Mencius Moldbug Has Hijacked My Brain

Monday, February 25th, 2008

He doesn’t go by Morpheus, but by Mencius, and I first discovered his writing over at 2Blowhards. I was trying to discern whether he was a genius or a lunatic, but his manifesto was long, and I filed it away as something to read more seriously later. That was almost a year ago. For the past week or so I’ve been reading the entirety of his Unqualified Reservations blog. I invite you to do the same.

Perhaps the best way to ease yourself into his unusual worldview is to consider the ten red pills he offers:

  1. Peace, prosperity, and freedom
    • Democracy is responsible for the present state of peace, prosperity, and freedom in the US, Europe and Japan.
    • The rule of law is responsible for the present state of peace, prosperity and freedom in the US, Europe and Japan.
  2. Democracy, freedom, and law
    • Democracy is inseparable from freedom and law.
    • At best, democracy is sand in the gears of freedom and law. At worst it excludes them entirely, as in Iraq.
  3. Fascism and communism
    • The disasters of fascism and communism demonstrate the importance of representative democracy.
    • Fascism and communism are best understood as forms of democracy. The difference between single-party and multiparty democracy is like the difference between a malignant tumor and a benign one.
  4. The nature of the state
    • The state is established by citizens to serve their needs. Its actions are generally righteous.
    • The state is just another giant corporation. Its actions generally advance its own interests. Sometimes these interests coincide with ours, sometimes they don’t.
  5. The power structure of the West
    • Power in the West is held by the people, who have to guard it closely against corrupt politicians and corporations.
    • Power in the West is held by the civil service, that is, the permanent employees of the state. In any struggle between the civil service and politicians or corporations, the civil service wins.
  6. The extent of the state
    • The state consists of elected officials and their appointees.
    • The state consists of all those whose interests are aligned with the state. This includes NGOs, universities, and the press, all of whose employees are effectively civil servants, and side with the civil service in almost all conflicts.
  7. The danger of right-wing politics
    • Right-wing politicians, and the ignorant masses who support them, are a danger to democracy. They must be stopped.
    • Right-wing politicians are a classic democratic phenomenon. Domestically, they have little power and are mostly harmless. Their international adventures are destructive, but they are inescapable consequences of democracy itself.
  8. Democracy and nonpartisan government
    • True democracy is not merely the rule of politicians. For a democracy to succeed, a nonpartisan decisionmaking process is essential. Civil servants, especially judges, must be isolated from politics, or they will become corrupt.
    • Democracy is politics. Any other definition is Orwellian. The absence of politics is the absence of democracy, and apolitical civil-service government is indeed better than democracy. But this is a low standard to surpass.
  9. The history of Western government
    • The present system of Western government is the result of adapting 19th-century classical liberalism to the complex modern world.
    • Western governments today are clones of the quasi-democratic FDR regime, whose best modern comparisons are leaders like Mubarak, Putin or Suharto. Its origin was the Progressive movement, which broke classical liberalism, then complained that it didn’t work.
  10. The future of Western government
    • The Western world is moving toward a globalized, transnational free market in which politics is increasingly irrelevant, and technocratic experts and NGOs play larger roles in fighting corruption, protecting the environment, and delivering essential public services.
    • Civil-service government works well at first, but it degrades. Its limit as time approaches infinity is sclerotic Brezhnevism. Its justification for ruling is inseparable from democracy, which is mystical nonsense and is rapidly disappearing. It cannot survive without a captive media and educational system, which the Internet will route around. Also, its financial system is a mess and could collapse at any minute. The whole thing will be lucky if it lasts another ten years.


Monday, February 25th, 2008

Today’s second dose of cute comes from Flocke, the polar bear cub at the Tiergarten Nuernberg Zoo.

Martin Taylor Tackles Eduardo Da Silva

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I prefer to stick to less dangerous sports, like MMA:

Arsenal’s Eduardo Da Silva suffers a serious leg injury after being tackled by Birmingham City’s Martin Taylor during their English Premier League soccer match at St Andrews in Birmingham, central England February 23, 2008.

Yeah, I think that warrants a red card.


Monday, February 25th, 2008

Today’s dose of cute comes from Kibongo, a baby crowned lemur (Propithecus verreauxi coronatus) making its first official appearance at a zoo in Vincennes, near Paris, February 21, 2008. Kibongo was born December 24, 2007.

Legends of Charlemagne Illustrations by N.C. Wyeth

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

I do not know how I managed to miss the fact that Bulfinch’s Legends of Charlemagne was published as a separate volume — outside of his Mythology — with illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.

Mr. Door Tree shares some of those illustrations in his Golden Age Comic Book Stories (spread across multiple pages).

(Hat tip to Drawn!)


Sunday, February 24th, 2008

I never quite knew what mondo was supposed to mean — vaguely “over the top” was my understanding — and I certainly didn’t know that it had a clear, specific origin:

The fad started with the Italian film Mondo Cane (A Dog’s World, also a mild Italian curse; “mondo” literally means “world”) made in 1962 by Gualtiero Jacopetti and proved quite popular. Mondo films are often easily recognized by name, as even English language mondo films often included the term “mondo” in their titles. Over the years the film makers wanted to top each other in shock value in order to draw in audiences. Cruelty to animals, accidents, tribal initiation rites and surgeries are a common feature of a typical mondo. Much of the action is also staged, even though the film makers may claim their goal to document only “the reality”.

Although the craze really hit in the 1960s, it made a comeback with Faces of Death in the 1980s.

The Smartest Unknown Indian Entrepreneur

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Sridhar Vembu is the founder and CEO of AdventNet, the company behind Zoho. Forbes calls him The Smartest Unknown Indian Entrepreneur:

The result? A 100%, bootstrapped, $40-million-a-year revenue business that sends $1 million to the bank every month in profits.

Doing what? you might wonder.

Selling network management tools, to be precise. But with a unique twist. Vembu employs 600 people in Chennai, India, and a mere eight in Silicon Valley. Imagine what that does to his cost structure!

That cost advantage isn’t as great as it used to be. Labor arbitrage can only go on so long — which is why Vembu looks for bargains within the Indian labor market:

Not only that, in India Vembu’s operation does not hire engineers with highflying degrees from one of the prestigious India Institutes of Technology, thereby squeezing his cost advantage.

“We hire young professionals whom others disregard,” Vembu says. “We don’t look at colleges, degrees or grades. Not everyone in India comes from a socio-economic background to get the opportunity to go to a top-ranking engineering school, but many are really smart regardless.

“We even go to poor high schools, and hire those kids who are bright but are not going to college due to pressure to start making money right away,” Vembu continues. “They need to support their families. We train them, and in nine months, they produce at the level of college grads. Their resumes are not as marketable, but I tell you, these kids can code just as well as the rest. Often, better.”

If you’re not familiar with Zoho, it is a Web 2.0 alternative to Microsoft Office — with an extra piece:

It also has a hosted customer relationship management service that is free for very small companies and only costs $10 per user per month for larger ones. It competes with, which charges $65 per user per month.

Marc Benioff, chief executive of, has made an offer to buy Zoho for an undisclosed amount. Benioff seems appropriately nervous, since’s sales and administration costs are high, eating up most of his earnings. Can he afford to compete if Zoho undercuts him at such a dramatic scale?

Vembu has turned Benioff down.

The man behind Abercrombie & Fitch

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

The man behind Abercrombie & Fitch, a 61-year-old “dude” named Mike Jeffries, “is the Willie Wonka of the fashion industry”:

A quirky perfectionist and control freak, he guards his aspirational brands and his utopian chocolate factory with a highly effective zeal. Those who have worked with him tend to use the same words to describe him: driven, demanding, smart, intense, obsessive-compulsive, eccentric, flamboyant and, depending on whom you talk to, either slightly or very odd. “He’s weird and probably insane, but he’s also unbelievably driven and brilliant,” says a former employee at Paul Harris, a Midwestern women’s chain for which Jeffries worked before becoming CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch in 1992.

Examples of his strange behavior abound. According to Business Week, at A&F headquarters Jeffries always goes through revolving doors twice, never passes employees on stairwells, parks his Porsche every day at the same angle in the parking lot (keys between the seats, doors unlocked), and has a pair of “lucky shoes” he wears when reading financial reports.

His biggest obsession, though, is realizing his singular vision of idealized all-American youth. He wants desperately to look like his target customer (the casually flawless college kid), and in that pursuit he has aggressively transformed himself from a classically handsome man into a cartoonish physical specimen: dyed hair, perfectly white teeth, golden tan, bulging biceps, wrinkle-free face, and big, Angelina Jolie lips. But while he can’t turn back the clock, he can — and has — done the next best thing, creating a parallel universe of beauty and exclusivity where his attractions and obsessions have made him millions, shaped modern culture’s concepts of gender, masculinity and physical beauty, and made over himself and the world in his image, leaving them both just a little more bizarre than he found them.

Much more than just a brand, Abercrombie & Fitch successfully resuscitated a 1990s version of a 1950s ideal — the white, masculine “beefcake” — during a time of political correctness and rejection of ’50s orthodoxy. But it did so with profound and significant differences. A&F aged the masculine ideal downward, celebrating young men in their teens and early 20s with smooth, gym-toned bodies and perfectly coifed hair. While feigning casualness (many of its clothes look like they’ve spent years in washing machine, then a hamper), Abercrombie actually celebrates the vain, highly constructed male. After all, there is nothing casual about an A&F sweatshirt worn over two A&F polos worn over an A&F T-shirt.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if Abercrombie & Fitch was an authentic brand with a long history or simply a faux old-school institution:

Founded in 1892, in its heyday it served Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower (they bought their fishing equipment there), Ernest Hemingway (guns), and Cole Porter (evening clothes). During prohibition A&F was where the in crowd went for its hip flasks. But by the 1970s it had become a fashion backwater, holding on for dear life.

Leslee O’Neill, A&F’s executive vice president of planning and allocation, remembers what the company was like before Jeffries got there. “We had old clothes that no one liked,” she says. “It was a mess, a total disaster. We had this old library at our headquarters with all these really old books. There were croquet sets lying around. It was very English.”

Is it wrong not to be offended by these?

In the latest episode, last fall a group of high school girls from Allegheny County, Penn., made the rounds of television talk shows to protest the company’s “offensive” T-shirts. Of particular concern were shirts that read “Who Needs a Brain When You Have These?” “Gentlemen Prefer Tig Ol’ Bitties” and “Do I Make You Look Fat?”

“Abercrombie has a history of insensitivity,” the group’s well-spoken Emma Blackman-Mathis, 16, told me, “and there is no company with as big an impact on the standards of beauty. There are kids starving themselves so they can be the ‘Abercrombie girl,’ and there are guys who think they aren’t worthy if they don’t look exactly like the guys on the wall.”

The protest (which resulted in A&F pulling “Who Needs a Brain When You Have These?” and “Gentlemen Prefer Tig Ol’ Bitties” but retaining “Do I Make You Look Fat?” and others) began after my visit, so I couldn’t ask Jeffries about it. But I did ask him about other T-shirt dust-ups, including “It’s All Relative in West Virginia” (which West Virginia’s governor didn’t find funny), Bad Girls Chug. Good Girls Drink Quickly (which angered anti-addiction groups), and Wong Brothers Laundry Service — Two Wongs Can Make It White (which triggered protests from Asian groups).

I Am Paladin (And So Can You)

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

D&D artist Todd Lockwood has produced a portrait of America’s greatest hero, Stephen Colbert.

Yale Test Detects Early Stage Ovarian Cancer With 99 Percent Accuracy

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Yale Test Detects Early Stage Ovarian Cancer With 99 Percent Accuracy:

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have developed a blood test with enough sensitivity and specificity to detect early stage ovarian cancer with 99 percent accuracy.

Results of this new study are published in the February 15 issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
This new phase II clinical trial included 500 patients; 350 healthy controls and 150 ovarian cancer patients. Mor and colleagues validated the previous research and used a new platform called multiplex technology to simplify the test into one single reaction using very small amounts of serum from the blood. The new platform uses six protein biomarkers instead of four, increasing the specificity of the test from 95 to 99.4 percent. The team looked for the presence of specific proteins and quantified the concentration of those proteins in the blood.

The Early Detection Research Network (EDRN) of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) independently evaluated the results of the test.

“This is the most sensitive and specific test currently available,” said Mor. “Previous tests recognized 15 to 20 percent of new tumors. Proteins from the tumors were the only biomarkers used to test for ovarian cancer. That is okay when you have big masses of tumors, but it is not applicable in very early phases of the tumor. Testing the proteins produced by the body in response to the presence of the tumor as well as the proteins the tumors produce, helped us to create a unique picture that can detect early ovarian cancer.”

Mor and colleagues have begun a phase III evaluation in a multi-center clinical trial. In collaboration with EDRN/NCI and Laboratories Corporation of America (LabCorp), they are testing close to 2,000 patients.

The test is available at Yale through the Discovery to Cure program. Yale has licensed the test to three companies: Lab Corp in the United States, Teva in Israel and SurExam in China.

Grad student invents gravity lamp

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Grad student invents gravity lamp — which is cool, if not quite as cool as it sounds from the headline:

Clay Moulton of Springfield, Va., who received his master’s of science degree last year from Virginia Tech, created the lamp as a part of his master’s thesis. The LED lamp, named Gravia, is an acrylic column a little more than 4 feet high. The entire column glows when activated by electricity generated by the slow, silent fall of a mass that spins a rotor.

The light output of 600-800 lumens lasts about four hours.

To “turn on” the lamp, the user moves weights from the bottom to the top of the lamp and into a mass sled near the top. The sled begins its gentle glide down and, within a few seconds, the LEDs are illuminated.

“It’s more complicated than flipping a switch,” said Moulton, “but can be an acceptable, even enjoyable routine, like winding a beautiful clock or making good coffee.”

Moulton estimates Gravia’s mechanisms will last more than 200 years.

Murder, My Sweet

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

I just watched Murder, My Sweet, the noir classic — and it does include some wonderfully noir cinematography. The film is based on Raymond Chandler’s novel, Farewell, My Lovely — they changed the name, because the lead actor, Dick Powell, had starred in a number of musical comedies, and Farewell, My Lovely sounded like one more.

Chandler himself approved of Powell’s portrayal of Philip Marlowe, but I had a really tough time seeing Powell as a really tough guy — and I laughed out loud when Claire Trevor (as femme fatale Helen Grayle) said, “You’ve got a nice build for a private detective.” Even for 1944, that is not a good build.

One odd bit of trivia: In the movie — again, Murder, My Sweet — the evil psychiatrist mentions using digitalis on our hero. In the book — again, Farewell, My Lovely — he uses scopolamine (also known as Columbian devil’s breath), which makes much more sense:

“There’s a drug called scopolamine, truth serum, that sometimes makes people talk without their knowing it. It’s not sure fire, any more than hypnotism is. But it sometimes works.”
— Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely

Adding Epicycles

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Under the old Ptolemaic system of astronomy, the earth is at the center of the universe, and the sun and planets revolve around it in circular orbits — but the planets obviously don’t revolve around the earth in perfect circular orbits, because they occasionally seem to move in the wrong direction. This retrograde motion was explained via epicycles — the planets supposedly moved along a small circle that itself moved in a circular orbit around the earth.

As early astronomers made more and more observations, they needed more and more epicycles on epicycles to explain the planets’ paths:

In part due to sometimes fantastic attempts to make the failed earth-centered model work, “adding epicycles” has come to be used as a derogatory comment in modern scientific discussion. If one continues to try to adjust a theory to make its predictions match the facts, when it has become clear that the basic premise itself should be questioned, one is said to be “adding epicycles”.

Mysteries of computer from 65BC are solved

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Mysteries of computer from 65BC are solved:

Using modern computer x-ray tomography and high resolution surface scanning, a team led by Mike Edmunds and Tony Freeth at Cardiff University peered inside fragments of the crust-encased mechanism and read the faintest inscriptions that once covered the outer casing of the machine. Detailed imaging of the mechanism suggests it dates back to 150-100 BC and had 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon. The motion, known as the first lunar anomaly, was developed by the astronomer Hipparcus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BC, and he may have been consulted in the machine’s construction, the scientists speculate.

Remarkably, scans showed the device uses a differential gear, which was previously believed to have been invented in the 16th century. The level of miniaturisation and complexity of its parts is comparable to that of 18th century clocks.

This “computer” is the famous Antikythera Mechanism, so named because it was recovered from a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera.

In fact, the only reason we have the mechanism today is that it sunk under 42 meters of water:

One of the remaining mysteries is why the Greek technology invented for the machine seemed to disappear. No other civilisation is believed to have created anything as complex for another 1,000 years. One explanation could be that bronze was often recycled in the period the device was made, so many artefacts from that time have long ago been melted down and erased from the archaelogical record. The fateful sinking of the ship carrying the Antikythera Mechanism may have inadvertently preserved it. “This device is extraordinary, the only thing of its kind,” said Professor Edmunds. “The astronomy is exactly right … in terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa.”

Japanese Roots

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) looks at Japanese Roots — but the Japanese don’t necessarily want to know where they really come from:

Until 1946, Japanese schools taught a myth of history based on the earliest recorded Japanese chronicles, which were written in the eighth century. They describe how the sun goddess Amaterasu, born from the left eye of the creator god Izanagi, sent her grandson Ninigi to Earth on the Japanese island of Kyushu to wed an earthly deity. Ninigi’s great-grandson Jimmu, aided by a dazzling sacred bird that rendered his enemies helpless, became the first emperor of Japan in 660 b.c. To fill the gap between 660 b.c. and the earliest historically documented Japanese monarchs, the chronicles invented 13 other equally fictitious emperors. Before the end of World War II, when Emperor Hirohito finally announced that he was not of divine descent, Japanese archeologists and historians had to make their interpretations conform to this chronicle account. Unlike American archeologists, who acknowledge that ancient sites in the United States were left by peoples (Native Americans) unrelated to most modern Americans, Japanese archeologists believe all archeological deposits in Japan, no matter how old, were left by ancestors of the modern Japanese. Hence archeology in Japan is supported by astronomical budgets, employs up to 50,000 field-workers each year, and draws public attention to a degree inconceivable anywhere else in the world.

Their chief concern is that they might be descended from … Koreans. Gasp!

Anyway, the proto-Japanese Jomon people lived an interesting lifestyle — as hunter-gatherers, but not as nomads:

Archeologists studying Jomon hunter-gatherers have found not only hard-to-carry pottery (including pieces up to three feet tall) but also heavy stone tools, remains of substantial houses that show signs of repair, big village sites of 50 or more dwellings, and cemeteries — all further evidence that the Jomon people were sedentary rather than nomadic. Their stay-at-home lifestyle was made possible by the diversity of resource-rich habitats available within a short distance of one central site: inland forests, rivers, seashores, bays, and open oceans. Jomon people lived at some of the highest population densities ever estimated for hunter-gatherers, especially in central and northern Japan, with their nut-rich forests, salmon runs, and productive seas. The estimate of the total population of Jomon Japan at its peak is 250,000 — trivial, of course, compared with today, but impressive for hunter-gatherers.

With all this stress on what Jomon people did have, we need to be clear as well about what they didn’t have. Their lives were very different from those of contemporary societies only a few hundred miles away in mainland China and Korea. Jomon people had no intensive agriculture. Apart from dogs (and perhaps pigs), they had no domestic animals. They had no metal tools, no writing, no weaving, and little social stratification into chiefs and commoners. Regional variation in pottery styles suggests little progress toward political centralization and unification.

Read the whole thing for the full story of Japanese Roots. Especially if you’re Korean.