We want to believe that we’re descended from angels instead of primates

January 6th, 2019

I didn’t realize that Robert Greene had suffered a near-fatal stroke last August. His new book, The Laws of Human Nature, is out. Some people don’t like to accept that there is such a thing as human nature, but Greene argues that looking at reality is always better:

The people who don’t believe that human nature is something real, who believe that humans are malleable and that we make our own nature, generally want to believe that we are perfectible by some kind of government or system. It has traditionally been a kind of a communist socialist revolutionary idea. And the idea is that by creating the right kind of system or government, you can alter what corrupted us (which they maintain was done by social injustice, the rise of large civilizations, and the oppression and the accumulation of capital, et cetera.) They believe that if we go back and alter this system, we can return to that kind of pure human being. This is what I wrote about the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong — Mao wanted to recreate human nature. That’s always been the belief and it’s kind of a mix of wishes that humans were really this kind of angelic creature in the beginning and that we can return to that.

And what I’m trying to say is humans can change, we can alter, we could become something superior, but only by really coming to terms with who we are and getting over this myth of the Garden of Eden — of the fallen human being who was once so angelic just 5,000 years ago or 10,000 years ago. But I think the evidence is clear looking at our chimpanzee ancestors and the record of early homo sapiens that we do have aggressive, violent impulses, that we are pretty much irrational by nature, and that the kinds of qualities that we value can only come about through personal work, through conquest, through overcoming our tendencies that are kind of animal-like. And that rather than some government that’s going to perfect us, it’s the work of individuals being conscious and aware of who they are as opposed to being in denial. There’s a quote from Angela Carter that I’ve used in several books: “We want to believe that we’re descended from angels instead of primates.”

Wood-based supermaterial is stronger and tougher than steel

January 5th, 2019

A new wood-based supermaterial is stronger and tougher than steel:

In their natural form, wood cells are kept rigid due to polymers known as lignin and hemicellulose, interspersed with nanofibres of cellulose. Wood also contains systems of narrow tubes known as lumina, which run along its growth direction. To transform this structure into a more useful material, Hu’s team first treat samples of wood with a salt solution, which removes most of the lignin and hemicellulose, making the cell walls porous and less rigid. Afterwards, the researchers hot-press the wood at 100 °C, causing the cell walls and the lumina to collapse. This reduces the wood to just 20% of its original thickness.

The compressed substance contains densely-packed wood cells aligned along the growth direction, which results in a strongly-aligned system of cellulose nanofibres. These fibres have hydrogen and oxide groups in their molecular structures, giving rise to strong hydrogen-bond interactions between them. The density of the new material is about three times higher than that of untreated wood.

Once they had perfected the conversion process, Hu’s team set about testing the properties of their new substance. In most structural materials there is a trade-off between tensile strength (resistance to breaking while being stretched) and toughness (how much energy a material can absorb without shattering) — but the researchers saw improvements in both properties in their new material. Its tensile strength is 11.5 times higher than that of natural wood, making it much stronger than common plastics such as nylon and polystyrene. However, the toughness of the new material is also boosted — it is 8.3 times higher than natural wood, making it tougher than most metal alloys.

(Hat tip to Hans Schantz.)

Humor at its best is a kind of heightened truth

January 4th, 2019

Supernormal stimuli are key to certain kinds of wit, skewing or exaggerating our usual patterns of perception:

The great silent comic Buster Keaton is a case in point.

In The High Sign (1921), as Keaton settles down on a bench to read his local daily, he unfolds the paper to standard broadsheet format. He soon notices, though, that the newspaper is bigger than he expected, so he continues unfolding it — first to roughly the surface area of an ample picnic blanket, then easily to the proportions of a king-size bedsheet, until he’s finally engulfed by a single gigantic swath of newsprint.

In Seven Chances (1925), Keaton, a stockbroker on the verge of financial ruin, learns that he will inherit handsomely from his grandfather — if he weds by 7 p.m. When his sweetheart rebuffs him (she will marry for love, not for money), he places an open offer of marriage, with details of the pecuniary benefits, in the newspaper. Hundreds of women turn up at the church for the ceremony, only to become enraged at Keaton’s tactics. The bevy of would-be brides chases him out of town and onto a nearby hill, where he dislodges a single rock, which sets in motion an avalanche of boulders, which rain down on our hapless groom’s head.

Keaton’s gags start innocuously enough, with some ordinary object, then snowball into supernormal stimuli. But stimuli can also be made supernormal by visual or verbal tricks that disrupt the ordinary ways we see and understand the world.

Marcel Marien’s work is rife with such tricks. Marien started out as a photographer’s apprentice while still in his teens. But in 1935, after seeing the work of René Magritte for the first time, he decided on a career as an artist, soon becoming a close friend of Magritte and one of the most prominent of the Belgian surrealists. He worked in a variety of media — photography; film; collage; and “ready-mades,” works of art assembled from discarded materials, common household items, or unused parts of other objects.

In Star Dancer (1991), Marien attached a doll’s high-heel shoe to one of the arms of a dead starfish, transforming it into a wispy, Matisse-esque ballerina. The strange juxtaposition makes the viewer do a double take. How can such a clearly alien creature have such distinctly human expressiveness? Like the volleyball/egg that birds try to incubate, the cobbled-together starfish/doll becomes a supernormal stimulus that alters viewers’ perceptions.

The same principle is at work in verbal wit. The English film director Anthony Asquith, for example, once introduced Jean Harlow, the platinum-blond 1930s Hollywood star, to his mother, Lady Margot Asquith, the author and wife of the longtime British prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith. Harlow mispronounced Lady Margot’s first name, sounding the final t, as in forgot. “The t is silent, my dear,” Asquith snipped, “as in Harlow.” Lady Margot isolated and exaggerated the significance of the simple t, just as Tinbergen isolated and exaggerated the herring gull’s orange spot, thereby dramatically enhancing its impact.

What is a punch line but a supernormal stimulus?

We respond to witty words and images more intensely than to “normal” objects, just as Tinbergen’s theory of supernormal stimuli suggests. “Humor at its best is a kind of heightened truth — a super-truth,” E. B. White wrote. This is also true of wit, which takes routine seeing and heightens it by shearing ordinary things and meanings of their habitual context, revealing them as suddenly strange and unfamiliar.

Human beings are susceptible to supernormal stimuli, too

January 3rd, 2019

The story of supernormal stimuli begins with the Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen:

As a boy growing up in The Hague in the 1910s, Tinbergen was fascinated by the fish and fowl inhabiting the little pond in his backyard. These early encounters with the wildlife of the Netherlands informed his later work, and as an adult, he kept an aquarium in his home.

One day he noticed that the male three-spined sticklebacks — which have “gorgeous nuptial colors,” Tinbergen observed, “red on the throat and breast, greenish-blue on the back” — went into attack mode every time a red postal van parked outside. They dropped their heads and raised their dorsal fins, a posture normally assumed only in the presence of a rival male.

Wondering whether the fish were reacting to the postal van, Tinbergen introduced variously colored objects into the tank. He discovered that the males became aggressive in response to anything red — the unmistakable sign of another male’s presence — regardless of whether it resembled a fish. The observation sparked Tinbergen’s discovery of color’s influence on animal behavior, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973.

When he wasn’t observing three-spined sticklebacks, Tinbergen spent a lot of time with adult herring-gull hens, which have pronounced orange spots on their lower mandibles. For the first few weeks of a chick’s life, its mother’s beak is its sole food source. That orange spot is a good target for chicks to aim at when they peck at their mother to prompt her to regurgitate food.

Tinbergen noticed that the chicks in his lab, like the male sticklebacks in his aquarium, aggressively pecked not just at their mother’s beak but at anything with an orange spot on it. It occurred to him that it might be possible to one-up nature, to “make a dummy that would stimulate the chick still more than the natural object,” he wrote.

So Tinbergen started making “super-gulls”: cobbled-together constructions that amplified the orange spot to which the chicks so enthusiastically responded. He painted orange spots on everything from old pieces of wood to kitchen utensils. He made the orange spots bigger and surrounded them with white rings to enhance the contrast. The chicks pecked at absolutely everything that had an orange spot on it. The bigger the spot, the more aggressively the chicks pecked.

Tinbergen called his exaggerated orange spots “supernormal stimuli,” which, he concluded, “offer stimulus situations that are even more effective than the natural situation.” This response to supernormal stimuli is not limited to herring gulls. Chicks from all species will beg for food from a fake bill if it has more dramatic markings than its parents have, and parents will ignore their own eggs and attempt to incubate much larger objects — including volleyballs — if those objects are decorated to resemble eggs.

Tinbergen theorized that human beings are susceptible to supernormal stimuli, too. The oversized eyes of stuffed animals, dolls, and cartoon characters are supernormal, he reasoned, kick-starting our instinctive response to nurture anything with infantile facial features. Sugar-saturated soft drinks, works of art, clothing, perfume, even lipstick — anything that intensifies or exaggerates an instinctive biological, physical, or psychological response — can be considered supernormal stimuli.

Wouldn’t staying in school obviously make you smarter?

January 2nd, 2019

The history of brain-training programs for small children is littered with failures.

Remember marketers’ claims in the 1990s, later discredited, that playing Baby Einstein videos for infants in their cribs would make them smarter? (The Baby Einstein brand lives on, selling other baby products and toys.)

Here’s an assessment of other pursuits often promoted as ways to improve your child’s intelligence:

Learning a Musical Instrument

The notion that becoming a musician makes you smarter has long been popular. Learning to play an instrument has been linked in several studies to higher intelligence.

After controlling for genetic factors and shared home environment, however, a 2015 study of 10,500 twins couldn’t replicate the finding.

Instead, researchers found people with high IQs are more likely to take up a musical instrument and stick to it.

Still, learning an instrument may have a beneficial placebo effect, exciting and motivating children to work hard. Also, music training may hone self-control, including focused attention and memorization.

Learning Chess

Chess fans love to proclaim the game’s brain-building power, and numerous studies have found links between chess and broader problem-solving ability.

However, while a 2016 review of 24 studies found that children who play chess score higher in math, the research had some methodological flaws, says Giovanni Sala, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Osaka University in Japan. Two later studies he co-wrote found chess training had no significant impact on math skills.

Chess students may do better in school because of a placebo effect. “Most pupils are enthusiastic about chess. This enthusiasm may make the pupils more motivated about school,” says a follow-up study co-written by Dr. Sala. It’s also possible that children might benefit if coaches teach them to apply chess skills to math.

Enriching the Environment

Researchers have been battling for decades over whether a person’s IQ is fixed for life or can increase through effort. One area of agreement is that while intelligence is determined mainly by genetic factors, the environment shapes how those genetic predispositions play out. This is especially true during the first few years of life, when the brain is most malleable.

A stimulating home environment is pivotal, says Richard E. Nisbett, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Michigan. Engaging children in lively conversations with challenging vocabulary can help. This is often most evident at the dinner table. “There’s a verbal tennis game going on. The parent asks a question, the child answers, the parent makes a comment, the child asks a question,” says Dr. Nisbett, author of “Intelligence and How to Get It.”

Another powerful factor is interactive reading with children under 4, inviting them to participate and helping them elaborate on their ideas. Such activity is linked to IQ gains of more than six points, according to a 2013 research analysis. (Typical IQs range from 85 to 115, with 100 as the mean.)

Working Memory Training

Carefully designed video-training programs show promise in improving children’s working memory, or the capacity to hold information in mind for short periods of time. Several recent studies found evidence that working-memory training may improve children’s math or reading skills or their fluid intelligence: the ability to reason in novel situations.

Kindergartners who had working-memory training showed improvements in number skills, according to a 2017 study of 81 children in the Journal of Numerical Cognition.

The training was delivered via a tablet videogame. While viewing a series of identical characters in various colors, the children were asked to signal whether each image was upside down or right-side up. Afterward they were prompted to recall the sequence of colors of the characters and click on the same-colored characters in order.

“I do think there is value in training working memory in children,” says Susanne Jaeggi, an associate professor of education and cognitive sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and a co-author of several studies on the topic.

Playing card and board games like Set, Blink or Mastermind may have similar effects. Free apps targeting working memory and other skills are described at the University of California, Riverside’s Brain Game Center.

Staying in School

This might seem like a no-brainer. Wouldn’t staying in school obviously make you smarter?

A huge new study offers a more conclusive answer than past research. Students gain about one to five additional IQ points for every year they remain in school, according to the analysis of 42 data sets with a total of 600,000 people published in June in Psychological Science.

The studies were based largely on natural experiments, in which students received more or less schooling due to factors that had nothing to do with them, such as government changes in minimum schooling requirements.

The research also lends insight into why many apps and training programs aimed at raising IQ fail to produce lasting effects, says Elliot Tucker-Drob, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and co-author of the study.

Raising IQ may require the kind of sustained involvement that comes with attending school, with all the practice and challenges it entails. “It’s not like you just go in for an hour of treatment a week. It’s a real lifestyle change,” he says.

Their habits require habits!

January 1st, 2019

Ryan Holiday explains how to develop better habits in 2019. I’ve edited down his advice:

Think Small — Really Small

The writer James Clear talks a lot about the idea of “atomic habits” (and has a really good book with the same title). An atomic habit is a small habit that makes an enormous difference in your life. He talks about how the British cycling team was completely turned around by focusing on 1 percent improvements in every area. That sounds small, but it accumulates and adds up in a big way. He emphasizes thinking small with big habits. Don’t promise yourself you’re going to read more; instead, commit to reading one page per day.

Create a Physical Reminder

The author and minister Will Bowen has a simple system that helps people quit complaining. He provides each member of his congregation with a purple bracelet, and each time they complain, they switch the bracelet from one wrist to the other. This method is simple and straightforward and makes it easy to hold yourself accountable.

Lay Out Your Supplies

When I get to my desk in the morning, the three journals I write in are sitting right there. If I want to skip the habit, I have to pick them up and move them aside. So most mornings I don’t move them, and I write in them.

Piggyback New Habits on Old Habits

I listened to an interview with David Sedaris, who talked about how he likes to go on long walks and pick up trash near his home. I go for a walk nearly every morning. It’s an ingrained habit that’s part of my routine. Boom: I just added picking up garbage to my walk. This was easy because I had already done the heavy lifting of creating the first habit. Now it’s harder not to pick up trash, like when I don’t have a bag.

Surround Yourself With Good People

“Tell me who you spend time with and I will tell you who you are” was Goethe’s line. Jim Rohn came up with the phrase that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. If you want to have better habits, find better friends.

Commit to a Challenge

In 2018, we did our first Daily Stoic Challenge, which was 30 consecutive days of different challenges and activities based on Stoic philosophy. It was an awesome experience. Even I, the person who created the challenge, got a lot out of it. Why? I think it was the process of handing myself over to a script. It’s the reason personal trainers are so effective. You just show up at the gym and they tell you what to do, and it’s never the same thing as the last time. Deciding what we want to do, determining our own habits, and making the right choices is exhausting. Handing the wheel over to someone else is a way to narrow our focus and put everything into the commitment.

Make It Interesting

Right now I’m in a 50-push-up challenge with about two dozen people. Every day, we do 50 push-ups and upload video proof that we’ve done them. If you miss a day, the app charges you $5. At first you do the daily deed just so you don’t lose money. But soon enough, it’s about competing with the people in the group. Then a few days in, another motivation kicks in: The winners (people with the fewest misses) split the pot of everyone else’s fees.

It’s About the Ritual

Professional dancer Twyla Tharp has written about how every morning she gets up early, dresses, and takes a cab to the same gym, where she works out for several hours. This is how she trains and keeps herself fit. Her workouts are tough and exhausting, and you’d think she would need a lot of discipline to commit to showing up each morning. But, as she writes in The Creative Habit, she just has to get herself to the cab. That’s it. The rest takes care of itself. The ritual takes over.

It Doesn’t Have to Be an Everyday Thing

I read a lot, but not usually every day. I do most of my reading when I travel, when I binge on books. Trying to force myself to read every single day (or for a set amount of time or a set amount of pages) would not be as productive or as enjoyable as periods of three to five days of really heavy reading (where I might finish three to five books). Binge reading may not be the right thing for everyone, but not every good habit has to be part of a daily routine. Sprints or batching can work too. What matters is that the results average out.

Focus on Yourself

One of the reasons I’ve talked about watching less news and not obsessing over things outside your control is simple: resource allocation. If your morning is ruined because you woke up to CNN reports of another ridiculous Trump 2 a.m. tweet-storm, you’re not going to have the energy or the motivation to focus on making the right dietary choices or sitting down to do that hard piece of work. I don’t watch the news, I don’t check social media much, and I don’t stress about everything going on in the world—not because I’m apathetic, but because there are all sorts of changes I want to make. I just believe these changes start at home. I want to get myself together before I bemoan what’s going on in Washington or whether the U.K. will figure out a Brexit strategy. “If you wish to improve,” Epictetus said, “be content to be seen as ignorant or clueless about some things.” (Or a lot of things.)

Make It About Your Identity

Generally, I agree with Paul Graham that we should keep our identities small, and generally, I think identity politics are toxic. It’s a huge advantage, however, to cultivate certain habits or commitments that are foundational to your identity. For example, it is essential to my understanding of the kind of person I am that I am punctual. I also have decided that I am the kind of person who does not miss deadlines. That I see myself as a writer is also valuable because if I’m not writing, I’m not earning that image.

Keep It Simple

Most people are way too obsessed with productivity and optimization. They want to know all the tools a successful writer or an artist uses because they think this is what makes these individuals so great. In reality, they are great because they love what they do and they have something they’re trying to say. When I look at some people’s routines and all the stuff they’re trying to manage, I shudder. Their habits require habits!

Pick Yourself Up When You Fall

The path to self-improvement is rocky, and slipping and tripping is inevitable. You’ll forget to do the push-ups, you’ll cheat on your diet, you’ll get sucked into the rabbit hole of Twitter, or you’ll complain and have to switch the bracelet from one wrist to another. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. I’ve always been fond of this advice from Oprah: If you catch yourself eating an Oreo, don’t beat yourself up; just try to stop before you eat the whole sleeve. Don’t turn a slip into a catastrophic fall.

Popular Posts of 2018

January 1st, 2019

I just took a look back at my numbers for 2018. 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. The Bob Rubin Trade (new)
  3. Polar Bear Turns Purple After Medication
  4. The Father of Social-Science
  5. Fast Friends Protocol
  6. Observations from Actual Shootings
  7. He-Man Opening Monologue
  8. I’ve been blogging for 15 years (new)
  9. Maximum effective range of buckshot (new)
  10. The most expensive new public school in San Francisco history failed (new)

Here are the most popular posts actually from 2018 and not from an earlier year:

  1. The Bob Rubin Trade
  2. I’ve been blogging for 15 years
  3. Maximum effective range of buckshot
  4. The most expensive new public school in San Francisco history failed
  5. The physical strength of nations varies considerably
  6. Would you pay $70,000 for a lunar vacation?
  7. Why some people become sudden geniuses
  8. Why is English so weirdly different from other languages?
  9. Where education was tried it turned out to be futile
  10. Marine experiment finds women get injured more frequently, shoot less accurately than men

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

Also, I should thank some of my top referrers: Social MatterZ ManMapping The Dark Enlightenment, and The Scholar’s Stage.

We were told the sound was from snapping shrimp, end of story

December 31st, 2018

Lauren and Simon Freeman, oceanographers with the US Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Rhode Island, noticed strange pings in the Hawaiian Islands:

They perceived that the soundscape of healthy, protected reefs was dominated by low-frequency sounds (the kind typically made by fish and other large animals), while degraded reefs were noticeably higher pitched.

“We were told the sound was from snapping shrimp, end of story,” says Simon. “[But] there seemed to be a correlation between the sound and the proportion of algae covering the seafloor.”

Determined to dig deeper, the Freemans and their colleagues housed red algae in tanks devoid of clamorous crustaceans or other animals. The sounds they picked up matched the high-frequency sounds of struggling reefs.

[...]

Like the plants that help us breathe, algae also photosynthesize. Underwater, that process of converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy and oxygen sends tiny bubbles spiraling toward the surface. And according to new research, when each bubble detaches from the seaweed, it goes ping. The scientists behind the discovery suggest that, like a heartbeat heard through a stethoscope, measuring that unique sound could be a new way to monitor the health of a coral reef.

Aluminum normally casts a silvery white light when it burns

December 30th, 2018

The green-blue glow that filled the New York City sky was not caused by a transformer explosion, Consolidated Edison clarified:

The extraordinary event had in fact been traced to a voltage monitoring gizmo known as a coupling capacitor potential device — or CCPD if you happen to operate a power grid — that failed to function properly at a Queens substation on Thursday night.

That led to an arc flash in which electricity delivered via a 138,000-volt transmission line jumped from one point to another, ionizing the very air through which it leapt. The energy was too great to be constrained to a straight trajectory, and it began to arc with its own power. The arc grew higher and higher, as did the heat it generated.

“Temperatures can reach as high as 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit,” notes a General Electric fact sheet. “This is hotter than the surface of the sun.”

The fact sheet adds, “Arc Flash temperatures can… liquefy or vaporize metal parts in the vicinity.”

Some of the substation equipment is aluminum, which normally casts a silvery white light when it burns. But at extremely high temperatures such as this bit of sun in Queens, the light generated by the vaporized aluminum was the almost-Tiffany blue that New York City residents saw rise into the sky and spread through the low-lying cloud cover.

She’s convinced she’s having more impact on each individual

December 30th, 2018

Mainstream medicine doesn’t have a great track record:

After 12 years of practicing family medicine in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Ronda Rockett was losing faith in her ability to help the majority of her patients.

Patient after patient would stream into her clinic with diabetes, weight problems, and heart disease. Rockett followed the medical guidelines, recommending healthier diets and more exercise. But despite her best efforts — even texting and emailing motivational follow-ups — many failed to change at all, either because they didn’t want to or didn’t have the means.

In 2013, eager to try something new, Rockett decided to quit medicine and close up her practice. What she did next, she says, is the most meaningful contribution to health care she’s made to date. She opened a CrossFit gym.

CrossFit is a high-intensity interval training and resistance exercise routine known for instilling a cult-like devotion among followers and promoting the low-carb diet. By the time Rockett opened a gym, she was already a devotee. Now age 51, she can do 32 pullups and deadlift 240 pounds. She attributes her fitness and lowered cholesterol to the program. And she believes she can help people make more substantive changes in their lives through CrossFit than she ever could practicing medicine.

“It’s exciting that I can treat and cure medical problems in the gym,” she said. “Just in the last week alone, I’ve gotten three different texts from people saying, ‘I don’t think you understand how much this has changed my life.’” Though she had 2,000 regular patients at her clinic and now works with just 70 regulars at her gym, she’s convinced she’s having more impact on each individual. Plus, she said, “This is more fulfilling.”

Fake it until you make it

December 29th, 2018

So many people want to be social media “influencers” that they’re now faking brand deals to look sponsored and thus successful:

A decade ago, shilling products to your fans may have been seen as selling out. Now it’s a sign of success. “People know how much influencers charge now, and that payday is nothing to shake a stick at,” said Alyssa Vingan Klein, the editor in chief of Fashionista, a fashion-news website. “If someone who is 20 years old watching YouTube or Instagram sees these people traveling with brands, promoting brands, I don’t see why they wouldn’t do everything they could to get in on that.”

But transitioning from an average Instagram or YouTube user to a professional “influencer” — that is, someone who leverages a social-media following to influence others and make money — is not easy. After archiving old photos, redefining your aesthetic, and growing your follower base to at least the quadruple digits, you’ll want to approach brands. But the hardest deal to land is your first, several influencers say; companies want to see your promotional abilities and past campaign work. So many have adopted a new strategy: Fake it until you make it.

Sydney Pugh, a lifestyle influencer in Los Angeles, recently staged a fake ad for a local cafe, purchasing her own mug of coffee, photographing it, and adding a promotional caption carefully written in that particular style of ad speak anyone who spends a lot of time on Instagram will recognize. “Instead of [captioning] ‘I need coffee to get through the day,’ mine will say ‘I love Alfred’s coffee because of A, B, C,’” Pugh told me. “You see the same things over and over on actual sponsored posts, so it becomes really easy to emulate, even if you’re not getting paid.”

It’s proved itself over the past 113 years

December 28th, 2018

Because Taleb has a much higher IQ than Steve Sailer has, the only way Sailer can win an argument with him is by being right:

It’s almost as if the IQ glass is somehow both half empty and half full at the same time…

This doesn’t mean that IQ is a perfect measure above criticism, just that in an imperfect world, it’s proved itself over the past 113 years as one of the social sciences’ enduring accomplishments.

The incredibly unpopular idea that could stem opioid deaths

December 28th, 2018

Megan McArdle sees two options for dealing with the fentanyl epidemic:

Keep doing what we’re doing and let addicts keep dying as they’re dying, until the opioid epidemic burns itself out. Or start talking about ways to make safe, reliable doses of opiates available to addicts who aren’t ready to stop. That would mean opening more methadone clinics and making it less onerous for doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, a relatively mild opioid that’s difficult to overdose on. But lowering the death toll may well require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates.

Prescription heroin? Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don’t like it, either — and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the U.S. illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We’ll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved.

One continuous “Antarctica Ultramarathon” push to the finish line

December 27th, 2018

When I listened to the audiobook version of Endurance, I thought it definitely qualified as a “harrowing” tale. British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 attempt to reach the South Pole did not go well, but modern endurance athlete Colin O’Brady‘s recent attempt to cross Antarctica, solo and unaided, has gone well:

Day 54: FINISH LINE!!! I did it! The Impossible First. 32 hours and 30 minutes after leaving my last camp early Christmas morning, I covered the remaining ~80 miles in one continuous “Antarctica Ultramarathon” push to the finish line. The wooden post in the background of this picture marks the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, where Antarctica’s land mass ends and the sea ice begins. As I pulled my sled over this invisible line, I accomplished my goal: to become the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided. While the last 32 hours were some of the most challenging hours of my life, they have quite honestly been some of the best moments I have ever experienced. I was locked in a deep flow state the entire time, equally focused on the end goal, while allowing my mind to recount the profound lessons of this journey. I’m delirious writing this as I haven’t slept yet.

Colin O'Brady in Antarctica

There is so much to process and integrate and there will be many more posts to acknowledge the incredible group of people who supported this project. But for now, I want to simply recognize my #1 who I, of course, called immediately upon finishing. I burst into tears making this call. I was never alone out there. @jennabesaw you walked every step with me and guided me with your courage and strength. WE DID IT!! We turned our dream into reality and proved that The Impossible First is indeed possible. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela.
#TheImpossibleFirst #BePossible

He’s terrified about the evil that lurks out there

December 27th, 2018

Greg Ellifritz reviews Vincent Sellers’s Eyes Pried Open, which offers some insight into the FBI:

The author of the book worked in corporate America but had a lifelong dream of becoming an agent. He left the corporate world and became an agent, serving for slightly less than two years.

It is painfully obvious that the author has zero police sense or comfort with violence. He laments the rigorous training he endured in the academy — they made them do pushups and everything….

He notices and complains that the agent trainees who had prior law enforcement experience seemed to fit in better with the “militant” nature of the FBI. The author struggles to reconcile his naïve world view with the reality he faces when he’s assigned to the violent crime squad in San Diego, CA. For instance, his first arrest involves picking up someone being released from a county jail for a Federal human trafficking warrant. The author feels guilty for re-imprisoning a guy who thought he was getting out. He downplays the significance of the human trafficking charge and seems to legitimately feel bad.

Later in the book, after seeing the nature of law enforcement along the border, he is a very strong proponent of building a wall to keep the bad people out. He talks about the numerous kidnapping cases he worked and how none of them involved innocent parties. Every kidnapping victim and kidnapper were eyes deep in criminal activity and all of it with a cross-border connection.

The author decides to leave after less than two years because the job is too hard on his home life. Apparently, he didn’t know that he’d have to work long days and be on-call for certain weekends. Despite being well published and high for law enforcement across the nation, he complains about his “modest” salary and how it doesn’t let him live in the manner to which he’s accustomed.

I’m convinced that he realized he could not handle what was required of him and opted out (which I can respect). I think his adamant support of a border wall shows an awareness that evil exists but his inability to internalize the ability to confront evil drives him away. The amount of cognitive dissonance this whole experience engenders is amazing. He’s terrified about the evil that lurks out there but is unable to deal with it himself and maintains a deep suspicion of those who can.