Published on 5 May 2016
After 140 days, the Siege of Kut ends with the biggest surrender of British forces in history. The remaining soldiers are starting their long march into captivity. Meanwhile the Italian front lights up again as Luigi Cadorna plans a new offensive and the Germans give in to diplomatic pressure and stop their unrestricted submarine warfare.
May 6, 2016
Fischer warns against the temptation to think of the Quakers as normal modern people, but he has to warn us precisely because it’s so tempting. Where the Puritans seem like a dystopian caricature of virtue and the Cavaliers like a dystopian caricature of vice, the Quakers just seem ordinary. Yes, they’re kind of a religious cult, but they’re the kind of religious cult any of us might found if we were thrown back to the seventeenth century.
Instead they were founded by a weaver’s son named George Fox. He believed people were basically good and had an Inner Light that connected them directly to God without a need for priesthood, ritual, Bible study, or self-denial; mostly people just needed to listen to their consciences and be nice. Since everyone was equal before God, there was no point in holding up distinctions between lords and commoners: Quakers would just address everybody as “Friend”. And since the Quakers were among the most persecuted sects at the time, they developed an insistence on tolerance and freedom of religion which (unlike the Puritans) they stuck to even when shifting fortunes put them on top. They believed in pacificism, equality of the sexes, racial harmony, and a bunch of other things which seem pretty hippy-ish even today let alone in 1650.
England’s top Quaker in the late 1600s was William Penn. Penn is universally known to Americans as “that guy Pennsylvania is named after” but actually was a larger-than-life 17th century superman. Born to the nobility, Penn distinguished himself early on as a military officer; he was known for beating legendary duelists in single combat and then sparing their lives with sermons about how murder was wrong. He gradually started having mystical visions, quit the military, and converted to Quakerism. Like many Quakers he was arrested for blasphemy; unlike many Quakers, they couldn’t make the conviction stick; in his trial he “conducted his defense so brilliantly that the jurors refused to convict him even when threatened with prison themselves, [and] the case became a landmark in the history of trial by jury.” When the state finally found a pretext on which to throw him in prison, he spent his incarceration composing “one of the noblest defenses of religious liberty ever written”, conducting a successful mail-based courtship with England’s most eligible noblewoman, and somehow gaining the personal friendship and admiration of King Charles II. Upon his release the King liked him so much that he gave him a large chunk of the Eastern United States on a flimsy pretext of repaying a family debt. Penn didn’t want to name his new territory Pennsylvania – he recommended just “Sylvania” – but everybody else overruled him and Pennyslvania it was. The grant wasn’t quite the same as the modern state, but a chunk of land around the Delaware River Valley – what today we would call eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, southern New Jersey, and bits of Maryland – centered on the obviously-named-by-Quakers city of Philadelphia.
Penn decided his new territory would be a Quaker refuge – his exact wording was “a colony of Heaven [for] the children of the Light”. He mandated universal religious toleration, a total ban on military activity, and a government based on checks and balances that would “leave myself and successors no power of doing mischief, that the will of one man may not hinder the good of a whole country”.
His recruits – about 20,000 people in total – were Quakers from the north of England, many of them minor merchants and traders. They disproportionately included the Britons of Norse descent common in that region, who formed a separate stratum and had never really gotten along with the rest of the British population. They were joined by several German sects close enough to Quakers that they felt at home there; these became the ancestors of (among other groups) the Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, and Mennonites.
Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.
May 5, 2016
J.C. Carlton explains why the US government’s latest regulatory intervention in the dishwasher market is pretty much guaranteed to make dishwashers more expensive and less capable:
… it’s amazing how much doesn’t work, or works poorly because of the rules that bureaucrats come up with. Yet time and again the bureaucrat’s solution is always more cowbell. For some reason they think that because something may have worked before, it will always work as long as you just do it more. The fact is that no matter what you do, that 24% energy “savings” and 38% less water use are going to have to come from somewhere. My guess is that it will come from making dishwashers that do a very lousy job of actually washing dishes or are terribly expensive.
There’s only so much you can do. 24% less electricity means that you will have to use a smaller motor, a smaller heating element, or both. You might have to use different heating elements or motors that work at different times during the cycle. More than likely you will have to use complicated electronics to run it all. Even when you are all done with meeting the mandate, you will end up with a machine that just doesn’t work very well. Which also costs more and has to be serviced more often to boot. How much savings to you get it the reliability is halved and the truck has to keep coming out for service calls. That’s the problem with those one-dimensional rules. They tend to cost more in compliance than they actually save.
Of course the endless quest for false efficiencies does have its costs. Somehow the bureaucrats never seem to have to pay those costs in their lives, or at least aren’t effected enough by the pain to notice. I have to wonder if whoever came up with the 1 gallon toilet ever flushes. Does the Energy Star guy never have to go shopping for appliances and when he gets home finds out that it barely works?
Virginia had been kind of a wreck ever since most of the original Jamestown settlers had mostly died of disease. Governor William Berkeley, a noble himself, decided the colony could reinvent itself as a destination for refugee nobles, and told them it would do everything possible to help them maintain the position of oppressive supremacy to which they were accustomed. The British nobility was sold. The Cavaliers – the nobles who had fought and lost the English Civil War – fled to Virginia. Historians who cross-checking Virginian immigrant lists against English records find that of Virginians whose opinions on the War were known, 98% were royalists. They were overwhelming Anglican, mostly from agrarian southern England, and all related to each other in the incestuous way of nobility everywhere: “it is difficult to think of any ruling elite that has been more closely interrelated since the Ptolemies”. There were twelve members of Virginia’s royal council; in 1724 “all without exception were related to one another by blood or marriage…as late as 1775, every member of that august body was descended from a councilor who had served in 1660”.
These aristocrats didn’t want to do their own work, so they brought with them tens of thousands of indentured servants; more than 75% of all Virginian immigrants arrived in this position. Some of these people came willingly on a system where their master paid their passage over and they would be free after a certain number of years; others were sent by the courts as punishments; still others were just plain kidnapped. The gender ratio was 4:1 in favor of men, and there were entire English gangs dedicated to kidnapping women and sending them to Virginia, where they fetched a high price. Needless to say, these people came from a very different stratum than their masters or the Puritans.
People who came to Virginia mostly died. They died of malaria, typhoid fever, amoebiasis, and dysentery. Unlike in New England, where Europeans were better adapted to the cold climate than Africans, in Virginia it was Europeans who had the higher disease-related mortality rate. The whites who survived tended to become “sluggish and indolent”, according to the universal report of travellers and chroniclers, although I might be sluggish and indolent too if I had been kidnapped to go work on some rich person’s farm and sluggishness/indolence was an option.
The Virginians tried their best to oppress white people. Really, they did. The depths to which they sank in trying to oppress white people almost boggle the imagination. There was a rule that if a female indentured servant became pregnant, a few extra years were added on to their indenture, supposedly because they would be working less hard during their pregnancy and child-rearing so it wasn’t fair to the master. Virginian aristocrats would rape their own female servants, then add a penalty term on to their indenture for becoming pregnant. That is an impressive level of chutzpah. But despite these efforts, eventually all the white people either died, or became too sluggish to be useful, or worst of all just finished up their indentures and became legally free. The aristocrats started importing black slaves as per the model that had sprung up in the Caribbean, and so the stage was set for the antebellum South we read about in history classes.
Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.
May 4, 2016
Published on 8 Mar 2016
What’s the point of education?
Do you learn about things, because the learning itself matters, or is education all about the signal you — and your degree — send out to the world? Is education really about building skills, or does it serve only to transmit intangible traits, like your level of talent or your persistence?
These are the questions we’ll be tackling in this new Econ Duel debate from Marginal Revolution University.
And since we believe that nothing beats a good friend-vs-friend duel, we’ve picked two friends, whom you’re probably familiar with. For this debate on education as signaling vs. skill building, we’ve got Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, ready to go head-to-head.
You’ll see them argue about nearly everything—from peacocks, to private markets, to street sweepers, to Scandinavian education laws, and even the real value of Harvard University. In the end, you’ll see them duke things out, in a quest to determine education’s effect on our lives and well-being.
The video also asks:
-Why do students tend to rejoice when their professor cancels class?
-When we’re talking education, what really counts? Is it the soft skills, or the hard facts?
-If evolution still can’t sort out good vs. bad, can we really expect the market to do any better?
-Can the things you learn today still matter 20 years down the line?
-Why do peacocks still sport huge, colorful tails, despite the fact that evolution should’ve come up with a better signaling device by now?
Once you reach the end of the video, we have one specific request. It’s hugely important.
Ask yourself: “Is education only about signaling, or is it really about skill building?”
Think it through and then let us know by voting at the end of the video!
BTW, Alex is right in this debate.
Scott Adams has been much more right than wrong in his analysis of Trump’s election campaign so far, and he says that Hillary Clinton’s advisors have badly messed up their latest anti-Trump attack:
Now let’s look at the “woman card” issue. Trump took the risky (but strategically solid) approach of taking the fight to Clinton’s strength – her appeal among women voters and among men who think it is time for a woman to be president. Trump branded her as a sexist who is hiding behind political correctness. It was a strong persuasion play and it put Clinton on the defensive.
Clinton responded by embracing and magnifying the accusation. She said that if fighting to make the world better for women is playing the “woman card” then you can “Deal me in!” The response was quick, clever, and catnip for her base.
You might remember Trump using a similar persuasion trick. Months ago, when Chris Cuomo asked Trump about the criticisms that he was a whiner, Trump embraced the whiner label, then amplified it by saying he was indeed the strongest voice for change. That’s exactly the right response. Clinton made the same play with “Deal me in!” So far, so good.
Then came the image of an actual “woman card” designed to capitalize on Clinton’s successful counterpunch. When something is working, you do more of it. But…maybe you should not do it…this way.
Let’s start with the fact that the design features a symbol from a restroom door. Just as the Clinton slogan unintentionally linked LOVE and TRUMP, the restroom symbol literally makes your brain associate Clinton with…a toilet.
You can’t make this up. When you saw that symbol, you thought of a restroom. it is automatic.
But the biggest mistake was putting a magnetic strip on the Woman Card. That makes you think of a credit card. And that makes you think of debt. Or perhaps it makes you think of a transit card that Clinton had trouble using at the subway in New York. All bad.
You might ask yourself why the campaign did not go with a playing card model instead of a credit card. After all, “deal me in” is not typically associated with a magnetic strip.
I hear about these people every Thanksgiving, then never think about them again for the next 364 days. They were a Calvinist sect that dissented against the Church of England and followed their own brand of dour, industrious, fun-hating Christianity. Most of them were from East Anglia, the part of England just northeast of London. They came to America partly because they felt persecuted, but mostly because they thought England was full of sin and they were at risk of absorbing the sin by osmosis if they didn’t get away quick and build something better. They really liked “city on a hill” metaphors.
I knew about the Mayflower, I knew about the black hats and silly shoes, I even knew about the time Squanto threatened to release a bioweapon buried under Plymouth Rock that would bring about the apocalypse. But I didn’t know that the Puritan migration to America was basically a eugenicist’s wet dream.
Much like eg Unitarians today, the Puritans were a religious group that drew disproportionately from the most educated and education-obsessed parts of the English populace. Literacy among immigrants to Massachusetts was twice as high as the English average, and in an age when the vast majority of Europeans were farmers most immigrants to Massachusetts were skilled craftsmen or scholars. And the Puritan “homeland” of East Anglia was a an unusually intellectual place, with strong influences from Dutch and Continental trade; historian Havelock Ellis finds that it “accounts for a much larger proportion of literary, scientific, and intellectual achievement than any other part of England.”
Furthermore, only the best Puritans were allowed to go to Massachusetts; Fischer writes that “it may have been the only English colony that required some of its immigrants to submit letters of recommendation” and that “those who did not fit in were banished to other colonies and sent back to England”. Puritan “headhunters” went back to England to recruit “godly men” and “honest men” who “must not be of the poorer sort”.
Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.
May 3, 2016
Published on 2 May 2016
The winter 1916 ends with the invasion of Serbia and Montenegro and unrestricted submarine warfare. And the spring of 1916 starts with the Battle of Verdun at the Western Front and Russian successes in Anatolia. The British are in trouble in Ireland and in Mesopotamia but are still carving up the Middle East in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Eastern Front drowns in spring thaws while the Russian homefront is in disarray.
Larry Correia just got back from a trip to Europe, where he discovered the joys of Germany’s Autobahn system:
Of all the languages, German was by far the easiest to pick up words and phrases for me. Despite being related to Portuguese and Spanish, French sounds totally eluded me. And Czech is HARD (they have like 46 ways to make conjunctions). But German shares a lot of word roots with English, and the actual structure is pretty straight forward. Plus it is fun to just walk around and make up vaguely German sounding names for things, like a pigeon is Das Poopinbirden.
The next day we drove across all of Germany to the Czech Republic, and I got to experience the autobahn, which my whole life has been this sort of mythical place that has no speed limits, and is filled with drivers that understand slow traffic stays right, and where they never camp in the left lane, and in fact, if you’re blocking the left lane, they’ll come right up on your bumper at 100 miles an hour, honking, and flashing their lights. It was a place devoid of mercy, unforgiving of weakness. So we set out.
Apparently there are two kinds of tourist drivers on the autobahn. Those who are weak, fearful, whose crying pillows smell of lilacs and shame, who stay in the truck lane, or who wander out into the left occasionally, timidly, to be honked at and chased aside by awesome Teutonic Super Drivers…
And the other kind is the American who manages to average 180km an hour across all of Germany in a Volvo diesel station wagon.
It was AMAZING. I felt like a race car driver across an entire country. You know why German cars don’t have cup holders? Because if you stop to drink while driving, YOU WILL DIE. And you should. You need to be on. I’d get a gap, jump out to the left, floor it (because fuel economy is for hippies I’m on the mother f’ing autobahn!), and nobody pulls out in front of me in a minivan to enforce their personal speed limit, people ahead of me going slower (like 100mph) immediately get out of the way, and when some bad ass comes up behind me in a super car, I get out of his way, and then they blast past me like I’m standing still.
It was beautiful.
You wouldn’t think a diesel Volvo would be comfy at 112 miles an hour, but it really is. Yes. I friggin’ love the autobahn. If I lived here I would buy a giant BMW or Audi and drive very fast, all the time. Why can’t we have something like this here? I would like to institute autobahn style rules on I-15 in Utah. Sure, a few thousand people would probably die in the first weekend, but after that it would be awesome.
[Shakespeare] … could experiment so wildly with the language in his later plays. The earliest ones are strictly respectful of English syntax, and obedient with English grammar and vocabulary. The later ones break all the rules. Shakespeare knew he could hold an audience spellbound, whether they could follow his verbiage or not. He earned a freedom no subsequent poet in English till the twentieth century would dare to imitate; whenupon, those who tried, failed.
Yet he is a poet, a disciplined poet, and a thinker, too; and was a man of very broad if chaotic reading, as we are still discovering. His Latin was superb, and what he comprehended from the Roman poets, Ovid especially, was of a higher quality than dribbling academics can imagine. His thefts from Plutarch are always astute, but also from Livy. What he learnt from the ancient comedians, however, was nothing on what he could teach them.
To call him “the Bard” is to subscribe to the common, ignorant view that he was a “noble savage,” an untutored force of nature. The French, in their formality, are mostly responsible for this error of the Enlightenment; it was among the many things Voltaire got wrong, as the insidious depth of the master dramatist undermined his poppet classicism.
Shakespeare meditated deeply on English history, and on history at large. He went beyond presenting it in narrative form. Like a documentary filmmaker, he takes what he needs from the historical record, discards the rest, and changes anything that does not fit his programme. This is also his strategy in the Comedies and the Tragedies, never paying for a plot when he can steal one. For the world is full of plots, and one is like another. The world is full of mud and rock, but the master mason can shape and lay them. The master sculptor permits the stone to speak.
He did not have a theory of history, or a theory of anything else — a mediaeval mind does not think in “theories” — but a profound sense of how the world works, and of the contending spirits animating it. He summons spirits, and strange to say they come.
David Warren, “Four Centuries Later”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-04-23.
May 2, 2016
Published on 2 Apr 2016
When a dispute arose over the control of Hungary, Suleiman saw an opportunity to extend his empire into Europe and gain allies from those who’d asked for his help. Though he took Buda quickly, Vienna had time to fortify against him and pushed his troops back.
Suleiman looked back on those heady days, and wondered how his victories had all turned to ash…
After the Battle of Mohács, Suleiman found himself quickly pulled into the politics of western Europe. The Queen Mother of France asked him to intercede for her in a quarrel with the King of Spain, and the Austrian Hapsburgs had claimed Hungary as their own territory despite his recent victory there. The Hungarians, meanwhile, had elected their own king John Zápolya and refused to acknowledge the Austrians. Suleiman decided to settle the matter by marching with his armies again, and found Zápolya a willing ally. Bad weather slowed his advance and cut his numbers, but he nonetheless took Buda by storm and made an example out of the Austrians they found there. When they got to Vienna, however, they found that the city had been fortified and reinforced by several European nations. Though Suleiman offered a king’s ransom to the first man over the walls of Vienna, his troops just couldn’t push through. The arrival of winter forced him to withdraw the siege, unsuccessful. He pretend to consider it a victory, but he knew that this defeat meant he’d never be able to acquire the European empire he had dreamed about. Besides, he was growing older, and the question of succession weighed heavy on his mind. By tradition, only one of his sons would be allowed to live and inherit the throne, but he couldn’t bear the thought of his beloved Roxelana forced to watch her sons die. Especially considering his most likely heir, Mustafa, wasn’t a son of Roxelana’s at all. The quandary weighed heavy on him.
The original and proper meaning of liberal is a defender of individual liberty, a fierce opponent to big and intrusive government. That was the liberalism of George Brown, Alexander Mackenzie, Edward Blake and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It is not the liberalism of the Trudeau Family or their cronies. Very much the opposite.
Yet modern pseudo-liberals love to invoke the name of Laurier. It links them with one of the country’s nation builders. A century later they’re borrowing the glory of his accomplishments to hide their own shabby schemes for power. Pierre Trudeau even hung a picture of Laurier in his office, as if the man who spoke of “freedom is our nationality” was looking down and endorsing the most anti-freedom administration in Canadian history.
Richard Anderson, “The Sunny Ways of Justin Trudeau”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2015-10-22.
May 1, 2016
Coming into the third and final day of the 2016 NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings started the day holding the following picks:
- Fourth round: 23rd (121st overall)
- Fifth round: 23rd (160th overall)
- Sixth round: 5th (180th overall, from San Francisco)
- Sixth round: 11th (186th overall, from Miami)
- Seventh round: 19th (240th overall, from Buffalo)
- Seventh round: 23rd (244th overall)
And here’s how the last day of the draft played out for Minnesota:
Published on 30 Apr 2016
Check out HistoryBuffs review of Lawrence of Arabia: http://bit.ly/NickOfArabia
Big thank you to Nick from History Buffs for this collaboration. It was really fun!
T.E. Lawrence better known as Lawrence of Arabia is one of the biggest legends of World War 1. His adventures in the Middle East during the Arab Revolt were made into a movie and a bestselling book. But how did Lawrence actually end up in Cairo? And what was his relationship with Faisal?
The finish had been subject to extremes of sunlight and temperature and humidity. Not left outdoors, but I figured an attic or something. My neighbor later told me that it was left on an enclosed porch for many years. Bingo. The finish was missing here and there, but what there was looked like suede when you ran your finger across it. It was completely crisscrossed with fingermarks going every which way. I pawed at it a bit, running through the rusty filing cabinet of my mind to figure out what I was looking at. It came to me in a vision — all at once.
I knew it was shellac. Of all the dumb luck. No one had “fixed” this piece of furniture in 75 years. It didn’t have any new, improved finish that wouldn’t last but couldn’t be fixed. It wasn’t “eco,” another word for wasteful useless disposable plastic crap. The finish was made from the nasty ooze that comes out of a lac bug and dries on a tree branch. Your favorite Hindoo used to gather the stuff by putting tarps on the ground under trees where the lac bugs congregate, and then beating the limbs with sticks to make the amber flakes rain down. When you mix lac leavings with alcohol, you get shellac. It’s wonderful stuff.
Shellac sticks to anything. Anything sticks to shellac. Shellac can be diluted till there’s barely a whisper of lac left in it, but it still makes a coherent film. It seals knots. Shellac can be polished to mirror shine if you want to. A technique called French polishing is the finish you saw on Baron Percy Devonshire Smythe XXIVth’s harewood and mahogany gaming table back when King George was still gibbering on his throne. You can make shellac look like anything you want. Our dresser had pigment mixed in with it to make a kind of varnish stain that could be sprayed on in one coat as an all-purpose stain/finish.
Shellac is so safe for humans to handle that you can eat it, and you might have. They used to make the capsules that drugs and vitamins come in out of shellac. And the greatest thing about shellac, at least for me, is that no matter how old it is, it immediately dissolves and gets loose in the presence of alcohol, just like everyone at your office Christmas party.
Sippican Cottage, “Happy Birthday, Mrs. King”, Sippican Cottage, 2016-04-20.