A higher variance for weirdness probably encourages creativity

Friday, January 14th, 2022

Noah Smith suggests that “we’re sort of in a replay of the 1970s” — “a period of exhaustion after several years of intense social unrest, where people are looking around for new cultural and economic paradigms to replace the ones we just smashed” — and Tyler Cowen responds:

I view the 1970s as a materialistic time, sexually highly charged, and America running into some significant real resource constraints, at least initially stemming from high oil prices. Mainstream culture was often fairly crass — just look at disco, or the ascendancy of mainstream network television. The current time I see as quite different. Sexually, we are withdrawing. Society is more feminized. America has far more immigrants. And we are obsessed with the virtual and with make-believe, to a degree the 1970s could not have imagined.


I think today the variance of weirdness is increasing. Conformists can conform like never before, due, say, to social media and the Girardian desire to mimic others. But unusual people can connect with other unusual people, and make each other much weirder and more “niche.” For instance, every possible variant of political views seems to be “out there” these days, and perhaps that is not entirely reassuring. A higher variance for weirdness probably encourages creativity. But is it a positive development on net? We are going to find out.

What we needed instead was scientific socialism

Thursday, January 13th, 2022

The “Utopian” socialists were wrong, Bryan Caplan notes, but Marx was worse, as this excerpt from a piece by Joshua Muravchik explains:

He [“Utopian socialist” Robert Owen] was no obscure crank. When he arrived in the United States in 1824, he was received by a joint session of Congress that met over two separate days with outgoing President Monroe and incoming President John Quincy Adams, among the many luminaries who came to hear him out.

Owen then bought an already developed settlement on the banks of the Wabash River from a religious sect. The members of this group had developed it, and it included not only homes but vast fertile farmlands and more than twenty highly productive workshops that produced goods sold all across the country. Yet within a year after taking it over, Owen and his thousand followers had turned this little Switzerland into an Albania. All the other collective settlements, except for some that were first and foremost religious communities, had similar histories of failure.

But along came Marx and Engels, who wiped this record of failure away with one of the great intellectual conjuring tricks of all time. Owen and his ilk, said Marx and Engels, were utopians. What we needed instead was scientific socialism, which they then outfitted with great pseudo-scholarly paraphernalia: means and modes of production, historical forces, class struggle, and all the rest.

What I mean by conjuring trick is this: Owen and the other so-called utopians had an idea. What did they do? Owen and the other communitarians actually created experiments to test their ideas. Experimentation is the very essence of science. They were the real scientific socialists. Marx and Engels dismissed all experimental evidence, replaced it with an idea that was sheer prophecy, and claimed thereby to have progressed from utopia to science.

Children influence their parents

Wednesday, January 12th, 2022

Children influence their parents, as well as the other way around, a phenomenon called “bidirectional parenting“:

One large study looking at bidirectional parenting and featuring over 1,000 children and their parents, concluded that the child’s behaviour had a much stronger influence on their parents’ behaviour than the other way around. Parents and their children were interviewed at age eight and again over the subsequent five years. Parental control, the study found, did not change a child’s behaviour, but a child’s behavioural problems led to less parental warmth and more control.

Research also shows that when children demonstrate challenging behaviour, parents may withdraw or use a more authoritarian (strict and cold) parenting style.

Similarly, parents of adolescents with behavioural issues act with less warmth and more hostility. The opposite occurs for adolescents who show good behaviour: their parents behave with more warmth over time. This reveals that it’s not harsh parenting that predicts behavioural problems, says Shaffer, but rather, “children who act out, who are oppositional, who are defiant, have parents who respond by increasing the harshness of their parenting”.


“Genetic influence affects virtually every measurable trait,” explains Nancy Segal who specialises in twin studies at California State University, Fullerton and is author of Deliberately Divided. For instance, a 2015 meta-analysis (a study of studies) looking at a combined total of 14 million twin pairs, either growing up together or raised apart, found that identical twins raised apart were more alike than fraternal twins raised in the same home.

This confirmed what Segal had long noticed among twins she had met — that “shared environments do not make family members alike”, she says. It’s why she often says that parents of one child are environmentalists, whilst parents of two are geneticists, because the latter quickly realise that two children raised in the same home can behave in completely different ways.

You take some personal risks but benefit the community overall

Tuesday, January 11th, 2022

A few months ago David Frum asserted that the way to reduce gun violence is by convincing ordinary, “responsible” handgun owners that their weapons make them and those around them less safe, which is odd, because he also notes that unintended shootings only account for 1 percent of U.S. gun deaths.

Steve Sailer says out loud what none of us are supposed to say and then continues with this:

One reason that America has surprisingly few Clockwork Orange–style home invasions with urban criminals driving out to the boonies to attack locals is because Boonie-Americans tend to be so well-armed.

For example, even in the 1990s when South-Central Los Angeles was like Grand Theft Auto, Los Angeles’s white and Asian suburbs were pretty safe. Here’s somebody’s current list of the safest municipalities in California. The safest city in Los Angeles County is lovely Rancho Palos Verdes overlooking the Pacific. Rancho Palos Verdes is 22 miles from Compton. In lightly armed England, that would be a sitting duck for inner city criminals to drive out.

Being a law-abiding legal gun-owner is like being vaccinated, Sailer reminds us: you take some personal risks but benefit the community overall.

We think of Man as #1

Monday, January 10th, 2022

We think of Man as #1, Greg Cochran says, but it wasn’t always true:

I’ve been reading Thin on the Ground, a book by Stephen Churchill. One of his ideas is based on the fact some predator species are dominant over others and get the lion’s share (cough, cough) of the kills. Lions frequently steal carcasses from hyenas, while everyone steals from cheetahs and wild dogs, etc.

There is good evidence (stable isotope data) that Neanderthals were highly carnivorous, and that they used thrusting spears, which are effective but not as generally useful as atlatls — standoff weapons. Churchill suspects that with their thrusting spears tech, Neanderthals were not the top dogs of the predator guild, and that they may have been dominated by cave lions and scimitar cats, while having approximately equal status with hyenas. In practice, this would mean that Neanderthals often lost kills to high-ranked carnivores such as cave lions. The majority of calories from animal kills would go to higher-ranked carnivores (not to Neanderthals) . Neanderthal population size would be limited, and some environments (like open plains, where kills are highly visible) might be effectively closed to them.

Freezing is one of our bodies’ oldest existential threats

Sunday, January 9th, 2022

I recently listened to the audiobook version of The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s memoir of the 1910–1913 British Antarctic expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott. It didn’t go well. That said, they seemed to find blizzard conditions in Antarctica perfectly survivable, if they could just wait out the storm in their tents, with fuel to burn and other warm bodies around them.

I was thinking off this as I read a Wired article asking, could being cold actually be good for you?

The human body is simply lousy at facing the cold. “I’ve done studies where people were exposed to 7 degrees Celsius [44.6 Fahrenheit], which is not even extreme. It’s not that cold. Few people could sustain it for 24 hours,” he says. (Those subjects were even fully dressed: “Mitts, a hat, boots, and socks. And they still couldn’t sustain it.”)


Before industrialization, says Haman, “these extremes were actually part of life.” Bodies dealt with cold in the winter and heat in the summer. “You kept on going back and forth, and back and forth. And this probably contributed to metabolic health,” he says.

Researchers know that your body reacts when it’s cold. New fat appears, muscles change, and your level of comfort rises with prolonged exposure to cold. But what all this means for modern human health — and whether we can harness the effects of cold to improve it — are still open questions. One vein of research is trying to understand how cold-induced changes in fat or muscle can help stave off metabolic disease, such as diabetes. Another suggests it’s easier than you might think to get comfortable in the cold — without blasting the heat.

To Haman, these are useful scientific questions because freezing is one of our bodies’ oldest existential threats. “Cold, to me, is [one of] the most fascinating stimuli because cold is probably the biggest challenge that humans can have,” he says. “Even though heat is challenging, as long as I have access to water, and to shade, I will survive fairly well. The cold is completely the opposite.”

“If you’re not able to work together,” he continues, “if you don’t have the right equipment, if you don’t have the right knowledge–you’re not going to survive. It’s as simple as that.”


Haman has since shown that braving the cold can teach your body to stockpile more of it. In 2013, he asked his subjects to wear “cold suits” circulating water at 10 degrees Celsius (about 50 Fahrenheit) two hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks. It was cold and uncomfortable, but this “low intensity, long duration” acclimation caused people to double their amount of brown fat, which appeared around the spinal column, adrenal glands, and pelvic muscles.

Once it appears, brown fat doesn’t just sit around: Its activity replaces shivering as the body’s go-to heat factory. “Everything is being compensated by nonshivering thermogenesis,” says Haman. For the participants in the study, wearing the cold suit also tripled how active that fat was, or how much it burned. Shivering decreased about 10 to 20 percent after acclimating, according to his study. In other words, he concluded that the subjects acclimated to the cold by producing more brown fat, which in turn made them more comfortable at lower temperatures, without needing to shiver.

Then, in 2019, Haman aimed higher. Or perhaps lower. He recruited seven men to undergo seven days of intense cold acclimation. Each day, they sat in 58-degree-Fahrenheit water, submerged up to their clavicles, for up to one hour, until their core temperatures dropped to 95 degrees. They were then dried and slowly warmed back up. “It’s basically an hour of, uh … not having fun,” Haman says. “But after seven days, you’re basically a totally different person.” Participants could go an hour longer before shivering than they could before the trials. And they would shiver 36 percent less intensely, on average.


After the brown fat discoveries in 2009, Joris Hoeks, a diabetes researcher at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, was curious about its role in controlling blood sugar. His team recruited people with type 2 diabetes for a cold acclimation study. An important hallmark of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, in which organs take up less sugar from the blood. Participants endured six hours of cold, right on the edge of shivering, for 10 days. Their sensitivity to insulin, a key hormone in controlling blood glucose, improved by 43 percent on average — a boost comparable to the effect of a 12-week workout program.


Muscle cells change in the cold. Proteins responsible for transporting glucose fuel into muscle cells appear to migrate toward the outside of the cell. Hoeks thinks that change may help the body process more glucose, either because of mild or unnoticeable shivering contractions, or some other muscle process altogether.

A big market will develop for speeding ecommerce to and from suburban warehouses long before air taxis are considered safe

Saturday, January 8th, 2022

Beta Technologies is valued at a billion dollars. Its Alia electric aircraft was not designed for passengers:

But Clark designed Alia primarily as a cargo aircraft, betting that a big market will develop for speeding ecommerce to and from suburban warehouses long before air taxis are considered safe to allow over city streets.

“We’re actually going to win at the passenger game because by the time others are doing passenger missions we will have thousands of aircraft, millions of flight hours and a safe, reliable, vetted design,” says the 41-year-old Clark, whose company is based in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

Clark is also spooling up what he thinks will be a lucrative second business: charging stations for electric aircraft of all types that he plans to dot around the country to create the aviation equivalent of Tesla’s supercharger network. There are nine up and running already, in a line from Vermont to Arkansas, with another 51 under construction or in the permitting process. Most will contain banks of used batteries from Alia aircraft, removed when their capacity has declined about 8%, giving them a profitable second life while Beta sells Alia owners replacement packs at about a half a million a pop. Equipping the charging stations with battery storage will avoid the need for expensive upgrades to the local power grid: Clark’s plan is for them to fill slowly at off-peak times, while unneeded power can be sold back at peak to utilities.

Alia Electric Aircraft

Beta aims to start delivering UPS’ first 10 aircraft in 2024 — assuming it wins safety certification for Alia by then from the Federal Aviation Administration. If not, the U.S. Air Force could end up fielding Alia first: Beta has won contracts worth $43.6 million to test out Alia for military use. In May, Alia became the first electric aircraft to win airworthiness approval from the Air Force for manned flight.

Beta says Alia’s bulbous cabin will be able to carry 600 pounds of payload, including the pilot, a maximum 250 nautical miles — at least 100 miles farther than any competitors that have prototypes in the air — or up to 1,250 pounds for 200 miles with one of the five battery packs removed. Clark expects FAA reserve requirements to restrict flights to 125 miles.

But given Alia’s high price — roughly double a similarly sized new Cessna Grand Caravan and up to five times the used planes that dominate small cargo fleets — Beta and UPS know Alia will only make economic sense if it flies a lot. That will require a radical reshaping of delivery networks away from the longtime hub and spoke pattern under which cargo planes typically make just one roundtrip per day, funneling packages from a local airport to a sorting center. Instead, they envision Alia flying directly from one UPS warehouse to another — cutting out truck trips as well as plane flights — and eventually straight to large customers. Frequent flying will allow savings as lower operating costs kick in. Beta promises 90% savings on fuel and cheaper maintenance due to the fewer parts of electric propulsion systems — plus a fat 35% reduction if computers eventually bump pilots from the cockpit altogether.

I was expecting cargo drones by now.

We get rid of the power plant

Friday, January 7th, 2022

Fusion has been just 20 or 30 years away for decades, but new fusion projects are being fueled by billionaire dollars:

The dream inspired Ajay Royan, cofounder of Mithril Capital (with billionaire Peter Thiel), who in 2013 first invested $2 million in Redmond, Wash.-based Helion Energy so that it could build a prototype “repetitive pulse power” machine. Mithril has invested in Helion ever since, including its recent $500 million round (valuing the company at $3 billion) — with the promise of $1.7 billion more if the company’s seventh prototype works as hoped. Helion’s round was led by Sam Altman of Y Combinator.

The year of 2021 was a big one for both fusion financings and forecasts, as developers raised more than $3 billion to fund their next round of machines — with some now promising commercially viable fusion in just five years. Royan is happy to see fusion getting more attention; “Sure 2021 may be a turning point for fusion according to Google analytics, but the real turning point happened a decade ago when power electronics passed a threshold.”


In Helion’s novel system, the energy released in the fusion reactions continuously pushes out against its magnetic containment field, which pushes back — causing oscillations (“like a piston,” says Kirtley) that generate an electric current, which Helion captures directly from the reactor.

Royan of Mithril says perhaps the biggest attraction of Helion’s direct electricity generation method is its simplicity. Other fusion approaches aim to generate heat, in order to boil water and power steam turbines, which make electricity — like at traditional nuclear power plants. “We can do it with no steam turbines or cooling towers. We get rid of the power plant.”


That puts Helion in a race with Boston-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems, an MIT spinoff, which raised $1.8 billion from investors including Bill Gates and George Soros. CEO Bob Mumgaard says they’ll have a working reactor in 6 years. His optimism is buoyed by Commonwealth’s successful summer test of new electromagnets engineered with superconductors made from rare earth barium copper oxide.

Mumgaard says these super powered magnets will enable Commonwealth to perfect their somewhat more traditional fusion approach of building a donut-shaped “tokamak” reactor, which Mumgaard calls a “big magnetic bottle” where powerful magnetic fields control balls of 100 million degree plasma — “star stuff.”

There are roughly 150 tokamaks around the world; the biggest one is under construction in France for $30 billion by an international consortium called ITER. The 20,000-ton machine, the size of a basketball arena, is slated to be complete by 2035.


Whereas ITER’s primary magnets (called solenoids) will weigh some 400 tons and achieve fields stronger than 12 tesla, Commonwealth is eyeing 15-ton magnets, each using 300 km of ReBCO thin-film tape, that will generate 20 tesla (for comparison, a magnetic resonance imaging machine does 1.5 tesla).


Other leaders include General Fusion, based in Canada and backed by Jeff Bezos, which raised $130 million this year. Other notable billionaires in the fusion game are Neal and Linden Blue, who own San Diego-based General Atomics, which for decades has operated a research tokamak on behalf of the DOE, and which this year delivered to ITER the guts of its tokamak electromagnets — a 1,000-ton central solenoid. And there’s TAE Energy of California, which has been experimenting with $1 billion for the past decade, and raised $130 million during the pandemic.

Agnosticism, evolutionism, and subjectivism are three characteristics of modernism

Thursday, January 6th, 2022

Dune’s thematic core, Edward Welsch argues, is fundamentally theological:

Herbert, an ex-Catholic, published Dune in 1965, the concluding year of the Second Vatican Council, during which a progressive spirit of reform was unleashed within the Church. A school of liberal theology dubbed “modernism” that had been suppressed by conservative popes during the previous century was resurrected in a new generation of neo-modernist theologians who took the guiding reins of the Council. Their aim was, in the words of the excommunicated modernist priest Alfred Loisy, “to adapt Catholicism to the intellectual, moral, and social needs of today.”

The six Dune novels are a product of this zeitgeist. Herbert used his science fiction to capture the modernist, existentialist theology dominant in the 1960s and to project its consequences onto the far future. It is a future in which truth is subjective and religion is a tool disconnected from spiritual reality. There, dogma evolves and adapts to the needs of the material world, and the gene replaces the soul.


Agnosticism, evolutionism, and subjectivism are three characteristics of modernism identified by Pope Pius X in his 1907 encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (“Feeding the Lord’s Flock”). Agnosticism is reflected in the modernist idea that spiritual truth is beyond the capacity of human knowledge to comprehend and human words to express. In this view, all human religions are equal, in that they are imperfect attempts made by humans to commune with God. As a result, dialogue with other religions is pursued rather than evangelization and proselytization.

In Dune, the results of agnosticism are taken to extremes through pan-galactic ecumenism. The authoritative scripture is the Orange Catholic Bible. This scripture fuses all major religions, listed in the novels as: Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism, Buddislam, and an Islamic offshoot called the Maometh Saari, Maometh being the “Third Muhammed.” The priestly class is the all-female order of the Bene Gesserit — a portmanteau of the Benedictine and Jesuit Catholic orders. Since the ultra-liberal modern-day Jesuits routinely call for the ordination of women within their flagship magazine America, the Bene Gesserit are another sign of Herbert taking progressive theological trends to their logical conclusion.

How can we create a polemical film that viscerally convinces people to Believe Experts?

Wednesday, January 5th, 2022

I haven’t watched Don’t Look Up, but Scott Alexander gives a quick summary of the plot before noting that it can’t stop contradicting itself:

It depicts a monstrous world where the establishment is conspiring to keep the truth from you in every possible way. But it reserves its harshest barbs for anti-establishment wackos, who are constantly played for laughs.


Take this seriously, and the obvious moral of the story is: all conspiracy theories are true. If some rando bagging groceries at the supermarket tells you that every scientist in the world is lying, you should trust her 1000 percent.

But for some reason, everyone else thinks the moral of this story is Believe Experts. Worse, I think the scriptwriter and director and people like that also thought the moral of this story was Believe Experts. I think they asked themselves “How can we create a polemical film that viscerally convinces people to Believe Experts”, and they somehow came up with this movie, where the experts are bad and wrong and destroy humanity.


Progressivism, like conservatism and every other political philosophy, is big and complicated and self-contradictory. It tells a lot of stories to define and justify itself. Here are two of them:

First, a story of scruffy hippies and activists protesting the Man, that embodiment of capitalism and conformism and respectability. Think Stonewall, where gay people on the margins of society spat in the face of their supposed betters and demanded their rights. Even academics are part of this tradition: Chomsky and Herman’s Manufacturing Consent accuses the mainstream media of being the Man. It’s jingoist and obsessed with justifying America’s foreign adventures; we need brave truth-tellers to point out where it goes wrong. Environmentalism shares some of this same ethos. In Erin Brockovich, a giant corporation is poisoning people, lying about it, and has bribed or corrupted everyone else into taking their side. Only one brave activist is able to put the pieces together and stand up for ordinary people.

Second, a story that comes out of the Creationism Wars of the early 00s. We are the “reality-based community”, the sane people, the normal people, the people with college degrees and non-spittle-covered keyboards. They are unwashed uneducated lunatics who think that evolution is a lie and Obama was born in Kenya and vaccines cause autism and COVID isn’t real. Maybe they should have been clued in by the fact that 100% of smart people and institutions are on our side, and they are just a couple of weirdos who don’t even agree with each other consistently. If this narrative has a movie, it must be Idiocracy — though a runner up might be Behind the Curve, the documentary about flat-earthers.

The first narrative says “there’s a consensus reality constructed by respectable people, and a few wild-eyed weirdos saying they’ve seen through the veil and it’s all lies…and you should trust the weirdos!” The second starts the same way, but ends “…and you should trust consensus reality!” They’re not actually contradictory — you could be talking about different questions! You are talking about different questions! But they’re contradictory at the mythic narrative level where they’re trying to operate. On that level, there should always be a good guy and a bad guy, and you should be able to tell who’s who by their facial hair or at least the color of their clothing. You shouldn’t have to learn a bunch of facts about the biochemistry of hexavalent chromium (or whatever it was Erin Brockovich was investigating) to resolve the object-level issue; nobody has time for that!


Partisan hacks — which includes all of us these days — have become masters of accepting contradictory narratives. One day your side controls the government, and you’re pro-unity and anti-obstructionism. The next day, the other guys control the government, and suddenly obstructionism is a necessary part of a vibrant democratic process. One day your side controls the Supreme Court, and it’s a vital check and balance against majoritarian assaults on human rights. The next day the other guys control the Supreme Court, and it’s an anti-democratic gerontocracy that tries to rule in place of the elected government. One day someone is mean to you on Twitter, and it’s cyberbullying and abuse and infliction of mental trauma. The next day you’re mean to someone else on Twitter, and did you know that tone policing via weaponized demands for civility entrenches the power of the already-privileged?

Each of these positions accretes its own narrative — a stock collection of examples, stereotypes, and associated emotions that tells you whether it’s good or bad. When your side is against Twitter harassment, you hear lots of stories of sympathetic people being harassed by evil people and driven to suicide. You see interviews with their crying loved ones. Maybe someone even makes a movie about cyberbullying that viscerally drives in just how hurtful it can be. But when your side is doing the harassing, you hear historical examples of how tone policing and weaponized civility demands produced chilling effects on noble people who wanted to make positive changes. Now the movies include ugly obese Boomers who say sneeringly “hey, watch your tone” when anyone calls them out on their misdeeds, then smirkingly go on to misdeed again, protected from all criticism. You end up with one moral narrative around how Twitter harassment is extraordinarily, villainously bad, and another narrative around how it’s wonderfully, heroically good.


Many years ago, I wrote a post called The Cowpox Of Doubt. I complained about how people loved talking about flat-earthism or Holocaust denialism or whatever. The more you think about those kinds of questions, the more you absorb lessons like: everything has an obvious right answer, anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot, anyone trying to introduce subtlety is a concern troll, the proper length of time to debate something before dismissing it as obvious and your opponents as acting in bad faith is zero seconds. I argued you should basically never think about flat-earthism. Instead, think about when AGI will happen, or whether inflation will stabilize, or any of a thousand other questions where there are smart people on both sides of the issue. That way, you learn the right skills for solving hard questions, which are the only type you ever have any trouble solving in the first place.

It was the party of Northern Yankees

Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

The Republican Party was born as an ethnic party, Razib Khan reminds us:

Formed out of a fusion of the anti-slavery factions in the Whigs and the Democrats, it absorbed the straightforwardly named Free Soil Party and established itself as one half of the American political duopoly that has persisted down to the present. But its core motivations were as much cultural as ideological. It was a revolt of one section of America against the power of the South and “Slave Power.”

Despite all of the nostrums about ending slavery and polygamy and the need for federal investment in public works, the 1856 map shows who the Republican Party first drew its support from: it was the party of Northern Yankees. It was about identity, not ideology. Though in some contexts “Yankee” gets used as shorthand for all Americans, the term originates with the citizens of New England. Seeking opportunity outside of their overpopulated homeland, New England Yankees fanned out from their crowded corner of the United States. Yankee traders and whalers became the most numerous Americans beyond the nation’s shores. So common that the term Yankee became synonymous with American.

New Englanders also migrated westward all along the northern fringe of the United States, creating the “Yankee Empire.” They settled the vast domains of western New York, northern Ohio and Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Later the western portions of the Yankee Empire also became a magnet for Germans and Scandinavians, whose lifestyles and values were more consonant with those of New Englanders than with other factions of “Old Stock” Americans further south.

This was the soil where the Republican Party took root. In 1860, the Republicans nominated a Kentucky-born candidate, Abraham Lincoln, and the party’s reach expanded to other parts of the north beyond the Yankee fringe, thus capturing political power, which it would hold until FDR’s New Deal. Until Roosevelt’s realignment, every election involved jockeying between the old factions of Yankees, other Northerners, and the South. Though all these groups were white, their rivalries were deep and old. Despite attempts to patch up the fabric of American society, the blood spilled during the Civil War forever held the citizens of the North and South at a remove from one another.

In contrast, in 2020 the debate often foregrounds “whites” and “communities of color” as if the world is divided into such stark demographic dualities and always has been. Only it isn’t describing anything more than a recent fashion.

Popular support for authorities who gut liberalism when needed

Monday, January 3rd, 2022

Guillaume Durocher explains how Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father and long-time prime minister (1959–1990), set about building a new nation with a patriotic people, a prosperous economy, and political stability:

He ensured stability with “illiberal” democracy: There were elections at least every five years, but opposition parties could operate only with difficulty, if at all. Communists, Communist sympathizers, and “chauvinists” of various stripes (ethnic, linguistic, or religious) were repressed and excluded from political life. The government had great influence over the media and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) ruled an essentially one-party, parliamentary state. Lee also kept close ties with Britain and America as guarantees in the face of foreign threats, Communist or otherwise.

East Asia is the only region in the “global south” with countries that have been able to equal or even surpass Western standards of living. The rest, in the words of Francis Fukuyama, are perpetually trying to “get to Denmark.” Most of the successful nations caught up to the West thanks to stability through authoritarian or non-electoral governments. This has been the case not only in Singapore, but in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and also to some extent in Japan and South Korea. Typically, there is collaboration between government and big business together with a high savings rate for reinvesting profits. Once the country is wealthy, with a secure middle class, liberal democracy may then be instituted.

Lee Kuan Yew never trusted Western democracy; he refused to import divisive, multiparty politics. He thought the best people should rule through a meritocratic system of selection and make enlightened long-term plans. He thought this would be impossible under a democratic system susceptible to short-sightedness and demagogy. But whereas South Korea’s and Taiwan’s non-elected illiberal regimes collapsed, the Singapore government’s legitimacy has been continually refreshed at the ballot box, with popular support for authorities who gut liberalism when needed.

Why New Year’s resolutions actually work astoundingly well

Sunday, January 2nd, 2022

David Epstein explains why New Year’s resolutions actually work astoundingly well, by referencing behavioral scientist Katy Milkman’s How to Change:

Milkman’s team found that college students were more likely to hit the gym at the beginning of a new year, at the beginning of a week, at the beginning of a semester, and after their own birthdays. They also saw that students set more self-improvement goals in January, on Mondays, after school breaks, and (again) after birthdays. They called it the “fresh start effect.” The idea is that the sense of a new beginning makes it easier to turn an identity page, to feel like a new person who has new habits, and who is less burdened by past failures.

You certainly wouldn’t intuit this from pessimistic New Year’s headlines.


A 2007 survey, which found that about 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail to take hold, feels disappointing — until you consider that it leaves 20 percent of goal-setters who made a successful change thanks to a flip of the calendar.

A 2019 study found that people were more motivated to work toward a personal goal when a calendar they were shown depicted whatever the current day was (either Sunday or Monday) as the first day of a new week.

At Penn, where Milkman works, students were more likely to sign up for email reminders about new habits if the nudges were offered on “the first day of spring” as opposed to “the third Thursday in March,” even though it was the same day. And when Milkman’s team sent postcards to employees at four universities urging them to start saving (or start saving more) for retirement, the cards that invited employees to launch the new behavior after their next birthday were the most effective.

Popular Posts of 2021

Saturday, January 1st, 2022

I just took a look back at my numbers for 2021. Here are the most popular posts during that calendar year, four of which are new, six of which are older:

  1. Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics
  2. Days of work led to the decision to do nothing at all (new)
  3. IQ Shredders
  4. He-Man Opening Monologue
  5. Both sons also later attempted suicide
  6. The Pros and Cons of Empires
  7. It is difficult to understand why this should be such a formidable task
  8. Will China invade Taiwan? (new)
  9. Hitler’s strategy through mid-1940 was almost flawless (new)
  10. American mothers had given their sons everything in the world, except a belief in themselves (new)

Here are the most popular posts actually from 2021 and not from an earlier year:

  1. Days of work led to the decision to do nothing at all
  2. Will China invade Taiwan?
  3. Hitler’s strategy through mid-1940 was almost flawless
  4. American mothers had given their sons everything in the world, except a belief in themselves
  5. Once the Soviet Union was destroyed, the British would see reason and give in
  6. Most drugs don’t do anything significantly good or bad for most people who take them
  7. A sword never jams
  8. He was worth a dozen rational, decent men
  9. Hamas and Islamic Jihad sent their first-line of defense into the tunnels to start taking up positions
  10. Could the Germans have taken Moscow?

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

Also, I should thank some of my top referrers: Reaction Times, Western Rifle Shooters Association, BorepatchZ Man, and Instapundit.