Passenger trains generally travel on the same tracks as freight trains

Saturday, August 6th, 2022

Modern American passenger trains take longer to travel the same routes than trains used to take:

First, Amtrak trains often have to make more stops than their pre-Amtrak counterparts. (Abrams didn’t go into detail why, but as a quasi-government corporation, Amtrak sometimes makes more stops along a route to please Congressional representatives who need to authorize its funding, unlike the private railroads that existed before Amtrak’s formation in the early 1970s.) As an example of the added stops Amtrak now makes, Abrams pointed out the 1959 New York Central’s New York-Chicago route took 16 hours and made eight stops, whereas Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited along the same route takes 19 hours 10 minutes making 18 stops, including a lengthy pause in Albany where train cars coming from Boston are linked up.

The second reason has to do with track priority. Passenger trains generally travel on the same tracks as freight trains. When the passenger and freight trains were owned by the same company, they typically prioritized passengers. Now, in the Amtrak era, freight rail companies no longer operate passenger train service but still own, operate, and maintain the tracks, which Amtrak uses. Although the law requires them to prioritize Amtrak trains, in practice they rarely do, resulting in an escalating beef between the freight companies and Amtrak.

[…]

One of the few places Amtrak does not have to contend with freight rail is along the Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C. to Boston via New York. Either Amtrak or regional commuter rail systems own those tracks. And it is one of the few routes with noticeable time improvements since the Eisenhower Era and the only stretch with anything approaching high speed rail service, saving riders some 45 minutes between New York and Washington when compared to Olden Times. And New York to Boston on Acela — until recently the only stretch of track in the U.S. with true “high-speed rail” — is 21 minutes faster than the fastest train in 1952.

The Amish have been breeding themselves for plainness

Thursday, August 4th, 2022

The Amish population doubles every 20 years:

The North American Amish population grew by an estimated 195,710 since 2000, increasing from approximately 177,910 in 2000 to 373,620 in 2022, an increase of 110 percent. The Amish population doubles about every 20 years.

[…]

The primary forces driving the growth are sizable nuclear families (five or more children on average) and an average retention rate (Amish children who join the church as young adults) of 85 percent or more.

The Amish probably won’t pass 10 billion in the early 24th Century, Steve Sailer notes:

I wrote about the Amish in 2013, including the Cochran-Harpending theory that one reason their retention rate has gone up over the generations is because they have been boiling off Amish-born individuals with genomes that don’t put up well with the Amish lifestyle, that the Amish have been breeding themselves for their favorite trait: “plainness.”

In 1820, Harvard paid lip service to meritocratic virtues while producing aristocrats

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022

America’s elite universities have long fused the myth of meritocracy with the reality of aristocracy:

As early as 1820, critics accused Harvard — then a bastion of the Boston upper-class — of elitism, a charge to which administrators responded by introducing difficult entrance exams. These tests did not change the institution’s makeup, and deliberately so. From Latin and Greek to political philosophy, Harvard’s faculty selected themes and questions that no one but students from a handful of preparatory schools could address. In fact, the function of the new admissions process had little to do with access, and much to do with legitimacy. Hiding behind the convenient veil of meritocracy, Harvard could claim the mantle of equal opportunity while remaining exclusive.

Every time public schools managed to adapt and prepare their middle-class students for the entrance exam, the university would change the test’s structure to make it impossible for commoners to compete. In 1850, the exam lasted eight hours; by 1865, it lasted three days and covered twice as many subjects. Harvard justified these changes by re-affirming their desire to become more meritocratic. Far from a gatekeeping tool, the ever-changing exam would prevent the undeserving sons of the elite from corrupting an institution wherein achievement alone prevailed—or so the administration claimed. Of course, the leaders of the college knew that Harvard would remain as aristocratic as ever. But they understood the need to use the meritocracy narrative to protect the university from attacks in the name of democratic consistency.

[…]

On paper, every institution of elite production is accessible to all who deserve access. But the players who control the definition of merit and the metrics of achievement have evident incentives to limit the democratization of status. There lies the genius of meritocracy as we know it: the public mind does not grasp that a handful of institutions shape our perception of merit, that the selection processes change to protect dynastic privileges, and that meritocracy at-large consists of little more than a legitimating mechanism by and for elites. Dressed in the garb of equality, meritocracy allows hidden bastions of aristocracy to thrive in democratic societies.

[…]

Obsessed with erasing distinctions in rank, we run the risk of elevating mediocrity, failing to produce distinguished statesmen to steward the political order, and thereby endangering our own success.

The founding generation understood this inescapable tension. For them, aristocratic institutions were the best allies of democracies. To aspiring elites, the likes of Harvard provided a positive view of the good life, a sense of noblesse oblige, and a stellar education in the humanities. More than factories of statesmen, bastions of aristocracy served as a counter-cultural force, preserving sophisticated traditions of excellence against the vulgarization of popular culture. The hereditary character of these institutions facilitated their insulation. Responsible for the transmission of aristocratic virtues among a select set of families, elite universities ensured that a distinctive, functional approach to stewardship survived the corrosive entropy of time. Liberated from the pressures of society-at-large, distinguished colleges would act as incubators of elite creativity and talent.

[,,,]

In 1820, Harvard paid lip service to meritocratic virtues while producing aristocrats. In 2021, Harvard pays lip service to aristocratic virtues while producing meritocrats.

[…]

The managerial class’s relentless credentialism, obsession with expertise, disdain for leisure, unwillingness to marry before the age of 30, and workaholic disposition all constitute facets of a broader way of life.

[…]

Like the American framers, Confucians realize that functional elites integrate talent from non-elite circles, balancing functionality with continuity. Still, the frame of virtue politics departs from the liberal tradition in one central respect. Where liberal philosophers build systems to restrain the power of potentially vicious rulers with strict procedures, theorists of virtue politics elevate the selection of rulers over the restriction of their power.

The Confucian legacy still underpins many of China’s institutions, where the ideal of functionalist aristocracy often translates into an imperfect form of functionalist meritocracy. For centuries, Confucian theorists worked on a stack of institutions—selective examinations, evaluation by peers, modes of promotion, and so on—whose main objective was not to restrain state power, but to elevate the right people to wield it. In a post-communist China shaped by the intellectual influence of Mao, Confucians have not yet managed to impose an aristocratic model in which the system selects for real character virtues, as opposed to mere competence. Still, Confucian thought provides a roadmap for reform towards functionalist aristocracy, one from which both China and America would benefit.

[…]

Historically, functionalist meritocracies emerge in uncertain times during which the state’s survival demands raw efficiency. The British navy, for instance, began to select for hyper-competence when hereditary cadres could no longer preserve the empire on their own. Similar situations explain the rise of meritocracy in Napoleonic France and Imperial China. In every case, the urgent needs of the moment—be it a war, an expansionist foreign policy, internal conflicts, or the management of complex societies at scale—lead sclerotic ruling classes to open their ranks to the competent few. These systems are functionalist insofar as meritocrats justify their political power by their contribution to the common good, but they remain non-aristocratic since meritocratic institutions select for brute-force competence, not refined character.

Conversely, while desert-oriented systems can be meritocratic or aristocratic, they inevitably accompany times of decline. When aristocrats can no longer justify their privileges by pointing to the ways in which their superior character serves the common good, they construct narratives of desert — divine rights, hereditary titles, and so on — that hide their lack of virtue, tame popular discontentment, and delay the emergence of revolt.

Immigrant-founded companies are valued at $1.2 trillion

Monday, August 1st, 2022

Immigrants are 80 percent more likely than native-born Americans to found a firm, according to a study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but this might not be so impressive if the businesses are laundromats, nail salons, and gas stations:

According to the NFAP, a nonprofit that researches trade and immigration, immigrants have started 319 of 582, or 55 percent, of America’s privately-held startups valued at $1 billion or more. Over two-thirds of the 582 companies “were founded or cofounded by immigrants or the children of immigrants,” notes the NFAP. For comparison, approximately 14 percent of America’s population is foreign-born.

Together, the immigrant-founded companies are valued at $1.2 trillion and employ 859 people on average. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has the largest valuation at $125 billion, employing 12,000 workers; Gopuff, a food delivery service valued at $15 billion, has 15,000 employees; Stripe, a payment platform valued at $95 billion, employs 7,000; and Instacart, a grocery delivery service valued at $39 billion, has 3,000 workers.

These findings are notable, the NFAP points out, since “there is generally no reliable way under U.S. immigration law for foreign nationals to start a business and remain in the country after founding a company.” A large share of the immigrant startup founders came to the country as refugees, on family-sponsored green cards, or through employment-based pathways for other companies.

“Our employment-based pathways for immigrant entrepreneurship are so poorly designed, migrant businesses are often associated with non–employment based pathways,” points out Sam Peak, an immigration policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity. Peak notes that refugees “have the highest rates of entrepreneurship of any other immigrant group,” and family-based migration, “especially among siblings, is also strongly tied to new business formation.”

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.

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.”

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.

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?

Craft-produced firearm used to assassinate Shinzo Abe

Saturday, July 9th, 2022

The assassin who shot and killed former Prime Minister Abe likely used a craft-produced, muzzle-loading, double-barrel smoothbore weapon, using separate-loading ammunition which was initiated by an electric firing mechanism:

The barrels of the firearm appear to be constructed from two metal tubes (most likely commercially available pipe) that were sealed at the rear using screw-on endcaps. The barrels are attached to a piece of wood using black adhesive tape (probably electrical tape). A pistol grip is attached to the wooden body of the weapon. There may also be other fasteners which are not visible underneath the tape. Based on the general arrangement of the firearm, its design, and its apparent build quality, it is likely that the weapon was a smoothbore design — that is, the barrels were not rifled — and the ammunition was fired under relatively low pressures. The significant plumes of smoke generated when the weapon was fired indicate that it does not make use of commercial small arms ammunition propellant (‘smokeless powder’), and may instead use blackpowder or an alternative propellant. This makes the use of ‘separate-loading’ ammunition (i.e., propellant and projectile loaded separately into the weapon) more likely, as well as increasing the likelihood that the weapon was a muzzle-loading design — that is, loaded from the bore (‘front’ of the barrel), rather than the breech (‘rear’ of the barrel) of the firearm.

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A popular design for simple craft-produced shotguns is the so-called ‘slam-fire shotgun’. Several observers have suggested this is the type of weapon used in the attack against Abe. However, these designs rely on conventional, impact-sensitive primers as found in modern small arms ammunition. The firing signature of the weapon suggests the use of an alternative propellant composition, as noted, and thus a slam-fire design is unlikely. The assailant likely used similar iron plumbing pipes and endcaps similar to those used on craft-produced firearms chambering conventional shotgun ammunition. However, the weapon appears to use an electric firing mechanism. Images of the firearm show that an electrical wire passes through each endcap. The trigger mechanism seems to connect these wires to two battery packs. There are several different designs of electrical firing mechanism. There have been, for example, significant developments focused on electric primers within the community of 3D-printed firearms designers. Probably the most prominent electric firing mechanism for 3D-printed firearms has been developed by the user ‘@SuckBoyTony1’. This mechanism uses an 80 kV High Voltage Pulse Generator that converts 6–12 V (the electric potential typically provided by battery packs such as that seen with the assailant’s weapon) into 80 kV. This high voltage creates a hot plasma arc between two conductive contacts that can be used to ignite flammable materials — such as propane in a grill or blackpowder in a firearm. In @SuckBoyTony1’s design, the contacts are held in place by a 3D-printed housing (see Figure 4). This igniter design can repeatedly create the hot plasma arc as long as the batteries can provide enough power and the contact rods are not worn off.

[…]

A few hours after the shooting, Japanese police raided the assailant’s home. Following this, images of three further firearms with similar physical features emerged. One example featured five barrels, arranged in two rows (see Figure 7); the second example featured six barrels, arranged in two rows (Figure 8); and the third featured nine barrels, arranged in three rows (Figure 9). Both are wrapped in a similar black adhesive tape, and both appear to use electrical firing systems similar to that seen on the weapon used in the shooting. Improved concealability is the most likely reason for the assailant’s selection of the double-barrelled example, although reliability may also have been a factor.

[…]

Japan has long implemented strict arms control laws. Under current Japanese law, civilians are barred from owning handguns and rifles under most circumstances, and shotguns are tightly regulated. The most recent estimate (2019) suggests that there are only 132,127 shotguns in private hands. Japan’s per capita rate of firearms ownership is the lowest amongst G7 countries, estimated at just 0.3 firearms per 100 people in 2018. As such—and in common with most craft-produced firearms users around the world—Abe’s assassin most likely made his own firearm because he could not gain access to an industrially produced example. Ammunition is also tightly regulated in Japan. Indeed, the strict control of conventional cartridges in Japan makes it more likely that the assailant selected separate-loading ammunition to avoid these legal restrictions. Reports that explosives were located at the assailant’s home may also indicate a store of loose propellant and/or a capability to produce propellant.

Shawn Ryan interviews Erik Prince about the rise and fall of Blackwater

Thursday, July 7th, 2022

Shawn Ryan interviews Erik Prince — who’s close to a real-life Bruce Wayne — about the rise and fall of Blackwater:

Happy Secession Day!

Monday, July 4th, 2022

Once again, happy Secession Day:

They yelled, fought, had fires, used power tools, and behaved in various undesirable ways

Thursday, June 30th, 2022

One of Scott Alexander’s commenters changed his take on homelessness significantly in the last year and a half:

The lot next to my house had a giant three story tree which formed a dome around its base. Shortly after moving into my house a camp of 5–15 homeless people (depending on the day) moved into the tree. They yelled, fought, had fires, used power tools, and behaved in various undesirable ways. I called the police on them for various offenses ~5 times without ever having even a single officer or official appear on site. About 8 months after they had moved in (I found the backstory out in retrospect) the lot was purchased by a developer. Construction workers came and told the homeless people they should leave because the tree was being cut down tomorrow. Per said construction workers the response was “over our dead bodies, we will burn it down first!” to which the construction workers, who were planning to cut the tree down anyways, responded with a shrug. Mind you the edge of this giant tree was ~15 feet from my house. That day/night the homeless people gathered >20 propane tanks and strapped them to the tree, then lit it on fire.

I woke at ~2 am to rattling bangs shaking my house, a weird bright red glow shining through my kitchen window, baking heat emanating from the windows, and my wife and six day old child screaming. We fled the house naked with our child, injuring my wife who had just given birth. I went back in once for some documents and clothes after determining the house was not actively on fire. After maybe 5 minutes the fire department showed up and put out the fire. The next day the construction workers cut down a sooty and much reduced tree. One cop spoke to me on the phone once and never followed up. All the same homeless people still roam the area and now live in a wash ~150 feet away.

I’ve now moved to a fancy expansive HOA community that costs more than twice as much. I used to think homelessness was a hard problem with no good solutions. I no longer think that. I’m now in favor of basically anything that results in fewer homeless people.

Make England merry again

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

Ed West wants to make England merry again:

Today is Midsummer’s Eve. There was once a time when people up and down the country would spend the evening around bonfires, drinking ale and generally being merry in that way I like to imagine medieval people. The whole community would get together and mark the passage of the longest evenings of the year before the arrival of the hot summer.

Midsummer’s Eve, also known as St John’s Eve after John the Baptist, was formerly a huge day in the English calendar, as it still is in much of Scandinavia. As medieval historian Eleanor Parker writes, it was once ‘a popular communal celebration: houses were decorated with lamps and greenery, there were parades with pageantry and music, people feasted with their neighbours, and bonfires were lit in the street.

‘After the Reformation, midsummer bonfires were suppressed as Catholic superstition, though in some regions they survived as late as the 19th century. But numerous customs lingered in later folklore that preserve the idea of Midsummer Eve as a magical time when you might encounter ghosts, when unmarried girls could try love-divination to find out about their future husbands, and when anyone who kept watch in the church porch at midnight would see the spirits of those fated to die in the coming year.’

Well that’s nice, some people will say, an interesting historical anecdote. But, I would counter, what’s to stop us bringing this back? The love-divination and midnight spirits-watching could be optional, but I mean the general feast. I have many crank beliefs, but one of my strongest is that the medieval calendar should be returned in some way, even if most people no longer believe in the religion that inspired it.

[…]

Contrary to the fashionable Noughties takes about the evils of supernatural belief, religion has huge psychological benefits. There is a vast array of evidence showing that attending religious ceremonies increases dopamine responses in the brain. Overcoming our fear of death is not even the key part; it is meeting other people and taking part in a common ritual, which has huge benefits, including reduced risk of suicide or addiction. Religious attendance is ‘associated with lower psychological distress’ and ‘related to higher well-being’.

Modernity, diet and substance abuse may have slightly increased rates of extreme mental illness such as schizophrenia, while social media has allowed people with personality disorders to become prevalent, especially in politics. But most of the ‘mental health crisis’ is just loneliness. People attend fewer communal events because of the decline of religion, they see other people less regularly and they have fewer friends — of course they’re unhappy! Humans are not just social mammals, we are ultra-social by the standards of other species; that’s why we need common rituals and why we’re chasing that religious feeling everywhere and can’t find it. It is why, as Madeline Grant wrote in the Telegraph this week, that as well as progressive institutions adopting religious-type feasts, even exercise classes increasingly resemble Mass.

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So Ed, the sceptics will ask, are you just suggesting we have a completely fake return to the pre-Reformation calendar, marking religious festivals even though a small minority of the population are actually believing Christians? Are you suggesting that the unreligious get involved in church-run events such as Midsummer bonfires and parish ales, in a completely pastiche way? Yes, that is exactly what I’m suggesting. I’m an unapologetic believer in ersatz tradition, because ersatz traditions have all the benefits and few of the downsides.

Midsummer, by the way, is celebrated right around the summer solstice, the first day of summer:

It has often been claimed that the Church authorities wanted to “Christianize” the pagan solstice celebrations and for this reason advanced the Nativity of John the Baptist as a substitute for a formerly pagan festival.