Happy Thanksgiving

Somewhere I lived, a radio station would put this song on loop all day so their employees could be home with their families. Someone told me it is a tradition in New England, but I don’t know if that is true. Maybe more of a habit. I knew a guy who would put that station on and listen to that song all day. He may have been the person who told me it was a New England tradition, but it was long ago.

The first time I heard this song in full was on the way back to Massachusetts from a trip south for some reason. I was driving through Stockbridge and I came upon a cop, who had pulled over a car full of libertarians. You could tell they were libertarians by their unpleasant demeanor and the “John Galt” stickers on their AMC Pacer. The cop was beating them with his flashlight along the side of the road.

I stopped and offered to help him beat the libertarians. He was more than happy to let me join in on the fun. Before long others had stopped and joined in on the beating of the libertarians. There’s really nothing like the holiday season to bring out the best in people. It was one of those times when you really understood the meaning of a holiday like Thanksgiving. All of us have a reason to give thanks, even if it just that we were never a libertarian or defective in some similar way.

Thank you to everyone who supports the effort. I truly appreciate it. Thank you to those who participate in what is regarded as one of the best comment sections on this side of the great divide. It is one of the things I count as a blessing. Whenever I’m out in the real world talking about this stuff, I’m always asked how I managed to create such a fun and informative comment section. I hope everyone has a wonderful day in whatever way in which you give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Another Trip Around The Sun

Yesterday was my annual physical, so I got to experience a little bit of the American health care system. Since I don’t have any maladies, I only experience the system on these annual trips to get inspected. As is always the case, when you are familiar with something, its quirks seem normal. When you are unfamiliar with something, those quirks and contradictions jump out to you. My trip to the doctor is like visiting a strange place for the first time. All the weirdness stands out to me.

The first bit of oddness is the check-in. Last year they started this new process where you answer a survey when you arrive for the appointment. They ask questions about your personal habits that are none of their business. One question was whether you own firearms and why. There’s no reason for the doctor to know this or ask it, but that question was on the survey again this year. A new question was to list the states I had visited in the last year. It is not hard to see where this is going.

Another new item this year is a kiosk where you check-in for the appointment. One of the things they do is take your picture. My dentist started this last year. There’s no reason for them to take a picture of you, at least not one to do with health. Most likely, the pics are being sold to the tech giants. The mass surveillance system being built out by companies like Google and Facebook will use facial recognition to track us as we go about our business, so they want a database of faces.

In this regard, the health care system is a glimpse into the future our rulers have planned for us. To the people in the health care system, I am just a talking meat stick, one of many, they have to supervise. The relationship between the patient and the system is impersonal and transactional. Health care is a process. The patients enter the system, pass through the system and come out the other end repaired, broken in some new way or dead. No one really cares, just as long as the process continues.

Of course, the American health care system is really just a massive series of toll booths and processing centers. All along the way, patients are turned upside down and given a good shake to get money from their insurer. If you have a malady, you get diverted into a new series of toll booths and processing centers, so the people manning those operations can dip into the insurance pool you represent. The business of treating sick people is a good business for a lot of people.

A good example of how this works is I had patella tendinitis a few years back. I was pretty sure that was the issue, but I asked the doctor about it. He sent me to a quack called a physical therapist. My insurance covered five visits, so he said I needed five visits, then I would be sent for an MRI. To get the MRI, I would need an X-ray. The doctor, of course, needed to see me in-between stops. The point of the process was to squeeze out every dime from my insurance plan.

If the goal were to treat my injury, they would have sent me for the MRI right away, as that would tell them the best course of action. They would see that it was tendinitis and that rest and a brace were the right course. That would not line the pockets of the quack, the X-ray company or the doctor, so that’s not what happens. This is one reason American health care is absurdly expensive. We have great health care, but you have to pass through a lot of toll booths to get it.

Another new thing this year was a giant flat screen in the waiting area running ads for various drugs and treatments. It used to be that the sci-fi movies about the dystopian future would show a world bombarded by ads everywhere you went. That’s where we are headed now. I suspect that the next time I see the doctor, he will have patches on his smock like race car drivers. He will great me with, “this physical has been brought to you by the makers of” some drug being pushed on patients.

The funny thing about the problems of the American health care system is that this is the one area where libertarians could apply their arguments. They don’t, of course, as that would take time away from selling weed and porn to grade school kids, but there is a libertarian case to be made about health care. In fact, we have a libertarian health care system operating in the United States. It is world class and provides amazing results for the patients. It is called veterinary medicine.

In America, our pets get better health care than most humans on earth. The cost, compared to any system in the West, is trivial. The service is phenomenal, as there are lots of suppliers competing for customers. In my area, I have one doctor and five veterinary clinics. I don’t need permission to make an appointment and I am not required to pay a monthly fee for services I’ll never use. It is a great example of how to operate a market-based health care system that no one ever mentions.

Whenever I mention this, the immediate push-back is that you can choose to put down your animal, but you cannot put down your granny. That is nonsense, as we end care all the time for terminal people. In Europe, they are euthanizing people now, sometimes against their will, just to cut costs. All the current system does is disguise these tough choices by shifting them onto the system. For most of human history people accepted that death was the inevitable end of life. We can accept is again.

The good news is the ravages of time have not made me obsolete, so the system recommended I remain operational for another orbit around the sun. Even though I had no issues to report, I was still relieved to learn I was not on that list. Like most men, I don’t like interfacing with the health care system, so good health means less interaction with the system. Of course, it will not be long before my social credit score flags me for refurbishment or perhaps recycling, but for now I get to live another day.


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Autumn Joy

It is a rainy and gray in Lagos, as the keeper of sacred law begins her descent into despair, anticipating the return of her daughter to the underworld. According to myth, this is the time when the goddess Demeter begins to grow sad, thinking about her daughter, Persephone, leaving her to return to Hades. As a result, the earth begins to lose its life and become increasing barren. When Persephone departs, the land falls into winter until the time when Demeter anticipates the return of her daughter.

Now, there are other interpretations of the myth. The alternative version has the barren period as the dry Mediterranean summer, when life was threatened by drought. For most people, that version does not work and it does not square with the sophistication of the people who created the myth. It’s the sort of thing a certain sort of person says in order to be disruptive. The Greeks understood not only the cycle of life, but the consequences that came from ignoring or denying this natural reality.

That’s probably why autumn has such a magical quality to it for most European people, at least those with a grip on reality. There is the beauty of it, of course, but that beauty is followed by winter. It is the ability to appreciate the majesty of nature, even when you know what follows, that separates people. On one side are those who long for an endless summer, where they never have to think about tomorrow. On the other side are those who accept the cycle of life and the reality of the human condition.

Even in a place like Lagos, the beauty of the season is impossible to miss, unless you are one of those summer people. There are those who prefer summer to winter, but would not want to live in a land without seasons. Then there are those who spend their winter bitching about the cold, swearing oaths about how this is the last winter in wherever it is there is winter. If you are around these sorts, autumn in made even better, as you get to see their torment against the backdrop of the fall foliage.

Being a level-headed occidental man, I love this time of year. Yesterday morning I got out on a bike path in the country. The leaves are just starting to turn around here. For some reason, fall has been late this year. Perhaps Demeter got her hopes up that this time things would be different. Maybe she took a class on feminism and died her hair blue, until Zeus came down and straightened here out. Women, even the supernatural ones, need a man to keep them in line. That too is the nature of things.

Out on the path, I did not encounter many people. Around Lagos, spring is when people get out and do their walking, hiking and riding. As spring turns to summer, the number of people I will see out in the woods will shrink until the fall, when it is down to the hardy souls who are outside all year round. This is true of fishing. If you are a fall fisherman, this is one of the better times, as you have the river to yourself. The people inside don’t know what they are missing, but then again, those outside don’t miss them.

This time of year in this part of the world brings the white tail rut. It is the time of year when a young buck goes in search of a bride. In reality, it is when they go insane chasing tail to the point of exhaustion. It is one of those things that you can explain to a city person and they suddenly become wiser about life. Urbanization has cut most people off from the reality of life, like the breeding cycle of animals, which means they can fill their heads with crazy ideas at odds with the human condition.

I think the thing I like most about this time of year is the shorter days or that the days are growing shorter. I am at my most productive in the fall and winter, as the ever shorter days reminds me that I have only so much time. When the sun is up until a few hours before bed time, it feels like time comes to a crawl. When you wake in the dark and come home in the dark, you have no illusions about time. Every rustle of the leaves is like a giant clock striking the hour. Best get at it.

Now, I do like winter, so the gathering darkness and dropping temperatures is not followed by something I think is awful. In fact, winter is my second favorite month of the year, just behind autumn. The only reason winter falls behind autumn on my list is that it does not snow enough here in Lagos. Instead we get ice storms that are no fun. They can be pretty, but usually it means spending an hour chiseling my car door open, while trying not to fall and break a hip. I’m not a kid anymore.

In Denmark, they call this the cozy season or the start of the cozy season. They have a word for it, “hygge” which roughly means “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” They take all their fun indoors, where they will turn the lights down, sit by the fire and have conversation with friends and family. In Lagos, we include the sound of sirens and gunfire, but the concept is the same. I’m looking forward to the hygge.


For sites like this to exist, it requires people like you chipping in a few bucks a month to keep the lights on and the people fed. It turns out that you can’t live on clicks and compliments. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. If you don’t want to commit to a subscription, make a one time donation. Or, you can send money to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. You can also use PayPal to send a few bucks, rather than have that latte at Starbucks. Thank you for your support!


Glory To The Pitchman

Like everyone reading this, you have no doubt been hit with an advertisement for a food product, or perhaps a restaurant, and instantly wanted the item. Maybe it was an internet ad or maybe a television ad during your favorite program. You saw the ad or commercial and you just had to have the product. Maybe it was for something you never considered, but after seeing the ad, you changed your mind. Like all people in the modern age, you are highly susceptible to commercial advertisement.

Now, you are probably thinking, “I’ve never had this happen. I just ignore advertisements on-line.” Of course, you would be right. There’s little data to suggest advertisement drives consumer behavior all that much, but the people producing the ads and selling their services to business, are absolutely sure you are easily persuaded by their ads. This is why all of us are bombarded by advertisements. It’s why internet companies steal your information and sell it to marketers.

It is a central tenet of the modern economy, the tent pole that holds the whole thing up, that advertisements increase sales. All of the major global companies have big budgets for marketing. Those ad dollars support radio and television. Those ad dollars make modern sports entertainment possible. The internet, as it currently exists, is dependent upon the belief that ads alter consumer behavior. If the world suddenly stopped believing in the ad men, the world as we know it would change overnight.

The funny thing though, is advertisements have little impact on human behavior, at least not to  the degree everyone assumes. If you see an ad for a new store opening in your area, that may cause you to check it out. Similarly, notices for an event in your area could get you out to the event. Awareness advertising, as the name implies, works, because it does a simple thing. It makes people aware of something they would otherwise not know or remember, like a new store or a special event.

Awareness ads are a tiny minority of advertising. Most ads are about specific products and services. There is always an awareness component to them, but for the most part the ads you see are intended to get you to buy product. Beer ads expect you to buy more beer of the type being advertised. Yet, not only is there no data to back up the assumption, the data says it has no effect on behavior. Here’s a study of ads for alcoholic products over the last forty years. Ads have no impact on sales.

Like democracy, the modern economy relies on people thinking important things are true, even though they are not true. If people realized their votes don’t count, then they would stop voting and resort of other means to change government. It’s why the charade of democracy is so profitable. Similarly, the modern economy relies on the fiction of human suggestibility. Marketing is a lucrative career, because the modern economy needs people to believe people are highly suggestible.

This is not to say that people are skeptics, of course. Fads have made a lot of people rich in the modern economy. A fad is just a commonly held belief that having or doing something increases one’s status or signals belonging to a group. Apple is a trillion dollar company, largely due to the ability of Steve Jobs to position his products as a bourgeois moral signifier. The iPod was not a great leap forward in technology. It was an example of the natural conformity within bourgeois society.

That is, of course, the perceived value of advertising. Global companies that spend their money reinforcing public perceptions about their brand. Dodge runs TV ads suggesting their customers are John Wayne from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. They are the indispensable, yet never appreciated foundation of society. Similarly, Apple marketed itself as the product for the distinguishing, carefree member of upper middle-class America, better that those proletarian zombies of the lower classes.

This may sound like a mark in favor of advertising, but the reality those public attitudes must exist for the ads to work. Every truck maker, even the Japanese makers, pitch themselves the same way. They are not creating a new identity group. They are attaching themselves to one that exists. Trucks were associated with working men long before the ad men thought of it. The term “Apple snob” was in circulation when Jobs was still in the wilderness, during his hiatus from the company.

Nevertheless, people believe advertising works, which is why Facebook is a gazillion dollar company. They sell your information to marketing firms and place targeted ads on their platform. The fact that no one looks at those ads or that the data Facebook sells is garbage is not important. People see the billion eyeballs on the site and believe that putting their product on the site will boost sales. They believe knowing the internet habits of those users will make for more persuasive advertising.

Steve Sailer, who started out in life doing quantitative research on marketing has written about this over the years. Before the internet existed, it was obvious to him that most marketing was a waste of money. Of course, there’s no money in telling people this, so there is not a lot of research done on advertising. It’s a good example of how belief is very powerful magic. Lots of people believe in advertising, so there is lots of money to be made in advertising. There’s no money to be made in debunking it.

That said, while most companies would be better off burning the cash they use for marketing and posting the video on YouTube, there are some forms of marketing that do work and are cost effective. The pitchman has been a staple of western society since the industrial revolution, because a good pitchman can move product. Whether it is the company sales team or the guy recommending product on his radio or TV show, these guys are an indispensable part of a modern economy.

That’s because people are persuadable, by only by other people. If someone you trust or someone whose judgement seems sound, recommends a product to you, you will consider it. Those radio guys pitching various items are monetizing the trust they have built up with their audience. There are limits to this form of marketing, but it is a cost effective way to identity a persuadable audience and have a trusted person recommend the product to that audience. It’s what marketing analytics pretends to be.

Despite the yawning gap in utility between the pitchman and the ad man, the former is considered low-class, while the latter is glamorous. Willy Loman is probably the most favorable portrayal of the salesman in popular culture. Usually, salesmen are viewed as creepy liars. In contrast, ad men are the slick, debonair types, living exciting lives in glamorous places like Manhattan. The TV series Madmen, relied heavily on this image to keep the audience. It looked cool to be an ad man in the 1960’s.

In reality, people in marketing are mostly shiftless sociopaths, while the people in sales are hardworking and honest. If you are ever evaluating a company for purchase, make sure to talk with the sales guys. They will tell you the truth about their bosses. Be prepared to put the marketing staff to sword. They will tell you whatever you need to hear to increase their budget by five percent next year. The most honest people in any company are the guys grinding through sales calls every day.


For sites like this to exist, it requires people like you chipping in a few bucks a month to keep the lights on and the people fed. It turns out that you can’t live on clicks and compliments. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. If you don’t want to commit to a subscription, make a one time donation. Or, you can send money to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. You can also use PayPal to send a few bucks, rather than have that latte at Starbucks. Thank you for your support!


Conspiracy

In America, conspiracy theories have always had a negative connotation, despite being the heart of most Hollywood thrillers and action films. The conspiracy theorist is someone, who is excessively distrustful, yet willing to accept massive leaps of logic to explain everyday phenomenon. They will also be very paranoid. After all, anyone who is onto the grand conspiracy is going to be seen as a threat by the conspirators and the powers that be, so the conspiracy theorist is always under threat.

It’s a funny dynamic, when you think about it. The elaborate, often ridiculous, conspiracy is the heart of so many popular movies and TV shows, yet the conspiracy theorists is a wacko and threat to society. Alex Jones had to be removed from the internet, due to being a conspiracy monger. Added to this is fake news spread on social media, which is a form of rumor designed to create conspiracies and conspiracy theorists. This trope is now so real, the US military has been assigned to tackle it.

Of course, fake news and conspiracy theories are a matter of perspective. For the Left, a conspiracy theory is any explanation that does not support their agenda. Trump secretly colluding with invisible Russians to mind control voters in the 2016 election is a perfectly rational explanation for his victory. People wondering why senior FBI men were colluding with foreign intelligence agencies to spy in the Trump campaign is a dangerous conspiracy theory, probably started by Russians.

Now, many, if not most, conspiracy theories are nutty and designed to get attention for the conspiracy theorist. That’s why Alex Jones exists. He figured out that if he entertainingly talked about conspiracies, he could generate a big audience willing to pay to see him perform. Red Ice, the popular alt-right YouTube show started life as a conspiracy theory outlet. Their stock and trade early on was space aliens and the paranormal. As Hollywood knows, conspiracy is good box office.

A funny thing about most hard core conspiracy theorists though, is they don’t have a lot of interest in genuine conspiracies. There are, after all, real conspiracies. They are common in politics, as politics is the business of plotting in secret to undermine opponents. Without conspiracies, there is no politics. Boris Johnson just learned this the other day when some of his colleagues plotted against him. These sorts of plots, however, have no interest to the conspiracy theorists.

Think about the two big conspiracies of the current year. We have the seditious coup plotted by senior elements of the security agencies. Then there is the on-going cover-up involving two attorneys general and two FBI directors. This is Cassius and Brutus plotting against Caesar, in terms of import and drama, yet the popular conspiracy mongers are not all that interested in the story. You would think the conspiracy guys would be all over it, just as proof that conspiracy are real.

Another conspiracy that seems to have gained little traction with the conspiracy community is the strange life and death of Jeffrey Epstein. Probably the most bizarre and salacious story in half a century, involving shadowy figures in the over class, has generated little interest from the conspiracy mongers. The weird thing about the Epstein case is it got more attention from the conspiracy theorists when he was just a shadowy fixer, than when he was the victim of a conspiracy.

You could easily write a couple of books on the conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks. If you google “dancing Israelis” you get page after page of links to sites covering that angle. Ryan Dawson has done dozens of videos on it. These guys are examining beard hair patterns in grainy photos to prove their claims. Philip Giraldi has written extensively on the subject. This two decade old story still gets plenty of attention from the conspiracy community, but current conspiracies get none.

This suggests a couple of things about the sorts of people who become obsessed with conspiracy theories. One is they like the leaps of logic required to tie the various facts together in the narrative. It’s like a solving a puzzle for them. Finding a picture of Person X in the same room as Person Y, who they have already connected to the event, allows them to “solve” some great riddle. The fact that person X and Person Y have no known connection, other than the photo, makes it all the better.

The other thing about the conspiracy people is they eschew certainty. The typical conspiracy theory has lots of ambiguity and uncertainty. On top of that, it has multiple explanations operating in parallel. Where one narrative runs out of road, another narrative picks up from there to connect to another narrative. In a real conspiracy, like the FBI scandal, there are real facts. If all of the classified documents are ever made public, which will never happen, everyone will know what happened.

That’s the funny thing about the critics of conspiracy theories. They claim that these theories are popular because people like simple answers. That is probably a conspiracy there itself. People don’t like simple answers. If they did, Hollywood thrillers would feature no plot, just stuff exploding in between sex scenes. The truth is, people hate simple answers and conspiracy theorists really hate simple answers. The people who prefer an orderly world with no ambiguity are the critics of the conspiracy theorists.

All of this leads to the conclusion that the best way to keep prying eyes from looking to close at your shenanigans is make it look like a conspiracy. Make sure to have a few villainous looking characters and lots of contradictory elements. This will attract the conspiracy people looking to make bank on it. This will then attract the anti-conspiracy people, looking to debunk the conspiracy theorists. The back and forth will allow you to get away with your scheme and enjoy a quiet retirement on Nantucket.


For sites like this to exist, it requires people like you chipping in a few bucks a month to keep the lights on and the people fed. It turns out that you can’t live on clicks and compliments. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. If you don’t want to commit to a subscription, make a one time donation. Or, you can send money to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. You can also use PayPal to send a few bucks, rather than have that latte at Starbucks. Thank you for your support!


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.