It was the party of Northern Yankees

January 4th, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popular support for authorities who gut liberalism when needed

January 3rd, 2022

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

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

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

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

Why New Year’s resolutions actually work astoundingly well

January 2nd, 2022

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

Popular Posts of 2021

January 1st, 2022

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

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

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

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

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

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

They would find something else to be hysterical about

December 31st, 2021

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

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

[...]

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

[...]

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

Let the psychologists keep their reverse psychology

December 30th, 2021

Tim Harford looks at uses of reverse logic:

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

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

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

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

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

Why horses explode if you look at them funny

December 29th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia has placed emphasis on targeting

December 28th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a very specific shot of three ornithopters

December 27th, 2021

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

December 26th, 2021

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

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

[...]

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

Posts from Newtonmas Past

December 25th, 2021

Please enjoy these posts of Christmas Past:

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

December 25th, 2021

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

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

There is nobody more generous than the miser

December 24th, 2021

Ebenezer Scrooge is underrated, Tim Harford argues:

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

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

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

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

Going balls out to explain etymology

December 23rd, 2021

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

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

Cessna 172's throttle and mixture plungers

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

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

Centrifugal_governor

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

December 22nd, 2021

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

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

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

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

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