Dunlop Mindset

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

The Dunlop Mindset study was conducted on April 13, 2015, in partnership with University College London’s Professor Vincent Walsh at GSK’s Human Performance Lab:

The study contained two groups. The first group consisted of five elite athletes and the second group consisted of five members of public. Both groups were subject to exactly the same tests.

Four tests in total defined the results. The first two examined performance under physical pressure and the next two tests exposed how participants held up under mental pressure or distractions including when they had to assess risk.

Before [physical] stress there was no great difference in the score between the two groups [on the visual search test]. They both took an average of around 630 milliseconds to detect the target.

After stress the athletes took 512 milliseconds and the non-elites 932 milliseconds.

The athletes improved by 11%, whilst the non-elites got 60% worse

After stress the non-elites took 82% longer

Ad Astra School

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

In an interview for Chinese television, Elon Musk mentions (at 24:45) that he created his own school to educate his five boys — and the children of other SpaceX employees, too:

Silk Road Creator Ross Ulbricht Sentenced to Life in Prison

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

On Friday Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his role in creating and running Silk Road’s billion-dollar, anonymous black market for drugs, Wired reports:

Judge Katherine Forrest gave Ulbricht the most severe sentence possible, beyond what even the prosecution had explicitly requested. The minimum Ulbricht could have served was 20 years.

His true crime:

“The stated purpose [of the Silk Road] was to be beyond the law. In the world you created over time, democracy didn’t exist. You were captain of the ship, the Dread Pirate Roberts,” she told Ulbricht as she read the sentence, referring to his pseudonym as the Silk Road’s leader. “Silk Road’s birth and presence asserted that its…creator was better than the laws of this country. This is deeply troubling, terribly misguided, and very dangerous.”

In addition to his prison sentence, Ulbricht was also ordered to pay a massive restitution of more than $183 million, what the prosecution had estimated to be the total sales of illegal drugs and counterfeit IDs through the Silk Road — at a certain bitcoin exchange rate — over the course of its time online. Any revenue from the government sale of the bitcoins seized from the Silk Road server and Ulbricht’s laptop will be applied to that debt.


Jonathan Gottschall’s Fighting Words

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Jonathan Gottschall tried to save literary studies. Instead he ruined his career:

A “distinguished fellow” at Washington & Jefferson College (he doesn’t teach or get paid, but he does get to use the campus library), Gottschall has had his work cited in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Chronicle Review, Nature, Science, Scientific American, and The New York Times, which in 2010 ran a photo of him under the headline “Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know.”

Today he characterizes his academic career in a different way: “Dead in the water.”


The story of how things went so wrong for a promising young scholar is one of disciplinary politics, contentious methodological debates, and the respective statures of the sciences and the humanities. Above all it is the story of how brash literary Darwinists and evolutionary theorists attempted to “save” English departments — by forcing them to adopt scientific methodology — and were, on the whole, repelled.


He was a graduate student in English at Binghamton University in 1996, when one day he picked up a copy of Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape for 50 cents. He was at the time reading the Iliad in a seminar and found that Morris’s zoological method — studying human beings in light of their evolutionary needs and desires — broke open the poem. Suddenly characters’ violent behavior — their petty jealousies, vendettas, rapes, and homicides — made sense in light of the evolutionary impulses for social dominance, desirable mates, and material resources.

When Gottschall proposed writing on Homer from an evolutionary angle, though, his professor discouraged him. Instead, in 1990s literary-studies fashion, he wrote a Lacanian analysis. (Reflecting on the incident, he says that was to his “great shame.”) It was only a temporary capitulation. He insisted on writing his dissertation on Homer, male violence, and evolution, and did so in “de facto exile” from the English department. His dissertation committee was made up of a classicist, Zola Pavlovskis-Petit; an economist, Haim Ofek; and an evolutionary biologist, David Sloan Wilson, and he received his Ph.D. in 2000.

In 2005, Gottschall edited a volume of essays with Wilson, The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative. The collection, to which Gottschall contributed a critique of social constructivism in feminist studies of fairy tales, was rejected by some 20 publishers before Northwestern University Press accepted it. In his foreword, E.O. Wilson, the sociobiologist and author of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998), laid out the stakes. If “naturalistic theorists” like Gottschall are right, Wilson wrote, “and not only human nature but its outermost literary productions can be solidly connected to biological roots, it will be one of the great events of intellectual history.”

Gottschall had two more books published in 2008: The Rape of Troy (Cambridge University Press), which is an evolutionary reading of Homer, and Literature, Science, and a New Humanities (Palgrave Macmillan), which is part manifesto for the adoption of scientific theories and methods in literary studies, and part case studies that perform such work. Gottschall analyzes, for example, the language of male and female attractiveness in folk tales and also attempts to determine if romantic love is a literary universal. His answer: Signs point to yes.

In the 1990s, says Joseph Carroll, a literary Darwinist who is a professor of English at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, the idea of incorporating evolutionary biology into literary studies “was a broad general program; nobody knew how to put it into practice.” He regards Literature, Science, and a New Humanities, in which Gottschall tagged, coded, and quantified language, as a proof of concept. Given adequate academic resources, that kind of work could take root and advance the scientific study of literature.

The book opens as a polemic in which Gottschall diagnoses a “thick malaise” in the humanities and describes literary studies as a field beset by “moral vanity” and “contempt for reality.” He calls for “upheaval,” arguing that “the alternative is to let literature study keep spinning off into a corner of irrelevance to die.” Those are not the words of a scholar looking to ingratiate himself into the profession.

In the atrium of the science center, Gottschall explains his combative tone: “Everyone agreed the field was deteriorating, on the verge of imploding.” His mind-set at the time was, “How do we save the sinking ship?,” he says, his voice echoing off the marble. Then as now, the economic situation for literature Ph.D.’s was perilous, morale low, and, Gottschall believes, intellectual progress had stalled.

Gottschall’s work started to receive attention. His books were blurbed by E.O. Wilson and Steven Pinker, the Harvard University psychologist. The New York Times Magazine’s 2005 article, titled “The Literary Darwinists,” gave momentum to the emerging field. “I was like, ‘OK, well, this is going to blow it open,’” Gottschall recalls thinking. “It was a pretty giddy feeling.”

That excitement never transferred to the academy. While “literary Darwinists” and apostles of consilience like Gottschall were embraced by the news media and popular press, English professors gave them a chillier reception. “First people tried to ignore us, thinking we would die off of asphyxiation,” says Brian Boyd, a Nabokov scholar and professor of English at the University of Auckland. “We battled on.”

Remembering the “devastating and false” ideologies of social Darwinism and eugenics, literary scholars like G. Gabrielle Starr, a professor of English at New York University, were dubious. “Evolution does not have all the answers to all the questions raised by and about works of art, and any claim to the contrary is nonsense,” she wrote in an email. She adds that scholars can “engage with evolution fruitfully in studying literature and other arts without treating it as the key to all mythologies.”

While most in the field ignored Gottschall and company, Jonathan Kramnick, a professor of English at Yale University, engaged them in a Critical Inquiry article in 2011 titled “Against Literary Darwinism.” Its evolutionary psychology, he argued, “is both more controversial as science than they let on and less promising as a basis for criticism than they might wish.”

“Literary Darwinists did not respect the modes of explanation particular to literary studies,” Kramnick says, “not only the close reading and formal analysis of texts but also historical contextualization and the considered engagement with other critics and scholars.” They wanted to junk all of that to concentrate on scientific themes, he says. “Literary studies has its own particular mode of explanation and disciplinary rationale. They wanted to ignore both.”

Six responses — from Carroll; Boyd; Blakey Vermeule, of Stanford University; and Paul Bloom, of Yale, among them — were published in the journal in 2012, ranging from hostility to acceptance, and Kramnick responded. “I get more email about those two articles than about anything else I’ve ever written,” he says, describing much of the correspondence as a version of “Thank you for doing this so I don’t have to do it myself.”

Gottschall, meanwhile, floundered on the job market. In roughly a decade of seeking a stable academic post, he’s had only one formal interview, around seven years ago. It didn’t go well. “Steven Pinker, E.O. Wilson, they have great power, but they don’t have hiring ability in English departments,” he says. “Becoming a scholar was my boyhood dream. It was the great ambition of my life. I devoted about half my life to it, and it was almost entirely rejected. I do feel sad about that. For a while I was really quite heartbroken.”

Why Veterans Miss War

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Sebastian Junger explores why veterans miss war:

Let it grow

Friday, May 29th, 2015

October is the 10th anniversary of Bob Iger’s appointment as Disney’s chief executive, a period that has been defined by acquisitions:

Mr Iger began putting the pieces in place for a Disney revival as soon he was told by the board that he would replace Mr Eisner, contacting Mr Jobs and expressing an interest in doing a deal. By January 2006, just three months after Mr Iger had started as chief executive, Disney bought Pixar in an all-stock deal worth $7.4bn. “I had this instinct that Pixar was the best way to fix and save Disney animation,” Mr Iger says.


The Pixar deal had big similarities with the two other landmark transactions of his tenure, Mr Iger says. As with Pixar, when Disney acquired Marvel and Lucasfilm it did not seek external advice from investment banks. Disney’s own corporate strategy unit, led by its top dealmaker Kevin Mayer, crunched the numbers, while Mr Iger made the approach and the pitch himself. “All three deals began with one-on-one discussions,” says Mr Iger. “I began each one pitching my heart out.”


Disney’s studio acquisitions have also been transformative for the three people who sold their companies to Disney. George Lucas, who sold the rights to the Star Wars franchise to Disney at the end of 2012, has generated a paper profit of $2.2bn on the shares he was given; Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, the largest shareholder in Marvel Entertainment at the time of the sale, has earned a paper profit of $1.7bn. The biggest paper profit has been made by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs. Mr Jobs was the majority shareholder in Pixar, which Disney acquired in an all-stock deal worth $7.4bn in 2006. Today the Jobs stake is worth about $14.3bn.

How to turn a liberal hipster into a capitalist tyrant in one evening

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Zoe Svendsen’s “play” at the Young Vic, titled World Factory, is more of an eye-opening roleplaying game:

The choices were stark: sack a third of our workforce or cut their wages by a third. After a short board meeting we cut their wages, assured they would survive and that, with a bit of cajoling, they would return to our sweatshop in Shenzhen after their two-week break.

But that was only the start. In Zoe Svendsen’s play World Factory at the Young Vic, the audience becomes the cast. Sixteen teams sit around factory desks playing out a carefully constructed game that requires you to run a clothing factory in China. How to deal with a troublemaker? How to dupe the buyers from ethical retail brands? What to do about the ever-present problem of clients that do not pay? Because the choices are binary they are rarely palatable. But what shocked me – and has surprised the theatre – is the capacity of perfectly decent, liberal hipsters on London’s south bank to become ruthless capitalists when seated at the boardroom table.

The classic problem presented by the game is one all managers face: short-term issues, usually involving cashflow, versus the long-term challenge of nurturing your workforce and your client base. Despite the fact that a public-address system was blaring out, in English and Chinese, that “your workforce is your vital asset” our assembled young professionals repeatedly had to be cajoled not to treat them like dirt.

And because the theatre captures data on every choice by every team, for every performance, I know we were not alone. The aggregated flowchart reveals that every audience, on every night, veers towards money and away from ethics.

Svendsen says: “Most people who were given the choice to raise wages – having cut them – did not. There is a route in the decision-tree that will only get played if people pursue a particularly ethical response, but very few people end up there. What we’ve realised is that it is not just the profit motive but also prudence, the need to survive at all costs, that pushes people in the game to go down more capitalist routes.”

This appears to be a revelation to the people involved.

In short, many people have no idea what running a business actually means in the 21st century. Yes, suppliers — from East Anglia to Shanghai — will try to break your ethical codes; but most of those giant firms’ commitment to good practice, and environmental sustainability, is real. And yes, the money is all important. But real businesses will take losses, go into debt and pay workers to stay idle in order to maintain the long-term relationships vital in a globalised economy.

Naturally the Guardian turns this into a call for more regulation.

Re-Instituting Dueling

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Jonathan Gottschall discusses Why Men Fight & Why We Like to Watch on The Art of Manliness podcast and suggests that a re-institution of dueling codes could be a good thing:

One of the cool things I’ve read and, again, in the work with sociologists, is arguments for the re-institution of a dueling culture. For instance, in inner city neighborhoods or in prisons. We’re talking about specifically a culture of boxing duels.

The point is that what you have in an inner city neighborhood or many inner city neighborhoods and certainly in serious prisons are cultures of honor without dueling codes. If you are going to have a culture of honor, a culture where men are incredibly touchy about disrespect and willing to claim respect with physical violence, you don’t want to have that kind of honor culture without a dueling code because you have that kind of honor culture without a dueling code, then you get things like Hatfield-McCoy blood feuds. You get things like prison shankings. You get things like drive-by shootings.

The idea of a culture of boxing duels would be that it makes those other forms of violence dishonorable. You’re branded a coward and you have to eat a lot of shame if you go outside of the dueling code. So I think there’s at least an argument to be made that in certain situations, a re-institution even of dueling codes could be a good thing.

Weightlifting is Anti-Aging

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

The iron pill is good for what ails you, Mangan reminds us:

For example, weightlifting enhances brain function, reverses sarcopenia, and lowers the death rate in cancer survivors. Take this last item, lowering death rate in cancer survivors: garden-variety aerobic exercise had no effect on survival, while resistance training lowered death rates by one third; so at least in this one example, you can see that weight training is a vastly superior form of exercise.

Weightlifting also appears to be superior when it comes to fighting the aging process. Resistance exercise lowers levels of myostatin, which is one of the main ways in which muscle strength and mass are increased, since myostatin negatively regulates muscle strength and mass. Myostatin levels increase with age, which may partially account for loss of muscle mass and frank sarcopenia with aging. Mice that have been genetically engineered to have lower levels of myostatin live about 15% longer than wild-type mice.

Therefore it follows, assuming that the physiology of mice and humans are directly comparable in this regard, that lowering myostatin levels through weightlifting should increase lifespan. (And, as previously noted, branched chain amino acids, creatine, and polyphenols from chocolate and tea also lower myostatin.)

Instantaneity of Communication

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Perfection of the means of communication has meant instantaneity:

But the instantaneity of communication makes free speech and thought difficult if not impossible and for many reasons. Radio extends the range of the casual speaking voice, but it forbids that many should speak. And when what is said has such range of control it is forbidden to speak any but the most acceptable words and notions. Power and control are in all cases paid for by loss of freedom and flexibility.

The Death of Boxing

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

The end of boxing’s Television Era came definitively when Mike Tyson KO’d Michael Spinks in the first round in Atlantic City, on June 27th 1987:

This fight dovetailed with a number of other factors to mark the end of a long transitional era in boxing. The biggest factor was economic. Although this was a closed circuit event seen in theaters, it opened eyes to the potential money of pay-per-view just as the technology was on the horizon. I remember listening to a live sports radio broadcast just after the fight, as some rich guy called into the radio host from what must have been a huge primitive car phone and gave the blow-by-blow. By morning everybody was talking about how many millions of dollars per a second Tyson had made.


Networks were bowing out and premium channels and pay-per-view was coming into vogue. Now boxing was just available some of the time for some of the fans.

By 1997 500 million a year was being spent on pay-per-view boxing events. Boxing was now just about the marketability of big names, and perfect records were paramount. Thanks to the deterioration of Olympic Style amateur boxing as a sport [with zero-clinch tolerance — see Chapter 3 Sidebar — and no points awarded for knockdowns], the rarity of fights between the top men in a given weight class, and the infrequency of fights in general, boxers were relatively less skilled and less exciting than ever in the pro ranks. This period can rightly be seen as the time when boxing matches were largely decided by the matchmaker, with almost no pro bouts and less than half of title bouts being competitive.

The big-name promoters destroyed a sport with dwindling human resources and filled their bank accounts. A sport that began with eight weight classes in the Old Time Era now had 17 weight classes. The sport which once had eight champions now has 153! All of this subdivision of talent came to a crescendo in the 1980s and 90s at the same time that the talent pool had dwindled to a trickle. As of now, the USA, which traditionally supplied most boxers, typically only has one Top 10 heavyweight — and the USA has the biggest people in the world!

Thanks to the foresight of MMA organizations there is still a way to see the two best guys at a given weight fight, but it is not a boxing match. The fact is boxing is on life-support.


Unfortunately, the evidence indicates that boxing’s best days are in the past. What is more, it seems destined to become a marginalized hold-over sport like fencing. Such a fate would be a supreme irony. You see, in the 1920s, Aldo Nadi, greatest fencer alive, and survivor of at least one duel, decried the popularity of boxing, disparaging the fistic art as crude and barbaric and too emotional. That assessment sounds much like the criticisms of MMA by many of the boxing people I know, and by our current best, Floyd Money.

Hopefully Floyd Money does not share Nadi’s gift for prophetic irony.

Why Chuck C. Johnson Was Suspended From Twitter

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Twitter has suspended Charles C. Johnson (@chuckcjohnson) for being on the wrong side of history:

I am an award-winning journalist who has exposed frauds, ended careers, and been profiled in major publications. And now I’m trending on Twitter while my account, @chuckcjohnson, is suspended on Twitter.

Last night I tweeted that I was interested in doing some research on the twitter user, @deray a.k.a. DeRay McKesson.

@Deray is a leader of the anti-cop astroturfing currently hitting the inner city black community.

I’ve already exposed the activist, @ShaunKing, for being a fraud and potentially stealing some money from Tamir Rice. And I’ve been working with the ATF to bring justice to Michael Brown’s pastor who burned down his own church. I sued on my own dime to get Michael Brown’s juvenile records (which we are appealing to the Missouri Supreme Court.)


Twitter doesn’t seem to have a problem with people using their service to coordinate riots.

But they do have a problem with the kind of journalism I do.

Grilling Over Gas vs. Charcoal

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Which is better, grilling over gas or charcoal?

Charcoal purists will try and tell you that their preferred fuel leads to better flavor. This is, well, nonsense.

Your food doesn’t know what’s creating the heat below it, and once charcoal is hot, there aren’t any aromatic compounds left in the coals. According to the food science bible Modernist Cuisine, “Carbon is carbon; as it burns, it imparts no flavor of its own to the food being grilled.”

The characteristic flavor of grilled food comes from the drippings, not the fuel. When those drippings hit the heat source below, the oils, sugars, and proteins burst into smoke and flame. That heat creates new complex molecules that rise in the smoke and warm air to coat the food you’re grilling.

Nothing in that process relies on charcoal.

The Golden Age of Boxing

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

The Golden Age of Boxing lasted from 1920 to 1946:

Socially this was the springtime of boxing, when the largest gates were drawn, and boxers were considered not only the greatest athletes but the toughest men and best fighters in the world. As with baseball many of the best fighters had their careers gutted by World War Two.

There was boxing all the time, for everybody who cared to go to a club, theater or stadium or tune in on the radio.

Just as the first experiments with motion pictures began early in the 1890s with boxing, the first experiments with televised sports began with boxing in 1931. You must imagine, with only one camera, separated from the announcer, how difficult it would have been to televise baseball or football. In our own time we take the camera-angle changes and all of the work done by the film crew and onsite film-editing staff for granted. This made boxing the obvious subject for early TV. By 1944 NBC was airing fights, and by ’46 Conn versus Louis became the first televised heavyweight championship.

Very quickly this apparently good thing crushed local boxing shows, the theaters that hosted them, and the clubs that fielded the fighters. Why watch Joe Shmoe and John Doe at the local club when you can get Joe Louis at home? As with many trends in boxing it took one or two generations of fighters for this to effect significant change in the talent pool. Less local pro shows [in Baltimore, a half dozen a week in the 1920s to as many a year in the 1990s] resulted in a steady decline in the numbers and quality of opposition faced by top boxers, eventually resulting in a gradual decline in their functional skill, particularly versatility in the ring.

Unlock the School Library

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Bryan Caplan suggests that we unlock the school library:

By this I mean…

  1. Give kids the option of hanging out at the library during every break period.
  2. Give kids the option of hanging out the library in lieu of electives.

My elementary, junior high, and high schools all had marvelous libraries. But they were virtually always closed to the student body. You couldn’t go during recess or lunch. And you certainly couldn’t say, “Instead of taking music, dance, art, P.E., woodshop, I’ll read in the library.” Virtually the only time I entered a school library was when an entire class went as part of an assignment.

Caplan is pretty transparently promoting what he would have preferred as a kid:

Socially, unlocking the library allows students to escape pointless classes, boring teachers, and obnoxious peers. It also gives kids a chance to exercise independence and self-control.

In his mind, making kids take music, dance, art, P.E., or woodshop is simply bossing them around, because adults like that.

Michael Strong suggests something I’ve been thinking about for years:

I’ve often proposed a low-cost chain of schools in which grades 3-8 consisted of nothing but reading and playing chess (or similar self-guided, cognitively rich activities that develop intellectual focus) — with no teaching of any subjects at all. It would cost almost nothing at all to supervise because the adults need to play no active role other than keep things quiet. I predict students in such a program would, after a year or two of updating their math and writing skills in grade 9, dramatically outperform most students from conventional educational programs. We are forcing students through expensive, boring, humiliating rituals for no reason at all.