Audible Suggestions

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

I’ve heard good things about Audible (and the Great Courses). I’m open to audiobook suggestions.

Our Dumb World

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

As far as average IQ scores go, Gregory Cochran notes, this is what the world looks like:


But there are two relevant tests: the Stanford-Binet, and life itself. If a country scored low on IQ but at the same time led the world in Cavorite production, or cured cancer, or built spindizzies, we would say “screw Stanford-Binet”, and we would be right to do so.

Does that happen? Are there countries with low average scores that tear up the technological track? Mostly not – generally, fairly high average IQ seems to be a prerequisite for creativity in science and mathematics. Necessary, although not sufficient: bad choices (Communism), having the world kick you in the crotch (Mongols), or toxic intellectual fads can all make smart peoples unproductive.


You could improve the situation, raise the average, by selection for IQ. But that takes a long time, and I know of no case where it was done on purpose. You could decrease inbreeding, for example by banning cousin marriage. That only takes one generation. You could make environmental improvements, iodine supplementation being the best understood. People assume that there are a lot of other important environmental variable, but I sure don’t know what they are. In practice the rank ordering of populations seem to be the same everywhere, which is not what you would expect if there were strong, malleable environmental influences.

Is it easy to notice such differences? Well, for ordinary people, it’s real easy. Herero would ask Henry why Europeans were so smart – he said he didn’t know. But with the right education, it apparently becomes impossible to see. Few anthropologists know that such differences exist and even fewer admit it. I’m sure that most have never even read any psychometrics – more importantly, they ignore their lying eyes. Economists generally reject such explanations, which is one reason that they find most of the Third World impossible to understand. I must give credit to Garret Jones, who is actually aware of this general pattern. Sure, he stepped on the dick of his own argument there at the end of his book, but he was probably lying, because he had to. Sociologists? It is to laugh.

Generally, you could say that the major job of social science is making sure that people do not know this map. Not knowing has its attractions: practically every headline is a surprise. The world must seem ever fresh and new to the dis-illuminati – something like being Henry Molaison, who had his hippocampus removed by a playful neurosurgeon and afterwards could not create new explicit memories.

So when we tried a new intervention aimed at eliminating the GAP, and it failed, Molaison was surprised, even if 47 similar programs had already failed. Neurologically, he was much like a professor of education.

Lifetime Violence and IQ

Monday, July 11th, 2016

One of the most consistent findings in the criminological literature is that African American males are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at rates that far exceed those of any other racial or ethnic group, but this racial disparity was completely accounted for after including covariates for self-reported lifetime violence and IQ.

Social Violence Networking

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Social media broadcasting has become central to social violence, John Robb notes, and this has led to a new dynamic that bypasses the “redirecting–calming–slowing” influence of traditional media and the government, one which is raw, unfiltered, and fast, radically increasing both the likelihood and the intensity of social violence:

Violence as performance art. Selfies. Instagram videos. Twitter. We’ve been conditioned to record our experiences using social media. Naturally, we’re are seeing the same thing with violence. Recording violence and showing it to the world, raw and unedited, can be used to “elevate the act” and memorialize it. NOTE: ISIS recently stumbled onto this as a way to motivate people to engage in terrorism. In these cases, the attackers used social media to turn their bloody attacks into both performance art and solemn ceremony. It gave it meaning. We’ll see more of that in the future.

We are bombarded with Instant outrage. We are more vulnerable to emotional manipulation than ever before. Our use of social media has changed us. We are constantly on the hunt for pics, news, stories, and videos that grab our attention and titillate us. Once we find them, we are then quick to share them with others. Few things provoke outrage faster than violence and injustice. It is proving particularly effective when the videos arrive raw and unedited from an individual rather than from the media. These personal broadcasts have an authenticity, a vulnerability, and an immediacy to them that greatly amplifies their emotional impact. This makes them more effective at triggering violence than any sterile broadcast from a traditional media outlet.

Echo chambers. Our virtual networks on Facebook, Twitter, etc. surrounded us with people who think like we do. These networks can easily become echo chambers. Echo chambers that radically amplify outrageous social media videos, spreading the outrage like a contagion. More importantly, it appears that this amplification can trigger individuals on the fence to engage in violence.

Intergenerational Income Immobility

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

By tracking family names over generations, Gregory Clark revealed that social mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, do not vary across societies, and are resistant to social policies.

Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti found this to be true of Florence, too:

We focus on the Italian city of Florence, for which data on taxpayers in 1427 – including surnames, occupations, earnings, and wealth – have been digitalised and made available online. We matched these data with those taken from the tax records relating to the city of Florence in 2011. Family dynasties are identified by surnames. Table 1 offers a first flavour of our results.

Florence Surnames, Occupations, Earnings, and Wealth

We report for the top five and bottom five earners among current taxpayers (at the surname level) the modal value of the occupation and the percentiles in the earnings and wealth distribution in the 15th century (the surnames are replaced by capital letters for confidentiality). The top earners among the current taxpayers were already at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago – they were lawyers or members of the wool, silk, and shoemaker guilds; their earnings and wealth were always above the median. In contrast, the poorest surnames had less prestigious occupations, and their earnings and wealth were below the median in most cases.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling.)

Garwin and the Mike Shot

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

In Building the H-Bomb: A Personal History, Kenneth Ford explains how Richard Garwin designed the first H-Bomb, based on the Teller-Ulam mechanism, while still in his early twenties:

In 1951 Dick Garwin came for his second summer to Los Alamos. He was then twenty-three and two years past his Ph.D. Edward Teller, having interacted with Garwin at the University of Chicago, knew him to be an extraordinarily gifted experimental physicist as well as a very talented theorist. He knew, too, that Fermi had called Garwin the best graduate student he ever had.

So when Garwin came to Teller shortly after arriving in Los Alamos that summer (probably in June 1951) asking him “what was new,” Teller was ready to pounce. He referred Garwin to the Teller-Ulam report of that March and then asked him to “devise an experiment that would be absolutely persuasive that this would really work.” Garwin set about doing exactly that and in a report dated July 25, 1951, titled “Some Preliminary Indications of the Shape and Construction of a Sausage, Based on Ideas Prevailing in July 1951,” he laid out a design with full specifics of size, shape, and composition, for what would be the Mike shot fired the next year.


Friday, July 8th, 2016

I have not yet watched Occupied (on Netflix), the Norwegian 10-part mini-series about a Russian occupation of their small and peaceful country:

Many of the good people of Norway are faced with a dilemma. The growing sense of oppression becomes harder for many Norwegians to ignore but the only forces actually pushing back are hardly nice Norwegians–not nice at all. And they challenge both the values or interests of many in the Norwegian public.

As I was watching the series I happened to be reading the book Violent Politics, by William R. Polk. Polk’s book is a history of insurgencies “from the American Revolution to Iraq.” Polk’s argument is that all insurgencies follow a similar path. They start with an invasion or some other challenge to the identity of a cohesive group, whether nation, culture or tribe. At first only a tiny number of individuals fight back. They are small in number and typically poorly armed but they are dedicated and zealous. They are not nice people by a conventional definition, and they often start with terrorist acts.

As they start to take action, a number of contradictory things are set in motion. More and more people are attracted to the cause but there is typically a high degree of resistance to their methods even among the people they are attempting to win over. Polk describes General Washington’s disgust at the kind of person fighting for American independence in loosely organized militias, and he was ever attempting to squash them in favor of a decent regular army, one that would be willing to fight fair, under European rules of engagement. In Polk’s view that would have been a disaster – in fact Polk argues that were it left to Washington the war would have been lost since a conventional American army would have been no match for the British. It took the nasty guys to create the change, and to force the population to make a choice.

Polk describes a kind of dialectic, with the initial brutality of the insurgents creating contradictory responses among the populace. When the insurgency is done “right” – that is, when conditions are favorable and when the insurgents manage the dialectic effectively – the result can be a twisting road to victory.

The Norwegian insurgency follows Polk’s classic pattern perfectly – a textbook case of how to do it right.

Imperial Overstretch

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

The European Union was born in 1957, Peter Turchin reminds us, when the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany:

If you trace the signing countries together on the map, they will closely match the extent of the Carolingian Empire. Why is this important?

Carolingian Empire

Large-scale societies are not simply huge sloshing bags of people. Instead, they’re groups of groups of groups. Unlike ants, humans cooperate in societies that are organized hierarchically. Cooperation is important at all levels: we cooperate in families, we cooperate in towns, we cooperate on a regional level, in nation-states, and supranational organizations, like the European Union or the United Nations. At each level you need an identity. Who is that “us” who is cooperating? Most people have multiple nested identities, for example, one can be an Ingoldstadter, Bavarian, German, and European.

Here I am interested in cooperation at the level above the nation-state. So where do supranational identities come from?

In my cultural evolutionary view, such identities come from very deep history. Often, they are “ghosts” of powerful and prestigious empires that are long gone — “charter polities”, to use a term proposed by the historian Victor Lieberman in Strange Parallels. For the European Union such a charter polity is the Carolingian Empire (eighth and ninth centuries AD).

After the Carolingian Empire broke apart it left behind the idea of Europeanness that still survives today, although naturally it underwent a lot of evolution in the last thousand years. Initially the idea of Europe was known as Latin Christendom (note that excludes Orthodox Christian areas as well as Islam). Latin Christendom had two important unifying institutions, Empire and Papacy. Of course, the French and Germans fought each other all the time, but when they were faced with outsiders (for example, during the Crusades), they actively cooperated with each other.

There were internal tensions within the precursor of the EU, the European Economic Community, but these problems were resolved in cooperative manner. But then, and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the EU started acting as a typical expansionary empire, gobbling up more and more states. This is a typical imperial disease, known in historical sociology as “imperial overstretch.” The problems mounted, willingness to cooperate waned, and the integrative trend reversed itself. In addition to the spread of neoliberalism, which, as I stated above, is an ideology corrosive of cooperation, different EU members found it difficult to cooperate with each other, because they did not share a well-defined common identity. Additionally, different groups evolve different institutions that promote cooperation. This is why, as the political scientist Robert Putnam found, ethnically diverse groups find it more difficult to cooperate. It’s a coordination problem.

Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder recently expressed this idea as follows: “In southern Europe, there are notions of solidarity that differ from ours.”

Identities are not fixed in stone; they evolve. The idea of Europeanness has evolved quite a lot since the day of Charlemagne. But evolution takes time. You cannot build an identity and a common set of institutions in one fell swoop. The rapid expansion of the European Union far beyond the area where Europeanness was born (the Carolingian Empire) was, in my opinion, a big mistake. Positive social change is gradual and slow; breaking apart, on the other hand, can occur quite rapidly.

Four Months as a Private Prison Guard

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Shane Bauer went undercover as a prison guard for Mother Jones, with the goal of attacking private prisons.

The system clearly has some incentive problems:

If he were sent to the hospital, CCA would be contractually obligated to pay for his stay. For a for-profit company, this presents a dilemma. Even a short hospital stay is a major expense for an inmate who brings the company about $34 per day. And that’s aside from the cost of having two guards keep watch over him. Medical care within the prison is expensive, too. CCA does not disclose its medical expenses, but in a typical prison, health care costs are the second-biggest expense after staff. On average, a Louisiana prison puts 9 percent of its budget toward health care. In some states it can be much higher; health care is 31 percent of a California prison’s budget. Nearly 40 percent of Winn inmates have a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, or asthma, according to Louisiana’s budget office. About 6 percent have a communicable disease such as HIV or hepatitis C.

Even prisoners want good governance:

“CCA is not qualified to run this place,” an inmate shouts to me a day into the lockdown. “You always got to shut the place down. You can’t function. You can’t run school or nothing because you got everybody on lockdown.”

Another inmate cuts in. “Since I been here, there’s been nothing but stabbings,” he says. “It don’t happen like this at other prisons because they got power. They got control. Ain’t no control here, so it’s gonna always be something happening. You got to start from the top to the bottom, you feel me?”

It’s still shocking that they allow female prison guards in a male prison:

In interviews with staff, the DOC learned that staff members had been “bringing in mountains and mountains of mojo” — synthetic marijuana — and having sex with inmates. “One person actually said that they trusted the inmates more than they trusted me, the warden. One staff member said, ‘The inmate made me feel pretty. Why wouldn’t I love him? Why wouldn’t I bring him things he needs because you all won’t let him have it?’”

Researchers Examine Family Income And Children’s Non-Cognitive Skills

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Why do children of the successful do better than children of the unsuccessful?

VEDANTAM: Well, we’ve known for a very long time that family income really matters. This could be because schools in richer neighborhoods are better schools. But it could also be that rich parents are able to give their children more learning opportunities outside of school. I was speaking with the economist Barbara Wulf. She’s at the University of Wisconsin. Along with Jason Fletcher, she recently decided to explore another explanation. She asked if income disparities might also be linked to disparities in what are sometimes called non-cognitive skills. Many researchers think that it’s these skills that undergird not just academic performance in school but a host of other abilities later in life, including in the workplace. Here’s Wulf.

BARBARA WULF: When we think about who is a good employee and who’s likely to succeed in the workplace, you hear a lot of attention paid to these what I’ll call non-cognitive skills. So they pay attention, they are persistent, they are eager. So they have a set of characteristics that make them good employees.

GREENE: OK. So people who have these non-cognitive skills – better employees. But tie this to American education and sort of the income disparity.

VEDANTAM: Wulf and Fletcher analyzed data from a national survey, David, that tracked children from kindergarten through the fifth grade. The survey data allowed the researchers to track the effects of family income on what parents and teachers were reporting about these children as they went through elementary school. The researchers find there’s a very strong correlation between family income and these non-cognitive skills. In other words, when it comes to being cooperative or dealing with conflict productively, children from wealthier families on average seem to have more of these skills than children from poorer families.

GREENE: OK. So this is actually making the connection. We’ve always known that there’s this income disparity. Now we’re sort of understanding that income disparity might be because if you’re less affluent, I mean, you’re just not developing these skills you’re talking about.

“NPR searches valiantly, blindfolded,” in Charles Murray‘s words.

America’s First Propaganda Coup

Monday, July 4th, 2016

The Declaration of Independence was America’s first propaganda coup, as Max Boot explains:

This [talk of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"] was designed to cast the colonialists’ cause not as a grubby dispute over levels of taxation but as an idealistic fight for freedom. This was a bit of a stretch given that Britain in the late 18th century was already one of the most liberal countries in the world with established democratic institutions both at home and abroad. The Founding Fathers, after all, had developed their ideas of self-government precisely because they were a mainstream product of the English political and educational system.

What the Declaration of Independence showed was that the rebels, far more than their Tory adversaries in Britain, had a proper appreciation of the power of “public opinion” — a word that first appeared in print, by a fateful coincidence, in the very year 1776 in the first volume of Edward Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. They understood that to prevail against the British Empire — the superpower of its day — it was not enough to fight on the field of battle; it was necessary to fight in the realm of ideas as well to influence public opinion at home and abroad in favor of the pro-independence cause.

The most radical colonialists had been doing just that for years. Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren had started a Committee of Correspondence in Boston in 1772 to make their case, an example that was soon emulated across the colonies. Thomas Paine was another propagandist extraordinaire; the publication of his pamphlet Common Sense in early 1776 prepared the way for the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin was yet another effective salesman for the Revolution — his political and propaganda work in France made it possible for the rebels to secure French help, which made all the difference.

The rebels were constantly engaging in what we would today call “spinning.” They managed to get their account of the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775 to Britain, addressed to the “Inhabitants of Great Britain,” a full two weeks before the official British dispatches arrived, thus helping to mold public opinion in their favor.

Ultimately this line of operations proved decisive. The British Empire could have continued fighting after the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. Lost armies could have been reconstituted from the vast resources of the empire. But it was not to be because Britain was a parliamentary democracy. On February 28, 1782, the House of Commons voted by a narrow margin to discontinue offensive operations. This forced the downfall of Lord North’s hardline Tory ministry and led to its replacement by Lord Rockingham’s more liberal Whigs, who were bent on concluding a peace treaty with their American cousins.

In a sense, February 28 should really be our Independence Day. But the propaganda coup of the Founding Fathers continues to resonate down through the centuries, turning July 4 into our national holy day (the origin of “holiday”).

Jack’s (Almost) Back

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Samurai Jack returns “soon,” as this behind the scenes video explains:

Happy Secession Day

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Once again, I wish you a happy Secession Day! I’ve discussed the colonies’ secession from the motherland more than once over the years:

We don’t care about experts anymore

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

James Pethokoukis cites “a great quote” that came up from Leave, “We don’t care about experts anymore,” and Charles Murray offers his thought:

Well, you’ve got two kinds of problems with experts, and one of them has to do with all of the mistakes that they have made. And that is, we have had experts on how to do deal with poverty, how to deal with welfare, how to deal with crime, how to deal with other things over the past 50 years, who have recommended polices that have been disastrous. The experts have been simply wrong. They were wrong about school bussing; they were wrong about prison only makes people worse back in the 1970s when the prison population dropped even though crime was soaring; again and again you’ve had people who were experts who were advocating and passing policies that ordinary people looked at and said, “This is absolutely nuts.” Affirmative action, by the way, sort of falls into that category as well. So one problem is that they’ve been wrong.

Another problem with the experts — and I think that this gets to a lot of the visceral anger that people have — is that the experts have been recommending policies for other people for which they do not have to bear the consequences. The case of immigration is a classic case where I can sit down with economists on both the left and the right, and we with great self-satisfaction talk about all of our wonderful analyses that show that this idea that immigrants are driving down wages of native-born Americans is way over-exaggerated; that immigration is essentially a net plus, so forth and so on… Those analyses may be right, but that does not change the fact that we aren’t the people who are like the carpenter who used to make $16 an hour, and he is losing work because contractors are hiring immigrant carpenters for $12.

All of our lovely analyses of the macroeconomic effects do not get around that problem. On the contrary, as far as our lives are concerned, we experts get cheap nannies and we get cheap people to mow our lawns, and in a lot of ways this low-scale immigration has been a boon to us. The degree to which we experts advocate policies that affect other peoples’ lives badly but not our own. really angers people, and I understand that.

Mass Shootings Make Sense

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

What exactly was senseless about the recent mass shooting in Orlando?

A Muslim Afghan man who pledged allegiance to ISIS attacks and kills homosexuals in America two months after a West Point paper is published detailing ISIS’ strategy of encouraging and organizing international terror attacks. The Islamic State itself commits terrorism because, as this informative article stated, “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse.”

That sounds exotic — to put it mildly — but hardly senseless.

Not that the mass shooting in Orlando was alone in making a little bit more sense than the approved media would have you believe. Do a quick Google search of “mass shooters manifesto” and see how many results come up. Almost every single mass shooter releases some kind of manifesto or statement detailing their beliefs, their ideology, and why the two required a massacre. Sometimes, it’s as straightforward as “the world is against me, I must fight the world.” That describes the manifesto of Christopher Harper-Mercer. Sometimes, like in the case of Anders Behring Breivik, the manifesto runs up to 1500 pages long.

Far be it from me to sympathize with or support mass murderers, but to claim that men who spend years developing intricate, murderous ideologies with a litany of published justifications before acting on them after spending thousands of dollars and manhours on preparation is, frankly, senseless.