An ordinary politician would have been powerless

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Ryan Holiday describes the most durable form of influence and power:

In 1931, Winston Churchill found himself more or less exiled from political life. In the previous years he had found himself vehemently fighting members of his own party over a number of issues and when a new government was formed, Churchill was not invited. He was viewed as out of date and out of touch by his fellow politicians and so began a period now known as his “wilderness years.”

An ordinary politician would have been powerless when voted out of office or driven to the fringes by political enemies. Not Churchill. Because he held onto something even more valuable than office — he had a platform.

Most people are unaware that Churchill made his living as a writer, publishing some ten million words in his lifetime in hundreds of publications and published works. In fact, it was his enormous worldwide readership that Churchill cultivated through books, newspaper columns, and radio appearances that allowed him to survive the periods in which he did not have the ability to directly shape policy. Instead, he was able to reach directly to the people about the rising threat of world war, not just in Britain but worldwide, including in America.

During his infamous time in the so-called political wilderness between 1931 and 1939, Churchill published 11 volumes and more than 400 articles, and delivered more than 350 speeches. His enormous platform — based on his editorial contacts, his extraordinary gift with words, and his relentless energy — allowed him not only to be relevant but also to guide policy and opinion across the globe until he was eventually brought back in to save Britain and eventually and in many ways, the world. For any kind of leader, creator or entrepreneur, this kind of platform is essential. Because it is the ultimate insurance policy and the most durable form of influence and power.

He presents another, quite different example:

Think about a band like Iron Maiden — radio hasn’t played their kind of music since the mid 80′s. MTV hasn’t played their kind of videos in almost as long. But in that time they’ve put out a dozen albums which have sold millions of copies. How? Because their relationship was directly with their audience. They had a platform. They have an enormous email list.

They had 1,000 true fans.

It can be far worse than laziness

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Overanalysis has been Tim Ferriss’s life story:

It can be far worse than laziness, as overanalysis leads to the same lack of action but ALSO self-loathing.

What helped me quite a bit was studying military history, military strategy, and decisive battles (check out Blink and Jocko Willink’s Extreme Ownership).

The stories informed how I overcame paralysis by analysis. Step one is set deadlines for decisions. In warfare, you rarely have complete information, and if you wait to push certainty from 75% to 85%, say, that lag time could cause you to lose advantage and opportunity. It’s the same in many parts of life.

So I set deadlines. By X point in time, I must make a go or no-go decision, no matter how much or how little information I have. Furthermore, I try and figure out small, short-term, low-risk experiments (e.g., split testing, hiring a contractor to design mockups) I can run as “go” decisions, so that I don’t perceive action as high-risk.

So, in short: set deadlines for decisions (put them in your calendar or they aren’t real) and break large intimidating actions/projects into tiny mini-experiments that allow you to overcome fear of failure. Once you have a little momentum, the paralysis usually disappears on its own.

Hope that helps!

Tim

But what does he really mean by overanalysis?

All Hallows’ Eve

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

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

The DNA from both wolves and dogs brings big advantages

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

The coywolf — a combination of wolf, coyote and dog — is greater than the sum of its parts:

Some call this creature the eastern coyote. Others, though, have dubbed it the “coywolf”. Whatever name it goes by, Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, reckons it now numbers in the millions.

The mixing of genes that has created the coywolf has been more rapid, pervasive and transformational than many once thought. Javier Monzon, who worked until recently at Stony Brook University in New York state (he is now at Pepperdine University, in California) studied the genetic make-up of 437 of the animals, in ten north-eastern states plus Ontario. He worked out that, though coyote DNA dominates, a tenth of the average coywolf’s genetic material is dog and a quarter is wolf.

The DNA from both wolves and dogs (the latter mostly large breeds, like Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds), brings big advantages, says Dr Kays. At 25kg or more, many coywolves have twice the heft of purebred coyotes. With larger jaws, more muscle and faster legs, individual coywolves can take down small deer. A pack of them can even kill a moose.

Coywolf

Coyotes dislike hunting in forests. Wolves prefer it. Interbreeding has produced an animal skilled at catching prey in both open terrain and densely wooded areas, says Dr Kays. And even their cries blend those of their ancestors. The first part of a howl resembles a wolf’s (with a deep pitch), but this then turns into a higher-pitched, coyote-like yipping.

The animal’s range has encompassed America’s entire north-east, urban areas included, for at least a decade, and is continuing to expand in the south-east following coywolves’ arrival there half a century ago. This is astonishing. Purebred coyotes never managed to establish themselves east of the prairies. Wolves were killed off in eastern forests long ago. But by combining their DNA, the two have given rise to an animal that is able to spread into a vast and otherwise uninhabitable territory. Indeed, coywolves are now living even in large cities, like Boston, Washington and New York. According to Chris Nagy of the Gotham Coyote Project, which studies them in New York, the Big Apple already has about 20, and numbers are rising.

Some speculate that this adaptability to city life is because coywolves’ dog DNA has made them more tolerant of people and noise, perhaps counteracting the genetic material from wolves — an animal that dislikes humans. And interbreeding may have helped coywolves urbanise in another way, too, by broadening [their] diet. Having versatile tastes is handy for city living. Coywolves eat pumpkins, watermelons and other garden produce, as well as discarded food. They also eat rodents and other smallish mammals. Many lawns and parks are kept clear of thick underbrush, so catching squirrels and pets is easy. Cats are typically eaten skull and all, with clues left only in the droppings.

Thanks to this bounty, an urban coywolf need occupy only half the territory it would require in the countryside. And getting into town is easy. Railways provide corridors that make the trip simple for animals as well as people.

Surviving once there, though, requires a low profile. As well as having small territories, coywolves have adjusted to city life by becoming nocturnal. They have also learned the Highway Code, looking both ways before they cross a road. Dr Kays marvels at this “amazing contemporary evolution story that’s happening right underneath our nose”.

Inaccurate shots could still plunge into areas where people were huddled

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

The New York Times managed to get someone experienced with guns and combat — former Marine infantry officer C.J. Chivers — to explain how the gunman’s vantage point and preparations opened the way for mass slaughter:

The possibility that Mr. Paddock used tripods, which two law enforcement officials said were in the room, indicates that he understood how to overcome some of the difficulties of his plan. Special mounts designed to fit the underside of a rifle and sit atop camera tripods allow the gunman to fire more accurately while standing. Military snipers use tripods in urban spaces, often setting themselves back from a window so neither they nor their weapons can be seen from the streets below.

These preparations, along with the downward angle of Mr. Paddock’s gunfire and the density of concertgoers, would make the shooting more lethal than it might otherwise have been, and more difficult to counter or escape.

When the gunshots started, videos showed, those in front of the stage dropped to their stomachs — often an adequate first measure when under fire. But on Sunday night, the decision potentially put them at greater risk.

Mr. Paddock’s position overhead gave him a vantage point over objects and obstacles that would typically protect people from bullets flying from a gunman at ground level. It also meant that inaccurate shots — the sort common to rapid or hurried fire, which typically sail high or strike the ground short — could still plunge into areas where people were huddled.

[...]

Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of Clark County, Nev., said that at least 16 rifles, ranging from .308 to .223 caliber, and a handgun were retrieved from Mr. Paddock’s hotel room. A federal law enforcement official said that AR-15-style rifles were among them. The authorities did not detail all of the guns, or which weapons Mr. Paddock fired.

Several pounds of a nonflammable exploding target used for practice were recovered from Mr. Paddock’s home in Mesquite, about an hour outside Las Vegas, Sheriff Lombardo said. Ammonium nitrate was found in Mr. Paddock’s car in Las Vegas, the sheriff said, but he did not say how much was recovered.

[...]

The duration of the bursts, as recorded, suggest that Mr. Paddock cared little about the military’s prescriptions for automatic fire. Sustained rapid fire is difficult to control and causes many weapons, especially light weapons, to overheat quickly.

I wouldn’t think to use a light camera tripod for full-auto fire.

No training variable meaningfully predicted injury risk

Monday, September 11th, 2017

A recent survey of 1,900 powerlifters looked at injury rates:

Men were much more likely to have sustained an acute injury than women; roughly two-thirds of men had sustained at least one acute injury in their training career, whereas only about one-half of women had sustained at least one acute injury.  This held true even when controlling for training age and competitive success.

Unsurprisingly, people who’d been training longer were more likely to have sustained an acute injury than newer lifters.

Lifters who had sustained at least one acute injury were relatively stronger (assessed via allometric scaling), competed more frequently, and were more likely to have previously dealt with a chronic injury than lifters who had never sustained an acute injury.  All of those factors were also (unsurprisingly) associated with time spent training, but were still independently predictive of having experienced an acute injury, meaning stronger lifters and lifters who competed more often were more likely to have experienced an injury regardless of training experience.

The most surprising finding of this analysis was that no training variable meaningfully predicted injury risk, including weekly training volume, per-lift training frequency, or proportion of training with loads in excess of 85% of 1RM.

There are two kinds of popularity, and we are choosing the wrong one

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

There are two kinds of popularity, and we are choosing the wrong one:

Some people are popular because they are likable — their peers like them, trust them, and want to be with them. Others are popular because they somehow gain a certain status, and use that power to wield influence over others (ie, high school).

Which kind of popularity you pursue matters, says Mitch Prinstein, a professor and director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina. He recently published Popular: The Power of Likability In A Status-Obsessed World.

Prinstein delves into reams of research about what popularity is, and what effects it has on us. He shows that people who seek to be likable tend to end up healthier, in better relationships, with more fulfilling work, and even live longer. Status-seekers, on the other hand, often end up anxious, depressed, and with addiction problems.

In the age of Instagram, it’s no shock that most of us are gravitating to the wrong kind.

[...]

“The world has become a perpetual high school,” Prinstein says. “We can live in that adolescent mindset for the rest of our lives if we are not careful.”

[...]

For boys, there is some correlation between likability and status; it is possible to be high-status and liked. For girls, there is no correlation. Thus, the high-status girl in high school who is socially shrewd, beautiful, and effortlessly popular — ie, the stereotypical “mean girl” — becomes the paragon of what popularity looks like. Girls use “relational aggression” to maintain their power over others. Building status is not about developing relationships but dominating others, which ultimately makes many popular but unlikeable.

Slipper bread goes way, way back

Friday, July 14th, 2017

After reading about David Brooks’ beleaguered friend “with only a high school degree” who had to confront “ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette” at the gourmet sandwich shop, I thought of my own privileged progeny growing up with ciabatta, which I did not remember from my own childhood — for a very good reason:

Ciabatta (literally slipper bread) is an Italian white bread made from wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast, created in 1982 by a baker in Verona, Veneto, Italy, in response to the popularity of French baguettes.

Brexit 1776

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Once again, I wish you a happy Secession Day!

Brexit 1776

I’ve discussed the colonies’ secession from the motherland more than once over the years:

The nine strategic consequences of Chinese racism

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

A rather unusual report evaluates the nine strategic consequences of Chinese racism:

First, virulent racism and eugenics heavily inform Chinese perceptions of the world. United States decision-makers must recognize that China is a racist state, much closer to Nazi Germany than to the values upheld in the West. Most often, the Chinese do not even recognize their racism as a problem. They believe that racism is a Western phenomenon and that Westerners are obsessed with race. This obsession is seen by the Chinese to be a strategic vulnerability of the West, whereas China is not affected by racism.

Second, racism informs their view of the United States. From the Chinese perspective, the United States used to be a strong society that the Chinese respected when it was unicultural, defined by the centrality of Anglo-Protestant culture at the core of American national identity aligned with the political ideology of liberalism, the rule of law, and free market capitalism. The Chinese see multiculturalism as a sickness that has overtaken the United States, and a component of U.S. decline.

Third, racism informs their view of international politics in three ways. First, states are stable, and thus good for the Chinese, to the degree that they are unicultural. Second, Chinese ethnocentrism and racism drive their outlook to the rest of the world. Their expectation is of a tribute system where barbarians know that the Chinese are superior. Third, there is a strong, implicit, racialist view of international politics that is alien and anathema to Western policy-makers and analysts. The Chinese are comfortable using race to explain events and appealing to racist stereotypes to advance their interests. Most insidious is the Chinese belief that Africans in particular need Chinese leadership.

Fourth, the Chinese will make appeals to Third World states based on “racial solidarity,” that is, the need of non-white peoples to unite against Western imperialism and racism. Racial solidarity claims are easy for Chinese to accomplish since the Chinese can make strategic racist claims. For example, they can frame international politics in terms of a “racial balance of power,” and cast appeals to the Third World along the line of: now is the time for non-whites to dominate international politics.

Fifth, Chinese racism retards their relations with the Third World. Chinese racism makes it difficult for China to advance a positive message in the Third World, especially Africa, but also in Latin America and the Middle East. The Chinese have a hierarchical representation of looking at other groups, darker skin is lower class, and race matters. In this sense, the racial stereotypes of the Africans commonly found within Chinese society suggest that this population is backward and dirty, and prone to crime, particularly violent crime. These beliefs surface regularly in China’s relations with the Third World and these beliefs, coupled with clannish and ruthless Chinese business practices, generate enormous resentment in the Third World.

Sixth, Chinese racism, and the degree to which the Chinese permit their view of the United States to be informed by racism, has the potential to hinder China in its competition with the United States because it contributes to their overconfidence. This overconfidence is a result of ethnocentrism and a sense of superiority rooted in racism. The Chinese commonly believe that they are cleverer than others, and so may shape events in an oblique manner or through shi, the strategic manipulation of events. This conceit among the Chinese that they can manipulate others is supremely dangerous for Asian stability. At the same time, it is a great advantage for the United States to play upon that overconfidence. An overconfident China will continue to make the mistakes it is presently in the South China or East China Sea disputes. That is, making threats, issuing demands, heavy-handed shows of force, are generated by China’s overconfidence.

Seventh, as lamentable as it is, Chinese racism helps to make the Chinese a formidable adversary. There are three critical consequences that result from this. The first is the sense of unity the Chinese possess. Second, it allows the Chinese to have a strong sense of identity, which in turn permits them to weather adversity, and to be focused and secure confidence that the rest of the nation is with them. Third, China is not plagued by self-doubt or guilt about its past.

Eight, the Chinese are never going to go through a civil rights movement like the United States. This is because, first, they have no freedom of the press, freedom to petition their government, freedom to assemble, all of which are necessary to support a civil rights movement. Second, there is no political drive or consciousness for equality in Chinese thought. Equality is associated with Maoism and rejected in today’s China, where inequality is accepted and celebrated. In addition, there is no notion of civil rights in Chinese political thought or, practically, in jurisprudence.

Ninth, China’s treatment of Christians and ethnic minorities is poor. The government recognizes that religion is able to do many positive acts in a society, and they do see the need for people to have a moral, religious grounding provided by religion since a moral framework may be lost in the demands of a market economy. The current debate is an echo of the one they had in the 1800s, how do they preserve the essence of what is Chinese in an era dominated by Western ideas. Yet, the government is fearful of religion in the sense that uncontrolled religion may be a threat; a challenge to Beijing’s authority. Not surprisingly, the treatment of ethnic minorities is equally bad.

The degree that runs Britain

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite:

More than any other course at any other university, more than any revered or resented private school, and in a manner probably unmatched in any other democracy, Oxford PPE pervades British political life. From the right to the left, from the centre ground to the fringes, from analysts to protagonists, consensus-seekers to revolutionary activists, environmentalists to ultra-capitalists, statists to libertarians, elitists to populists, bureaucrats to spin doctors, bullies to charmers, successive networks of PPEists have been at work at all levels of British politics — sometimes prominently, sometimes more quietly — since the degree was established 97 years ago.

[...]

But Oxford PPE is more than a factory for politicians and the people who judge them for a living. It also gives many of these public figures a shared outlook: confident, internationalist, intellectually flexible, and above all sure that small groups of supposedly well-educated, rational people, such as themselves, can and should improve Britain and the wider world. The course has also been taken by many foreign leaders-in-the-making, among them Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Australian prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke. An Oxford PPE degree has become a global status symbol of academic achievement and worldly potential.

The Labour peer and thinker Maurice Glasman, who studied modern history at Cambridge, says: “PPE combines the status of an elite university degree — PPE is the ultimate form of being good at school — with the stamp of a vocational course. It is perfect training for cabinet membership, and it gives you a view of life. It is a very profound cultural form.”

Yet in the new age of populism, of revolts against elites and “professional politicians”, Oxford PPE no longer fits into public life as smoothly as it once did. With corporate capitalism misfiring, mainstream politicians blundering, and much of the traditional media seemingly bewildered by the upheavals, PPE, the supplier of supposedly highly trained talent to all three fields, has lost its unquestioned authority. More than that, it has become easier to doubt whether a single university course, and its graduates, should have such influence in the first place. To its proliferating critics, PPE is not a solution to Britain’s problems; it is a cause of them.

There’s much more.

The Politics of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Apparently Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology sparked a mini-controversy last fall:

In less than three days, Gaiman’s Facebook post attracted more than 20,000 shares, 50,000 likes, and more than 3,200 comments. Reactions were polarized: On one side, throngs of fans were eager for the author’s recreation of these tales; on the other, a smaller, but no less vocal, group of self-proclaimed pagans seemed to dread his inevitable misunderstanding of their religious beliefs. At the time, none of these commenters had read Gaiman’s book.

Lisa L. Hannett notes that “the stories recognized today as pagan Norse myths were written down — and possibly reinvented — in more extended prose form by outsiders and Christians”:

Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote about Germanic peoples and their rituals centuries before they migrated to the British Isles. Ibn Fadlan, an Arab diplomat traveling the Volga trade route in the 10th century, described the funeral practices (ship burial and slave sacrifice among them) of the Rus, a group of people believed to be Swedish Vikings angling to control eastern trade routes. Saxo Grammaticus, a Dane writing in Latin in the late 11th century, brought the Norse gods down to earth, downplaying their divine qualities and also situating their kingdom in Byzantium instead of in heavenly Asgard. Adam of Bremen, a German monk writing around the same time, shared stories about pagan worship at the temple in Uppsala, Sweden, one of early medieval Scandinavia’s most sacred sites. (Told second-hand based on an informant’s account, Adam’s frequently referenced work includes vague details about the blot ceremony held there every ninth year, at which nine specimens of every creature — including humans — were said to have been sacrificed to the gods.)

The vast majority of what is now known about Norse mythology, however, survives thanks to Snorri Sturluson, an ambitious and powerful chieftain, lawyer, politician, poet, and saga writer who lived in Iceland from 1179 to 1241. These dates are significant: They tell us that Snorri was recording these narratives roughly 200 years after the Christian conversion in Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. They also, significantly, tell us that “original” and definitively pagan narratives about the Norse pantheon do not actually exist.

This claim needs a bit of qualifying. Scholars mostly agree that the myths Gaiman has retold — the same ones found in Snorri’s Prose Edda — were inspired by earlier pagan narratives. In fact, several stanzas of pre-Christian poems are preserved in Snorri’s work. Other snippets of pagan poetry also appear in 13th and 14th century Icelandic sagas, truly novelistic accounts like Grettis saga and Egils saga (the latter also possibly written by Snorri). Yet by the time Snorri was composing his versions of the Norse myths, his worldview was solidly a Christian one.

I was considering getting the audiobook.

Real potential benefits without being a panacea

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

The empiricists’ anti-charter arguments that were trotted out against Betsy DeVos weren’t particularly empirical, Ross Douthat notes:

There’s no evidence that DeVos-backed charters actually visited disaster on Detroit’s students. Instead, the very studies that get cited to critique her efforts actually show the city’s charters modestly outperforming public schools.

That “modestly” is important, because it tracks with much of what we know about school choice in general — that it offers real potential benefits without being a panacea. Decades of experiments suggest that choice can save money, improve outcomes for very poor kids whose public options are disastrous, and increase parental satisfaction. (The last is no small thing!) But the available evidence also suggests that choice alone won’t revolutionize schools or turn slow learners into geniuses, that the clearest success stories are hard to replicate, and some experiments in privatization (like Louisiana’s recent voucher push) can badly disappoint.

So in DeVos, we have an education secretary who perhaps errs a little too much on the side of choice-as-panacea, overseeing (with limited powers) an American education bureaucracy that pretty obviously errs the other way. And wherever you come down on striking the right balance, it’s hard to see this situation as empirically deserving the level of political controversy that’s attached to it.

Popular Posts of 2016

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

I just took a look back at my numbers for 2016. Here are the most popular posts during that calendar year, none of which are new, all of which are older:

  1. Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics
  2. Myostatin, Belgian Blue, and Flex Wheeler
  3. Polar Bear Turns Purple After Medication
  4. Longbow vs. Armor
  5. He-Man Opening Monologue
  6. Observations from Actual Shootings
  7. Fast Friends Protocol
  8. Foux Da Fa Fa
  9. Subversion
  10. What A Good Job Looks Like

Here are the most popular posts actually from 2016 and not from an earlier year:

  1. We Are Not Smart
  2. Made to Want Evil
  3. Waiting Will Get You Killed
  4. We Don’t Care About Experts Anymore
  5. Stop Wasting Money Teaching Millions of Students Content They Already Know
  6. An Idle Class That Can Only Dream
  7. Culturally Tone Deaf
  8. Brutality Can Terminate Riots Promptly
  9. Born and Bred on the Other Side of the European Frontiers
  10. Scott Adams is Insane

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

Also, I should thank some of my top referrers: Reaction Times, Free NorthernerPJ MediaOutside In, Z Man (new to the list!)Mapping The Dark Enlightenment, and Borepatch.

Happy Newtonmas!

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

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