Aliens, Corruption and Skyscrapers in Mumbai

The Fat Leonard scandal.

More on India’s housing crisis. How low floor space indexes limit vertical construction.

Why you (probably) can’t compete with steam. More basic business sense.

A brief overview of Sayyid Qutb’s thoughts and his influence on modern radical Islam.

A story of a fuck-off fund. The message is simple, have a financial reserve or risk being unable to escape bad situations.

Why finding alien life would be very, very bad. Or watch the video.

Longevity, Policing and Asia

A FAQ/Summary of longevity research. Understandable and relatively comprehensive.

Flatworms can regrow missing limbs, including their heads. Surprisingly, they retain previous memories after doing so.

In many states in the US, police officers receive a variety of legal privileges ranging to “get out of jail” cards for friends and family to the right to be told the names of any witnesses against then if they are under investigation for a crime.

An undercover police officer from London talks about his experiences.

The Confucius Institute, and growing Chinese state infiltration of thousands of US  educational institutions. “The Chinese teachers are thoroughly vetted by Hanban, according to Sahlins’ report. They “must have a strong sense of mission, glory, and responsibility and be conscientious and meticulous in [their] work,” Hanban says. They’re also explicitly instructed to toe Beijing’s line on controversial political questions. There can be no discussion whatsoever of human rights in China, or the Tiananmen Square massacre. Sahlins found that should a student raise an uncomfortable question about, say, the political status of Tibet, Hanban’s instructors are ordered to refocus the discussion on, say, Tibet’s natural beauty or indigenous cultural practices (which, ironically, Beijing has spent decades stamping out).”

Rent controls and India’s housing crisis from marginal university.

SSC on Conflict vs Mistake theory, In short, some see politics as the process of finding the truth. Others see it as a perpetual conflict between interest groups. The articles characterisation of the latter group is too narrow and negative.

An Eclectic Mix

The little red podcast on crime in china. In short,  industrialized misreporting and social normilization of crime do not for a happy country make.

Race and Faith: Not anti-or pro diversity. Remarkabally balanced. Deals more with the lack of a healthy discussion surrounding the changes in Britian than the changes themselves. Extract:  “There are two related, but separate, sets of serious social problems associated with 21st century superdiversity… One set of issues arises from the decline in overt bigotry. The evidence is that rather than producing integrated societies in which race and ethnicity count for less and less in our destinies, western societies are more and more stratified by these characteristics. Different racial, ethnic and cultural groups display objective differences in behaviour, achievement and outcomes, often for reasons largely unconnected to discrimination. In our brave new world, instead of social classes or castes being distinguished by Greek letters, as in Aldous Huxley’s novel, they can now be differentiated by skin colour or cultural symbols. The second set of emerging concerns swirls around the question of offence. Increasingly, the world-views of very different social identity groupings are colliding. Incompatible attitudes to sex, religion, belief and the rule of law are producing frictions for which the tried and trusted social lubricants seem just too thin.”

A good article on the network effects which keep bitcoin ahead of alternatives such as Etherium.

Overcoming Bias on collapse theories. Some avenues of thought here are unproductive, but the explanation why competition inevitabaly produces fragile systems is worth reading.

The competitive ecosystem of venture capital and inefficiencies therin. Extract: “The only good reasons to charge your customer money is to test what will cause customers to pay money, and to signal that you can successfully charge your customer money! The purpose of a start-up is to turn itself into a future business, and the potential profits of that future business are what is valuable and what everyone is working to create. It raises money by convincing others of these potential profits, then selling off a portion of those future profits, and then uses that money to enhance its ability to signal its future profits. The system works, to the extent it works, when the signal is both correlated to the company’s ability to succeed (better founders with better ideas can signal more effectively) and the signaling actions themselves serve to create a real company. Founders who understand the dynamics involved will be hill climbing in order to send the best signals possible and raise the most money, so it is very important that their doing so results in actual companies that hopefully do actual valuable things for people.”

Mixing your assymetric info into an existing concensus works better than building a model from scratch

Map vs Button People. A cynical conceptual model which I do not find overly convincing. Yet, I could well be wrong. Worth reading regardless.

A Pocketful of Knowledge

Pocket, an app that lets you save webpages to read later. I’ve found it more convenient than the alternatives. Recommended if you constantly have tabs open to read later.

Why did early innovation take so long? Once again, discovered on Marginal Revolution.

Estate/inheritance taxes are bad because they preference consumption over investment/saving. Also contains persuasive but fairly obvious arguments against libertarian support for tax loopholes.

An old SSC Post collecting interesting facts from a forensic psychiatry conference. One factoid: “During a death penalty case, jurors who don’t believe in capital punishment (and therefore would throw the case for reasons other than the defendant’s guilt or innocence) are automatically excluded from participating. But those jurors are usually more liberal, and the pro-capital-punishment jurors who get tapped are usually more conservative. Liberal jurors are usually more likely to acquit any type of criminal, and conservatives more likely to convict. Therefore, in certain cases it can be easier to get a death penalty conviction than a life in prison conviction, because you’re throwing the most merciful jurors out of the potential pool.”

An excellent review/critique of The Elephant in the Brain from Broken Vase. Excerpt: “There’s no need to be a hypocrite about being a hypocrite. People are watching you to see what will happen if they press a button and see what stock response you send. Will you pull out the slip of paper containing the appropriate answer? That’s what they are checking. They don’t care what your underlying logical algorithm is; that’s not very correlated with the slips of paper that come out when you press buttons, whereas your loyalty is highly correlated with those paper slips. If your logic says that what you write on those slips is about loyalty, but you pull out the right slips of paper, does that make you less loyal? Or more loyal? I’m not even sure”

Interesting Stuff: China Edition

Gamifying Obedience in China: “Although Liu hadn’t signed up for Zhima Credit, the blacklist caught up with him in other ways. He became, effectively, a second-class citizen. He was banned from most forms of travel; he could only book the lowest classes of seat on the slowest trains. He could not buy certain consumer goods or stay at luxury hotels, and he was ineligible for large bank loans. Worse still, the blacklist was public. Liu had already spent a year in jail once before on charges of “fabricating and spreading rumors” after reporting on the shady dealings of a vice-mayor of Chong­qing. The memory of imprisonment left him stoic about this new, more invisible punishment. At least he was still with his wife and daughter.”


From SSC, Chinese Immigrants in Early California: “Regarded primarily as laborers and servants by the dominant Anglo culture, the immigrant Chinese bypassed orthodox means of communication and transportation whenever possible. Couriers connected far-flung communities throughout the West. They transported the earnings that their countrymen had saved to San Francisco and Seattle to send back to the old country and they returned with essential supplies: dried squid, joss sticks, dried vegetables, tea, icons and opium.

A descendant of one of these couriers, Dave Cheng of San Francisco, told me his forbear ‘never wore good clothing or let on in any way that he was carrying thousands of dollars concealed among his rags.’ Whenever possible, he traveled with Chinese companions, since a lone Oriental in a remote part of the gold country was in danger of harassment, if not torture and death. Instead of buying food, or paying for boat or stagecoach passage, he would hire himself out as a stable sweep or dishwasher, deck hand or woodcutter, in exchange for food and passage.

He followed a more or less definite series of stops, delivering little items precious to the immigrants and giving them both letters and the latest rumors and news. The Chinese shopkeepers, miners and laborers paid him either in money or with food, lodging and portions of their imports and entrusted him with savings they wanted their relatives in the Old World to receive.

Many couriers later developed solid mercantile businesses in cities like Portland and San Francisco, which had extensive Chinatowns. One of them may have been the old patriarch that a miner named Amos Ott rescued in the late 1860s. Ott’s story was related by Silas Diller, a geologist who included the account in a turn-of-the-century private journal.”


From Shijiazhuang to Cambridge: “When I was an intern, in one of the training presentations, a senior banker told us to distinguish between the process and the results. He said that we should focus on the process, which we can control, rather than the result, which is subject to luck. And here at Goldman, he said, we don’t punish people for losing money for the right reason. I have always loved asking questions, so I asked him, was anyone ever punished for making money for the wrong reason? After giving it some thought, he said that he had not heard of any such thing. And he was right. In fact, no one seemed to remember the reason I did the inflation trade at all. They only remembered that I did this trade and that it worked well.

When I met with my manager for a performance review after this, I was expecting to be berated for my poor judgment. Instead, I got promoted! I told my manager that it was a mistake, but he merely said, “Puzhong, tell no one.” He too was promoted on the basis of managing my “brilliant” trade. In fact, my manager was so proud of my work he recommended me to Stanford’s prestigious Graduate School of Business (GSB), and I soon set off for America.

One thing that I learned at Goldman was that, to rise through the ranks, it was not enough to just be a good trader. It was also essential to be able to manage one’s boss, other colleagues, and those who report to them. I never paid any attention to those things. I hoped to learn about them in business school.


Interesting Stuff: 04/12/2017

Maria Schneider against Net Neutrality: “But that’s only part of the story. The elephant in the room, that almost nobody mentions or maybe realizes, is the position of the “FTC” on this Open Internet Order reversal.  During the notice and comment period for the current FCC reversal, both the FTC director herself, Maureen Ohlhausen, (who seems to be an unassailable woman appointed by Obama), and all of her staff, separately submitted comments completely blasting the 2015 Open Internet Order.  Her comments in particular seem incredibly well researched and presented. She is our nation’s chief consumer watchdog, and her opinion is important. You can download her piece here.

All of the feigned panic Google and its flying monkeys have whipped up are addressed by the FTC Director in her comments.  The simple reality is that the architects of the 2015 OIO never expected such agency turmoil would result between the FCC & FTC.  However, a big federal case from California between AT&T and the FTC basically said that because of the OIO, the FTC is stripped of its powers.  And that’s a very unfortunate consequence of the OIO. Frankly, I’d rather have the FTC taking the lead in policing real-life bad ISP behavior.  It’s what they do (or what they did) and they’ve been a pretty good watch dog in the past. It seems the FTC stats on policing ISPs are impressive.  The FCC has never done that, it’s not in their DNA. And their ability to police is even very limited, unlike the FTC.  The power of the people is best reflected through the FTC, not the FCC.”


Niskan Center on the limits of legalism: “But I would bet against it. The courts have good reason for reticence. They are institutionally reluctant to pick fights they can’t win with either Congress or the presidency. Only deciding live cases and controversies is a fundamental norm of the American judiciary. And the executive branch has constant opportunities to play shell games with its policies in response to judicial challenges. The addition of North Korea (from which the United States gets essentially no immigration) and Venezuela (in an asymmetric way that makes its inclusion misleading) to the Muslim-majority countries on the original list is a good example. If the courts look likely to restrict executive discretion to engage in religious discrimination in immigration, the executive can lightly disguise it.  In the time it takes slow, deliberate courts to reach a final decision about that policy, the policy can change again. The executive’s built-in speed advantage over the judiciary, and its freedom to opportunistically alter particulars while the judiciary struggles to find general principles, make it extremely difficult if not impossible for the courts to keep up.

I’ve slowly become persuaded by some of this, and also by some related worries about the political implications of legalism. The American willingness to subordinate everything else in politics to the fight for control of judicial appointments is extraordinarily unhealthy. The most conspicuous examples right now are the ongoing opportunistic rewriting of the procedural rules of the Senate and the idea that Alabamians should elect as Senator a child molester who was twice removed from the bench for disregarding the law, in order to ensure a Republican vote for judicial confirmations. But I’m also tremendously troubled by the classical liberal legalists who seem willing to tolerate any amount of substantive authoritarianism in politics for the sake of friendly judicial appointments.”


Three Excellent Pieces from Status 451 covering how the left succeeds at politics. Truly worth reading, regardless of your political leanings. A few extracts:

“Bob Wing, a grassroots organizer, explains this nicely: “If winning feels impossible, then righteousness can seem like the next best thing.” But righteousness is not conducive to getting normies to join your team if your team cannot demonstrate ability to, at least sometimes, win. Nor does righteousness help you make real inroads with regular people.

Occupy, at the height of its power, turned people away, even snubbing prominent mainstream Lefties. That kept Occupy’s radical cred, but also cooled normies on Occupy: “If Occupy won’t welcome my hero John Lewis, it’ll never welcome me.”

In Smucker’s view, Occupy trapped itself in activist space, and started performing for an audience of themselves. What he argues is that activists need to leave activist space and focus on converting or nudging normies. It’s safe to say Smucker is not a fan of the Benedict Option. He champions its opposite: “seed work,” aka entryism.”

“If you’re a Lefty? Holy hell are you awash in hardcore options. You wanna take over a city park? You want to go live out in South Dakota blocking a pipeline? You want to occupy a government building with protesters? You want to organize a fleet of kayaks to prevent an oil tanker from offloading? You want to go for a mass bike ride, frustrating every commuter in the city? If you’re a Lefty, people are tripping over each other to give you ways to be hardcore at varying levels. (The “varying levels” is important: people have different capacities and desires for hardcore, and different levels of ability to bear its consequences.) What Lefties are really great at, and what Righties should be better at, is providing an experience that feels hardcore to participants but still looks like moral high ground to everyone else. The classic example: SNCC going into the deep South to register poor black voters at a time when segregation is law, the Klan is powerful, and Lefty organizers are getting straight-up murdered. That’s hardcore. SNCC and Weatherman were both hardcore Lefty groups. But SNCC was smart. Weatherman was stupid. Hardcore that is unproductive is stupid by definition.”

“The other essential tip is growing the movement. In Alinsky’s view, everything is a movement numbers game. Job one for the Alinskyite organizer is to build a mass power base, because without numbers you have nothing. So the most important question is, “How will this increase the strength of the organization?” How many recruits will it bring in? If losing a fight will bring in more recruits than winning that fight would, then the organizer must lose that fight. Because more recruits mean a larger long-term victory.

Alinsky also explains that your organization also has to have a bunch of issues. Having a bunch of issues broadens your appeal, bringing in more people, and gives you ways to keep your people engaged. If your organization isn’t doing anything, people will get bored. They’ll occupy themselves with busywork, not actually accomplishing things, and they’ll get mired in internal factionalism. (This explains a lot of the internal factionalism on the Hard Right, actually.)”


“Today’s Left has prioritized shallow mobilizing (professionalized, top-down, Alinsky) over deep organizing (massed, bottom-up, old-school industrial unions). McAlevy says this is a mistake. What you want, she says, is a real grass-roots movement in which everyone is active, making relevant decisions, and leading. Specifically, McAlevey’s calling for the Left to update and use the 1930s/1940s methods of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO.”

“There are three ways people react to this information. Some people say, “Well, I’d like a better bus service, but nah, this isn’t for me.” Some say, “Eh, I don’t hate your causes, I’ll join.” Some sing the Internationale.

The people who actually join Mann’s group fall into two groups: active members and warm bodies. Active members attend at least four meetings per year. This qualifies them to run for office in the BRU/SDP and vote for its planning committee. Active members are organizers, marchers, recruiters. The warm bodies (Mann’s group calls them “dollar members”) pay dues, sign petitions, and participate in phone trees.

A very good recruiter has maybe a 10% chat-to-recruitment success rate. Maybe a third of those noobs will actually show up for a meeting. Every meeting sees ten to twenty new recruits. Maybe half of those will come back for another meeting. Between the orientation filter and just flaking out, only half to a third of the new recruits who go to even one meeting of the BRU/SDP become active members. Do the math: Mann’s BRU/SDP recruiters talk to six hundred people, in person, to get two or three new active members and a maximum of seven more warm bodies.

And it works for them. The BRU/SDP organized bus riders and led campaigns: sit-ins, fare boycotts (you ride the bus, but don’t pay), and lawsuits. They fought for years and won a lot from the MTA, including non-stinky natural gas buses to replace the old stinky diesel ones. (A cynic might wonder if they got any funds from natural gas bus manufacturers.) They won real and meaningful results for poor people of color who ride buses. They showed value.”

“The legendary biographer Robert Caro mentioned once that he had heard college professors talk very convincingly about how the paths for freeways in New York City were chosen. The professors listed variables, and considerations, and trade-offs, and they talked very knowledgeably and nothing they said was worth a damn because the paths for freeways in New York City were chosen for one reason and one reason only: a freeway was where it was because Robert Moses wanted to build the freeway there. Considerations meant nothing next to power.

That’s what movements are about: gaining power. Movements don’t just happen. And they’re not the product of orders from on high, or rent-a-protestors paid out of somebody’s checkbook. They’re the product of a lot of people doing a lot of hard work over a very long time.”