How to 3D print plastic braces for $60

Friday, May 19th, 2017

A digital-design major at the New Jersey Institute of Technology made his own plastic braces using a 3D printer:

He was broke, but had access to a high-quality 3D printer through his university. He took full advantage of this.

The process wasn’t exactly easy. He had to research orthodontic procedures and plot the route of his successive braces, so his teeth would move in the right way. But once that was done, all it took was fabricating a series of models out of relatively inexpensive plastic, and then following through on wearing them.

His two main reference texts, he explains, were Contemporary Orthodontics (5e) by William Proffit DDS, PhD, and Orthodontics at a Glance by Gill Daljit.

Alginate Powder Impression


Robot cars versus phantom traffic jams

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

A new study suggests that even a few autonomous cars could ease congestion for everyone:

You’ve likely seen the demonstration of phantom traffic jams where cars drive around in a circle to simulate the impact of a single slowing car on a road full of traffic. One car pumps its brakes for no particular reason, and the slowdown ripples through the traffic. Now, the University of Illinois research, led by Daniel Work, shows that placing even just a single autonomous car into one of those circular traffic simulations can dampen the effects of the phantom traffic jam.

The team’s results show that by having an autonomous vehicle control its speed intelligently when a phantom jam starts to propagate, it’s possible to reduce the amount of braking performed further back down the line. The numbers are impressive: the presence of just one autonomous car reduces the standard deviation in speed of all the cars in the jam by around 50 percent, and the number of sharp hits to the brakes is cut from around nine per vehicle for every kilometer traveled to at most 2.5 — and sometimes practically zero.

Because fuel use increases when when cars slow down and have to get back up to speed, the presence of the autonomous vehicle also reduces fuel consumption. According to the calculations by the team, in fact, the savings is as much as 40 percent when averaged across all the cars in the traffic flow.

It’s interesting that these improvements can occur even with a single vehicle in a flow of 20 other cars. And it’s also worth noting that the level of autonomy required to have this effect isn’t the kind that Waymo, Uber, and others are seeking to build — it’s more akin to the adaptive cruise control already featured in many higher-end cars.

Atlatling in Austin

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Austin seems like the kind of town where you’d see someone throwing spears at the park with an atlatl:

“It’s the rawest form of hunting tool,” says the co-founder and CEO of meat-based superfoods company Epic Provisions. Mr. Collins, 34, is a recreational bow hunter based in Austin, Texas, who only has time for a few hunting trips each year. Two years ago, he was researching historical hunting methods and discovered the atlatl (pronounced at-LA-tal).

Atlatl Photo by Matthew Mahon

A version of the atlatl, a hunting tool that predates the bow and arrow, may have first been used around 30,000 years ago in Europe and 11,000 in North America, according to the World Atlatl Organization. The word comes from the Nahuatl languages spoken in Mexico and other parts of Central America.

It lengthens the arm like an extra joint, making it possible to throw a spear farther and with more force than with one’s bare hands. It works similarly to a throw stick for dogs playing fetch.

Atlatls typically range from 18 to 24 inches long. One end has a hook and the other a hand hold. The hook connects to the back end of the spear, which is 5 to 6 feet long and thicker than an arrow. Throwers hold the atlatl at eye level and step in the direction of the target as they use their arm and wrist to throw the spear forward. The end of the atlatl flips around, pushing the spear forward with added force.

Mr. Collins played baseball in high school and likens the motion to throwing a pitch. He finds atlatl throwing meditative. “You really get in a zone and forget any worries,” he says.

A parable of the lessons that can emerge from unfettered science

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

I was immediately fascinated by the Siberian farm fox experiment and the surprisingly broad domestication phenotype, which notably includes pigmentation.

Marlene Zuk reviews Dugatkin and Trut’s How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) for The New York Times, and ends on this note:

The book, however, is not only about dogs, or foxes, or even science under siege from political interests. It is an exploration of how genes, evolution and then environment shape behavior, and in a way that puts paid simplistic arguments about nature versus nurture. It may serve — particularly now — as a parable of the lessons that can emerge from unfettered science, if we have the courage to let it unfold.

Marlene Zuk wrote Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live.

There’s a lot to like about cutting corporate taxes

Monday, May 15th, 2017

There’s a lot to like about cutting corporate taxes:

One reason is that corporate taxation isn’t the greatest way of raising revenue. When you tax a corporation, it’s not just the shareholders who pay. Prices for customers go up to some degree, and take-home wages for employees — both at the top and the bottom of the pay scale — go down. It’s difficult to tell who pays what — some economists estimate that shareholders pay essentially all of the tax, while others conclude that workers pay the lion’s share.  There’s also a chance that some piece of the corporate tax might fall on those who can least afford to pay, specifically low-wage workers and poor people. That uncertainty implies that society should shift the tax burden from corporations to wealthy individuals. That will ensure that less of the cost of government falls on the poor. Since corporate tax represents only 11 percent of U.S. revenue, replacing some of that with higher top-end income taxes shouldn’t be too difficult.

There’s also the question of whether corporate taxes reduce investment. In the 1980s, some economists concluded that taxes on capital — of which corporate taxes are one variety — should be zero. Since capital — the physical kind, buildings and machines and so on — allows greater production in the future, taxing it today just means a smaller economy, and therefore a smaller tax base, down the road. That result came from a highly unrealistic model, and later economists showed that when you tweak the model a bit, the optimal corporate tax is no longer zero. Still, the U.S. should be focusing on ways to boost business investment, which has fallen as a share of output in recent years:

There is plenty of evidence that corporate tax cuts can raise investment levels. A 2009 paper by economists Simeon Djankov, Tim Ganser, Caralee McLiesh, Rita Ramalho, and Andrei Shleifer found that lower corporate taxes are correlated with more investment. And when Canada cut taxes for some kinds of companies but not for others in the early 2000s, the companies that got tax cuts invested more. A number of other studies find similar results. So in this climate of low investment, the U.S. should try corporate tax cuts as one method of getting businesses to spend more.

But perhaps the clearest reason to cut corporate taxes is the waste they generate through avoidance. A key, often overlooked fact about the U.S. corporate tax is that many businesses manage to pay little or nothing. One of the most common ways to do this is to shift profits overseas, through transfer pricing, inversions, or other perfectly legal methods, to a tax haven country like the Cayman Islands. There, a company can avoid taxes indefinitely, reinvesting the profits in its business and letting them compound. If the company wants to cash out, it has to repatriate its cash and pay taxes to the U.S., but the returns from delaying the date of payment can be substantial. And often, a corporation can avoid taxes altogether by waiting for the U.S. to enact a repatriation holiday. In addition to tax havens, there are many other legal loopholes businesses can exploit to avoid taxes.

As a result of avoidance, the U.S. doesn’t collect much more of corporations’ profits than other countries do, despite having a much higher official tax rate. A number of recent studies find that on average, U.S. companies pay about 27 percent to 30 percent of their profits in taxes, compared with 24 percent to 26 percent average for other nations.

Meanwhile, because of tax avoidance, the true rate isn’t closely tied to the headline rate. The official U.S. rate has remained at 35 percent since 1993, with only minor changes. But the percent of corporate profits collected through the tax system has fallen quite a bit.

All that avoidance costs real resources — hours of labor by tax accountants and financial professionals, buildings for them to work in, and computers to keep everything in order. By cutting the corporate tax rate, the U.S. would reduce the incentive for companies to waste all that money avoiding taxes.

Reducing the reward from tax avoidance might also lower an important barrier to entry in U.S. industries. Tax avoidance probably has big fixed costs — you have to hire teams of lawyers and set up foreign subsidiaries. Those fixed costs make it difficult from small startups to compete on a level playing field with big, established companies, worsening the problem of monopoly power in the economy. Cutting the corporate tax rate would make the system fairer.

This is known as “bad luck”

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

The creative class drives cultural and economic flourishing, Richard Florida argued (in The Rise of the Creative Class), but now the “superstar cities” that attract the creative class have grown increasingly unequal, a problem he dubs The New Urban Crisis:

We find that as a city gets bigger, denser, more productive and more economically successful, inequality rises. In a way, the more successful a city or metro area becomes, the more unequal it becomes, and that is quite challenging.

I’m reminded of what Heinlein had to say about creativity and poverty:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”

The first casualty when war comes is truth

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

When the United States declared war on Germany 100 years ago, the impact on the news business was swift and dramatic:

In its crusade to “make the world safe for democracy,” the Wilson administration took immediate steps at home to curtail one of the pillars of democracy — press freedom — by implementing a plan to control, manipulate and censor all news coverage, on a scale never seen in U.S. history.

Following the lead of the Germans and British, Wilson elevated propaganda and censorship to strategic elements of all-out war. Even before the U.S. entered the war, Wilson had expressed the expectation that his fellow Americans would show what he considered “loyalty.

Immediately upon entering the war, the Wilson administration brought the
most modern management techniques to bear in the area of government-press relations. Wilson started one of the earliest uses of government propaganda. He waged a campaign of intimidation and outright suppression against those ethnic and socialist papers that continued to oppose the war. Taken together, these wartime measures added up to an unprecedented assault on press freedom.

I study the history of American journalism, but before I started researching this episode, I had thought that the government’s efforts to control the press began with President Roosevelt during WWII. What I discovered is that Wilson was the pioneer of a system that persists to this day.

All Americans have a stake in getting the truth in wartime. A warning from the WWI era, widely attributed to Sen. Hiram Johnson, puts the issue starkly: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Within a week of Congress declaring war, on April 13, 1917, Wilson issued an executive order creating a new federal agency that would put the government in the business of actively shaping press coverage.

That agency was the Committee on Public Information, which would take on the task of explaining to millions of young men being drafted into military service — and to the millions of other Americans who had so recently supported neutrality — why they should now support war.

The new agency — which journalist Stephen Ponder called “the nation’s first ministry of information” — was usually referred to as the Creel Committee for its chairman, George Creel, who had been a journalist before the war. From the start, the CPI was “a veritable magnet” for political progressives of all stripes — intellectuals, muckrakers, even some socialists — all sharing a sense of the threat to democracy posed by German militarism. Idealistic journalists like S.S. McClure and Ida Tarbell signed on, joining others who shared their belief in Wilson’s crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

At the time, most Americans got their news through newspapers, which were flourishing in the years just before the rise of radio and the invention of the weekly news magazine. In New York City, according to my research, nearly two dozen papers were published every day — in English alone — while dozens of weeklies served ethnic audiences.

Starting from scratch, Creel organized the CPI into several divisions using the full array of communications.

The Speaking Division recruited 75,000 specialists who became known as “Four-Minute Men” for their ability to lay out Wilson’s war aims in short speeches.

The Film Division produced newsreels intended to rally support by showing images in movie theaters that emphasized the heroism of the Allies and the barbarism of the Germans.

The Foreign Language Newspaper Division kept an eye on the hundreds of weekly and daily U.S. newspapers published in languages other than English.

Another CPI unit secured free advertising space in American publications to promote campaigns aimed at selling war bonds, recruiting new soldiers, stimulating patriotism and reinforcing the message that the nation was involved in a great crusade against a bloodthirsty, antidemocratic enemy.

Some of the advertising showed off the work of another CPI unit. The Division of Pictorial Publicity was led by a group of volunteer artists and illustrators. Their output included some of the most enduring images of this period, including the portrait by James Montgomery Flagg of a vigorous Uncle Sam, declaring, “I WANT YOU FOR THE U.S. ARMY!”

Uncle Sam

Creel denied that his committee’s work amounted to propaganda, but he acknowledged that he was engaged in a battle of perceptions. “The war was not fought in France alone,” he wrote in 1920, after it was all over, describing the CPI as “a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.”

For most journalists, the bulk of their contact with the CPI was through its News Division, which became a veritable engine of propaganda on a par with similar government operations in Germany and England but of a sort previously unknown in the United States.

In the brief year and a half of its existence, the CPI’s News Division set out to shape the coverage of the war in U.S. newspapers and magazines. One technique was to bury journalists in paper, creating and distributing some 6,000 press releases — or, on average, handing out more than 10 a day.

The whole operation took advantage of a fact of journalistic life. In times of war, readers hunger for news and newspapers attempt to meet that demand. But at the same time, the government was taking other steps to restrict reporters’ access to soldiers, generals, munitions-makers and others involved in the struggle. So, after stimulating the demand for news while artificially restraining the supply, the government stepped into the resulting vacuum and provided a vast number of official stories that looked like news.

Most editors found the supply irresistible. These government-written offerings appeared in at least 20,000 newspaper columns each week, by one estimate, at a cost to taxpayers of only US$76,000.

In addition, the CPI issued a set of voluntary “guidelines” for U.S. newspapers, to help those patriotic editors who wanted to support the war effort (with the implication that those editors who did not follow the guidelines were less patriotic than those who did).

The CPI News Division then went a step further, creating something new in the American experience: a daily newspaper published by the government itself. Unlike the “partisan press” of the 19th century, the Wilson-era Official Bulletin was entirely a governmental publication, sent out each day and posted in every military installation and post office as well as in many other government offices. In some respects, it is the closest the United States has come to a paper like the Soviet Union’s Pravda or China’s People’s Daily.

The CPI was, in short, a vast effort in propaganda. The committee built upon the pioneering efforts of public relations man Ivy Lee and others, developing the young field of public relations to new heights. The CPI hired a sizable fraction of all the Americans who had any experience in this new field, and it trained many more.

One of the young recruits was Edward L. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud and a pioneer in theorizing about human thoughts and emotions. Bernays volunteered for the CPI and threw himself into the work. His outlook — a mixture of idealism about the cause of spreading democracy and cynicism about the methods involved — was typical of many at the agency.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,” Bernays wrote a few years after the war. “Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.”

There is a difficulty with giving The Bell Curve a chance

Friday, May 12th, 2017

Charles Murray explains his controversial book The Bell Curve:

In April, I recorded an interview of almost two and a half hours with Sam Harris for his Waking Up podcast, which, I learned only after I had done it, regularly attracts a few million listeners. We spent more than half of the interview discussing what is actually in “The Bell Curve” as opposed to what people think is in it. Both of us expected our Twitter feeds to light up with nasty reactions after the interview was posted. But the opposite happened. The nasty reactions were far outnumbered by people who said they had always assumed that “The Bell Curve” was the hateful pseudoscientific mess that the critics had claimed, but had now decided they wanted to give the book a chance. It has been a heartening experience.

However, there is a difficulty with giving “The Bell Curve” a chance. The paperback edition has 26 pages of front material, 552 pages of main text, a 23-page response to the critics, 111 pages of appendixes, another 111 pages of endnotes, and a 58-page bibliography. It’s a lot to get through. But there’s a shorter way to get a good idea of what’s in the book: Dick Herrnstein and I began each chapter with a summary that was usually about a page long. With the publisher’s permission, I have stitched all of those summaries together, along with selections from the Introduction and the openings to each of the four parts of the book. If these tidbits arouse enough interest that you buy the book, I will be delighted. But at this point in my life, my main objective is that a labor of love, written with a friend who I still miss twenty-three years after his death, be seen for what it is.

Murders in the US are extremely concentrated

Friday, May 12th, 2017

The United States can be divided up into three kinds of places: places where there are no murders, places where there are a few murders, and places where there are lots of murders:

In 2014, the most recent year that a county level breakdown is available, 54% of counties (with 11% of the population) have no murders. 69% of counties have no more than one murder, and about 20% of the population. These counties account for only 4% of all murders in the country.

The worst 1% of counties have 19% of the population and 37% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 68% of murders. As shown in figure 2, over half of murders occurred in only 2% of counties.


Kevin Kelly’s fundamental technological forces

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

In The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly presents a dozen fundamental technological forces:

“In this era of ‘becoming,’ everyone becomes a perpetual newbie.”

“The bigger the network, the more attractive it is to new users, which makes it even bigger and thus more attractive, and so on. A cloud that serves AI will obey the same law.”

“We are exploring all the ways to make things out of ceaseless change and shape-shifting processes.”

“People of the book favor solutions by laws, while People of the Screen favor technology as a solution to all problems.”

“As we increase dematerialization, decentralization, simultaneity, platforms, and the cloud — as we increase all those at once, access will continue to displace ownership.”

“[I]t is an emerging design space in which decentralized public coordination can solve problems and create things that neither pure communism nor pure capitalism can.”

“The filters have been watching us for years; they anticipate what we will ask.”

“[The entire global economy] is headed for the inevitability of constant, relentless, and increasing remixing.”

“Computers have been on a steady march toward us.”

“If today’s social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species, it is that the human impulse to share overwhelms the human impulse for privacy.”

“Our society is moving away from the rigid order of hierarchy toward the fluidity of decentralization.”

“A hundred years ago H. G. Wells imagined this large thing as the world brain.”

Crime control is not actually a mystery

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Crime control is not actually a mystery, Devin Helton notes:

In the long run, men follow incentives. That is not to say we calculate benefits and potential punishment before every action. But over time we build up intuition and a general sense of what we can get away with, what results in social sanction, what results in criminal sanction, what gets status among friends, and what results in success or failure with women.

When we compare the high crime and low crime poor communities, we see large differences in the incentives:

In low crime areas, disobedience at school results in harsh punishment — often corporal punishment.

In high crime areas, disobedience is either unpunished, or punished by suspension, which is hardly punishment to a kid who does not want to be in school anyways.

In low crime areas, the police are quick to crack down on even petty crime. If a gang is known to be harassing a certain area, they are not afraid to apply the billy clubs as needed until the gang is no longer a problem.

In high crime areas, the police ignore drug dealing for months at a time. Murders go unsolved. Police only enter areas when called in, if even then.

In low crime areas, men who lack motivation to work go hungry or enter a workhouse where they are isolated from their buddies and women.

In high crime areas, men who lack a commitment to work earn a living from side hustles, welfare, and living off of mom’s and girlfriends. They still get access to their friends and to sex.

In low crime areas, women are kept under the care of their parents until they are married off to a stable man. If a woman gets pregant out of wedlock and needs aid, she too would have to go the work house where she would be under curfew and discipline.

In high crime areas, women get pregant before locking in a husband, and have to raise their child alone. A rotating array of boyfriends often abuse the children, setting off a cycle of violence. (Non-father males in all human societies, and indeed, all primate societies, are often the most dangerous child abusers, as they have no genetic investment to the children).

In low crime areas, anti-social people are ostracised from the community. They lose access to friends, credit, and are shamed. Without a job, they must enter the workhouse, or they are in jail for their crimes.

In high crime areas, predators live in public housing for years, committing all sorts of crime, with no repurcussion.

(Note: I’m not advocating a return to Victorian era workhouses. I’m simply noting the obvious that if you want people to work a market job, then the “not-working” option has to be worse than the market job option. In the modern era, when we are much wealthier, there are many ways of doing this that wouldn’t entail the horrors of Dickensian workhouses.)


Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Keeping the body’s cells synced up matters for health:

In 2007, based on epidemiological studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared shift work, which causes circadian disruption, a carcinogen. Other studies have elucidated a link between immune cell activity and glucocorticoids—which are secreted in circadian patterns and regulate peripheral clocks—as well as a role for chronic stress in perturbing daily cycles in gene expression, which can alter immune, endocrine, and other functions.


Genes involved in cell division were among the earliest identified as being rhythmically expressed in both rodent models and human cells. In 1987, researchers studying ovarian cancers found that tumor cells synthesized DNA on a daily rhythm that typically peaked in the late morning hours, nearly 12 hours out of sync with nontumor cells. This led the team to suggest that timing chemotherapy doses that target cells actively replicating their DNA might improve the drugs’ effectiveness while reducing healthy-cell death.

Sure enough, over the past 30 years, experimental models and clinical trials have found that timing chemo regimens can significantly affect their toxicity and effectiveness. In animal studies of nearly 30 chemo drugs, tailoring dosing time to the medication’s mode of action has been found to decrease toxic side effects and increase effectiveness. In one study, rats that received the chemotherapy drug cisplatin at the time of day when their urinary output was highest (a correlate of other timed cycles in kidney metabolism) had fewer nephrotoxic effects, as measured in kidney function tests, than animals that received the doses at the time of minimum urinary output. In another study, oxaliplatin chemotherapy caused fewer intestinal lesions and less bone marrow suppression in mice when given at night, possibly because DNA synthesis in murine bone marrow is highest during the day.


Clinical trials in 1985 found that antihistamines were most effective when taken at night or early in the morning. Subsequent studies established that inhaling corticosteroids at bedtime, or using delayed-release prednisone formulations that allocated the medication to the body pre-dawn, were most effective at combating allergy symptoms. Cardiovascular events were also recognized early on to cycle throughout the day, as doctors noticed that most patients admitted for heart attacks tended to experience their symptoms between 6:00 a.m. and noon.

The Bob Rubin trade

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes the Bob Rubin trade:

[A] system that doesn’t have a mechanism of skin in the game will eventually blow up and fix itself that way. We will see numerous such examples.

For instance, bank blowups came in 2008 because of the hidden risks in the system: bankers could make steady bonuses from a certain class of concealed explosive risks, use academic risk models that don’t work (because academics know practically nothing about risk), then invoke uncertainty after a blowup, some unseen and unforecastable Black Swan, and keep past bonuses, what I have called the Bob Rubin trade. Robert Rubin collected one hundred million dollar in bonuses from Citibank, but when the latter was rescued by the taxpayer, he didn’t write any check. The good news is that in spite of the efforts of a complicit Obama administration that wanted to protect the game and the rent-seeking of bankers, the risk-taking business moved away to hedge funds. The move took place because of the over-bureaucratization of the system. In the hedge fund space, owners have at least half of their net worth in the funds, making them more exposed than any of their customers, and they personally go down with the ship.

People don’t learn when they they are not the victims to their own mistakes:

Skin in the Game reduces, sometimes even eradicates, the following differences that arose as a side effect of civilization: action and cheap talk (tawk), consequence and intention, the practical and the theoretical, expert and pseudoexpert, entrepreneur and bureaucrat, Coventry and Brussels, the concrete and the abstract, the ethical and the legal, the genuine and the cosmetic, scholarship and academia, democracy and governance, science and scientism, politics and politicians, love and money, the spirit and the letter, Cato the Elder and Barack Obama, quality and marketing, commitment and signaling, and, centrally, the collective and the individual.

But, to this author, is mostly about justice, honor, and sacrifice as the core of human existence.

There just are not enough good schools to go around

Monday, May 8th, 2017

This recent New York Times piece on “the broken promises of choice” in New York City schools is so willfully naive it’s painful:

Within the system, there is a hierarchy of schools, each with different admissions requirements — a one-day high-stakes test, auditions, open houses. And getting into the best schools, where almost all students graduate and are ready to attend college, often requires top scores on the state’s annual math and English tests and a high grade point average.

Those admitted to these most successful schools remain disproportionately middle class and white or Asian, according to an in-depth analysis of acceptance data and graduation rates conducted for The New York Times by Measure of America, an arm of the Social Science Research Council. At the same time, low-income black or Hispanic children like the ones at Pelham Gardens are routinely shunted into schools with graduation rates 20 or more percentage points lower.

While top middle schools in a handful of districts groom children for competitive high schools that send graduates to the Ivy League, most middle schools, especially in the Bronx, funnel children to high schools that do not prepare them for college.

The roots of these divisions are tangled and complex. Students in competitive middle schools and gifted programs carry advantages into the application season, with better academic preparation and stronger test scores. Living in certain areas still comes with access to sought-after schools. And children across the city compete directly against one another regardless of their circumstances, without controls for factors like socioeconomic status.

Ultimately, there just are not enough good schools to go around. And so it is a system in which some children win and others lose because of factors beyond their control — like where they live and how much money their families have.

We send the kids with good grades and test scores to the selective schools and the kids with bad grades and test scores to the unselective schools, and that’s clearly unfair, because those unselective schools underperform the selective schools!

There just are not enough good schools to go around.

Idishe Melkhim

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

I haven’t played Crusader Kings II, but I found it interesting that a 16-year-old secular Canadian Jew decided to make a Jewish Kings “mod” to improve the accuracy (and depth) of the game’s depiction of his people:

Crusader Kings II does have Jewish characters, but most of them are not playable, and the few who are are — the Khagan of Khazaria and the Duke of Semien, to be specific — easily get destroyed by neighboring empires, and anyway are not very fun to play. I decided to add more options for playing as a Jewish character, such as new and unique decisions and events. In addition to making the Jewish character experience more in-depth, I added events for non-Jewish characters. For example, different kinds of Jewish courtiers can arrive at the court of a non-Jewish character. A non-Jewish ruler might be confronted with a migration of Jews to one of his provinces, and will have to choose either to accept them or not. Historically, sometimes European lords had to face tough decisions like this one. I added this event and others like it to make the experience more extensive and immersive.


Most of my changes to the game are small, but a few are relatively large, in my opinion. I added two new Israelite cultures: Mizrachi, the culture of the Jews who lived in the Middle East, and Hebrew, which is the predecessor of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. I changed the names of people in each culture and I gave them different bonuses to make them more historical and distinctive. For example, characters of Hebrew culture get +1 piety, and Sephardi get +1 learning. I gave all characters of the Jewish religion +1 learning to reflect how historically Judaism always emphasized the importance of studying religious texts. At first, I thought that it would be wrong to give Jewish cultures and religion so many (arguably over-powered) bonuses, but then I saw that in the base game, Buddhism has +4 learning (which is objectively overpowered)! I lost all shame and decided to proceed with the addition of said bonuses.

I made Ashkenazi and Sephardi culture nonexistent in the early game, but then develop in and diverge from their predecessor the Hebrew culture around the 9th Century, as it did historically. I gave the Karaite sect a head of religion: the Exilarch, and also one for the Samaritans: the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). I added events which only fire when a character restores the Jewish High Priesthood: The Sanhedrin restores the punishment of known murderers and adulterers. I added events where rabbis and other zealous Jews try to encourage other Jews to lose bad traits such as jealousy, pride, greed, and develop good traits instead. I added event chains where a Jew and a non-Jew discuss theology, and one of the two (possibly) develops sympathy for the other religion: A rare friendly interaction between Jews and non-Jews in the Medieval World. I added a decision for Jewish characters to observe the holiday of Yom Kippur with other vassals.

Of course, during all the event chains I mentioned (and the ones I did not), a wide variety of different outcomes might occur depending on the characters’ traits, your decisions and chance.