Assorted links

by on November 15, 2013 at 11:18 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1 dearieme November 15, 2013 at 11:42 am

What the world needs now is more ad hom book reviews. Thus: “I read Diamond’s masterwork GG&S, and thought he came across as a right plunker so I shan’t bother to read this one”. I know that that’s the import of many a book review, but my version is shorter and franker.

2 Millian November 15, 2013 at 11:52 am

This is a much better review than the typical one, and he points out where Diamond is wrong, but then, worryingly, implicitly defines anarchism as the absence of violence and statehood as the presence of violence, proving that an anarchic hunter-gatherer society is better than a state. But of course, that just means a hunter-gatherer society with one man with a big axe is a state.

3 Todd November 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm

To me, it seems much more of a non-sequitur review than ad-hominem. Hunter-gatherer societies are not totally isolated from the modern world so we shouldn’t/can’t study anything about deep history because Diamond is an American and ought to understand the true nature of state violence and its effects because of California prison populations!

Maybe it was meant as a piece of written anarchist performance art.

4 GovCo November 15, 2013 at 3:10 pm

High-brow reviews like this are essays on the book’s topic, not recitations or summaries of the book (if you want that, read the jacket or go to Amazon). It sounds like you’re personally uninterested in the topic and teh reviewers knowledge, which is fine, but how does that lead you to an ad hom charge?

5 batkid November 15, 2013 at 3:28 pm

“how does that lead you to an ad hom charge?”

I think when the reviewer tells the author that he should “shut up,” the reviewer has exceeded the general boundaries of respectful, intellectual debate.

6 Thor November 15, 2013 at 7:51 pm

When anarchists start their reviews with remarks about different social arrangements, including especially not having a system allowing inherited wealth, I am rarely impressed by what follows. If you cannot leave things (possessions, wealth etc) to your descendants/offspring/heirs, we’re basically talking about the State taking it, and redistributing it.

Call it what you will, but this is hardly non-interference.

Left leaning anarchists like Scott go on about wanting to discuss “alternatives” to capitalism, etc., but those alternatives almost always mean: “groups that are left wing in a way I admire”.

Call this what you will, but it is hardly respect for “diversity”. Would Scott even investigate a social formation that was, I dunno, ultra-free market?

7 Z November 15, 2013 at 11:50 am

#4: I’ve mostly stayed out of the guaranteed income arguments, but I am fascinated by the fascination of economists for this topic. Manzi does a nice job addressing the core issue. That is, welfare is not just about the most efficient way to provide aid to the poor. In fact, it has little to do with it. Welfare is a political issue, not an economic one. This seems blazingly obvious to me, yet very smart people here seem to think otherwise.

8 msgkings November 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I think it’s more that if you/they/we accept the political reality that our society will always have a safety net, then it is indeed an economic issue to discuss how best to go about that. The political issue has been pretty much decided and there’s no chance we will revert to a society that doesn’t have some form of ‘welfare’ for its poorest.

9 ChrisA November 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Yes, the issue on whether to have welfare is settled, voters like the idea too much. So if we are going to have a welfare society likely the GMI is the best way to implement it. The linked article makes the point that it probably won’t be as simple as we would like, and that the politicians would likely mess up the implementation. But that seems like a poor reason for not trying. Really the current means tested welfare system is about as bad a way to implement welfare as it possible to come up with. Basically poor people face massive marginal tax rates with the current system when/if they try to enter the workforce. For high ability people, this is manageable (since they can expect their income to grow significantly as the ascend the career ladder), but not for low ability people, who can also expect future periods of unemployment. You would have to be a very ethical person to put yourself through that. The alternative, of removing all benefits after an extended period of unemployment, is too unethical.

Also, the idea that implementing the GMI would lead to a nation of layabouts is silly. First that would imply that most people are incentivized to maximize their leisure at the expense of income. We don’t see most people behaving in this way, in fact the opposite is true, I think there is too much striving for status and material goods beyond what you need for a reasonable life style. Secondly, because of the effective high marginal tax rates, the current system makes the layabout incentive even higher. I bet there are many people working who would be better off on welfare, but chose to work anyway.

The article is correct though that there will need to be additional welfare, beyond the GMI, say for medical assistance for someone seriously ill. But this exists today. No system is perfect but the GMI at least reduces some significant disincentives and makes things significantly simpler. Public policy is not about implementing the perfect policy, but a better policy than the current one.

10 Curt F. November 15, 2013 at 12:20 pm

#5. Some of the criticisms are interesting, but the author has no seeming appreciation for technology innovation and commercialization systems outside of Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley VCs have never been and never will be funders of ideas like Hyperloop. They didn’t really fund or develop gas turbines, memory foam, statin drugs, and hydrofracturing either, and all those things got commercialized.

It might just be that failure to fund Hyperloop has more to do with Hyperloop than with Silicon Valley.

11 FC November 15, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Public works in California are only slightly less interminable and fruitless than land wars in Asia

12 GovCo November 15, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Bingo. If you’re investing money in California you invest in things that minimize contact with a multi-layered political machine that imposes restrictions in order to sell you waivers, with an army of mission creep administrators who just realized that your innovative plan is regulated by (and must fund) their turf, with risk-adverse, lifer bureaucrats who lost their “Approved” stamps years ago but have 100 “Denied” stamps lying around, and, of course, with jihadist environmentalists and insatiable taxes.

But, it was 80 degrees here over the past week.

13 jtf November 15, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I think the author misses something more fundamental, which is that Silicon Valley investors are used to products with fast development and commercialization cycles and high profit margins. A heavy industry startup with truly novel technology might sell its first product at commercial scale after 7 years after hundreds of millions in investment, and even that is no guarantee of success. An infrastructure project like the hyperloop might, if wildly successful, make a ROR of 3 to 7 percent and have a hard limit on the scalability of its business model because its fixed asset would cost billions to expand. That’s a lot of risk.

14 Cliff November 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Humans are actually the endurance running champions of the animal kingdom. A trained human can easily chase pretty much any animal to exhaustion and this was a common hunting strategy “back in the day”.

15 Curt F. November 15, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Humans are endurance champions in hot conditions, because of humankind’s unequalled evaporative cooling (sweating) ability.

I’m not sure if humans would be endurance champions if the contest were held at cooler temperatures, say 4 degrees Celsius with low humidity. They could well be, but I just don’t know.

16 john personna November 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

“He said he waited until several hours later when the sun was high to go after them.” The strategy of the daytime, equatorial, persistence hunter.

17 Willitts November 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Tell that to the mammoths and mastodons.

18 Dick King November 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm

THEY need to be told that humans are the champion inventors and wielders of projectile weapons.


19 Careless November 16, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Not exactly good endurance runners, the Elephantidae. Try getting a Kenyan to race a wolf

20 Ray Lopez November 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm

I forwarded that link to TC. Indeed the Native Americans used to run after deer until they dropped from exhaustion.

And remember this quote? Funny. ““A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheetah”. Ronald Reagan quotes (American 40th US President (1981- 89)”

21 Adrian Ratnapala November 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Which one dropped from exhaustion? The deer or the man?

22 john personna November 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm

The deer, every time. They are covered in fur, you see. (The strategy the deer and similar creatures have though is to mix and hide, and make it really hard for the persistence hunter to keep chasing the same one. If you get confused and chase many deer, then it may be you who drops.)

23 Cliff November 15, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Also bipedal running is simply more mechanically efficient than quadrupedal running.

24 R Richard Schweitzer November 15, 2013 at 1:04 pm

The reviewer of Jared Diamond’s book obviously has not read (or has not absorbed) the work of Isaiah Berlin, let alone the underlying works of Vico and Herder.

25 john personna November 15, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Re 2, I heard a cute little report on public radio about climate and trout in Montana. Cute because each Montanian hat tipped that it seemed like climate change but “we aren’t sure who to blame.” Yeah, I get that. To get along in a Montana town, you definitely don’t want to know who or what to blame.

26 Ray Lopez November 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Was this a local public radio station in Montana, not the syndicated NPR? If so, it makes sense since lots of rich folk in Montana probably don’t need the guilt trip reminder of global warming when there on holiday.

27 john personna November 15, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Heard in California, but no idea what show.

28 Ray Lopez November 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm

@#3 – a very good critique of the J. Diamond book, that can be summarized by: “most primitive societies did not leave good records of the past since they don’t use writings hence Diamond is on thin ice when talking about the same, and here’s some cool stuff I know about this topic”.

29 Ray Lopez November 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm

@#1 – this is not the first time this has happened: a guy almost went critical back in the days collecting the radioactive paint found in watches. Also the mud in a pond at a UK nuclear plant was almost radioactive enough to go critical. But what is scarier: home hobbyists who genetically modify bacteria (read about one such lady in San Francisco), or, home hobbyists who experiment with nuclear materials? Cold fusion anybody? Some externalities not being priced by the market.

30 Willitts November 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm

3. It’s well known that cheetahs have high speed and low endurance, and that big cats conserve energy when they arent hunting (and even during the hunt). Go to any zoo and youll see the lethargic cats at midday.

Interesting story, but it is 500,000 year old news. There are good reasons we are the dominant species on this planet.

31 Albigensian November 15, 2013 at 3:12 pm

… but perhaps also relevant that a vastly disproportionate number of world-class long-distance runners have been Kenyans.

32 Ronald Brak November 15, 2013 at 7:57 pm

A quick look at Olympic marathon medal winners suggests that Kenyans have an advantage, but looking at the actual finishing times suggests any advantage must be extremely small.

33 lxm November 15, 2013 at 5:31 pm

#2 Ocean acidification could trigger economic devastation

The title says it all. Better not read it. There’s not much there and, besides, in order to do anything about it we’d have to change our governance philosophies.

Much better to just ignore it and let our kids deal with it.

34 dbp November 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm


The term “Acidification” is irritating. There are three important regions on the pH scale, alkaline, neutral and acidic. The ocean is currently alkaline and moving in the direction of neutrality.

This is not to minimize any possible biological significance from a change in pH. It is just that the use of a term like “acidification” will likely mislead non-scientists into thinking that the ocean is, or is about to become acidic.

35 Careless November 16, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Where was that super-long comment thread arguing about that I read earlier in the year…

36 Axa November 17, 2013 at 7:47 am

pH scale is logarithmic. Percentages are already a complicate topic for the public, expect greater confusion when applied to this scale.

37 AIG November 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm

#5 Is just plain old silly. First off, it completely ignores the multitude of research out there on innovation, R&D etc. that is not in the internet industry but in a multitude of “real world” industries. None of the research out there supports the arguments made in that article.

Second, it ignores the basic issues of technology. Making the product he is talking about…is HARD. It’s incredibly, incredibly hard. It will make going to the moon look like a piece of cake. Simply put, the “hyperloop” is a silly idea that is way way ahead of the technology needed for it. The author seems to think that all you need to get it done, is to want it done. For someone who speaks about the “real world” in such certain terms, it doesn’t seem to me there’s much real-world objectivity there.

Third, it ignores the basics of economics. There’s no demand for a “hyperloop”, even if you build it. Why is there no demand for passenger trains? Because they cannot provide a value proposition to the customer that is superior to cars or planes. It may work in certain markets (Japan), but then let them develop it.

38 Michael Laurenzano November 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm


Is there no chance that a hyperloop hasn’t been built because its a f***ing stupid idea? Note: I’m not claiming its a stupid idea, is infeasible, impractical or whatever. It is just isn’t 100% obvious that the idea is a good one.

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