Diversity’s Many Meanings

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Diversity has multiple meanings which get conflated, Steve Sailer notes:

The first type of “diversity” is in settings where sheer talent matters most and the talent comes from all over the world. For example, the richest baseball team, the New York Yankees, has players from all over the world. For example, they just signed the best Japanese pitcher to a $22 million per year contract. Hiring people who don’t speak a common language doesn’t do much for clubhouse morale, but that’s probably overrated versus sheer individual skill in winning baseball games. The glamor of the diversity of the Yankees then sheds itself onto other, quite different uses of the term.

The second use of the terms “diversity” means to hire the less talented and less productive. For example, the Yankees very rarely hire Asian Indians or even Mexicans. And they sure don’t let any women on their team. But nobody notices and nobody cares. But if you mentioned the fact that women and, surprisingly, Mexicans aren’t really good enough to play much for the Yankees, people would get mad at you.

The third use is to refer to certain favored groups and to not refer to certain unfavored groups. For example, hiring a white NFL cornerback would, technically, increase diversity at that position, but nobody cares. Whites simply don’t count as diversity, even when they should.

The fourth use is to assume that diversity means that 1+1+1=4. If, say, the Yankees have some players who speak English, some who speak Spanish, and some who speak Japanese, they will play better as a team than if, all else being equal, they all spoke one language. Why? Due to the synergistical magic of diversity. This is the theme of many of the corporate image ads you see during the Olympics and golf tournaments.

The Prison Budget

Monday, February 24th, 2014

As the prison population has swelled, so has the prison budget:

In 1980, the U.S. spent $6.9 billion a year on its prison system; today, it is $80 billion. If you include the entire system of mass incarceration — judicial, legal, police — we spend an estimated $260 billion per year on on so-called corrections.

The costs of incarceration on an individual scale range from $21,000 a year (in a federal, minimum security prison) to a little more than $47,000 per year in California.

A Semi-Barbarian Upstart

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Alexander’s Macedonia was a late developer, on the periphery of the Greek city-states:

Moreover, it was essentially an inland state, not a maritime power; its strength was its extensive agricultural lands, and its access to the plains with their horses and pastoralists.

To the south was the Greek peninsula, broken by mountains and inlets of the sea, a land of walled city-states. Rarely able to expand their land frontiers, they engaged in maritime expeditions, lived by trade and booty, and by sending out colonies around the Mediterranean littoral. The same pattern held on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea. The result was that Greek city-states could rarely conquer each other. Some did become more prestigious than others, and forced the others into coalitions. This Athens did when it became the center for the massed fleet that repelled the Persian invasions, subsequently becoming a quasi-empire in their own right collecting duties to support the fleet.*  But as land powers, the city-states were essentially deadlocked.

*The cultural prestige of Athens starts at this time. Before 460 BC, Greek poets, philosophers, mathematicians and scientists were spread all over; they concentrate in Athens when it becomes the biggest, richest, and most powerful city. The cultural fame of Athens is a result of its geopolitical rise. It became the place where all the culture-producing networks came together, and remained the place for centuries as the leading networks reproduced themselves.

Simultaneously, the Persian empire had reached the limits of its logistics and its administrative capacity for holding itself together. There was no longer any real danger of Persian expansion into Greece; it was just another player in the multi-player situation. The Persian invasions were in 490 and 480-79 BC; both failed because the Persians could not sustain an army across the water against navies equal to what they could raise. The last Persian forces on the European side of the straits were thrown out by 465 BC. The Athenians played up the Persian threat as the basis of their own power, down to about 400, when they lost a long domestic war of coalitions.**

**The defeat of Athens by Sparta was not the end of democracy, or anything of the sort. Greek history is dominated by Athenian propaganda, because the great historians of this period — Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon — were all Athenians or sympathizers. It helped that Socrates and Plato were Athenians, and their dialogues make the Athenian scene come alive, as do the comedies of Aristophanes. That is why we moderns, styling ourselves inheritors to Greek democracy and science, have such a narrow Athenian peep-hole view into the history of Greece.

The period from the 390s BC down to the rise of Macedonia in the 340s, is one where numerous powers and coalitions vie with each other. Sparta, Athens, Thebes, the Boeotian league, the Phocians, all have a try at becoming hegemon. The term itself is revealing: it means, not conqueror or overlord, but leader, preponderant influence. The situation has settled into a multi-sided, unstably ongoing set of conflicts.

Outside the deadlocked heartland, there was opportunity for a marchland state to grow. Since the major players had their attention locked in, a peripheral actor could grow in its own environment, becoming dominant through a local elimination contest. This is what the Macedonian kingdom did. First its settled agricultural zone expanded inland to incorporate nearby hill tribes, recruiting them into a victoriously expanding army; then growing north and east into Thrace (what is now Bulgaria and European Turkey) by beating barbarian kings and weak tribal coalitions. Philip, who grew up as a hostage in one of the civilized city-states, had an eye for what counted there; after returning to Macedon, he made a point of conquering barbarian land that had gold mines, as well as seaports as far as the straits, where the grain trade passed upon which Athens and the other Greek city-states depended. In short, he started by becoming the big frog in a small pond, while learning the military and cultural techniques of his more civilized neighbours, and combining them with the advantages he could see on the periphery.

At a point reached around 340 BC, the city-states woke up to find that their biggest threat was not Persia, nor one of their own civilized powers, but a semi-barbarian upstart, whose armies and resources were now bigger and better than their own.

The Desolation of Tolkien

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

John C. Wright loved the first Hobbit movie and hated, hated, hated the second with a nerdrageous passion that knows no sense of proportion — enough, that is, to dub it The Desolation of Tolkien.

A Case for the Landed Aristocracy

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Sean Gabb presents a case for the landed aristocracy of Great Britain:

The whiggish ideologies that dominated the century were strongly believed by the ruling class, and were beneficial to the people as a whole. But English liberty was largely a collateral advantage of the aristocratic coups of 1660 and 1688. Self-help and a high degree of personal freedom were allowed to flourish ultimately because the enlightened self-interest of those who ruled England maintained a strong bias against any growth of an administrative state – the sort of state that would be able to challenge aristocratic dominance. People were left alone – often in vicious pursuits – because any regulation would have endangered the settlements of 1660-88.

Our understanding of English history in the nineteenth century is shaped by the beliefs of the contending parties in that century. The liberals and early socialists demanded an enlarged franchise and administrative reform, because they claimed this would give ordinary people a controlling voice in government. The conservatives claimed that extending the franchise would lead to the election of demagogues and levellers by a stupid electorate.

This does not explain what happened. Liberal democracy was a legitimising ideology for the establishment of a new ruling class – a ruling class of officials and associated commercial interests that drew power and status from an enlarged state. The British State was not enlarged for the welfare of ordinary people. The alleged welfare of ordinary people was merely an excuse for the enlargement of the British State. The real beneficiaries were the sort of people who thought highly of Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

If this analysis is correct, men like John Stuart Mill and even Richard Cobden were at best useful idiots for the bad side in a struggle over which group of special interests should rule England. The real heroes for libertarians were men like Lord Eldon and Colonel Sibthorp, who resisted all change, or men like Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Salisbury, who, after the battle for “reform” was lost, found ways to moderate and, in the short term, to neutralise the movement of power from one group to another. Or the greatest hero of all was Lord Elcho, who kept the Liberty and Property League going until he was nearly a hundred, and who fought a bitter rearguard action for an aristocratic ascendency that was intimately connected with the rights to life, liberty and property of ordinary people.

(Hat tip to Anomaly UK.)

Outrageous Outfits

Friday, February 21st, 2014

When personal income tax rates were higher, executive compensation came in the form of lavish perks, which weren’t taxed. Now Swedish pop sensation Abba admits that its outrageous outfits were part of its tax strategy:

Reflecting on the group’s sartorial record in a new book, Björn Ulvaeus said: “In my honest opinion we looked like nuts in those years. Nobody can have been as badly dressed on stage as we were.”


According to Abba: The Official Photo Book, published to mark 40 years since they won Eurovision with Waterloo, the band’s style was influenced in part by laws that allowed the cost of outfits to be deducted against tax – so long as the costumes were so outrageous they could not possibly be worn on the street.

I suspect that British tax law at the time was rather similar:

Elton John in Feather Outfit

(Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.)

The Macedonian Army

Friday, February 21st, 2014

When Alexander the Great conquered the world — the Persian Empire, that is — he brought his father’s not-quite-Greek army:

The Macedonian army was an organizational improvement on the Greek hoplite army. The Greeks had developed the practice of fighting in solid ranks, forming a combat block of shields, armor, and spears. The whole aim of battle was to keep one’s troops together in a rectangular mass; with their heavy armor, they could not be hurt by arrows, stones or javelins — a Roman version was called a Tortoise because it was impervious to anything.

The Greek phalanx, developed in the 600s and 500s BC, was a huge shift from the traditional mode of fighting depicted in the Iliad (around 750 BC). The traditional form could be called the hero-berserker style. An army consisted of noisy crowds of soldiers clustered behind their leaders, who didn’t really give orders but led by example. Heroes like Achilles, Hector, and Ajax would work themselves into a frenzy, roaring out onto the battlefield between the armies, sometimes fighting a hero from the other side, but more often going on a rampage through the lesser troops, cowing them into a losing posture and mowing them down with sheer momentum, i.e. emotional domination. This berserker style remained the way “barbarian” armies fought — that is to say, armies that did not have disciplined phalanxes. The hero-berserker could never beat a Greek or Roman phalanx that stood its ground; the Greeks were always victorious over the barbarians to the north and east of them, and so were the Romans over their respective hinterlands.

On the other hand, when one Greek phalanx met another, the result was a shoving match. Unless one side broke ranks and ran away, few soldiers were killed. Most battles were stalemates, and city-states could avoid combat if they wished, sheltering behind their walls. The main purpose of cities all over the ancient Middle East, many of them just fortified towns, were these defensive walls, impervious to berserkers. Phalanxes only fought by arrangement, when both sides assembled on chosen ground for a set-piece battle.

The main weakness of the hoplite phalanx was that it was slow-moving. Hoplites were heavy troops, quite literally from the weight of armor they carried. An enemy that hit and ran away could harass a Greek phalanx but would be beaten if it stayed to fight head-to-head. This was brought home to the Greeks when Xenophon returned from a campaign in Persia during 401-399 BC, writing up their experiences in his famous Expedition of the Ten Thousand. A contender for the Persian throne had hired them as mercenaries; but once they reached the Mesopotamian heartland, the Persian leader was killed in battle, and the Ten Thousand had to fight their way back, first against the Persian army and then against primitive hill tribes on their path to the Black Sea. The Persians troops were somewhere between the berserker style and the disciplined Greeks. They relied on large masses to impress their enemy into submission; typically these were grouped by ethnicity, each with their own type of weapons. Among these weapons of terror were rows of chariots with scythes attached to their axles; sometimes there were war-elephants. Troops recruited from tribal regions were used on the flanks, as clusters of stone-slingers, archers, and javelin-throwers; these were light troops, without armor since they fought from a distance. The Persian armies that Alexander fought had the same shape.

None of these troops could beat a disciplined phalanx that held its ground; the chariots could get close only if they ran onto the phalanx’s spears, which horses are unwilling to do; elephants, too, are hard to control and shy away from spears. The Greeks soon recognized they could beat armies of almost any size if they stuck together. A bigger problem was that enemy light troops, and attacks by tribal forces with arrows and slings, could be repelled by their armor and discipline, but hoplites were too heavy to chase them down and keep them from repeating the attack.

The solution was to add specialized units around the phalanx; hiring their own barbarian archers and slingers, and adding cavalry, mainly for the purpose of finishing off the enemy when they are running away. But in the Greek homeland, most battles were simply phalanx-on-phalanx; in the democratic city-states, this was as much a display of egalitarian citizenship as a military formation.

Philip’s Macedonian army, which he put together between 360 and 336 BC, incorporated all the most advanced improvements. Most importantly, he added heavy cavalry, operating on both flanks with the phalanx in the center. Philip’s cavalry were not just for chasing-down after the enemy broke ranks, but for breaking the enemy formation itself. Philip was one of the first to perfect a combined-arms battle tactic: the phalanx would engage and stymie the enemy’s massed formation, whereupon the cavalry would break it open on the flanks or rear.

This was one of the advantages of Macedonia’s marchland location; having only recently transitioned from tribal pastoralists to settled agriculture, it could combine military styles. Philip’s phalanx was recruited from the peasant farmers, his cavalry from the aristocracy, used to spending their time riding and hunting. Philip’s — and thus Alexander’s — cavalry were called the Companions; they were the elite, the carousing drinking-buddies of their leader. The Companion cavalry, usually on the right wing of battle, was complemented by another cavalry on the left wing, recruited from the Thessalian plains people, but commanded by Macedonian officers.

In addition to improving on the best-of-the-barbarians, Philip also borrowed from the most scientifically advanced Greeks, the colonies in Sicily, for techniques of attacking fortresses. These included catapults and engines, underground mining (to undermine walls), siege ladders and protected roofing to cover the de-construction engineers as they worked on the fortress.

Ukrainian Protesters’ Backers

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The popular I am a Ukrainian video may have some powerful backers:

The video, entitled I am a Ukrainian, already has over 3 million views. It features an attractive woman insistently claiming that the Ukrainian uprising is solely about freedom and democracy.

The video is typically glib and simplified emotional propaganda which purports to explain that “there is only one reason” behind the protests in Ukraine, a bald faced lie which ignores the multi-faceted geopolitical factors behind the uprising, which center on the tug of war between the United States, the EU and Russia.

The woman encourages viewers to “help us only by telling this story….only by sharing this video,” thereby framing the debate around the naive narrative that the crisis is solely about Ukrainians wanting “freedom,” and in essence blacklisting the real reasons behind the western-instigated revolt, which focus on the geopolitical isolation of Russia.

The origins of the video are not quite as ‘grass roots’ as is portrayed. The clip was produced by the team behind A Whisper to a Roar, a documentary about the “fight for democracy” all over the world, which was funded by Prince Moulay Hicham of Morocco. The “inspiration” behind the documentary was none other than Larry Diamond, a Council on Foreign Relations member. The Council on Foreign Relations is considered to be America’s “most influential foreign-policy think tank” and has deep connections with the U.S. State Department.

Diamond has also worked closely with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The National Endowment for Democracy is considered to be the CIA’s “civilian arm” and has been deeply embroiled in innumerable instigated uprisings, attempted coups and acts of neo-colonial regime change since its creation in 1983, including the contrived 2004 “Orange Revolution” that brought US puppet Viktor Yushchenko to power in Ukraine.

Larry Diamond also played an instrumental role in the Arab Spring under the auspices of the NED, a series of supposedly grass roots revolts that were in fact organized and managed by some of the most powerful western institutions on the planet.

Diamond’s connection to the viral “I am a Ukrainian” video clearly suggests that the clip is a crude effort to convince an unthinking public that the Ukrainian uprising is completely organic and is not being instigated by western powers, when the opposite is in fact the case. The clip is reminiscent of the Kony 2012 scam, where a viral video utilized simplified propaganda and emotional manipulation to convince millions of people of the necessity of U.S. military involvement in Africa.

In a Huffington Post interview, the creator of the video admits that he was in Ukraine “preparing a film on democracy” before the protests even started.

Providing absolute confirmation that the video is a carefully thought out public relations stunt, the woman in the video was immediately invited to appear on CNN with Anderson Cooper in a segment that will be broadcast tonight. Cooper and CNN aggressively pushed the Kony 2012 hoax until it fell apart when one of the directors had a public breakdown. Cooper was also heavily involved in promoting the fake “Syria Danny” hoax that relied on staged footage to push for U.S. military intervention in Syria.

With clear evidence of protesters being paid amidst accusations that they were armed by the United States, the narrative behind the Ukraine crisis is clearly more complex than a mere grass roots revolt against corruption. The pro-EU protesters are bizarrely seeking closer ties with a European Union infamous for its institutionalized corruption, malfeasance which costs almost the same each year as Ukraine’s entire GDP.

Many of the activists taking over government buildings in Kiev are also from the Spilna Sprava group, which is an organization funded and supported by billionaire globalist George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

The stage was set for the Ukraine revolt to become violent in December when US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland announced that the U.S. would invest $5 billion in order to help Ukrainians achieve “a good form of government.” The true nature of that government was revealed earlier this month when leaked phone conversations emerged of Nuland conspiring with US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt to pick Ukraine’s future puppet leaders, making good on John McCain’s vow to neutralize Russian influence.

Millions of people will never know the truth behind the Ukraine uprising because it is somewhat more complex than an attractive girl making glib statements about freedom and democracy for 2 minutes on a YouTube video. This is how propaganda works — the simpler the better.

Shame and War

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Thucydides saw three motives for going to war: honor, fear, and interest.

The Chinese Grand Marshal’s Methods cites four motives — glory, profit, shame, and death — T. Greer notes:

Some of these match up quite closely to Thucydides’ expression. “Profit” finds its way onto both lists, while the Marshal’s Methods‘ “death” states clearly what men most “fear.” It is more difficult to find Thucydides’s “honor” among the Marshal’s Four Preservations. Both “glory” and “shame” seem to fit the bill, and it would be easy to conclude this matching game by concluding that the Marshal’s Methods simply draws attention to two different aspects of honor and leave the matter at that.

I ask my readers not to do this. Considering each of these elements separately exposes some of the biases in the Western — and especially, American — patterns of thought. Shame, for example, a concept so central to both daily interactions and high politics across Asia, holds little sway in America. When it does register in the public consciousness it is usually in reference to some crusade to deny it any influence: thus a recent series of viral videos featuring overweight women dancing their hearts out is titled the “No Body Shame Campaign,” while the word “shaming” has been largely appropriated to mean any bigoted sort of criticism you think shouldn’t be tolerated (e.g. “slut-shaming”).

The ancient Greek sense of honor was a very public emotion. Those living in the honor culture of Thucydides’ day believed that honor not earned was shame deserved. Not so for those living a Christianized, post-Enlightenment democracy! Americans have a very different conception of honor than our classical forebears, and an even weaker sense sense of shame. In American discourse, shame is something you stand up against, not something expected to move or motivate you.

Glory is much easier to understand. The desire to win, to compete, to do great deeds and be lauded for them, permeates American culture. It is such a fundamental part of our world view that we sometimes forget that this drive to be undeniably better than the rest is not a universal desire.

Writes Richard Nisbett:

“An experiment by Steven Heine and his colleagues captures the difference between the Western push to feel good about the self and the Asian drive for self improvement. The experimenters asked Canadian and Japanese students to take a bogus “creativity” test and then gave the students “feedback” indicating that they had done very well or very badly. The experimenters then secretly observed how log the participants worked on a similar task. The Canadians worked longer on the task if they succeeded; the Japanese worked longer if they failed.”

There are large parts of the world that do not think — and more importantly — do not feel like Americans do. There are places where shame moves men to do heroic things and pressures them to commit heinous acts. As the Grand Marshal suggests, shame lies at the scarred heart of as many battlefields as interest or profit.

What made Alexander great?

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

What made Alexander great? Randall Collins answers with this list:

  1. His father’s army and geopolitical position
  2. Tiger Woods training
  3. The target for takeover
  4. Greek population explosion and mercenaries
  5. Alexander’s victory formula

Alexander is famous for having conquered the Persian Empire, but it’s his father who prepared the expedition — only to be assassinated at the farewell party.

Alexander famously received his education from Aristotle — but his real education was his military apprenticeship under his father.

The target of his conquest, the Persian Empire, was only able to be taken over because the Persians had successfully forged an empire — and could easily be replaced by another conqueror.

At this time, the Greeks had too many armed young men looking for work — often in Persia.

Collins suggests that Alexander’s victory formula was to establish emotional domination as quickly as possible.

The Super Bowl for ICBM Crews

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Popular Mechanics describes the Super Bowl for ICBM crews:

Three times a year, the Air Force randomly selects a Minuteman III ICBM from the missile fields, removes the nuclear ordnance, trucks the missile to California, loads it with telemetry packages, and fires it at the Kwajalein atoll, 4700 miles away.

Bizarre Shadowy Paper-Based Payment System Being Rolled Out Worldwide

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

How cash would be described in the press if it were invented today:

Bizarre Shadowy Paper-Based Payment System Being Rolled Out Worldwide

New York, February 17, 2014

World governments announced a plan today to allow citizens to anonymously carry parts of their wealth on their person and exchange it with others using small pieces of colorful paper printed with nationalistic and Masonic imagery along with numbers that purportedly represent the amount of wealth each piece of paper represents (if the paper is not a counterfeit). These pieces of paper are formally a “note” from each nation’s central bank, but they are also called “cash” by many – this is a technical matter that is too complex to cover in our basic primer; Suffice it to say, that it is representative of the complexity and user-unfriendliness of this new system.

‘Bills’ – A complex construct

These pieces of papers (also known as “bills”, “dollar bills”, “George Washingtons” or “Dead Presidents” among the shadowy community of anti-banking libertarians who have been the primary users of cash to date) will differ from country to country and are not redeemable outside national borders.

In what will come as a surprise to generations who have grown up with calculators and computers, ‘bills’ only come in fixed denominations, requiring users to maintain a large number of these pieces of paper that must be aggregated to execute a transaction and then re-aggregated to ‘make change,’ a complex process of returning to the payee the excess of the payment using yet other bills. (Don’t worry if this sounds complex, we had trouble understanding it ourselves at first and it is certainly not ready for the average consumer in its current form.)

Mike Smith, VP of Employee Training at Sears has said: “I cannot imagine training tens of thousands of our employees to use cash, verify that it is genuine and learn to ‘make change’ without making errors. This is going to require a wholesale installation of special change-making hardware – the so-called ‘cash registers’ – and millions of dollars of employee training, while creating long lines and delays for consumers. Furthermore, we would need to adopt new security procedures and armed guards to avoid theft of the physical bills while in the store or during transport to our bank. We can’t see ourselves adopting cash under these conditions.”

Perfect for Criminals

The launch of cash has provoked an immediate reaction from law-enforcement agencies worldwide that universally condemned the development.

“Cash is a 100% anonymous and untraceable payments technology. It is like a weapon of mass destruction launched against law enforcement,” said Mike Smith, the recently confirmed FBI Director. “It is the perfect payment mechanism for criminals, drug cartels, terrorists, prostitution rings and money launderers. We don’t know how we will be able to combat such a technology and fully expect that a new generation of super-criminals will emerge, working in the shadows of a world where they can conduct their illicit affairs without leaving a trace.”

Banking Superintendent of New York State, Mike Smith had the following to say: “I can’t think of any reason that a law-abiding individual would want to use cash. At a bare minimum, we believe there should be a licensing procedure for individuals or businesses that plan to use cash, a ‘Cash-License’ as it were. This license will limit ‘cash’ to trust-worthy individuals who keep detailed auditable records of all their cash transactions in order to keep New York safe from criminals.”

Others have concerns about forgery and counterfeiting. “Ultimately, even with all the fancy inks, cash is just a piece of paper. We fully expect criminal groups and rogue nation states to print fake cash in order to profit or to disrupt the economies of their enemies,” said Mike Smith, an analyst at Stratfor. “In the interim, we are certain that cash will trade a discount in the real-world, given the risk to a counterparty of accepting a forged piece of paper; no doubt cash is a huge step back from the modern cryptography in place throughout our current financial system.”

No Consumer Protection

Though hard to imagine, cash operates with no consumer protection at all. If your ‘bills’ are stolen or lost, they are gone forever.

“I just don’t understand why there is nobody that I can call to reinstate my cash if I lose it,” says Mike Smith, a businessman from Toledo. “What type of idiotic wealth and payment system doesn’t maintain transaction and ownership records?”

Moreover, there appears to be no authentication mechanism associated with cash payments or transfers, let alone one that matches modern security standards. Once someone has gained physical control of your ‘bills’, they are free to spend or use them as they wish and there is no way to reverse the transaction, stop them or even identify who has stolen them.

Even simple destruction of the bill, which, as you recall, is just a piece of paper, could result in losses. According to the Director of the newly founded “Bureau of Engraving and Printing,” mutilated ‘bills’ that are more than 51% destroyed must be mailed in for a special investigation that will determine if they will be replaced or not.

The Invention Machine

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

John Nottingham and John Spirk now lead a team of 70 inventors, tinkerers and support staff out of a decommissioned Christian Science church in Cleveland, where they’ve developed products like the Swiffer SweeperVac, Crest Spinbrush, Dirt Devil vacuum and nearly 1,000 other patented products:

Since 1972, Nottingham Spirk claims, products it developed have generated more than $45 billion in sales.

Nottingham Spirk has proven willing to take equity stakes as well. Its biggest score: Dr. John’s, which sold electric toothbrushes for $5 (based on a spinning lollipop design) when the going rate was $50. Procter & Gamble bought Dr. John’s for $475 million in 2001 (Nottingham and Spirk each walked away with an estimated $40 million on that one). Heady stuff for a guy like Nottingham who, as a college intern, ate lunch by the pond of the General Motors Technical Center, envisioning a corporate life for himself–until one of the company’s top designers disabused him. “He said, ‘John, this is the greatest R&D center in the world,’ ” Nottingham recalls. “ I’m just drinking it in. I’m just saying, Wow, I’m in heaven, feeding the ducks. Then he dropped a bomb on me. He says, ‘It’s amazing that the most innovative ideas that General Motors has come up with have come from the outside, small companies.’ And I stopped in my tracks, the crumbs going to the ducks stopped in midair. And at that point my life changed. I said if I’m going to be effective, it’s not going to be inside General Motors. It’s going to be outside.”

He returned to school for his final year at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he told his first-year hall mate John Spirk about his new dream–reinventing the world’s largest companies rather than joining one of them. After graduation GM came knocking with a job opening for Nottingham, and Huffy Bicycles had one for Spirk. They rejected the offers and became co-CEOs of their own shop instead.

“There’s a famous Bill Gates quote. They asked him where does he worry about competition from,” says Spirk, 65. “They’re thinking all these high-tech, you know, and he says I worry about two guys in a garage. So what do we do? We graduated school, and two guys moved into a garage.”

Their big break came when they approached Rotodyne, an Ohio manufacturer that mainly made bedpans using a cheap-plastic shaping process called rotational molding. Nottingham and Spirk helped the company use its rotational molding process to make not only bedpans but also cheap toys for children. The bedpan company shifted its focus and created a new brand: Little Tikes, whose indestructible red-and-yellow cars have become inescapable landmarks of toddler culture in backyards across America.

Nottingham Spirk's Greatest Hits

Good Smoking v. Bad Smoking

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Steve Sailer notes how hard it can be to hit the libertarian sweet spot:

I was driving through the Hollywood Hills on Laurel Canyon yesterday, which now is bedecked in enormous number of signs announcing that smoking is banned in the canyon. There’s been a drought for a year and a half, so somebody tossing a smoldering butt out the window might send the small patches of indigenous forest left up in flames, and some of the increasingly seedy houses along the two-lane winding highway, too.

The most interesting sign was on the little (and extremely expensive) convenience mart in the depths of Laurel Canyon. In the spirit of Frank Zappa, the sign emphasized that the smoking ban included “spliffs,” which, these days, needs restating. With marijuana legalization ongoing, dope smoking is being transformed in the (weed-addled) popular mind from a vice to something that’s good for you and probably the environment (you couldn’t buy it a Medical Marijuana dispensary if it wasn’t medicine, right?). Similarly, all the cultural opposition to smoking shouldn’t apply to dope smoking. It’s totally different. It couldn’t cause a brushfire. It’s good smoking, not Bad Smoking.

As the marijuana legalization movement strengthens, you can see hints of how hard it is to hit the libertarian sweet spot where something is simultaneously legalized but remains rare and distasteful. People, especially young people, pick up messages from society about what is winning and what is losing more than they pick up nuanced messages. Smoking tobacco is losing so it seems reasonable to ban smoking it even in your own car while driving through a brushfire zone. Smoking marijuana is winning, so it doesn’t seem like the ban on smoking in Laurel Canyon applies to dope.

There Are Whales Alive Today Who Were Born Before Moby Dick Was Written

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Some of the bowhead whales in the icy waters off of Alaska today are over 200 years old — meaning they were born before Moby Dick was written:

Bowheads seem to be recovering from the harvest of Yankee commercial whaling from 1848 to 1915, which wiped out all but 1,000 or so animals. Because the creatures can live longer than 200 years — a fact George discovered when he found an old stone harpoon point in a whale — some of the bowheads alive today may have themselves dodged the barbed steel points of the Yankee whalers.