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.


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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.

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.