Now it has finished the job, and released predicted structures for more than 200m proteins

Sunday, July 31st, 2022

In November 2020, the AI group DeepMind announced it had developed a program called AlphaFold that could rapidly predict how chains of amino acids fold up into complex shapes:

Last year, DeepMind published the protein structures for 20 species — including nearly all 20,000 proteins expressed by humans — on an open database. Now it has finished the job, and released predicted structures for more than 200m proteins.

“Essentially, you can think of it as covering the entire protein universe. It includes predictive structures for plants, bacteria, animals, and many other organisms, opening up huge new opportunities for AlphaFold to have an impact on important issues, such as sustainability, food insecurity, and neglected diseases,” said Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s founder and chief executive.

Scientists are already using some of its earlier predictions to help develop new medicines. In May, researchers led by Prof Matthew Higgins at the University of Oxford announced they had used AlphaFold’s models to help determine the structure of a key malaria parasite protein, and work out where antibodies that could block transmission of the parasite were likely to bind.

“Previously, we’d been using a technique called protein crystallography to work out what this molecule looks like, but because it’s quite dynamic and moves around, we just couldn’t get to grips with it,” Higgins said. “When we took the AlphaFold models and combined them with this experimental evidence, suddenly it all made sense. This insight will now be used to design improved vaccines which induce the most potent transmission-blocking antibodies.”

People who habitually compare themselves with others are more likely to have psychopathic traits

Saturday, July 30th, 2022

Social comparison orientation is significantly correlated with psychopathy, Rob Henderson explains:

In other words, people who habitually compare themselves with others are more likely to have psychopathic traits (selfishness, callousness, cynicism).

And psychopathy, in turn, was associated with more comfort with sacrificing a few to save many.

Social comparison is also associated with narcissism. People prone to comparing themselves with others agree more strongly with statements such as “I am great” and “Other people are worth nothing.”


Later, I learned that psychopaths are overrepresented among college students by a factor of four. Roughly two percent of the general population are psychopaths, compared with 8 percent of college students.


Other studies find that people who frequently compare themselves with others are more likely to experience malicious envy.

They tend to agree with statements like “If other people have something that I want for myself, I wish to take it away from them” and “Seeing other people’s achievements makes me resent them.”


Social comparers prefer to make everyone else worse off, if it means they will obtain a relative advantage.

Also unsurprisingly, social comparison was highly correlated with competitiveness (“I judge my performance on whether I do better than others rather than on just getting a good result”).

The effects houses bend over backward to keep Marvel happy

Wednesday, July 27th, 2022

An anonymous VFX artist notes that working on Marvel shows is really hard:

When I worked on one movie, it was almost six months of overtime every day. I was working seven days a week, averaging 64 hours a week on a good week. Marvel genuinely works you really hard. I’ve had co-workers sit next to me, break down, and start crying. I’ve had people having anxiety attacks on the phone.

The studio has a lot of power over the effects houses, just because it has so many blockbuster movies coming out one after the other. If you upset Marvel in any way, there’s a very high chance you’re not going to get those projects in the future. So the effects houses are trying to bend over backward to keep Marvel happy.

To get work, the houses bid on a project; they are all trying to come in right under one another’s bids. With Marvel, the bids will typically come in quite a bit under, and Marvel is happy with that relationship, because it saves it money. But what ends up happening is that all Marvel projects tend to be understaffed. Where I would usually have a team of ten VFX artists on a non-Marvel movie, on one Marvel movie, I got two including myself. So every person is doing more work than they need to.

The other thing with Marvel is it’s famous for asking for lots of changes throughout the process. So you’re already overworked, but then Marvel’s asking for regular changes way in excess of what any other client does. And some of those changes are really major. Maybe a month or two before a movie comes out, Marvel will have us change the entire third act. It has really tight turnaround times. So yeah, it’s just not a great situation all around. One visual-effects house could not finish the number of shots and reshoots Marvel was asking for in time, so Marvel had to give my studio the work. Ever since, that house has effectively been blacklisted from getting Marvel work.

Part of the problem comes from the MCU itself — just the sheer number of movies it has. It sets dates, and it’s very inflexible on those dates; yet it’s quite willing to do reshoots and big changes very close to the dates without shifting them up or down.


The main problem is most of Marvel’s directors aren’t familiar with working with visual effects. A lot of them have just done little indies at the Sundance Film Festival and have never worked with VFX. They don’t know how to visualize something that’s not there yet, that’s not on set with them. So Marvel often starts asking for what we call “final renders.” As we’re working through a movie, we’ll send work-in-progress images that are not pretty but show where we’re at. Marvel often asks for them to be delivered at a much higher quality very early on, and that takes a lot of time. Marvel does that because its directors don’t know how to look at the rough images early on and make judgment calls. But that is the way the industry has to work. You can’t show something super pretty when the basics are still being fleshed out.

Their bloated administrations are the shock troops of the culture war

Monday, July 25th, 2022

There are two kinds of revolutionaries, Balaji Srinivasan argues, technological and political, and there are two kinds of backers, venture capitalists and philanthropists. There aren’t term sheets between philanthropists and political revolutionaries, with “exits” to the tune of billions of dollars, but impact certificates could fix that, Scott Alexander suggests.

Arnold Kling doesn’t want that “fixed”:

Profit-seeking investment is driven ultimately by what consumers want. Philanthropy is driven ultimately by what donors want. Unless you think that donors are morally superior to the rest of us, you should not be rooting for more philanthropy.

One can speculate that one of the causes of increased social tension is the rise in philanthropy. Our “cold civil war” is funded by George Soros, Peter Thiel, Tom Steyer, and the like. Universities are among the most popular “charitable causes,” and their bloated administrations are the shock troops of the culture war.

We are better off with Soros speculating on currencies and Thiel trying to take businesses from zero to one. We are better off when university alumni invest their money in search of profit.


A lot of philanthropy goes to colleges and universities. Much of this goes to fancy new buildings. I think that Scott would agree that this does not help poor people. But were the donors who funded buildings trying to help the poor but lacking skills at effective altruism? Obviously not.

The challenge is not to make philanthropists more efficient at getting performing-arts centers and sports complexes built on campus. The challenge is to change the focus of donors toward something more worthwhile.

On the other hand, over the years Wal-Mart has hired many low-skilled workers and lowered the cost of living in many poor rural areas. Wal-Mart did not set out to help poor people, but that was the result.

More generally, markets have been shown over time and across countries to reduce poverty. The market does not produce the results of a benevolent omniscient quasi-deity. But donors themselves are neither benevolent, omniscient, nor quasi-deities.

I think that there is too much money to be made nowadays in non-profits dedicated to causes. Think of people making money as “activists.” I worry that “impact markets” could lead to even greater investment in arms races between opposing advocacy groups.

Libertarianism in the United States is an awkward alliance

Sunday, July 24th, 2022

Virginia Postrel notes that libertarianism in the United States is an awkward alliance between nasty “leave me alone” types and nice “don’t dictate to others” types, Arnold Kling reports:

She invoked David Hackett-Fischer’s classic Albion’s Seed. That might be a good book to discuss at some point. The nasties are the descendants of the Scotch-Irish “borderers.” The nice are the descendants of the Quaker migration. The former are Trump supporters. The latter are more likely to be #neverTrumpers.

There were standards of politeness that people followed

Saturday, July 23rd, 2022

One factor driving Wokeness, Virginia Postrel notes, is a desire on the part of young people to be polite, and Arnold Kling doesn’t quite agree:

Calling people by their preferred pronouns and avoiding micro-aggressions can be seen as an attempt to be polite. Of course, by my standards these forms of politeness are not admirable, and the activists on Twitter are anything but polite.

Some more of my thoughts:

If you go back to the 1950s, there were standards of politeness that people followed. You were not supposed to use four-letter words. Men went to baseball games in white dress shirts. Nobody went to the theater or went on a plane trip in blue jeans.

We boomers treated these norms of politeness as at best unnecessary and at worst hypocritical. We threw out the whole concept.

But maybe there is a human longing for standards of politeness.

I’m reminded of Neal Stephenson’s defense of the (Neo-)Victorians against accusations of hypocrisy in The Diamond Age:

“We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy,“ Finkle-McGraw continued. “In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception — he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it’s a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing.”

A 9V battery feeding a capacitor provided the energy to ignite the new type of primer

Friday, July 22nd, 2022

The recent unpleasantness in Japan piqued my interest in DIY firearms and electronic ignition, which led me to the Remington Model 700 EtronX, which was introduced in 2000 and discontinued in 2003. Ian of Forgotten Weapons explains:

It consisted of a standard Remington 700 bolt action rifle, with the trigger and firing mechanisms replaced by electric versions. The firing pin itself became an insulated electrode, the trigger operated an electronic switch instead of a mechanical sear, and a 9V battery feeding a capacitor provided the energy to ignite the new type of primer — basically a resistor that would generate heat to ignite a charge of smokeless powder.


Unfortunately, the only practical advantage to the electronic workings was a reduction in lock time of the action (the delay from trigger press to cartridge ignition). They did in fact achieve a virtual elimination of lock time, but this was not a problem that needed to be addressed for the general sporting rifle market.

Now, if they introduced a gun that didn’t need conventional primers today, they might have some success.

One hobbyist found it surprisingly hard to ignite gunpowder:

Experiments performed a few years ago and shown on the web page here found that weak sparks, such as from static electricity, are incapable of igniting black powder. Since I wanted to use smokeless powder in the rifle, and since it has a much higher ignition point than the black powder shown here, my first attempts used sparks from a stun-gun to see if they could ignite the powder.

The stun gun shown here is advertised as producing a 100,000 volt spark. The sparks were certainly loud and impressive, and they easily burned tiny holes through a piece of paper placed between the electrodes, but would they ignite powder?

Hundreds of sparks were struck into a pile of Hodgdon’s Tite-Group smokeless powder (left) and Swiss black powder (right) with absolutely no effect except for bouncing the grains around. The sparks were striking the grains, and you can see flashes when the spark hits the surface of the granules, but never once would the powder ignite!

The photo below shows a spark from the stun gun going completely through a line of black powder stuck to a piece of masking tape, and although hundreds of grains were simultaneously hit, nothing happened.


About this time I was ready to give up, but after a few days of reflection, I thought I knew what was happening. The spark in the chamber was clearly extraordinarily hot and was vigorous enough to blow the tamper out of the chamber, which meant that the air in the chamber had to be heated to a high temperature. But why didn’t the powder ignite? I believed the reason was the extremely brief duration of the spark; in trying to capture it on a video, it was so brief that it took many tries to accidentally capture a video frame on a camera running 30 frames/second. My guess is that it lasted only a few micro seconds, and thus, no matter how hot it was, it couldn’t transfer enough heat into the powder granules during this brief time period for them to ignite. Therefore, slowing down the spark, even if it meant reducing its intensity, might be enough to do the job.

To slow down the spark, I simply added a resistor in series with the capacitor so the current was limited to about two amperes — which is still a lot of current going through a spark. As you can see from the image, the spark was much brighter than from the spark coil alone, but was very much less intense than without the resistor. However, it seemed to last a bit longer — about 2000 micro seconds, so that elongation might do the trick.

I added some smokeless powder (this time without a tamper) and sparked it. It worked! Not only did it work for the Tite Group smokeless powder, but for all others I tried, and all ignitions were instantaneous.

“Notification” is a dishonest euphemism

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

Surely, Tim Harford suggests, everyone switches off most notifications, right?

One study, published in 2015 by researchers at the Technical University of Berlin, found that on average six out of seven smartphone apps were left in their default notification settings. Given how many notifications are clearly valueless, this suggests that in the face of endless notifications, many smartphone users have learnt helplessness.


“Notification” is a dishonest euphemism, anyway. The correct word is “interruption”, because it prompts the right question: how often do I want my phone to interrupt me?

China has a long and effective history of using massed small craft to rebuff stronger rivals

Monday, July 18th, 2022

China’s gray-zone fleet is hard to handle:

China has a long and effective history of using massed small craft to rebuff stronger rivals. The Communist regime employed massed small craft to project sovereignty as early as 1966, when eleven steel-hulled Chinese trawlers joined together to chase USS Pueblo’s (AGER-2) sister ship, the surveillance-oriented USS Banner (AGER-1), out of the East China Sea. For China, swarming is a long-standing, deeply rooted military tactic.

Coast Guards and Navies throughout the Pacific have long-struggled with strategies to manage China’s preference for fielding numerous but low-tech maritime vessels. Up till now, only aircraft and surface presence, in the form of massed, highly capable gunboats, have been effective against China’s militarized gray zone fleet.

Over the past few years, minor successes in rebuffing China’s coercive fleets has sparked something of a low-tech arms race. As Pacific states slowly up-armed their defensive resources, increasing presence in both ship numbers and in individual ship tonnage, China has, in turn, quietly “super-sized” their low-tech armada, making their ships too big and fast for other countries to confront.

While low-key, the growth of China’s low-tech fleet has been dramatic. China’s Coast Guard cutter fleet is expanding in number and size, and now boasts over 130 ships of over 1,000 tons. Today, the largest Chinese cutters are able to shoulder aside anything short of an Arleigh Burke destroyer. And while still lightly-armed, China’s Coast Guard fleet has gotten better basic weapons as well. Rapid-fire guns and man-portable anti-aircraft missiles make approach by rotary wing aircraft increasingly perilous, complicating efforts to target ships with laser-guided munitions, weapons the U.S. has used to clear the seas of lightly-armed adversaries in the past.

But now, America’s QUICKSINK makes even the queens of the Chinese Coast Guard, the massive 12,000-ton Zhaotou Class Coast Guard cutters, vulnerable.

Quicksink provides a low-cost anti-ship capability by using a modified 2,000-pound class GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, with a new Weapon Open Systems Architecture, or WOSA, seeker.

Most regimes would have great difficulty killing large numbers of people quickly and procedurally

Sunday, July 17th, 2022

The “hogtie, throw to the ground, and shoot in the back of the head” approach to killing people was popular with both the Soviet Cheka and Nazi Einsatzgruppen:

The innovation that the CCP has adopted is to involve a large proportion of their police and judiciary in the process as directly as possible. […] Western governments generally take great care to insulate law enforcement personnel from state-sanctioned killing. The environment and process of an execution is controlled, clinical, and highly restricted. Very few cops ever see the inside of a death chamber. In PRC the opposite is true.

When the CCP decides to kill you, they usually do it outdoors, and often in semi-public places. Regular judicial personnel handle identity confirmation and terminal legal dispositions. Multiple officers are required to wrestle the victim to the ground and hold them there. Then another officer walks up with a gun, and bang, lights out.

Once the deed is done and the victim is deceased, or wounded badly enough that death is inevitable, they are often harvested for their organs. The medical personnel who do this are usually conscripted and not told in advance what they’ll be required to do.

At every step of the process the maximum number of personnel from the mainline police and judicial system are used to carry out the killing. Why? It spreads out the complicity by making sure that everybody who could have blood on their hands does. It’s insurance for the CCP.

The CCP knows that the biggest threat to its continued rule is members of its security apparatus deciding not to do their jobs anymore. One of the best ways to ensure that ordinary cops toe the line is to make them a crucial part of your killing machine. The logic is pretty straightforward: if a substantial fraction of your armed police have directly participated in “social cleansing” of undesireables like petty drug abusers, liquidation of badly-behaved members of minority groups, or outright political murders of people within the CCP hierarchy, it’s not particularly difficult to convince them that regime change would result in them being afforded the same treatment by whomever seizes power.

It’s also a technique for building a certain kind of very evil state capacity. Most regimes would have great difficulty killing large numbers of people quickly and procedurally, but not the CCP. They have a paramilitary police force that can conduct executions at scale. There’s no dedicated roving death squad, no group of commandos drugging people and dropping them out of airplanes, no warehouse-sized gas chambers, no mass graves. Just cops, judges, Maoist collective action, small arms, and crematoria.

Routine, in other words.

Merely excellent teachers aren’t terribly valuable in a principal’s currency

Saturday, July 16th, 2022

Layfolk have little clue what principals do all day, Ed Real reminds us:

For example, principals spend very little time evaluating teachers and that’s how they like it. Most of them aren’t terribly interested in outward metrics of student learning, like test scores.  Most school administrators only worry about problematic teachers on an exception basis: they don’t hear, they don’t care.

School administration is an intense, brutal management position that has a limited relationship to teaching. Issues that are largely unconsidered in the public perception are of fundamental and compelling importance to a school and its districts, dwarfing such piddling concerns as teacher quality. Merely excellent teachers aren’t terribly valuable in a principal’s currency.


The top tier is peopled with the coordinators of school-wide initiatives: student activities, ELL testing, Title I.

Day to day operations combined with a series of one-offs rule the administrator world. Student discipline. Answering a tiny slice of the thousand emails received since 8 am. Parent phone calls. Meetings. Facility emergencies. District visits. Attending every single sporting event. Routine yearly or regularly scheduled events that nonetheless require planning, which at the high school level might look like: the master schedule, state tests, graduation, accreditation. Most of the intense planning occurs during the summer month when teachers and students are gone.

But these interrupt-driven tasks are actually a luxury permitted because the district manages the really important school responsibilities, the hulking beasts known as federal and state education mandates. These obligations are so essential and failure so threatening that the tasks are automated and audited by clerical or administrative staff at an expense of millions per year.

For example: attendance reporting is critical to school funding, audited at the district, county and state level. Principals aren’t usually evaluated on test scores. They are evaluated on whether or not their teachers take role. As in, if 90% or more of teachers in a school aren’t identifying any missing students on the expensive online attendance system and clicking “Save”, the principal will get some negative attention and an evaluation metric on that point for the next year.

Another important requirement: a credentialed human being has to be in each classroom nearly every minute of the school day. As in the case of attendance management, districts spend millions each year to take this off individual administrators, usually with a teacher absentee system that allows substitute teachers to sign up for logged teacher absences. This frees principals from a task that would otherwise dominate their day–and, in fact, has dominated their days since the return from the pandemic occasioned a catastrophic sub shortage.

Then there’s the food issue. School researchers and reporters academically and casually use the term FRPL–the usual criterion for Title I designation–but far less attention is spent to the logistics of lunch time or, god spare me, breakfast time, particularly in elementary schools. It’s not just the money for food, but the scheduling, the hygiene standards, the workers, their pay, their hours, their substitutes….it’s a whole thing. No point in blaming federal mandates for this, mind you: school lunch had been in place for over fifty years in 1946, when Truman signed the National School Lunch program. (To this day I wonder why we never decided just to give school kids coupons for meals at local diners. Maybe just add the food cost onto SNAP cards? Sure would have been cheaper and more efficient.)

But the most significant requirement lurking at the edge of every principal’s worry horizon is special education. A behemoth of legal responsibility created by the unexpected collision between 1975’s special education law and 1991’s ADA, the legal mandate of IDEA and the civil right statute known as 504 have effects that were exacerbated by collisions created by medical advances and the APA’s ever-expanding DSM. The original special education law was intended for mildly “retarded” students but for the past 30 years, ever since it was retagged IDEA, the monster has created a whole slew of rights for kids who are a) severely mentally disabled, b) physically disabled (from minor to severe) and c) kids who have learning disabilities that were after the fact categorized as disabled. These are rights that only accrue to those with the magic three letter document known as an IEP, or the less-impressive but still powerful 504. (I would repeal IDEA in its current form, so take my pith with some salt.)

The students rejected a completely subterranean design as both too expensive and too depressing

Friday, July 15th, 2022

In 1959, the Cornell College of Architecture launched a study to design a city that could survive nuclear attack:

The Schoharie Valley Townsite project was one of the most ambitious civil defense proposals of the Cold War: a factory-town that could not only withstand nuclear attack, but maintain war production even as the hydrogen bombs burst around it.


As a baseline, they decided to design the town to withstand a 20 megaton blast at a distance of ten miles from city center, and to then maintain industrial production while buttoned up against fallout.

The next step was to choose a location in New York state for their new town. Based on local geology, the availability of transport, and being outside the blast radius of existing cities, they narrowed the choice to either the Schoharie Valley or Slaterville.


The Schoharie Townsite was explicitly modeled after the factory towns of the IBM corporation, and centered around the “EMF”, or Electronics Manufacturing Facility. Based on existing IBM factory-towns, they estimated a population of 9,000, of whom about 1,500 would work at the EMF itself.

The students rejected a completely subterranean design as both too expensive and too depressing to live in. Instead, they decided to build the town on the surface, with underground communal shelters for each neighborhood linked by tunnels. Since the different shelters were all connected, in an attack people could head for cover immediately, without worrying about being cut off from family members in different shelters. Every point on the surface would be within 1500 feet – about five minutes walk – from a shelter entrance. All underground space would be buried beneath at least four and a half feet of earth and a foot of concrete for blast protection and radiation attenuation.

The 9,000 residents would live in 1,158 apartments, 372 rowhouse and duplex units, and 951 detached houses, split among three main residential areas. Each residential area would be centered around a community center with an elementary school, shops, social center, churches, communal recreation areas, and a park. The entrances to the neighborhood shelter would be in the elementary schools. Each entrance would include mass decontamination stations, able to handle 60-75 people per hour.

At the center of the three residential areas would be a central business hub with a high school, municipal buildings, stadium, and shops. The town high school would sit on top of the downtown shelter, which would also be the hub of the subterranean network. The municipal offices’ basements would be hardened and serve as the town’s civil defense control center.

Unlike the rest of the town, the Electronics Manufacturing Facility would be entirely underground, in limestone one hundred feet below the surface. The access tunnel would have a series of turns to dilute blast, and the internal structures would be shock-mounted. The student planners saw the subterranean character of the factory as a bonus – “by virtue of its subterranean character, the plant inflicts no objectionable atmosphere upon adjacent residential areas, so that usual difficulties in industry-residence relationships should not arise.”

The town would get its water from underground wells, with an underground treatment plant and million-gallon subterranean reservoir in the rock above the EMF, and three other million-gallon reservoirs located elsewhere. A small light water reactor would supply the electrical power.

All of the underground spaces would serve secondary roles in peacetime. The rooms of the high school shelter would be used a gymnasium, library, auditorium, cafeteria, and storage facilities. The underground tunnels would hold a “seatway” transportation network, a sort of minimalist subway: “trains” of eight to ten chairs would be pulled along by a continuously moving belt, briefly disengaging from the belt at stations to allow passengers to get on or off.

This reminded me of a morbidly fascinating fact from Table C, “Per-Cent Mortality at Various Distances,” of The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: from 0 feet to 1000 feet from ground zero, percent mortality was 93.0. Not 100.0 percent. Not 99.9 percent. But 93.0 percent.

Hiroshima was 12 kilotons, less than a thousandth as powerful as a 20-megaton bomb.

(This reminds me of The Atomic Cafe, which makes a splendid Rorschach test.)

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs had rather different results:

In considering the devastation in the two cities, it should be remembered that the cities’ differences in shape and topography resulted in great differences in the damages. Hiroshima was all on low, flat ground, and was roughly circular in shape; Nagasaki was much cut up by hills and mountain spurs, with no regularity to its shape.


In Hiroshima over 60,000 of 90,000 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged by the atomic bomb; this figure represents over 67% of the city’s structures.

In Nagasaki 14,000 or 27% of 52,000 residences were completely destroyed and 5,40O, or 10% were half destroyed. Only 12% remained undamaged. This destruction was limited by the layout of the city.

Rolling hills and a linear, rather than circular, shape could go a long way in reducing the damage to an otherwise ordinary city.

(Hat tip to Adamas Nemesis.)

The national holidays of the US, Mexico, and France all celebrate rather different events

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

Back in 2004, Jerry Pournelle described the original Bastille Day:

On July 14, 1789, the Paris mob aided by units of the National Guard stormed the Bastille Fortress which stood in what had been the Royal area of France before the Louvre and Tuilleries took over that function. The Bastille was a bit like the Tower of London, a fortress prison under direct control of the Monarchy. It was used to house unusual prisoners, all aristocrats, in rather comfortable durance. The garrison consisted of soldiers invalided out of service and some older soldiers who didn’t want to retire; it was considered an honor to be posted there, and the garrison took turns acting as valets to the aristocratic prisoners kept there by Royal order (not convicted by any court).

On July 14, 1789, the prisoner population consisted of four forgers, three madmen, and another.  The forgers were aristocrats and were locked away in the Bastille rather than be sentenced by the regular courts. The madmen were kept in the Bastille in preference to the asylums: they were unmanageable at home, and needed to be locked away. The servants/warders were bribed to treat them well. The Bastille was stormed; the garrison was slaughtered to a man, some being stamped to death; their heads were displayed on pikes; and the prisoners were freed. The forgers vanished into the general population. The madmen were sent to the general madhouse.  The last person freed was a young man who had challenged the best swordsman in Paris to a duel, and who had been locked up at his father’s insistence lest he be killed. This worthy joined the mob and took on the name of Citizen Egalité. He was active in revolutionary politics until Robespierre had him beheaded in The Terror.

The national holidays of the US, Mexico, and France all celebrate rather different events…

(This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned thus.)

More than three-quarters of released drug offenders are rearrested for a nondrug crime

Wednesday, July 13th, 2022

Contrary to the claims in Michelle Alexander’s 2010 bestseller The New Jim Crow, drug prohibition is not driving incarceration rates, Rafael A. Mangual explains:

Yes, about half of federal prisoners are in on drug charges; but federal inmates constitute only 12 percent of all American prisoners — the vast majority are in state facilities. Those incarcerated primarily for drug offenses constitute less than 15 percent of state prisoners. Four times as many state inmates are behind bars for one of five very serious crimes: murder (14.2 percent), rape or sexual assault (12.8 percent), robbery (13.1 percent), aggravated or simple assault (10.5 percent), and burglary (9.4 percent). The terms served for state prisoners incarcerated primarily on drug charges typically aren’t that long, either. One in five state drug offenders serves less than six months in prison, and nearly half (45 percent) of drug offenders serve less than one year.

That a prisoner is categorized as a drug offender, moreover, does not mean that he is nonviolent or otherwise law-abiding. Most criminal cases are disposed of through plea bargains, and, given that charges often get downgraded or dropped as part of plea negotiations, an inmate’s conviction record will usually understate the crimes he committed. The claim that drug offenders are nonviolent and pose zero threat to the public if they’re put back on the street is also undermined by a striking fact: more than three-quarters of released drug offenders are rearrested for a nondrug crime. It’s worth noting that Baltimore police identified 118 homicide suspects in 2017, and 70 percent had been previously arrested on drug charges.

Not only are most prisoners doing time for serious, often violent, offenses; they’ve usually received (and blown) the second chance that so many reformers say they deserve. Justice Department studies from 2000 through 2009 reveal that only about 40 percent of state felony convictions result in a prison sentence. A Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study of violent felons convicted over a 12-year period in America’s 75 largest counties shows that 56 percent of the offenders had a prior conviction record.

Even though most state prisoners are serious and serial offenders, nearly 40 percent of inmates serve less than a year in prison, with the median time served about 16 months. Lengthy sentences tend to be reserved for the most serious violent crimes — but even 20 percent of convicted murderers and nearly 60 percent of those convicted for rape or sexual assault serve less than five years of their sentences.

Try thinking of your culture and society as a battered wife

Tuesday, July 12th, 2022

Curtis Yarvin (Mencius Moldbug) asks ordinary Americans who aren’t power-hungry (“hobbits”) to try thinking of their culture and society as a battered wife:

If your husband hits you, your job is not to hit him back.

Winning a battle in the culture war — as in today’s Current Thing, the repeal of Roe v. Wade — is not like leaving your abusive husband. It is certainly not like finding a new husband. No — it is like hitting your husband back.

0% of domestic-violence educators recommend this strategy — at least not till it is time for Plan E and your actual murder feels imminent. In which case it will probably not work anyway. But why not try.

On the level of physical violence, your husband — a bear of a man — will always prevail. But the cops can easily hogtie him like an animal. If they want, they can make it hurt. If you are thinking like a general, not like a frightened mouse, you reason backward from the assistance of such allies.

Unfortunately, there is only one United Nations, and that one is not much help to such battered ones as we — but this is a type of idea — the strategic idea. In a situation of weakness, the only possible reversal must come from strategy rather than struggle.

Hitting your husband back is struggle. Setting a hidden camera before you talk to your husband about his drinking is strategy. Calling the cops is strategy. And in a dangerous situation, strategy is your job.

So if your husband stole something that belonged to you — do you steal it back? What if he literally stole it 50 years ago? Stealing it back is struggle, not strategy.

Since you are in the right, it is the court’s job to be on your side, and it is your job to make the court’s job as easy as possible. Stealing it back is your natural impulse and your moral right — which is exactly why it is such a dangerous trap. It is not your job. And it certainly does not make the court’s job easy.

Of course, the culture war is a sovereign conflict and there is no court to appeal to — only God’s court, in which might makes right — the ultima ratio regum.

Aggressive defense in a culture war is not a bad strategic idea because it displeases some mysterious higher power. In this case, there is no such power. Aggressive defense is a bad strategic idea for other reasons.

It is a bad strategic idea because it makes the problem harder to solve. It is a bad strategy because it is a trap and it always sucks to fall in a trap. Please do not bite at the bait and trip into the wire. Please circle back and try to get behind the trapper.

If you have limited energy and a limited number of possible wins, it is important to focus your limited energy on one kind of win: wins that make future wins easier. By definition, these are the kinds of wins that augment your power. These are real wins.

There is another kind of “win,” wins which expend your power in order to achieve some result you want. These are sometimes called “Pyrrhic victories.” Pyrrhus took the battlefield, but after the battle his chances of winning were reduced. His tactical “victory” was a strategic defeat.

Among those who believe that an unborn baby is a human life, of course, the result of preventing an abortion is saving a life. So the results of this win are lives saved.

This is a weighty argument to set against strategy — but this is war, in which such weights are often balanced, and must be. The battle is important. So is the war.

And how many such lives, really, are saved? Are there really that many American women who want to get an abortion, but can’t afford an $89 ticket to Oakland? We’ll see mobile abortion death vans lined up like taco trucks at the taxi stands outside all major California airports. A girl in trouble won’t even need a reservation… she may not even need to exit the secure area — major airlines now planning to staff their executive lounges with on-demand abortionists, also expert in Swedish massage… abortion tourism as a whole will blossom… specialized abortion spas… abortion bachelorette parties… abortion gender-reveal ceremonies… abortion with dolphins… “our constitution,” per John Adams, “was made only for a moral and religious people.” Does not Pres. Adams’ data point argue strongly for a new constitutional thinking?