Month: July 2022

What should I ask Walter Russell Mead?

He is a leading foreign policy expert, and I will be doing a Conversation with him.   Here is from Wikipedia:

Walter Russell Mead (born June 12, 1952) is an American academic. He is the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and taught American foreign policy at Yale University. He was also the editor-at-large of The American Interest magazine. Mead is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, a scholar at the Hudson Institute, and a book reviewer for Foreign Affairs, the quarterly foreign policy journal published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

His new book is The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People.

So what should I ask him?

Merit, Fairness and Equality

Noted Canadian chemist Patanjali Kambhampati on the DIE movement:

My “lived experiences” as a Third World immigrant to the United States has in fact led me to be a lifelong defender of the practices of merit, fairness and equality — practices derived from classical liberal principles….My father was born Third World poor. [My father’s] only hope was to gain employment as a secretary or to be able to test into the top engineering school in India, the Indian Institute of Science. By gaining admission to this top school, my father was able to bring his family to America, where we received a superb education and tremendous opportunities.

In my father’s world, it was merit that enabled him to advance and his family to flourish. Merit and the practice of meritocracy are also classical liberal values. Merit is also central to the immigrant dream, and the rise of modern society.

…As a recent example of common practices in science funding in North America, I was denied funding opportunities twice by Canada’s federal science foundations, both of which were detailed in these pages, purely because I said I would hire research assistants based on merit, regardless of their gender or ethnic or cultural backgrounds.

Over the past year, the encroachment of the cult of DIE into academia has only grown. There are now many positions that are simply off limits to straight white men who are not handicapped. One must pledge allegiance to these illiberal principles in order to be a practising scientist in 2022.

These are some of the reasons I am writing about DIE in science and in the broader society. As someone who has dealt with the “lived experience” of racism, I am here to make the case that we need to move beyond antiquated intellectual racism and inept modern anti-racism, and move instead toward a more individualistic approach….I hope that my experiences can play a role in enabling others to speak and think freely and add value to the never-ending drive for human progress and freedom.

The robot chess culture that is Russian

According to the organizers of the tournament in the Russian capital, it was an “accidental” attack by the robot. A seven-year-old boy named Christopher, who, by the way, according to them, is among the top 30 chess players in Moscow under the age of nine, moved a piece on the chessboard earlier than he should, which led to the non-standard behavior of the robot.

The AI ​​robotic arm grabbed the young player’s index finger and squeezed his finger firmly. The people around the boy immediately rushed to help, but did not prevent the consequences in the form of a broken finger.

…We have nothing to do with the robot,” commented Moscow Chess Federation President Sergey Lazarev.

Here is the full story, via Austin Vernon.

What I’ve been reading

1. Ann Mari May, Gender and the Dismal Science: Women in the Early Years of the Economics Profession.  A good history of the injustices suffered by women in the earlier years of American economics.  It also serves indirectly as a good history of early journals, early academic practices, and the ongoing professionalization of American academia.

2. Quinn Slobodian and Dieter Plehwe, editors, Market Civilizations: Neoliberals East and South.  Many of the individuals essays here are quite interesting, such as the coverage of Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala, how Montenegro became a neoliberal outpost of sorts, Rothbardianism in Brazil, or the career of Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson of Iceland.  But the book would be much better if it reversed its mood affiliation and turned these essays into tributes.  There is a fair amount of sneering, use of words like “tentacles” (in conjunction with neoliberalism), and one-sentence rebuttals of neoliberal views, without any real documentation of the evidence.  How many of the individuals semi-criticized in this book have done anything worse than favor price controls for U.S. pharmaceuticals?  Or oppose Covid vaccine boosters, as did so many members of the health care establishment so recently?  Not too many of them, I suspect.

3. Hugh Eakin, Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Came to America.  John Quinn is the hero of this story.  Who’s he?  He was a wealthy Irish-American lawyer on Wall Street in the early part of the twentieth century.  He supported James Joyce, the various Yeatses, the later-famous Irish playwrights, Irish painters, and Pound and Eliot, all before they became accepted and then famous.  What a talent spotter.  He simply sent them money.  He was also very early on the Picasso and Henri Rousseau bandwagons, most of all in America, where Quinn was a central figure in popularizing, collecting, and displaying modern art.  His is a career to study, and this book is the place to start.

4. Mustafa Akyol, Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance.  Progress Studies for Muslims?  Akyol, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, argues that the values of the Western Enlightenment had Islamic counterparts in the broader sweep of history, and that it is possible to win them back.

Saturday assorted links

1. More on the rise and fall of mobile home manufacturing.

2. “Caitlin and Philip met back in 2015 on Hinge, bonding instantly over the fact they had been to many of the same DMV restaurants—thanks to Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide.

3. “Sun-drenched Texas — not exactly known for its bleeding-heart liberals — has nearly triple the solar capacity this summer than it had last summer.”  Link here.

4. Billionaire wealth as a percentage of gdp, across countries.

5. Krugman needs to calculate Italy’s true net fiscal position, relative to tiny TFR and near-zero growth for more than 20 years (NYT).

China revelations of the day

Among the most alarming things the FBI uncovered pertains to Chinese-made Huawei equipment atop cell towers near US military bases in the rural Midwest. According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, the FBI determined the equipment was capable of capturing and disrupting highly restricted Defense Department communications, including those used by US Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons.


In 2020, Congress approved $1.9 billion to remove Chinese-made Huawei and ZTE cellular technology across wide swaths of rural America. But two years later, none of that equipment has been removed and rural telecom companies are still waiting for federal reimbursement money. The FCC received applications to remove some 24,000 pieces of Chinese-made communications equipment—but according to a July 15 update from the commission, it is more than $3 billion short of the money it needs to reimburse all eligible companies.

Here is the full story, vtekl.

Borgen, season four (only spoilers are at the meta-level)

My Bloody Valentine did a follow-up album twenty years later and it was pretty good, unexpectedly good.  Well, this reboot of Borgen, seven years later, is mostly better than the original, even if some of the original characters (Kasper) are missed.  It is now titled Borgen: Power and Glory, and can be found on Netflix.

Some people disliked the original Borgen for its possibly naive portrait of social democracy in Denmark, but season four stands all that on its head.  It represents a radical departure from political and also media discourse these days.

By far the main theme of season four is how it affects women when they hold major positions of power, in both the public and private sector.  How do their characters evolve?  How do they handle power?  What are their family relations like?  How happy do they become?  I won’t say any more here, only that I can’t imagine today’s Hollywood putting out this content.  Nor can I think of any other art work that explores this theme so consistently.  Critics might call the series misogynistic.  They might be right.

Some other themes are relevance are:

1. The nature of Danish imperialism, and how Denmark is incapable of treating Greenland as an equal partner.

2. How left parties manipulate indigenous causes for their own ends.

3. The corruption and pettiness of indigenous societies, such as are found in Greenland.

4. How the media really operate.

5. The hypocrisy of “green” politics.

In other words, what you get is “right-wing Borgen,” and with a vengeance.  Yet the proceedings are all cloaked in the same kind of superficial Danish triumphalism that characterized seasons 1-3.  I wish the content had more of “my kind of liberalism,” but maybe the right-wing cultural critique makes for better TV.  (I keep on thinking that something ought to be privatized…with apologies to David Brooks.  But it should!  You can give the government half the revenue.  And no, Russian and Chinese state-affiliated buyers do not count.  And while we are at it, how about “one billion Greenlanders“?  I’d settle for a million.)

It is no surprise that the reviews of this season are largely mediocre.  Yet for me it is the best Borgen yet, recognizing that it will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  But if any show has the street cred to deliver these messages, it is Borgen.  The show also tells us once again that Denmark is not quite the left-wing country you might think, because none of the reactionary content put on the screen comes across as unnaturally Danish.

Do you need to have seen seasons one thru three for season four to make sense?  It seems to me yes, but who knows maybe you can just start this one from scratch?

Stop drinking now!

Perhaps you drink responsibly, but you create contagion effects for others:

How malleable is alcohol consumption? Specifically, how much is alcohol consumption driven by the current environment versus individual characteristics? To answer this question, we analyze changes in alcohol purchases when consumers move from one state to another in the United States. We find that if a household moves to a state with a higher (lower) average alcohol purchases than the origin state, the household is likely to increase (decrease) its alcohol purchases right after the move. The current environment explains about two-thirds of the differences in alcohol purchases. The adjustment takes place both on the extensive and intensive margins.

That is from a new research paper by Marit Hinnosaar and Elaine M. Liu.   To be clear, I don’t think we should ban alcohol, I simply think each and every person should stop drinking it, voluntarily.  Now.

Will MacAskill remarked to me recently (in a not yet released CWT) that Effective Altruists tend to be social liberals.  But should they be?  Why should they not jump on this bandwagon?  It is in fact a wagon you jump on!

Peer review facts of the day

It’s estimated that, between them, researchers around the world spent a total of 100 million hours on reviewing papers in just 2020 alone. Around 10 percent of economics researchers spend at least 25 working days a year reviewing them…

Today, a scientist who submits a study to Nature or PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, can expect to be published nine months later, on average. In the top economics journals, the process takes even longer – a staggering 34 months, or almost three years. And the length has been crawling upward each year.

That is from Saloni Dattani, at Works in Progress (full issue here, recommended), and she also offers some suggestions for reform.

The Synchron brain-computer interface is implanted in a patient

So much talk about Monkey Pong, but perhaps the real action is elsewhere:

On July 6 a doctor at the Mount Sinai West medical center in New York threaded a 1.5-inch-long implant made up of wires and electrodes into a blood vessel in the brain of a patient with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The hope is that the patient, who’s lost the ability to move and speak, will be able to surf the web and communicate via email and text simply by thinking—the device will translate his thoughts into commands sent to a computer.

Synchron, the startup behind the technology, has already implanted its devices in four patients in Australia, who haven’t experienced side effects and have been able to carry out such tasks as sending WhatsApp messages and making online purchases.

Here is the yummy-yum part:

A doctor makes an incision in the patient’s neck and feeds the stentrode via a catheter through the jugular vein into a blood vessel nestled within the motor cortex. As the catheter is removed, the stentrode—a cylindrical, hollow wire mesh—opens up and begins to fuse with the outer edges of the vessel. According to Majidi, the process is very similar to implanting a coronary stent and takes just a few minutes.

A second procedure then connects the stentrode via a wire to a computing device implanted in the patient’s chest. To do this, the surgeon must create a tunnel for the wire and a pocket for the device underneath the patient’s skin, much like what’s done to accommodate a pacemaker. The stentrode reads the signals when neurons fire in the brain, and the computing device amplifies those signals and sends them out to a computer or smartphone via Bluetooth.

Here is the full Bloomberg story by Ashlee Vance.

Our regulatory state is failing us, NIH edition

…the lawmakers pressed NIH leadership for answers about the mysterious disappearance of the Scientific Management Review Board, a committee that Congress empaneled in 2006 to ensure the agency was operating efficiently…

“There wasn’t any notification that we weren’t going to meet again — it was just that the meetings stopped getting called,” Nancy Andrews, a onetime board member and the former dean of the Duke University School of Medicine, told STAT in May.

She added: “I had the sense that we were asking questions in areas that they didn’t really want to get into, and I suppose Francis [Collins] in particular didn’t really want us working on.”

Here is the full StatNews piece.