have looked like moving statues.

It was also a time before sunscreen.

There were no team events in the ancient Olympics, by the way.

I find the tone of this passage almost quaint, like something from the pre-UFC 1980s:

The only contact sport forbidden to boys was the pancration, an almost-no-holds-barred free-for-all, in which only biting and eye-gouging were prohibited. A Roman commentator reflected that the competitor must “endure black eyes…and learn holds by which the fallen can still win, and they must be skillful in the various arts of strangulation.”

One pancratist’s win was particularly unconventional. Arrhachion came from Phigalia, a city in mountainous Arcadia. In 564 B.C. the two-time winner came to Olympia where “his opponent, whoever he was, got a grip first and held Arrhachion with his legs squeezed around his neck at the same time. Meanwhile, Arrhachion dislocated a toe on his opponent’s foot but was strangled and expired. At the same time, however, Arrhachion’s opponent gave up because of the pain in his toe. The judges proclaimed Arrhachion the winner and crowned his corpse.”

The ethos has changed most of all:

When Baron de Coubertin revived — or reimagined — the Olympics in 1896, drawing on the ethos of both the ancient Games and English public schools for inspiration, he averred: “What is important in life is not to triumph, but to take part; what is essential is not to have won, but to have fought well.” This may have been a fine late-Victorian ideal, but it was far from the ancient view. At Olympia there were no prizes for coming second, and, fueled by the Homeric exhortation “always to be best,” the desire to win kudos at almost any cost motivated every competitor.

For the aristocratic elite, it was in that most dangerous and exciting of all events, the chariot race, that the most kudos could be earned. Since its introduction in 680 B.C., leading Greek families from Sicily to Libya to the mainland and beyond coveted this prize above all others, because to win it was a sign of immense wealth and good judgment — and, since they hired charioteers to race for them, they ran no physical risks themselves.

Now I’m wondering why there’s no gilded Trump NASCAR car.

A four-year education in character and self-management

Saturday, July 30th, 2016

J.D. Vance and his father both transcended the chaos of their lives through discipline:

For my dad, the way he tells it is that he was a hard partier, he drank a lot, and didn’t have a lot of direction. His Christian faith gave him focus, forced him to think hard about his personal choices, and gave him a community of people who demanded, even if only implicitly, that he act a certain way. I think we all understate the importance of moral pressure, but it helped my dad, and it has certainly helped me! There’s obviously a more explicitly religious argument here, too. If you believe as I do, you believe that the Holy Spirit works in people in a mysterious way. I recognize that a lot of secular folks may look down on that, but I’d make one important point: that not drinking, treating people well, working hard, and so forth, requires a lot of willpower when you didn’t grow up in privilege. That feeling — whether it’s real or entirely fake — that there’s something divine helping you and directing your mind and body, is extraordinarily powerful.

General Chuck Krulak, a former commandant of the Marine Corps, once said that the most important thing the Corps does for the country is “win wars and make Marines.” I didn’t understand that statement the first time I heard it, but for a kid like me, the Marine Corps was basically a four-year education in character and self-management. The challenges start small — running two miles, then three, and more. But they build on each other. If you have good mentors (and I certainly did), you are constantly given tasks, yelled at for failing, advised on how not to fail next time, and then given another try. You learn, through sheer repetition, that you can do difficult things. And that was quite revelatory for me. It gave me a lot of self-confidence. If I had learned helplessness from my environment back home, four years in the Marine Corps taught me something quite different.

The other thing the Marine Corps did is hold our hands and prevent us from making stupid decisions. It didn’t work on everyone, of course, but I remember telling my senior noncommissioned officer that I was going to buy a car, probably a BMW. “Stop being an idiot and go get a Honda.” Then I told him that I had been approved for a new Honda, at the dealer’s low interest rate of 21.9 percent. “Stop being an idiot and go to the credit union.” He then ordered another Marine to take me to the credit union, open an account, and apply for a loan (the interest rate, despite my awful credit, was around 8 percent). A lot of elites rely on parents or other networks the first time they made these decisions, but I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. The Marine Corps ensured that I learned.

Learned helplessness as a political value

Friday, July 29th, 2016

Ron Dreher talks to J.D. Vance about learned helplessness as a political value:

I live in the rural South now, where I was born, and I see the same kind of social pathologies among some poor whites that you write about in Hillbilly Elegy. I also see the same thing among poor blacks, and have heard from a few black friends who made it out as you did the same kind of stories about how their own people turned on them and accused them of being traitors to their family and class — this, only for getting an education and building stable lives for themselves. The thing that so few of us either understand or want to talk about is that nobody who lives the way these poor black and white people do is ever going to amount to anything. There’s never going to be an economy rich enough or a government program strong enough to compensate for the lack of a stable family and the absence of self-discipline. Are Americans even capable of hearing that anymore?

Judging by the current political conversation, no: Americans are not capable of hearing that anymore. I was speaking with a friend the other night, and I made the point that the meta-narrative of the 2016 election is learned helplessness as a political value. We’re no longer a country that believes in human agency, and as a formerly poor person, I find it incredibly insulting. To hear Trump or Clinton talk about the poor, one would draw the conclusion that they have no power to affect their own lives. Things have been done to them, from bad trade deals to Chinese labor competition, and they need help. And without that help, they’re doomed to lives of misery they didn’t choose.

Obviously, the idea that there aren’t structural barriers facing both the white and black poor is ridiculous. Mamaw recognized that our lives were harder than rich white people, but she always tempered her recognition of the barriers with a hard-noses willfulness: “never be like those a–holes who think the deck is stacked against them.” In hindsight, she was this incredibly perceptive woman. She recognized the message my environment had for me, and she actively fought against it.

There’s good research on this stuff. Believing you have no control is incredibly destructive, and that may be especially true when you face unique barriers. The first time I encountered this idea was in my exposure to addiction subculture, which is quite supportive and admirable in its own way, but is full of literature that speaks about addiction as a disease. If you spend a day in these circles, you’ll hear someone say something to the effect of, “You wouldn’t judge a cancer patient for a tumor, so why judge an addict for drug use.” This view is a perfect microcosm of the problem among poor Americans. On the one hand, the research is clear that there are biological elements to addiction — in that way, it does mimic a disease. On the other hand, the research is also clear that people who believe their addiction is a biologically mandated disease show less ability to resist it. It’s this awful catch-22, where recognizing the true nature of the problem actually hinders the ability to overcome.

Interestingly, both in my conversations with poor blacks and whites, there’s a recognition of the role of better choices in addressing these problems. The refusal to talk about individual agency is in some ways a consequence of a very detached elite, one too afraid to judge and consequently too handicapped to really understand. At the same time, poor people don’t like to be judged, and a little bit of recognition that life has been unfair to them goes a long way. Since Hillbilly Elegy came out, I’ve gotten so many messages along the lines of: “Thank you for being sympathetic but also honest.”

I think that’s the only way to have this conversation and to make the necessary changes: sympathy and honesty. It’s not easy, especially in our politically polarized world, to recognize both the structural and the cultural barriers that so many poor kids face. But I think that if you don’t recognize both, you risk being heartless or condescending, and often both.

Reflexive Reverse-Snobbery

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

The reflexive reverse-snobbery of hillbillies is a real thing that undermines their prospects in life:

I’m not sure we can overcome it entirely. Nearly everyone in my family who has achieved some financial success for themselves, from Mamaw to me, has been told that they’ve become “too big for their britches.” I don’t think this value is all bad. It forces us to stay grounded, reminds us that money and education are no substitute for common sense and humility. But, it does create a lot of pressure not to make a better life for yourself, and let’s face it: when you grow up in a dying steel town with very few middle class job prospects, making a better life for yourself is often a binary proposition: if you don’t get a good job, you may be stuck on welfare for the rest of your life.

I’m a big believer in the power to change social norms. To take an obvious recent example, I see the decline of smoking as not just an economic or regulatory matter, but something our culture really flipped on. So there’s value in all of us–whether we have a relatively large platform or if our platform is just the people who live with us–trying to be a little kinder to the kids who want to make a better future for themselves. That’s a big part of the reason I wrote the book: it’s meant not just for elites, but for people from my own clan, in the hopes that they’ll better appreciate the ways they can help (or hurt) their own kin.

At the same time, the hostility between the working class and the elites is so great that there will always be some wariness toward those who go to the other side. And can you blame them? A lot of these people know nothing but judgment and condescension from those with financial and political power, and the thought of their children acquiring that same hostility is noxious. It may just be the sort of value we have to live with.

The odd thing is, the deeper I get into elite culture, the more I see value in this reverse snobbery. It’s the great privilege of my life that I’m deep enough into the American elite that I can indulge a little anti-elitism. Like I said, it keeps you grounded, if nothing else! But it would have been incredibly destructive to indulge too much of it when I was 18.

Guns are a big issue, but crime is not

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Tyler Cowen is “confused that for the Left ‘guns’ are a big issue, but apparently ‘crime’ is not.” But there’s a simple explanation, which Steve Sailer provides:

“Guns” means white. “Crime” means black.

So you are supposed to constantly talk up the terrors of gun violence, but downplay crime.

In reality, “gun violence” isn’t some peculiarly white thing. Blacks are even more inclined toward homicides by gun than toward homicides in general. According to the Obama administration’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the approximately 13% of the population that is black made up 52.5 percent of overall homicide offenders, but 56.9 percent of killers who used guns. So blacks on average are about 8.8 times more lethal with guns than is the rest of the population.

The main practical reason for why Democrats support gun control laws is in the hope of disarming black criminals. But white Democrats can’t come out and say that they want help from their fellow whites in keeping blacks under control. So they constantly lecture the rest of us that the true danger is those vicious rural straight white men with their hunting rifles.

Not surprisingly, this Democratic political strategy of insulting potential allies has proved less than all-conquering over the past 50 years. But Democrats would rather die than tell the truth about whom they actually fear.

The only group of people you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

East-coast professional-class whites have a barely-banked contempt for poor rural white people from the South that is visceral and obvious to Ron Dreher. J.D. Vance has felt it too:

My grandma (Mamaw) recognized this instinctively. She said that most people were probably prejudiced, but they had to be secretive about it. “We” — meaning hillbillies — “are the only group of people you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.” During my final year at Yale Law, I took a small class with a professor I really admired (and still do). I was the only veteran in the class, and when this came up somehow in conversation, a young woman looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you were in the Marines. You just seem so nice. I thought that people in the military had to act a certain way.” It was incredibly insulting, and it was my first real introduction to the idea that this institution that was so important among my neighbors was looked down upon in such a personal way. To this lady, to be in the military meant that you had to be some sort of barbarian. I bit my tongue, but it’s one of those comments I’ll never forget.

The “why” is really difficult, but I have a few thoughts. The first is that humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us. And if you’re an elite white professional, working class whites are an easy target: you don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe. By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe. So your own prejudice is never revealed for what it is.

A lot of it is pure disconnect — many elites just don’t know a member of the white working class. A professor once told me that Yale Law shouldn’t accept students who attended state universities for their undergraduate studies. (A bit of background: Yale Law takes well over half of its student body from very elite private schools.) “We don’t do remedial education here,” he said. Keep in mind that this guy was very progressive and cared a lot about income inequality and opportunity. But he just didn’t realize that for a kid like me, Ohio State was my only chance — the one opportunity I had to do well in a good school. If you removed that path from my life, there was nothing else to give me a shot at Yale. When I explained that to him, he was actually really receptive. He may have even changed his mind.

What does it mean for our politics? To me, this condescension is a big part of Trump’s appeal. He’s the one politician who actively fights elite sensibilities, whether they’re good or bad. I remember when Hillary Clinton casually talked about putting coal miners out of work, or when Obama years ago discussed working class whites clinging to their guns and religion. Each time someone talks like this, I’m reminded of Mamaw’s feeling that hillbillies are the one group you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon. The people back home carry that condescension like a badge of honor, but it also hurts, and they’ve been looking for someone for a while who will declare war on the condescenders. If nothing else, Trump does that.

This is where, to me, there’s a lot of ignorance around “Teflon Don.” No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump. But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who — finally — conducts themselves in a relatable way. He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud. This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be! So it’s not really a blunder as much as it is a rich, privileged Wharton grad connecting to people back home through style and tone. Viewed like this, all the talk about “political correctness” isn’t about any specific substantive point, as much as it is a way of expanding the scope of acceptable behavior. People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.

Serious about showing off

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Robin Hanson explains what happens when people get serious about showing off:

Before the modern world, most jobs had a big physical component. And so physical ability (strength, speed, stamina, coordination, etc.) was one of the main things people tried to show off. Yes, people did try to show off physical abilities on the job. But when people got serious about showing off, they created special off-the-job contests, such as races and games.

These special contests made it much easier for observers to see small ability differences. For example, you might watch messengers all day on the job running from place to place, and though you’d get a vague idea of which ones were faster, you couldn’t see fine differences very well. But a race controls for other variation by having contestants all start at the same time on a line, and all run straight to a finish line. So even if one runner beats another by only a fraction of a second, observers can still see the difference. Other kinds of special contests also reduce noise, making it easier to see smaller ability differences.

When people can choose between competition forums with more and less noise, signaling incentives will induce them to choose forums with less noise. After all, competitors who choose forums with more noise will be seen as trying to hide their lower abilities among the noise.

So if messengers who wanted to show off their running abilities had a lot of discretion about how messenger jobs were arranged, they’d try to make their jobs look a lot like races. Which would help them show off, but would be less effective at getting messages delivered. Which is why people who hire messengers need to pay attention to how fast messages get delivered, and not just to hiring the fastest runners. Just hiring the fastest runners and letting them decide how messages get delivered is a recipe for waste.

In the rest of society, however, we often both try to hire people who seem to show off the highest related abilities, and we let those most prestigious people have a lot of discretion in how the job is structured. For example, we let the most prestigious doctors tell us how medicine should be run, the most prestigious lawyers tells us how law should be run, the most prestigious finance professionals tell us how the financial system should work, and the most prestigious academics tell us how to run schools and research.

This can go very wrong!

Culturally Tone Deaf

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

If you drive through desperately poor West Virginia, you see nothing but Trump signs. J.D. Vance explains:

The simple answer is that these people — my people — are really struggling, and there hasn’t been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time. Donald Trump at least tries.

What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns — we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by. Heroin addiction is rampant. In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes. The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on. And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.

The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades. From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below). Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.

From the Right, they’ve gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth. Whatever the merits of better tax policy and growth (and I believe there are many), the simple fact is that these policies have done little to address a very real social crisis. More importantly, these policies are culturally tone deaf: nobody from southern Ohio wants to hear about the nobility of the factory owner who just fired their brother.

Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears. He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas. His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground. He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.

The last point I’ll make about Trump is this: these people, his voters, are proud. A big chunk of the white working class has deep roots in Appalachia, and the Scots-Irish honor culture is alive and well. We were taught to raise our fists to anyone who insulted our mother. I probably got in a half dozen fights when I was six years old. Unsurprisingly, southern, rural whites enlist in the military at a disproportionate rate. Can you imagine the humiliation these people feel at the successive failures of Bush/Obama foreign policy? My military service is the thing I’m most proud of, but when I think of everything happening in the Middle East, I can’t help but tell myself: I wish we would have achieved some sort of lasting victory. No one touched that subject before Trump, especially not in the Republican Party.

Five Audiobooks Generating Buzz

Monday, July 25th, 2016

The Wall Street Journal discusses five audiobooks generating buzz, starting with A Game of Thrones:

The first book in Mr. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, read by British actor Roy Dotrice, has sold more than 100,000 audiobook copies this year, bringing total audio sales to more than 700,000 since its 2003 release, according to Penguin Random House Audio.

Amy Poehler’s Yes Please was among the five best-selling audiobooks of 2015 on both Audible and iBooks.

Celebrity memoirs — particularly ones by comedians — are audiobook gold, when narrated by the author.

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina also made the list:

Audible and other audiobook producers have found success hiring A-list actors to narrate classics. The latest is “Anna Karenina,” read by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Released on July 12, it immediately hit Audible’s best-seller list. “I feel like performing this novel is one of the major accomplishments of my work life — it was so challenging and so deep,” Ms. Gyllenhaal said, according to a description on Audible. Other pairings include Charles Dickens’s “The Chimes,” read by Richard Armitage, and Helen Mirren’s telling of “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots,” a rediscovered Beatrix Potter story to be released in September.

Oddly, those “other pairings” took some work to find in Amazon’s listings.

I wasn’t learning toward Anna Karenina but rather War and Peace, but I don’t know if I’m up for 61 hours of audio.

Rory Sutherland

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Rory Sutherland is an ad man and entertaining raconteur:

7 Things Learned in Architecture School

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things Things I Learned in Architecture School includes these 7 nuggets of wisdom:

Be specific. “The more specific a design idea is, the greater its appeal is likely to be. Being nonspecific in an effort to appeal to everyone usually results in reaching no one. But drawing upon a specific observation, poignant statement, ironic point, witty reflection, intellectual connection, political argument, or idiosyncratic belief in creative work can help you create environments others will identify with in their own way.”

Ideas can take away from or add to the essential idea. “When designing a stair, window, column, roof, lobby, elevator core, or any other aspect of a building, always consider how its design can express and reinforce the essential idea of the building.”

Throw away your best loved ideas. “A good designer isn’t afraid to throw away a good idea.”

The most important skill for a designer to develop. “Being process-oriented, not product-driven, is the most important and difficult skill for a designer to develop.”

Think about how you think. “The most effective, most creative problem solvers engage in a process of meta-thinking, or “thinking about the thinking.” This means you’re aware of how you’re structuring your thoughts while you’re thinking. You want to test ideas, challenge yourself, see if you understand the other side of the argument, criticizing, and redirecting your thought process.

Don’t make it too complex. “Create architectural richness through informed simplicity or an interaction of simples rather than through unnecessarily busy agglomerations.”

Consistent and repeatable results come from a process. “True style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely—even accidentally—out of a holistic process.”

Map of North America

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

This map of North America is in a style many of you should recognize:

North America Map in Tolkien's Style

Waterstones is thriving

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

Waterstones, the biggest bookstore chain in Britain, is thriving:

The company was £170 million (about $260 million) in debt and about to file for bankruptcy when, miraculously, it was rescued by the billionaire Alexander Mamut, a complicated, influential figure in Putin’s Russia who one British broadsheet dubbed “the most powerful oligarch you have never heard of.” Mamut had been talking to Daunt before the sale and immediately brought him aboard to right the ship. “He wanted to make a mark in the United Kingdom, where he had a house, educated his son, and this seemed a positive, beneficial thing worth saving,” Daunt said of Waterstones’ benefactor. “Other people buy football clubs, fund art galleries — this was his thing.”

Once at Waterstones, Daunt tore up the business plan. His first target was the so-called planogram, a kind of map that tells chain booksellers which new books go where, ensuring that each store assigns exactly the same prominence to exactly the same titles. The very best locations in the store are actually sold to publishers. This includes the so-called best-seller list, whose rankings are determined not by the popularity of a given book but by how much a publisher is willing to invest to promote it. (A similar policy of “bookstore baksheesh,” as one editor dubbed it, seems to exist at B&N.) In 2011, Waterstones earned around £30 million just for this kind of advertising, Daunt said. Considering that the company was hemorrhaging money when Daunt took it over, forfeiting this revenue stream seemed crazy, and it also offended many publishers. “By giving control back to the booksellers, we were telling the publishers, ‘We know what sells better than you.’ That’s never a pleasant message,” said Daunt. “There was extreme nervousness. But we had the advantage of being bankrupt. Crucially for us, Penguin said, ‘Sounds mad. But what are the options? So we’ll support you.’ ”

By freeing up the placement of books, Daunt was able to optimize the selection for each store based on the type of customers coming in. What sold in working-class Gateshead wasn’t the same thing that sold in affluent Kensington. In some stores, he would discount. In others, he wouldn’t. “This is sort of difficult for booksellers to get their heads around, but some of the customers actually don’t want a discount. There is a fair price for a book, I think,” he says, picking up a doorstop history by the likes of Ian Kershaw. “You’re investing a lot more than 25 quid in this. For most readers, that will probably take a good month of your life. Almost the least important thing is how much it costs.”

I remember Art DeVany making that same point years ago.

Next came the staff. Daunt shrunk Waterstones’ central office and fired half of the store managers. He gave those booksellers who remained almost complete autonomy over how to arrange their stores — from the windows to the signage to the display tables — but controlled the stock with a dictatorial zeal. Out went books you wouldn’t want to browse: reference, technical guides, legal textbooks. That — along with the real estate freed up by eliminating publisher-sponsored placements — allowed Daunt to grow the total number of titles in stores by about a quarter. With more books to browse, sales increased. The number of unsold books that were returned to publishers fell from about 20 percent before Daunt took over to just 4 percent today.

A leaner staff and more autonomy resulted in everyone working harder, but Daunt says the staff is curiously happier as a result. “You love being in a shop where people are busy,” he says. “It’s much better than being out the back, filling up boxes of returns and thinking your life is a drudgery of doing pointless administrative tasks for some nameless bureaucracy of a head office who you despise because they just dump innumerable amounts of crap books on you.” As is probably clear, Daunt still has an indie bookseller’s contempt for the big chains, even though he now runs one of them. Of Barnes & Noble, which appears more and more like a cross between an airport gift shop and a toy store, he said, “My faculties just shut down when I go in there.”

For a CEO, Daunt is refreshingly impolitic. He has called Amazon a “ruthless money-making devil” and has relished the recent resurgence of print and the plateauing of e-books. He stocked Kindles in his store up until earlier this year, when he pulled them, gleefully, citing “pitiful” sales. The revival of print, and of Waterstones, confirms in a way Daunt’s worldview. “Do not underestimate the pleasures of reading,” he said last year. “The satisfactions of the book, in the age of social media and proliferating cultural choices, are very singular.”

Waiting will get you killed

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

The various recent attacks all took place where law-abiding adults could not legally carry handguns for self-defense and largely had to wait for armed police to arrive, but waiting will get you killed:

A lot of people can be shot in the time it takes police to arrive after a mass public shooting begins. The norm seems to be between three and eight minutes.

Active Shooter Results

In every single active shooter attack where a good, armed person was present when the attack began and acted aggressively to stop the killer, the body count was less than 10, single-digits. Every time. 100%. Having a good, armed person present who will act to stop the killer, whether it’s a cop, armed security guard, or armed citizen, ends the attack in the first 1–2 minutes. This prevents the killer from having the time needed to amass a high body count. Waiting on police to arrive and stop the killing gives the killer plenty of time to shoot a lot of people.

Separation of Church and State

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

The separation of Church and State has failed catastrophically:

Same problem as anarcho capitalism. The vacuum is apt to be filled. And today it is filled with an official government belief system that daily becomes more extreme, and is enforced more coercively.

In retrospect it is clear that in England the demand to disestablish the Anglican Church came from a competing religion, then called Evangelism, descended from Puritanism, which was already most of the way to becoming the state religion of England though it continually changed its name in the process.

The history of official religion in the US is more complex. When the United States was many separate states with a common defense and a common foreign policy, back when people said “The United States are” rather than “The United States is” there was absolutely no separation of Church and State, for each state had its own state religion, and the seminary of the state religion of Massachusetts, charged with promoting and enforcing the state religion, was Harvard.

After the English restoration the religion of New England became aggressive, political, this worldly, and bent on conquest and domination. They forever resented the English restoration which had disempowered them and purged them from lucrative positions in the Church of England and in the English government. Whig history began as their plan for reconquering England and the world.

The state Church of Massachusetts was state church of New England, and New England set up its Rome, its Papacy, in Massachusetts. The civil war and the Mormon war was New England conquering America — and then, following the civil war, denied it was a religious institution and proceeded to apply the doctrine of “separation of Church and state” as a very thin coat of white wash over the state religion of Massachusetts being enforced on everyone in America. And after World War II, everyone in the world, except those protected by nuclear weapons, Russia and China. There is a direct correlation between one’s alma mater’s proximity to the Boston–NYC–DC corridor and the height of one’s position in the government and ruling class of one’s country. Outside of Russia and China the only substantial resistance comes from Muslims.