Dancing Conspiracies

I was listening to the TDS boys yesterday and they had on Ryan Dawson to talk about the latest development in the “Dancing Israelis” story. If you just put that term into your nearest google machine, you will know why this is now a hot topic in the conspiracy community. For a long time there has been a sub-group of 9/11 conspiracy people, who focused on the hundreds of Israeli nationals picked up in sweeps following the attack and the subsequent silence by the government on the issue.

Whenever I run across Ryan Dawson on a podcast, I start thinking about the structure and nature of conspiracy theories and the communities that grow up around them. It is one of those topics I have written about in the past. Dawson is a genuine outlier in the conspiracy world, as he has developed a style that is intended to conflict with the general conception of the conspiracy theorist. He’s the skeptical guy asking questions, while people like Alex Jones are nuts, who give skepticism a bad name.

There is, of course, a big difference between guys like Alex Jones and what we think of as a skeptic. For example, the official narrative of the RFK killing is less believable than most of the conspiracy theories around the JFK assassination. The official record contradicts itself and the testimony of people at the event. That’s skepticism rooted in fact. On the other hand, claiming that school shootings are staged, as Alex Jones has done, is crazy and a terrible thing to say, given that the victims are usually children.

The TDS boys talked at length about what the “dancing Israeli” thing means, in terms of 9/11, geopolitics and domestic politics. One of the things anti-anti-Semites get wrong about the anti-Semite community is the modern anti-Semite is not focused on his hatred of Jews. Instead, he is invested in what amounts to a conspiracy theory about Jews and their alleged control of the West. After all, if Kevin McDonald is right about everything, Jews are the master race, cleverly manipulating the rest of us for their own gain.

That is a different thing than what you see from counter-Semites, who think Jews are just a great model for the rest of us, but that the interests of Jews conflict with the interests of their host countries. There’s a lot of overlap, because both camps use the same humor and jargon. For anti-Semites, Shlomo is a super-intelligent super-villain, while for counter-Semites, Shlomo is just shorthand for Jews. This is another difference the anti-anti-Semites fail to grasp, when sputtering about this stuff.

There is a fair amount of research into conspiracy theories, but a lot of it suffers from the same defects as the subject matter. The people doing the research want to believe things about themselves in contrast to their environment. Belief in conspiracy theories appears to be driven by a need to rationalize events, a need for safety and as a way to find a comfortable social group. Conspiracy theories tend to create subcultures built around one or more conspiracy theories. It’s a community, not a theory.

That’s the thing that is missing about the research into this topic. The structure of the conspiracy is probably the result of the community that supports it. That is, some event occurs and the official narrative is either incomplete or unsatisfying to people who eventually coalesce around their doubt. At this point, the normal group dynamics kick in and the theory matures and grows in complexity. The members of the group reinforce the belief among one another, as group dynamics works toward a consensus.

Another interesting thing about conspiracy theories is they used to be on the fringe, but now they are mainstream. We are rapidly reaching the point where accepting the official narrative on anything is a sign of mental instability. The whole Russian collusion story that has convulsed our rulers for three years is a conspiracy theory that is every bit as weird as the 9/11 truther stuff. Israeli complicity in 9/11 sounds quite plausible compared to invisible men from the Kremlin altering the results of the election.

The fact that an actual conspiracy within the FBI tried to rig the last presidential election probably has a lot to do with the popularity of conspiracy theories among our rulers. One way to excuse the Obama administration’s domestic spying efforts is create an even more outlandish conspiracy. This allows Progressives to dismiss the real conspiracy, as small potatoes, and focus on the “real” conspiracy. In this light, the whole Russian collusion narrative is an elaborate coping mechanism.

Now, as far as my own view on the dancing Israeli stuff, I think it is odd that Israeli nationals were running moving companies in Boston and New York. I think it is odd that some of them had direct connections to Israeli intelligence. I also think it is odd that a lot of Arabs were in the moving business. I did business with these people in the late 1990’s, so I know a bit about it. I knew two former El Al air marshals, who wound up in the moving business. They were serious men back in Israel.

The fact is, Levantine politics is nothing but an endless riddle of conspiracy and intrigue that is inscrutable to occidentals. When America decided to annex this world into the empire, we imported all of the intrigue and conspiracy. The same shenanigans these people engage in over there, they started doing over here. That’s how they ended up in the US in low-barrier to entry businesses like moving companies. It was great cover, as they continued their Bronze Age game of cat and mouse with one another.

What we’re going to learn is that conspiracies and conspiracy theories are a necessary feature of multicultural societies. The Levant is the quintessential multicultural society, as it is the crossroads of the West and East. Three great religions and their off-shoots have their roots in the region. The fact that it a land of intrigue where no one ever takes anything at face value is a feature, not a bug. Creating that society in the West means creating a West that is tribal, distrustful and prone to believing outlandish conspiracies.

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How To Be A Bad Writer

The other day, someone asked me what makes for a good writer. We were discussing Jonah Goldberg’s new venture and I pointed out that the big challenge they will face is finding writers that are any good. It’s not so much that their opinions are banal and lacking in authenticity. It’s that the people writing for these sites are dull writers. The whole space is full of people, who should be writing technical manuals. Almost everyone with writing chops has been chased off by the loathsome carbuncles of Conservative Inc..

The question though, is why are some writers more interesting than others? Mark Steyn is not offering many unique insights, but he makes general commentary about the political scene fun and interesting. He is a great wordsmith. Steve Sailer is not a great wordsmith, but he often makes great observations about the world. In other words, you can be an interesting writer without being brilliant or a great wordsmith, but you better do something that gives the reader a payoff for having read your stuff.

Thinking about it, what often makes a writer good, is that they avoid the things that all bad writers seem to share. In this sense, “good” is not a state in itself, but simply not being in the state we call “bad.” A great wordsmith is further away from the state of bad writing than someone who is just an average writer. That average writer can appear to be much better, by offering keen insights and clever observations. The path to becoming a good writer, therefore, starts with avoiding the things that define a bad writer.

The most common trait of bad writers, it seems, is they write about themselves. Unless you are an international man of mystery, you’re not that interesting. No one is. Bad writers, always seem to think they are the most interesting people they know. This is what made former President Obama such a boring speaker. No matter the subject, his speech was going to be a meditation on his thoughts and feelings about the subject. It became a game of sorts to count how many times he referenced himself in a speech.

That’s the hallmark of bad writing. Instead of focusing on the subject, the writer focuses on himself, which suggests he does not know the material. Even when relating an experience or conversation, the good writer makes himself a secondary character in the story, not the focus. Bad writers are always the hero of everything they write, as if they are trying to convince the reader of something about themselves. Good writers avoid this and focus on the subject of their writing.

Now, in fairness, there is a division between the sexes on this one. Female writers only write about themselves. It’s why autoethnography is wildly popular with the Xirl science types on campus. They finally have a complicated sounding name for what comes natural to them. Presumably, female readers like reading this stuff, so there may be a Xirl exception to this rule. The fairer sex is wired to understand the world, particularly human relations, by observing the reactions of other women to that person or thing.

Another common habit of the bad writer is to use five paragraphs when one paragraph will do the trick. One of the first rules they used to teach children about writing is the rule of women’s swimsuits. Good writing is like a woman’s swimsuit, in that it is big enough to cover the important parts, but small enough to make things interesting. This is a rule that applies to all writing and one bad writers tend to violate. They will belabor a point with unnecessary examples or unnecessary explication.

Bad writers are also prone to logical fallacies and misnomers. There’s really no excuse for this, as there are lists of common logical fallacies and, of course, searchable on-line dictionaries in every language. In casual writing, like blogging or internet commentary, this is tolerable. When it shows up in a professional publication, it suggest the writer and the editor are not good at their jobs. A brilliantly worded comparison between two unrelated things is still a false comparison. It suggests dishonesty on the part of the writer.

Certain words seem to be popular with bad writers. The word “dialectic” has become an acid test for sloppy reasoning and bad writing. The word “elide” is another one that is popular with bad writers for some reason. “Epistemology” is another example, popular with the legacy conservative writers. Bad writers seem to think cool sounding words or complex grammar will make their ideas cleverer. Orwell’s second rule is “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” It’s the commonly abused by bad writers.

Finally, another common feature of bad writing is the disconnect between the seriousness of subject and how the writer approaches the subject. Bad writers, like Jonah Goldberg, write about serious topics, using pop culture references and vaudeville jokes. On the other hand, feminists write about petty nonsense as if the fate of the world hinges on their opinion. The tone should always match the subject. Bad writers never respect the subject they are addressing or their reader’s interest in the subject.

No doubt there are more complete and concise descriptions of bad writing than this quick list of observations. The pedants reading this sees all writing as bad writing, as everything they read violates at least one picayune rule they cherish. To normal people, though, good writing is mostly the absence of bad writing and bad writing is the violation of some basic rules of written communication. Therefore, if you want to be a good writer, you should first avoid being a bad writer. That gets you at least halfway home.

Tanking It

Note: No podcast this week. The day job has consumed almost all of my time, so I was unable to put anything together. I’ll be back next week.

While burning the midnight oil on a project, I put on a documentary about the evolution of the battle tank in World War II. It was free on Amazon and it looks like it was done by the Brits, as all of the experts were British. Most of it was archival footage, so maybe it was made by an American company. Most of these things are just bits from prior shows cobbled together with a new narrator. As documentaries go, it was mediocre, but it made noise and it was free, so it was good company while I was working on other things.

One interesting thing about tank evolution that never gets mentioned in America is just how good the Soviets were at making tanks. The Germans are always assumed to have been the great tank builders, followed by the Americans, but it was the Russians who dominated the field in the tank game. Russian tanks were fast, powerful and easy to operate by their crews. Most important, they were reliable in all weather. The Russians assumed they would be fighting in horrible conditions and built a tank for it.

The Germans, in contrast, made one error after another when it came to tank design and tank building. They were obsessed with coming up with the biggest, most powerful tank, rather than making lots of good enough tanks. The result was lots of innovative designs, but most were failures and there was never enough of them. The Panzer IV was a very good tank with a platform that was flexible, but the Germans kept trying to come up with a super tank, rather than make lots of these. That was a costly error.

The American tank, which was used by the British, was not a great tank, but they were cheap and reliable, which meant there were loads of them. It was also a flexible platform for all sorts of other uses. The Sherman tank was about using the two advantages the Americans had over the Germans. One was more industry and the other was more soldiers. The plan was to beat the Germans with volume. While it would take five Sherman tanks to take out a German tank, that was math that worked in favor of the Americans.

This conflict between the perfect and the good enough showed up in many places during the war. The Germans seemed to look at the whole thing as an engineering project. The first step was to accept the restraints and then solve for the variables. The Russian and American view was always to limit the constraints and thereby increase the number of possible right answers. The Germans had much better human capital, but their opponents always had many more choices. They also had numbers, which counts for a lot.

When you apply this conflict between the perfect and the good enough to modern warfare, the American military looks a lot like the Germans. The quest for the perfect fighter jet has led to the F-35 boondoggle. Instead of pouring billions into these white elephants, the money could be used to build swarms of cheap drones, but no one is getting rich from making cheap and useful military gear. The same thing is true with sea power. American warships are technical masterpieces, but probably useless in a real war.

This comparison raises the question that perhaps there is a parallel between the state of human capital in the American elite and the German elite during the war. The German soldiers were the best in the world, but the people further up the line were not the best tacticians. At the upper reaches, the strategist were terrible in all sorts of ways, starting with Hitler, who was laughably inept at running a war. Winning was never an option, but the Germans could have avoided total obliteration if they had better leaders.

The blame for this is always put on Hitler and that’s a good place to start, but the Germans had a brain power problem throughout the planning layer. This is obvious in how they went about making tanks. Instead of going for a tank that was cheap and easy to produce by a civilian workforce, they tried to build tanks that were complex and required specialists to produce. The effects of allied bombing raids were amplified by this strategic blunder in production planning. This is a very basic error in planning and execution.

One possible cause of this was that the middle-aged men who would have been sorting these production and design problems had died during the Great War. The German army tended to “use up” their units, rather than cycle them in and out of lines. That meant that a lot of experience with supply and logistics was lost in the trenches. The British and the Americans rotated units in an out of the lines, thus they came out of the war with a vast number of people with experience in the nuts and bolts of war fighting.

The current ruling class needs the Germans to be seen as the ultimate in super villains, but the truth is the Germans were dumb about a lot of important things. The Russians came up with slopped armor, for example, and the Germans never bothered to steal the idea, even after Kursk. The Germans got their hands on the Churchill tank, but never bothered to learn anything from it. They never learned from the Americans how to use communications to coordinate their artillery and their armor.

In many respects, the story of the tank in the war is a great proxy for the story of human capital and cultural intelligence. The Germans had the best trained military on earth, but they lacked human capital in the strategy and tactics layer. Either the culture was unable to produce it or there was simply not enough smart people to create the necessary smart fraction. That was ultimately why the Germany was wiped from the map. It’s probably why no new culture has arisen from that place on the map either.

A Rambling Post About Sportsball

If you have ever followed sportsball, the one thing you have surely noticed is that some franchises never win, while others win a lot. In America, the New York Yankees are the example of perennial winners. In English soccer, Manchester United is the club that is the example of consistent excellence. The opposite is true as well. In America, the organization best known for futility is the Cleveland Browns. It’s not just that they never win anything. They find hilarious ways to lose and embarrass themselves.

The question is why? In the case of baseball, market size has always been assumed to be the main driver. With unlimited budgets for payroll and player development, the teams with deep pockets could dominate. The Yankees operate in New York. The Dodgers are in Los Angeles. Over the years, the correlation between winning and market size has been strong enough for most people to assume that’s the reason. Of course, the Mets and Cubs stand out as stark exceptions, so there is more to it.

In other sports, like English soccer, the market share answer does not apply. Manchester is the thirst largest metropolitan area, behind Birmingham and London, but it is a fifth the size of London and much poorer. The dominance of Manchester is a lot like the success of the Green Bay Packers in American football. Not quite to that extreme, but Man U has had much more success than the Packers. While having a big market helps in all sports, the rules and some other factors often neutralize the advantage.

One area where this “something” else is easier to notice is in how teams hire their front office people. The reason the Cleveland Browns, for example, lose all the time is they hire stupid people to run their club. The New England Patriots, in contrast, hired a cerebral coach, paid him well and staffed their front office with smart people. They also make sure the culture of the organizations rewards the smart and punishes the stupid. When these people leave for better jobs, they often fail in their new organizations.

While it seems obvious, the reason franchises have sustained success or failure is due mostly to their organizational IQ. This is most obvious in baseball. The Oakland A’s are credited with being the first team to employ statistics in player evaluation. Moneyball, as it is called, seeks to find the best value in the market for talent, but also the most useful players in the market. The stat-geeks have re-evaluated the stats in baseball and created new metrics to measure a player’s contribution to winning games.

What the Oakland A’s learned is they could get players that were 90% as good as the big stars, for 30% of the investment. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it is a useful way of thinking of it. They understood that a player who walks a lot is more valuable than a guy who strikes out a lot, but also hits for a high average. The former is on-base more often, so he contributes more runs than the latter. Hitting home runs is a good way to get a big contract and sell tickets, but getting on base is what counts most.

Now, all of the big clubs have armies of stat-geeks doing the moneyball thing. The Boston Red Sox have the godfather of stat geeks, Bill James, on their payroll. The use of stats has become so pervasive, it is changing the game. Managers no longer make decisions during games. Instead, they consult probability charts and select from the options the front office created before the game. It’s an odd form of computer chess. Instead of humans controlling the robot pieces, it’s the robots controlling the human pieces.

The fact is, winning is about avoiding error. Since the Greeks this has been understood, so why is this not a universal part of all sport? The owner of the Cleveland Browns is probably a smart guy. He’s rich enough to own a sportsball team, so he may not be a genius, but he is pretty smart. Why does he not hire a team of behavior scientists to study winning and create personality models for the various jobs within the organization? He could hire people to model how the Patriots run their organization.

It does not have to be a sci-fi version of this stuff to work. The team of analysts could come up with the five facts common to all failed coaches in the Browns organization and then compare that to the least successful coaches in the game. Odds are, they will find some commonalities. Knowing what does not work, they could simply avoid hiring coaches with any of those qualities. That would not guarantee success, but maybe it eliminates embarrassing, catastrophic failure. Better is better.

Sports organizations are systems, so the tools used in system analysis should apply to sports teams, corporations, political movements and so forth. American business employs continuous improvement techniques to fine tune daily operations. Some are more committed than others and some things work better than others, but fixing small things tends to have the greatest impact on performance. This is true in most systems. Fixing a simple error in a line of code can greatly increase system performance.

Despite this well-known reality, human organizations are the least likely to embrace empirical techniques. Politics is the most obvious. If the parties simply required an IQ test for party membership, they would save themselves a lot of trouble. Sports franchises tinker around with this stuff, but they have never embraced it. Even big corporations seem to drift from a focus on incremental improvement in various types of magic. Google is now a cult of sorts, which is how they make blunders like this one.

The point of this post, if there is one, is that there is something that prevents otherwise smart people, like sportsball owners, from using well known techniques to improve their organizations. The result is a repetition of unforced errors. Sportsball owners are hyper-competitive, yet they are often allergic to considering concepts and tactics that work in other organizations. It is only after an innovator proves it can work that we see the rest jump on board and start aping what worked for them.

An even stranger thing about sportsball teams is that this institutional blundering attracts owners prone to the same sort of blundering. These bad franchises come up for sale and the new owners turn out to be as accident prone as the previous ones. In fact whole cities seem to attract losers in this area. Again, Cleveland is a great example. All of their sportsball teams are terrible and the owners are some of the worst in sport. Maybe there really is something in the water there that causes this.

Anyway, it is something reformers and rebels should probably consider when plotting how to attack the Death Star of modern culture. Maybe that silly plot device from Star Wars has a grain of truth to it. The bad guys left the back door to the Death Star open, because in the end, they were the Cleveland Browns of space villains. Perhaps all villains leave a window open at some point. Maybe size makes organizations stupid and then exploitable to those with subversion on their mind.

The Western Disease

By now, even militant anti-Hollywood people are aware of the zombie apocalypse, where humanity is put at risk by a plague of zombies. It’s not always zombies. It could be a vampire problem. The general idea is always the same though. For some reason, people turn into murderous crazies, attacking normal people. Another variation is the newly dead rise and begin attacking the living, thus increasing the number of zombies while decreasing the stock of the living. This is the most popular version of the concept.

The cause of this problem is either a virus that just turned up for no reason, a virus made by man or some alien bug that arrived here for unknown reasons. The germ of this idea, so to speak, is the novel I Am Legend. In it the hero is the last normal person on earth, plagued by what appears to be vampires. He eventually figures out that they have been infected with a disease that causes the vampire like symptoms. The book ends with him having been captured by a hybrid group of vampires that are the future of man.

The odd thing about Hollywood adaptations of this idea is they never focus on the logic behind a disease that would cause a species to murder itself. A virus that kills the host can only work if the host, in the process of dying, infects new hosts. A pathogen that killed instantly would die off quickly, so it would most likely never evolve in the first place. The first iteration would kill the host, before it could spread or kill the population so quickly that no one could get to another population group in time to infect them.

Species do go extinct, so it is not inconceivable that some new environment element could evolve to take out humanity or a large part of it. The Black Death did a number on Europe, so we know such a plague is possible. Thousand cankers disease is a blight that attacks certain walnut trees. The disease results from the combined activity of the walnut twig beetle and a fungus. It could very well wipe out the walnut tree. Similarly, the common banana, known as the cavendish, is at risk from Panama disease.

This idea of a disease that causes people to turn on one another, combined with the habit of nature to clean the slate from time to time, is a useful way to think about the western disease of multiculturalism. Rather than think of it as a set of nutty ideas or a conspiracy by one population to prey on another, it is best thought of as a pathogen that is causing Europeans to attack themselves. Instead of rage zombies, we have people obsessed with the emotional well-being of aliens, at the expense of their kin.

This live stream with Ed Dutton, John Derbyshire and Richard Spencer from last week gets into it a little bit. Around the 50-minute mark, they talk about how the Finns, in particular, but Europe as a whole, have suddenly and inexplicably become pathological in their altruism. The whole video is worth watching, as Ed Dutton is a very interesting guy with a head full of dangerous ideas. As is often the case, when smart people from this side of the divide get together, they end up puzzling over the disease of multiculturalism.

That’s the thing though, no one ever thinks of it like a disease. Instead, the rock solid belief is that it is simply the result of misreading history or drawing the wrong lessons from the industrial wars of the 20th century. The quest for half a century has been to find the right combination of noises that will drop the scales from the eyes of the ruling elites so they will reject multiculturalism. Despite thousands of smart people working tirelessly to find the right combination of sounds, the disease has spread to all corners of the West.

An important thing Dutton points out is that the Finns used to be a very inward looking population group. In fact, northern people in general were very hostile to outsiders, for practical reasons related to ecology. When you live in challenging environments, cooperation is essential. This inevitably rewards traits that bind people close to their social group and traits that make people hostile to outsiders, who could come in and take some of the precious resources of the group. It’s ecological tribalism.

In the last half century, even the notoriously inward looking Finns have been plagued by the need to invite the world, particularly the most hostile parts, into their community. As Dutton mentions, it even seems to be causing the Finns to lose their shyness, something for which they have been known since forever. What possible reasons could a happy people like the Finns suddenly decided to destroy themselves by inviting in hostile foreigners from the other side of the globe? What’s causing this madness?

That is an important part of stress, with regards to multiculturalism. It is new and just sort of arrived in the middle of the last century. We think of bad ideas as a disease of the mind, but what if it is actually a disease? What if like Toxoplasma gondii, a new germ is infecting Europeans, causing them to lose their natural fear of that which is a threat to their existence? Instead of turning local populations directly against themselves, as is the case with the rage zombie idea, they are losing their ability to defend themselves.

It sounds incredible, but there is growing evidence that the bacteria responsible for gum disease may be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. It has long been known that there is a correlation between periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer. It was assumed it was a common genetic cause, but it could be a common virus or bacteria. Greg Cochran has speculated that something similar could be the cause of homosexuality. His “gay germ” theory is speculation, but not unreasonable, given the data.

Now, such a result would mean the “cure” for multiculturalism is we either treat these people like the rage zombies in TV shows or begin to think of them as lost and unable to assimilate into a newly rationalized West. That is, they will be eaten by the rage zombies they invite into our communities. The rest of us, like the survivors in those TV shows, will have to find our own place to hold up and rebuild. Those in the West immune to the disease of multiculturalism will become the founding stock of the new Western people.

Better Human Capital

Are people better today than in the past? The answer to that question, more often than not, says things about the person answering than anything else. The cosmopolitan globalists and their attendants will argue people are better today, overall. The cynical critics of the current arrangements will go the other way, pointing out that people are dumber. In other words, the answer usually has to do with your view of the neoliberal order, rather than any factual considerations. The winners are happy while the losers are unhappy.

There are practical ways to think of the question. Steve Pinker looked at interpersonal violence over the ages, using it as a proxy for human progress. His assumption is that coming to a violent end is bad. Therefore, if fewer people are coming a violent end, it means there are fewer violent people in society. His analysis shows that violence within western societies has been in steady decline. He also points out the decline in the celebration of violence in society. The conclusion is we are getting better.

The trouble with that sort of analysis is it starts with a subjective definition of better, when nature may have other ideas. The point of life for all creatures, including humans, is to reproduce. As the saying goes, life is built for speed. Get to sexual maturity as quickly as possible, reproduce and after that it is all gravy. It’s why humans evolved some brutal responses to diseases that strike the young. Malaria is the obvious example. The risk of an ugly death in adulthood is worth the risk in order to reach sexual maturity.

Therefore, fertility rates are a pretty good proxy for measuring the health of a species, which is why biologists use them all the time. If a type of finch stops laying eggs, biologists will assume something bad is happening to the species. Whites, the engine of human material progress, have seen their fertility rates collapse. The fertility rate for Africans is rocket high. A biologist would look at those realities and conclude that the former is in trouble, while the latter is flourishing. Better may not be better after all.

Another way of looking at the question is from the perspective of the emerging data from ancient DNA. Until recent, what we knew about the intelligence of people in the past was speculative. Aristotle was obviously a brilliant person, but how smart were the guys growing olives? Were they smarter than the people working at one of Amazons distribution centers? The SAT scores for Athenian farmers have been lost, so we have no way to compare their scores to those of their analogs in our society.

The assumption has been the modern people must smarter, as we live in technologically advanced societies. The data coming in from genetics says the opposite is most likely true and there is a very good chance the data from ancient DNA will confirm it. As Cochran says, we have known for a while that people are getting dumber, but no one has been able to point to hard evidence of it. Now there is hard evidence for a relatively recent decline in European IQ. We’ll soon know where moderns stand on the IQ scale.

Of course, this all leads to the question of what defines “better” when it comes to human capital. Those Africans breeding like bunnies are a bit smarter than previous Africans due to better nutrition and medicine. They are still a full standard deviation dumber than Europeans and Asians. From the perspective of biology, their fertility rates suggest they are more fit than their childless counterparts to the north. Maybe nature is telling us something about what really matters in the game of natural selection.

On the other hand, maybe the selection pressures in the post-scarcity world are different in ways not yet understood. If the correlation between education and low-fertility is what we’re told, it would have showed up a long time ago. It used to be smart people got rich and they had a bunch of kids. Now, rich people claim to be smart and they avoid having children at all. Perhaps in a highly automated, post-scarcity world, general intelligence is not much of an asset at either end of the social structure.

Interestingly, if this is even somewhat true, it supports the observation that cognitive abilities did not evolve equally around the globe. This would explain the differences in measured intelligence. In a place with lots of naturally available food, but lots of predators, being smart is not as big an edge as being quick. In a world of high-scarcity, low time preference and the ability to plan ahead are important. The post-scarcity, technological society is a grand experiment demonstrating this in real time.

That brings us back to the initial question. Is the human capital of today better than the human capital of the past? The answer is probably yes and no. The populations with low fertility could be obsolete, to be replaced with low-IQ Africans. Alternatively, they could be in the midst of a change to better equip them for the post-scarcity world. On the other hand, maybe the formerly high IQ populations unleashed environmental changes that will keep lowering intelligence unto this high tech society collapses.

Maybe what’s really going on is a weird race to the finish line. On the one hand, human intelligence is declining as automation takes over more and more tasks. On the other hand, the robots are getting smarter and will one day function as our caretakers. The race is to see if the robots get to that point before we run out of smart people able to create the artificial intelligence and super-intelligent robots. If we get too dumb too fast, the future may be primitives living in the wreckage of formerly high tech societies.

The Fifth Columnists

Imagine you are an antiquarian who specializes in obscure books. You like the odd stuff that focuses on folktales and legends. After a while, you start to notice some similarities between legends that should not be connected. Maybe they came from different time periods are different parts of Europe. You get curious and after years of research you establish four main categories of this particular legend. There’s overlap between all of them, but none of them are exactly like any of the other three.

One possible explanation is that each set of authors borrowed from the previous authors, but added and removed material to fit their audience. On closer inspection, you can’t see how any of these authors had access to one another’s work. That and two were contemporaries, but separated from one another by a great distance. While it was possible they borrowed from one another, it is highly improbable. Instead, the most likely answer is they were working form a common source, some unknown body of work.

Those familiar with biblical scholarship will recognize where this is going. Most Bible scholars have come to believe that the solution to the question of the specific literary relationship among the three synoptic gospels is they relied upon an as yet undiscovered source or sources. They have constructed what that source would look like by careful comparison of the three Gospels, to catalog their similarities and differences. The term they use for the source is the Q Document, that may or may not have existed.

Discovery through inference is a useful skill for understanding the world, because we are usually presented with incomplete evidence. In the case of biblical scholars, their understanding the provenance of the Gospels would be simple if the writers had used end notes, hyperlinks and direct quotations. That’s not the case, so they have to “recreate” the missing data in the same way one figures out the shape of the missing pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. You fit everything else in place and examine the gaps.

That’s a useful way of thinking about these waves of fake scandal stories that are becoming a feature of the Trump era. On the surface, they look like what we used to call tabloid news or what we now call fake news. The “reporters” take some information and frame in such a way it takes on a whole new sinister meaning or they salt some fantasy they are peddling with unrelated facts to make it seem plausible. The headline makes one claim, but the body of the report fails to deliver the goods.

There’s some truth to that, but there are facts that don’t fit that narrative. For example, the main organs of the media are often silent on these things until they run their course. For example, instead of running with the BuzzFeed story, the main stream sites showed a great deal of wariness. Even CNN was skeptical. Part of it had to do with the fact that the authors were, as Columbia Journalism Review out it, “serial fabulists.” Still, CNN has never been afraid to make up the news, so it was odd that they were skeptical.

Then there is something else. The NeverTrump loons dropped all of their other subversive activities in order to push this story on social media. Confirmed plagiarist Jonah Goldberg was still pushing it even after the Mueller people knocked it down. As far as Goldberg is concerned, the story is true, even if it is false. The odious carbuncle John Podhoretz was working his greasy little fingers raw pushing the story on Twitter. Of course, the pope of the neocon fifth columnists, Bill Kristol, is still pushing the story.

There’s also the ham-handed nature of this caper. Giving the story to a serial liar like Jason Leopold was bound to raise suspicion. Giving it to the tabloid like BuzzFeed is just asking for scrutiny as to the accuracy of the sourcing. If you’re trying to push a rumor, this is the wrong way to do it. The way to drop a story in the media is to find a low level reporters at the Washington Post or the New York Times and give them the scoop of the year. That’s how the professionals put a rumor into the system.

The one guy capable of being comically ham-handed when trying to undermine Trump is Bill Kristol. This is the guy with some sort of weird attraction to bald gentiles. He first pushed the mentally unstable David French as a primary opponent to Trump and then landed on Evan McMuffin, the guy with comically bulbous head. One has to assume that Mitt Romney is loading up on Gillette products so he can run as the bald alternative to Trump in the 2020 primary. Yes, Romney is that obsequious.

The point of this rambling post is that when you start to think about these endless waves of fake news about Trump, there seems to be a missing source. That is, the patterns suggest there is a piece of the puzzle missing. It’s just assumed the neocons all share the same thoughts about foreign policy for the obvious reason. Maybe what we are seeing is an active conspiracy. Maybe these guys are coordinating their efforts, while working at various news outlets and government posts.

It is certainly a cliché to call people like Bill Kristol a subversive, but clichés don’t spring from nothingness. They have some truth. We know he was involved in the fake dossier the FBI used to spy on the Trump campaign. How unrealistic is it to believe that this crew is the source of the endless waves of fake news about Trump? Further, how unrealistic is to think they are actively conspiring with one another? In other words, the missing piece to this puzzle is a wide ranging conspiracy of people with a shared interest.

Winter Comes To Lagos

Winter finally arrived in Lagos, with cold temperatures and snow last night. It was not a big snowstorm, but it is still snowing as I type this. The local weather people say we will get 5-8 inches of snow today, in addition to the four or five that came last night. It’s hard to know with weather forecasts these days, as they exaggerate everything. They name every storm so they can talk about it like it is a monster from a 1960’s Japanese monster movie, “Mothra is attacking Lagos with snow and freezing temps!”

I’m a big fan of winter and I like snow, so I look forward to it snowing. I had some errands to run this morning, so I was out at sunup to shovel the truck out and clear the walk. I’m one of those people who enjoys shoveling snow. There is a limit to my enjoyment, but as long as the snow is not three feet deep or super-heavy, I enjoy the exercise and the satisfaction of seeing a clean walk. So, I was out first thing to shovel and then run some errands. I did not see anyone else out and about, so it was more quiet that usual.

That’s something I’ve observed in different parts of the world. When I lived in New Hampshire, the locals all seemed to love shoveling snow, almost as much as they loved complaining. The distinguishing feature of the New England Yankee is complaining about the weather. I recall the first snow storm when I moved to Manchester. I went out at first light to see all my neighbors out shoveling their walks and driveways. By breakfast, all of the walks were clear on my block and most drives were clear as well.

In contrast, Lagos may never clear the snow. My first snowstorm here was my first year, so I was unfamiliar with the local customs. We got a big snowstorm, over 30-inches, and the city was shut down for a week. I drove to the office to shovel the walk and found I was the only person out shoveling his walk. In fact, that whole winter the sidewalks were an obstacle course of frozen boot-prints, patches of ice and snow boulders. In theory, there’s a fine for not shoveling your walk, but I never heard anyone mention it.

That explains a weird thing you see here in Lagos, as well as other vibrant areas. When it snows, the locals walk in the streets. They will do this even when the walks are clear. I think it is just years of conditioning that has turned into a custom. You will see this in the county when it snows. People go out and walk in the streets. Here in Lagos, it means driving gets even more adventurous, as the locals could very well attack you while you are trying to navigate around them on the snow covered streets.

The other thing you see in places like this is how differences in time preference turn up in city planning efforts. My first storm here I learned that no one had bothered to service the city’s snow removal equipment. In fact, much of it was either disabled or missing. I recall that half the plows were either broken or unaccounted for, so snow removal was a comical failure. When your focus is on today, that is you have a high time preference, planning for even predictable eventualities is beyond your scope of interest.

This, of course, is a great way to introduce people to evolutionary concepts regarding human diversity. A thousand generations in a place without snow and inevitably the humans will adapt to a life without snow. It’s not just learned behavior at work. Nature is always tinkering with her creations. As Nick Wade put it, evolution is local, recent and copious. Put people from the real Lagos in a place with variability in the environmental conditions and their biological limitations will be exposed.

Of course, something that seems near universal is the panic that comes before every snowstorm, even in the snowiest places. I went to the market this morning and it was stone silent. The reason is everyone piled in yesterday. I saw this in New England when I lived there, so it is not just an unfamiliarity with snow. This seems to happen everywhere, so maybe the sense of something happening triggers the preparedness instinct in people with low time preference. The itch to prepare always needs to be scratched.

That said, there seems to be a strong desire among some pale folk to never have to deal with winter. I have friends who talk every winter about their desire to move south and never see another snow flake in person. The number of pale retirees in the Sun Belt says a large portion of pale people may be built for winter, but they really hate it. I’ve always found this baffling. I love winter and love the snow. It’s peaceful and beautiful. There’s a simplicity to it that appeals to me. Even in Lagos, I welcome old man winter.

The End Of The Line

The Consumer Electronics Show happened this week in Las Vegas. There was a time when this was an international event, as everyone wanted to see the latest electronic gadgets that were about to hit the market. The pace of change was so quick, every year featured cool new ideas and concepts that promised to alter how we experience our entertainments. There was also the futuristic factor, as companies would preview what cool new technology they were about to bring from the lab to your home.

That’s no longer the case as the consumer electronics business seems to have run out of road, as far as cool new ideas. This is apparent in the troubles Apple is suddenly facing. It makes a cool looking toy, but there’s nothing unique about an iPhone. It does what all the phones do now. The gap between it and the low end brands is not enough to warrant a premium. This is an issue turning up all across the consumer electronics space. There’s just no new technology to make any of it “must have” or any brand unique.

The big new idea this year is 8K TV, which is just becoming a reality. TV makers have made 4K the default now. Everyone hopes these super high resolution TV’s will spark a revolution in both accessory items and the content itself. So far, 4K has not made much of an impact on consumers. It turns out that better resolution does not improve the quality of the content. That was true of HD, but at least those sets looked cool and they were much easier to move around the living room. They also made 80-inch screens possible.

That’s the tell with this stuff. If a new technology has an impact on the consumer, it can first sell at a premium. That was the case with HD television. Middle-class white guys in the suburbs built man caves around their big screen. That did not happen with 4K television as people just ignored it until the price dropped to normal levels. That means the same will happen with 8K. The resolution and sound of the television has reached the point where it is more than good enough for the majority of people.

Manufacturers have known this for a while, which is why they invested heavily in virtual reality. Virtual reality or some other immersive technology is the assumed to be the next step, but people don’t seem to like the idea. VR headsets have been out for a while and they have been a big flop with the public. Part of it is you look like an idiot wearing the things and no one wants to look ridiculous. The experience so far is less virtual reality and more altered reality, like being on hallucinogens.

There’s also the fact that virtual reality will probably not work anything like the electronics makers imagine. Human perception is something we know little about and what we think we know we have all wrong. Much of our reality is probably generated by our brains from stimuli that we get through our senses. We’re not living in the matrix, but we are living in a stripped down version of reality. Our brains consumer just what is necessary to build a reality from information stored in our brains that we accumulated in life.

Otherwise, the “new” stuff coming from electronics makers is increasingly ridiculous implementations of things like voice activation. A voice activated parasol was probably fun to design, but it is entirely useless. In fact, voice activated stuff will most likely fail miserably for two reasons. One is the idiocy of it. Just think of how annoying it is to talk to a robot on the phone when dealing with the bank or pharmacist. No matter how good the technology gets, you will always know you are talking to a thing and that feels dumb.

The other factor is privacy. You have to be close to retarded to invite these devices into your home, given what we already know about the tech firms. If the mobile carriers are willing to sell your location data in real-time to anyone who wants to buy it, including criminals, then they will sell your private conversations in real time too. Just as prisoners figure out how to make their cells a private space, the future means the home becomes a technology free area, so people can have an escape from the panopticon.

The end of the road for consumer electronics will no doubt have an impact on video content creation. Something that has gone unnoticed is how the technological revolution transferred billions every year from consumers to the entertainment business, without much change in the content. If anything, the result was more bad content and much more propaganda. The selling of the poz is so over the top now, it is intolerable. That suggests the content makers are ripe for “disruption” as the cool kids say.

A hint of it is in the audio space. It took a while, but the mp3 altered music and spoken word formats. People still listen to talk radio, for example, but the switch to podcasts and live streams is happening quickly. Like evening news shows, terrestrial radio is the thing that appeals to older people. It has no future. In all probability, we are on the cusp of a similar revolution in video content. It will have different contours, but the end result will be a radical change in the economics of entertainment.

Of course the petering out of the consumer electronics revolution will have economic consequences. The PC revolution ran its course, just as we are seeing with home entertainment and mobile phones. At the end, we quickly saw a consolidation and commoditization of the market. No one thinks much about the big name computer makers and in time no one will care who makes their television or smart phone. These household names will either move onto other things or go out of business.

The Risk Of Speed

When it comes to automation, people tend to assume the robots will perform the same tasks as the humans they replace, just with fewer mistakes and fewer days off. While that is true, automation almost always means changing how the work gets done, in order to break it into discrete operations. Instead of a man at a workstation, doing a series of tasks, each task is done as a single event by a single robot. This simplifies the task of automation and reduces the cost of the automation by eliminating variables.

This atomization of the work not only makes the work process more efficient, it changes how the humans have to analyze it. Instead of focusing on the people, they must focus on the process. That’s always part of process improvement, but because the process changes and the variables change, new phenomenon turn up in the process. In statistics, they say quantity has a quality all its own. In automated systems, speed has a quality all its own. Those super fast, super accurate robots change the nature of the process.

Think of the game of table tennis. It is a pretty simple game, in terms of strategy. The players try to trick one another with various tactics like setting up a shot or putting spin on the ball so it is hard to return. Player A will use top spin to force Player B to change how he strikes the ball. At some point Player A will change, thus fooling Player B, who then hits the ball beyond the far edge of the table. Alternatively, one player will make the other player move side to side, increasing the chances of a physical error.

If you are coaching table tennis, it is all about training the human to play against the other human. Now, replace the players with robots. The first thing that changes is the players will not make physical errors. So, the side to side business no longer makes sense. The same is true of using ball spin to induce a physical error. The robots will strike the ball correctly each time. In other words, when you remove human error and human emotion from the game, the strategy of the game has to change as well.

It also means the game changes. For example, the team that makes the first robot player will build it to capitalize on human error. Soon, other teams will replace their humans with robots. At that point, everyone stops trying to exploit human error. Instead, they are trying to make faster robots. If their robots can exceed the physical limits of the other robots, then they win. Soon, there is an arms race between the robot builders to make the fastest robot, in terms of physical response, along with the faster processors.

If you stop and think about what this would look like, it sounds kind of cool at first. The first robots would be slow and stupid, but eventually they would pretty amazing. They would go from amusing to terrifying as the speed of the game would become incomprehensible to humans. The speed, agility and processing power of the machines would have the ball flying through the air near its maximum velocity of 900 miles per hour. The paddles would be made of special material, in order to prevent them from flying apart.

Automating the game of table tennis would first result in removing the strategy of the game that exploits human failure. This would be true of any system that is being automated. System analysis would also change as the speed of the machines would create new points of failure and new challenges, in terms of finding efficiency and a competitive edge. In other words, as the problem solving shifts from the human variable to the engineering issues, system analysis has to change accordingly.

Now, instead of robots playing table tennis, let’s think of something else. Currently, close to 90% of trades in the equities markets are done by robots, which are just computer programs attached to the financial system. These programs have access to financial data throughout the system, which is inputted into their systems and the output is the buy and sell decisions. Teams of smart people called “quants” spend endless hours fine-tuning their programs to make them faster and more efficient at trading equities.

If you read the book The Money Game, which was written in the 1960’s, it presciently predicted the rise of the machines in the financial markets. What was clear to smart people at the dawn of the robot age, but not clear to most people, is the old systems regulating and controlling markets would not hold up to automation. It took the Black Monday crash of 1987 for everyone to realize that the controls had to change in order to accommodate the new robot players in the financial system.

In the 2000’s, the rise of high speed trading algorithms and large scale trading models eventually broke the system again. The emergence of the so-called “flash-crash” was entirely due to speed. While the first phase of automation removed the normal human checks on trading, resulting in runaway selling, the next phase of automation allowed for bad human decisions, like errors in trading algorithms, to be implemented so quickly, the systems could not respond. The result was erroneous sell-offs.

That brings us to the current market volatility. The decline itself is getting all of the attention, mostly for marketing and political reasons. The dullards in the media know how to sell gloom and they like blaming bad news on Trump. Historically, this bear market is not important. Whether it is called a correction or a bear market, the numbers are not all that significant. We’ve seen much worse. No one is jumping from their office windows and the public is not banging the sell button on the investment account.

What’s unique about this market is the weirdness. There is sustained volatility, but also a sustained decline, that does not appear to correlate to factors in the economy or in the financial system. The tiniest bit of news can cause wild swings. Apple announced what everyone should have known by now, that their toys are not selling as well as in the past, and the market takes a big tumble. Apple shares dropped 10% in minutes. Of course, this ripples to the rest of the market in seconds as well.

What could be happening is the next phase of automation. The speed and complexity of the algorithms are no longer comprehensible by the humans involved in the system. Like our table tennis playing robots, a level of speed and complexity passes the event horizon of humans to comprehend. Watching the robots play table tennis would be like watching a whirl of stars, beautiful, but impossible for the mind to fathom. Similarly, the new market dynamics may be reaching the limits of human regulators to fathom.

This is not to imply that the robot traders have become aware and are now taking control of the system from humans. That would be interesting, but the robots are still relatively dumb. Instead, they have reached levels of efficiency and speed that exceeds our ability to model properly. The result is the wild volatility and the seemingly irrational behavior of the markets. Put another way, this is the age of basic ideas implemented so fast and with such efficiency, they become irrational to their human creators.