The Confucian Heuristic

November 19th, 2015

Harold Lee explains the Confucian heuristic:

Like a lot of people, Confucius was bothered by “bad inequality” — the kind of hierarchy where the elites actively oppress the poor and the lower class at best toils away, and at worse foment short-sighted peasant rebellions. The usual Western response to bad inequality is leveling — knock down all hierarchies as “elitism” and “privilege,” and even everything out until there’s no concentration of power such that anyone can oppress his fellow man. Sometimes that can be a helpful approach, but there are several side effects.

One is that while some kinds of inequality can be gotten rid of — wealth, family inheritance, ethnic inequalities, and so on — there are many more you can’t touch. Some people are more diligent than others, you can’t change that. Some are more politically savvy, some are taller, better looking. If you suppress all sources of inequality that you can, often you end up just increasing the importance of things you can’t touch. Knock down aristocracy, and you simply get meritocracy that privileges diligent, politically savvy nerds instead. And while we’ve developed some social technology to at least channel selfish impulses in prosocial ways, we haven’t yet invented the analogue of capitalism that channels height inequality into prosocial behavior.

A related problem is that in telling a story about eliminating inequality, this leveling frees up the new elites — the winners in the new “emergent inequality,” to deny that they’re in fact elites. They’re just average Joes like anyone else, and feel therefore feel no sense of obligation towards the losers of society. And when they’re in competition with the weak, they see it as a contest between equals and have no compunction about using their strengths to exploit them, all cloaked in egalitarianism. (This is in fact a criticism that has been leveled against meritocracy — the winners feel like they have earned their advantages, and therefore feel no noblesse oblige.)

Confucius took a different tack — he said hey, there’s always going to be inequality, let’s not kid ourselves. Instead, let’s formalize it into really visible hierarchy, and, crucially, tie great power to great responsibility. Rather than wrangle with abstract notions of status, he prefers to emphasize the personal interactions between superiors and inferiors. So he spends a lot of time talking about rights and responsibilities in different kinds of relationships, and promoting rites — think “etiquette” — to make it clear that the weak respect the strong, and that the strong have obligations to the weak. If you’re going to be king, you’d better protect your people. If you’re going to be a mom, the kids have to obey you and take care of you in your old age, but you’d better raise them well. No weaseling out.

Earlier That Day

November 18th, 2015

French first responders were very, very prepared for the recent attack:

According to Matlack, Paris hospitals and ambulance crews have been rehearsing what to do in response to a mass shooting since the Charlie Hebdo attacks last January.

Parisians hospitals even did a simulation of a mass shooting earlier on Friday, the day of attack. Nearly every surgeon in Paris had gone through the simulations by the time the terrorists attacked.

That’s an odd bit of synchronicity…

Visualize yourself doing this

November 18th, 2015

Michael Yon shared a sad photo from the aftermath of the attack and went on to make this point:

We are at war.

We must retrain our minds that we are not sheep to be slaughtered.

An attack like this would never have been so successful in Israel.

The Israelis would have slaughtered them with bricks and whatever was at hand. This might explain at least in part why hijackers do not go for El Al, the Israeli airline.

There is no chance that an airplane full of Israelis will go down to hijackers without a fight.


There are endless examples throughout time of bum-rushing an armed attacker and succeeding. Some of our troops recently did this on a train and were lauded as heroes in France.

Another US veteran recently did this during a school shooting in America. He got shot up, but he broke the attack.

In the US and British militaries, if you are caught in a close ambush, you are taught and trained to immediately fight into it. Remember — you are in their kill zone. They prepared in advance. Your best chance is to bust their plan to pieces. Waiting for them to run out of ammo is not a plan.

Aggression. Ask a Marine infantry NCO or Officer what his plan is should he not know what to do and find himself confused. His answer will be ATTACK! Because attack is what works most often. It does not always work, but when you find yourself in a terrorist attack, your day is already going down the pipes. Your schedule just changed.

On 9/11, passengers on the first aircrafts that crashed, our good people, did not know what was happening so they perished like sheep. If they knew what was coming, no doubt they would have attacked like wolves. But on the last airplane, Americans figured it out and bum-rushed the terrorists. The airplane still crashed and they all died, but they thwarted the attack and may have saved hundreds or even thousands of others.

Of course if the attacker is wearing a suicide belt, you may die. Come to grips with it. We all die. If not now, it is coming later. If he is carrying an AK-47 or a sword, you may die. Okay. Escape, hide, or attack. Do not wait to be slaughtered.

First option — unless you are law enforcement or a Soldier — is to escape. Second option is to hide. Final option, kill that son of a bitch. Bum-rush him.

Take his rifle and shoot him in the head.

He might be wearing a vest — when you are very close shoot his head twice and keep moving. If the rifle is out of ammo, kill him with the rifle butt or something else. Smash with all of your strength.

No time for hogtying him. There might be other terrorists and there is no time for pleasantries. Just kill him and keep your weapon pointed at potential enemies. Be very careful not to cause innocent casualties. Can be hard to do.

For targets father away, aim center mass and fire.

Look for other attackers to shoot. Shoot them all. Take their weapons and reload and look for other attackers to shoot. Let others do first aid. You are now a Soldier and must defend those who are giving aid until the police come — and when the police come, get away from those weapons!

Tell the cops what happened. Go home. Take a long shower. And get some rest.

Visualize yourself doing this. Mentally prepare yourself to fight and kill him by any means at your disposal, including smashing his head in with a fire extinguisher, which can also be used as a “smoke screen.” Be prepared to kill and to die doing it.

Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation (EAER)

November 17th, 2015

Tooth decay is normally removed by drilling, followed by filling in the cavity with an amalgam or composite resin, but a new treatment, called Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation (EAER), accelerates the natural movement of calcium and phosphate into the damaged tooth:

A two-step process first prepares the damaged area of enamel, then uses a tiny electric current to push minerals into the repair site. It could be available within three years.

The Unintended Consequences of Recording the Police

November 17th, 2015

Greg Ellifritz discusses the unintended consequences of recording the police:

As citizens record officers with increasing frequency, what do you think the officers are likely to do?  If there’s a high probability that no matter what an officer does (good or bad) will end up on YouTube in a video critical of police, cops will simply stop working.  You see, cops are rarely disciplined for NOT doing something.  They get in trouble when they ACT, particularly when the action the officer takes turns out badly or has some undesirable political ramifications.  The easiest way to prevent that is for the officer to stop doing ANYTHING that has the potential of being videotaped.  The officer can drive slowly to calls of violence in progress (claiming that he would be putting the public at risk if he drove any faster), arriving just in time to write a stellar report without catching the criminal or stopping the crime in progress.  People don’t videotape cops writing reports.  That’s not exciting.  It’s when the cops are interacting with criminals that the cell phones come out.  A simple solution to avoid being taped would be to AVOID INTERACTING WITH CRIMINALS.  How do you think that would affect long term crime statistics?  Would it be a net positive or net negative for society if cops stopped arresting people breaking the law?

Since it’s obvious that a crime in progress isn’t the only thing that will cause people to break out the cameras, cops will start avoiding interactions with citizens as well. I could have easily driven past the man flagging me down for help. If I was ever questioned about it by supervisors (unlikely), I could always claim that I didn’t see the man or that I was trying to catch up to a traffic violator. I could claim I was en route to another more important call. There could be any number of valid reasons why I didn’t stop for help.

Driving past a person flagging me down for help would ensure that I don’t get videotaped. Avoiding all citizen contact would ensure that my face doesn’t end up on YouTube. I could sit all day in a parking lot doing nothing and virtually ensure that I don’t get taped. The worst thing that would happen is that I might get some kind of reprimand for lack of “productivity.” A written reprimand is a far better option than having my face on a negative YouTube video that goes viral.

So if cops stop arresting criminals and go out of their way to avoid having any type of contact with citizens, would society be a better place? If the goal of the folks with the video cameras is social reform, that’s what they’ll get. But the reform that will happen won’t be a positive one. That makes me think that maybe these folks filming the cops don’t really want social reform. Maybe they want a world where criminals go unchallenged. Maybe they place their own fame and notoriety above the goal of living in a better society. If personal notoriety and unchecked criminal aggression is your goal, then by all means keep filming cops who are loaning their cell phones to stranded construction workers.

The truly sad aspect of where this is heading is the long term effect that it will have on the ability to hire quality police candidates. If I was a conscientious and intelligent person, why would I even consider being a police officer as a career when I know that whatever I do, good or bad, will end up on a video sharing site with a negative spin? Why go through the hassle? Quality candidates will have better career options that don’t involve their unintended starring role in the next viral video.

Pesticide against Hezbollah and Assad

November 16th, 2015

Israel treats Sunni militias like ISIS as pesticide against Hezbollah and Assad:

While the US was intervening to attack the Sunni jihadis, the IDF underlined its view of the real enemy by knocking down one of Assad’s antique fighters out of the sky.

That ancient MiG wasn’t downed because it was a threat to Israel, or because it was over the line. It was downed as a gesture. Bibi and his Likud allies are sulking, because the way they see it, we’re bombing the wrong Syrians. The Israeli elite has always wanted the US to intervene in the Syrian Civil War — but not against the Sunni jihadists, as we’re doing now. They want American planes and drones to obliterate the other side — the Alawites’ Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its Hezbollah allies.

Nobody ever seems to mention it, but the supposedly fearsome IS now owns the ground right under Israel’s Golan Heights fortifications, after moving in in June 2014 when the weary SAA, tired of being shelled by the IDF, moved out.

So IS has been in place right there on Israel’s border for months now—and there’s been no attack from Israel. Yes, folks, you might actually get the impression that the Israelis — who know a thing or two about threat assessment — just don’t take IS very seriously.

In fact, IS is a convenient little irritant, as seen from Jerusalem, a useful way to annoy the real enemy—the Shia-Alawite-Iran bloc.

A Superforecaster on Superforecasting

November 16th, 2015

A superforecaster reviews Superforecasting:

While superforecasters had ordinary-seeming day jobs, they were an unusually smart and knowledgeable group. When tested, they scored at least a standard deviation higher than the general population on tests of fluid intelligence and at least a standard deviation higher than the general population on tests of political knowledge. Many were retired or — like me — were employed less than full time, so they could spend hours every week researching the questions and breaking them down into manageable parts. If the question was whether Ebola would spread to Europe, they pored over epidemiological models, studied airline screening procedures, and read papers on the possible sexual transmission of the disease. They updated their forecasts often.

Superforecasters also scored highly on measures of “actively open-minded thinking”. That is, they are not committed in advance to any one idea of how the world works. They treat their ideas as hypotheses to be tested, rather than premises to be built on. They look for facts and arguments that might call their views into question. They generally see events as determined in part by chance rather than attributing them to divine will or fate. They approach problems from a variety of different angles. They are unusually willing to consider that they might be wrong.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously divided thinkers into “foxes”, who look at problems from a different perspectives, and “hedgehogs”, who “relate everything to a single central vision”. The dichotomy comes from the Greek poet Archilochus’ line that “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. Tetlock found that people who were confident there are simple, readily-available explanations for events — whether they were realists or liberal idealists, Marxists or supply-side economists — were practically worthless forecasters. People who saw themselves as foxes, who thought politics was complex and unpredictable, and who were willing to consider different points of view were consistently more accurate. Foxes were better forecasters.

The superforecaster writing that is Robert de Neufville, an associate of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute:

He has degrees in political science and political theory from Harvard and Berkeley. As one of the top 2% of forecasters in IARPA ‘s experimental Good Judgment Project forecasting tournament, he qualifies as a “superforecaster”. He was one on the forecasters interviewed for Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner’s book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. He has contributed to The Economist and The Washington Monthly, and for several years wrote the Politeia column for Big Think. Follow him on Twitter here.

Can Videogames Make You a Better Race-Car Driver?

November 15th, 2015

A few years ago Top Gear put an iRacing champion in a real race car and found that he was virtually prepared — but not at all physically prepared.

The Wall Street Journal now reports that videogames can make you a better race-car driver:

The first time that Brendon Blake, a 41-year-old physical therapist from Flowery Branch, Ga., careened around the nearby Road Atlanta racetrack, his instructor was taken aback. Mr. Blake, despite being a total beginner, was fast. That’s because, long before he’d enrolled in the one-day racing class, he’d “driven” the same course hundreds of times. It didn’t matter that he had done so virtually, in the Xbox car-racing game “Forza Motorsport.”

“The instructor sitting in the passenger seat said he was surprised I knew where to place the car on the track,” said Mr. Blake of that maiden drive, about four years ago. “I recognized every single corner and knew where the race line was and where all the apexes were — all from the game.” Since then, Mr. Blake — who plays using a force-feedback steering wheel and mock pedals like those shown below — has taken his 291-horsepower Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution to courses all over the country, from Tennessee’s Nashville Speedway to Talladega in Alabama. He pays about $250 a day for further driving instruction on “track days,” when average Joes can rent time on a course that’s not being used for a race.

Pertinaciously Obstinate

November 15th, 2015

David Hume addresses the “trolls” of his time in the first section of his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals:

Disputes with men, pertinaciously obstinate in their principles, are, of all others, the most irksome; except, perhaps, those with persons, entirely disingenuous, who really do not believe the opinions they defend, but engage in the controversy, from affectation, from a spirit of opposition, or from a desire of showing wit and ingenuity, superior to the rest of mankind. The same blind adherence to their own arguments is to be expected in both; the same contempt of their antagonists; and the same passionate vehemence, in inforcing sophistry and falsehood. And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.

How Gun Traffickers Get Around State Gun Laws

November 14th, 2015

The New York Times is shocked — shocked! —  that gun traffickers get around state gun laws by buying guns one state over — and get around federal laws by not buying them legally at all:

Many guns follow a complex path from the original sale to the underground market. Most guns are originally bought from retail stores, but people who can’t pass a background check typically obtain guns from friends, family or illegal dealers.

According to an anonymous survey of inmates in Cook County, Ill., covering 135 guns they had access to, only two had been purchased directly from a gun store. Many inmates reported obtaining guns from friends who had bought them legally and then reported them stolen, or from locals who had brought the guns from out of state.

Hire some people, fire some people, and make some strategies

November 14th, 2015

Consultants Madsbjerg and Rasmussen describe the nihilism of professionalized management:

Not long ago, we met an executive from a global pharmaceutical company. He had been participating all day in a workshop on the future of health care and was standing outside the hotel, catching some fresh air. We talked about how the health-care business was changing and what challenges the company was facing with rising health-care costs, low R&D productivity, and a broken sales model. We asked him his thoughts on the challenges ahead.

He looked at us with somewhat tired eyes, squinted up in the sky, and said, “Well, first, I am going to have myself a big, fat sushi dinner, and then I suppose I will get back to the office tomorrow and do the usual stuff — you know: hire some people, fire some people, and make some strategies.”

He was not being ironic. He was being brutally honest about a feeling that many executives feel from time to time: What does it matter, anyway? Over time, as management has become increasingly professionalized, you can sense a kind of nihilism or loss of meaning in the executive layers. This sense of nihilism is strongest in large corporate cultures where management is seen as a profession in and of itself with no strong connection to what the company actually makes or does. What happens when satisfaction from work comes from managing — reorganizing, optimizing the operation, hiring new people, and making strategies — and not from producing something meaningful? How do you feel when it doesn’t really matter whether you make beauty products, soft drinks, fast food, or musical instruments?

(From The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems.)

Cliff Chiang’s Star Wars Propaganda Posters

November 13th, 2015

Cliff Chiang has produced some Star Wars propaganda posters:

Cliff Chiang Enlist Today

Cliff Chiang Loose Lips

Cliff Chiang Rebuild

Cliff Chiang See The Galaxy

Cliff Chiang Unite

The Pagan Flaw at the Foundation of the West

November 13th, 2015

Tolkien’s Ring saga sought to undermine and supplant Richard Wagner’s operatic Ring cycle, which had offered so much inspiration for Nazism:

With the reconstruction of the young Tolkien’s prehistory of Middle-earth, we discern a far broader purpose: to recast as tragedy the heroic myths of pre-Christian peoples, in which the tragic flaw is the pagan’s tribal identity. Tolkien saw his generation decimated, and his circle of friends exterminated, by the nationalist compulsions of World War I; he saw the cult of Siegfried replace the cult of Christ during World War II. His life’s work was to attack the pagan flaw at the foundation of the West.

It is too simple to consider Tolkien’s protagonist Turin as a conflation of Siegfried and Beowulf, but the defining moments in Turin’s bitter life refer clearly to the older myths, with a crucial difference: the same qualities that make Siegfried and Beowulf exemplars to the pagans instead make Turin a victim of dark forces, and a menace to all who love him. Tolkien was the anti-Wagner, and Turin is the anti-Siegfried, the anti-Beowulf. Tolkien reconstructed a mythology for the English not (as Wainwright and other suggest) because he thought it might make them proud of themselves, but rather because he believed that the actual pagan mythology was not good enough to be a predecessor to Christianity.

S.T. Joshi Returns His Two World Fantasy Awards

November 12th, 2015

The World Fantasy Convention has decided to replace the bust of H.P. Lovecraft that constitutes the World Fantasy Award with some other figure, and Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi is aghast:

Evidently this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a “vicious racist” like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award. (Let it pass that analogous accusations could be made about Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell, Jr., who also have awards named after them. These figures do not seem to elicit the outrage of the SJWs.) Accordingly, I have returned my two World Fantasy Awards to the co-chairman of the WFC board, David G. Hartwell. Here is my letter to him:

Mr. David G. Hartwell
Tor Books
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Dear Mr. Hartwell:

I was deeply disappointed with the decision of the World Fantasy Convention to discard the bust of H. P. Lovecraft as the emblem of the World Fantasy Award. The decision seems to me a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness and an explicit acceptance of the crude, ignorant, and tendentious slanders against Lovecraft propagated by a small but noisy band of agitators.

I feel I have no alternative but to return my two World Fantasy Awards, as they now strike me as irremediably tainted. Please find them enclosed. You can dispose of them as you see fit.

Please make sure that I am not nominated for any future World Fantasy Award. I will not accept the award if it is bestowed upon me.

I will never attend another World Fantasy Convention as long as I live. And I will do everything in my power to urge a boycott of the World Fantasy Convention among my many friends and colleagues.

S. T. Joshi

And that is all I will have to say on this ridiculous matter. If anyone feels that Lovecraft’s perennially ascending celebrity, reputation, and influence will suffer the slightest diminution as a result of this silly kerfuffle, they are very much mistaken.


November 12th, 2015

Roughly half the zippers produced in the world have YKK stamped on them:

So how did a small rural town in Japan, half a world away, come to dethrone this zippering behemoth? Through the single-minded visionary purpose of Tadao Yoshida, the founder of Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikigaisha (Yoshida Manufacturing Shareholding Company) from which YKK is necessarily abbreviated.

YKK Zippers

Yoshida had grown up in Kurobe the son of an itinerant bird collector. After a slew of business failures he moved to Tokyo and, seeing the growth of the zipper market, opened his own zipper firm in 1934. The success of Talon was known around the world and Yoshida shamelessly copied its products and machines, while adding some distinctive touches — like using aluminum instead of copper. When World War II began, he kept in business by supplying the Japanese Imperial Navy with zippers, and when his factory was burned to the ground during the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 he relocated to his hometown of Kurobe and began all over again.

Yoshida’s remarkable stick-to-itiveness had been spurred on by reading Andrew Carnegie’s The Gospel of Wealth. Now, as if infused with the reciprocal force of the zipper, he too created a quasi-philosophy that he termed the Cycle of Goodness™. This stated that “no one prospers without rendering benefit to others.” It was a simple but enlightened creed that suggested that well-treated workers would create a better product, a better product would benefit customers, and satisfied customers would, in turn, benefit YKK. In short, Yoshida wanted to use his zippers to bind together not only clothes but also the very fabric of society.

YKK was unusual in that it produced everything used to make its zippers in house. Brass, aluminum, polyester, yarn, were smelted and woven in Kurobe. Workers lived in dormitories opposite the factory and a leadership cult quickly grew up around Yoshida and his Cycle of Goodness™. Gripped by zippering inspiration, YKK’s designers began churning thousands of different types of zippers aimed at specific industries and individual customers. It made the world’s smallest zipper, the concealed zipper, the first nylon and polyester zippers and the world’s thinnest zipper. A pantheon of patented fastenings rolled off the factory line — Beulon! Eflon! Zaglan! Ziplon! Minifa! Kensin! Natulon! Excella! — each one seeking to create a more perfect union. Soon YKK was opening factories across the world the better to offer their services to local manufacturers and by 1974, YKK was making one quarter of the world’s zippers, enough in one year to stretch from the earth to the moon and back again.
By contrast Talon, which in the late 1960s was producing 70 percent of the United States’ zippers, was now barely producing half that. Its decline was rapid. By 1993 Meadville no longer had any zipper factories within its town limits at all.