The hot spots on the suicide map and the hot spots on the homicide map would coincide

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

BJ Campbell points to geographic evidence that gun deaths are cultural:

I was recently pointed to a pretty amazing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) project hosted by The Oregonian, which uses CDC data and population rate data to determine the gun death rate, gun homicide rate, and gun suicide rate within the country on a county by county basis. [...] Deaths are expressed as rates per 100,000 population, and above average rates are red, while below average rates are blue.

Gun deaths per 100k people

We hear a lot of banter from the “anti-gun” media that these problems are gun problems, and they’ve concocted this “gun deaths” number in order to lump these into the same problem and gloss over the differences. But if the problem were “guns,” then the hot spots on the suicide map and the hot spots on the homicide map would coincide, and would be related to gun ownership rates. There are only a few places where they overlap. Most of the hot zones for suicide have low homicide rates, and most of the hot zones for homicide have low suicide rates.

Gun homicides per 100k people

Gun suicides per 100k people

Poor black folks have a gun homicide problem, while poor white folks have a gun suicide problem.

American Nations Today

The break between systemic firearm suicide and sporadic firearm suicide within the south is almost directly foretold by the boundaries between Greater Appalachia and the Deep South.

Be an accidental moderate, or be mediocre

Monday, December 30th, 2019

There are two distinct ways to be politically moderate, Paul Graham argues — on purpose and by accident:

Intentional moderates are trimmers, deliberately choosing a position mid-way between the extremes of right and left. Accidental moderates end up in the middle, on average, because they make up their own minds about each question, and the far right and far left are roughly equally wrong.

You can distinguish intentional from accidental moderates by the distribution of their opinions. If the far left opinion on some matter is 0 and the far right opinion 100, an intentional moderate’s opinion on every question will be near 50. Whereas an accidental moderate’s opinions will be scattered over a broad range, but will, like those of the intentional moderate, average to about 50.


Nearly all the most impressive people I know are accidental moderates. If I knew a lot of professional athletes, or people in the entertainment business, that might be different. Being on the far left or far right doesn’t affect how fast you run or how well you sing. But someone who works with ideas has to be independent-minded to do it well.

Or more precisely, you have to be independent-minded about the ideas you work with. You could be mindlessly doctrinaire in your politics and still be a good mathematician. In the 20th century, a lot of very smart people were Marxists — just no one who was smart about the subjects Marxism involves. But if the ideas you use in your work intersect with the politics of your time, you have two choices: be an accidental moderate, or be mediocre.

By virtue of their superior ambition and energy but also by default

Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb is also a history of European Jews:

The operators of those mechanisms [of capitalism and industrialization], by virtue of their superior ambition and energy but also by default, were Jews, who represented about 5 percent of the Hungarian population in 1910. The stubbornly rural and militaristic Magyar nobility had managed to keep 33 percent of the Hungarian people illiterate as late as 1918 and wanted nothing of vulgar commerce except its fruits. As a result, by 1904 Jewish families owned 37.5 percent of Hungary’s arable land; by 1910, although Jews comprised only 0.1 percent of agricultural laborers and 7.3 percent of industrial workers, they counted 50.6 percent of Hungary’s lawyers, 53 percent of its commercial businessmen, 59.9 percent of its doctors and 80 percent of it financiers.

America’s culture of achievement is inducing Murray to continue to produce major works

Saturday, December 28th, 2019

Human Diversity by Charles MurrayCharles Murray’s Human Diversity is not as controversial as you might think, Tyler Cowen says:

Overall this is a serious and well-written book that presents a great deal of scientific evidence very effectively. Anyone reading it will learn a lot. But it didn’t change my mind on much, least of all the most controversial questions in this area. If anything, in the Bayesian sense it probably nudged me away from geneticist-based arguments, simply because it did not push me any further towards them.

Murray of course will write the book he wants to, but my personal wish list was two-fold: a) a book leaving most of the normal science behind, and focusing only on the uncertain and controversial frontier issues, in great detail, and b) much more discussion of the import of culture.

Most of all, I am happy that America’s culture of achievement is inducing Murray to continue to produce major works at the age of 76, soon to be 77.

It doesn’t collect data on how hard body parts are hitting the ground or other players

Friday, December 27th, 2019

Amazon-analyzed big data may not be enough to predict injuries in the NFL :

The Amazon Web Services partnership will try to close the gap with league-level data from the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, which capture location data, speed, and acceleration for every player on the field hundreds of times a minute through microchips in their pads. It also includes video footage of games, information on playing surface and environmental factors, and anonymized player injury data, according to the NFL. It doesn’t collect data on how hard body parts are hitting the ground or other players, which is one limitation, Binney says. But it can see, with granular detail, how and at what speed a player ran a play, changed direction, or made a tackle. The goal is to find out if any common elements of football are more likely than others to lead to any injury.

This stat caught my eye:

Currently, the injury count per game is holding steady at an average of six or seven.


The Saturnalia teaches us how stupid and impossible it would be to change the existing order of things

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

I was recently reminded of the Roman tradition of inverting the hierarchy for Saturnalia, which evolved into a British military tradition too. Naturally this holiday comes up in The Roman Guide to Slave Management:

The Saturnalia date back to ancient history, but they celebrate the time when Saturn ruled the world in a golden age of equality. Then neither rank nor social hierarchy existed. Slavery and even private property were unknown, and all men owned everything in common.


The festival starts on 17 December and lasts for several days. In olden times, one single day was deemed sufficient but now, in our age of leisure and softness, greater licence is permitted.


All that is normally seen as good behaviour is reversed, so that it is seen as proper to be blasphemous, coarse, dirty and drunken. There are spectacles held in the theatres and amphitheatres, pageants in the streets, and comic shows in the marketplace. A whole range of itinerant entertainers, jugglers and snake charmers fill the forum. People go about telling jokes about the city officials. The crowd ridicules everything, including the gods, and even mocks the emperor, swearing and laughing at his statues.


And they put on the felt cap that is usually worn by freedmen, to symbolise the licence of the occasion and the abolition of hierarchy. Even the emperor does.


Everyone exchanges presents, as would usually be done only between equals.


Slaves cannot be punished and they can even sound off at their masters. Indeed, it is your job as master to wait on them at table at the Saturnalia feast.


The slaves will elect a mock king for the evening, and he will put on a crown and cloak, and give everyone ridiculous orders: ‘ride about on the cook as if on horseback’, or ‘everyone drink three fingers of wine’.


What a bore! I feel it is far better to throw yourself into the spirit of things. You will be amazed at how much goodwill it generates among the slaves if you do. What I do is drink and get drunk, shout, play games and throw dice, sing stark naked, clap and shake my belly, and sometimes even get pushed head first into cold water with my face smeared in soot. The household loves it.


Sex is everywhere, you will not be surprised to hear. No doubt it is all meant to symbolise fertility and abundance but nowadays it is simply an opportunity for the young to indulge in excessive and lewd behaviour. Out in the streets you will find tumultuous processions and the marketplace filled with men leering at the women and making unseemly suggestions to them. And when night falls, no one sleeps.


The reign of the Saturnalian king is brief and its egalitarian spirit dies with him when he is killed in a mock ritual at the end of the festival.


The Saturnalia teaches all of us, slaves above all, how stupid and impossible it would be to change the existing order of things, because the result would be a foolish mess.

It’d be hard to imagine a more powerful asset for criminals

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

Wes Siler’s friend Joe had his MacBook and iPad stolen from the back of a locked car over Thanksgiving:

So far, so normal, right? Well, the thieves only broke the small window immediately adjacent to where his devices were hidden and only took the backpack containing them. Police told him it was likely they’d used a Bluetooth scanner to target his car and even located exactly where his devices were before breaking into it.

When he texted me about what happened, I turned to Google to see what a Bluetooth scanner was and immediately found dozens of smartphone apps. The first one I downloaded didn’t just show me the signal strengths it detected, it also listed the specific types of devices and even displayed pictures of them—you know, for easy identification. Using signal strength as a distance meter, I found the phone my fiancée misplaced before she went to work. Another app displayed a live list of the devices commuters had in their cars while driving past my house. These apps are free and take no technical know-how or experience whatsoever to use. While they aren’t designed specifically to aid thieves (developers need tools like these when designing Bluetooth accessories), it’d be hard to imagine a more powerful asset for criminals.

Joyeux Noël

Wednesday, December 25th, 2019

Please enjoy these yuletide posts of Christmas Past:

Vanadium dioxide conducts electricity without conducting heat

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019

Researchers have identified a metal that conducts electricity without conducting heat:

The metal, found in 2017, contradicts something called the Wiedemann-Franz Law, which basically states that good conductors of electricity will also be proportionally good conductors of heat, which is why things like motors and appliances get so hot when you use them regularly.

But a team in the US showed this isn’t the case for metallic vanadium dioxide (VO2) — a material that’s already well known for its strange ability to switch from a see-through insulator to a conductive metal at the temperature of 67 degrees Celsius (152 degrees Fahrenheit).


“For electrons, heat is a random motion. Normal metals transport heat efficiently because there are so many different possible microscopic configurations that the individual electrons can jump between.”

“In contrast, the coordinated, marching-band-like motion of electrons in vanadium dioxide is detrimental to heat transfer as there are fewer configurations available for the electrons to hop randomly between,” he added.

Two qualifying events in 340 years is a 0.5882% annual chance of nationwide violent revolution against the ruling government

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

Hydrologist BJ Campbell looks at the surprisingly solid mathematical case of the tin foil hat gun prepper:

While we don’t have any good sources of data on how often zombies take over the world, we definitely have good sources of data on when the group of people on the piece of dirt we currently call the USA attempt to overthrow the ruling government. It’s happened twice since colonization. The first one, the American Revolution, succeeded. The second one, the Civil War, failed. But they are both qualifying events. Now we can do math.

Stepping through this, the average year for colony establishment is 1678, which is 340 years ago. Two qualifying events in 340 years is a 0.5882% annual chance of nationwide violent revolution against the ruling government. Do the same math as we did above with the floodplains, in precisely the same way, and we see a 37% chance that any American of average life expectancy will experience at least one nationwide violent revolution.

This is a bigger chance than your floodplain-bound home flooding during your mortgage.

It’s noticeably bigger.

Following the same procedure, we can see that even over an 18-year span we have a 10% chance of violent revolution, which is an interesting thought experiment to entertain before you have kids. It’s also important to note that a violent nation-state transition doesn’t just affect people who live in a floodplain. It affects everyone stuck in the middle. Especially the poor and defenseless.


Since our 1678 benchmark, Russia has had a two world wars, a civil war, a revolution, and at least half a dozen uprisings, depending on how you want to count them. Depending on when you start the clock, France had a 30-year war, a seven-year war, a particularly nasty revolution, a counter-revolution, that Napoleon thing, and a couple of world wars tacked on the end. China, North Korea, Vietnam, and basically most of the Pacific Rim has had some flavor of violent revolution in the last 100 years, sometimes more than one. With Africa, it’s hard to even conceive where to start and end the data points. Most Central and South American countries have had significant qualifying events in the time span.

Assegai is more savage sounding

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019

One of the odder decisions Robert Graves made in translating ancient terms into modern English was his decision to call the German spear an assegai:

It has been difficult at times to find suitable renderings for military, legal and other technical terms. To give a single instance, there is the word “assegai”. Aircraftman T.E. Shaw (whom I take this opportunity of thanking for his careful reading of these proofs) questions my use of “assegai” as an equivalent of the German framea or pfreim. He suggests “javelin”. But I have not adopted the suggestion, as I have gratefully adopted others of his, because I need “javelin” for pilum, the regular missile weapon of the disciplined Roman infantryman; and “assegai” is more savage sounding. “Assegai” has had a three-hundred year currency in English and acquired new vigour in the nineteenth century because of the Zulu wars. The long-shafted iron-headed framea was used, according to Tacitus, both as a missile and as a stabbing weapon. So was the assegai of the Ama-Zulu warriors, with whom the Germans of Claudius’s day had culturally much in common. If Tacitus’s statements, first as to the handiness of the framea at close quarters, and then as to its unmanageability among trees, are to be reconciled, the Germans probably did what the Zulus did — they broke off the end of the framea‘s long shaft when hand-to-hand fighting started. But it seldom came to that, for the Germans always preferred strike-and-run tactics when engaged with the better-armed Roman infantryman.

When I rewatched Zulu Dawn a few years ago, I did a little digging and realized that assegai isn’t a Zulu word at all:

Assegai is a Berber word for spear, which somehow became the English word for any African spear.  Shaka’s innovative short-hafted spear with a sword-like blade, designed for close combat, was dubbed the iklwa — a grisly bit of onomatopoeia for the sound it made when pulled from a victim.

Evolving more and more pretty lies until pervasive error is again the norm

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019

Western civilization has been repeating this story over and over for roughly the last half-millennium, Moldbug argues:

The intellectual command economy rules. Public opinion is directed by a dogmatic bureaucracy, rife with pervasive error, systematically incapable of changing its mind.

An unofficial free market for truth evolves. This market cannot be poisoned by power, because it has no power. It develops a higher-quality product than the official narrative.

A new epistemic elite arises. The old intellectual bureaucracy, smart enough to sense its own inferiority, hands power to the new truth market. A new golden age begins.

Dogmatic bureaucracy returns. Slowly and inevitably poisoned by power, the once-vibrant civil society slowly ossifies into a dogmatic bureaucracy, evolving more and more pretty lies until pervasive error is again the norm.

Impious imps of the devil

Saturday, December 21st, 2019

I had always assumed the word impious was pronounced just like the un-negated root pious, but with an im prepended. While listening to Nelson Runger’s narration of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, I heard him pronounce it im-pee-uhs, and, sure enough, that’s the preferred pronunciation.

This pronunciation conjures the image of a mischievous imp, which has its own odd, unrelated etymology:

The Old English noun impa meant a young shoot or scion of a plant or tree, and later came to mean the scion of a noble house, or a child in general. Starting in the 16th century, it was often used in expressions like “imps of serpents”, “imp of hell”, “imp of the devil”, and so on; and by the 17th century, it came to mean a small demon, a familiar of a witch.

This is a slow and degenerative process which cannot be reversed

Friday, December 20th, 2019

No one sensible could possibly mind a benevolent dictator who was also always right, Moldbug suggests:

Distributed systems are hard. It’s amazing when they work at all. We shouldn’t be surprised to see failure modes. But nor should we have to live with, or be ruled by, pervasive error.

So we should admit that distributed despotism is caused by the way power poisons truth markets. Putting a truth market in power is unsound political engineering. A previously reliable machine will start to evolve pretty lies. This is a slow and degenerative process which cannot be reversed.

Putting a church in charge of the government is not putting God in charge of the government. Putting a truth market in charge of the government is not putting truth in charge of the government.

Empire of the Summer Moon

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

A few years ago I mentioned Empire of the Summer Moon, when Scott Alexander reviewed it, and then I finally bought it a couple months ago, but I haven’t read it yet. It turns out Joe Rogan mentioned it himself recently and sent sales of the audiobook through the roof:

Incidentally, I recently listened to the audiobook version of Blood Meridian, which also deals with Comanches, and I was sorely disappointed.