How do we build more exceptional institutions?

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

In a world where functional institutions are now the exception, Samo Burja asks, how do we build more exceptional institutions?

A key component of institutional health is personnel — people who understand the social system. Every institution has an official “org chart” and set of protocols, but beneath the org chart lies a deposit of “intellectual dark matter” vital to the institution’s function: private social networks, unwritten plans, roles with more or less power than officially stated, and more. This institutional memory resides in the heads of people who know how to use it.

Such people are essential to the maintenance of existing systems. A healthy organization needs leaders who understand not only what is being done but also why it is being done, which allows them to see which areas are succeeding or failing. Departments may be succeeding according to internal metrics but failing to advance the general mission of the organization. It often takes unusual skill to tell these apart. Without enough such people to repair internal drift and respond to changes in the external environment, an organization will become corrupt and obsolete.

Once an institution has enough people who understand the social system, the second key component is effective meritocracy. Merit must be defined in accordance with the logic of the specific institution. Skilled people must end up in the right roles or their talents will achieve very little. Healthy institutions don’t need to achieve the philosophical ideal of perfection. Rather, they need to get enough good people into responsible positions and put highly capable people into the most demanding roles. In most domains, relationships, soft skills, and effective combinations of skills — such as Scott Adams’s concept of talent stacks — tend to be more relevant to success than marginal differences in pure skill. Moreover, an effective meritocracy does not ignore the problem of trust and coordination between its meritocrats. Trustworthiness, loyalty, and other people skills are as important qualities as narrow skill in a domain. The competent people in an organization have to get along, one way or another, or nothing will get done.

This is especially true in politics. President John F. Kennedy was highly capable as a politician, but his success also depended on his looks, charisma, and family resources. He appointed his brother, Robert Kennedy, to be attorney general. An ideal meritocracy would condemn this as nepotism, but it would hardly make sense for JFK to have combed the earth looking for the objectively “best” candidate when he had a loyal, capable brother who was a graduate of Harvard and conversant with his aims. The degree of trust and loyalty between them outweighed any considerations for a marginally more competent lawyer when it came to the question of coordinating on government policy. Historically, dynasties like this were unremarkable, as it was widely recognized that family members would be motivated to work together.

Counterintuitively, this type of meritocracy can sometimes coexist with a rigid class system. For example, Britain in the 1700s was a highly stratified society, with hereditary nobility at the top of the social pyramid. Nevertheless, many of the most powerful people came from the middle class and gentry. Government ministers like Robert Walpole, generals like Robert Clive, and industrialists like Boulton and Watt faced few barriers as they rose to greatness and contributed to the dominance of the British Empire, while less competent nobility retained social privileges without real power. Weaker class barriers could have increased the pool of potential leaders even further, but so long as the pool is large enough, a society can thrive.

Training and education are essential to institutional continuity. A new generation of skilled people must be intentionally cultivated. Autodidacts may sometimes rise on their own, but never in sufficient numbers to make education obsolete. There are no societies of autodidacts; society must instruct its future leaders. Education is indispensable, but credentialism can be a far greater barrier to professional success than a rigid class system and was historically not the dominant system.

The Roman Republic’s cursus honorum put young elites in a variety of military and civil positions to get hands-on experience with the mechanics of power. The Ivy League of the early 1900s taught a broad classical curriculum to young American elites that prepared them for effective leadership, not for a specific profession or area of expertise. Individual companies, professions, subcultures, and other institutions must also pass down their individual traditions of knowledge or see them decay.

Effective institutions must also solve the succession problem. As time passes and skilled people retire or die, an institution must find ways to preserve the knowledge and structures that allow it to function. Existing institutions must solve the succession problem and hand control to people of sufficient ambition and skill. As new power centers arise, elites must find a way to incorporate them into the system. A more recent example is the effort to integrate tech companies into the ruling elite.

They are looking for the best possible move every time, instead of a good move

Monday, August 30th, 2021

To compete means to risk losing, and women, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains, judge this risk differently than men:

A Stockholm University study of 1.4 million [chess] games over 11 years showed that elite women are less likely to use an aggressive opening move than elite male players. The women devote more deliberative thought to their first 25 moves: they are looking for the best possible move every time, instead of a good move.

(That means they often run short on time in tournaments and have to rush at the end.)

Women are less likely to arrange a draw when the outcome is predictable — women want to play the game out. If it’s a sure win for women, they want to get that win.

(Men seem to get bored or decide that the time spent finishing the game is more trouble than it’s worth.)

After the crazy events had happened, people acted as if they were predictable

Sunday, August 29th, 2021

I recently read William Shirer‘s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I had been vaguely aware of and interested in since childhood, but Nassim Nicholas Taleb got me interested in Shirer’s Berlin Diary a couple decades back, when he made this point in his own first book, Fooled by Randomness:

I was brought up in Lebanon, where we always recreate memories, revise experiences and read more into them than necessary. During the war there, when I was 15, I wanted to be a philosopher. While I was hiding in basements I read William Shirer’s Berlin Diary: The journal of a foreign correspondent 1934 to 1941. It made me realise three things about the people around me: that they were always predicting (wrongly) that the war was going to be “solved” soon; that they seemed confident about their estimates for the future even though crazy events were happening all the time; and that after the crazy events had happened, people acted as if they were predictable. I realised that you can find an infinity of narratives to fit your data.

This Herculean effort couldn’t have been done without the unofficial heroes inside the airfield who defied their orders

Friday, August 27th, 2021

An all-volunteer group of American veterans launched a mission on Wednesday night — dubbed the “Pineapple Express” — to shepherd hundreds of at-risk Afghan elite forces and their families to safety:

Moving after nightfall in near-pitch black darkness and extremely dangerous conditions, the group said it worked unofficially in tandem with the United States military and U.S. embassy to move people, sometimes one person at a time, or in pairs, but rarely more than a small bunch, inside the wire of the U.S. military-controlled side of Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The Pineapple Express’ mission was underway Thursday when the attack occurred in Kabul. Two suicide bombers believed to have been ISIS fighters killed at least 13 U.S. service members — 10 U.S. Marines, a Navy corpsman, an Army soldier and another service member — and wounded 15 other service members, according to U.S. officials.


“Dozens of high-risk individuals, families with small children, orphans, and pregnant women, were secretly moved through the streets of Kabul throughout the night and up to just seconds before ISIS detonated a bomb into the huddled mass of Afghans seeking safety and freedom,” Army Lt. Col. Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret commander who led the private rescue effort, told ABC News.


The operation carried out Wednesday night was an element of “Task Force Pineapple,” an informal group whose mission began as a frantic effort on Aug. 15 to get one former Afghan commando who had served with Mann into the Kabul airport as he was being hunted by the Taliban who were texting him death threats.

They knew he had worked with U.S. Special Forces and the elite SEAL Team Six for a dozen years, targeting Taliban leadership, and was, therefore, a high-value target for them, sources told ABC News.

Two months ago, this commando told ABC News he had narrowly escaped a tiny outpost in northern Afghanistan that was later overrun while awaiting his U.S. special immigrant visa to be approved.

The effort since he was saved in a harrowing effort, along with his family of six, reached a crescendo this week with dozens of covert movements coordinated virtually on Wednesday by more than 50 people in an encrypted chat room, which Mann described as a night full of dramatic scenes rivaling a “Jason Bourne” thriller unfolding every 10 minutes.

The small groups of Afghans repeatedly encountered Taliban foot soldiers who they said beat them but never checked identity papers that might have revealed them as operators who spent two decades killing Taliban leadership. All carried U.S. visas, pending visa applications or new applications prepared by members of Task Force Pineapple, they told ABC News.

“This Herculean effort couldn’t have been done without the unofficial heroes inside the airfield who defied their orders to not help beyond the airport perimeter, by wading into sewage canals and pulling in these targeted people who were flashing pineapples on their phones,” Mann said.

With the uniformed U.S. military unable to venture outside the airport’s perimeter to collect Americans and Afghans who’ve sought U.S. protection for their past joint service, they instead provided overwatch and awaited coordinated movements by an informal Pineapple Express ground team that included “conductors” led by former Green Beret Capt. Zac Lois, known as the underground railroad’s “engineer.”

This technical detail caught my attention:

Around 8 p.m. EST Wednesday, the shepherds reported in the chatroom, which was viewed by ABC News, one by one that their passenger groups maneuvering discreetly in the darkness toward rally points had suddenly gone dark and were unreachable on their cell phones.

“We have lost comms with several of our teams,” texted Jason Redman, a combat-wounded former Navy SEAL and author, who was shepherding Afghans he knew.

There was concern the Taliban had dropped the cell towers — but another Task Force Pineapple member, a Green Beret, reported that he learned the U.S. military had employed cell phone jammers to counter the IED threat at Abbey gate.

Women don’t get elected because they refuse to put their names on the ballot in the first place

Thursday, August 26th, 2021

There’s scant evidence that women don’t compete as hard as men, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains; however, there is sizable evidence that women, on average, don’t jump into competitions as easily as men do, and they don’t turn situations into explicit competitions as quickly as men do — which has political repercussions:

But surprisingly, study after study has shown that when women are on the ballot today, they win just as often as men do. They also raise just as much money in campaign donations. Generally speaking, Democrats vote for their party’s nominee, regardless of the nominee’s gender. The same goes for Republicans.


There’s an even more fundamental problem: women don’t get elected because they refuse to put their names on the ballot in the first place.


Analyzing the state representatives’ responses, Fulton concluded that ambitious male state legislators will run for Congress if they have any chance to win. Ambitious female legislators will run for Congress if they have a good chance to win.

The tipping point seems to be around 20% odds. When the odds of winning are below that, almost all the candidates will be men. When the odds of winning are better than that, women jump in the race. In fact, when the odds are decent, women will compete in the election even more than men will.


Incumbents win about 92–95% of the time, depending on the year. That figure doesn’t change much. Even 2010, considered a horrendous year for congressional incumbents, saw 100% of Republicans retain their seats and 82% of Democrats retain theirs.


When you look at other elected positions, where women have better odds, you see a different story. There are approximately 550,000 elected positions in the United States. (To put that number in perspective — there are 363,000 computer programmers.) The majority of those are for local government positions, perhaps a part-time city council or school board. The odds of winning in those races are much better. And so women hold a much higher percentage of posts — 44% of school board posts are held by women. Not quite parity, but much closer.

The scheming nephew of the villainous Baron Vladimir Harkonnen does not appear in Villeneuve’s Dune

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

The Los Angeles Times details changes made in adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune to the screen:

In one of the biggest departures from the novel, the film changes the gender of the character of Liet Kynes, a planetologist who has a deep understanding and love for Arrakis and its native people, the Fremen. In Herbert’s book, Kynes is a man but in the film she is a woman, played by British actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster.

The switch was suggested by Spaihts as a way to make the story feel more up to date.

“Herbert’s novel is, to some extent, an artifact of its time and it definitely skews male in ways that don’t feel completely contemporary now,” he says. “Of all the messages in the story, the message brought by Liet Kynes of planetary stewardship, of the preciousness of resources, of the necessity of building bridges to local communities to sustain ourselves going forward — those are modern messages, and it seemed right to modernize the messenger.”

Even after splitting the book into two movies, there were still some elements that Villeneuve decided to pare back to avoid overloading the film with too many characters and subplots.

Memorably, if campily, played by Sting in Lynch’s movie, the character of Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen — the scheming nephew of the villainous Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Skarsgard) — does not appear in Villeneuve’s “Dune.”

At the same time, the characters of Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and Piter De Vries (David Dastmalchian) — cognitively super-powered “mentats” who work for the Atreides and Harkonnen families, respectively — have less prominent roles in the film than they do in the novel.

“British” actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster is, of course, black.

I suspect most of Dune’s fanbase would opt for more mentats.

If you haven’t read it, it could be described as Star Wars meets Game of Thrones. I recently enjoyed the audiobook version.

Once the Soviet Union was destroyed, the British would see reason and give in

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

After citing the introduction to Bevin Alexander’s How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, I naturally had to go ahead and read the whole book, in which he explains how, after it had achieved the most spectacular, rapid, and overwhelming military victory in the twentieth century, the Reich destroyed itself by attacking the Soviet Union directly:

Hitler came to this decision by an incredibly convoluted and illogical process. Since Britain refused to sign a peace treaty, and since invading Britain would be extremely hazardous given the strength of the Royal Navy and the weakness of the German navy, Hitler concluded that the only way to overcome Britain would be to destroy the Soviet Union. Hitler decided that Russia was Britain’s chief remaining hope for assistance, its “continental dagger,” and once the Soviet Union was destroyed, the British would see reason and give in.


A war against Russia would be nothing like the war in the west, where distances were limited, populations concentrated, objectives close, and the Atlantic Ocean a finite boundary.

He had no idea how to go on and bring the war to a victorious conclusion

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

When I recently noted that Hitler’s strategy through mid-1940 was almost flawless, it wasn’t because I had just read How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, but because I was reading William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and it kept making points that seemed familiar from my long-ago skimming of the intro to Bevin Alexander’s book:

In truth neither Hitler, the High Command nor the general staffs of the Army, Navy and Air Force had ever seriously considered how a war with Great Britain could be fought and won. Now in the midsummer of 1940 they did not know what to do with their glittering success; they had no plans and scarcely any will for exploiting the greatest military victories in the history of their soldiering nation.

This is one of the great paradoxes of the Third Reich. At the very moment when Hitler stood at the zenith of his military power, with most of the European Continent at his feet, his victorious armies stretched from the Pyrenees to the Arctic Circle, from the Atlantic to beyond the Vistula, rested now and ready for further action, he had no idea how to go on and bring the war to a victorious conclusion.


The Germans, despite their vaunted military talents, lacked any grand strategic concept. Their horizons were limited — they had always been limited — to land warfare against the neighboring nations on the European Continent. Hitler himself had a horror of the sea and his great captains almost a total ignorance of it.


There was of course another alternative open to the Germans. They might bring Britain down by striking across the Mediterranean with their Italian ally, taking Gibraltar at its western opening and in the east driving on from Italy’s bases in North Africa through Egypt and over the canal to Iran, severing one of the Empire’s main life lines. But this necessitated vast operations overseas at distances far from home bases, and in 1940 it seemed beyond the scope of the German imagination.

When you add stress to the equation, women are far more likely to overload

Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

Estrogen’s effect on the COMT (Warrior-Worrier) process is quite dramatic, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains:

It slows down dopamine reabsorption by 30%, regardless of which genotype a woman is.


When you add stress to the equation, women are far more likely to overload.


Lighthall and Mather found that the differences between men and women were very small when they just came into the lab and played the [risk-taking] game. But if they first had to submerge a hand in ice water, then play, the differences were dramatic. Women took less risk after being stressed; they made decisions more slowly and earned less money for themselves. Meanwhile, for men, the stress actually improved their performance. They took more risk, and it was smart risk — the stressed men earned more money overall. They also made faster decisions.


For women, the emotional regions of the brain increased activity after stress; their decision making became entangled with their emotions. But for men, there was no increase in emotionality — stress made them more calculated.

In further research, the scholars found that, in the back of our brains, in the optical cortex, there’s a region where we process the visual look on faces, to read the subtle cues of mood. When women have been stressed, this region markedly increases its activity, but in men, the activity in that region is suppressed.

Under stress, men’s brains tune out emotional cues. Women under stress seek out the emotional cues.

The U.S. military should stop being one of the best suppliers of tactical instruction to the bad guys

Friday, August 20th, 2021

The bad guys are getting better at basic tactics:

Consider Boko Haram. Having only launched its military campaign in 2009, it has already mastered the use of coordinated fire and maneuver elements at the tactical level to execute complex raids, ambushes, assaults, and even withdrawing by echelon when on the defensive. It even staged an amphibious assault that overran a Nigerien Army garrison on an island in Lake Chad. Another example is from much closer to the U.S. homeland. Utilizing tactics diffused through U.S. military training, drug cartels such as the infamous “Zetas” and “Jalisco New Generation” have institutionalized combat training that allows them to regularly wreak havoc on Mexican security forces. In the wake of a recent downing of a Mexican military helicopter through the employment of rocket-propelled grenades, the disturbing discovery was made of tactical gear emblazoned with “CJNG – High Command Special Forces” (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion). Further evidence comes from the Iraqi campaign to defeat ISIL. Conventional forces struggled mightily to eject ISIL from Iraq’s territory, and only succeeded due to the heavy use of Iraqi special operations forces and liberal American airpower. The battle of Mosul, for example, lasted for nine months despite significant material U.S. support and a 20:1 force ratio against the ISIL defenders. Afghan conventional military forces are often defeated by an increasingly competent Taliban. On the other side of the world, Filipino forces had to destroy much of the town of Marawi to liberate it from jihadist insurgents during a five-month siege last year. Furthermore, these enemies seem to be gravitating towards operations in urban areas. These environments hinder the United States and its partners from utilizing their high-tech advantages, resulting in a playing field that could get ever more level. Finally, given the ease with which such groups can infiltrate poorly vetted partner forces, the U.S. military has probably provided tactical instruction to the enemy directly and indirectly for a long time. As one U.S. military advisor in Afghanistan told one of us: “Sometimes a trainee just doesn’t show up right before graduation, and then – sure enough – you are fighting him on the next objective.”

In summary, rather than celebrating the (shockingly slow) destruction of the ISIL caliphate, the U.S. military should realize that one of its enemies just learned a whole lot about combat: basic infantry tactics, urban operations, and the clever blending of emerging technologies. These lessons will spread globally, and faster than many expect.

What should be done in response? First, the United States has to recognize that the bad guys will get better. Rather than perpetuating the comforting myth that enemy ranks are saturated with incompetent wackos, planners and policymakers must understand that these groups have highly motivated and – with the right training – potentially capable fighters.

Second, we need to remember that humans are more important than hardware. The welter of debate over high technology widgets has obscured the fact that technologies are leveraged by individuals and organizations. Biddle wrote a prescient article back in 1996 entitled “Victory Misunderstood” about the implications of the 1991 Gulf War in which he challenged the hypothesis that technology would be the deciding factor on 21st century battlefields. His analysis showed that basic soldiering skills were crucial to the lopsided victory over Iraqi forces. He argued that technology may simply “be magnifying the effects of skill differentials on the battlefield. If so, then a given skill imbalance may be much more important today than in the past”. We proposed a similar argument here. Therefore, the U.S. military needs to not only be wary of the changing skill sets of the enemies of the United States but also keep a similarly watchful eye over the maintenance of our own human capital. U.S. forces are only as good as the men and women they select, train, and develop.

As a consequence, the U.S. military should stop being one of the best suppliers of tactical instruction to the bad guys. Planners should be more discerning when it comes to building partner capacity. Additional scrutiny should be placed on which partner nation military units are being trained, what roles they will play in the fight, and how large and good they need to be. Most of these nations do not need a Western-style conventional military, but rather a politically reliable force dedicated to internal security and counter-terrorism. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, large (and probably unsustainable) conventional partner forces fight poorly (when they do fight) and, therefore, the specialized counter-terrorism and elite units U.S. mentors have carefully crafted are consistently overused as assault troops. In the words of another U.S. military advisor in Afghanistan, speaking of the country’s elite commando units: “Eight percent of the troops do 80 percent of the fighting.” Rather than choosing to train large numbers of poorly vetted partner conventional forces, the United States should probably choose to save such training (and resources) for smaller numbers of higher quality and better vetted forces. Such efforts will inevitably involve the diffusion of training and technology (and the risk of a future “Zetas” blowback). Therefore, the United States needs to be more mindful about who gets what, and for what purpose.

When you have just humiliated the lone superpower, you deserve to celebrate the occasion

Thursday, August 19th, 2021

Next month is the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Z Man reminds us:

This is an important date for the Taliban, as it is when they stepped onto the world stage. What better way to celebrate the platinum anniversary of that event than to raise the Taliban flag atop the U.S. embassy on 9/11? That may seem a bit spiteful, but when you have just humiliated the lone superpower, you deserve to celebrate the occasion.

For its part, the foreign policy establishment seems to be in a state of hysterical confusion over this. They assumed the military refused to bugger out of Afghanistan when Trump ordered the retreat because they hated Trump as much as the rest of the cloud people. After all, who does not hate Trump? Now that the evil orange man is gone, it was time to get out of Afghanistan. What could go wrong?

It turns out that the military knew it was a house of cards. After all, it was their job to build the thing. It was their job to create the civil institutions that would become the cultural production centers, crowding out the old culture. They trained the military to defend those new institutions. The Afghan military would be the new model army for the region, built on the same principles as the imperial army. Instead, it has collapsed.

In the dreaded private sector, this degree of failure would result in the termination of the senior staff and a bankruptcy reorganization. That assumes anyone would think there is something worth salvaging. Anything created by the stupid people responsible for Afghanistan should be suspect. That is not how things work in the ruling class. The best part of being a cloud person is you never are held responsible for your actions.

Instead, the military brass will point the finger at the civilian side. They will say their hands were tied over political concerns. If only they were free to drop even more ordnance on the villages dotting the countryside, they could have whipped that ragtag band of goatherds. Of course, this will be followed with new requests for cash, accompanied by cheers from conservatives hoping to become relevant again.

Joe Biden unleashed his inner Pat Buchanan in a startlingly lucid speech

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

Like the Wolverines in Red Dawn, Steve Sailer notes, the Taliban in Afghanistan live there:

Afghanistan might not be much, but it’s all they’ve got. Granted, Afghanistan is a crummy country with a comically awful culture. The revolution in ways of thinking that swept the West beginning in the 1200s has yet to arrive in much of Afghanistan.

But, for some people, it’s home.

In contrast, the Americans were always the invaders. Sure, the Taliban were criminally negligent accessories to 9/11 by hosting Osama bin Laden (although no evidence has since emerged that they knew of this specific enormity ahead of time). So, the U.S. had every right to engage in a butcher-and-bolt punitive expedition to overthrow the Kabul regime, which we succeeded in doing in a couple of months.

But then we hung around for twenty years trying to make ourselves popular. Of course, in a country teeming with young men (Afghanistan has the highest birth rate outside of sub-Saharan Africa), being an outsider roaring around on their home turf in our Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles is no way to make us loved. So, among the youth of the dominant Pashtun tribe, the Taliban tended to recruit the patriots while we wound up with the parasites.


Okay, but why didn’t self-interested Afghans at least want to be on our side in the long run? Because the Afghans knew we always had our own, much nicer country that we will eventually go home to, leaving them to the Taliban. As a rebel commander told an American in 2006, “You have all the clocks, but we have all the time.”

But in the meantime, the U.S. could hire collaborators to pretend to fight for whatever the Americans were in favor of at the moment—democracy, globalism, women going unmasked, everybody going masked, gay rights, black lives matter, you name it, somebody in Afghanistan would figure out an angle on how to skim off the budget for it. For twenty years, the leading economic activity in Afghanistan has been stuff falling off the back of American supply trucks.

But ultimately, some American president would grow sick of shoveling money into the maws of incredibly corrupt collaborators—like Captain Renault in Casablanca only much less charming—and bring our boys home. (And while Captain Renault was a man like any other man, only more so, around beautiful Bulgarian brides, America’s allies in Afghanistan tend to be into boy-molesting.)

That president turned out to be Joe Biden, who unleashed his inner Pat Buchanan in a startlingly lucid speech Monday denouncing our former allies in Afghanistan for not caring enough to fight.


As the end grew nigh, Afghan elites, seeing their gravy train was almost through, became even more rapacious and stole almost all the pay of soldiers and policemen. Moreover, no poor dumb Afghan is dumb enough to want to be the last man killed fighting to make Biden’s exit strategy look more graceful, especially since they weren’t paying him anymore.


Underlings figure out what the bosses don’t want to hear and then don’t tell them.


Lying isn’t just bad for the soul, it’s bad for effectiveness at dealing with reality. After 1991, we of course stopped winning wars. But now we can’t even avoid losing in spectacularly humiliating fashion. If there’s anything we’ve learned about the deep state from this episode, it’s that it’s real…and it’s inept.

Worriers can handle stress, and even outperform Warriors

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

At Standford, Dr. Quinn Kennedy put pilots through a series of stressful simulator tests, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains, after checking the 172 pilots’ COMT genes:

From what we know so far, we would predict that the pilots with the Warrior gene would handle this chaos well. And they did. Even the recreational pilots, pure hobbyists with only a few hundred hours of flight experience and not yet rated for instrument flying at night or in fog, handled the simulator plane as well as professional pilots. As long as they had the Warrior gene.


The recreational pilots with the Worrier gene did melt down under the pressure, as predicted. The havoc of the simulator overwhelmed them — but the more flight experience they had, the better they handled it. The Worrier-gene pilots who were professionals did best of all. The increased pressure did not diminish their performance; instead, their genetically blessed working memory and attention advantage kicked in, until they surpassed the performance of all the Warrior pilots.

What this suggests is that Worriers can handle stress, and even outperform the Warriors, if they train themselves to handle the specific stress of certain recurring situations.

That’s $300 million dollars per day

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

In the 20 years since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent more than $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan:

That’s $300 million dollars per day, every day, for two decades. Or $50,000 for each of Afghanistan’s 40 million people. In baser terms, Uncle Sam has spent more keeping the Taliban at bay than the net worths of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and the 30 richest billionaires in America, combined.

Those headline numbers include $800 billion in direct war-fighting costs and $85 billion to train the vanquished Afghan army, which folded in the weeks since the Pentagon’s sudden early July closure of Bagram Air Force Base eliminated the promise of air support against the advancing Taliban. U.S. taxpayers have been giving Afghan soldiers $750 million a year in payroll. All told, Brown University’s Costs of War Project estimates the total spending at $2.26 trillion.


Naturally, the United States has financed the Afghan war with borrowed money. Brown University researchers estimate that more than $500 billion in interest has already been paid (included in the $2.26 trillion total sum), and they figure that by 2050 the cost of interest alone on our Afghan war debt could reach $6.5 trillion. That amounts to $20,000 for each and every U.S. citizen.

Now Ghani failed as the head of the state, together with the state he was the head of

Monday, August 16th, 2021

There are many ironies in the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Peter Turchin notes, but for him the main one is that Ashraf Ghani started as an academic who studied state collapse and nation building:

Back in 2008 I reviewed, for Nature, the book written by Ghani and Clare Lockhart, Fixing Failed States. My review was not gentle. One of my comments was that the authors

review four examples — post-war Europe, Singapore, the southern United States and Ireland — that, in their opinion, prove that countries confronted with devastation, chaos and entrenched poverty can transform themselves into prosperous and stable members of the global community. Apart from Singapore, however, these are not examples of state collapse. Europe in 1945 was devastated by interstate war; Ireland was poor before its economic miracle but not a collapsed state; and few would consider the United States to be weak.


My review concluded that Fixing Failed States failed as an academic book. Now Ghani failed as the head of the state, together with the state he was the head of.