The Kronies

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Get with the Kronies! They’re Konnected!

The Not-So-Spanish Flu

Friday, January 31st, 2014

The flu pandemic of 1918 became known as the Spanish flu — because Spain was not at war and thus wasn’t practicing war-time censorship. So, where did it start?

The deadly “Spanish flu” claimed more lives than World War I, which ended the same year the pandemic struck. Now, new research is placing the flu’s emergence in a forgotten episode of World War I: the shipment of Chinese laborers across Canada in sealed train cars.

Historian Mark Humphries of Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland says that newly unearthed records confirm that one of the side stories of the war—the mobilization of 96,000 Chinese laborers to work behind the British and French lines on World War I’s Western Front—may have been the source of the pandemic.


Historian Christopher Langford has shown that China suffered a lower mortality rate from the Spanish flu than other nations did, suggesting some immunity was at large in the population because of earlier exposure to the virus.

In the new report, Humphries finds archival evidence that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu.

He also found medical records indicating that more than 3,000 of the 25,000 Chinese Labor Corps workers who were transported across Canada en route to Europe starting in 1917 ended up in medical quarantine, many with flu-like symptoms.


In reaction to anti-Chinese feelings rife in western Canada at the time, the trains that carried the workers from Vancouver were sealed, Humphries says. Special Railway Service Guards watched the laborers, who were kept in camps surrounded by barbed wire. Newspapers were banned from reporting on their movement.

Roughly 3,000 of the workers ended up in medical quarantine, their illnesses often blamed on their “lazy” natures by Canadian doctors, Humphries said: “They had very stereotypical, racist views of the Chinese.”

Doctors treated sore throats with castor oil and sent the Chinese back to their camps.

The Chinese laborers arrived in southern England by January 1918 and were sent to France, where the Chinese Hospital at Noyelles-sur-Mer recorded hundreds of their deaths from respiratory illness.

Che in the Congo

Friday, January 31st, 2014

In 1965 Che Guevara came to the Congo to transform it into a socialist utopia:

Che was convinced the Congo was the weak point in western imperialism. So he made the ultimate sacrifice and shaved off his moustache and beard to disguise himself.

Che Guevara without Beard and Mustache

Guevara travelled secretly with a small group of Cubans across Lake Tanganyika to the eastern Congo. He had a theory he called Foco which he had developed with a Parisian intellectual called Regis Debray. The theory said that tiny groups of revolutionaries could inspire the people of a country to a big insurrection. To do this the revolutionaries had to set a moral example and then the Congolese rebels around them would be transformed into “New Men”

But nothing went right. Che had given himself the codename “Tatu”, which means three in Swahili. The Congo rebels thought this meant he was only third in command and didn’t listen to anything he said. He in turn was shocked at how all the rebels believed in magic — Dawa — which would make them invincible to bullets. This meant they didn’t bother to train and sat round drinking all the time.

Then Che led the rebels on an attack on a Hydro Electric plant. Some of the soldiers said they had heard an elephant and ran away. The rest closed their eyes and fired their guns randomly. Che was very depressed. Then they tried to attack an army barracks, but the Congo rebels had a superstitious fear of trenches so they wouldn’t get into the holes they themselves had dug — and many were killed.


Che spent his days waiting in the mountains for the rebel leader Laurent Kabila to turn up. He gave the rebels classes in how to be “new men” but they laughed at him, he got dysentery, he lost his pet monkey, and then Kabila finally arrived but was completely drunk. Che Guevara gave up any hope of creating a revolution. He wrote Fidel Castro a despairing letter. In it you can feel the 20th century dream of transforming oppressed people into new kinds of powerful beings quietly dying away.

Che left and went off to try and transform the Bolivian peasants instead.

Overreacting to Neoreaction

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Nicholas James Pell of Taki’s Magazine looks at recent overreacting to neoreaction:

Most who have written on neoreaction have given it the expected summary dismissal: “These guys don’t even believe in democracy!

However, those who dismiss the Dark Enlightenment do so at their own peril. It’s home to some of the most intellectually rigorous and energetically principled folks to come down the right-wing pike in recent memory. It sneers at both “conservatism” and “libertarianism”; the former has failed to conserve anything for over 80 years, while the latter has largely declared that personal rights are important only when they don’t conflict with progressive cultural sensibilities.

It’s refreshing to see a wave of young people interested more in asking tough questions and teasing out hard answers than in throwing up political gang signs. The Dark Enlightenment has no skin in any established political movement. It is precisely the lack of fealty that allows it to ask questions that other ideologues consider verboten. It offers answers for those seeking real solutions, not religious platitudes masquerading as politics.

The Communist Consumers Loved

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Lauren Weiner calls Pete Seeger the Communist consumers loved — but the whole movement mixed money-making and progressive propaganda:

These were borrowed tastes, but nobody seemed to mind. As Van Ronk observed, “One of the first things that must be understood about these revivals is that the folk have very little to do with them. Always, there is a middle-class constituency, and its idea of the folk” whoever that might be ”is the operative thing.” Capturing all of the contradictions, the historian Robert S. Cantwell wrote that this was a time “when the carriers of a superannuated ideological minority found themselves celebrated as the leaders of a mass movement; when an esoteric and anticommercial enthusiasm turned into a commercial bonanza; when an alienated, jazz-driven, literary bohemia turned to the simple songs of an old, rural America.”

That part about an “ideological minority” being “celebrated” by somebody had gone over our heads, too: We did not know that the folk boom was a reverberation of an earlier boomlet, a foray into American music roots, many of whose movers and shakers were as Red as a bowl of cherries. Who on our suburban street knew that Woody Guthrie, the hero of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan, had been a columnist for the Daily Worker? Or that the man from whom we heard rollicking sea chanteys, a Briton named Ewan MacColl, was at one point kept from entering the United States as an undesirable alien? Then there was the cuddly-looking guy with the slightly pedantic six-record set and companion volume, Burl Ives Presents America’s Musical Heritage. If my parents or any of the neighbors were aware that Ives had been summoned, in 1952, to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and had identified Pete Seeger as a communist, they kept the details to themselves.


From the nation’s founding, through the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Wobblies printed their pamphlet of Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent, political themes had made their way into popular music. Without question, however, the most concerted effort at politicization came from the CPUSA. Go out and make antifascist alliances with liberals, Georgi Dmitrov ordered in Moscow in 1935, and so the communists obediently fanned out into the American labor movement and civil-rights activities.


The collective first tried bringing high-brow modernism to the masses. This involved, among other things, holding a contest for best original May Day marching song. (Copland’s entry took the laurels; Seeger countered that his was more singable and, anyway, the workers weren’t likely to have a piano handy during their protest marches.) The effort was a bust. But it led Seeger, family in tow, to roam the rural southeastern United States, exploring the music played by the regular folk and groping for a way to turn these demotic musical expressions in a politically helpful direction.

By the time Charles’ son, Pete, came of age, the record laid down by the “people’s democracy” in the Soviet Union had lengthened to include show trials, the forced collectivization of agriculture, a well-developed police state, and the takeover of neighboring countries. Nonetheless Seeger fils, the next-generation wandering minstrel, stuck with his inherited “Pan-Sovietism” through a long and successful musical career. (The historian Ronald Radosh, in a public exchange with him in 2009, elicited a rueful comment about having stood by Josef Stalin despite everything.)

Pete first took up the banjo as a twenty-one-year-old, sitting on front porches across the South and learning from the old masters of the rural tradition. Sometimes those masters balked at city slickers glomming onto their music. Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a North Carolinian who mounted what may have been the first “folk festival,” detested Seeger for his communism. (As the historian Ronald D. Cohen notes, Lunsford once introduced a folk act at his Asheville festival as “three Jews from New York.”)

Seeger and his friends were undeterred. Their duty, as they saw it, was to convert the middle class to their way of thinking. Besides, they genuinely loved the music. By Van Ronk’s casual estimate, half the folk revivalists were Jewish, and they “adopted the music as part of a process of assimilation into the Anglo-American tradition.”

By the 1940s, folk singers had become a ceremonial part of Communist Party meetings. And at nearly all of them, one would find Pete Seeger playing, under the revolutionary pseudonym “Pete Bowers,” with the likes of Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, Burl Ives, Josh White, Saul Aarons, Bernie Asbel, Will Geer, and a new arrival on the East Coast musical scene, Woody Guthrie.


“However loathsome and psychotic” J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was, according to Dave Van Ronk, they “got one thing right: The CP [USA] was the American arm of Soviet foreign policy, no more, no less.”

In 1940, folk music spoke out against the war — the war between Britain and Germany. Once the Germans invaded Russia, it was time to do something about that Hitler.

After the war, folk music evolved into “a new, coy art that was to grow in significance: ridiculing one’s adversaries for correctly discerning one’s politics.”

Optimized Duty Sight

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

The Optimized Duty Sight tries to improve upon the tried-and-true notch-and-post pistol sight:

The ODS was designed to take advantage of the inborn hardwiring of our brains to instinctively find symmetry. These sights have three vertical and three horizontal alignment features that the eye automatically lines up while the operator is presenting the weapon to the target (see picture). This 3X3 alignment design allows for the most rapid sight alignment of any iron sights on the market.

Optimized Duty Sight

The Optimized Duty Sight was also designed to quickly give the operator a more refined sight picture (relation of the sights on the target) by the narrow profile front sight and the angled facets cut into the rear sight. These features enable the operator to see more of the target thru the sights while maintaining sight alignment thru the engagement. The luminous lines on the rear sight and the dot with vertical line on the front sight allow for precise sight alignment in low light environments.

Boetti & Boetti

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

In the early 1970s the Italian conceptual artist Alighiero e Boetti often visited the hotel he had bought in Kabul, Number One Hotel:

By 1972 it was being used not just by Boetti’s friends but by more and more western travellers.

All around them in Kabul revolutionary forces were emerging who wanted to overthrow the King. One of these forces was Islamism. The westerners heard odd stories about a man called The Engineer on the university campus. He was supposed to be going round throwing acid in the faces of girls who didn’t cover their heads.

Two hundred years before, the first modern Islamist had emerged to the north of Afghanistan, in the Caucasus. He was called Sheikh Mansur. Mansur fused ideas of nationalism and anti-colonial struggle with Islam and used them to lead a struggle against the Russian forces that were trying to occupy Chechnya and Daghestan.

In 1876 a professor in Turin discovered a collection of letters written by Sheikh Mansur to the professor’s father. In them Sheikh Mansur reveals that he was in reality an Italian from Turin called Giovanni Battista Boetti.

He was a direct ancestor of Alighiero e Boetti.

The letters tell an amazing story. Giovanni Boetti had been born near Turin. In the early 1770s he had run away from home and become a monk for the Dominican order. He then travelled as a missionary in Asia Minor and had all sorts of adventures and scandalous intrigues and love affairs. Then at some point Boetti converted to Islam and became a “Mussulman Prophet” with the power to raise and lead an army of thousands of Muslims.

From other accounts of Sheikh Mansur it is clear that this power came from the fact that he had fused what were modern western ideas of nationalism and anti-imperialism with Islamic ideas. Up to that point the resistance to the growing Russian empire had been from secular leaders in Chechnya. And they had failed.

Mansur-Boetti was something new and mysterious.

Then the Russians noticed Boetti. In 1785 General Potemkin wrote to Catherine the Great:

“On the opposite bank of the river Sunja in the village of Aldy a prophet has appeared and started to preach. He has submitted superstitious and ignorant people to his will by claiming to have had a revelation”

The Russians decided to send an army of three thousand men to destroy this prophet. They marched though the mountains and the farmland where Grozny now stands and across the river into the village of Aldy. But when they arrived they found no-one there. It was as if Boetti and all his army had disappeared. “As though they were ghosts” wrote one Russian.

The Russians destroyed the village completely and then set off on the return march. But Boetti had hidden his army in the forest covered mountains and he had set up an ambush. The Islamists slaughtered over half the Russian force and most of the survivors drowned trying to flee across the Sunja River. It was the start of what the Chechens today see as a 200 year war to remove the Russian occupation.

Here are photos of Giovanni Battista Boetti and his descendant Alighiero e Boetti. Both were cultural warriors — the fake Sheikh struggling against the Russian attempt to destroy Chechen national identity, the later Boetti struggling against the culture of individual self expression which he believed was corroding the west. The Sheikh used armed struggle, his descendent used the possibly less effective weapon of performance art.

Giovanni Battista Boetti and Alighiero e Boetti

But maybe its not true. Over the last 100 years scholars have argued about the authenticity of the letters.

Possibly they were extraordinary fantasy? An elaborate fiction about Islam and the west written by the older Boetti. Or possibly forged and planted in the archive by someone else? No One knows for sure.

The Truths Behind ‘Dr. Strangelove’

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Released on January 29, 1964, Dr. Strangelove came under attack for being implausible:

An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film “impossible on a dozen counts.” A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: “Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.” When “Fail-Safe” — a Hollywood thriller with a similar plot, directed by Sidney Lumet — opened, later that year, it was criticized in much the same way. “The incidents in ‘Fail-Safe’ are deliberate lies!” General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “Nothing like that could happen.” The first casualty of every war is the truth — and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.

The command and control of nuclear weapons has long been plagued by an “always/never” dilemma. The administrative and technological systems that are necessary to insure that nuclear weapons are always available for use in wartime may be quite different from those necessary to guarantee that such weapons can never be used, without proper authorization, in peacetime. During the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the “always” in American war planning was given far greater precedence than the “never.” Through two terms in office, beginning in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower struggled with this dilemma. He wanted to retain Presidential control of nuclear weapons while defending America and its allies from attack. But, in a crisis, those two goals might prove contradictory, raising all sorts of difficult questions. What if Soviet bombers were en route to the United States but the President somehow couldn’t be reached? What if Soviet tanks were rolling into West Germany but a communications breakdown prevented NATO officers from contacting the White House? What if the President were killed during a surprise attack on Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the nation’s civilian leadership? Who would order a nuclear retaliation then?

With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. But the alternative — allowing an attack on the United States to go unanswered or NATO forces to be overrun — seemed a lot worse. Aware that his decision might create public unease about who really controlled America’s nuclear arsenal, Eisenhower insisted that his delegation of Presidential authority be kept secret. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he confessed to being “very fearful of having written papers on this matter.”

President John F. Kennedy was surprised to learn, just a few weeks after taking office, about this secret delegation of power. “A subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action,” Kennedy was told in a top-secret memo, “could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.” Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked not only by the wide latitude given to American officers but also by the loose custody of the roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe. Few of the weapons had locks on them. Anyone who got hold of them could detonate them. And there was little to prevent NATO officers from Turkey, Holland, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany from using them without the approval of the United States.

Education Realist on the Dark Enlightenment

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

The defining element of the Dark Enlightenment is not political, philosophical, or cultural views, Education Realist says, but a shared loathing of “The Cathedral”:

Unfortunately, I can’t find one clear definition of the Cathedral that doesn’t involve reading all of Mencius Moldebug, who I don’t really understand and makes me feel Hemingway brusque. I use the term Voldemort View to characterize the most likely reason for the achievement gap; the Cathedral can be thought of as the Canon of Modern Anathema, the official dogma of views that must not be spoken. Some of the views are actual truths, others are opinions. But if they are uttered, the speaker must be cast out into the darkness and, more importantly, economically ruined.

I can think of no common objective the nodes in that diagram share, but we all hate and despise the Cathedral. Our touchstones are not racial purity, male dominance or a derailing of democracy (all objectives I unreservedly oppose) but the expulsion of James Watson, Jason Richwine, and John Derbyshire — whether we agree with them or not. I almost never hate people. But I hate the Cathedral. Probably in part because I trusted it a couple decades ago, and there’s nothing like a reformed ex-smoker. Screw you if you want me to righteously disassociate. Take my ideas on their own merit or don’t, never assume I agree with any idea unless I say so. But if you’re the sort who demands indignant condemnation, it will be my considerable pleasure to deprive you of that satisfaction. In short–but why be short when English has so many words? — I will not disavow on principle.

I suggest that if the “dark enlightenment” is spreading, it does so not because of any distaste for democracy, much less some weird white guy radicalization, but because the general public is slowly becoming deeply tired of the elites getting exercised about exorcising yet another heretic.

How to retire early — 35 years early

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Mr. Money Mustache is 39-year-old Pete’s “slightly bossier and more opinionated” alter ego. He explains how to retire early — 35 years early:

Pete, who prefers not to divulge his last name to protect his family’s privacy, retired when he was just 30. His wife retired with him, and for the past nine years they’ve been stay-at-home parents. Their investment income supports their lifestyle, but they also work when they want, on their own terms.

One secret to their success? They live on very little for a family of three: about $25,000 a year. They own a car, but mostly bike. Dining out is an occasional luxury. And shopping for stuff? That’s best avoided. But their philosophy goes beyond mere scrimping, says Mr. Money Mustache. It’s about enjoying life with less.


Based on a long-lasting hobby of reading books on stock investing, I realized that you can generally count on your nest egg to deliver a 4% return over most of a lifetime, with a good chance of it never running out. In other words, you need about 25 times your annual spending to retire. So we tracked our spending and our net worth, and when we hit the magic number we declared ourselves “retired.”


For the last few years, the mantra was “$600,000 in investments, plus a paid-off house.” This is enough to generate $24,000 of spending money, which goes quite far if you have no rent or mortgage to pay.


For most people, cutting costs is by far the most powerful way to increase wealth. This is because it is easy to burn off almost any amount of money — just ask the 78% of NFL players that have financial problems shortly after turning off the cash fire hose of a pro sports career. It is also possible to cut almost any budget in half, leaving the happy latte cutter saving 50% or more of her income.

The Collapse of the Dream

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

The great shift of our time is the collapse of the dream that politicians could change the world for the better, Adam Curtis says:

A dream that was replaced by a conviction that politicians were untrustworthy and always become corrupted by power.

The collapse of that optimistic vision of what politics could achieve then left the way open for powerful, reactionary forces to take power who don’t want to change the world. Instead they want to manage the world and hold it stable — backed up by the threat of violence. A threat to which they have become increasingly addicted.

This has happened not only in America and in Britain — but all over the world. And I want to tell the story of how it happened in the Middle East. It is the intertwined story of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in the Gaza strip and the reactionary right-wing nationalist groups in Israel.

All three groups are driven by an angry, pessimistic vision of the world, of human nature — and the inability of politicians to transform things for the better. It’s a fascinating story because it shows how the underlying similarities led those groups to become tightly locked together — helping each other cement their ruthless grip on their people — and freeze out any progressive alternatives.

Israel started as a utopian project, based in part on Theodor Herzl’s 1902 novel, Altneuland (Old New Land):

Starting in the 1930s, the Israelis set out to try and build in Palestine the new kind of Zionist society that Theodor Herzl had laid out in his novel Altneuland — Old New Land. The new capital was called Tel Aviv — which was the Hebrew title given to Herzl’s novel by it’s translator. It roughly means “a new spring coming from an old mound”.


The new city was constructed as a grand experiment in town planning. It was based on plans drawn up by the Scottish town planner, Patrick Geddes. His ideas about how cities could be planned came from the same utopian traditions as Herzl’s belief in a socialist planned society. What linked them was the technocratic belief that flourished in the 1930s — and again in the 1950s — that you could shape the environment around human beings as a total system that would make them stronger, more confident and morally better human beings.

Many of the architects who actually designed it had been trained in the 1930s at the Bauhaus school and were deeply influenced by the ideas of Le Corbusier.

Later, Eichmann’s trial — or, rather, Hannah Arendt’s writing about it — challenged the prevailing utopianism:

In 1963 a political philosopher called Hannah Arendt who had attended the Eichmann trial published a series of articles in the New Yorker. In them she challenged the idea put forward by the Israeli prosecutors that Eichmann was a special kind of evil human being. Arendt argued that he was the very opposite — that he was “terrifyingly normal”. That far from being a demonic monster he was actually a bland, mindless and extremely efficient bureaucrat. He was motivated, she said by personal ambition and that he wasn’t even particularly anti-semitic.

Arendt called it “the banality of evil”.

“evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness, pathology, or ideological conviction in the doer.

However monstrous the deeds were, the doer was neither monstrous nor demonic.

Evil can spread over the whole world like a fungus and lay waste precisely because it is not rooted anywhere. It was the most banal motives, not especially wicked ones which made Eichmann such a frightful evil-doer.”

Arendt’s reports caused an outrage. The journalist Norman Podhoretz wrote that Arendt’s picture of Eichmann -

“violates everything we know about the Nature of Man.”

And that went to the heart of it. Because what Arendt was implying was that human beings might not be changeable or perfectible. That anyone could do really evil, horrible things any time depending on the circumstances they found themselves in. And what was worse — that the modern world of intricate bureaucracies and bland management might make it more possible.

It was a pretty pessimistic and conservative view of human beings — and it challenged the idea that you could change the world for the better. And this dark frightening idea, born out of the horrors of twenty years before, began to worm its way into the post war optimism not just in Israel but a whole generation of liberals in Europe and America.

The progressive utopianism of Arab Nationalism also faltered, and when the Islamists began to rise to power, the Israelis saw them as a useful ally against their secular-Arab enemies — but no one seemed to notice:

Bit by bit through the 1980s, with the tacit encouragement of the Israelis, Sheikh Yassin built the structure of an alternative Islamist society in Gaza. All this went unrecorded — I have searched the archives and can find nothing, all the TV reports from Palestine and Israel focus on Yasser Arafat and the PLO. Even when Hamas is formed in 1987 during the first Intifada there is nothing. The first news item about Hamas isn’t until December 1992 — when they kidnap an Israeli border guard.

Auckland School Ditches Rules

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Swanson Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand ditched its playground rules — and found that the children behaved better:

Swanson School signed up to the study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago, with the aim of encouraging active play.

However, the school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely, much to the horror of some teachers at the time, he said.

When the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.”

Parents were happy too because their children were happy, he said.

But this wasn’t a playtime revolution, it was just a return to the days before health and safety policies came to rule.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project, said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds.

“The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.”

Society’s obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said.

Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. “You can’t teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.”

The research project morphed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.

“There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.”

(Hat tip to Eric Crampton.)

Notoriously Alpha

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Vladimir Putin is notoriously alpha, John Durant notes:

Putin goes out of his way to be photographed while engaged in various masculine endeavors: bare-chested horseback riding, judo competitions, recovering ancient underwater urns, racing Formula One cars, riding motorcycles, flying jets, hunting dangerous animals, saving dangerous animals, and more. He makes James Bond look like a nancy boy.

And to many Westerners, he seems ridiculously over the top. But that’s partly because we’ve been trained to look down on displays of masculinity, and partly because we don’t understand the Russian context of Putin’s displays of masculinity.

As a result, Westerners completely misunderstand Vladimir Putin.

Here’s why.

As with any performance, you have to know your audience. Putin’s homage to masculinity isn’t targeted at Westerners or Russian oligarchs. These special-ops photo-ops aren’t displays of Putin’s actual political power. Most of Putin’s power is invisible, and he wields it behind the scenes. He doesn’t show the public how he rigs elections, he just rigs them — and people learn the results. He doesn’t show the public how he threatens oligarchs with jail, he just threatens them privately — and if one steps out of line, he jails him publicly. He exercises most of his real power behind the scenes, but gives enough public examples to maintain his reputation. And his reputation is enough to keep everyone else in line.

Putin’s displays of masculinity are targeted to ordinary Russians.

They are intended to boost his popularity. And they work (or they did for a long time). Why?

First, in dangerous societies, women are more attracted to masculine men (study via HUS).

Ladies, if violent crime shot through the roof this year, trust me — big rugged men with lantern jaws would start to look surprisingly sexy, soft, and marriageable (even more than they already do). Russia is a dangerous society, with dropping life expectancies, high levels of drunkenness and violence, and weak rule of law. Therefore, the baseline sexual desire for masculine men is higher.

Unsurprisingly, Vladimir Putin is a big hit among Russian women — and attractive ones too. For example, Putin’s Army (SFW) is an amorphous group of attractive Russian women who claim they will do anything for their beloved Prime Minister, including wash cars in bikinis.

Second, Putin’s displays of masculinity are disciplined.

I can’t emphasize this point enough. Mastery of judo requires years of practice. Flying a fighter jet requires responsibility and training. Proper hunting and fishing requires more intelligence and patience than most sheltered urbanites think. All of these endeavors require control. He’s not doing dare-devil stunts, brawling on the street, or playing the most foolishly risky game of all: Russian Roulette. He’s taking calculated risks.

Vladimir Putin is providing an example to Russian men on how to harness their testosterone, which currently is being wasted on gambling, alcohol, suicide, and violence. Undisciplined testosterone is an incredibly destructive force. Disciplined testosterone is an incredibly productive force.

I didn’t realize, by the way, that Putin does not drink.

This Land Is Your Land

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

I remember This Land Is Your Land as an inoffensive, feel-good song that pre-schoolers could sing:

Its lyrics were written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 based on an existing melody, in critical response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent. Tired of hearing Kate Smith sing it on the radio, he wrote a response originally called “God Blessed America”. Guthrie varied the lyrics over time, sometimes including more overtly political verses in line with his sympathetic views of communism, than appear in recordings or publications.

The original lyrics:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters,
God blessed America for me.
[This land was made for you and me.]

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
And saw above me that endless skyway,
And saw below me the golden valley, I said:
God blessed America for me.
[This land was made for you and me.]

I roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,
And all around me, a voice was sounding:
God blessed America for me.
[This land was made for you and me.]

Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
God blessed America for me.
[This land was made for you and me.]

When the sun come shining, then I was strolling
In wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling;
The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting:
God blessed America for me.
[This land was made for you and me.]

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief Office I saw my people —
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me.
[This land was made for you and me.]

Animal shows aren’t about animals

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Animal shows are far more about us than they are about the animals, Adam Curtis contends:

Over the past thirty years the wildlife programme has been dominant, led by David Attenborough. The story these programmes tell is a deeply conservative one. The central, natural, unit that the films portray is the family — and they tend to follow that social unit through repeated cycles of birth, discovery, danger and tragedy — followed by the birth of the next generation who will repeat the cycle.

The backdrop to this story is the endless repetition of the seasons — “spring returns and the first green shoots force their way through the melting snows” — which gives the cycle a natural inevitability that reflects and echoes back to us the static conservatism of our age.

But it wasn’t always like this — and for Christmas I want to tell the story of the far more larky and chaotic age of animal programmes that came before in the 1970s and early 1980s.

It is The Age of the Talented Pet. It was a way of portraying animals on TV that was not only very funny — but was also equally a powerful ideological expression of the politics and aspirations of the time. I don’t think this has been properly recognised and I would like to set the record straight.


The problem was that by the end of the 1960s more and more ordinary people didn’t want to be patronised by the upper middle class elites in Britain and kept in their place. They didn’t want to be told what was the right way to think and behave — because that somehow implied that the elites knew what was right, and so were cleverer than everyone else.

This rebellious feeling rose up among many ordinary people in the 1970s and would later be co-opted by the right under the term “aspirational”. At its heart was a conviction among those people that they were just as clever as the patronising elites.

And as this feeling rose up so did a new type of animal programme on British television. Talented pets were animals who wanted to be as clever as their owners and took great delight in showing that they could do many of the things that humans could — like talk or sing or dance or even skateboard.


From one perspective these short films — which were predominantly made by the programmes Nationwide and That’s Life — can be seen as deeply patronising to the owners of the animals. But they didn’t patronise the animals — what comes over in most of them is the sheer joy and liberation that the animals clearly feel as they behave in sometimes the silliest ways — just like humans.


But as well as being odd expressions of the new aspirations of the time, these films also express the sheer anarchic silliness of the late 1970s and early 80s.

I think that that silliness was one of the products of the economic collapse and political chaos of the post-war planned society — a free-wheeling individualism born out of a general realisation that the elites who were in charge didn’t have a clue any longer about what was going on. And it was by no means inevitable that the right would grab hold of that individualism. If the left had had the imagination and courage — they too could have taken hold of it and steered Britain in a completely different direction.


Then — in the 1980s — the talented pets receded in TV. They still exist, like Pudsey the dancing dog and Simba from Top Dog model, but their place at the top table of TV culture was taken by the epic, conservative moral stories of the wildlife programmes and series.

We have lived with that portrayal of animals for thirty years, mixed in with programmes like When Animals Attack — that was started by Fox TV in the 1990s, that also has an implicit conservative message — the eternal law of the jungle.

But maybe that age is coming to an end as the boosters for our conservative age sound ever more uncertain. And at the same time the animal programming on the BBC is weakening and being challenged by the kingdom of Youtube with its wonderful range of stupid animals doing very silly things.

If animals on TV are the innocent ideological expressions of our age — maybe it is possible to look to the sneezing panda and its allied operatives on Youtube as the harbingers of what is to come. The return of the revolutionary libertarianism that was glimpsed with the joyous, anarchic talented pets of the late 1970s, before that moment of silly freedom was co-opted by the forces of reaction and market conservatism.

The original post is chock-full of animal videos.