Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Someone is learning how to take down the Internet, Bruce Schneier suggests:

Recently, some of the major companies that provide the basic infrastructure that makes the Internet work have seen an increase in DDoS attacks against them. Moreover, they have seen a certain profile of attacks. These attacks are significantly larger than the ones they’re used to seeing. They last longer. They’re more sophisticated. And they look like probing. One week, the attack would start at a particular level of attack and slowly ramp up before stopping. The next week, it would start at that higher point and continue. And so on, along those lines, as if the attacker were looking for the exact point of failure.

The attacks are also configured in such a way as to see what the company’s total defenses are. There are many different ways to launch a DDoS attacks. The more attack vectors you employ simultaneously, the more different defenses the defender has to counter with. These companies are seeing more attacks using three or four different vectors. This means that the companies have to use everything they’ve got to defend themselves. They can’t hold anything back. They’re forced to demonstrate their defense capabilities for the attacker.


One company told me about a variety of probing attacks in addition to the DDoS attacks: testing the ability to manipulate Internet addresses and routes, seeing how long it takes the defenders to respond, and so on. Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services.

Who would do this? It doesn’t seem like something an activist, criminal, or researcher would do. Profiling core infrastructure is common practice in espionage and intelligence gathering. It’s not normal for companies to do that. Furthermore, the size and scale of these probes — and especially their persistence — points to state actors. It feels like a nation’s military cybercommand trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar. It reminds me of the U.S.’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.

Brian Krebs offers some specifics:

At first, it was unclear who or what was behind the attack on Dyn. But over the past few hours, at least one computer security firm has come out saying the attack involved Mirai, the same malware strain that was used in the record 620 Gpbs attack on my site last month. At the end September 2016, the hacker responsible for creating the Mirai malware released the source code for it, effectively letting anyone build their own attack army using Mirai.

Mirai scours the Web for IoT devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords, and then enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target until it can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors or users.

According to researchers at security firm Flashpoint, today’s attack was launched at least in part by a Mirai-based botnet. Allison Nixon, director of research at Flashpoint, said the botnet used in today’s ongoing attack is built on the backs of hacked IoT devices — mainly compromised digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras made by a Chinese hi-tech company called XiongMai Technologies. The components that XiongMai makes are sold downstream to vendors who then use it in their own products.

“It’s remarkable that virtually an entire company’s product line has just been turned into a botnet that is now attacking the United States,” Nixon said, noting that Flashpoint hasn’t ruled out the possibility of multiple botnets being involved in the attack on Dyn.

Many of these devices allow users to change the default usernames and passwords on a Web-based administration panel — but the devices also have default usernames and passwords for telnet and SSH, which aren’t editable from the Web-based admin tools:

“The issue with these particular devices is that a user cannot feasibly change this password,” Flashpoint’s Zach Wikholm told KrebsOnSecurity. “The password is hardcoded into the firmware, and the tools necessary to disable it are not present. Even worse, the web interface is not aware that these credentials even exist.”

Flashpoint’s researchers said they scanned the Internet on Oct. 6 for systems that showed signs of running the vulnerable hardware, and found more than 515,000 of them were vulnerable to the flaws they discovered.

America’s Civilizational Paralysis

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

Victor Davis Hanson laments America’s civilizational paralysis:

The Greek city-states in the fourth-century BC, fifth-century AD Rome, and the Western European democracies after World War I all knew they could not continue as usual with their fiscal, social, political, and economic behavior. But all these states and societies feared far more the self-imposed sacrifices that might have saved them.

Mid-fifteenth-century Byzantium was facing endemic corruption, a radically declining birthrate and shrinking population, and the end of civic militarism — all the last-gasp symptoms of an irreversible decline. Its affluent ruling and religious orders and expansive government services could no longer be supported by disappearing agrarians and the overtaxed mercantile middle class. Returning to the values of the Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century empire that had once ensured a vibrant Byzantine culture of stability and prosperity throughout the old Roman east remained a nostalgic daydream. Given the hardship and sacrifice that would have been required to change the late Byzantine mindset, most residents of Constantinople plodded on to their rendezvous with oblivion in 1453.

We seem to be reaching that point of stasis in postmodern America. Once simple and logical solutions to our fiscal and social problems are now seen as too radical even to discuss. Consider the $20-trillion national debt. Most Americans accept that current annual $500 billion budget deficits are not sustainable — but they also see them as less extreme than the recently more normal $1 trillion in annual red ink. Americans also accept that the Obama administration doubled the national debt on the expectation of permanent near-zero interest rates, which cannot continue. When interest rates return to more normal historical levels of 4-5% per annum, the costs of servicing the debt — along with unsustainable Social Security and Medicare entitlement costs — will begin to undermine the entire budget.

Count up current local, state and federal income taxes, payroll taxes, property and sales taxes, and new health care taxes, and it will be hard to find the necessary additional revenue from a strapped and overtaxed middle class, much less from the forty-seven percent of Americans who currently pay no federal income taxes. The Obama administration has tried to reduce the budget by issuing defense cuts and tax hikes — but it has refused to touch entitlement spending, where the real gains could be made. The result is more debt, even as, paradoxically, our military was weakened, taxes rose, revenue increased, and economic growth remained anemic at well below 2% per annum.

Illegal immigration poses a similar dilemma. No nation can remain stable when 10-20 million foreign nationals have crashed through what has become an open border and reside unlawfully in the United States — any more than a homeowner can have neighbors traipsing through and camping in his unfenced yard.

Likewise, there are few multiracial societies of the past that have avoided descending into destructive ethnic chauvinism and tribalism once assimilation and integration were replaced by salad-bowl identity politics. Common words and phrases such as “illegal alien” or “deportation” are now considered taboo, while “sanctuary city” is a euphemism for a neo-Confederate nullification of federal immigration laws by renegade states and municipalities.

Illegal immigration, like the deficits, must cease, but stopping it would be too politically incorrect and painful even to ponder. The mess in Europe — millions of indigent and illegal immigrants who have fled their own failed states to become dependent on the largess of their generous adopted countries, but without any desire to embrace their hosts’ culture — is apparently America’s future.

Race relations pose comparable paradoxes. Inner-city Chicago has turned into a war zone with over 500 murders so far this year alone. As tragic as occasional police shootings are of African-American suspects, they do not occur at an incidence higher than the percentage of African-Americans who come into contact with law enforcement or who commit violent crimes. Yet when an African-American officer, in a department overseen by an African-American police chief, shoots an uncompliant but armed African-American suspect, a full-scale urban riot ensues, well beyond the ability of police to control.

Early Policing

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

In the early colonies policing took two forms:

The watch system was composed of community volunteers whose primary duty was to warn of impending danger. Boston created a night watch in 1636, New York in 1658 and Philadelphia in 1700. The night watch was not a particularly effective crime control device. Watchmen often slept or drank on duty. While the watch was theoretically voluntary, many “volunteers” were simply attempting to evade military service, were conscript forced into service by their town, or were performing watch duties as a form of punishment. Philadelphia created the first day watch in 1833 and New York instituted a day watch in 1844 as a supplement to its new municipal police force (Gaines, Kappeler, and Vaughn 1999).

Augmenting the watch system was a system of constables, official law enforcement officers, usually paid by the fee system for warrants they served. Constables had a variety of non-law enforcement functions to perform as well, including serving as land surveyors and verifying the accuracy of weights and measures. In many cities constables were given the responsibility of supervising the activities of the night watch.

These informal modalities of policing continued well after the American Revolution. It was not until the 1830s that the idea of a centralized municipal police department first emerged in the United States. In 1838, the city of Boston established the first American police force, followed by New York City in 1845, Albany, NY and Chicago in 1851, New Orleans and Cincinnati in 1853, Philadelphia in 1855, and Newark, NJ and Baltimore in 1857 (Harring 1983, Lundman 1980; Lynch 1984). By the 1880s all major U.S. cities had municipal police forces in place.

These “modern police” organizations shared similar characteristics: (1) they were publicly supported and bureaucratic in form; (2) police officers were full-time employees, not community volunteers or case-by-case fee retainers; (3) departments had permanent and fixed rules and procedures, and employment as a police officers was continuous; (4) police departments were accountable to a central governmental authority (Lundman 1980).


The key question, of course, is what was it about the United States in the 1830s that necessitated the development of local, centralized, bureaucratic police forces? One answer is that cities were growing. The United States was no longer a collection of small cities and rural hamlets. Urbanization was occurring at an ever-quickening pace and old informal watch and constable system was no longer adequate to control disorder. Anecdotal accounts suggest increasing crime and vice in urban centers. Mob violence, particularly violence directed at immigrants and African Americans by white youths, occurred with some frequency. Public disorder, mostly public drunkenness and sometimes prostitution, was more visible and less easily controlled in growing urban centers than it had been rural villages (Walker 1996).

End-of-the-World Fiction

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Rebecca Onion “ate up” the canon of traditionally literary end-of-the-world science fiction — Alas, Babylon; The Sheep Look Up; Lucifer’s Hammer — and some newly published respectably literary postapocalyptic books — California, The Dog Stars, Station Eleven — and then found Audible recommending something subtly differentPatriots, by James Wesley, Rawles (the comma is intentional):

I didn’t understand that I was making a leap between genres when I purchased Patriots, which turned out to be a best-selling 2009 book of prepper fiction. Downloading it sent me down a new rabbit hole that I have yet to exit. Through prepper fiction, I find myself experiencing a subculture by way of its novels, finding some of its ideals repellent, while slowly — and unhappily — coming to agree with others.

One feature, I found, differentiates prepper fiction from mere apocalypse fiction: lists. Apocalyptic stories sacrifice some details of characters’ survival tactics on the altar of narrative. But in prepper tales, lists are inevitable. I have to quote this whole paragraph, about a survival group’s knife-buying tactics, to give you a sense of how Rawles, a notorious lister, does it:

For skinning knives, most of the members bought standard mass-produced Case and Buck knives, but a few opted for custom knives made by Andy Sarcinella, Trinity Knives, and Ruana. Most of them also bought a Leatherman tool and a CRKT folding knife. For fighting knives, most purchased standard factory produced knives made by Benchmade or Cold Steel. Kevin bought an expensive New Lile Gray Ghost with Micarta grip panels. Against Kevin’s advice, Dan Fong bought a double-edged Sykes-Fairbairn British commando knife. Kevin warned him that it was an inferior design. He preferred knives that could be used for both utility purposes and for combat. He observed that the Fairbairn’s grip was too small, and that the knife’s slowly tapering tip was too likely to break, particularly in utility use. Dan eventually wrapped the knife’s handle with green parachute cord to give it a more proper diameter. Because the Fairbairn did indeed have a brittle tip, Dan did most of his utility knife work with a CRKT folder with a tanto-type point.

The lists are a point of complaint for some reviewers online, but the authors of these books know that they’re writing something that’s a cross between a novel, a shopping list, a survival manual, and a field guide; this is a wholly experimental form, and the results can be awkward. After a while, though, I relaxed into it. Like a high school junior struggling through Moby-Dick’s whaling chapters, the new reader has to realize that prepper fiction’s blend of description and plot is meant to make the minute details of a supercomplex material phenomenon more visible. Those lists soothed me, since they spoke a language I — a cook, a sometime backpacker, and a committed cataloger of household goods — found easy to understand.

Here’s where things take a hard right turn:

Even as these books revel in the virtues of self-reliance, they graphically condemn the uselessness of other people who refuse to help themselves. Inevitably, after a catastrophic event, a prepared protagonist encounters people who just cannot believe that their water isn’t going to come back on or that the government isn’t going to come to bring them their refrigerated insulin.

These sheeple are unreasonable, fussy, picky, and stupid. Are there really people who still can’t understand that grocery stores don’t fill up by magic? In these books, they are legion.


In more than one of these books, the prepper encounters people who expect him to share the resources he’s planned ahead to store. The analogy with communism or socialism is often explicit.

Black Lies Matter

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

The Black Lives Matter movement is based on a lie, Heather MacDonald argues:

Last year, the police shot 990 people, the vast majority armed or violently resisting arrest, according to the Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings. Whites made up 49.9 percent of those victims, blacks, 26 percent. That proportion of black victims is lower than what the black violent crime rate would predict.

Blacks constituted 62 percent of all robbery defendants in America’s 75 largest counties in 2009, 57 percent of all murder defendants and 45 percent of all assault defendants, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, even though blacks comprise only 15 percent of the population in those counties.

In New York City, where blacks make up 23 percent of the city’s population, blacks commit three-quarters of all shootings and 70 percent of all robberies, according to victims and witnesses in their reports to the New York Police Department. Whites, by contrast, commit less than 2 percent of all shootings and 4 percent of all robberies, though they are nearly 34 percent of the city’s population.

In Chicago, 80 percent of all known murder suspects were black in 2015, as were 80 percent of all known nonfatal shooting suspects, though they are a little less than a third of the population. Whites made up 0.9 percent of known murder suspects in Chicago in 2015 and 1.4 percent of known nonfatal shooting suspects, though they are about a third of the city’s residents.

Such racially skewed crime ratios are repeated in virtually all American metropolises. They mean that when officers are called to the scene of a drive-by shooting or an armed robbery, they will overwhelmingly be summoned to minority neighborhoods, looking for minority suspects in the aid of minority victims.

Gang shootings occur almost exclusively in minority areas. Police use of force is most likely in confrontations with violent and resisting criminals, and those confrontations happen disproportionately in minority communities.

You would never know it from the activists, but police shootings are responsible for a lower percentage of black homicide deaths than white and Hispanic homicide deaths. Twelve percent of all whites and Hispanics who die of homicide are killed by police officers, compared to 4 percent of black homicide victims.

That disparity is driven by the greatly elevated rates of criminal victimization in the black community. More blacks die each year from homicide, more than 6,000, than homicide victims of all other races combined. Their killers are not the police, and not whites, but other blacks. In Chicago this year through Aug. 30, 2,870 people, mostly black, were shot.

If you believed the Black Lives Matter narrative, you would assume that the assailants of those black victims were in large part cops. In fact, the police shot 17 people, most of whom were threatening lethal force, accounting for 0.6 percent of the total.

Gun-related murders of officers are up 52 percent this year through Aug. 30 compared to last year.

Police critics have never answered the question of what they think non-biased policing data should look like, in light of the vast differences in rates of criminal offending. Blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. Black males between the ages of 14-17 commit gun homicide at nearly 10 times the rate of white and Hispanic male teens combined.

Should police stops, arrests and those rare instances of police shootings nevertheless mirror population ratios, rather than crime ratios?

The Usual You-Go-Girl Fare

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

The creators of Zootopia explain the original concept and the big story shift that turned the film upside down:

Steve Sailer suggests that it “started out culturally rebellious but then got throttled by the test marketers and executives into the usual You-Go-Girl fare.”

Crowds and Technology

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Mobs, demagogues, and populist movements are obviously not new:

What is new and interesting is how social media has transformed age-old crowd behaviors. In the past decade, we’ve built tools that have reconfigured the traditional, centuries-old relationship between crowds and power, transforming what used to be sporadic, spontaneous, and transient phenomena into permanent features of the social landscape. The most important thing about digitally transformed crowds is this: unlike IRL crowds, they can persist indefinitely. And this changes everything.


To translate Canetti’s main observations to digital environments:

  1. The crowd always wants to grow — and always can, unfettered by physical limitations
  2. Within the crowd there is equality — but higher levels of deception, suspicion, and manipulation
  3. The crowd loves density — and digital identities can be more closely packed
  4. The crowd needs a direction — and clickbait makes directions cheap to manufacture

Translating Eric Hoffer’s ideas to digital environments is even simpler: the Internet is practically designed to enable the formation of self-serving patterns of “true belief.”

If We Want to Restore Balance

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

Irrational optimism works, but Spandrell’s not very good at it, so he has been thinking about how to generate it exogenously:

The main issue people ask is that you can’t just make up a new religion. That’s a good point. It’s also a bummer, given that my shtick for 5 years has been that We Need a New Religion (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). But once you understand what religion is about, what it is for, it’s obvious that you can’t just make one up from thin air. Any coordination mechanism for groups, any set of ideas to generate loyalty is more likely to work if it feeds upon previous ideas which are out there, preferably for a long time. If only to make people not feel inadequate about their past ideological stances. If you want Christians to join your group you should make them feel good about having been a Christian; at least parts of it. Ever read the Quran? The writer was very, very familiar with Christianity and Judaism. Christianity was of course also based on Judaism. And Judaism on ages old tribal traditions of the Hebrew tribes. Hardly any religion has ever been produced ex-nihilo. Japan tried to make a religion out of the (purported) tribal traditions of the Japanese people but they just couldn’t beat up centuries of Buddhist faith.

It follows that the solution would be to come up with a slightly modified version of Christianity. It would make it easier to get our natural allies on the right side of the Christian community to join the institution of a reactionary society. The problem is, as many correctly argue on the comments at Jim’s, that Christianity is a leftist cult. The teachings of Jesus are pure and simple leftist agitation. The rich go to hell. The poor will inherit the earth. Prostitutes are as noble as any of you. If some white guy wrote a Medium long-form post talking on his experiences touching and healing lepers we would all call him a holier-than-thou virtue signaller.


What made Christianity so successful?

Well first of all Christianity wasn’t successful everywhere. It certainly was in Europe. But not in the Middle East. Islam surely beat it there. And the few Christian communities that remained since antiquity until the 2003 Iraq War weren’t anything to call home about.

It seems to me that Christianity as a mildly leftist, i.e. socialist and feminist cult, it had an important role to play in the ancient and medieval world. Especially the medieval world, where barbarians roamed Europe at will. The world of a barbarian is the complete opposite of a modern one. Barbarians are manly. Very much so. There’s this Jack Donovan guy pulling a Yukio Mishima and translating his gayness into poetry about how cool the barbarian Way of Man is, how awesome are the men it produces. Which it is. We all love Conan. It’s cool. It looks like tons of fun.

It’s still messed up in many ways. In modern parlance, the barbarian world is a world of toxic masculinity. It’s a world where men do whatever the hell they want. In my parlance, it’s a world of bro signalling spirals. Which is a lot of fun for men. But it produces pretty crappy societies. It’s stupidly violent. It despises menial, boring work. It despises family life for the pursuit of vainglory and pussy. It’s nasty, brutish and short. That’s what you get when men do what their feel like.

In that kind of world, having Christian institutions trying to get men to stop hunting for a while and just fucking till the land and feeding their children, is actually a pretty good idea. Shaming a man to sticking with his ugly and nagging wife even though she’s a total bitch is a pretty good idea if you want children to survive and food surplus to get grown. Getting elite men to not shoot each other over stupid slights, to not drink too much and moderate their appetites, to don’t spend their inheritance in women and parties… was pretty much hopeless for the most part. But to the extent it succeeded it had a civilizing effect.

So to speak in modern terms, if you have a society which is, due to its historical background or its technological level, naturally shifted to the right, having a pole of lefty ideas produces a pretty healthy balance, one where men get a bit of what they want, women get a bit of what they want, and we’re all better off thanks to it.

That’s obviously not what we got today. The situation in 2016 is one where feminism is the law of the land, men doing what men do by nature (cf. Trump) is illegal and strictly punished, and every single institution with some power just pushes the same leftist ideas. Women are better, open borders is good, everybody has the right to organize and fight for their selfish interests except white men. In this circumstances if we want to restore some balance, if we want civilization to work, we need the complete opposite of what Christianity was. We need a big fat magnet of rightist ideas, a rightist pole to exert the same influence on our feminized society that Christianity had on the manly society of the Middle Ages.

It seems to me that Christianity can’t possibly be that. What could be? Your guess is as good as mine. If you’ve been reading this blog you probably know one answer. But again I like it as little as you do. For all purposes I’m still for a New Religion.

Albion’s Ashes

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is not a tale of economic privation among the Kentucky Scots-Irish exodus:

It is closer to the opposite: His Kentucky-exile grandparents are secure and prosperous in spite of their own humble origins and a long period of alcohol-fueled domestic strife; they own a nice, four-bedroom home and drive new high-end cars — convertibles, even. Growing up in a small town in Ohio in the 1990s, Vance lived in a household with an annual income exceeding $100,000, or the equivalent of about $175,000 a year in today’s dollars. He had a close-knit extended family, including a grandmother who read to him and a grandfather who helped him get ahead of the other children in math, which served him well: After college and law school — at Yale — Vance went on to become the principal of a Silicon Valley investment firm. He is 31 years old.

His family was indeed miserable, but theirs wasn’t the misery of poverty and privation. It was the misery of people determined to be miserable at any price. The great American bounty was wheeled out for their enjoyment like room service at the Ritz Carlton, and they decided they preferred Wendy’s and Night Train and OxyContin and desultory sex with strangers from bars.

Nothing happened to them — they happened.

The main difference between Vance and his unhappy forebears with their Byzantine marital histories and “Mountain Dew mouth” — exactly what it sounds like — is that he had the good sense to say yes to the happiness that was offered him.

What’s interesting about his story — his only real excuse for writing a memoir, in fact — is that he almost said no, and that he is one of those unusual men who actually understands the decisions he has made, why and how he made them, and the effects they have had.

Vance was saved by the intervention of certain “loving people”:

That is not usually how one hears Marine drill instructors described.

Vance had the good sense to delay college and enlist in the Marine Corps instead. And the Marine Corps is one of the few remaining American institutions that delivers more or less exactly as advertised. Vance entered the boot camp pudgy, disorganized, immature, and lacking in confidence. He left it harder, wiser, and more capable. His account of his time in the Marines is in fact one of the most interesting sections of the book, and the one that points both to the promise and shortcomings of public-policy interventions to counter the dysfunction of the white underclass. As Vance puts it, the Marines take in new recruits under an assumption of maximum ignorance, i.e., that they do not know the basics of anything, from personal hygiene to keeping a schedule. The Marine Corps interferes in Vance’s life in intensely invasive and personal ways: When he decides he needs to buy a car, an older Marine is dispatched to make sure he doesn’t buy something stupid and stops him from signing a high-interest financing contract with the dealer, steering him instead toward a much better deal available through the Marines’ credit union.

The man who did not know how to handle automotive financing works in finance today. By his own account, he did not know that “finance” was an industry and a career option until well into his college education. Things like how to dress for a job interview and how to conduct himself at a business dinner — he’s flummoxed to learn that there’s more than one kind of white wine — simply were not within his experience.

That sort of thing is awkward, and there are tens of millions of Americans who have had such fish-out-of-water experiences on their way up. The truth is, our schools and other institutions do a pretty good job of identifying the J.D. Vances of the world, thanks in no small part to standardized testing, though of course committed and engaged teachers play an indispensable role, too. But consider what it took to turn Vance’s life around and get him ready for Ohio State and Yale. Short of universal or near-universal military conscription — something that would be resisted both by the public and by the military, which is still resisting the politicians’ efforts to transform it entirely into a social-services agency — what policy options do we have to intervene in the lives of young men and women who come from backgrounds like Vance’s, but who are even worse off in both economic and social-capital terms, and who do not have the innate intelligence to cut it in Silicon Valley or who lack comparable skills and talents? We know what to do about poor kids with IQs of 120 — what about the ones with IQs of 100? What about those with IQs of 90?

The ending of the liberal interregnum

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

Razib Khan shares a talk from Alice Dreger, author of Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice, and notes a passage where she waxes eloquently about the Enlightenment, and freedom of thought:

At a certain point the cultural Left no longer made any pretense to being liberal, and transformed themselves into “progressives.” They have taken Marcuse’s thesis in Repressive Tolerance to heart.

Though I hope that Dreger and her fellow travelers succeed in rolling back the clock, I suspect that the battle here is lost. She points out, correctly, that the total politicization of academia will destroy its existence as a producer of truth in any independent and objective manner. More concretely, she suggests it is likely that conservatives will simply start to defund and direct higher education even more stridently than they do now, because they will correctly see higher education as purely a tool toward the politics of their antagonists. I happen to be a conservative, and one who is pessimistic about the persistence of a public liberal space for ideas that offend. If progressives give up on liberalism of ideas, and it seems that many are (the most famous defenders of the old ideals are people from earlier generations, such as Nadine Strossen and Wendy Kaminer, with Dreger being a young example), I can’t see those of us in the broadly libertarian wing of conservatism making the last stand alone.

Honestly, I don’t want any of my children learning “liberal arts” from the high priests of the post-colonial cult. In the near future the last resistance on the Left to the ascendency of identity politics will probably be extinguished, as the old guard retires and dies naturally. The battle will be lost. Conservatives who value learning, and intellectual discourse, need to regroup. Currently there is a populist moood in conservatism that has been cresting for a generation. But the wave of identity politics is likely to swallow the campus Left with its intellectual nihilism. Instead of expanding outward it is almost certain that academia will start cannibalizing itself in internecine conflict when all the old enemies have been vanquished.

Let the private universities, such as Oberlin, wallow in their identity politics contradictions. Dreger already points to the path we will probably have to take: gut the public universities even more than we have. Leave STEM and some professional schools intact, and transform them for all practical purposes into technical universities. All the other disciplines? Some private universities, the playgrounds of the rich and successful, will continue to be traditionalist in maintaining “liberal arts,” which properly parrot the latest post-colonial cant. But much learning will be privatized, and knowledge will spread through segregated “safe spaces.” Those of us who read and think will continue to read and think, like we always have. We just won’t have institutional backing, because there’s not going to be a societal consensus for such support.

I hope I’m wrong.

He shares two more conclusions in a comment:

It’s getting worse, not better, and it’s not about tenure or money. It’s about social sanction and approval. so two sad conclusions:

1) Truth can only move in hidden channels now if it conflicts with power. No one gives a shit if you appeal to truth; they know that it is not intrinsic value except in the serve of status and power. I admire Heterodox Academy, but part of me wonders if they’d be better served by being stealth and just creating a secret society that doesn’t put the academy on notice that some people know that reality is different from the official narratives.

2) The post-modernists are right to a first approximation: everything is power. So “we” have to capture and crush; it’s only victory or defeat. The odds are irrelevant. I put we in quotes because it doesn’t matter who you are, the game is on, whether you think you are a player or not.

Open data and crowd-sourcing mean that a whole ecosystem of knowledge can emerge that doesn’t need to be nakedly exposed and put people’s livelihoods and reputations at risk from the kommissars.

Some of my friends have argued this for a long time, and I resisted because I’m a liberal in the old sense. but reality is reality, and the fact is that no one wants the truth, and they’ll destroy you to deny it.

For every Alice Dreger there are 1,000 who support her. but they’ll stand aside while the 100 tear her to shreds, and talk sadly amongst themselves about what happened to her career…

The Deep Roots of Prosperity

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Today’s rich countries tend to be in East Asia, Northern and Western Europe — or are heavily populated by people who came from those two regions:

The major exceptions are oil-rich countries. East Asia and Northwest Europe are precisely the areas of the world that made the biggest technological advances over the past few hundred years. These two regions experienced “civilization,” an ill-defined but unmistakable combination of urban living, elite prosperity, literary culture, and sophisticated technology. Civilization doesn’t mean kindness, it doesn’t mean respect for modern human rights: It means the frontier of human artistic and technological achievement. And over the extremely long run, a good predictor of your nation’s current economic behavior is your nation’s ancestors’ past behavior. Exceptions exist, but so does the rule.

Recently, a small group of economists have found more systematic evidence on how the past predicts the present. Overall, they find that where your nation’s citizens come from matters a lot. From “How deep are the roots of economic development?” published in the prestigious Journal of Economic Literature:

A growing body of new empirical work focuses on the measurement and estimation of the effects of historical variables on contemporary income by explicitly taking into account the ancestral composition of current populations. The evidence suggests that economic development is affected by traits that have been transmitted across generations over the very long run.

From “Was the Wealth of Nations determined in 1000 B.C.?” (coauthored by the legendary William Easterly):

[W]e are measuring the association of the place’s technology today with the technology in 1500 AD of the places from where the ancestors of the current population came from…[W]e strongly confirm…that history of peoples matters more than history of places.

And finally, from “Post-1500 Population Flows and the Economic Determinants of Economic Growth and Inequality,” published in Harvard’s Quarterly Journal of Economics:

The positive effect of ancestry-adjusted early development on current income is robust…The most likely explanation for this finding is that people whose ancestors were living in countries that developed earlier (in the sense of implementing agriculture or creating organized states) brought with them some advantage—such as human capital, knowledge, culture, or institutions—that raises the level of income today.

To sum up some of the key findings of this new empirical literature: There are three major long-run predictors of a nation’s current prosperity, which combine to make up a nation’s SAT score:

S: How long ago the nation’s ancestors lived under an organized state.

A: How long ago the nation’s ancestors began to use Neolithic agriculture techniques.

T: How much of the world’s available technology the nation’s ancestors were using in 1000 B.C., 0 B.C., or 1500 A.D.

When estimating each nation’s current SAT score, it’s important to adjust for migration: Indeed, all three of these papers do some version of that. For instance, without adjusting for migration, Australia has quite a low ancestral technology score: Aboriginal Australians used little of the world’s cutting edge technology in 1500 A.D. But since Australia is now overwhelmingly populated by the descendants of British migrants, Australia’s migration-adjusted technology score is currently quite high.

On average, nations with high migration-adjusted SAT scores are vastly richer than nations with lower SAT scores: Countries in the top 10% of migration-adjusted technology (T) in 1500 are typically at least 10 times richer than countries in the bottom 10%. If instead you mistakenly tried to predict a country’s income today based on who lived there in 1500, the relationship would only be about one-third that size. The migration adjustment matters crucially: Whether in the New World, across Southeast Asia, or in Southern Africa, one can do a better job predicting today’s prosperity when you keep track of who moved where. It looks like at least in the distant past, migrants shaped today’s prosperity.

Wealth, Health, and Child Development

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Swedish researchers looked at wealth, health, and child development, by studying lottery players:

We use administrative data on Swedish lottery players to estimate the causal impact of substantial wealth shocks on players’ own health and their children’s health and developmental outcomes. Our estimation sample is large, virtually free of attrition, and allows us to control for the factors conditional on which the prizes were randomly assigned.

In adults, we find no evidence that wealth impacts mortality or health care utilization, with the possible exception of a small reduction in the consumption of mental health drugs. Our estimates allow us to rule out effects on 10-year mortality one sixth as large as the cross-sectional wealth-mortality gradient.

In our intergenerational analyses, we find that wealth increases children’s health care utilization in the years following the lottery and may also reduce obesity risk. The effects on most other child outcomes, including drug consumption, scholastic performance, and skills, can usually be bounded to a tight interval around zero.

Overall, our findings suggest that in affluent countries with extensive social safety nets, causal effects of wealth are not a major source of the wealth-mortality gradients, nor of the observed relationships between child developmental outcomes and household income.

Can War Foster Cooperation?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

Can war foster cooperation? Of course it can:

In the past decade, nearly 20 studies have found a strong, persistent pattern in surveys and behavioral experiments from over 40 countries: individual exposure to war violence tends to increase social cooperation at the local level, including community participation and prosocial behavior. Thus while war has many negative legacies for individuals and societies, it appears to leave a positive legacy in terms of local cooperation and civic engagement. We discuss, synthesize and reanalyze the emerging body of evidence, and weigh alternative explanations. There is some indication that war violence especially enhances in-group or “parochial” norms and preferences, a finding that, if true, suggests that the rising social cohesion we document need not promote broader peace.

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen, who adds:

That is an all-star line-up of authors, and no this doesn’t mean any of those individuals are in favor of war. That would be the fallacy of mood affiliation, and we all know that MR readers never commit the fallacy of mood affiliation…

Big Viking Families

Monday, October 10th, 2016

In saga-era Iceland, killers had three times as many biological relatives and in-laws as their victims:

In the three sagas, a total of 66 individuals caused 153 deaths; two or more attackers sometimes participated in the same killing. No killers were biologically related to their victims (such as cousins or closer), but one victim was a sister-in-law of her killer.

About two-thirds or more of killers had more biological kin on both sides of their families, and more in-laws, than their victims did.

Six men accounted for about 45 percent of all murders, each killing between five and 19 people. Another 23 individuals killed two to four people. The rest killed once. Frequent killers had many more social relationships, through biological descent and marriage, than their victims did, suggesting that they targeted members of families in vulnerable situations, the researchers say.

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything

Friday, October 7th, 2016

While working at the Pentagon, Rosa Brooks saw How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything:

The White House wants a surveillance drone to monitor an evolving showdown over human rights in Kyrgyzstan. A member of staff at the National Security Council calls the author, Rosa Brooks, at the Pentagon to tell her to send it on its way. Ms Brooks explains that this is not how the chain of command works in the military. Where would the drone come from? Which job would it no longer be doing? Who was going to pay for it? Whose airspace would it operate from? The incredulous response: “We’re talking about like, one drone. You’re telling me you can’t just call some colonel at CentCom and make this happen?”

The story illustrates two themes in an interesting and worrying book, “How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything”. The first is the growing tendency of politicians and bureaucrats in Washington to turn to the armed forces when something, almost anything, needs doing. The second, despite or perhaps because of this, is the gulf in understanding that is making civil-military relations increasingly fraught. But Ms Brooks has a wider purpose, which is to examine what happens to institutions and legal processes when the distinctions between war and peace become blurred and the space between becomes the norm, as has happened in America in the decade and a half since the attacks of September 11th 2001.


What she found [at the Pentagon] is that as the money available for conventional diplomacy and development aid precipitately declines, so the armed forces with their relatively inexhaustible resources are called upon to fill the gap. As one general puts it, the American military is becoming “a Super Walmart with everything under one roof”. Because its culture is proudly can-do, it gets on with the demands made on it without much complaint.

One consequence is that actual fighting has become something that only a small minority of soldiers do. Ms Brooks finds that through the recent, long wars most soldiers have spent their time supervising the building of wells, sewers and bridges, resolving community disputes, working with local police, writing press releases, analysing intelligence and so on. In many ways, Ms Brooks finds this admirable. The problem, she says, is that soldiers are not necessarily the best people to do this kind of work, lacking the inclination, the training or the experience to be much good at it.

The hope in the Pentagon nowadays is that it can return to its core purpose of deterring and preparing for proper, high-tech state-on-state wars. Counter-insurgency and nation-building have fallen out of fashion. Hillary Clinton has recently echoed Barack Obama in promising no “boots on the ground” in Iraq (despite the fact that there are about 5,000 pairs of them there and twice as many in Afghanistan). The reality is that you do not always get to choose the kind of wars you fight or how you fight them.