Yeah, we’ll throw off the yoke

January 2nd, 2018

Tyler Cowen interviews Andy Weir (The Martian, Artemis) on the economics of space travel, and it veers off into some less technical topics:

Cowen; Now let me ask you some questions about governance in space. I’ve read some of your favorite works are by Robert Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress; Red Mars of course by Kim Stanley Robinson; Asimov’s Caves of Steel. And it’s a consistent theme in these stories. In fact, the stories you love, they involve an element of rebellion.

Weir; They do.

Cowen; If we had a colony on the Moon, how long do you think it would be before that colony would seek independence from Earth rule?

Weir; Well, first off, it wouldn’t be Earth rule. It would be ruled by some specific country. Right?

Cowen; Sure, or company.

Weir; Or… Country. You can’t really seek independence from a company.

Cowen; Well, it could be like the East India Company, right? The Kenya Space Corporation, they have some features of East India.

Weir; Right. They’re much nicer than the East India Company was.

Weir; Yeah, well, the Kenya Space Corporation in my book is just… They have a very simple business model. They build Artemis and then rent out lots. They don’t try to control its economy or its people or anything. They’re literally just landlords, and absentee landlords at that. But you can’t declare independence from a company because, by definition, the company owns all the assets. If you say, “I’m independent from the company,” what you’re doing is resigning. Right?

Cowen; Well, you’re stealing, in a way. But it happens, right?

Weir; Yeah. But if you’re talking about some sort of revolution or something like that, well I guess the first step is you’d have to be pretty sure that you are self-sufficient and independent. You have to be, like, Earth-independent. Which, in the case of Artemis, it’s not.

Cowen; But you have some allies. So what’s now the United States declares independence from what was then Britain, and the French help us. Other people who are upset at Britain help the American colonies to become independent.

So as long as you have some outside allies, wouldn’t you expect, within say 50 years’ time, a lunar colony, a Mars colony would try to seek independence so those rents could be captured by domestic interests?

Weir; Possibly. Ultimately, I believe that all major events in history are economic. And, I mean, independence was really about who gets to collect taxes, right? So if the people who live in a city are content with the economic status that they have, they’re not going to rebel. People don’t… People, despite what you see, I would challenge you to show me any situation where people revolted over purely ideology without any economic reason.

Cowen; But think about the American colonies. So the British were taxing us maybe 5 percent of GDP —

Weir; And the American colonies preferred that those taxes went to the American colonial governments.

Cowen; Yes, absolutely. But it wasn’t that much money, in a sense. That to me is what’s surprising.

Weir; Well, at that time, taxes globally were not that much money.

Cowen; Yeah.

When you read these books by Heinlein, Asimov, Kim Stanley Robinson . . .

Weir; Yeah, they always end up being political thrillers and that’s not what I’m going for. I’m showing the frontier town and the kind of cooperative aspects of human nature. I’m not…

For some reason, every book about colonizing space ultimately seems to lead to a revolution. Because that’s exciting, right? It’s Star Wars.

You know, you’ve got a rebellion, so “yeah, we’ll throw off the yoke,” and it has historical parallels and it’s all awesome like that. But I don’t necessarily think that’s going to be the case. Partially because as long as we keep following the rules of the Outer Space Treaty, which I believe we will, there’s no such thing as sovereign territory outside of Earth. So Artemis is, functionally speaking, an offshore platform.

Cowen; On Earth, do you think we should experiment more with seasteading? Set up sea colonies?

Weir; Yeah.

Cowen; Underground colonies?

Weir; Absolutely.

Cowen; Have them be politically autonomous, if they want?

Weir; You would have to change maritime law to be able to do that. Right now, under maritime law, you can seastead. I mean, you can do it right now. You can go out into the international waters and build something. You have to flag to some country, though.

Cowen; Right. A cruise ship, yeah.

Weir; Yeah. Well, yeah, you could flag to like Suriname or something like that. You could fly a flag of convenience. But, one way or another, you are subject to the laws of the country that you’re flying the flag of, just as Artemis is subject to the laws of Kenya.

Regional wars that were only with hindsight lumped all together

January 1st, 2018

It wasn’t always clear that World War II, or the Second World War, would be seen as a single, unified war, as Victor Davis Hanson emphasizes in The Second World Wars:

By 1939, Germany had entered its third European war within 70 years, following World War I (1914–1918) and, before that, the Franco–Prussian War (1870–1871). Conflicts throughout history become serial when an enemy is not utterly defeated and is not forced to submit to the political conditions of the victor, whether in the two Peloponnesian or three Punic Wars, or the later Hundred Years’ and Seven Years’ Wars. Such was the case with the preludes to World War II, when many of the major familiar nations of the European world were again at war. Germany was once more the aggressor. That fact also helped spawn the familiar idea of “World War II” and its alternative designation, the “Second World War.” Yet this time around, both sides tacitly agreed that there would not be a World War III — either Germany would finally achieve its near century-long dream of European dominance or cease to exist as a National Socialist state and military power. Yet the Allies understood history far better: In any existential war, only the side that has the ability to destroy the homeland of the other wins.

The war, also like many conflicts of the past, was certainly chronologically inexact, with two official denouements known in the Anglosphere as V-E and V-J Day. The war, like many, was also ill-defined, especially for a country such as Bulgaria, to take one minor example, which had no common interests or communications with its nominal Pacific ally Japan. Likewise, the Greeks were indifferent to the war against fascism in China, and in the same way the Soviet Union cared little whether Italy had invaded France.

Often border disputes on the periphery of Germany, ethnic hatreds in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and political grievances and national ambitions set off regional wars that were only with hindsight lumped all together as World War II, at least in Britain and the United States. Most sides had hopes of allying their parochial causes to larger ideological crusades. But far more important, they just wanted to join the right side of strong allies that might be likely winners and divvy up spoils. General Francisco Franco’s fascist government in Spain was emblematic of such opportunism that transcended ideological affinities. During 1939–1941, Franco — despite horrendous recent losses in the Spanish Civil War and despite Hitler’s occasional rebuffs — considered possible entrance into the war on the Axis side. Franco assumed that the Allies would likely be defeated and there might be colonial spoils in North Africa allotted to Spain. He often boasted that Spain might unilaterally take Gibraltar or enlist hundreds of thousands of warriors to the Axis cause. But between 1943 and 1944, Spain increasingly began to reassert its neutrality, in recognition that the Axis powers would now likely lose the war and their war-won territories — and prior allegiance might earn an Allied invasion and with it a change of government. By late 1944, Fascist Spain was no longer exporting tungsten to Germany and was instead reinvented as sympathetic to British and American democracy and eager to become an anticommunist ally after the war.

Popular Posts of 2017

January 1st, 2018

I just took a look back at my numbers for 2017. 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. Polar Bear Turns Purple After Medication
  3. Fast Friends Protocol
  4. He-Man Opening Monologue
  5. The Father of Social-Science
  6. Observations from Actual Shootings
  7. Summary of the Fate of Empires
  8. John Danaher on Mayweather-McGregor (new)
  9. The Nine Strategic Consequences of Chinese Racism (new)
  10. Erik Prince’s Training Bases in China (new)

Here are the most popular posts actually from 2017 and not from an earlier year:

  1. John Danaher on Mayweather-McGregor
  2. The Nine Strategic Consequences of Chinese Racism
  3. Erik Prince’s Training Bases in China
  4. The very bottom 14% have very simple skills
  5. Teenagers and the Education Apocalypse
  6. The easy and reliable way of defeating all insurgencies everywhere
  7. African farmers’ kids conquer the marshmallow test
  8. There might be something amiss with our institutions of higher education
  9. The rest of us are end users
  10. This isn’t the “PC police” talking

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

Also, I should thank some of my top referrers: Reaction Times, Social MatterZ ManMapping The Dark EnlightenmentFree Northerner (despite going dormant!)Ex-Army (despite disappearing completely!)Outside In, and Amerika (new to the list!).

He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own

December 31st, 2017

Machines have developed the ability to understand, process, and even translate languages:

In recent years, much of the research in machine learning has focused on the algorithmic concept of deep neural networks, or DNNs, which learn essentially by inferring patterns — often patterns of remarkable complexity — from large amounts of data. For example, a DNN-based machine can be fed many thousands of snippets of recorded English utterances, each one paired with its text transcription, and from this discern the patterns of correlation between the speech recordings and the paired transcriptions. These inferred correlation patterns get precise enough that, eventually, the system can “understand” English speech. In fact, today’s DNNs are so good that, when given enough training examples and a powerful enough computer, they can listen to a person speaking and make fewer transcription errors than would any human.

What may be surprising to some is that computerized learning machines exhibit transfer learning. For example, let’s consider an experiment involving two machine-learning systems, which for the sake of simplicity we’ll refer to as machines A and B. Machine A uses a brand-new DNN, whereas machine B uses a DNN that has been trained previously to understand English. Now, suppose we train both A and B on identical sets of recorded Mandarin utterances, along with their transcriptions. What happens? Remarkably, machine B (the previously English-trained one) ends up with better Mandarin capabilities than machine A. In effect, the system’s prior training on English ends up transferring capabilities to the related task of understanding Mandarin.

But there is an even more astonishing outcome of this experiment. Machine B not only ends up better on Mandarin, but B’s ability to understand English is also improved! It seems that Willans and Goethe were onto something — learning a second language enables deeper learning about both languages, even for a machine.

How Winchell Chung forged the first Ogre

December 30th, 2017

When he was a high school student in 1975, Winchell Chung ordered the game Stellar Conquest through the mail from an ad in Analog Magazine:

Metagaming Concepts, the parent company of Stellar Conquest, advertised their fledgling newsletter called The Space Gamer within the game. For no particular reason, I doodled some starships in my subscription letter. Metagaming was so starved for artwork that they printed my drawings in the second issue and asked for more. I did quite a bit of art for subsequent issues. They later commissioned me to create illustrations for game manuals.

In 1976, he was commissioned to do the art for their new game, Ogre:

Studying the rules revealed that the Ogre had two big guns, six smaller guns, twelve antipersonnel weapons, six missiles, and zillions of tank treads. Oh, yes – the rules also mentioned that an Ogre would be facing an entire army. The frightening implication was a solitary Ogre possessed firepower equal to said army. This is the sum total of the information with which I had to work.

In addition to designing the Ogre, I also had to create the various army units as well. Different types of tanks, armored hovercraft with jet engines instead of propellers, and troopers clad in powered armor.

Now came the research phase. I checked out from the library every single reference book that had pictures of tanks. I filled page after page of newsprint paper with rough sketches from those pictures. Fortuitously, my high school art teacher was a WWII tank expert and I shamelessly picked his brains about tank construction, battle tactics, design philosophies, and related matters. I immediately noticed that the Ogre had similarities to the Bolos from Keith Laumer’s novels. That did not help much since Laumer was vague on the details and the book cover illustrations were uninspiring.

Yeah, that does sound fortuitous.

About this time I showed these and other drawings to my art teacher. He noted that the deep indent between the heavy tank’s cupola and the body was “shot-trap city,” that is, it would funnel incoming hostile fire into the fragile connection between cupola and body. As an off-the-cuff remark, he said it would be nice for the Ogre to have a telescoping sensor boom so it could hide behind a hill and peek over it.

I thought I would take a break from the Ogre design and instead work on the cover art composition. I roughed out the placement of the design elements, and almost without thinking I sketched in the Ogre. Right before my eyes everything gelled. I knew the Ogre had lots of tread units, so I placed parallel tracks. I placed a telescoping sensor boom. I placed a pair of stumpy primaries in oversized ball mounts. Most important of all I used the sloping front. Suddenly there was the classic Ogre “look”: the massive invulnerable appearing front, the signature sensor boom, and the twin primaries looking like huge evil eyes. It was impressively scary.

Mr. Jackson sent directions for alterations, annotating a photocopy with red ink, and I made the alterations. But the basic design was established at that point and has not changed for over 40 years.

OgreFig4

The game is now in its sixth edition.

Combining endurance and strength training has always been tricky

December 30th, 2017

Combining endurance and strength training has always been tricky, because of the “interference effect” between the two types of workouts:

The classic study on concurrent strength and endurance training was published by Robert Hickson in 1980. After ten weeks of seriously intense endurance training, strength training, or both, the verdict was that strength training didn’t hinder endurance gains but endurance training did hinder strength gains. Here’s what the strength changes in the three groups looked like (from a graph redrawn by University of California Davis researcher Keith Baar in this paper):

endurance-strength-squat-chart1_s

One explanation of the interference effect goes something like this: Resistance training activates a protein called mTOR that (through a cascade of molecular signals) results in bigger muscles. Endurance training activates a protein called AMPK that (though a different signaling cascade) produces endurance adaptations like increased mitochondrial mass. AMPK can inhibit mTOR, so endurance training blocks muscle growth from strength training.

[...]

There’s now emerging evidence of an alternate molecular-signaling pathway in which metabolic stress — not just from endurance training but also from other triggers like caloric deficit, oxidative stress, and aging — hinders muscle growth. This alternate pathway involves a complex series of links between a “tumor suppressor” protein, another protein called sestrin, and various other obscure acronyms. But details aside, what’s particularly intriguing about the hypothesis is that it’s highly sensitive to the presence of the amino acid leucine, which binds to sestrin and triggers the synthesis of new muscle protein. And this, Baar says, suggests some strategies to beat (or at least minimize) the interference effect.

[...]

Does workout order matter? In the traditional mTOR versus AMPK picture, you’re better off doing endurance before strength training. That’s because the endurance signals only stay elevated for about an hour following exercise, while strength signals stay on for 18 to 24 hours. But in the revised picture, where metabolic stress is the key, the order of workouts is less important than your energy balance.

Finally, it’s important to point out that you shouldn’t stress about this unless you’re training pretty damn hard. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re not doing endurance training four or more times a week, or pushing your workouts (i.e., sustaining above 80 percent of VO2max), you’re unlikely to be hurting your strength gains.

Tomorrow you’re going to be a star

December 29th, 2017

Variety coined the term “casting couch” back in the 1930s, when Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck had a regular 4 PM meeting for his “trysts” with starlets:

Years later, in 1975, Newsweek would do a story titled “The Casting Couch” in which it quoted the words on a plaque above the couch in the office of a Tinseltown producer in the 1950s: “Don’t forget, darling, tomorrow you’re going to be a star.”

The mag wrote, “Contemporary starlets no longer take sex-on-demand lying down.”

But things didn’t change then, and they haven’t changed now.

[...]

Marilyn Monroe once famously wrote in a memoir about the sexual predators in her industry. “I met them all,” she said. “Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes — an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.”

Movie moguls have preyed on the ambition of young hopefuls seemingly since the beginning of celluloid.

Actress Joan Crawford, who got her start in the 1920s by dancing naked in arcade peep shows, only advanced her career by sleeping “with every male star at MGM — except Lassie,” quipped fierce rival Bette Davis.

According to ReelRundown.com, “Even at the peak of [Crawford’s] career, rumors continued to surface about how her loathed mother forced Crawford to work as a prostitute, make blue movies and sleep her way to the top.”

[...]

Studio head Louis B. Mayer “terrorized Hollywood’s women long before Harvey Weinstein,” according to a recent headline in the UK’s Telegraph.

Mayer would direct a 16-year-old Judy Garland to sit on his lap, whereupon he’d palm her left breast while telling her, “You sing from the heart” — a creepy anecdote Garland recalled in a memoir.

And an 11-year-old Shirley Temple got her first — and, she thought, hilarious — peek at the male anatomy courtesy of MGM producer Arthur Freed, who once dropped his pants during a meeting. Temple burst into laughter at the sight and was promptly ordered out of the room.

[...]

Actress Joan Collins, warned by Monroe about the “wolves” in Hollywood, also wrote in her memoir that she missed out on the title role in 1963’s “Cleopatra,” which went to Elizabeth Taylor, because she wouldn’t sleep with Buddy Adler, the head of 20th Century Fox.

“I had tested for ‘Cleopatra’ twice and was the front-runner,” she said. “He took me into his office and said, ‘You really want this part?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I really do.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘then all you have to do is be nice to me.’ It was a wonderful euphemism in the ’60s for you know what.

“But I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was rather wimpish, burst into tears and rushed out of his office.”

Other stories are even darker.

“Rosemary’s Baby” director Roman Polanski initially had sympathy when pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969.

But then details emerged of how he gave a 13-year-old aspiring actress champagne and Quaaludes before having sex with her during a photo shoot in 1977, and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office stepped in.

[...]

Eighties child stars Corey Feldman and Corey Haim also have said they were given drugs and “passed around” by male higher-ups when younger.

Feldman told The Hollywood Reporter that Haim, who died in 2010 at age 38, “had more direct abuse than I did.

“With me, there were some molestations, and it did come from several hands, so to speak, but with Corey, his was direct rape, whereas mine was not actual rape,” he said. “And his also occurred when he was 11. My son is 11 now, and I can’t even begin to fathom the idea of something like that happening to him.”

The UK’s exam-focused educational system is similar to the one in China

December 29th, 2017

Puzhong Yao graduated with first class honors from Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and received an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He looks at the Western elite from a Chinese perspective — with particular attention to idea’s from Robert Rubin’s autobiography In an Uncertain World:

It was the summer of 2000. I was 15, and I had just finished my high school entrance exam in China. I had made considerable improvements from where I started in first grade, when I had the second- worst grades in the class and had to sit at a desk perpendicular to the blackboard so that the teacher could keep a close eye on me. I had managed to become an average student in an average school. My parents by then had reached the conclusion that I was not going anywhere promising in China and were ready to send me abroad for high school. Contrary to all expectations, however, I got the best mark in my class and my school. The exam scores were so good that I ranked within the top ten among more than 100,000 students in the whole city. My teacher and I both assumed the score was wrong when we first heard it.

As a consequence, I got into the best class in the best school in my city, and thus began the most painful year of my life. My newfound confidence was quickly crushed when I saw how talented my new classmates were. In the first class, our math teacher announced that she would start from chapter four of the textbook, as she assumed, correctly, that most of us were familiar with the first three chapters and would find it boring to go through them again. Most of the class had been participating in various competitions in middle school and had become familiar with a large part of the high school syllabus already. Furthermore, they had also grown to know each other from those years of competitions together. And here I was, someone who didn’t know anything or anyone, surrounded by people who knew more to begin with, who were much smarter, and who worked just as hard as I did. What chance did I have?

During that year, I tried very hard to catch up: I gave up everything else and even moved somewhere close to the school to save time on the commute, but to no avail. Over time, going to school and competing while knowing I was sure to lose became torture. Yet I had to do it every day. At the end-of-year exam, I scored second from the bottom of the class—the same place where I began in first grade. But this time it was much harder to accept, after the glory I had enjoyed just one year earlier and the huge amount of effort I had put into studying this year. Finally, I threw in the towel, and asked my parents to send me abroad. Anywhere else on this earth would surely be better.

So I came to the UK in 2001, when I was 16 years old. Much to my surprise, I found the UK’s exam-focused educational system very similar to the one in China. What is more, in both countries, going to the “right schools” and getting the “right job” are seen as very important by a large group of eager parents. As a result, scoring well on exams and doing well in school interviews—or even the play session for the nursery or pre-prep school—become the most important things in the world. Even at the university level, the undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge depends on nothing else but an exam at the end of the last year.

On the other hand, although the UK’s university system is considered superior to China’s, with a population that is only one-twentieth the size of my native country, competition, while tough, is less intimidating. For example, about one in ten applicants gets into Oxbridge in the UK, and Stanford and Harvard accept about one in twenty-five applicants. But in Hebei province in China, where I am from, only one in fifteen hundred applicants gets into Peking or Qinghua University.

Still, I found it hard to believe how much easier everything became. I scored first nationwide in the GCSE (high school) math exam, and my photo was printed in a national newspaper. I was admitted into Trinity College, University of Cambridge, once the home of Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and Prince Charles.

I studied economics at Cambridge, a field which has become more and more mathematical since the 1970s. The goal is always to use a mathematical model to find a closed-form solution to a real-world problem. Looking back, I’m not sure why my professors were so focused on these models. I have since found that the mistake of blindly relying on models is quite widespread in both trading and investing—often with disastrous results, such as the infamous collapse of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. Years later, I discovered the teaching of Warren Buffett: it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. But our professors taught us to think of the real world as a math problem.

The culture of Cambridge followed the dogmas of the classroom: a fervent adherence to rules and models established by tradition. For example, at Cambridge, students are forbidden to walk on grass. This right is reserved for professors only. The only exception is for those who achieve first class honors in exams; they are allowed to walk on one area of grass on one day of the year.

The behavior of my British classmates demonstrated an even greater herd mentality than what is often mocked in American MBAs. For example, out of the thirteen economists in my year at Trinity, twelve would go on to join investment banks, and five of us went to work for Goldman Sachs.

He goes on to describe his “success” at Goldman, what he really learned at business school, etc.

Eric Garner’s daughter has heart attack without being “choked” or tackled

December 28th, 2017

How should the police handle a large man who won’t comply? That’s what I asked when Eric Garner, a large man indeed, refused to comply with NYPD officers, got taken down with a headlock, and ended up under a dogpile — where he had a heart attack and died. This was described as an unarmed black man being choked to death.

Now his daughter, Erica Garner, has suffered her own second heart attack, severe enough to cause brain damage, without being “choked” or tackled. It’s pretty clear that there’s a family history of heart disease.

I still don’t know how the police should handle a large man who won’t comply, especially if he’s at risk of a heart attack.

Non-consensus and right

December 28th, 2017

If you aspire to do something legendary, Mike Maples argues, the biggest breakthroughs come from pursuing insights that defy conventional wisdom:

In the startup world, this translates to having what PayPal founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel calls a “secret” or what Benchmark co-founder Andy Rachleff would describe as an idea that is “non-consensus and right.” Before diving into why this is true, let’s summarize these two views.

From his days as a Stanford student, Peter Thiel was influenced by the French philosopher René Girard. I learned of his work a little over a decade ago and loved it. One of Girard’s fundamental ideas is that human desire is mimetic, which means that most of our desires come from our observations of the desires of other people, rather than the desires we generate internally for ourselves. There are lots of implications to this for society, and Peter describes them in his book Zero to One as they relate to startups. The first is that the vast majority of us act out of mimetic desire as if by reflex, starting early in life. We compete for trophies. We get rewarded in school for giving the exact answers the teacher is looking for, but we are often discouraged from providing answers that are too different. “Successful” people often double down on this by seeking education at prestigious Universities, by earning high-paying jobs, and by using the money to live a lifestyle that is broadly desired and admired. It becomes so ingrained in most people’s thinking that it no longer seems to be a conscious choice.

The problem with mimetic desire is that it’s the wrong “personal operating system” for coming up with a breakthrough idea — it is by definition an incrementalist view of the world that emphasizes following the rules and outcompeting others, rather than re-inventing the rules and transcending competition. His second point is that most of us, having been programmed by mimetic desires our entire lives, find it hard not to be reactive to what others are doing. As an investor, I can relate to the many pitches with multiple competitors in a matrix, and their product has more checks than all the others. A typical “mimetic” person will think this way. But a non-conventional founder will notice that chart and immediately two words will come to mind — mindless competition.

[...]

Andy Rachleff views unconventional success through a slightly different lens but with the same broad takeaway. Andy’s argument, influenced by Howard Marks of Oak Tree Capital, goes as follows: Startup ideas have two dimensions. On one dimension, you can be right or wrong. On the other, you can be consensus or non-consensus.

Wrong is always bad. Obviously, if you are wrong, you are wrong. That’s bad. You fail. But being right is not enough.

Most people don’t realize that if you are right and consensus, you are usually not successful enough to make a significant impact. Your startup might be onto a good idea that has customers eager to adopt the product. But as your company races toward product/market fit, it encounters severe obstacles. Because the opportunity is widely believed to have promise, multiple me-too competitors are funded by me-too VCs. As competition floods the market, prices erode, sales cycles lengthen, and more money gets poured into the sector. These markets often turn into a VC funding arms race, and each round of financing comes with massive dilution for the founders and employees. In the meantime, potential acquirers gain increasing power to choose among many worthy and well-financed competitors when they consider M&A opportunities, further capping the upside for founders and employees.

The word simply has no meaning

December 27th, 2017

William Buckner, a student of Evolutionary Anthropology at UC Davis, says that we’ve been romanticizing the hunter-gatherer:

Why do people in societies with substantially greater life expectancy, reduced infant mortality, greater equality in reproductive success, and reduced rates of violence, romanticize a way of life filled with hardships they have never experienced? In wealthy, industrialized populations oriented around consumerism and occupational status, the idea that there are people out there living free of greed, in natural equality and harmony, provides an attractive alternative way of life. To quote anthropologist David Kaplan, “The original affluent society thesis then may be as much a commentary on our own society as it is a depiction of the life of hunter-gatherers. And that may be its powerful draw and lasting appeal.” One might think that if avarice, status hierarchies, and inequality are peculiarly modern phenomena, then maybe they aren’t part of human nature, and with the right kind of activism, and enough forward-thinking individuals, such problems can be readily solved by changing the culture.

Conversely, to look across human cultures and notice that even the smallest and most ‘egalitarian’ societies are still plagued by problems of violence, sexism, xenophobia, and inequality may be disheartening for many political progressives and anthropologists dedicated to social justice. These problems are not new — in fact they are very old indeed — and they cannot simply be wished away or made to disappear with misleading commentary. But there is a concern that acknowledging the deep roots of many human social ills is to excuse them, or to concede that they can never be mitigated or overcome. This is not only defeatist, it is completely misguided. Recent human history is undeniably a story of enormous progress. If global declines in child mortality, hunger, violence, and poverty, and increases in life expectancy do not represent progress, then the word simply has no meaning.

Doc, how do I know where I should shoot?

December 26th, 2017

James Williams, M.D. was teaching a class with Mas Ayoob, when one of the students, a probation and parole officer, asked, “Doc, how do I know where I should shoot?

“It’s easy,” I replied glibly. “Go to med school, do a residency in critical care, practice in ICUs and ERs for about 20 years, and you’ll know exactly where to shoot the bad guy.”

Williams went on to design his “tactical anatomy” courses to answer that question less glibly:

Any hunter knows that to harvest a deer for your family’s winter meat you have to kill it cleanly. We train new hunters about deer anatomy, and teach them to place their bullets in the vital organs. Because if you shoot the deer any old place, it is likely to run off, wounded. It may well die, but if it is able to run a mile into the woods, its death will be a tragic waste. So we learn as hunters to stop the animal where we shoot it, by shooting it in the vital organs.

Now, lion hunters face a different problem than deer hunters. A wounded lion won’t just crawl off into the brush and die; it will turn on you and attack. In this case, the hunter’s need to stop the animal in its tracks isn’t just because he fears losing the meat; he fears losing his own life to the slashing fangs and ripping claws of a 400-pound killing machine!

The defensive shooter is more like a lion hunter than a deer hunter, because the consequences of failing to stop a violent felon are akin to those of failing to stop a charging lion. We don’t want the attacking lion or felon to stop hurting us eventually; we want him to stop hurting us now.

So if you are faced with a violent, attacking, predatory felon, how do you make sure you stop him before he can cause you grave bodily harm, or even death?

The simple answer is that you have to shoot him where it counts. And the common ideas of where it counts are often wrong.

B27 Police Qualification Target Overlaid with Anatomical Structures

To incapacitate a human being — to make him incapable of violent action — by gunshot wound (GSW) your bullets have to do serious damage to his vital organs. In my very extensive experience (and this is backed up by the medical literature, by the way) there are only two reliable ways to incapacitate a man by gunshot: either shut down the Central Nervous System (CNS, brain and high spinal cord), or shut off the supply of oxygen to the CNS.

[...]

The only two reliable target zones, then, are: first, the CNS itself, and second, the pumping system that supplies oxygen to the CNS, the heart and the plexus of Great Vessels above the heart.

Funnily enough, these are the same anatomic targets the hunter uses, whether deer or lion.

God Jul!

December 25th, 2017

Please enjoy these yuletide posts of Christmas Past:

With a very limited set of clues, smart guys managed to get key facts about European prehistory roughly correct

December 25th, 2017

Gregory Cochran mocks the inexorable progress of science by contrasting old, outdated archaeology with what followed:

In 1939, archeologists and prehistorians seem to have thought that agriculture was brought to Europe by a gracile Mediterranean people, and was in large part spread by their expansion. They thought that the Corded Ware culture was Indo-European and probably originated in South Russia.

[...]

A lot of this stems from Gordon Childe’s work – for example The Aryans, published in 1926. Understand that this was all before carbon dating, and before a tremendous amount of modern archaeological work, including much of the work in the Balkans.

Archaeology took a different path in the 1960s and later. Archaeologists became very uncomfortable with the idea of migration, colonization, conquest, and prehistoric violence. I say this without really understanding its inner nature: I personally am made quite uncomfortable by the thought of dinosaur-killing asteroids or Yellowstone-scale megavolcanoes showing up in my neighborhood, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking that they occurred. I don’t get it.

The low point in acceptance of the reality of prehistoric violence seems to have occurred in the 1970s, according to Lawrence Keeley (War before Civilization). In those days, a log palisade with a 9-foot-deep ditch surrounding a frontier Neolithic village was explained as expressing the “symbolism of exclusion.”

Theories that disallowed migration (let alone conquest) became more and more popular with time. I can find examples of grown human beings suggesting that the Anglo-Saxonization of England need not have required any actual Anglo-Saxon immigrants at all.

[...]

With a very limited set of clues, smart guys managed to get key facts about European prehistory roughly correct almost 90 years ago . With tremendously better tools, better methods, vastly more money, more data, etc, archaeologists (most of them) drifted farther and farther from the truth.

Cochran cites Carleton S. Coon’s The Races of Europe, which makes the following points — in 1939:

  1. The Caucasoid race is of dual origin consisting of Upper Paleolithic (mixture of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals) types and Mediterranean (purely Homo sapiens) types.
  2. The Upper Paleolithic peoples are the truly indigenous peoples of Europe.
  3. Mediterraneans invaded Europe in large numbers during the Neolithic and settled there.
  4. The racial situation in Europe today may be explained as a mixture of Upper Paleolithic survivors and Mediterraneans.
  5. When reduced Upper Paleolithic survivors and Mediterraneans mix a process of “dinaricization” occurs which produces a hybrid with non-intermediate features, epitomized by the Dinaric race.
  6. The Caucasoid race extends well beyond Europe into the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, North Africa and the Horn of Africa.
  7. “The Nordic race in the strict sense is merely a pigment phase of the Mediterranean”, created by the combination of Corded and Danubian elements.

Coined in 1889 by US newspapers

December 24th, 2017

Discussing how a Taser works reminded me of the word electrocution, which was already an old, established term by the time my parents were warning me not to stick things in the electrical socket, but which was a darkly cute portmanteau when it was coined:

Electrocution is death caused by electric shock, electric current passing through the body. The word is derived from “electro” and “execution”, but it is also used for accidental death. The word is also used to describe non-fatal injuries due to electricity. The term “electrocution,” was coined in 1889 by US newspapers just before the first use of the electric chair in 1890, originally referred only to electrical execution (from which it is a portmanteau word), and not to accidental or suicidal electrical deaths. However, since no English word was available for non-judicial deaths due to electric shock, the word “electrocution” eventually took over as a description of all circumstances of electrical death from the new commercial electricity.