Thursday assorted links

1. Who can read the facial expressions of cats?

2. Ted Gioia’s 100 best recordings of 2019.

3. “Did you know: Brazil has more homicides than America + China + Russia + the EU + the rest of the Anglosphere combined?”  Link here from Scott Alexander links.

4. How Chinese science fiction conquered America (NYT).

5. Short history of Chinese state capacity.


I previously was owned and well-treated by two cats.

1. Erwin Schrodinger was not necessarily a reliable reader of feline faces:

1. I haven't clicked the link. Is the answer "other cats"?

No, the answer is middle age, lonely women.

Alternatively, "Mrs. Katz and her lawyer."

3. Paging Thiago

Thiago is dodging bullets in his favela but will respond when he gets the chance.

Bullets are flying in suburban Ohio?!

I thought Thiago was actually Russian....

Actually he’s getting fucked in the ass because he’s a homo.

Actually he’s taking it up the ass.

Actually he’s taking it up the ass. Big time.

#3 - These are official figures, so you can only imagine what is the real situation in Brazil. Same thing for Russia and China though. US is definitely over-represented here.

This is from the wiki page on Brazi which I trust. I know it is crazy lenient in Brazil.

"In Brazil, homicide is punished under article 121 of the Penal Code. It is split into two different categories: homicídio doloso (where the agent acts with the intent to kill, or taking the risk of killing as being a predictable consequence of his or her acts), and homicídio culposo (where the agent has no intention to kill, nor takes the risk of killing as a predictable consequence of his or her acts). The penalty for intentional homicide varies from six to twenty years; the penalty for unintentional homicide varies from one to three years."

Incentives matter!

Actually, a person can serve up to thirty years (or perpetually, if deemed unsane) if multiple crimes (say, killing someone and hiding the corpse) are commited or if the crime was an ambush or if the motivation was not proportional to the crime. All things considered, it is certainly much better than frying children or sending Jews back to Hitler's ovens.

yep, but most server only a 6th of their punishment in Brazil if they behave well in jail.

1) After serving one-sixth of the sentence, the prisoner can work outside prison, but must sleep there.
2) Only after serving one-third of the total sentence Brazilian prisoners can be spend their nights at special institutions or, if judge allows, their own homes. Any infringement of their terms of release sends them back to jail.
3) More than 80% of Brazil's sentenced prisoners are still under the strictest regime and spend all the time at jail except Christmas and Mothers' Day if they show good behaviour.
All things considered, Brazil's system balances severity and mercy.

Mercy? You can kill someone intentionally and get out in 5 years?

You sir are a grade-A idiot.

It is not like that. There are no Fergusons in Brazil. No Klans. No sending back Jews to Hitler's loving waiting arms!!

To mention a notorious case, Brazilian goalkeeper Buno spent nine years at jail for killing his lover before even having a chance of working outside prison during daytime. The famous "Red Light Bandit" spent thirty years at jail. Again, at any given time, overwhelming majority of Brazilian senteced prisoners are squarely behind bars all day long. Brazil's new goverment intends to increase the maximum penalty to forty years. All things considered, Brazil's system is vastly superior to ours.

Hi Thiago.

I read about the Bruno case when I was in Brazil in 2012. It was premeditated murder of the worst kind - he held the poor woman as a prisoner as other people tried to talk him out of killing her. He killed her anyway. The cold blooded psychopath should have been hanged, but he got off with about 7 years in jail.

That should tell you all you need to know about murder in Brazil.

I've seen this data before. Better yet, I used to read the local newspapers every day during my extended stays. The daily slaughter beggars belief. I think the murder rate is way underreported.

My niece has an excellent white collar job working for a big dog in the Policia Militar. She lives 2 blocks from the Policia Militar station but is afraid to walk to her upscale 24x7 security high rise apartment in a fancy neighborhood.

It's bad, really bad.

You can't get more ironic than this.

Happens all the time.

#1 I can for one. All ancient Egyptians can. They have oceans of wisdom to give us and this powerful knowledge can only be interpreted in the temple of Bastet at Amarna. They gave us nukes and the computer. It's sad but one day they'll have to return to their home planet. Their theories on economics are awe-inspiring.

#3 My girlfriend is Brazilian. From Santa Catarina. She says a lot of this is confined to the North and the big cities, but it's still very said. Primeiro Commando do Capital and Commando Verlmeiho have been fighting a mini civil war for almost 5-6 years now. She says, "Brazil would be such a nice country if it weren't for the people.

Homicide rate in Brazil:

1980s......... 15 per 100,000
1990s......... 23
2000s......... 27
2010........... 27
2014........... 30
2018........... 25
2019........... 21

Homicide rate in Rio De Jeneiro:

1980s......... 25 per 100,000
1990s......... 50
2000s......... 47
2010........... 30
2014........... 35
2018........... 39

Homicide rate in São Paulo:

2000.......... 51 per 100,000
2005.......... 23
2010.......... 11
2015........... 9
2017........... 6

That's quite a dropoff for for Sao Paulo. What's been goin' on there the last 20 years?

Everybody's dead now.

Yep, they ran out of easy targets.

Lulz. Don't let the Sao Paulans in your Fortnight League, I guess.

I looked at the map and the data. What I found most interesting was how low the murder count is in places like Spain, Turkmenistan, Algeria etc. Could it be that murder is underreported in some of these counties? I think the map is a wee bit misleading. He could have used other South American counties where the comparison is more apt but the visual result would be less dramatic. I suspect this is an example of trying to form a narrative with data. No problem with that just be explicit about the story you are telling. Cool site tho. BTW, the country with a murder rate 3 times of Brazil’s? Iraq. Freedom indeed.

That's partially true but not really. A couple of states have a "reasonable" muder rate but 80% have it at sky-high levels.

Define "reasonable". I was just in Jardin off Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo this Summer and both she and I felt terribly unsafe, and that is supposed to be one of their best neighborhoods. According to those stats above from Todd the homicides might be falling, but not getting killed is just a small sliver of 'feeling safe'.

I feel infinitely safer in Bertioga or Florianopolis. But for good reason considering those locations are filled with the wealthiest people in Brazil.

Exactly how did you “feel” terribly unsafe in Paulista given it’s usually full of people and generally acknowledged to be one of the safest neighborhoods in one of Brazil’s safest cities? Do you “feel” unsafe in Manhattan for example? Did you see anything actually happen or was it just the large numbers of people speaking a foreign language which makes many, me included, uneasy but isn’t a sign of danger.

Policia Municipal were everywhere. Two separate arrests, one I went by walking and the other in a taxi where they pulled a Taurus out of 2 guys waistbands. Protests during the day, big ones. Very poor lighting during the evening (worse than last time...I go there frequently). Huge amounts of shouting and street antagonism (a lot of 'puja' etc.) including one fight between 2 women (at least they looked like women) outside Pizza Margherita. I also got the feeling of a lot more alcohol a lot more. Lot of stumbling and saw more homeless/vagrants.

My Portuguese isn't spectacular but I can tell when people are talking at me and about 30% of what they're saying.

It doesn't help that I'm American and she is most definitely classified as 'white'.

Ok I’ll take your word for it that things are worse than last year when this was not my experience. I was there before Bolsonaro and large demonstrations certainly make things tense. Your last line makes me wonder tho....Americans and Brancos in Paulista? I can’t imagine.

I've traveled all over Brazil except for the south. The southern states of Brazil are much safer than the rest of Brazil. The population whiter, more European, and more Asian.

In contrast, São Paolo is very unsafe and residents behave accordingly. A family friend of my wife was shot dead as an afterthought by robber duo on a motorcycle as they drove away. It was a totally senseless murder. They killers were safe, they had his money, they shot him for fun.

Here's the thing, everybody in Brazil knows someone who has been murdered.

Do you know anyone who has been murdered in the US? I don't.

The answer to that question is telling.

5. Seems a bit too simplistic. Chinese state capacity peaked in the Song Dynasty, but its economy and living standards more likely peaked in the Ming Dynasty hundreds of years later or arguably even the early part of the Qing Dynasty, when the state was smaller than during the Song.

China’s economy did well in the Ming and early Qing periods and experienced a population boom until the mid-1800s. The largest failure of the Ming period was the failure to colonize, and this was arguably due to the large Ming state monopolizing sea trade and preventing private discovery. When you compare how little the state-backed Zheng He accomplished with far more resources than the European explorers and conquistadors who were usually left to their own initiative, often funded by foreign states or private investors, and often even went against their own state’s instructions, it’s a quite stark display of the risks and failures of industrial policy. The small size of the Qing state only really hurt China beginning in the mid-1800s, when other countries started attacking it and the small Qing military was unable to defend the country. China’s decline was caused by lack of state capacity in the context of foreign invasions, not lack of state capacity by itself.

Thus, the lesson of comparing Chinese and European development is that state capacity helps win wars, but small states are fine and even better at generating prosperity in times of peace.

I would submit that the largest failure of the Ming era was governing so incompetently that they faced multiple concurrent rebellions, mass defections, and foreign invasion.

The Manchu conquest was not some brilliant campaign where a plucky army of horsemen ran riot over a major empire, it was series of mass defections, driven by many failures of state administration. Far more than any silliness with colonies, not ensuring the loyalty of the commanders in your single most important defensive positions ranks pretty high up there for state failure. Likewise, not maintaining the loyalty of large masses of everyday soldiers bespeaks a much worse setup for the Ming than skipping colonization.

As far as the Qing, I would submit that their refusal to trade with outside world, upgrade their armaments, or incorporate any sort of western knowledge (be it religious, scientific, or philosophical) into the examination system would again be far more significant.

I would agree that life got better during the early Ming and Qing dynasties, but the real problems were always the inability of the Chinese state to lay aside its prejudices and engage with more effective systems.

Science, yes, but why religious or philosophical? Japan, as both a neighbor to China and as an example, modernized just fine without the western metaphysical nonsense.

Both Japan and China underwent major rebellions due to large absolute numbers of peasants converting to Western Religious practices. The costs of the Shimabara revolt, let alone the Taiping rebellion, were such that any sort of openness would have been cheaper. Maintaining a large repression system to keep such thought out, as both states did for centuries, brings all the costs of drug prohibition with none of the benefits.

Even ignoring the direct costs of rebellions among some of the productive cliques in society, having ideological monopolies was also costly. Japan, for instance, banned playing cards and had a much harder time working with statistics into the Meiji era. Both had significant difficulty endorsing any concept that the lives of commoner were inherently important. Both Japan and China continued to exclude the common folk from administration into the 20th century and massacred them at will.

Western thought is the first in recorded history to abolish the idea that slavery was just, that the thoughts of the common man were important, and that, however limited, the poor and destitute might legitimately rise to the highest echelon's of society (if only from the whole Son of God was a carpenter and too poor to pay the full temple tax bit).

The Ming lasted for nearly three hundred years before being overthrown by the Qing. That’s not a bad run; in fact according to the original article there was more dynastic stability in Europe than China.

Your broader point that the Chinese state failed to lay aside its prejudices is correct and consistent with what I am saying. This again goes to show the dangers of a large state. European states during the Age of Discovery were pretty prejudiced too (this was the time of the Spanish Inquisition after all). Yet because European states at that time were smaller and weaker, they were not able to effectively monopolize trade and prevent discovery as the Chinese state did. For example, when Portugal did not allow Magellan’s voyage, he simply went to Spain instead and was able to evade Portuguese patrols trying to capture him. But when Ming China ended its seafaring programs and prohibited private exploration, private initiative was crushed as no one was able to defy the ban. This excessive state capacity at the wrong time is what caused China to fall behind Europe during the Age of Discovery, which ultimately made it easy prey during the 1800s.

Right. Crude average taxation rates and market size don't explain too much about pre-modern prosperity (though part of the issue is that possible maximum taxation rises with real per capita income above subsistence). A generically low tax per capita pre-modern West and high tax per capita pre-modern East is, IMO, really a meme that spins off of recent late 20th century Libertarian attempts to misguidedly obtain a more limited state by choking off tax revenues, rather than an actual read of economic history.

Marxists would then contend the true difference between the Chinese state and European developing states is the nature of their class alliances. The Chinese state was an alliance of agrarian landlord-gentry who entered politics via exams and had no formal constraint over the executive. This led to a agrarian state in its character, with low tax on agriculture, which could raid, ban, and block business activity dependent on whims of an class that was in conflict with merchants, and of the centre. (Hence the description of these states as "feudal" even though it doesn't really make much sense). European states were in alliance with merchants (bourgeois, Capitalists) and revenues from trade, external and internal (which was vastly more important, international and colonial relatively unimportant), and states which were pro-business / focused on capital accumulation.

The Liberal argument is that all the above either never really was a difference or just is less important, rather than the general process of bargaining and political participation constraining the state via law and political participation beyond a narrow class base. That is, it wasn't really the emergence of a specific class alliance that prevented the state from enacting anti-business policies, but of political freedoms and participation that led to more stable and positive sum relations and constrained governments from doing stupid things and granted them the wisdom to do smart things.

The science and innovation argument is that neither of the above really mattered too much (or it is hard to say if they mattered), because before considering them, Europe simply differed too much in its raw endogenous capacity to build innovation and science compared to China and the rest of the world. Some credit this to the Enlightenment and other specific intellectual movements, some to divergent competing states (Scheidel in "Escape from Rome", Mokyr), some to chance, some to culture (WEIRD) and IQ (and possibly their genetic causes).

I would tend to buy the liberal and Enlightenment arguments more than what I would read as the Marxist argument. The Western European states that showed pro-business capabilities (England, Holland) first diverged in their share of workers and economy in agriculture because of innovation in agriculture improving productivity (not because of colonialism or trade creating food imports or anything like this), and then became more trade and industry focused states as a secondary consequence. Any attempts to build an illiberal, authoritarian, pro-business state, with limited political participation (even with Marxist branding) are probably going to fail long term.

"I would agree that life got better during the early Ming and Qing dynasties, "

There was essentially no material improvement then.

Settler colonization often a mixed blessing. Did nothing much for moving Russia or Spain to world frontier of innovation/per capita income, etc. The Qing also saw wide expansion of the Chinese population through a larger area bordering the core lands of "China proper" that it is hard to call much other than settler colonisation, without much benefit.

A world where the Ming had attempted maritime settler colonies may simply have seen lower growth in the core lands of China and their immediate geographic periphery, and a weaker core China relative to the Manchu, Europeans, etc, particularly if it does not particularly expand tax base (as British found, settler colonies often don't like being taxed!).

A world where China colonised extensively, by sea, is probably closer to one where they have a situation that resembles a hybrid of their present day status with Russia and Spain and the extended Spanish Empire, rather than one where its more like Britain and its offshoots.

3. Brazil under Bolsonaro is also killing the Amazon (more than 3,700 square miles in one year):

It is a lie.

That's bs. Deforestation was actually much worse in the early 2000s

We need to analyze level and trend. It's as if Amazonian farmers had never set a fire (to clear arable land) before Bolsonaro was elected Brazil's president.

Whenever I see "," two words come to mind: fake news. Of course, if it weren't for fake news, the lunatic left would have nothing.

I am sure having a president who loudly supports deforestation has nothing to do with it.

3. Tropical Heat + Plentiful Weapons + Powerful Gangs (higher temperatures are associated with more homicide IIRC).

2. who was #101

It is funny how, in December, 2019, an American "rationalist" blogger decided to attract attention to a widely forgotten 2017 post slandering Brazil just after the American president decided to impose unfair, criminal tariffs on Brazil to woo lazy American farmers and businessmen who just can compete with Brazilian grit and just a few days from the 155th anniversary of the massacre of Brazilian soldiers by the invading Paraguayan troops. But it is Putin who has a controlled media under his thumb, we are told!! Has the Drumpf-Giuliani-Scott regime left no sense of decency? Is there anything too low for them?

I feel your pain, sweetie.

As Yogi Berra famously said, "It isn't slander if its true."

But it is not true.

"It is funny how, in December, 2019, an American 'rationalist' blogger decided to attract attention to a widely forgotten 2017 post slandering Brazil".

It is preposterously shocking. The post also fails to mention that, in the last two years, Brazil's homicide rate has fallen.

#3 - Yay! We're only #2! So, let's do NOTHING about until we become #1!

You're Russian?

100 killings a day in June in Mexico

#1 - by Prof. Georgia Mason. Love it.

The notion that people with an attachment to cats don't read them better than a random person suggests she botched the study.

Discrete Fourier series

"4. How Chinese science fiction conquered America (NYT)"

That's a misleading headline. It's instead a pretty good article about Ken Liu, who is a Chinese American, and who often translates Chinese sci-fi books & stories into English, but also writes his own Science Fiction. Some of which is published in China. And for which there are political issues.

"“The political climate inside China has shifted drastically from when I first started doing this,” Liu says. “It’s gotten much harder for me to talk about the work of Chinese authors without putting them in an awkward position or causing them trouble.” "

"In another alarming setback, when his American publisher tried to send copies of his recent translations to writers in China, the shipments failed to arrive."

"“If the authors want to say something daring, then I will honor that, but I’m not going to impose my own politics on them. There’s a lot of room to say what you want to say if you leave things ambiguous.”"

This is how the New York Times always writes about Chinese things. Some tourists from China go somewhere or some Chinese person makes an investment somewhere and suddenly China is “conquering” it. Just the other day there was an article whose headline made it sound like China could singlehandedly stop the fentanyl problem in the US and then buried in the Middle was a statistic that only 1% of fentanyl seized by US customs is from China (

China is the world’s most populous country so it is easy to find any anecdotes about China to support any narrative you want. The result is the Chinese Robber Fallacy, which appears in most New York Times reporting on China:

+1, excellent link

+1, yes great link. (Not the NYT one, obviously).

1: “Reading” cats.

Reading the linked article one comes across this: “ Surprisingly, being a cat lover made no difference at all, since reporting a strong attachment to cats did not necessarily result in a higher score.”

I can confirm. I hate cats but I can read their emotion from their facial expressions. That emotion is “smug.”

#3 With this mendacious propaganda, is our regime any better than Hitler's or Stalin's?!

#5 .... are you kidding me?

#3 is there any good theory at all about this and the fact that murder is high across the Americas? The theory should acount for murder being not so high in India a much poorer country.

#3 I think Mr. Scott's mask has fallen. I think it has become clear he is actually a blackguard Trumpian. I think we should ostracise him,

1. Trying to is your first mistake.

2. Speaking of Brazil, Gioia probably should have found room for Roberta Sa' s Giro album.

#2. What kind of list is this? It is almost exclusively jazz. The 2 "rock" albums on there are fairly subdued, and while complex they lack the experimental quality and range of sound of good alternative or prog rock. In other words, saying they are the best rock albums is nonsense.

Imo, rock belongs to pink floyd, radiohead, and the Beatles. Not the Allman Brothers.

The once hip hop album is by a white dude and hardly qualifies as hip hop, at least of the kind that's popular today.

And again, these hardly qualify as the "best" albums. All these say is that Ted Gioia is really into jazz. Is jazz even that popular with the masses today?

If I am creating a list of what I think are the best albums of the year, I probably would have to include a lot of r and b right? Because that's popular today? I mean I personally can't stand R&B, but you have to include it because it is influential and good music, even if it doesn't suit your tastes.

So why isn't Ventura on the list? That album is probably more influential than every one of the ones he listed.

And sure, it's his top 100 so he is free to limit it to the music he likes. But he appears to only like 1 genre of music, then claims his list contains all genres, and his list conveys no information to me. It has no objectivity outside the personal preferences of himself, and I ... Idk, I feel that if you create a list of what you think are the best albums of 2019, you have to take into account others preferences are not yours, and that whole your preferences my shape the list there is an objectivity to it as well.

Cats have no facial expressions, but if you look at them in profile they appear to be smiling, and if you neglect to observe that they look this way all the time, it's easy to tell yourself they are smiling because you are petting them. At least, that's how it's done in our house.

#3: It's possibly caused by path dependence from the civil-military dictatorship (1964-1985) + no Rule of Law in the slums + bad policy in police investigations (mostly since 1988), drugs (since 2006) and weapons + gang wars

Some states, like São Paulo, improved a lot since the 90s looking at these things. Temer's policies got really good results in the last years, some of them are still supported in the Bolsonaro government.

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