Behind the Scenes

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Puppet MasterOur Slovenian guest has been quietly working behind the scenes, connecting some of his favorite blogs.

Born and Bred on the Other Side of the European Frontiers

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

In Panzer Battles, von Mellenthin describes the psychology of the Russian soldier with an emphasis on its Asiatic foreignness:

No one belonging to the cultural circle of the West is ever likely to fathom the character and soul of these Asiatics, born and bred on the other side of the European frontiers.

(I am of course aware that the Slavs migrated into Russia from the west, and were originally a European people. But the Mongol invasion of 1241, and the two centuries of domination which followed, gave an Asiatic twist in the Russian outlook and character, a development accentuated by the policy of the Tsars.)

Yet the Russian character must contain the key to an understanding of their soldierly qualities, their achievements, and their way of fighting. The human heart, and the psychology of the individual fighting man, have always been the ruling factors in warfare, transcending the importance of numbers and equipment. This old maxim held good during World War II, and I think it will always to so.

The Russian soldier is unpredictable, von Mellenthin felt — and American General George S. Patton felt the same way, as he’s quoted in General Patton: A Soldier’s Life:

The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asiatic, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinaman or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them, except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other Asiatic characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and is an all out son of bitch, barbarian, and chronic drunk.

He definitely did not see the Russians as true allies:

We promised the Europeans freedom. It would be worse than dishonorable not to see they have it. This might mean war with the Russians, but what of it? They have no Air Force anymore, their gasoline and ammunition supplies are low. I’ve seen their miserable supply trains; mostly wagons draw by beaten up old hoses or oxen. I’ll say this; the Third Army alone with very little help and with damned few casualties, could lick what is left of the Russians in six weeks. You mark my words. Don’t ever forget them… Someday we will have to fight them and it will take six years and cost us six million lives.

In Football We Trust

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

In Football We Trust examines the “Polynesian pipeline” into the NFL through Mormon Utah:

The documentary could be considered a study in human biodiversity. You can’t help but notice that these young men are big, strong, fast, tough, and impulsive. One of the dads laments that he doesn’t have a short fuze; he has no fuze. All of the grown men in the family have personal problems; that is, they’ve served time in prison.

Popular Posts of 2015

Friday, January 1st, 2016

I just took a look back at my numbers for 2015. Here are the most popular posts during that calendar year, three of which are new, seven of which are older:

  1. Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics
  2. Myostatin, Belgian Blue, and Flex Wheeler
  3. Longbow vs. Armor
  4. He-Man Opening Monologue
  5. Polar Bear Turns Purple After Medication
  6. Observations from Actual Shootings
  7. Fast Friends Protocol
  8. What A Good Job Looks Like (new)
  9. Small-Arms Overmatch (new)
  10. Why Are Little Kids in Japan So Independent? (new)

Here are the most popular posts actually from 2015 and not from an earlier year:

  1. What A Good Job Looks Like
  2. Small-Arms Overmatch
  3. Why Are Little Kids in Japan So Independent?
  4. The Unintended Consequences of Recording the Police
  5. FOMO
  6. America Lite
  7. An Elaborate Suicide Fantasy
  8. Weightlifting is Anti-Aging
  9. Traction Magnates
  10. City vs. Small Town
  11. Asymmetrical Multiculturalism
  12. Simplistic and Naive but Effectively True
  13. Silicon Valley White-Asian Divide

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

Also, I should thank some of my top referrers: Reaction Times, Free NorthernerOutside InPJ Media, Borepatch, and Mapping The Dark Enlightenment.

Happy Wookiee Life Day!

Friday, December 25th, 2015

I’ve discussed Christmas a number of times over the years:

Our Era of Outrage

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Even the New York Times accepts that South Park perfectly captures our era of outrage:

Now, it was as if our culture had been shining an Eric Cartman-shaped Bat-signal and “South Park” answered. You could see the news from college campuses — safe spaces, trigger warnings — and conclude that America was more radically leftist than ever. You could read a dispatch from the Republican primary — border walls, refugee panic — and conclude that it was more reactionary than ever. The country is deeply polarized, and between two poles is precisely where the quasi-libertarian “South Park” most likes to swing.

Deep Survival

Friday, December 11th, 2015

The lesson of Deep Survival, Scott Berkun says, is that the people who survive abandon their mental models of the world and open their eyes:

They don’t try to force the world to be a certain way: instead they respond to the world like a child, taking it to be what it is, and working within the real world to try and survive (or thrive).

Halloween

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

I’ve written a surprising amount about Halloween over the years:

Hume and Buddhism

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Alison Gopnik tells an oddly personal tale, almost Lovecraftian, about fighting for her sanity while poring over dusty tomes from obscure archives:

In 1734, in scotland, a 23-year-old was falling apart.

As a teenager, he’d thought he had glimpsed a new way of thinking and living, and ever since, he’d been trying to work it out and convey it to others in a great book. The effort was literally driving him mad. His heart raced and his stomach churned. He couldn’t concentrate. Most of all, he just couldn’t get himself to write his book. His doctors diagnosed vapors, weak spirits, and “the Disease of the Learned.” Today, with different terminology but no more insight, we would say he was suffering from anxiety and depression. The doctors told him not to read so much and prescribed antihysteric pills, horseback riding, and claret—the Prozac, yoga, and meditation of their day.

The young man’s name was David Hume. Somehow, during the next three years, he managed not only to recover but also, remarkably, to write his book. Even more remarkably, it turned out to be one of the greatest books in the history of philosophy: A Treatise of Human Nature.

In his Treatise, Hume rejected the traditional religious and philosophical accounts of human nature. Instead, he took Newton as a model and announced a new science of the mind, based on observation and experiment. That new science led him to radical new conclusions. He argued that there was no soul, no coherent self, no “I.” “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself,” he wrote in the Treatise, “I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.”

[...]

But here’s Hume’s really great idea: Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game.

In fact, if you let yourself think this way, your life might actually get better. Give up the prospect of life after death, and you will finally really appreciate life before it. Give up metaphysics, and you can concentrate on physics. Give up the idea of your precious, unique, irreplaceable self, and you might actually be more sympathetic to other people.

How did Hume come up with these ideas, so profoundly at odds with the Western philosophy and religion of his day? What turned the neurotic Presbyterian teenager into the great founder of the European Enlightenment?

In my shabby room, as I read Buddhist philosophy, I began to notice something that others had noticed before me. Some of the ideas in Buddhist philosophy sounded a lot like what I had read in Hume’s Treatise. But this was crazy. Surely in the 1730s, few people in Europe knew about Buddhist philosophy.

Still, as I read, I kept finding parallels. The Buddha doubted the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God. In his doctrine of “emptiness,” he suggested that we have no real evidence for the existence of the outside world. He said that our sense of self is an illusion, too. The Buddhist sage Nagasena elaborated on this idea. The self, he said, is like a chariot. A chariot has no transcendent essence; it’s just a collection of wheels and frame and handle. Similarly, the self has no transcendent essence; it’s just a collection of perceptions and emotions.

“I never can catch myself at any time without a perception.”

That sure sounded like Buddhist philosophy to me — except, of course, that Hume couldn’t have known anything about Buddhist philosophy.

Or could he have?

Read the whole thing.

Decline in Marine Officer Intelligence

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Brookings’ Michael Klein and Tufts University’s Matthew Cancian — a former Marine officer who served in Afghanistan — take a closer look at the steady and troubling decline in the average intelligence of Marine Corps officers:

After analyzing test scores of 46,000 officers who took the Marine Corps’ required General Classification Test (GCT), Klein and Cancian find that the quality of officers in the Marines, as measured by those test scores, has steadily and significantly declined over the last 34 years.

So what’s causing this steady decline in GCT scores? According to Klein and Cancian, the decline in officer quality might actually have to do with the fact that more people are receiving college degrees than ever before: The authors note that the decrease of GCT scores over time correlates to an increase in the college participation rate during that same period.

Average General Classification Test Scores of Incoming Marine Officers

Eric Crampton suggests some other plausible candidate explanations:

  • Higher opportunity costs for high IQ people since the 80s.
  • Greater cultural disparaging of the military in elite circles, so it is not aspired to by those of higher ability.
  • Decreasing trust in that military is a force for good or really much needed (see the decline as the Soviets turned friendlier under Gorbachev, the levelling off and rise around Gulf War I, and the resumed decline after that).
  • Fewer smart but lower income kids needing to use ROTC to afford college with expansions in student aid.

What Finland Can Teach America About Baseball

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Finland has its own, faster-paced version of baseball, called pesäpallo:

Tired of pitchers ambling around the mound? In Finland, there is no mound. Pitchers stand beside the hitter and toss the ball vertically over the plate.

Falling asleep waiting for the next batted ball? In Finland, hitters put nearly every pitch in play, sending fielders scampering in every direction. Players aren’t allowed to call for time between plays or pitches.

[...]

A few years ago, one player wore a pedometer during a game and was found to have run 10.5 kilometers from start to finish. By comparison, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo averaged 9.6 kilometers covered during Champions League matches this year.

Finnish Baseball Fielder

Finnish baseball is the brainchild of a former Olympic track and field star named Lauri Pihkala. According to historians, Pihkala was studying in the U.S. in 1907 when he attended an American baseball game in Boston and made an observation that was ahead of its time: Fascinating game. A bit slow, though.

He went on to develop the Finnish version in the 1920s, billing it as a military training exercise, but its popularity long outlasted wartime in Europe. It was a demonstration sport in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.

Finnish Baseball

Instead of grass, fields are made of short-cropped artificial turf covered with a thin layer of sand. Instead of sitting in dugouts, players line the circle surrounding the home-plate area and heckle the opposing pitcher. Instead of trying to overpower hitters, pitchers must mix heights and locations to keep them off balance, with the only requirement being that they throw the ball at least one meter above their head. The manager gives signs to the hitter and base runners with a multicolored fan.

The ball has to land in fair territory to count for a hit, meaning the only home runs are of the inside-the-park variety. A triple counts as a home run. Teams use different strategies for where and how hard to hit the ball, depending on the situation, while fielders deploy a range of formations, depending on a hitter’s tendencies. The degree of movement from play to play evokes NFL defensive schemes more than Major League Baseball defensive shifts.

The game is also shorter. Last season, the average Superpesis game took 2 hours 18 minutes, 40 minutes shorter than the MLB average this season.

What Book has the Most Page-for-Page Wisdom?

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Shane Parrish (@farnamstreet) asked his Twitter followers, “What is page for page the book with the most wisdom you’ve ever read?”.

Tyler Cowen was not impressed with the resulting list, so he rattled off his own:

Cowen’s commenters love Pinker and both love and hate N.N. Taleb.

Happy Secession Day

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

Once again, I wish you a happy Secession Day! I’ve discussed the colonies’ secession from the motherland more than once over the years:

Are you going to stay here tonight?

Friday, May 8th, 2015

In Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass, Harold Gatty tells a story about the powers of observation:

About fifty years ago, Enose Mills, a mountain guide, became snow-blind and found himself lost when he was on the summit of the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains, 12,000 feet above sea level with the nearest house many miles away across rough mountain ridges. His factual story of how he successfully found his way by the intelligent application and observation of natural things is recounted in his book, Adventures of a Nature Guide, written some thirty-six years ago.

It is an excellent illustration of how the practice of noticing nature’s signs can be developed by learning to interpret them. Mills was an unusually keen observer of nature and he managed to remain calm and confident of finding his way back when he found himself lost. He said of the incident: “My faculties were intensely awake. The possibility of a fatal ending never occurred to me.” His matter-of-fact attitude coupled with his ability to interpret the natural signs of that particular region — e.g., certain pine trees growing on a slope, the bark of trees, trail blaze marks on trees, echoes and aspen smoke — enabled him to survive.

Mills was confident of his ability to get out of the predicament in which he found himself. He could not use trails because of the extreme depth of snow, but in his mind he had a clear mental map of the slope down which he had to travel. It was made up of the impressions he had gathered before the darkness of snow-blindness settled over him.

Carrying a long staff, he set out on snowshoes to find the blaze marks on the trees which he had made on his forward journey. Making his way from tree to tree he thrust an arm into the snow, feeling the bark of the trees until he discovered the mark of the blaze. He resorted to the trees for the points of the compass. In his study of tree distribution he had learned that, in the locality, canyons running east and west carried limber pines on the wall that faced south and Engelmann spruce on the wall that faced north. With limber pines on his left and Engelmann spruces on his right he was now satisfied that he was traveling eastward and should be on the eastern side of the range. To check this, he examined the lichen growth of low-lying boulders and the moss which encircled the trunks of trees, concluding that the surrounding area must be such as to admit light freely from all quarters.

To get an idea of the topography of the canyon he shouted, noting from which direction the echoes came, their intensity and the cross replies — concluding from these that he was going into the head of a deep forest-walled canyon.

In the night a snowslide almost smothered him as he made his way and progress was made more difficult by the enormous rock masses and entanglements of fallen branches and leaves.

Suddenly he caught the scent of smoke, which he recognized as that of aspen, a wood burned in the cookstoves of the mountain people. Under favorable conditions a person with a keen sense of smell can detect aspen wood smoke for a distance of two or three miles. Going forward in the direction from which the wind was blowing, he emerged from the woods where the smoke was strongest and knew that human habitation was near. In fear of passing it, he stopped to use his ears. As he stood listening, a little girl gently, curiously asked: “Are you going to stay here tonight?”

(Hat tip to Wrath of Gnon.)

Everything Changes

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Ben Casnocha recommends Sam Harris’s hard-headed take on spirituality and meditation, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion:

Meditation feels like it’s at the peak of the hype cycle right now. The new Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco attracts flocks of suit-wearing business people, not spiritual loonies. Calm.com raised over a million bucks to bring a guided meditation app to the masses.

[...]

For a time, I began to identify as “spiritual but not religious” without really knowing what it meant. The designation pained me because of how irrational so many “spiritual” people tended to be. Many people I encountered who talked about their spirituality did not seem very rigorous in their thinking. In 2009 I wrote a post somewhat backing away from the label. I’ve since come back around to the word “spiritual,” for reasons Harris describes in his book:

Yes, to walk the aisles of any “spiritual” bookstore is to confront the yearning and credulity of our species by the yard, but there is no other term — apart from the even more problematic mystical or the more restrictive contemplative — with which to discuss the efforts people make, through meditation, psychedelics, or other means, to fully bring their minds into the present or to induce nonordinary states of consciousness. And no other word links this spectrum of experience to our ethical lives.

Over the years, I’ve gotten increasingly curious about — and have taken steps to understand — more advanced forms of meditation and the Buddhist ideas behind them and the connection between the two.

Modern Buddhists talk a lot about the unhappiness of rock stars, CEOs, and others who’ve won fame and fortune in today’s world. It’s an idea that resonates strongly: many of the people I know who have it all seem not much happier than those who lead lives of average material existence. Harris offers a helpful re-frame of the famous Buddhist line that “life is suffering.” It’s not “suffering” we all must deal with. It’s the unsatisfactoriness of more and more external success, as those successes — and everything in life — is ultimately impermanent. “Everything changes” is Buddhism summed up in two words. Thus, true happiness and purpose must come from within.