Bring Back Smoking

Are we getting stupider?

This is hard to know as we don’t have IQ exams from further back than last century. We have some ways to approximate IQ going back into the mists of time, but those will always get bogged down by debates over methods.Then you have the flat earth types who argue that IQ is not a real thing or that there are multiple forms of intelligence. Just sticking with the good data we have for the last 100 years or so, it does appear that the West is getting dumber. By how much and and how fast is the debate.

Why this could be happening is not much of a debate. There are three reasons related to biology. One is the Idiocracy example. The stupid are breeding like bunnies while the smart are reproducing at less than replacement levels. The high achieving man marries late and marries a high achieving women with a head full of feminist nonsense. They put off childbearing until she can only produce one child. Meanwhile, the guys that cut their grass are knocking up their girlfriends in high school and producing five kids.

Another reason is that stupid people are migrating into Western countries. This is an easy one as we just have to look at the news. The migrants flowing in from south of the equator into Western countries are bringing a mean IQ in the 80’s and sometimes, in the case of Somalis, the 70’s. They also breed like rabbits. A country full of 95-IQ white people that becomes 90% white and 10% Somali will lose almost ten IQ points. This is just an accelerated version of the above answer. It turns out that Magic Dirt is not real.

Finally, the hardest one to grasp is that something has happened to change the evolutionary pressure on the population that is now changing the rewards and punishments. Traits that in the past were punished, thus resulting in fewer children by those with those traits, are now neutral or maybe even slightly favored. We know smart people tend to live longer, so reducing the risk of death by misadventure or even death from common maladies could be lowering the over all IQ of Western populations.

If you want to read a bunch of smart people debating this, this post by Greg Cochran has a lively comment section. What you’ll note is that people focused on genetics tend not to consider environmental factors. In fact, they often veer into a form of genetic determinism that sounds a lot like astrology. The fault dear mortal is not in our stars, but in our genes, that we are just moist robots. People who tend to this sort of thinking are usually unfamiliar with 4GL programming languages or write JavaScript for a living.

That’s not to say free will is a real thing. Humans are not free to rewrite their personalities anymore than they can make themselves taller. We are the result of our wiring, plus some environmental factors like the community in which we were born, climate and serendipity. Someone born to the Amish will be raised to develop pro-Amish traits and ignore traits that are no useful to the Amish way. Environmental factors may play a small role over all, but they do play some role in what we are as people.

In specific cases, it could have an enormous role. Greg Cochran’s Gay Germ idea is a great example. Homosexuality is most certainly not genetic. Nature works against low-fitness. Males with a trait that sharply reduces their ability (or willingness) to mate will have far fewer offspring and therefore pass on this trait in low numbers. In just a few generations, the trait would die out. In the case of homosexuality, we know there were gay Roman emperors and Elton John is still with us, so this trait cannot be genetic.

Alternatively, homosexuality is either taught or the result of psychological damage done at a young by something like molestation. This is a popular idea on the Right, but it does not explain most cases. Lots of homosexuals grew up fairly normal lives and were simply attracted to the same sex once they hit sexual maturity. That’s where Cochran’s gay germ comes in. Instead of a trauma, it is a virus or parasite that triggers changes in brain chemistry, resulting homosexual behavior. That would provide an answer that fits the data.

Bringing this back to IQ, what if something like this is at work with Western IQ? Maybe not a germ, but environmental factors that are having a cascading effect on mean IQ. For example, such an idea has been posited to explain the spike in black crime. Many on the Left think the Tragic Dirt is contaminated with lead, leading to low-IQ and increased violence for the people living on the Tragic Dirt. It’s not a crazy idea, but like the Gay Germ, it is not proven idea. It’s more of a thought experiment at this stage.

Here’s soemthing else. Smoking rates began to decline in the middle of the last century, with the Baby Boomer interest in health. Nicotine is known to increase focus and increase your cognitive abilities. It’s why writers and computer programmers were all smokers. In fact, STEM fields in the 20th century were dominated by men who chain smoked at their desks. Anyone who has had to sit for hours working a math problem knows how exhausting it can be. Even a small boost in focus has enormous results.

What if the apparent uptick in Western IQ was accelerated by smoking? Tobacco was introduced to the West in the 16th century and its use increased steadily. By the 18th century, the use of tobacco was common. By the 19th century, smoking cigarettes was ubiquitous. Everyone smoked. It also corresponds with the Industrial Revolution. Once tobacco use became universal, Western technological progress took off like a rocket, culminating in a rocket literally taking off and putting men on the moon.

Once the anti-smoking crusades got a purchase in the 60’s and smoking rates declined, it does appear that the West began to decline. Perhaps that small boost to our cognitive ability had a huge impact on our intellectual achievements. Now that the crutch is gone, we’re doing idiotic things like putting minorities in charge and inviting in low-IQ barbarians from the fringes of civilization. Perhaps the lunacy that has gripped the West is simply the withdraw symptoms of kicking the habit.

Maybe we need to start smoking again.

The New Ways Of War

Early warfare, as best we can tell, was more like gang fights in the modern ghetto than the sort of stuff we associate with war in Antiquity. One settlement would round up some men, who would take on the men of the neighboring settlement. They went at one another in a melee, using axes, clubs and short swords, maybe, with the leaders right there in the middle of it, leading their war bands. A lot of it may have been ritualized, rather than actual combat, but that’s speculation. What’s clear is ti was small scale.

Prosperity changed that as better organization and better agriculture allowed for more men to be full time warriors. Greater prosperity also meant better weapons. Ranged weapons made the full speed charge, by men on foot, a losing proposition, unless you could put your men on horses or in chariots. Speed meant you could have formations and then flanking maneuvers, which required strategy and execution. Each innovation led to more innovations. The ways of war changed as military technology and tactics evolved.

Changes in military technology often have unforeseen consequences. The introduction of the machine gun in the Great War is the best example. Even with the new artillery, war was expected to be men advancing on one another over open fields. This was the way war was fought and the way the French were prepared to fight it. They even had their officers in colorful uniforms so they could be seen by their men. The machine gun made this style of war utter insanity, but no one thought about that until the bodies piled up.

The machine gun, along with fantastic improvements in artillery, resulted in trench warfare that was hopelessly expensive and bloody. That led to new tactics and new weapons. The tank, for example, was developed to counter the trenches and barbed wire. Eventually, planes became another answer to fixed defensive positions. All of these new weapons eventually led to new strategies.The Battle of Cambrai, in which the British used tanks, artillery, infantry and air power is one of the first examples of combined arms tactics.

The point to all of this is that war evolves and not always in ways that are predictable or even imaginable. Every new advance in weapons and tactics leads to responses and new weapons and tactics. The most recent example if the “little green men” that suddenly popped up in Crimea. Instead of an invading Russian army, a pro-Russian mercenary force appeared out of nowhere to lead a revolt against Ukrainian control of the region. It was, to a great degree, an example of Fourth Generation Warfare.

A question to ponder is what happens when energy weapons become a practical response to ballistic missiles and drones? The US military has been making steady progress developing mobile laser systems, able to knock out ballistic missiles. They are a decade away from anything usable, but it is not unrealistic to imagine a time in the near future when it is possible to knock out incoming missiles. This sort of technology has a funny way of advancing quickly after it gets deployed.

Of course, a weapon that can render another weapon obsolete is a very dangerous weapon. The reason ground-based, anti-missile systems are such a sensitive subject is because they throw off the balance of arms and require a response. A missile defense system in Europe, that could plausibly knock down Russian missiles, would require the Russians to make a lot more missiles, in addition to other plans to counter this new weapon. That’s a big unknown so everyone treads lightly.

Logically, the sudden advance in military technology 100 years ago, along with the lethality of the new technology, should have made war less likely. Cannonballs and bayonet charges are terrible things, but they pale in comparison to massed machine gun fire on advancing infantry. It would seem blazingly obvious that unless you have an answer for the machine gun, much less the new artillery, you don’t willingly go to war. That’s not what happened. Two great industrial wars latter and the West was just about dead.

That’s an important lesson to keep in mind while thinking about what’s happening with military technology, as well as military strategy. Laser weapons may be a ways off, but drone technology is here and changing how we fight wars. A sky full of flying death robots, capable of working in concert or independently, to bring death to an enemy is going to change how nations go to war. It means new weapons and new ways of fighting. Even the Arabs are adapting to drone warfare. Imagine what the Chinese are doing.

Of course, the new responses do not have to be strictly military. The Million Mohammedan March into Europe surely included jihadis willing to die for Allah. Maybe some of those jihadis were trained by Syria, at the behest of Russia. If you are Russia, you have to be looking at the truck attacks and thinking that could be an effective weapon. If you cannot win the technology fight, maybe the answer lies in some other area of the battlefield. New technology may result in a proliferation of asymmetric warfare waged by state actors.

It’s fun to speculate, but flying death robots alone change the way the world will be fighting wars in the future. Things like carriers can quickly become white elephants in a world where a swarm or drones can fall out of the sky or come up from the depths of the ocean. Everyone forgets about the coming proliferation of a independently controlled torpedoes that can literally roam the ocean looking for targets. The microprocessor goes from being a force multiplier to a force nullifier.

It would be nice if the proliferation of killing machines worked as a deterrent to war, but that is not the lesson of history. The one exception has been nuclear weapons, which probably kept the the Soviets from invading Europe and the US from systematically undermining the Russian government, as we see going on today. The new technology does not promise to destroy the world so it probably will not be much of a deterrent. If anything, as we have seen with the neocon warmongering, it will make everyone reckless.

Me and TV

I had been a DirecTV subscriber for years, mostly so I could watch sports, which is the only reason I have a television. I’ve gone long stretches of my life without a TV, but it is a nice convenience for when you’re stuck at home with nothing better to do. I do enjoy watching baseball and football. Some of the long form dramas produced by the big cable channels have been good too. Otherwise, I’ve never developed the habit of following sitcoms and serials. I doubt I could name one show popular in prime time.

Back in January I decided to cancel my subscription. The cost had reached the point where it no longer made sense. The game DirecTV plays is they slowly jack up the monthly fee until you decide you’ve had enough and call to cancel. They haggle with you and offer a discount if you stay with them. It is a crazy way to do business, but I suppose it works for them. Most Americans hate confrontations over money and most Americans hate haggling. My Arab friends love DirecTV.

The haggle to finally get free took exactly 25 minutes. I knew what was coming so I was prepared to enjoys it. I allowed the customer retention rep to think he had a real chance to get me to change my mind. We went back and forth for about ten minutes and then he threw me a curve by transferring me to his supervisor. He and I did the dance for another ten minutes and I finally prevailed. The remainder of the conversation was going through a surprisingly long list of details in order to cancel television.

The funny thing about cutting the cord, at least for me, is I’m probably watching more television now than when I had a subscription. I have an Amazon Fire and I have a Prime account. I no longer go to stores, other than for groceries, so I get good use of the Amazon account. I’m one of those people who gets more than his annual fee in free shipping. That also means I have access to all sorts of video content on the Fire. Amazon does offer a lot of video content on their system.

I also loaded the Kodi app on the thing so I have the underground streaming services for just about anything you can imagine. I’m fond of Pakistani cinema so it is nice to be able to get that whenever I want. The Kodi app is to television what Napster was to the music industry. It is a tool to allow the black market to undermine the oligopoly controlling the US television business. At some point, Big Cable will figure out how to shut them down, but the damage will have been done and the cost of winning will kill the cable model.

Anyway, the reason I’m probably watching more television now is that I have more to watch. It used to be that I’d fruitlessly scan the channels looking for anything that caught my interest. Unless a game was on, I’d end up leaving the TV on and wandering off to do something else. Other than sporting events, it was mostly just background noise as I got tired of the process of finding something worth watching. Throw in the excessive commercials and the whole process was more punishment than pleasure.

Now, I have a whole list of programs I’ve queued up so when I want to watch a show, I turn on the show or movie. The fact that it is commercial free makes the experience more enjoyable. I’m binge watching, as the kids say, the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. It’s nice to watch two episodes back-to-back. By the time I settle into watch TV, it is around 8:00 PM so I watch two episodes then go to bed. I usually read or write for a few hours before bed so it works out well, so it works for me to do both.

It sort of reminds me of what television was like when I was a kid. We watched TV in the same way people went to the movies. It was a planned event. After school, we only watched TV when the weather was bad. My dad would watch the evening news on occasion, but usually, the TV was off until after dinner and some popular prime-time show that we watched as a family. In other words, television was not the center of life. It was just one of many cheap entertainments.

It’s not hard to see where it is heading. The days of the cable subscription are nearing an end. Old people will continue to prefer that model, mostly because it is simple and familiar. In time, the on-demand model will figure out how to appeal to geezers who don’t like change. I’m not quite a geezer, but I appreciate that going cordless is a bit of hassle. I had to fiddle with the Fire and load the Kodi app onto it. Just as Facebook is now dominated by seniors, these cordless services will soon be common among the geezers.

The other change on the TV front is I had to get a new XBox. The old one died, mostly from lack of use, I suspect. I’m not much of a gamer, but on a rainy day or when I have people to the ghetto for drinks, it is a nice to have item. I bought a new one and it has a Blu-ray player, which is something I never experienced. Having watched my first Blu-ray disc, I’m not seeing the big difference. It’s a little better, but I suspect you have to have an Ultra-HD TV to really appreciate the higher quality.

The comical part of the XBox was that I had to download 1.5 GB of updates before I could use the thing. I’m old enough to remember when computer storage always had the letter ‘K” in it. Once that was done, I loaded my first Blu-ray only to learn that the  Blu-ray app need to download an update. Then the controller needed a firmware update. I bet it took three hours of prep just to use the stupid thing. A big part of modern life is waiting for your electronics to prepare themselves for your use.

Like a junkie just out of rehab, I’m off TV and I swear this is it for me.

Space Aliens & Talking Monkeys

On the Twitter machine, I saw this posted by Chris Hayes, a liberal airhead, who makes noise on cable television. Given that the BBC is advocating the return of blasphemy laws, I naturally assumed American liberals were now agitating for a police state. But, that was not the point of the tweet. It was a link to his article on something called The Hive. The irony was completely lost on him. Almost two decades ago Joe Sobran and Tom Bethell coined the term to describe the Left-Intellectual orthodoxy that rules us.

Hayes, of course, is an incurious dullard so it is hardly a surprise that he was unaware of the irony. MSNBC could have people dressed up in bumblebee costumes, dancing around the set of his show, and he would still not get it. Still, most people under the age 50 would not be aware of Joe Sobran and his writings about Progressive fanatics. The great convergence of the so-called Left and the so-called Right has sent all the old paleocons down the memory hole. Vast swaths of conservative thought has been largely forgotten.

The point here is that it is easy for information to get lost between generations. Most of the people, who were around when guys like Sobran were active, are either old men now or they were too young to appreciate what was being said. That and the long neocon war against Anglo-Saxon conservatism has gone on for so long that multiple generations of people have grown up believing these ideas were outside the realm of respectable thought. This has happened to libertarians, as well. How many Reason Magazine types are aware of Lew Rockwell?

The modern assumption is that human knowledge is accretive, which means it builds up over time. Each generation adds another layer of knowledge upon which subsequent generations puts down their layer of knowledge. After all, the technology of this age is more advanced than the technology of a century ago. The people in the age of the Great War were far more advanced than the people of the Napoleonic era. It certainly feels like technological progress is a steady accumulation from one generation to the next.

While it is true that we are technologically advanced compared to people in ancient Greece, the progress has been in fits and starts. Further, the progress has not been universal. The Greeks knew more about human nature and culture, for example, than modern people. Our intellectuals are advocates of the blank slate, which is a few clicks more ridiculous than the flat earth argument. Further still, some knowledge possessed by the ancients has been lost to us. Damascus steel and Greek fire are two examples.

There’s also something called The Sapien Paradox, which means, why did humans become smart so late? We know that the human brain evolved to its current state about 60,000 years ago. It took 50,000 years for humans to figure out agriculture. Over the last 10,000 years, humans developed symbolic concepts like notions of value, number and measure. Abstract social concepts like status and power, along with the symbols associated with them are, relatively speaking, very recent developments

Even in this recent run of progress, there were long periods where humans not only stagnated, but regressed. Life in Rome at the time of Julius Caesar was vastly better than life in Rome during the fifth century or even the tenth century. Agricultural technology regressed for much of the medieval period after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. If you departed earth from Europe in 1900 and returned to Europe in 1950, you would have assumed society collapsed and fallen back into barbarism.

The fact is, the store of human knowledge has leaks and is susceptible to spoilage over successive generations. This is obvious in the current state of space exploration. Two generations of men went from zero to landing on the moon. Now we struggle to get payloads into space. Right now we can’t return to the moon. It will take a generation to accomplish what happened two generations ago. Imagine what would happen if some great calamity strikes the world like an epidemic or nuclear war.

What does this have to do with space aliens?

Given that humans needed 10,000 years to go from domesticating animals for the first time to making it to the moon, we have some idea of where visiting space aliens would be on the evolutionary timeline. They would be at least 10,000 years ahead of us, maybe more. The reason for that is the technological jump, from where we are now to effectively transporting anything to another solar system, is about the same as the jump from riding a horse for the first time to riding a rocket to the moon at back.

There’s also the fact that this alien race would have figured out the problem of knowledge boiling off between generations and especially between cataclysms. The most likely solution for former would be much longer lives. If humans lived for 200 active, vibrant years, a reasonably smart person could learn everything to be known in his field and have time to add to it. The latter problem would require accumulating enough knowledge to avoid the society destroying cataclysms that have been a feature of human history.

Of course, being a very long lived species would have an added benefit when it comes to space travel. Launching a human to Mars and back is a one year mission. Landing on the planet probably makes it a two year trip. That’s about ten percent of a man’s prime space travel years. If we assume space aliens can reach something close to light speed, they would still need 40 years to get anywhere interesting. If they had lives roughly equivalent to a thousand earth years, then a trip to visit us would be like us going to the moon.

There you have it. If space aliens are out there and able to reach earth, they will most certainly be a very long lived species. This is not just for the travel issue, but for the store of knowledge problem. They will also have to be a several orders of magnitude smarter than modern humans. To them, we will be a dumb version of our ancestors, who first left Africa. It’s entirely possible the space aliens will find the insects and fauna of our planet more interesting than the talking monkeys.

Fake Science

Unless you have been in a cave the last year, you are well aware of the fact that most of what we call news is just made up. Any story with “sources say” in it is fictional. The writer simply conjured the sources and most likely the things they would have said, if they existed. Maybe someone did say something like what was reported, but the so-called reporter was not there to hear it. At best, they got it from the gossip chain or from some C-level talking head, cooling his heels in a cable television green room.

The worst for this is sports reporting, as they no longer even pretend to do be doing real reporting. They just make stuff up and slap the words “according to sources” on it and it is posted as news. Trade rumors are where you see this all the time. Since the people doing the deals for the sports clubs are not talking about their business on camera, the fake news reporters are free to just make up what they want, so they do. It’s all pitched as “rumors” so when it never happens, the fake sports reporters can “report” on that.

Even fake news needs content, which is where fake science comes in. There’s nothing better for a fake news story than a quote from a fake scientist, especially when the topic is human health. Turn on the local fake newscast and there’s always at least one fake story on health or diet. Many of these shows now have a recurring health segment where one of the bubble heads puts on their serious face and talks into the camera about some new threat to your health, usually your diet. It’s all fake.

Late in January, the researchers Jordan Anaya, Nick Brown, and Tim van der Zee identified some fairly baffling problems in the research published by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, one of the more famous and prolific behavioral-science labs in the country, and published a paper revealing their findings. As I wrote last month, “the problems included 150 errors in just four of [the] lab’s papers, strong signs of major problems in the lab’s other research, and a spate of questions about the quality of the work that goes on there.”

Brian Wansink, the lab’s head and a big name in social science, was a co-author on all those papers, and refused to share the underlying data in a manner that could help resolve the situation, though he did announce certain reforms to his lab’s practices, and said he would be hiring someone uninvolved with the original papers to reanalyze the data. Wansink, whose lab is known for producing a steady stream of catchy, media-friendly findings about how to nudge people toward healthier eating and habits in general, has also openly admitted to a variety of data slicing-and-dicing methods that are very likely to produce misleading and overblown results.

What the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell does, is not science. Calling it science is a crime against the language, as well as science. For instance, they will have participants eat a variety of lunch offerings and then grade them on their perceived “healthiness.” Naturally, people get the “wrong” results, because there’s no fixed definition of “healthy” with regards to food. This allows the “scientist” doing the study to write a paper claiming that people are brainwashed into picking the wrong foods or that people need more education on diet.

Wansink’s problems just got a lot worse. Today, Brown, a Ph.D. student at the University of Groningen, published a blog post highlighting many more problems with Wansink’s research practices. First, it appears that over the years, Wansink has made a standard practice of self-plagiarism, regularly taking snippets of his text from one publication and dropping them into another — a practice that, while not as serious as outright data fraud or plagiarizing someone else’s material, is very much frowned upon. And sometimes it was more than “snippets.” Brown includes the following image of one Wansink article in which all of the yellow material (plus three of the four figures, which Brown said he couldn’t figure out how to highlight) is lifted from Wansink’s own previously published work:

In another instance, Brown writes, Wansink appears to have published the same text as two different book chapters at around the same time. “Each chapter is around 7,000 words long,” he writes. “The paragraph structures are identical. Most of the sentences are identical, or differ only in trivial details.”

What this suggests is the people running the place know full well that all of it is bullshit and nothing close to being real research. Once you come to accept that, going through the exercise of setting up dramatizations of real research work probably seems pointless. If you know the results in advance, the exercise is just silly. What we have here are adults kitted out in lab gear, live action role playing as a real scientists at a real lab. Their published work is just for the purpose of financing their fantasy game.

The root cause of the replication crisis in the soft sciences is mostly due to the fact that it is it not science. It’s market research. They try to quantify some behavior in order to pitch an idea already popular in the mass media or with the managerial class. By slapping the word “science” on it, they are pitching their role as an authority. Bill Nye, the toaster repairman, has made a killing claiming to speak for science on behalf of the cult of Gaia worship. The Cornell Food Lab does the same thing, but for nutrition and food marketing.

This points to one flaw in Karl Popper’s famous definition of science. What is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific. Science, according Popper, is that which can be invalidated or disproved. This sounds good until you look at the Cornell Food Lab. Everything they do can be invalidated, as almost all of it is nonsense. Therefore, it meets the definition of science as described by Popper. It also means that a pseudo-science can easily masquerade as science.

A better, more narrow definition of science is that science concerns itself with causation. If A causes B then science explains how A causes B. Analysis, on the other hand, points out that whenever we see B, we often see A, therefore, there is a correlation between A and B. That’s just observation. Statistical analysis takes observation further by apply probability to it. It’s not useless and it often aids science, but it is not science. It’s simply observation and analysis, and more often than not, pseudo-science.

Somewhere Eichmann Smiles

When I was a teenager, abortion was one of the big issues in politics and social policy. Bill Buckley used to say it was one of three issues that told you everything about a man’s politics. It turns out he was wrong about that, as so many of his tribe were pro-life for effect, as a part of the Frank Meyer “fusionism” strategy. Putting that aside, for normal people, abortion was the issue that defined you politically. Liberals were pro-abortion and non-liberals were pro-life. The latter emphasized the sanctity and uniqueness of each life while the former rejected that entirely.

Here we are 30 years later and abortion is not much of an issue for our politicians. There are some who make it a centerpiece of their politics, but they are rare exceptions. The so-called conservatives that we see in the commentariat wince when the topic is raised. You get the sense they look at it like public professions of faith, something the Dirt People still do, but unbecoming of a Cloud Person. They go through the motions, as we will see with the court nominee, but the result will be that a “conservative” judge will swear to never ever think about altering abortion law.

The thing that the pro-life people never could accept is that the pro-abortion people were never really pro-abortion, at least not as they advertised it. Sure, the barren spinsters protesting in the streets for a “woman’s right to choose” are pro-abortion, but they are the dull witted shock troops of the Cult of Modern Liberalism, organized around simple ideas in order to get them out in the streets making noise. The women who were running around dressed as vaginas last month had no idea why they were doing it. They just liked the drama and the attention.

The real core of the abortion movement is blank slate ideology, which has become a foundation item for the Left. Since all humans are the same at birth, the only thing society should care about is the number of live births and the social structures for shaping and forming these amorphous blobs as they come into the world. Babies born to mothers not “properly trained” to be good citizens will not get the proper training so the emphasis of the abortion movement has always been about making sure the woman is “ready to be a mother” as if it is just another job within the state.

Anyway, another example of how far and how fast we have moved away from the idea that human life is unique and precious is what we are seeing with gene editing.

An influential science advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine on Tuesday lent its support to a once-unthinkable proposition: clinical efforts to engineer humans with inheritable genetic traits.

In a report laden with caveats and notes of caution, the group endorsed the alteration of human eggs, sperm and embryos — but only to prevent babies from being born with genes known to cause serious diseases and disability, only when no “reasonable alternative” exists, and only when a plan is in place to track the effects of the procedure through multiple generations.

“Once unthinkable” basically means last week. In the Bush years, we had big fights about the use of embryonic stem cells for use in experiments. Now, we’re about to start experimenting on actual humans, without really knowing the result. This is, of course, eugenics. The Cloud People will not use the word, because they believe they killed that word and the bad juju that comes with it, but that’s just the nature of magical thinking. Once you step onto the path of designing humans, you are in the world of eugenics.

The counter argument will be that this is not really human experimentation. That embryo they are editing is not a person. It’s not like they will be pulling kids out of school and zapping they with the CRISPR gun to “fix” their defects. That sort of argument is a dodge and a common one used by our betters. Left unmentioned is the reason to edit the embryo, which is so that the resulting human comports with what the editors set out to create as a finished product. It’s designer babies and that’s eugenics.

There’s another aspect to it. Mistakes will be made. In fact, dig around in the literature and that is the assumption. The process will involve multiple embryos and the correct one will be used and the rest discarded. This assumes human error. But then, maybe the human error is not detected until six months into pregnancy or six years into life. Like any other manufacturing process, recalling defects will have to be a part of the discussion at some point. If you are buying a designer baby, you will want to get what you paid for, which means sending back the lemon, if it comes to it.

The Fake News

There’s not much new under the sun. Governments have been putting out propaganda to fool the public since the first guy figured out he could order some other guys to stack one rock on another. The trick is for the people in charge to appear to believe their own bravo sierra, but not actually believe it. If a ruler begins to think he is actually a god, for example, he is going to start making terrible errors. He needs the people to think he is a god, but he has to know he is a man and vulnerable to all the same defects as any other man.

Put another way, rulers must never get high off their own supply. A good example of this is the agit-prop about the Russians hacking the election. Polling shows that close to 60% of the public thinks the “Russians hacked us” stories are ridiculous. About 20% seem to think it happened and matters. That 20% is most assuredly the back benchers from the Cult of Modern Liberalism. That would not be a big deal, except the news media and the White House, at least for a few more weeks, are run by these people.

The result is the Obama White House is getting pressure from their toadies in the press to do something about the Russian hacking that never actually happened.

Over the past four months, American intelligence agencies and aides to President Obama assembled a menu of options to respond to Russia’s hacking during the election, ranging from the obvious — exposing President Vladimir V. Putin’s financial ties to oligarchs — to the innovative, including manipulating the computer code that Russia uses in designing its cyberweapons.

But while Mr. Obama vowed on Friday to “send a clear message to Russia” as both a punishment and a deterrent, some of the options were rejected as ineffective, others as too risky. If the choices had been better, one of the aides involved in the debate noted recently, the president would have acted by now.

The options are risky because the White House knows the hacking story was made up to pacify the lunatics. They also know the Russians know it was made up. Creating a diplomatic crisis over something both sides know is a fiction – and a ridiculous one at that – is very dangerous. The Russians will assume there must be some other reason for the move. Once countries are left to guess about motives, things can spiral out of control quickly. Thus the White House has to just make a show of it, but not actually do anything.

The “Russians hacked us” stuff does show how the Left is expert at narrative management. They can easily retrofit the past, even the very recent past, into the official story line. If necessary, they will rewrite the narrative on the fly. You see that in this section of the linked story.

Mr. Obama is the president who, in his first year in office, reached for some of the most sophisticated cyberweapons on earth to blow up parts of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Now, at the end of his presidency, he has run headlong into a different challenge in the cyberwarfare arena.

The president has reached two conclusions, senior officials report: The only thing worse than not using a weapon is using it ineffectively. And if he does choose to retaliate, he has insisted on maintaining what is known as “escalation dominance,” the ability to ensure you can end a conflict on your terms.

Obama did nothing of the sort. It was the Israelis who sabotaged the Iranian reactors with malicious code. In fact, the US intelligence community was as baffled as everyone else about how the Israelis pulled off one of the great cyberwarfare capers of all time. But, that does not serve the narrative so the past will now be restated. The new past is Obama opened a desk drawer and pulled out a “cyber weapon” to deploy against the Iranians, like the Bond villain often does when he thinks he finally has Bond trapped.

Of course, the bigger problem here is that running endless fake news stories erodes public trust in the media and their government supervisors. Fifty years ago, people could suspect something was bullshit, but proving it was often impossible. Today, there is too much information and too many ways to disseminate it. This stuff is quickly exposed and the public becomes more skeptical, as well as better able to spot the lie. That’s why only nut jobs believe the Russian hacking stuff.

Russian hackers are real. So are Ukrainian hackers and Chinese hackers and Nigerian princess looking for your bank account number. The great threat to network security, however, is not a secret team of super villains writing malicious code. The broken window is the old guy, who is uncomfortable with technology, using “pass123” as his password. John Podesta was not hacked. He had a childishly simple password and he left it lying around for people to see.

According to research, 4% of people use “123456” as their password. Cracking that is not hacking. It is guessing. According to the revelations in WikiLeaks, the people working for Team Clinton at State shared passwords with one another. That means one person leaving the door open exposes everyone, which is what happened in every conceivable way. The reason all of this private information ended up in the public during the campaign is the people producing it are morons and should never be trusted to keep secrets.

That’s ultimately the real news behind the fake news. A skeptical public was presented evidence that confirmed their skepticism. The attempts to retroactively discredit these revelations is only reinforcing the general sense that the mainstream media cannot be trusted. Trust in major media is at all time lows and their audience is dissipating as people seek out alternatives. There’s nothing mysterious about it. As the gatekeepers lose control of the gates, the public learns the truth about what lies beyond the gates.

Forever Young

Greg Cochran has a short post up soliciting opinions on what will be the next big thing in science and technology. He is not fishing for the next smartphone app or medical cure. I think he means the big new field of study or technological advancement. It is one of those posts that is not intended to be interesting, but to get the readers noodling over the question. Judging from the comments thus far, that is the way his readers have read the post. It seems to be another stab at the topic he started the other day.

It is an interesting question as we do seem to have reached the point of diminishing returns with the microprocessor. E-mail was a huge game changer. The mobile phone was another big leap into the unknown. The web probably comes in third, but it still had an enormous impact on humanity. These inventions have changed the way humans interact with one another and continue to put stress on the organizational systems we have had in place since the Enlightenment. Donald Trump just won an election by mastering Twitter.

We have reached peak chip, so to speak. The low hanging fruit has been picked and we’re well on the way to commodification of technology. That’s not to say there is no more work to be done in tech. It’s just that the boom years are over and the industry is now mature. The next big ideas, the stuff that could alter society, will be coming from somewhere else. The temptation is to think it will be some new technology like genetics or nanotechnology. Those fields have the futuristic vibe futurists like.

Genetics does have the prospect of being highly disruptive. Just take a look at how 23andMe or Ancestry.com sell their products. Implicit in their pitch is that race and ethnicity are in your DNA. That means race is not a social construct. Ancestry disguises this by using multi-racial actors, but the implication is clear. Similarly, the ability to predict things about people at an early age, based on examining their DNA, could be very disruptive. Imagine what happens to insurance when you can test for risk of heart attack.

The thing is, a lot of this information has been available to us through other means. Humans have known for a long time that people are not the same across race or ethnicity and most people still know it, even if they don’t say it. Even so, it has no impact on public policy or on the howling of the multiculturalists. We’ve also known that the apple does not fall far from the tree. If the kid is born to losers, the kid will probably be a loser. How the kid is raised has little to do with it, but we still preach the morality of parenting.

A more promising area where something game changing could come is in the field of aging. Humans live longer and are healthier than ever and it has already had a huge impact on society. All of our pension and insurance schemes are broken mostly because people live too long. Long living has resulted in children maturing more slowly, in terms of social status. A century ago, a man went to work as a teen and had a family by the time he hit 20. Today, men live at home until 30 and start families well into their 30’s.

Imagine what happens if science finds a way to push the expiry date out a few more decades. Imagine if 100 becomes the new 65, in that the 100 year old is as vigorous as the typical 65 year old. Imagine that the golden years of retirement start at 110. This is standard stuff in science fiction, but it may not be too far off in reality. British researchers have figured out how to drastically slow the aging of mice. That opens the door for not only slowing the process, but arresting it. Forever young may not be too far off.

Even if that is beyond the pale, think about the impact of Viagra. Invent a pill to keep the needle pointing north and the world beats a path to your door. Imagine a pill to end gray hair or crow’s feet. Even if people don’t live to 150, just being healthier and more vigorous late into life could have a huge impact on society. Retirement, for example, would make a lot less sense if you had plenty of juice well into your senior years. Of course, retirement would become something radically different too. Our view of aging would radically change.

The reason to think that life extension and aging is the place to see great innovation in the near term is mostly economic. Penis pills made their makers very rich. A gray hair pill or a wrinkle cure would similarly make their makers billions. Just look at the number of men seeking out HGH from black market sources. The market for anything that extends life or extends youthful vitality is the market of all people. Is there anyone who would not buy a pill that makes you look as good as you looked in the flower of youth?

The Unreadable Web

The other day, I was reading something on-line and followed a link to one of the business sites. The first thing to happen was a useless popup. I have a pop-up blocker, but many of them still slip past for some reason. After years of dealing with pop-ups, my mouse hand is trained to close the window on instinct. It is a reflex now. I closed it only to have another open and I closed it. A minute reading the site, the screen goes dim and I get a message telling me that I am running an ad-blocker, along with a lecture about how that is mean.

I just closed the site and moved on. In fact, this has become my habit. If the site has any of this junk, I just close the site and move onto other things. I respect the fact that sites need to make money so they post ads, but having to navigate through a sea of clutter just to read 500 words or look at a picture is not a good use of my time. I’ve observed others do the same thing I do when it comes to pop up windows. Before they load, people close them so they do nothing more than annoy the reader. They are otherwise useless.

The main reason I run the ad-block stuff is that many of these embedded ads have malware. If a website wants to monetize my viewership by infesting my computer with malignant software, I have no qualms about blocking their attempts to monetize my viewership. Therefore, the lectures that are becoming common on websites about the immorality of running ad-block strike most people as ludicrous. It’s why the Brave browser is gaining a market. It blocks the ads and it blocks the nag screens about ad-block.

Of course, it is not just ads or pop-ups. The proliferation of scripting has made many sites unreadable on a phone or tablet, unless you use something like ghostery. The Washington Times is a perfect example. It is more ad than content and the scripts never seem to load properly, so the site looks like a Picasso painting most of the time. I stopped going to the site entirely as it took too much effort to make it work. If I have to redesign my web browser to look at your site, I’m probably not going to bother visiting your site.

The truly monstrous thing done by web designers is embedded audio and video. By default, I now turn off my sound so I don’t have to hunt around looking for where the noise is coming from on the web page. I use a flash blocker to get rid of most of it, but some of it still slips past. That means YouTube does not work, so I have two browsers. One is for video and the other for daily browsing. When I’m ruler of these lands, the people responsible for embedded, autoplay video will be torn to pieces and fed to the dogs.

Those who have read Jospeh Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies will probably recognize a familiar pattern. The first ads on websites were a big hit, relative to their cost. That banner at the top for Joe’s Diner cost nothing, but made something. That’s an infinite return on investment. The next wave of ads came with a cost, both direct and indirect. The former was the cost of weaving them into the sites. The latter was the cost of people using ad-blocker and other tools to limit the number of ads in the way of the content.

As we have move from the physical world of content to the virtual world, the demand for more revenue, drives the ever more complex methods to monetize the website. The costs ratchet up, but the barriers also get higher as users find more and better tools to defeat the ads and scripts. The Brave browser costs me nothing and does a great job filtering almost all of this stuff from my view. We’re not far from the time when you pay a monthly fee for a browser that filters all ads from all sites. That’s the model Brave is pursuing..

Web sites are probably near the point of negative returns, with regards to monetizing their content. That’s why so many are going back to the old subscription model. It may not fix their revenue problems, but they have no other option. The ad model is simply not working. That, of course, means the ad model is probably nearing collapse. Once big sites begin to rethink how they monetize their content, everyone else follows. A web of paywalls and subscriber-only content is probably the future for the large scale content makers.

Whether or not that is sustainable is a topic for another day.

 

Fat People

Last month when I was in line waiting to vote, I spotted an extremely fat woman. She was so fat, her ankles rubbed together. Judging by the three gallon bucket of soda pop in her hand, I’m assuming she was not the victim of elephantiasis or some other disease. Everything about her was fat, even her head, which was the size of a bowling ball and covered in pink-dyed fur. How she was able to get around with hundreds of pounds of fat attached to her is a mystery. I would think the mere act of toting around so much weight would result in weight loss.

Last week, I stopped at the ghetto market for a few items and spotted a couple in the snack aisle. The man was something like a large ball with arms and legs. I estimated his diameter was close to 24 inches. That would mean his belt was 75 inches. His wife was of similar size. My first thought was how they were able to, you know, enjoy the marital bed. Is it even possible that they find one another attractive? I suppose it is possible that all of their energies are focused on moving around their girth and finding enough food to maintain their weight so sex is a non-issue.

Anyone familiar with American poverty knows that our poor people are fat, very fat. There are exceptions like drug addicts or those spindly ectomorphs you see loitering on street corners. Black woman, of course, are almost always fat. This is something most everyone knows. The ancients drew images of African women with giant stomachs and buttocks. In all probability, this is a genetic issue with West Africans. Even so, across the ethnic spectrum, American poor people are fat. Even our Mexicans are fat now.

In fact, Mexico is the world’s fattest country. This is mostly likely due to the fact that food is cheaper now than at any time in human history. It’s extremely hard to starve your people these days. Food is just too cheap and plentiful. Even basket case countries like those in sub-Saharan Africa have more than enough food. That’s most likely the cause of the population boom in Africa. The Malthusian limit has been pushed much further out so the population has exploded.

Public health officials tell us that obesity is a crisis in America. Being fat supposedly results in an exploding number of maladies like diabetes and heart disease. This drives up health costs thus collapsing the technocratic schemes cooked up by the managerial class. It’s important to remember that public health officials are usually wrong. For example, they said AIDS would jump from the bathhouse and heroin den into the middle-class suburbs. That never came closer to happening.

Even if obesity is a public health problem, it’s unlikely that there can be a public policy to address it, other than deliberate starvation of the people. Our Germans probably have the same obesity rates as Germans in Europe. The same is true across the ethnic landscape. We’re forbidden to notice that blacks and Mexicans are very fat, compared to everyone else. That means we’re forbidden to note that honky obesity rates are not too far off from Europeans rates. That would be racist and everyone knows race does not exist.

The point of this observation is to note that biology is beyond the reach of public policy. If fatness has some serious detriments to the population, then it will sort itself out over time. If fatness becomes associated with low status people, then there will be cultural pressure to not be fat. Smoking rates have declined not so much due to public policy, but from the fact famous people stopped smoking. It stopped being cool with famous people. Fatness will follow a similar path. We are seeing that with black actresses and singers.

Still, humans have never had to deal with the problems that come from too much food and too much free time to consume it. We really have no idea what will come from it and how it will hurt or help society. There could very well be a huge upside to having lots of fat people. Perhaps when the zombie apocalypse comes, the zombies will eat the fat people and be satisfied, leaving the rest of us to regroup. That’s unlikely, but nature tends not to reward that which is deleterious to a species. Nature is self-correcting.

There’s no reason to think that public policy in a liberal democracy would be capable of addressing problems that stem from excess. Liberal democracy evolved in an age of great inequality and scarcity. Having a super rich aristocracy could not work while the peasants were starving. We now have a mega-rich aristocracy while the peasants are munching snacks and playing video games. They are doing these things at public expense. The bottom half of America is receiving direct and indirect public assistance these days.

Would the super-rich aristocracy of today have the will to impose rules on the bottom half, with regards to their welfare? Mayor Bloomberg came the closest with his soda and salt bans, but they went no where. Even his peers snickered at his prudery. Would these same people be willing to back exercise requirements and fitness exams in exchange for welfare benefits? Probably not. A feature of the modern aristocracy and their attendants in the managerial elite is a fear of confrontation. Hence the passive-aggressive culture of the rich.

We’ll just have to rely on nature to solve the obesity problem.