That’s when self-hatred starts

August 20th, 2019

The black critique of Brown v. Board of Education starts with some of the psychological research, Malcolm Gladwell explains:

Well, the great book on this is Daryl Scott’s Contempt and Pity. He’s a very good black historian at Howard [University], I believe. Yes, he’s the chair of history at Howard. And he has much to say, so I got quite taken when I was doing this season of my podcast with the black critique of Brown [v. Board of Education]. And the black critique of Brown starts with some of that psychological research because the psychological research is profoundly problematic on many levels.

So what Clark was showing, and what so moved the court in the Warren decision, was this research where you would take the black and the white doll, and you show that to the black kid. And you would say, “Which is the good doll?” And the black kid points to the white doll. “And which doll do you associate with yourself?” And they don’t want to answer the question. And the court said, “This is the damage done by segregation.”

Scott points out that if you actually look at the research that Clark did, the black children who were most likely to have these deeply problematic responses in the doll test were those from the North, who were in integrated schools. The southern kids in segregated schools did not regard the black doll as problematic. They were like, “That’s me. Fine.”

That result, that it was black kids, minority kids from integrated schools, who had the most adverse reactions to their own representation in a doll, is consistent with all of the previous literature on self-hatred, which starts with Jews. That literature begins with, where does Jewish self-hatred come from? Jewish self-hatred does not come from Eastern Europe and the ghettos. It comes from when Jewish immigrants confront and come into close conflict and contact with majority white culture. That’s when self-hatred starts, when you start measuring yourself at close quarters against the other, and the other seems so much more free and glamorous and what have you.

So, in other words, the Warren Court picks the wrong research. There are all kinds of problems caused by segregation. This happens to be not one of them. So why does the Warren Court do that? Because they are trafficking — this is Scott’s argument — they are trafficking in an uncomfortable and unfortunate trope about black Americans, which is that black American culture is psychologically damaged. That the problem with black people is not that they’re denied power, or that doors are closed to them, or that . . . no, it’s because that something at their core, their family life and their psyches, have, in some way, been crushed or distorted or harmed by their history.

It personalizes the struggle. By personalizing the struggle, what the Warren Court is trying to do is to manufacture an argument against segregation that will be acceptable to white people, particularly Southern white people. And so, what they’re saying is, “Look, it’s not you that’s the problem. It’s black people. They’re harmed in their hearts, and we have to usher them into the mainstream.”

They’re not making the correct argument, which was, “You guys have been messing with these people for 200 years! Stop!” They can’t make that argument because Warren desperately wants a majority. He wants a nine-nothing majority on the court. So, instead, they construct this, in retrospect, deeply offensive argument, about how it’s all about black people carrying this . . . and using social science in a way that’s actually quite deeply problematic. It’s not what the social science said.

Before D-Day, there was Dieppe

August 19th, 2019

Before D-Day, David Foster reminds us, there was Dieppe:

The attack on the French port of Dieppe took place on August 19, 1942. The objectives were twofold. First, the attack was intended as kind of a “feasibility test” for the large-scale invasion which was to take place later. As stated by General Sir Alan Brooke, “If it was ever intended to invade France it was essential to launch a preliminary offensive on a divisional scale.” Second, the attack was intended to convince Hitler that an invasion was more imminent than it in fact was, thereby leading to the diversion of German forces from other areas.

The troops assigned to Dieppe were mostly Canadians — 5000 of them. There were also British commandos and a small number of American Rangers. Eight destroyers were assigned to the operation, along with 74 Allied air squadrons.

The attack was a disastrous failure. In the words of military historian John Keegan: “When the badly shocked survivors of that terrible morning were got home and heads counted, only 2,110 of the 4,963 Canadians who had set sail the day before could be found. It became known later that 1,874 were prisoners, but of these 568 were wounded and 72 were to die of their wounds, while 378 of those returning were also wounded. Sixty-five percent of the Canadians engaged had therefore become casualties, almost all of them from the six assaulting infantry battalions, a toll which compared with that of July 1st, 1916, first day of the Battle of the Somme and blackest in the British army’s history. The 2nd Canadian Division had, for practical purposes, been destroyed…Strategic as well as human criteria applied in measuring the scale of the disaster. All the tanks which had been landed had been lost…lost also were 5 of the 10 precious Landing Craft Tank. And, auguring worst of all for the future, the damage had been done not by hastily summoned reinforcements, but by the forces already present; the 3 Canadian battalions which had stormed the central beach had been opposed by a single German company — at odds, that is, of 12 to 1…” If one defending unit could stop an attacking force with 12 times the numbers, a successful invasion would be impossible. Keegan: “(the disparity between the power of the attack and the defense) clearly could not be overcome merely by increasing the numbers of those embarked for the assault. that would be to repeat the mistakes of the First World War, when the solution of greater numbers resulted arithmetically in greater casualties for no territorial gains.”

Captain (later Vice-Admiral) John Hughes-Hallett summarized the lessons of the failure in a report written shortly after the fact. To quote Keegan once again: “‘The lesson of Greatest Importance,’ his report capitalized and italicized, “Is the need for overwhelming fire support, including close support, during the initial stages of the attack,’ It should be provided by ‘heavy and medium Naval bombardment, by air action, by special vessels or craft’ (which would have to be developed) ‘working close inshore, and by using the firepower of the assaulting troops while still seaborne.’”

[...]

In addition to the need for very heavy naval firepower, the D-day planners learned another lesson from Dieppe: rather than immediately seizing a port, or landing in close proximity to one, they avoided ports altogether, landing supplies initially over an open beach and leaving the capture of a port for a later phase in the operation.

The whole point is sacrifice

August 18th, 2019

Is recycling useful, Michael Munger asks, or is it garbage?

And “recycling” is, after all, not just one homogeneous activity, but a whole collection of possible streams of waste or resources, each of which has to be evaluated separately. Should we recycle aluminum cans? Probably, because the price of recycling aluminum compares very favorably to using virgin materials, the mining and smelting of which are expensive in terms of energy and harmful to the environment.

Should we recycle toilet paper? We could, at some price. But it’s likely not worth it, because it can be composted, it would be awfully hard to clean and sort, and in any case paper products are actually a renewable resource, rather like wheat. You rarely hear someone saying, “Save the wheat! Give up bread!” But that kind of argument is often made for paper, even though the trees grown to produce pulp are simply a fast-growing crop grown on farms expressly for that purpose.

For recycling to be a socially commendable activity, it has to pass one of two tests: the profit test, or the net environmental-savings test. If something passes the profit test, it’s likely already being done. People are already recycling gold or other commodities from the waste stream, if the costs of doing so are less than the amount for which the resource can be sold.

Voluntary “recycling” like scrap iron or aluminum businesses will take care of that on their own. The real question arises with mandatory recycling programs — people recycle because they will be fined if they don’t, not because they expect to make money—or “voluntary” recycling programs such as those at universities or other communities where failure to recycle earns you public shaming.

For coercive or social-pressure recycling to make sense, three things have to be true.

1. Scale. You need substantial amounts of the “input,” or garbage. Hauling small amounts is wasteful. Many suburban neighborhoods in the U.S. have small amounts of recycling out by the curb, and fossil fuel–powered trucks come by spewing greenhouse gases. Part of the reason wheat and pork bellies are valuable is that the average costs of transport and handling are low, because the scale is so large. I once watched a young woman in Vitacura, Chile, wait in line in her idling auto for more than 10 minutes so she could park and put two two-liter plastic bottles into a recycle bin. That’s not economics, that’s a religious ceremony. Without scale, most recycling harms the environment.

2. Convenience. There is one resource we can’t get more of: time. Our lives pass quickly, and we have many things to do. But we are asked to donate our time to recycling, to “save” resources. We are asked to wash out and clean the stuff (I actually know people who run their garbage through the dishwasher, so it will be clean. Think of the time, coal-produced electricity, and hot water that uses.) Then we are supposed to sort the garbage and deliver it to the recycling facility.

Why isn’t this done at the recycling facility? Because the government realizes (correctly) it is too expensive, and the costs would swamp the tiny savings, if there are any, in doing recycling in the first place. But if the costs of cleaning and sorting are too great at scale, with commercial resources, why isn’t the sum of the individual costs of cleaning and sorting, in each household, even greater?

If you add up the time being wasted on recycling rituals, it’s even more expensive to ask each household to do it. The difference is that this is an implicit tax, a donation required of citizens, and doesn’t cost money from the public budget. But time is the least renewable of all resources; demanding that it be donated to a pointless or even harmful ritual such as recycling glass is government malpractice.

3. Environmental savings. For recycling to make any sense, it must cost less to dispose of recycled material than to put the stuff in a landfill. But we have plenty of landfill space, in most of the country. And much of the heaviest material we want to recycle, particularly glass, is chemically inert and will not decompose in a landfill.

Ground “recycled” glass, or “cullet,” is less useful than the virgin silica sand from which glass is made. Cullet has impurities and chemical colorings that make it difficult to use for glass without further processing. To be clear, then: landfilling glass does no environmental harm, and the glass is more expensive than the virgin material it is supposed to replace. Further, glass is heavy, and carting it to distant processing centers, in any but the most urban areas, pollutes the air.

So, is recycling useful? As I said at the outset, for some things it is. Aluminum cans and corrugated cardboard, if they can be collected clean and at scale, are highly recyclable. I myself, on finding an aluminum can in the garbage, will generally take it out and try to find a recycle bin. It seems dumb to waste the aluminum, even though the value of the aluminum in one can is less than 2 cents.

But for most other things, recycling harms the environment. I’m not (just) saying it’s costly. I’m saying recycling is harmful. If you care about the environment, you should put your bottles and other glass in the regular garbage, every time.

[...]

Once you begin to think of recycling as a symbol of religious devotion rather than a pragmatic solution to environmental problems, the whole thing makes more sense.

As in any religious ceremony, the whole point is sacrifice: Abraham was ready to slay Isaac; Catholics give up meat during Lent; Muslims fast all day during Ramadan. And a young woman in Chile with two two-liter bottles sits in her car in line, knowing she is publicly visible and that her green moral virtue is apparent to everyone.

An Odyssean education would focus on humans’ biggest and most important problems

August 17th, 2019

Dominic Cummings was Michael Gove’s main adviser when he compiled some thoughts on education and political priorities:

Although we understand some systems well enough to make precise or statistical predictions, most interesting systems — whether physical, mental, cultural, or virtual — are complex, nonlinear, and have properties that emerge from feedback between many interactions. Exhaustive searches of all possibilities are impossible. Unfathomable and unintended consequences dominate. Problems cascade. Complex systems are hard to understand, predict and control.

A growing fraction of the world has made a partial transition from a) small, relatively simple, hierarchical, primitive, zero-sum hunter-gatherer tribes based on superstition (almost total ignorance of complex systems), shared aims, personal exchange and widespread violence, to b) large, relatively complex, decentralised, technological, nonzero-sum market-based cultures based on science (increasingly accurate predictions and control in some fields), diverse aims, impersonal exchange, trade, private property, and (roughly) equal protection under the law. Humans have made transitions from numerology to mathematics, from astrology to astronomy, from alchemy to chemistry, from witchcraft to neuroscience, from tallies to quantum computation. However, while our ancestor chiefs understood bows, horses, and agriculture, our contemporary chiefs (and those in the media responsible for scrutiny of decisions) generally do not understand their equivalents, and are often less experienced in managing complex organisations than their predecessors. The education of the majority even in rich countries is between awful and mediocre. In England, few are well-trained in the basics of extended writing or mathematical and scientific modelling and problem-solving. Less than 10 percent per year leave school with formal training in basics such as exponential functions, ‘normal distributions’ (‘the bell curve’), and conditional probability. Less than one percent are well educated in the basics of how the ‘unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’ provides the language of nature and a foundation for our scientific civilisation. Only a small subset of that <1% then study trans-disciplinary issues concerning complex systems. This number has approximately zero overlap with powerful decision-makers. Generally, they are badly (or narrowly) educated and trained (even elite universities offer courses that are thought to prepare future political decision-makers but are clearly inadequate and in some ways damaging). They also usually operate in institutions that have vastly more ambitious formal goals than the dysfunctional management could possibly achieve, and which generally select for the worst aspects of chimp politics and against those skills seen in rare successful organisations (e.g the ability to simplify, focus, and admit errors). Most politicians, officials, and advisers operate with fragments of philosophy, little knowledge of maths or science (few MPs can answer even simple probability questions yet most are confident in their judgement), and little experience in well-managed complex organisations. The skills, and approach to problems, of our best mathematicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs are almost totally shut out of vital decisions. We do not have a problem with ‘too much cynicism’ — we have a problem with too much trust in people and institutions that are not fit to control so much.

The consequences are increasingly dangerous as markets, science and technology disrupt all existing institutions and traditions, and enhance the dangerous potential of our evolved nature to inflict huge physical destruction and to manipulate the feelings and ideas of many people (including, sometimes particularly, the best educated) through ‘information operations’. Our fragile civilisation is vulnerable to large shocks and a continuation of traditional human politics as it was during 6 million years of hominid evolution – an attempt to secure in-group cohesion, prosperity and strength in order to dominate or destroy nearby out-groups in competition for scarce resources — could kill billions. We need big changes to schools, universities, and political and other institutions for their own sake and to help us limit harm done by those who, entangled with trends described below, pursue dreams of military glory, ‘that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood.’

Some ideas are presented, aimed mainly at 15-25 year-olds, for what physicist Murray Gell Mann described as an ‘Odyssean’ education synthesising a) maths and the natural sciences, b) the social sciences, and c) the humanities and arts, into crude, trans-disciplinary, integrative thinking. This should combine courses like The Big History Project, Berkeley’s ‘Physics for Future Presidents’ (or Professor Timothy Gowers’ planned equivalent for maths) with the best of the humanities; add new skills such as coding; and give training in managing complex projects and using modern tools (e.g agent-based models, ABMs). Universities should develop alternatives to Politics, Philosophy, and Economics such as Ancient and Modern History, Physics for Future Presidents, and Programming. We need leaders with an understanding of Thucydides and statistical modelling, who have read The Brothers Karamazov and The Quark and the Jaguar, who can feel Kipling’s Kim and succeed in Tetlock’s Good Judgement Project. An Odyssean education would focus on humans’ biggest and most important problems and explain connections between them to train synthesisers. An approach is suggested here based on seven broad fields with some big, broad goals.

  1. Maths and complexity. Solve the Millennium Problems, better prediction of complex networks.
  2. Energy and space. Ubiquitous cheap energy and opening space for science and commerce.
  3. Physics and computation. Exploration beyond the Standard Model of particle physics, better materials and computers, digital fabrication, and quantum computation.
  4. Biological engineering. Understanding the biological basis of personality and cognition, personalised medicine, and computational and synthetic biology.
  5. Mind and machine. Quantitative models of the mind and machine intelligence applications.
  6. The scientific method, education, training and decisions. Nielsen’s vision of decentralised coordination of expertise and data-driven intelligence (‘a scientific social web that directs scientists’ attention where it is most valuable’); more ambitious and scientifically tested personalised education; training and tools that measurably improve decisions (e.g. ABMs).
  7. Political economy, philosophy, and avoiding catastrophes. Replacements for failed economic ideas and traditional political philosophies; new institutions (e.g. new civil service systems and international institutions, a UK DARPA and TALPIOT (non-military), decentralised health services).

Such an education and training might develop synthesisers who have 1) a crude but useful grasp of connections between the biggest challenges based on trans-disciplinary thinking about complex systems; 2) a cool Thucydidean courage to face reality including their own errors and motives; 3) the ability to take better decisions and adapt fast to failures; 4) an evolutionary perspective on complex systems and institutional design (rather than the typical Cartesian ‘chief of the tribe’ perspective); and 5) an ability to shape new institutions operating like an immune system that will bring better chances to avoid, survive, and limit damage done by inevitable disasters.

Focus is hard to hold in politics. After 1945, Dean Acheson quipped that Britain had failed to find a post-imperial role. It is suggested here that this role should focus on making ourselves the leading country for education and science: Pericles described Athens as ‘the school of Greece’, we could be the school of the world. Who knows what would happen to a political culture if a party embraced education and science as its defining mission and therefore changed the nature of the people running it and the way they make decisions and priorities. We already have a head start; we lack focus. Large improvements in education and training are easier to achieve than solving many other big problems and will contribute to their solution. Progress could encourage non-zerosum institutions and global cooperation — alternatives to traditional politics and destruction of competitors. However, the spread of knowledge and education is itself a danger and cannot eliminate gaps in wealth and power created partly by unequally distributed heritable characteristics.

A star shines at the hour of our meeting

August 16th, 2019

Lee Pace, who played the elf king Thranduil in the Hobbit movies, tried to greet Stephen Colbert appropriately:

The biggest Epstein conspiracy mystery is not how he died

August 16th, 2019

The biggest Epstein conspiracy mystery is not how he died, Steve Hsu explains:

The more important mystery is how he managed to operate out in the open for 15-20 years. Rumors concerning Epstein and leading figures like Bill Clinton have been around for at least that long. I have been following his activities, at least casually, via mostly non-mainstream media sources, for well over a decade.

In the 1990s I was a Bill Clinton supporter. I voted for him twice and supported his efforts to move the democratic party in a centrist, pro-business direction. But my brother is a Republican. He fed me a steady stream of anti-Clinton information that I (at the time) dismissed as crazy right-wing conspiracy theories. However, with the advent of the internet in the late 90s it became easier to obtain information that was not filtered by corrupt mainstream media outlets. I gradually realized that at least some of my brother’s claims were correct. For example, Clinton’s first presidential bid was almost derailed by charges of adultery by women like Gennifer Flowers. Supporters like myself dismissed these charges as a right-wing smear. However, years later, Clinton admitted under oath that he had indeed had sex with Flowers.

I believe my first exposure to Hillary Clinton was her appearance on 60 Minutes after the SuperBowl in 1992. This was widely regarded to be the emotive performance (“stand by your man”) that saved Bill Clinton’s presidential candidacy. Hillary affects a fake southern accent and (I believe) lies boldly and convincingly about Flowers to an estimated 50 million Americans. Quite a display of talent.

A side-effect of my history as a Clinton supporter (and gradual enlightenment thanks for my brother!) is that I became quite interested in the tendency of the media to hide obvious truths from the general public. We Americans accept that foreign governments (e.g., the Soviets and “ChiComs”) successfully brainwash their people to believe all sorts of crazy and false things. But we can’t accept that the same might be true here. (The big difference is that people in PRC — especially intellectuals — know they are being deceived, whereas most Americans do not…)

It was natural for me to become aware of Epstein once he was linked to Bill Clinton at the very birth of the Clinton Foundation. For someone with even a slight interest (let alone an actual journalist), it was easy to uncover very disturbing aspects of the Epstein story — including details of his private island, traffic in young women, connections to the rich, the powerful, and even to leading scientists, academics, (many of whom I know) and Harvard University.

But just 6 months ago I could mention Epstein to highly educated “politically aware” acquaintances with absolutely no recognition on their part.

The important question in a political dispute is not “who is right?”

August 15th, 2019

The number of anonymous Twitter handles worth reading can be counted on two hands, T. Greer says. One of them, @itrulyknowchina, shared this tweetstorm about the Chinese reaction to Hong Kong:

The overwhelming majority of Chinese mainlanders, including or especially the educated, comparative liberal ones, have lost their brains on the issue of Hong Kong — genuinely buying into whatever the Party has been selling. And this makes me really frightened.

Many bought into the foreign incitement bullshit. What kind of foreign “black hand” can whip two million people onto the street on a single day and keep tens of thousands on the streets week after week? It’s just bullshit.

Plus, the “black hand” theory is so looking down on HK citizens — are they that stupid to be manipulated by a few “black hands”? What can drive these HK citizens except their own grievances and discontent?

There are so many bullshit theories that I just don’t want to go through one by one. Bottom line is the overwhelming majority of Chinese mainlanders including the elite ones have been brainwashed so thoroughly that they don’t have any critical thinking capabilities left on them.

They can’t tell black from white. They can’t tell right from wrong. And they don’t know what is good for Hong Kong and perhaps most importantly what is good for China (even within its most narrow definition) in the long run.

This phenomenon, namely that the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of Chinese mainlanders are under the fingertips and easily manipulated by the Party, is gonna have far reaching repercussions for China and the world in the long run.

Beijing is gonna feel ever emboldened, having been reassured by the “patriotism” it has seen on HK issue. It will therefore act more toughly and recklessly on external affairs. Nations across the world will find — have already found — China adopting a much tougher stance.

China doesn’t have checks and balances built in internal politics, so one of the few little things that could vague check Beijing’s hand is the elusive collective “feeling” of its citizens. If Beijing is confident in manipulating public opinion, it fears nothing (not even USA).

It is not accurate or especially helpful to chalk Chinese beliefs about Hong Kong to state propaganda, T. Greer argues:

If it was all a matter of propaganda and censorship, then the whole thing could be resolved by exposing Chinese to the truth. There are obvious snags here. Take those Chinese students in New Zealand and Australia that attacked the pro-Hong Kong marchers. They have escaped the Chinese censorship machine. Are they any better off for it? They are exposed — quite directly — to opposing narratives. Have they been moderated by it?

Censorship is the wrong lens through which to view this issue.

American readers, an intellectual exercise: think for about thirty seconds about your partisan opposites. In that thirty seconds, tally as many of crazy, unconscionable, obviously false things commonly believed by the other side’s rank and file.

Now: reflect on the American Great Fire Wall — but that is right, we do not have one. We are free to read whatever views we will. You cannot live in our country and not eventually come across arguments from the other side.

So why do so many Americans they believe stupid things?

We know the answer to this query. I have written about it before. Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have written a superb book about it. Moshe Hoffman’s twitter feed (one of that service’s few other gems) is a daily exploration of it. Humans do not reason to find truth. Reasoning and rhetoric were useful adaptations in mankind’s evolutionary past because reason and rhetoric help us build coalitions. We argue to win. The telos of reason is victory. Every other application is a fortunate accident.

The important question in a political dispute is not “who is right?” but “who is on our side?”

He favors a motorcentric view of the brain

August 14th, 2019

Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara has written an entire book In Praise of Walking:

He favours what he calls a “motor-centric” view of the brain — that it evolved to support movement and, therefore, if we stop moving about, it won’t work as well.

This is neatly illustrated by the life cycle of the humble sea squirt which, in its adult form, is a marine invertebrate found clinging to rocks or boat hulls. It has no brain because it has eaten it. During its larval stage, it had a backbone, a single eye and a basic brain to enable it to swim about hunting like “a small, water-dwelling, vertebrate cyclops”, as O’Mara puts it. The larval sea squirt knew when it was hungry and how to move about, and it could tell up from down. But, when it fused on to a rock to start its new vegetative existence, it consumed its redundant eye, brain and spinal cord. Certain species of jellyfish, conversely, start out as brainless polyps on rocks, only developing complicated nerves that might be considered semi-brains as they become swimmers.

[...]

“Our sensory systems work at their best when they’re moving about the world,” says O’Mara. He cites a 2018 study that tracked participants’ activity levels and personality traits over 20 years, and found that those who moved the least showed malign personality changes, scoring lower in the positive traits: openness, extraversion and agreeableness. There is substantial data showing that walkers have lower rates of depression, too. And we know, says O’Mara, “from the scientific literature, that getting people to engage in physical activity before they engage in a creative act is very powerful. My notion — and we need to test this — is that the activation that occurs across the whole of the brain during problem-solving becomes much greater almost as an accident of walking demanding lots of neural resources.”

O’Mara’s enthusiasm for walking ties in with both of his main interests as a professor of experimental brain research: stress, depression and anxiety; and learning, memory and cognition. “It turns out that the brain systems that support learning, memory and cognition are the same ones that are very badly affected by stress and depression,” he says. “And by a quirk of evolution, these brain systems also support functions such as cognitive mapping,” by which he means our internal GPS system. But these aren’t the only overlaps between movement and mental and cognitive health that neuroscience has identified.

I witnessed the brain-healing effects of walking when my partner was recovering from an acute brain injury. His mind was often unsettled, but during our evening strolls through east London, things started to make more sense and conversation flowed easily. O’Mara nods knowingly. “You’re walking rhythmically together,” he says, “and there are all sorts of rhythms happening in the brain as a result of engaging in that kind of activity, and they’re absent when you’re sitting. One of the great overlooked superpowers we have is that, when we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened. Rhythms that would previously be quiet suddenly come to life, and the way our brain interacts with our body changes.”

From the scant data available on walking and brain injury, says O’Mara, “it is reasonable to surmise that supervised walking may help with acquired brain injury, depending on the nature, type and extent of injury — perhaps by promoting blood flow, and perhaps also through the effect of entraining various electrical rhythms in the brain. And perhaps by engaging in systematic dual tasking, such as talking and walking.”

One such rhythm, he says, is that of theta brainwaves. Theta is a pulse or frequency (seven to eight hertz, to be precise) which, says O’Mara, “you can detect all over the brain during the course of movement, and it has all sorts of wonderful effects in terms of assisting learning and memory, and those kinds of things”. Theta cranks up when we move around because it is needed for spatial learning, and O’Mara suspects that walking is the best movement for such learning. “The timescales that walking affords us are the ones we evolved with,” he writes, “and in which information pickup from the environment most easily occurs.”

Essential brain-nourishing molecules are produced by aerobically demanding activity, too. You’ll get raised levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which, writes O’Mara, “could be thought of as a kind of a molecular fertiliser produced within the brain because it supports structural remodelling and growth of synapses after learning … BDNF increases resilience to ageing, and damage caused by trauma or infection.” Then there’s vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which helps to grow the network of blood vessels carrying oxygen and nutrients to brain cells.

Jon Peterson discusses the birth of wargaming

August 13th, 2019

I recently shared Invicta’s video, How did war become a game?, and now it looks like the show has brought on Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World, to do a Q&A, since his book was the primary source for the original piece:

Jon Peterson also co-wrote Art & Arcana: A Visual History of D&D.

Stack your attackers

August 12th, 2019

About 40% of violent criminal attacks involve more than one attacker, Greg Ellifritz warns:

I’m seeing lots of recent news articles where groups of teens attack individuals and couples.  The teens often beat the victims into unconsciousness.  Take a look at these news articles that have been posted in the last couple weeks.

All of these events involved groups of three to eight criminals attacking a single person or a couple.  These group attacks seem to be increasing in frequency.

His advice:

  1. The best way to win the fight is to avoid it.
  2. Multiple attackers are more dangerous to you.
  3. Whenever possible, try to “stack” your attackers.
  4. If you end up grappling with one of your attackers, use him as a shield to keep between you and the other attackers.
  5. Chokes are important.
  6. Don’t go to the ground.
  7. If you can’t escape, stack your attackers, or manipulate one to be a shield, you must attack.

Netflix is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce big-budget films

August 11th, 2019

Netflix is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce big-budget films:

Earlier this month, Netflix agreed to spend nearly $200 million to make the Dwayne Johnson action movie “Red Notice,” which will be filmed next year at exotic locations and also stars Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, the people said. In addition, a person familiar with the matter said, Netflix plans to release later this year “6 Underground,” a Michael Bay-directed action film that is costing about $150 million, and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

The latter film might be the company’s riskiest bet. “The Irishman,” a historical drama likely to appeal only to adults interested in serious subject matter, costs as much as some all-ages action-adventure movies because of cutting-edge visual effects that allow stars including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci to appear at different ages. People close to the picture said Netflix’s total commitment is at least $173 million, with some going above $200 million, making “The Irishman” the most expensive adult drama in recent history.

Netflix has previously said about one-third of its total viewing is movies, rather than television series.

[...]

Netflix has been picking up many film projects Hollywood studios didn’t see as commercially viable at the box office, at least at the same budgets. Recent examples include Sandra Bullock’s post-apocalyptic movie “Bird Box’” and the jungle-heist flick “Triple Frontier,” starring Ben Affleck. Neither was a standout with critics, but “Bird Box” drew 80 million viewers during its first month and “Triple Frontier” has been watched 63 million times since its March release, the company said, making them Netflix’s first and fifth most popular original films, respectively.

Netflix bought the rights to “The Irishman” after major studios passed because of concerns that it was too expensive for a drama, a genre that has struggled at the box office in recent years. The producers were in the midst of raising independent funds to make the film when Netflix entered. “Without Netflix, ‘Irishman’ would not have been made,” said one of the people close to the movie. “I just don’t see [other] studios wanting to dive into these projects any more. I think they are staying away from the riskier, more mature films, especially dramas.”

The Duffer Brothers explain every major movie reference in Stranger Things

August 10th, 2019

The Duffer Brothers explain every major movie reference in Stranger Things:

Thank God for the Atom Bomb

August 9th, 2019

Thank God for the Atom Bomb, Paul Fussell said:

I bring up the matter because, writing on the forty-second anniversary of the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I want to consider something suggested by the long debate about the ethics, if any, of that ghastly affair. Namely, the importance of experience, sheer, vulgar experience, in influencing, if not determining, one’s views about that use of the atom bomb.

The experience I’m talking about is having to come to grips, face to face, with an enemy who designs your death. The experience is common to those in the marines and the infantry and even the line navy, to those, in short, who fought the Second World War mindful always that their mission was, as they were repeatedly assured, “to close with the enemy and destroy him.” Destroy, notice: not hurt, frighten, drive away, or capture. I think there’s something to be learned about that war, as well as about the tendency of historical memory unwittingly to resolve ambiguity and generally clean up the premises, by considering the way testimonies emanating from real war experience tend to complicate attitudes about the most cruel ending of that most cruel war.

“What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?” The recruiting poster deserves ridicule and contempt, of course, but here its question is embarrassingly relevant, and the problem is one that touches on the dirty little secret of social class in America. Arthur T. Hadley said recently that those for whom the use of the A-bomb was “wrong” seem to be implying “that it would have been better to allow thousands on thousands of American and Japanese infantrymen to die in honest hand-to-hand combat on the beaches than to drop those two bombs.” People holding such views, he notes, “do not come from the ranks of society that produce infantrymen or pilots.” And there’s an eloquence problem: most of those with firsthand experience of the war at its worst were not elaborately educated people. Relatively inarticulate, most have remained silent about what they know. That is, few of those destined to be blown to pieces if the main Japanese islands had been invaded went on to become our most effective men of letters or impressive ethical theorists or professors of contemporary history or of international law. The testimony of experience has tended to come from rough diamonds — James Jones’ is an example — who went through the war as enlisted men in the infantry or the Marine Corps.

Anticipating objections from those without such experience, in his book WWII Jones carefully prepares for his chapter on the A-bombs by detailing the plans already in motion for the infantry assaults on the home islands of Kyushu (thirteen divisions scheduled to land in November 1945) and ultimately Honshu (sixteen divisions scheduled for March 1946). Planners of the invasion assumed that it would require a full year, to November 1946, for the Japanese to be sufficiently worn down by land-combat attrition to surrender. By that time, one million American casualties was the expected price. Jones observes that the forthcoming invasion of Kyushu “was well into its collecting and stockpiling stages before the war ended.” (The island of Saipan was designated a main ammunition and supply base for the invasion, and if you go there today you can see some of the assembled stuff still sitting there.) “The assault troops were chosen and already in training,” Jones reminds his readers, and he illuminates by the light of experience what this meant:

What it must have been like to some old-timer buck sergeant or staff sergeant who had been through Guadalcanal or Bougainville or the Philippines, to stand on some beach and watch this huge war machine beginning to stir and move all around him and know that he very likely had survived this far only to fall dead on the dirt of Japan’s home islands, hardly bears thinking about.

Another bright enlisted man, this one an experienced marine destined for the assault on Honshu, adds his testimony. Former Pfc. E. B. Sledge, author of the splendid memoir With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa, noticed at the time that the fighting grew “more vicious the closer we got to Japan,” with the carnage of Iwo Jima and Okinawa worse than what had gone before. He points out that

what we had experienced [my emphasis] in fighting the Japs (pardon the expression) on Peleliu and Okinawa caused us to formulate some very definite opinions that the invasion… would be a ghastly bloodletting. It would shock the American public and the world. [Every Japanese] soldier, civilian, woman, and child would fight to the death with whatever weapons they had, ride, grenade, or bamboo spear.

The Japanese pre-invasion patriotic song, “One Hundred Million Souls for the Emperor,” says Sledge, “meant just that.” Universal national kamikaze was the point. One kamikaze pilot, discouraged by his unit’s failure to impede the Americans very much despite the bizarre casualties it caused, wrote before diving his plane onto an American ship “I see the war situation becoming more desperate. All Japanese must become soldiers and die for the Emperor.” Sledge’s First Marine Division was to land close to the Yokosuka Naval Base, “one of the most heavily defended sectors of the island.” The marines were told, he recalls, that

due to the strong beach defenses, caves, tunnels, and numerous Jap suicide torpedo boats and manned mines, few Marines in the first five assault waves would get ashore alive — my company was scheduled to be in the first and second waves. The veterans in the outfit felt we had already run out of luck anyway…. We viewed the invasion with complete resignation that we would be killed — either on the beach or inland.

And the invasion was going to take place: there’s no question about that. It was not theoretical or merely rumored in order to scare the Japanese. By July 10, 1945, the prelanding naval and aerial bombardment of the coast had begun, and the battleships Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, and King George V were steaming up and down the coast, softening it up with their sixteen-inch shells.

On the other hand, John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending anyway. The A-bombs meant, he says, “a difference, at most, of two or three weeks.” But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. “Two or three weeks,” says Galbraith.

Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you’re one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost. That’s a bit of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.

(This came up a couple times, a few months back.)

This is now called conservatism

August 8th, 2019

American politics can be considered a tale of three liberalisms, George Will argues, in The Conservative Sensibility:

[T]he first of which, classical liberalism, teaches that the creative arena of human affairs is society, as distinct from government. Government’s proper function is to protect the conditions of life and liberty, primarily for the individual’s private pursuit of happiness. This is now called conservatism. Until the New Deal, however, it was the Jeffersonian spirit of most of the Democratic Party.

FDR’s New Deal liberalism was significantly more ambitious. He said that until the emergence of the modern industrial economy, “government had merely been called upon to produce the conditions within which people could live happily, labor peacefully and rest secure.” Now it would be called upon to play a grander role. It would not just provide conditions in which happiness, understood as material well-being, could be pursued. Rather, it would become a deliverer of happiness itself. Government, FDR said, has “final responsibility” for it. This “middle liberalism” of the New Deal supplemented political rights with economic rights.

The New Deal, the modern state it created, and the class of people for whom the state provided employment led to the third liberalism, that of the 1960s and beyond. This “managerial liberalism” celebrates the role of intellectuals and other policy elites in rationalizing society from above, wielding the federal government and the “science” of public administration, meaning bureaucracy.

The apotheosis of the first phase of liberalism, in Will’s view, was the American Founding, as Arnold Kling explains:

Madison and the other Founders took at as given that human nature made us sufficiently equal to deserve identical treatment under the law, sufficiently different to benefit from liberty and autonomy, sufficiently bellicose to require a government that could resolve disputes peacefully, and sufficiently factional that preventing one coalition from dominating the rest required a system of checks and balances.

Read the whole thing.

You can’t be healthy unless the animals you eat are healthy

August 7th, 2019

The New York Times looks at the vegetarians who turned into (ethical) butchers:

As soon as I started eating meat, my health improved,” she said. “My mental acuity stepped up, I lost weight, my acne cleared up, my hair got better. I felt like a fog lifted.” All of the meat was from healthy, grass-fed animals reared on the farms where she worked.

Other former vegetarians reported that they, too, felt better after introducing grass-fed meat into their diets: Ms. Kavanaugh said eating meat again helped with her depression. Mr. Applestone said he felt far more energetic.

[...]

Grass-fed and -finished meat has been shown to be more healthful to humans than that from animals fed on soy and corn, containing higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, beta carotene and other nutrients. Cows that are fed predominantly grass and forage also have better health themselves, requiring less use of antibiotics.

“There’s one health for animals and humans,” Ms. Fernald said. “You can’t be healthy unless the animals you eat are healthy.”

There’s another benefit to grass-fed and -pastured meat: It can be absolutely delicious, as that steak in Denver reminded me.

Mr. Applestone vividly remembers that first bacon sandwich (made with pasture-raised pork) in his post-vegetarian life, served on a soft Martin’s potato roll: “I thought it was the greatest thing that ever hit my mouth.”