That date marks one of the most creative periods of conceptual design for any fighter aircraft

October 5th, 2022

When the F-22 design team struggled to meet its weight and unit-cost goals, it decided to step back and open up the design to more fundamental changes:

“After a bloody debate, we agreed to trash the current design and start over,” says Mullin. “Over that weekend, we brought in a new director of design engineering, Dick Cantrell, flew in people, and started a ninety-day fire drill. Work started on Monday 13 July. That date marks one of the most creative periods of conceptual design for any fighter aircraft. We looked at different inlets, different wings, and different tail combinations. One configuration had two big butterfly tails and looked somewhat like the F-117, though people did not know that since the F-117 was still highly classified. The configuration search was wide open, but the biggest single change that resulted from it was to go with diamond-shaped wings.”

The concentrated configuration search began with a slew of possible designs. The search complicates the numbering scheme considerably, as diamond wings, twin tails (two tails instead of four), various inlet shapes, and various forebody shapes were all considered and reconsidered simultaneously in the summer of 1987.

[…]

“The fundamental reason for going to a diamond wing was that it provided the lightest configuration and gave us the best structural efficiency and all the control power we needed for maneuvering,” Mullin explains. “The biggest consideration was its light weight. Weight drove the decision.”

“A diamond wing has more square feet of surface area, but is more structurally efficient,” adds Renshaw. “The longer root chord provides a more distributed load path through the fuselage. Multiple bulkheads carry the bending loads. The design provides more opportunity to space the bulkheads around the internal equipment. It also provides more fuel volume.”

“The structural engineers wanted a diamond wing because it provides a larger root chord, which carries bending moments better,” Hardy notes. “The aerodynamicists wanted a trapezoidal wing because it provides more aspect ratio, which is good for aerodynamics. Dick Heppe, the president of Lockheed California Company, made the final decision, and he was right. The aerodynamics were not all that different, but the structure and weights were significantly better. So we went to a diamond shape. The big root chord, though, moved the tails back. Eventually we even had to notch the wing for the front of the tails. If the tails moved farther back, they would fall off the airplane.”

Once the wings were set with Configuration 614, subsequent configurations dealt with the tail arrangement. “We spent a lot of wind tunnel time looking at the tails,” recalls Lou Bangert, the chief engineer for engine integration from Lockheed. “From late 1987 to early 1988, we were engaged in what we called ‘the great tail chase.’ We knew we would have four tails, but where they would go was a big deal. A small change in location often made a huge difference. We had to look at performance effects, stealth effects, stability and control, and drag at the same time. The tail arrangement and aft end design were important design considerations for all of these effects.”

Wind tunnel results showed an ultra-sensitive relationship between the placement of the vertical tails and the design of the forward fuselage. The interactions could not be predicted accurately by analysis or by computational fluid dynamics. The airflow over the forebody at certain angles of attack affects the control power exerted by the twin rudders on the vertical tails. Getting the airflow right was critical.

The cant and sweep angles of the vertical tails could not be altered too much because such changes increased radar signature. In finding a suitable arrangement, the control system designers were constrained by the radar signature requirements to moving the tail locations laterally or longitudinally and to shrinking or enlarging them while holding the shape essentially constant. By the end of the dem/val phase, the team had accumulated around 20,000 hours in the wind tunnel. A lot of this time was devoted to tail placement studies.

Talent and not money is the truly scarce variable

October 4th, 2022

Rob Henderson finds Tyler Cowen’s latest book, written with Daniel Gross, thorough yet breezy, providing useful tips for how to develop a talent-spotting mindset with insights from psychometrics, management, economics, and sociology:

Cowen and Gross note that in the U.S., from 1980 to 2000, the main cause of income inequality was whether a person graduated from college. But from 2000 to 2017, income inequality primarily existed within educational groupings. In other words, talent appears to be more responsible than education for economic returns.

Cowen and Gross each describe how often they reject proposals, and they conclude that “talent and not money is the truly scarce variable.” But where does it come from? They acknowledge that talent can differ between individuals, but they also stress the importance of practice. Indeed, those with the potential to cultivate serious talent sometimes practice to the point of obsession. Discussing which attributes predict eminence in a field, psychology professor David Lubinski has said that passion for work is key, and that highly creative people tend to be “almost myopically” fixated on work.

Relatedly, Cowen and Gross observe, “If you are hiring a writer, look for signs that the person is writing literally every day. If you are hiring an executive, try to discern what they are doing all the time to improve networking, decision-making, and knowledge of the sectors they work in.” Developing the habit of practice and self-discipline — the authors describe it as “sturdiness” — is critical for talent acquisition. “Sturdiness is the quality of getting work done every day, with extreme regularity and without long streaks of non-achievement,” they write. “If you are a writer, sturdiness is a very powerful virtue, even if you do not always feel you are being extremely productive.”

Accordingly, the book cites research indicating that perseverance is a stronger predictor than passion for success. When it comes to achievement, persistence pays off more than pure passion.

The authors’ favorite interview question about browser tabs is meant to tap into this question about whether a person spends his or her free time practicing. What the book describes as “downtime revealed preferences” are more interesting than “stories about your prior jobs.” For instance, asking what newsletters or subreddits a person reads is often more illuminating than asking what a person did at their previous job.

The book is very much about identifying high performers, as opposed to average workers. This is particularly true of its interview section, which gives guidance on unstructured, as opposed to structured, interviews. Most research indicates that interviews are more effective for higher-level jobs.

Talent provides several fascinating questions designed to yield interesting answers. How did you prepare for this interview? What’s a story one of your references might tell me when I call them? Which of your beliefs are you most likely wrong about? Whether the candidate can draw on intellectual and emotional resources to answer is a sign of broader stores of intellect and energy that he or she will bring to the job. The authors suggest that interviewers should not be afraid to let a question hang in the air after asking it; better to hold the tension to make clear you expect an answer.

The authors suggest using challenging and unusual questions to identify those with more style than substance. As they put it, “Beware of verbally adept storytellers.” Most of us have a bias toward well-spoken and articulate individuals. Bear this in mind, for it can lead you to hire what the authors describe as “glib but unsubstantial people.” They conclude this line of advice with, “Do not overestimate the importance of a person’s articulateness.”

Everything wants to be at the center of gravity

October 3rd, 2022

The basic challenge of designing the F-22 was to pack stealth, supercruise, highly integrated avionics, and agility into an airplane with an operating range that bettered the F-15, the aircraft it was to replace:

“One problem we typically face when trying to stuff everything inside an airplane is that everything wants to be at the center of gravity,” Hardy explains. “The weapons want to be at the center of gravity so that when they drop, the airplane doesn’t change its stability modes. The main landing gear wants to be right behind the center of gravity so the airplane doesn’t fall on its tail and so it can rotate fairly easily for takeoffs. The fuel volume wants to be at the center of gravity, so the center of gravity doesn’t shift as the fuel tanks empty. Having the center of gravity move as fuel burns reduces stability and control. We also had to hide the engine face for stealth reasons. So, these huge ducts had to run right through the middle of real estate that we wanted to use for everything else. The design complexities result in specialized groups of engineers arguing for space in the airplane. That was the basic situation from 1986 through 1988.”

Corbett regarded total command of the sea with skepticism

October 2nd, 2022

Ukraine’s success in contesting the skies turns the West’s airpower paradigm on its head, because it offers an alternative vision for pursuing airspace denial over air superiority:

In rethinking America’s approach to airpower, pundits should look to Mahan’s contemporary, the British naval theorist Sir Julian Corbett. Corbett regarded total command of the sea with skepticism, arguing the “most common situation in naval warfare is that neither side has the command.” He favored a relative, rather than an absolute, interpretation of command of the sea, calling for a “working command,” delimited in time or space — “sea control” in today’s parlance. Similarly, Douhet’s absolute rule of the skies may be desirable, but air forces may get by with more limited control of the airspace, or temporary and localized air superiority.

For Corbett, the corollary of sea control is sea denial. If a navy is not strong enough to gain command of the sea, he argued, it could still attempt to limit or deny the other side ability to make use of the sea. He referred to this concept as “disputing command,” and offered two main methods: a “fleet in being” and “minor counterattacks.” He envisioned an active defense, in which a smaller navy could avoid battle but still remain threatening as a “fleet in being” by staying active and mobile. “The idea,” he explained,” was “to dispute control by harassing operations, to exercise control at any place or at any [opportune] moment … and to prevent the enemy from exercising control in spite of his superiority by continually occupying his attention.” Additionally, an inferior navy could conduct minor counterattacks, or hit-and-run strikes, to try to take undefended ships out of action.

Corbett’s strategy of denial in the naval realm is pertinent to the air domain as well. Ukraine has used mobility and dispersion to maintain its air defenses as a “force in being.” Operating a mix of Cold-War era, Soviet-made mobile surface-to-air missile systems Ukrainian defenders on the ground have kept Russian aircraft at bay and under threat. To do so they have used the long range S-300 family, medium range SA-11s, and short range SA-8 Gecko systems. Exploiting dispersion and mobility, as Corbett advised, Ukrainian air defenders have used “shoot and scoot” tactics, firing their missiles and quickly moving away from the launch site. “The Ukrainians continue to be very nimble in how they use both short and long-range air defense,” a senior Pentagon official concluded. “And they have proven very effective at moving those assets around to help protect them.”

Mounted on tracked vehicles, Ukraine’s surface-to-air missile systems are fleeting targets. Given the danger of flying over Ukraine, Russia relies largely on standoff sensors to find radar targets, lengthening the time required to engage Ukraine’s mobile systems. After firing, the defender can turn off the radar, pack up and drive away to hide in the ground clutter — forests, buildings, etc. During the Gulf War in 1991, the U.S.-led coalition hunted Iraq’s truck-mounted Scud missiles, but even with the advantage of air superiority, it still failed to achieve a single confirmed kill. In the skies over Ukraine, Russian aircraft are not only the hunter but also the hunted, further complicating the task of finding and destroying them.

As a result, there is a deadly “cat-and-mouse” game between Russian aircraft and Ukrainian air defenses. The Oryx open-source intelligence site reports that, since the start of the war, 96 Russian aircraft have been destroyed, including at least nine Sukhoi Su-34 and one Su-35 — equivalents to the American F-15. Ukraine started the war with a total of 250 S-300 launchers, but 11 weeks later, the Russians have only managed to knock out 24 of them, at least so far as Oryx has confirmed with photos and videos. Given how Ukrainian officials carefully manage information about their losses, caution is needed in drawing conclusions from our limited information about them. Still these figures suggest that the Russians are only able to attrite a small portion of the threat, and, compared to radar and battery command vehicles, the less important part at that. The best evidence may be Russian behavior itself. As a senior Pentagon official argued, “And one of the reasons we know … [Ukraine’s air defenses are] working is because we continue to see the Russians wary of venturing into Ukrainian air space at all and if they do, they don’t stay long … And I think … that speaks volumes …”

The Disney version is devoid of any moral teaching whatsoever

October 1st, 2022

The last four generations of Americans have been swimming in a sea of feminist propaganda our whole lives, Rachel Wilson argues:

We don’t even notice the feminist themes and messaging bombarding us daily. They feel like universal truths because that’s all we’ve ever known. A fish doesn’t know it has always lived in water until it somehow ends up on dry land. De-programming feminism works much the same way. This analogy is a brilliant segue for me to ruin one of people’s favorite childhood movies, Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

[…]

The Little Mermaid was originally a Danish folk tale which told of a young mermaid who lived under the sea with her widower grandmother and five sisters. She rescues a handsome prince from drowning and falls in love with him. She learns from her grandmother that humans have a much shorter lifespan than the mermaids’ 300 years, but that humans have eternal souls and can enter heaven, while mermaids become seafoam and cease to exist upon death. The longing for an eternal soul is just as much a part of the Little Mermaids’ longing to become human as is her infatuation with the prince in the original story. In the folk tale, The Little Mermaid does gain human legs in exchange for her beautiful voice, but she always feels as if she is walking on knives. She also is only able to gain a human soul through union in marriage to the prince. If not, she will die with a broken heart and turn to sea foam. In this version, the prince does not marry the Little Mermaid, but chooses to marry a princess from a neighboring kingdom. The Little Mermaid despairs, thinking of how much she sacrificed and her imminent demise. She is offered one final chance when her sisters bring her a dagger from the sea witch. If she kills the prince and lets his blood drop onto her feet, she can become a mermaid once more and return to her life in the sea. The Little Mermaid can’t bring herself to do this and instead throws herself and the dagger into the sea. Because of her selflessness, she is granted an afterlife as an earthbound ghost. She can earn an immortal soul by doing 300 years of good works for mankind and watches over the prince and his wife.

[…]

In the Disney version, Ariel is a little girl with big dreams. She has a stern patriarchal father who wants to keep her under lock and key for the sake of tradition, societal expectation, and safety. Yes, she falls in love with Prince Eric, but her main motivation for wanting to live on land are her dreams of independence and liberation from her father’s rules. She is a privileged princess who has everything, but only wants the one thing she can’t have- life on land as a human. When she expresses this to her father, he ruins her secret trove of human treasures and forbids her to return to the surface, knowing that it would likely spell her demise.

[…]

This song was an anthem for rebellion against the patriarchy. In fact, that is the central theme of the Disney version of the story. Ariel disobeys her father, uses witchcraft to do exactly what her father warned her not to, and ends up getting herself kidnapped by the sea witch. Her father, King Triton, then has to intervene and save her by allowing himself to be captured in her place. Because of this, the whole sea kingdom ends up under the dominion of the evil sea witch, spelling certain doom for the merfolk. Eric risks his own life to kill the sea witch and frees King Triton. The king then (absurdly) apologizes for trying to stand in the way of his sixteen-year-old daughter’s foolish dreams. He forgives her disobedience and recklessness which almost got the whole kingdom annihilated. Ariel gets everything she wants, and the message sent to young girls everywhere is that your dad is a big meanie head who just doesn’t want you to be independent and have fun. All the men in your life must sacrifice their very lives and even all of society if that’s what will make their little princess happy. Also, there is no negative consequence for being disobedient, lying, deceiving others, or practicing witchcraft as long as it makes you happy. The “happiness” of young beautiful women is all that really matters. The men will rescue you from all the trouble YOU are responsible for causing because that’s all they’re good for. The End.

In contrast to the original Danish folk story, we see that the Disney version is devoid of any moral teaching whatsoever. The original story teaches that the most moral path possible, the one that leads to eternal salvation, is self-sacrifice for the love of others. It teaches young women that a life of service to those they love and to humankind is what saves them. The original Little Mermaid was willing to sacrifice her own life and even her chance at a soul to prevent harm to the man she loved, even if he married someone else. There was nothing in it for her whatsoever. Her motivation couldn’t be purer, and this is what saved her in the end, even though she did not receive temporal reward in this life. This is in line with Christian morality, which is probably why Disney, run by Jeffrey Katzenberg at the time, completely inverted it. The meaning and moral of the story was turned into the polar opposite of the original.

World’s first cloned arctic wolf is now 100 days old

September 30th, 2022

Chinese researchers have created the world’s first cloned arctic wolf, and it is now 100 days old:

Scottish scientists proved back in 1996 that it was possible to clone a mammal using a cell from an adult animal. Possible — but not easy. Dolly the sheep was the only successful clone in their 277 attempts.

Maya is the world’s first cloned arctic wolf

Cloning is still a challenging process — fewer than 25 animal species have been cloned to date, so the first successful cloning of a species is still newsworthy 25+ years after Dolly’s birth.

The journey to creating the first cloned Arctic wolf began in 2020, when researchers at Sinogene Biotechnology, a Beijing-based biotech, teamed up with the polar theme park Harbin Polarland.

Using skin cells donated by Maya, an arctic wolf housed at Harbin Polarland, Sinogene created 137 embryos using female dogs’ eggs. They then transferred 85 of the embryos into 7 beagle surrogates.

In July 2022, one of those beagles gave birth to a healthy cloned Arctic wolf, also named Maya.

The misogyny and cruelty behind many of the gags are as striking as the black comedy

September 29th, 2022

When I saw the TV show M*A*S*H as a kid, I don’t think it even occurred to me that it might be about Korea; it was obviously about Vietnam. Apparently the original movie had the same issue:

Because of the context of the film being made — during the height of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War — 20th Century Fox was concerned that audiences would not understand that it was ostensibly taking place during the Korean War. At the request of the studio, a caption that mentions the Korean setting was added to the beginning of the film, and PA announcements throughout the film served the same purpose. Only a few loudspeaker announcements were used in the original cut. […] The Korean War is explicitly referenced in announcements on the camp public address system and during a radio announcement that plays while Hawkeye and Trapper are putting in Col. Merrill’s office, which also cites the film as taking place in 1951.

I didn’t really watch the show, but when I finally watched the movie, I realized the theme music had been burned into my memory — or, rather, its melody had. The TV show doesn’t include the lyrics to “Suicide Is Painless“:

Director Robert Altman had two stipulations about the song for composer Johnny Mandel: it had to be called “Suicide Is Painless” and it had to be the “stupidest song ever written”. Altman attempted to write the lyric himself, but, upon finding it too difficult for his “45-year-old brain” to write something “stupid” enough, he gave the task to his 15-year-old-son Michael, who reportedly wrote the lyrics in five minutes.

Altman later decided that the song worked so well he would use it as the film’s main theme. This more choral version was sung by uncredited session singers John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ron Hicklin, and Ian Freebairn-Smith, and was released as a single attributed to “The Mash”. Altman said that, while he only made $70,000 for directing the movie, his son had earned more than $1 million for co-writing the song.

Several instrumental versions of the song were used as the theme for the TV series, but the lyrics were never used in the show. It became a number-one hit in the UK Singles Chart in May 1980. The song was ranked No. 66 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs.

Its opening lyrics:

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it
If I please

The movie struck a nerve:

The film won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film, later named the Palme d’Or, at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival. The film went on to receive five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won for Best Adapted Screenplay. In 1996, M*A*S*H was included in the annual selection of 25 motion pictures added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and recommended for preservation.[3] The Academy Film Archive preserved M*A*S*H in 2000. The film inspired the television series M*A*S*H, which ran from 1972 to 1983. Gary Burghoff, who played Radar O’Reilly, was the only actor playing a major character who was retained for the series.

From my perspective, it wasn’t a black comedy so much as a depressing, meandering drama full of unsympathetic characters — with the exception of Radar O’Reilly, I suppose — combined with a low-brow sports comedy. The “ringer” they bring in to beat the other units football team is a black NFL player known as “Spearchucker” Jones. Yeah.

Roger Ebert, in the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film four (out of four) stars, in a review I can respect and understand, even if I don’t share his assessment:

There is something about war that inspires practical jokes and the heroes…are inspired and utterly heartless…. We laugh, not because “M*A*S*H” is Sgt. Bilko for adults, but because it is so true to the unadmitted sadist in all of us. There is perhaps nothing so exquisite as achieving…sweet mental revenge against someone we hate with particular dedication. And it is the flat-out, poker-faced hatred in “M*A*S*H” that makes it work. Most comedies want us to laugh at things that aren’t really funny; in this one we laugh precisely because they’re not funny. We laugh, that we may not cry…. We can take the unusually high gore-level in “M*A*S*H” because it is originally part of the movie’s logic. If the surgeons didn’t have to face the daily list of maimed and mutilated bodies, none of the rest of their lives would make any sense…. But none of this philosophy comes close to the insane logic of “M*A*S*H,” which is achieved through a peculiar marriage of cinematography, acting, directing, and writing. The movie depends upon timing and tone to be funny…. One of the reasons “M*A*S*H” is so funny is that it’s so desperate.

In a retrospective review for the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum characterized the film as “a somewhat adolescent if stylish antiauthoritarian romp…. But the misogyny and cruelty behind many of the gags are as striking as the black comedy and the original use of overlapping dialogue. This is still watchable for the verve of the ensemble acting and dovetailing direction, but some of the crassness leaves a sour aftertaste.”

Overlapping dialog wasn’t its only innovation:

In his director’s commentary, Altman says that M*A*S*H was the first major studio film to use the word “fuck” in its dialogue. The word is spoken during the football game near the end of the film by Walt “Painless Pole” Waldowski when he says to an opposing football player, “All right, Bud, your fucking head is coming right off!” The actor, John Schuck, said in an interview that Andy Sidaris, who was handling the football sequences, encouraged Schuck to “say something that’ll annoy him.” Schuck did so, and that particular statement made it into the film without a second thought. Previously confined to cult and “underground” films, its use in a film as conventionally screened and professionally distributed as M*A*S*H marked the dawn of a new era of social acceptability for profanity on the big screen, which had until a short time before this film’s release been forbidden outright for any major studio picture in the United States under the Hays Code.

There are very few instances in history where the removal of a monarchy has led to better national outcomes

September 28th, 2022

If you were to go back over the past couple of centuries, Ed West reminds us, the vast majority of the most appalling regimes would be republics:

Mussolini’s Italy might merit a place, and perhaps Tsarist Russia, which killed a fair few political opponents and jailed many more — but compared to their Soviet successors those were rookie numbers.

Such are the obvious advantages of monarchy that there was a point in 2015 when every single Arab republic had Foreign Office advice warning about travel, while every Arab monarchy was considered safe in its entirety.

Comparing countries inevitably suffers from the apples and oranges problem, but it’s still worth contrasting the fate of neighbours: the Syrian Arab Republic has been ruled with unrelenting cruelty by various military upstarts since independence from France, and this competitive brutality has reduced a sophisticated, ancient society to ruins.

Neighbouring Jordan suffered huge disadvantages from the start, having no natural resources, little access to the sea, few cities with established trading networks and a population that was majority refugee, West Bank Palestinians who had fled Israeli victory in 1948. Yet today it is a successful, well-functioning nation-state, having enjoyed decades of rule under the Hashemites, GDP increasing five-fold in 30 years. Is there any scenario where a republic would have been preferable for Jordan, or a monarchy worse for Syria?

Similarly, Morocco has had the benign rule of monarchs while neighbouring Algeria has endured decades of intermittent misery. The two countries have different histories, in particular regarding France, but next-door Libya did previously have a monarchy and has gone through hell since its downfall. Little wonder that many Libyans would have it restored.

There is much that can be said for monarchies but without doubt they insulate against extremism, in particular extremism of the Right. They provide an ersatz version of the militaristic splendour and rigid hierarchy that some crave, and ersatz tradition often works very well. One friend has a theory that royalty presents a healthy outlet for people who might otherwise be patriotic to the point of being dangerously unhinged, channelling their obsessions into mere crankdom.

Meanwhile, compared to the men who rise to power, monarchs tend to be more tolerant as individuals; the King of Morocco’s grandfather heroically saved the country’s Jews during the Second World War, and he was certainly not the only royal to have shown their moral worth during that conflict.

There are very few instances in history where the removal of a monarchy has led to better national outcomes. To take the most famous example, everyone knows the line by the Chinese official that it was ‘too soon to tell’ whether the French Revolution was a good thing (although it’s perhaps a myth, as he was talking about the ‘revolution’ of 1968). In reality the downfall of the Bourbons led to a million deaths in political violence and wars; thousands died in the terror and tens of thousands in the Vendée genocide. France was never really a leading power again, and it has left the country’s politics permanently divided, even to this day; this was in part because its conservative movement emerged out of the bloodshed far more uncompromising than its British equivalent. They got de Maistre; we got Burke.

The fall of the Habsburgs was an unrelenting tragedy and disaster, leading to dangerous instability and eventual mass murder; the Hohenzollerns were unlovely but German history shows that there is always worse around the corner. Romanov Russia was the prison of peoples — yet the Bolsheviks were far more violent and oppressive, and because of Russia’s size and structure there was little chance that a moderate, democratic form of government would survive when the monarchy fell. Today, in the Arab world, monarchy is far more effective because there are otherwise not enough neutral institutions in societies with very powerful clans, and therefore low levels of wider trust. In the absence of a strong civil society, religious extremists sweep all before them — unless a monarch can stop them.

It is true that at a certain level of political development monarchy becomes less important to the functioning of states; the majority of the most developed (and egalitarian) countries are constitutional monarchies, but no more so than neighbours: Britain is not better off than the Irish Republic, nor is the Netherlands compared to Germany, or Sweden with Finland. It is just that republics tend to have had more troubled histories, either conquered by neighbours or subject to revolution or totalitarianism.

Yet even among rich democracies there is benefit to having a king or queen. A few years ago financial journalist Mike Bird collated many of the academic papers looking at the empirical evidence for the effect of monarchy. Among the findings was that social capital is higher in monarchies, that the existence of monarchs boost economic growth where a country has weak executive restraints, and that governments ruled by kings or queens tend to otherwise behave with more restraint, and act with greater accountability towards voters.

Even in western countries like Belgium the monarchy plays a major role in national unity, and in a Britain which has become significantly more divided in recent years, between the composite nations, over ideology, race and religion, and lifestyle. This greater division may explain why British republicanism, once something of a force in the 1980s, ran out of steam at the turn of the millennium. It was not just that republicans could never answer the question of alternatives; there was also the recognition that the unifying power of the Queen might help broadly center-Left aims, especially in a society with far more religious and ethnic diversity than before. Constitutional monarchies, like established churches, tend to be theoretically conservative but progressive in practice.

It was not an education system

September 27th, 2022

Growing up on the Swedish seaside, Henrik Karlsson had a five-minute walk to four open learning facilities, not counting the library and the youth center:

One of the premises was an abandoned church that my friends and I used as a recording studio; we’d renovated it ourselves with funding from a study association. In another, I learned French from an émigré of Montpellier. We arranged public lectures — once, to our great surprise, we even managed to book then general secretary of the United Nations Ban-Ki Moon for a lecture in Uppsala. I analyzed Soviet cinema with a group of whom an unsettling number sang Sång för Stalin before the screenings.

Since leaving Sweden, I have realized that not everyone grows up like this. And I miss it. In fact, if the whole of Sweden was about to burn down and I could only save one thing, I might grab just folkbildningsrörelsen.

Folkbildningsrörelsen: that is the name we have for this movement of self-organized study groups, resource centers, maker spaces, public lectures, and free retreats for personal development.

These types of things exist in other countries too — but not at the same scale. Or even close.

[…]

In the 19th century, when these houses and the financing that enables them began to be built out, the main impetus came from the German Bildung tradition.

Bildung etymologically refers to shaping yourself in the image (das Bild) of God. God in this context should be imagined as a highly self-possessed spectral being — in control of its emotions, with mind and heart in harmony, and willing to take individual moral responsibility. Think Bertrand Russell but less atheist, and sitting on a cloud.

[…]

In the 19th century, the popular education movement started to grow into a significant societal force. This began with the creation of so-called folk high schools (folkhögskolor). These first emerged in Denmark, in Ryslinge, where Christen Kold in 1851 started a school based on N.F.S. Grundtvig’s idea of an ungraded, discussion-focused institution for higher education, aimed at the lower classes.

Folk high schools were located in scenic areas — not so much to be romantic retreats for city dwellers but to be close to the farmers who were their main clientele. In The Nordic Secret, Andersen and Björkman argue that folk high schools were retreats for ego development along lines similar to Robert Kegan’s. It was about creating the conditions for people who had lived in simple small-scale communities to develop the knowledge and psychological complexity required to navigate modern society. Much emphasis was placed on discussions, practical skills and simulations.

[…]

They arranged role-playing events where workers and farmers played out committee meetings and other arcane parts of the political process. This meant that once they got the vote and started sweeping into office, the worker representatives out-maneuvered the representatives from the upper classes, to the great surprise of many who had argued against democracy on the grounds that it would lead to a flood of unwashed plebeians. The secretaries in the government office, who were in the habit of grading political representatives for their professionalism, left good marks for the early workers’ representatives.

At their peak, 10 percent of young adults in rural areas choose to attend folk high schools. Andersen and Björkman’s thesis is that this created a critical mass, well distributed in the population, that had the intellectual and emotional tools needed to effectively navigate a complex society. This, in turn, would explain the rapid transition that the Nordic countries made, from being the poorest in Europe in the 1850s to being the happiest, most equal, and nearly richest societies in the world eighty years later. I think that is overplaying the importance of the folk high school – but it does gesture at the transformative impact that popular education had on large swaths of the population.

And it was only just beginning.

[…]

Olsson had returned from a trip to the United States where he had observed the success of the Chautauqua movement, an educational spectacle with speakers, showmen, and preachers, which Theodore Roosevelt, quite aptly, called “the most American thing in America”. Now Olsson was trying to figure out how to bring these ideas to his Good Templar lodge in Lund, to help his fellow Good Templars spread temperance.

What he came up with was a Scandinavian, minimalist version of Chautauqua, which he called a study circle. The study circle, Olsson envisaged, would be made up of equals and elect a leader from among its members. It would take literature as its starting point, and help its members acquire knowledge in the course of free conversation. It was, as all good memes are, a very simple idea. And it was cheap. The members (numbering between 5 and 20) could, if necessary, meet at home and would choose their own study material. That created an economically viable form of education for the working class.

And it was made even more viable three years later, when the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, voted to give grants for the purchase of books, on the condition that the books were made available to the general public1.

Another factor behind the success of study circles was their focus on communal self-improvement. Study circles were a child of the temperance movement — a movement that neither sought collective power, like the unions, nor self-improvement for the individual, but rather encouraged people to improve to serve their fellow human beings. This focus on communal self-improvement seems to have provided momentum to the movement. It also helped foster social capital formation, creating dense high-trust networks.

[…]

It was not an education system. Rather, it was an attempt to unleash what I have called the learning system. Instead of interventions aimed at controlling what people learn — which is how we can think about traditional education — folkbildningsrörelsen provided people with the resources they needed to learn on their own. The movements created the conditions for an ecosystem to emerge.

It’s our innate evolved form of government

September 26th, 2022

Erik Hoel describes the gossip trap:

Given that humans have been around for 200,000 years, why did civilization take so long to get started? Why were we stuck in prehistory for so long?

[…]

If we imagine being transported back to 50,000 BC, what would we expect to find? In the end, we have to give a metaphor to current life of how things were organized: a follower of Rousseau would expect Burning Man, a follower of Hobbes might expect to find a bunch of warring gangs, the Davids might expect to find the deliberation of a town council full of Kandiaronks.

But perhaps small groups of humans less than the Dunbar number were organized by none of these, since they didn’t need to be—instead, they could be organized via raw social power. That is, you don’t need a formal chief, nor an official council, nor laws or judges. You just need popular people and unpopular people.

After all, who sits with who is something that comes incredibly naturally to humans — it is our point of greatest anxiety and subject to our constant management. This is extremely similar to the grooming hierarchies of primates, and, presumably, our hominid ancestors. So 50,000 BC might be a little more like a high school than anything else.

I know the high school metaphor sounds crazy, but given that any metaphor we’re going to give will fail, I think this one possibly fails less than the others. After all, the central message of The Dawn of Everything is that prehistorical people were just people, with all the weirdness, politicking, cultural hilarity and differentness this implies. But, unlike what the Davids seem to want, most people aren’t Kandiaronk — he was exceptional. Most people are not exceptional. They are…well, like the people you remember from high school. So if we take the heart of the message of The Dawn of Everything seriously, perhaps entering a new tribe in Africa at 50,000 BC would not involve a bunch of mysterious rituals in the jungle enacted by solemn actors with dirt smeared across their faces. Maybe it was a bit more like the infamous lunch table scene from the movie Mean Girls (I encourage you to watch), with some minor surface alterations, like clothes (picture beads and furs instead).

[…]

What’s interesting is that anthropologists, from what I’ve read, seem to assume that raw social power is mostly a good thing (one wonders if they’ve ever seen social pressure applied). Mostly they focus on gossip, and if we look at the work of Robin Dunbar, and his 1996 book Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, he speculates that the need to gossip was why language was invented in the first place. And gossip has (as far as I can tell), an almost universally positive valence throughout anthropology. In the literature it is portrayed as something that maintains social relationships and rids groups of free-riders and cheats, i.e., gossip is a “leveling mechanism” that prevents individuals from accruing too much power.

[…]

But it never seems to strike Dunbar or others that living under a dominion of raw social power, with few to little formal powers anywhere, would be hellish to a citizen of the 21st century (which is why I say the closest analog is high

My mother used to quote Eleanor Roosevelt all the time:

Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.

A “gossip trap” is when your whole world doesn’t exceed Dunbar’s number and to organize your society you are forced to discuss mostly people. It is Mean Girls (and mean boys), but forever. And yes, gossip can act as a leveling mechanism and social power has a bunch of positives — it’s the stuff of life, really. But it’s a terrible way to organize society. So perhaps we leveled ourselves into the ground for 90,000 years. Being in the gossip trap means reputational management imposes such a steep slope you can’t climb out of it, and essentially prevents the development of anything interesting, like art or culture or new ideas or new developments or anything at all. Everyone just lives like crabs in a bucket, pulling each other down. All cognitive resources go to reputation management in the group, to being popular, leaving nothing left in the tank for invention or creativity or art or engineering. Again, much like high school.

And this explains why violating the Dunbar number forces you to invent civilization — at a certain size (possibly a lot larger than the actual Dunbar number) you simply can’t organize society using the non-ordinal natural social hierarchy of humans. Eventually, you need to create formal structures, which at first are seasonal and changeable and theatrical, and take all sorts of diverse forms, since the initial condition is just who’s popular. But then these formal systems slowly become real.

[…]

Of course we gravitate to cancel culture — it’s our innate evolved form of government.

Arnold Kling keeps saying that the smart phone and social media smash together the intimate world and the remote world:

In the intimate world, gossip is the strong social force. In the remote world, institutions with their formal roles are supposed to be the strong social force. But modern technology has weakened formal roles, and we are falling back on gossip.

A whopping 19 out of 20 principals were replaced in the Houston experiment

September 25th, 2022

Connie Morgan believes that Dr. Roland Fryer may have cracked the code on how to eliminate the academic gap between races:

White students score about 30 points higher on math tests than black students. Fryer implemented a strategy at a failing Houston school district that closed the gap. He did it by applying to elementary and secondary schools in the Houston district the five tenets of school success that he discovered in researching the habits of highly successful charter schools. Theories on how to close the academic achievement gap vary from “fix the home” to “fix the school” to “fix the community.” Fryer’s results make a compelling case for “fix the school.”

The five tenets are clear-cut:

  1. Increased Time in School
  2. Good Human Capital Management
  3. High Dosage Tutoring
  4. Data Driven Instruction
  5. Culture of High Expectations

Increasing time children spend in school may be unpalatable for parents concerned about indoctrination but this concern is addressed with the human capital management tenet (more on this in the following paragraph). Others may balk at longer schooldays, citing conflicting research on foreign schools pointing to shorter days as a tenet of student success. However, research on small homogenous countries like Finland is unlikely to reveal practices easily transferable to the United States. Fryer’s experiment confirms, in contrast, that when time in school is spent well, it’s good to spend more of it, particularly when the alternative might be a home environment non-conducive to children’s learning. Fryer had treatment schools in the Houston district increase time on task in various ways, including eliminating breaks between classes, expanding the school day by one hour, offering weekend classes, and adding days to the school year.

Human capital management is probably the most obvious tenet of improving education. In other words, get rid of teachers who won’t embrace the mission and hire ones that will. This tenet is likely the most difficult to execute. Politics and scarcity of resources are the challenges. A whopping 19 out of 20 principals were replaced in the Houston experiment. It took over 300 interviews to find 19 principals to replace them. Of the teachers, 46% were replaced. The district spent more than $5 million buying out teacher contracts. Additionally, feedback to teachers was constant. In the treatment schools, teachers received ten times more observations and feedback than those in the control group. Principals regularly lead staff development and training sessions.

Few schools tutor the number of students for the length of time that Fryer recommends. Remember that extra hour added to the school day? This is where it’s put to work; daily, focused small-group tutoring. In the Houston experiment, low performing fourth graders and all sixth and ninth graders were intensively tutored.

Like their teachers, students in the experiment were constantly being evaluated. Many schools collect data, but few are good at adjusting instruction in light of data. In Fryer’s experiment, treated schools held assessments every three weeks as well as benchmark exams three times in a school year. These results informed tutoring and allowed teachers to set highly specific performance goals with students.

A culture of high expectations is the trickiest tenet to measure. The tenet goes beyond posters that say “Nobody Cares, Work Harder.” Indicators that a real attitude shift has occurred may include things like professional dress codes for teachers, posted achievement goals and/or contracts between parents and schools agreeing to honor expectations.

Math achievement rose significantly in the schools that implemented Fryer’s tenets. Assessment scores increased by 0.15 to 0.18 standard deviations in a year. In layman’s terms, under this program, there is potential to close the math achievement gap between black and white students in less than three years. Even more important than comparison between groups and closed gaps is the absolute good of increased math proficiency among students who have been too long neglected.

The original paper notes that “injecting best practices from charter schools into traditional Houston public schools significantly increases student math achievement in treated elementary and secondary schools — by 0.15 to 0.18 standard deviations a year — and has little effect on reading achievement.”

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling, who expects any gains to fade out.)

Napoleon did not recommend the study of battles, but of campaigns

September 24th, 2022

Napoleon did not recommend the study of battles, but of campaigns:

Campaigns before the twentieth century are in many ways the opposite of case studies. The latter thrusts us into a specific scenario, at a certain time and place, with a certain number of troops and resources, and with an immediate objective in mind. In set-piece battles of yore, as in modern operations, most of a commander’s mental efforts took place before things even begin: gathering an intelligence estimate of the enemy, selecting the best scheme of maneuver, matching troops to task, arranging logistics, etc. Once the action commenced, there were only a limited number of decision points where he could influence the course of events—to grossly simplify, the results came down to a series of rolls of the dice. This naturally focuses our attention on the mechanism of victory: what predetermined course of action gives the best probability of success in a scenario, accounting for a limited range of possible enemy responses.

Campaigns, on the other hand, were fundamentally more open-ended. When armies marched out of their winter cantonments for the season, they did not always know in advance which fortress to attack or where to fight a decisive action. Even when they did have a definite objective in mind, the entire challenge lay in precipitating conditions which would allow them to accomplish it; just as often, however, enemy action or the accidents of fate forced them to reconsider their intermediate steps or even the final objective itself.

This open-endedness created a very different decision-making structure. Plans had to account for a far greater degree of uncertainty, and the ability merely to remain in the field as a coherent force was at least as important as the pursuit of an objective. Sheer accident could moot one’s present course—Napoleon’s own staff was famous for issuing a steady stream of countermanding orders as circumstances evolved—and it was quite common for armies to stumble into a decisive engagement without realizing it. In short, decision-making was a far more continuous process.

This remained true even when both sides were clearly heading toward a decisive clash. Most of a commander’s focus had to remain outside the object itself: heeding his own vulnerabilities, considering the enemy’s intervening actions, ensuring that he was not detracting from his own efforts elsewhere, and getting enough men and supplies to the right place. And looming above all that was the risk of failure: what would the immediate consequences be? Was there a safe line of retreat? How would failure change his overall position? Naturally enough, the decision whether to engage in battle was just as important as the battleplan itself.

These questions shine through in narratives and memoirs from past campaigns. Many sources record war council debates over objectives, contingencies, marching routes, and supply considerations. It is by engaging with these debates and working through the decision-making process that a student can develop an intuition for the principles of war—not as a list of rules, but as a way of conducting operations in the face of uncertainty and risk. Even when the sources don’t reveal a commander’s thoughts, it can be just as instructive to try to figure out what he might have been thinking, or whether a failed action might have been somewhat justified by some non-obvious factor.

At its best military history is like a problem set with a partial answer key.

Calling tyranny “stable” may seem paradoxical

September 23rd, 2022

People in developing nations are not surprised when their government turns over, Daniel Klein & Michael C. Munger note, but those of advanced democracies have grown complacent, even though we know that democracies that appear stable can capsize:

Between 1850 and 1930, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire turned into tyrannies. Since the year 2000, there has been a massive increase in the number of people living under tyranny, with fully 80 percent of the world’s population living in countries that Freedom House classifies as not having “free” government systems. In fact, as of 2021, 58 countries, with 38 percent of the world’s population, are now classified as full-on “not free” systems, having collapsed into tyranny.

It is tempting to think “it can’t happen here.” But Americans are more concerned about that than they have been in decades. In July, a CNN poll indicated that 48 percent of respondents think it is “likely” or “somewhat likely” that state actors will successfully overturn the results of a US election because their party did not win.

We, the present authors, are worried that putatively upright countries today are in danger of descending into tyranny. A tyranny — once capacities for control and despotism are constructed, in some cases including expansive government employment, dependency, and largesse — can be nearly impossible to reform. The key to the descent into tyranny, and the stability of tyranny once it is achieved, is this: Tyrants use tyranny to fortify their keep and to protect themselves against the sanctions due them for their crimes.

Calling tyranny “stable” may seem paradoxical. Tyrannies suffer from chaotic upheavals and violent paroxysms. But the state of tyranny itself is stable, like a capsized canoe. Ordered liberty is better for everyone — aside, perhaps, from the despotic faction and their affiliates. It is difficult to restore the rule of law once it is debased. Rectification would call for changes in personnel, operations, and attitudes. The relative power and privilege of the despots would disappear with rectifications. Tyrants use the tools of tyranny to protect themselves against the sanctions due them.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling.)

It’s amazing to live in a society that often pretends these differences are not real

September 22nd, 2022

What if we just looked at what men and women actually talk about in private?, Emil Kirkegaard asks:

We see that the male topics include politics, war/sports/gaming/weapons/death/killing, swearing, music (especially metal/rock), work/science, metals. Women’s topics are much more mundane. There’s a lot of expression of emotions, especially positive. There’s a lot of family talk shown by all the terms of human relationships (sister, daughter, nephew, brother, boyfriend etc.). Of interests, the main thing we see is food (cooking), and some shopping. In fact, it is surprisingly devoid of any abstract interests, I am surprised there are not more words related to clothing and child-rearing.

Overall we see that results are consistent across studies that men and women are interested in and talk about quite different things. It’s amazing to live in a society that often pretends these differences are not real.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling.)

The Industrial Revolution kicked off the fertility transition

September 21st, 2022

It is ironic that our species, which is defined by our big brains, is evolving to become stupid, George Francis says:

Countless articles of scientific research have found the less intelligent to be having more surviving offspring and breeding faster than the intelligent. The problem was noticed by Darwin and his contemporaries, yet it has mostly been ignored throughout the 20th century. Recently it has had a small yet significant revival with the cult classic book At our Wits’ End, and large genetic databases showing intelligence decline. It has even been featured in the Telegraph.

[…]

The famous studies of dysgenics in the UK biobank show there is selection against intelligence but don’t attempt to quantify its size. The famous Icelandic study shows dysgenics but only attempts to measure its effect on years in education, not intelligence itself.

[…]

The Industrial Revolution kicked off the fertility transition. Countries that became rich were able to prevent starvation and improve health so the number of surviving children skyrocketed. Then with the advent of contraception, abortion and enjoyable alternatives to raising children, fertility plummeted. Many of the poorer, less intelligent countries started this process later meaning that as the natives of smart countries shrink in their population, the low IQ countries are still rapidly expanding.

[…]

My favourite estimate of the rate of dysgenics comes from Woodley’s calculation in At Our Wits’ End. He takes the Icelandic estimate for the rate of dysgenics on the educational attainment (years in education) polygenic score, adjusts it for the higher heritability of intelligence (about 80% heritable) and estimates a 0.8 IQ point decline per decade. That’s a lot. My guess is that this is an overestimate. Education attainment correlates negatively with fertility because it captures both the effect of intelligence and the effect of education, creating an overestimate. On the other hand, years in education is less heritable than IQ, causing the unaltered Icelandic estimate of about 0.3 IQ points to be an underestimate.

This is tricky, so let’s be cautious, split the difference and round up. IQ is falling by 0.6 points a decade.

In 1950 the average genotypic IQ was around 93.6. If you are not a high school graduate you need an IQ of 93 to join the US military. In 1950 something like half of the world’s population was too dumb to be in a professional army. Currently, the global average IQ is around 85 and by the end of the century, it will be 74. Then only an elite fraction would be capable of even being part of a professional army.

Average global IQ of 74 — dysgenics is a big problem! Let’s try and narrow it down a bit more. In Francis and Kirkegaard (forthcoming) we estimate that each national IQ point is associated with a 7.8% increase in GDP per capita. We also estimate the economic effects of dysgenics in that paper slightly differently, but with similar results. Let’s imagine the world is one country with an average IQ of 74 in 2100 and an average IQ of 85 as of 2020. The maths works out as a difference of logs at [exp((74–85)*7.8%) –1] = –58%. The effect of this dysgenic decline will be to cut GDP in half! And of course, that doesn’t even begin to consider the intangible factors GDP doesn’t necessarily include: low crime, social trust, science, culture and the arts.

Climate change is currently predicted to cost us a whopping 4% of world GDP by 2050. My numbers imply dysgenics will cost us 30% of GDP by 2050.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling, who says, “Have a nice day.”)