They would find something else to be hysterical about

Friday, December 31st, 2021

In Arnold Kling’s theory of the rot in education institutions, the true motive of social justice activists is to wrench status away from Boomers and others who compete in a search for objective truth. In Richard Hanania’s theory, the true motive is to deal with personal mental illness:

Wokeness to a large extent involves submitting to the noisiest and most disturbed activists, or even adopting their views as one’s own, which people high on conformity are more likely to do.… By drawing in a large share of both conformists and mentally ill activists, colleges are breeding grounds for hysteria and submission to it.


If I’m right, then if somehow you cured the universities of wokeness, they would find something else to be hysterical about, because they happen to be places where you get a large collection of unhappy and disturbed people — emboldened by a false sense of superiority and a lot of time on their hands — living at taxpayer expense free from the responsibilities that result from responding to market pressures or facing any other tangible forms of accountability. Public schools have a different dynamic, where it is the teacher’s unions and education bureaucracy that are composed of and influenced by the same kind of activists that play a prominent role on university campuses. If it wasn’t for wokeness, the people who determine policy in public schools and universities would still need somewhere to direct their energies. One can imagine them turning in a more committed direction towards socialism or extreme forms of environmentalism hostile to economic growth, which would probably be worse for humanity.


[O]ne should focus less on curing them of bad ideas, and more on decreasing the influence of universities by getting fewer people to go to college in the first place and lowering the status of these institutions.

Let the psychologists keep their reverse psychology

Thursday, December 30th, 2021

Tim Harford looks at uses of reverse logic:

The problem with queues is obvious: they waste time. Less obvious is that each queuer is getting in the way of everyone behind them. If someone gives up and walks away, everyone behind them benefits. Imagine a line of Christmas market stalls serving hot chocolate, mulled wine, mince pies and other seasonal comestibles. People stroll along the row of stalls, keen to enjoy a warming treat on a winter’s day.

The problem is that every stall has a queue. One person a minute is served, and people are willing to wait for up to 10 minutes. If there are already 10 people in line, they keep walking. This common-sense way of queueing is a disaster. Each queue will be near the maximum length, otherwise people would quickly join it. Each stall operates at capacity, but nobody gets their mulled wine without waiting around until the very limits of their patience.

What does reverse logic tell us about this problem? Steven Landsburg, the author of the classic The Armchair Economist, proposes an alternative rule: those that are last shall be first. Each new person who joins a queue goes to the front, standing immediately behind the person being served. This is, of course, an outrage against reason, intuition and natural justice. It is also highly efficient. If you’re next in line to be served, but someone shows up and shoehorns herself into position in front of you, you walk away. The line is only going to get longer, and you’re always going to be at the back.

Under the Landsburg system, the stalls still serve one seasonal treat a minute, but the queues are short. Alas, the Landsburg rule can only be imposed in controlled environments such as a theme park, perhaps. But you might consider applying a dose of Landsburg’s logic to your own “to do” list: don’t add a new item to the list unless you’re willing to do it immediately. A little impractical, yes, but also bracingly realistic. If it’s not important enough even to be the top priority right now, maybe it will never be the top priority, and it shouldn’t be sitting on your “to do” list at all.

Is there something about economists that makes them particularly attracted to reverse logic? Perhaps. Two classic ideas in economics are Frédéric Bastiat’s “things seen and things not seen” and Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”. These ideas point to the way in which economists think: obvious and direct changes unleash indirect and less-than-obvious consequences. Let the psychologists keep their reverse psychology; we’ll enjoy our reverse logic.

Why horses explode if you look at them funny

Wednesday, December 29th, 2021

“Why are cows so damn indestructible,” someone asks, “while horses keel over and die if mercury is in retrograde or a dog barked in Kazakhstan?” Gallus Rostromegalus explains — with a fair bit of strong language — Why Horses Explode If You Look At Them Funny, As Explained To Me By My Aunt That Raises Horses After Her Third Glass Of Wine:

When a horse runs at full gallop, it sort of… stops actively breathing, letting the slosh of it’s guts move its lungs, which is tremendously calorically efficient and means their breathing doesn’t fall out of sync. But it also means that the abdominal lining of a horse is weirdly flexible in ways that lead to way more hernias and intestinal tangling than other ungulates. It also has a relatively weak diaphragm for something it’s size, so ANY kind of respiratory infection is a Major Fucking Problem because the horse has weak lungs.

When a Horse runs Real Fucking Fast, it also develops a bit of a fluid dynamics problem- most mammals have the blood going out of their heart real fast and coming back from the far reaches of the toes much slower and it’s structure reflects that. But since there is Only The One Toe, horse blood comes flying back up the veins toward the heart way the fuck faster than veins are meant to handle, which means horses had to evolve special veins that constrict to slow the Blood Down, which you will recognize as a Major Cardiovascular Disease in most mammals. This Poorly-regulated blood speed problems means horses are prone to heart problems, burst veins, embolisms, and hemophilia. Also they have apparently a billion blood types and I’m not sure how that’s related but I am sure that’s another Hot Mess they have to deal with.

ALSO, the Blood-Going-Too-Fast issue and being Just Huge Motherfuckers means horses have trouble distributing oxygen properly, and have compensated by creating fucked up bones that replicate the way birds store air in thier bones but much, much shittier. So if a horse breaks it’s leg, not only is it suffering a Major Structural Issue (also also- breaking a toe is much more serious when that toe is YOUR WHOLE DAMN FOOT AND HALF YOUR LEG), it’s also having a hemorrhage and might be sort of suffocating a little.

ALSO ALSO, the fast that horses had to deal with Extremely Fast Predators for most of their evolution means that they are now afflicted with evolutionarily-adaptive Anxiety, which is not great for their already barely-functioning hearts, and makes them, frankly, fucking mental. Part of the reason horses are so aggro is that if denied the opportunity to ZOOM, it’s options left are “Kill everyone and Then Yourself” or “The same but skip step one and Just Fucking Die”.

When Hans G. Schantz shared this, I immediately thought of Ferdinand Porsche’s point about cars, rather than horses: “The perfect racing car crosses the finish line first and subsequently falls into its component parts.”

Russia has placed emphasis on targeting

Tuesday, December 28th, 2021

Turkey’s rise to Drone Superpower has been driven by extensive media coverage, while Russian developments have taken place in the shadows:

A video from December 19 shows an S-70 Okhotnik (“Hunter”) stealth combat drone dropping a bomb. The Okhotnik has been under development since 2011, so this is one of those overdue projects finally beginning to deliver. Interestingly, the latest version appears to be stealthier than the initial design.

Equally interesting that it scores a direct hit on a target from altitude with an unguided, ‘dumb’ bomb. While Western powers rely on expensive precision weapons. Russia has placed emphasis on targeting. The Okhotnik is equipped with a version of the SVP-24 aiming system developed for the Su-24 tactical bomber. This is able to take into account speed, altitude, wind, humidity and other factors and time bomb release to achieve what is claimed to be comparable accuracy to precision munitions – the makers say it can hit to within three-to-five meters.

Precision bomb aiming could allow Russian drones to hit large numbers of targets with cheap munitions like the unguided FAB-500 1,00-pounder in the video, rather than expending their limited stocks of smart bombs. They may also be able to strike accurately in conditions of intense GPS jamming (a feature of Russian combat operations) which could make JDAM-type GPS-guided weapons to veer off course.

I’ve mentioned Russia’s Special Computing Subsystem 24 before:

Instead of mounting a kit on an old bomb and losing the kit every time, the Russians mounted a JDAM-like kit, but on the airplane.

There’s a very specific shot of three ornithopters

Monday, December 27th, 2021

Denis Villeneuve discusses Dune and Avatar with James Cameron and explains his “epic” style:

I would say that the idea was to try to bring back humanity to its right position in the ecosystem, like in the book where the humans are not in control of nature. There’s not a lot of middle ground shots: landscape and faces. I learned about the power of landscape working on documentaries at the National Film Board of Canada when I was an assistant back to Pierre Perrault, a documentary filmmaker. We went nearby the North Pole on Ellesmere Island. We spent several weeks there.


What amazed me is all the emotions that were coming every morning when you were waking up. It felt so cinematic at the time. It was a very important lesson for me, how to listen to nature and the power of nature in order to create cinema. That’s part of my, let’s say, film school.

Villeneuve mentions that he wanted to bring a sensation of realism to Dune, and Cameron notes the same thing that struck me:

If I can use an example of what you’re talking about from within your film, there’s a very specific shot of three ornithopters. You see two initially and they’re stacked on a very long lens shot. Then a third one swoops in across the foreground. You instantly made your exotic aircraft design familiar. We’ve all seen that shot in “Black Hawk Down” or whatever. Right?

Back in 2005, I had a similar thought about Genndy Tartokovsky’s Clone Wars Chapter 21

The fusing of the culture war and the class war into one epic Marxist Götterdämmerung

Sunday, December 26th, 2021

David Brooks describes what he saw at the National Conservatism Conference:

One big thing the NatCons are right about is that in the Information Age, the cultural and corporate elites have merged. Right-wing parties around the world are gradually becoming working-class parties that stand against the economic interests and cultural preferences of the highly educated. Left-wing parties are now rooted in the rich metro areas and are more and more becoming an unsteady alliance between young AOC left-populists and Google.


Over the past few decades there have been various efforts to replace the Reagan Paradigm: the national-greatness conservatism of John McCain; the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush; the Reformicon conservatism of the D.C. think tanks in the 21st century. But the Trumpian onslaught succeeded where these movements have so far fizzled because Trump understood better than they did the coalescence of the new American cultural/corporate elite and the potency of populist anger against it. Thus the display of Ivy League populism I witnessed in Orlando might well represent the alarming future of the American right: the fusing of the culture war and the class war into one epic Marxist Götterdämmerung.

Posts from Newtonmas Past

Saturday, December 25th, 2021

Please enjoy these posts of Christmas Past:

Gift givers believe that spontaneous gifts are as welcome as those on a wish list

Saturday, December 25th, 2021

Recent research by psychologists — notably Gabrielle Adams and Francis Flynn of Stanford, and Harvard’s Francesca Gino — reveals a startling lack of self-awareness in our gift giving, Tim Harford notes:

  • Gift givers believe that spontaneous gifts are as welcome as those on a wish list, while wish list gifts seem charmless and impersonal. Recipients feel otherwise — they have no problem being given something from a list, and often lament the poor choices when people venture away from it.
  • People feel awkward giving money yet are perfectly happy to receive it.
  • Gift givers think more expensive presents are appreciated more yet gift recipients don’t care about the expense either way.

There is nobody more generous than the miser

Friday, December 24th, 2021

Ebenezer Scrooge is underrated, Tim Harford argues:

Dickens’s story is viewed as a journey of redemption; I am not so sure.

In his original, miserly form, Scrooge actually gives us much to admire. He was a model of inadvertent benevolence. He earned vast sums and avoided spending so much as a farthing if he could help it. The economic implication of this? Regardless of Scrooge’s motives, because he spent little, everyone else enjoyed more, as surely as if Scrooge had divided his fortune and sent a few coins to everyone in the country. As the economist Steven Landsburg once wrote: “There is nobody more generous than the miser — the man who could deplete the world’s resources but chooses not to.”

This isn’t an intuitive proposition but it is true. Scrooge reminds me of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, formerly of successful dance band The KLF, who in the summer of 1994 filmed themselves burning 20,000 £50 notes — £1m — on an island in the Inner Hebrides. People who wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if Drummond and Cauty had blown the cash on fast cars and drugs were outraged at the waste. As the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come might have pointed out, the money could have been spent on a worthy cause. On a chat show, in front of a jeering audience, Drummond explained that “burning that money doesn’t mean there’s any less loaves of bread in the world, any less apples, any less anything. The only thing that’s less, is a pile of paper.”

Drummond was quite right. He had a claim on £1m worth of goods and services and by burning the money, he didn’t destroy those goods and services — he merely relinquished his claim and let others enjoy them instead. The likely economic effect is that everything in the country became a tiny bit cheaper. If the Bank of England had worried about the (minuscule) fall in the money supply, it could have printed replacement banknotes for a couple of grand.

Going balls out to explain etymology

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021

When Elon Musk recently mentioned the (apocryphal) origin of the phrase “the whole nine yards” in his interview with Dan Carlin, he also mentioned the origin of “balls to the wall” — which I also assumed I’d posted about before, but I hadn’t:

“Balls to the wall” was probably first attested to in the 1960s in the context of aviation. Aircraft have up to three controls per power-plant: throttle control; mixture control, in aircraft with reciprocating power plants; and propeller RPM control, in aircraft with a variable-pitch propeller. These controls can be either plungers that you push the ball end into the firewall for maximum power setting, or a lever with a ball top that you push upwards towards the firewall for maximum power setting. Thus, putting “balls to the wall” gives the aircraft the maximum power output for takeoff.

Cessna 172's throttle and mixture plungers

Naturally he went on to explain the origin of “balls out” — which I’m shocked I haven’t mentioned earlier, either:

The metal balls of a centrifugal governor are pushed apart to a degree depending on the speed of a rotating shaft, providing negative feedback to the throttle.


This theory is no longer considered viable, since the phrase predates World War I

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021

When Elon Musk recently mentioned the (apocryphal) origin of the phrase “the whole nine yards” in his interview with Dan Carlin, I assumed I’d posted about myself, but I hadn’t:

The Oxford English Dictionary finds the earliest published non-idiomatic use in an 1855 Indiana newspaper article. The earliest known idiomatic use of the phrase is from 1907 in Southern Indiana. The phrase is related to the expression the whole six yards, used around the same time in Kentucky and South Carolina. Both phrases are variations on the whole ball of wax, first recorded in the 1880s. They are part of a family of expressions in which an odd-sounding item, such as enchilada, shooting match, shebang or hog, is substituted for ball of wax. The choice of the number nine may be related to the expression “to the nines” (to perfection).

Use of the phrase became widespread in the 1980s and 1990s. Much of the interest in the phrase’s etymology can be attributed to New York Times language columnist William Safire, who wrote extensively on this question.

Since they were discussing World War 2 aircraft, Musk shared this origin story:

One explanation is that World War II (1939–1945) aircraft machine gun belts were nine yards long. There are many versions of this explanation with variations regarding type of plane, nationality of gunner and geographic area. An alternative weapon is the ammunition belt for the British Vickers machine gun, invented and adopted by the British Army before World War I (1914–1918). The standard belt for this gun held 250 rounds of ammunition and was approximately twenty feet (62/3 yards) in length. However, the Vickers gun as fitted to aircraft during the First World War usually had ammunition containers capable of accommodating linked belts of 350-400 rounds, the average length of such a belt being about nine yards, and it was thought that this may be the origin of the phrase. This theory is no longer considered viable, since the phrase predates World War I.

Chiang Kai-shek thought he had 500 airplanes

Tuesday, December 21st, 2021

Eighty years ago this week, a small group of American aviators fought in their first battle in World War II:

In the West, 1939 is considered the start of World War II. But in Asia, China and Japan had been at war since 1937.

China was already fighting its own civil war between the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek and Communist forces. The two sides came to a truce to fight against the Japanese. China, however, had little air power to fend off Japanese bombings.

Enter Claire Lee Chennault, a U.S. Army aviator, instructor and tactician, once described by Time magazine as “lean, hard-bitten, taciturn.” Health problems and disputes with his superiors pushed him into retirement from his position with the Army Air Corps in 1937, at age 43.

But he quickly got a lucrative job offer with the Chinese Air Force, which was operating under Chiang’s Nationalist government. Chennault was asked to come survey the readiness of its fleet.

“Chiang Kai-shek thought he had 500 airplanes,” says Nell Chennault Calloway, who is Chennault’s granddaughter and CEO of the Chennault Aviation & Military Museum in Monroe, La. “Chennault said, ‘You have 500, but you only have 91 that fly.’ That’s how far behind they were in aviation.”

Once the war with Japan officially broke out that summer, China hired Chennault as an adviser to its air force. He became its de facto commander.


With the help of T.V. Soong, a Chinese official who was also Chiang’s brother-in-law, a deal was worked out to allow China to buy 100 American-made Curtiss P-40 fighter planes.

As for who would fly and maintain them, many of the pilots in China’s existing air force were poorly trained. So Chennault sent recruiters to U.S. military bases.


“By using Chinese funds to buy the aircraft and supplies and pay the salaries of the proposed crews, the U.S. government could retain a façade of neutrality, while helping China against the Japanese,” the Department of Defense’s history of the Flying Tigers explained.

To make recruitment easier, pilots and mechanics were offered pay that was often more than double what they were making before.

So in summer and fall of 1941, 99 pilots — 59 from the Navy, seven Marines, and 33 from the Army — traveled to Asia, along with about 200 support crew, according to the DOD’s history. About a dozen of them were Chinese Americans, says Yue-him Tam, a Macalester College history professor who studies China and Japan.


Pilot Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, who would go on to receive the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross, told Aviation History Magazine in the 1980s: “I resigned my commission and accepted the job with the AVG in September 1941, since rank was slow in coming and I needed the money…. And with an ex-wife, three kids, debts and my lifestyle, I really needed the work.”


The Flying Tigers’ first combat came on Dec. 20, 1941 — 13 days after Pearl Harbor and 12 days after the U.S. declared war on Japan. Japanese bombers attacked the AVG base at Kunming.


By this point, the U.S. was formally at war with Japan and there was no need for pretense. U.S. military leaders pushed for the AVG to be absorbed into the U.S. Army Air Forces. Chennault rejoined the Army in April 1942.


It’s unclear who came up with the nickname “Flying Tigers,” though it was used as early as a week after their first battle, when Time magazine said the “Flying Tigers swooped, let the Japanese have it.” Other publicity came when T.V. Soong, who had earlier worked with Chennault in Washington to gather the planes, helped get The Walt Disney Company design the group’s logo of a Bengal Tiger jumping through a V for victory sign. And John Wayne played a character based on Chennault in the 1942 movie Flying Tigers.

Chiang wanted American air power far more than American ground forces or advisors.

Asimov’s heroes looked and acted like sci-fi’s readership

Monday, December 20th, 2021

Zachary D. Carter notes that Edward Gibbon was writing from a moment of disillusion with the British project:

The first volume of his magnum opus was published in 1776, and the American Revolution had made clear to Gibbon that his nation was just as capable of decadent violence as ancient Rome had been. Throughout his four-volume masterpiece, Gibbon interrogates the roles of what we would now call structural forces in Roman society — religion, class, trade, technology, military and administrative capacity, ideology — each of which Asimov gives its own treatment as the dominant theme of a separate Foundation story. But Asimov was not writing amid an embarrassing American military defeat. He was writing instead as a Jewish immigrant enthusiastic about America’s belated entrance into the fight against fascism. Asimov’s Foundation stories are battles between good and evil, but the Galactic Empire is largely absent from them. Once Seldon has predicted its demise, the empire is of little use in Asimov’s narrative. Instead, he moves on to explore state formation, economic expansion, and outworlder alliances, in which the Foundation supplies the good guys and the bad guys want to destroy the Foundation. Asimov’s heroes are witty, clever, and forward-thinking; his villains are angry, violent, and beholden to tradition. Everything is a contest between reason and ignorance. Only the smartest people at the best university in the galaxy can get humanity out of its mess, using the best technology and the most sophisticated mathematics, which of course will eventually come to fruition as a new, benevolent, galaxy-spanning empire of reason.

This break with Gibbon’s history — which was fundamentally an examination of the follies of empire — turned out to be a stroke of commercial genius. Asimov’s themes were perfectly attuned to the technocratic American exceptionalism of the postwar years, when Americans enjoyed the fruits of a new empire while denying that their government’s political hegemony could be considered an empire at all. Asimov’s heroes looked and acted more like sci-fi’s readership than the square-jawed space cowboys of Thrilling Wonder Stories did. Asimov’s heroes were nerds, and reading his stories would eventually become a rite of passage for generations of freaks and geeks.

When launched from Earth to the moon, it should fit inside a 4-meter diameter cylinder

Sunday, December 19th, 2021

NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory have put out a request for proposals for a nuclear fission reactor for missions to the moon:

Submitted plans for the fission surface power system should include a uranium-fueled reactor core, a system to convert the nuclear power into usable energy, a thermal management system to keep the reactor cool, and a distribution system providing no less than 40 kilowatts of continuous electric power for 10 years in the lunar environment.

Some other requirements include that it be capable of turning itself off and on without human help, that it be able to operate from the deck of a lunar lander, and that it can be removed from the lander and run on a mobile system and be transported to a different lunar site for operation.

Additionally, when launched from Earth to the moon, it should fit inside a 12-foot (4-meter) diameter cylinder that’s 18 feet (6 meters) long. It should not weigh more than 13,200 pounds (6,000 kilograms).

Morning exposure to deep red light improves declining eyesight

Saturday, December 18th, 2021

Just three minutes of exposure to deep red light once a week, when delivered in the morning, can significantly improve declining eyesight:

In summary, researchers found there was, on average, a 17% improvement in participants’ colour contrast vision when exposed to three minutes of 670 nanometre (long wavelength) deep red light in the morning and the effects of this single exposure lasted for at least a week. However, when the same test was conducted in the afternoon, no improvement was seen.


In humans around 40 years old, cells in the eye’s retina begin to age, and the pace of this ageing is caused, in part, when the cell’s mitochondria, whose role is to produce energy (known as ATP) and boost cell function, also start to decline.

Mitochondrial density is greatest in the retina’s photoreceptor cells, which have high energy demands. As a result, the retina ages faster than other organs, with a 70% ATP reduction over life, causing a significant decline in photoreceptor function as they lack the energy to perform their normal role.

In studying the effects of deep red light in humans, researchers built on their previous findings in mice, bumblebees and fruit flies, which all found significant improvements in the function of the retina’s photoreceptors when their eyes were exposed to 670 nanometre (long wavelength) deep red light.

“Mitochondria have specific sensitivities to long wavelength light influencing their performance: longer wavelengths spanning 650 to 900nm improve mitochondrial performance to increase energy production,” said Professor Jeffery.