Sunday, December 30, 2018

Interesting Things 12/30/2018

1. The Agony of Fortnite Addiction

I like Dreher a lot, but in my opinion, he is seriously off-base here. This article seems like it could have been written in the 1980's when home video games were some kind of new thing, but it is simply absurd to promote this kind of fearmongering in this day and age. Among other absurdities, he laments that children are lonely and won't have anyone to play with in their neighborhoods since everyone playing video games. Seriously, what decade does he think it is? People can play video games too much, just like they can read too much, play sports too much, or anything else. Dreher can raise his children whatever way he sees fit, but I am pretty confident that his ban on Fortnite is going to be viewed by his son the same way many of my peers now view their parent's ban on Harry Potter back in the day; as stupid and foolish.

To his credit, he posts a readers response that pushes back a little on some of his points.

2.  What to Tell Our Kids About the State of the World

An article with great promise that quickly goes downhill. I am all for people teaching their children to be data literate, but due to epistemological differences with the author and the annoying Pinker crowd that means completely different things between us. Trump and other populist surges? The dying gasp of backward people who haven't opened their eyes to Science(TM). Therefore, we must teach our children "to think critically". Which, in absurd Pinker land, means "the ability to bypass one’s intuitions, emotions, biases and faith, and the ability to rigorously appraise evidence. It involves applying a good deal of scientific skepticism, i.e. applying the scientific method." Which is all fine and dandy if it wasn't a bunch of hogwash.

In the end, there are only two kinds of knowledge; historical and praxeological. Praxeological knowledge is that which is derived from the logical necessity by virtue of man being an acting being. It is apodictic, or beyond dispute by the very structure of reality. All other knowledge is historical knowledge, or in other words experiential knowledge. The scientific method is merely one imperfect method of trying to analyze experience in a rigorous manner that does not work for every circumstance. An experiment is merely one singular experience in history which is set up in such a way as to be useful for predicting and setting a future course of action based on this past experience. It is not apodictic, hence why the consensus of scientific knowledge is always changing.

We cannot leave out that this mindset, which claims to be based on empiricism, is only empirical in a selective manner in that it completely rejects self-experience, as if a religious experience, something recorded as occurring throughout human history until the present day, is a less valid observation than a an atom smashed in a collider. It is the interpretation of the experience that is the tricky part, whether in a lab or when meditating. If you have not had such experiences, it may be that you are not open to them, no doubt influenced by the Pinker's of the world and their sterile doctrine of Science(TM).

In the Christmas spirit, Francis Church eloquently expressed what the Pinkers of the world miss, in the most reprinted editorial in the English language "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus":

"VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

3. Former McKinsey Exec Imprisoned by Saudis

A rather disgusting tale of greed and cowardice. McKinsey acquired a Saudi man's company and employed him to run it as a subsidiary. Well, he made the thugs who run the country mad and he hasn't been seen or heard from in over a year. In a classic move, McKinsey dropped Hani Khoja from the payroll and has kept up doing its merry business with the Saudi government. Don't count on them for help when the going gets tough. Truly revolting.

4. American Universities’ China Problem

Touching on something similar to what I brought up last week, the author discusses how the influx of Chinese students into American universities along with their billions of dollars of tuition, not to mention working directly with the Chinese government on projects all for the sake of that glorious cold hard cash, is creating incentives for self-censorship. This is not the least bit surprising and is the kind of challenge that the US is going to deal with as other state's gain more and more economic power. I think in the end it is going to come down to culture. Either we tolerate such cravenness, or we don't and make it clear that we don't by socially sanctioning the people and institutions that do. This will also likely become and issue with international corporations, especially tech ones.

 5. Syria is a Distraction from Great Power Competition

Duh. It's China, stupid. "A war for the Scheldt? A war for a chamber pot!"

6. Las Gigantes Tecnológicas Tienen Grandes Problemas
My article on tech regulation was translated into Spanish and republished by the Hispanic Mises Institute.

Song/Video of the Week: New Year's Day by Taylor Swift

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Interesting Things 12/22/18

1. Report: Kenya Risks Losing Port of Mombasa to China

There is worry that Kenya will have to hand over the port of Mombasa to Chinese authorities due to an inability to pay off large Chinese loans that included clauses in which Kenya waived sovereign immunity on the port to use it as collateral. Nothing has happened yet, but China already took over a port in Sri Lanka under similar circumstances. Just another example of China using its newfound economic might in order to expand its geopolitical power. Makes you wonder what kind of yahoos are running these places that they are willing to effectively auction off their sovereignty over a railroad.

2. Japan Approves Defense Plan Including 2 Aircraft Carriers

Japan will be modifying its two helicopter carriers to be able to launch certain types of fighters. These aren't going to be anything like a regular carrier in terms of power projection capability, but still is probably a step in the right direction. There is, of course, some mumbling about this not fitting under the unfamous article 9 of the Japanese constitution (foisted on them by the US) that forbids armed forces, but that is seriously such a joke by this point that it verges on Orwellian doublespeak to say otherwise. Still, quite an issue in Japan. Anyway, I view this as a good thing in terms of long-term checking of China.

3. Desmond & The Killer

Rod Dreher, among others, has been covering an especially disturbing story recently. There is apparently an 11-year-old little boy named Desmond who is a drag-queen star, because what else do you expect these days. Well, someone realized that this kids mother has been taking him to gay clubs where he has been dancing on stage and having people throw money at him. In Dreher's words "sexualizing an 11-year-old, and having him prance around stage performing a sexually suggestive dance in a bar, for grown men to throw money at him, as if he were a stripper — well, look, if that’s not pedophilic grooming, what the hell is?" Well, as if that isn't bad enough, Dreher found that this little kid has been on a YouTube channel run by some freak who served 17 years in prison for killing someone and chopping him up. The guy has a banner on his wall with the name of a date-rape drug. This whole situation is highly disturbing and aside from the usual crowd, no one seems to give a damn, no doubt because we live in an age of individual hedonism where one of the worst things you can do is criticize someone just "living their best life" or whatever abject nonsense. Hopefully, Desmond's parent's come to their senses, or more likely, he is rescued. A very upsetting, but also telling story of the times.

4. The Will to Fight and the Fate of Nations

A very interesting essay on the will to fight and its role in military conflict. The article is specifically looking at how the concept isn't adequately treated in US military doctrine, which is worth considering. However, it is just an interesting concept in general. ISIS was able to route whole divisions of Iraqi troops outfitted with modern US equipment because the Iraqi's just didn't have the will to fight. There is a similar situation in Afghanistan, where there are huge problems with desertion. If a population has a will to fight, then its going to be a long drawn out mess. Hence, we have been fighting the Taliban for 17 years with defeat looking more and more likely by the day. Or think of our experience in Vietnam. This is especially important when thinking of something like a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. A recent survey found that 68 percent of the population is willing to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion that didn't stem from a Taiwanese declaration of independence. Obviously then, China has a large incentive to try and break the Taiwanese will to fight before they hit the beaches, or better yet to so fully destroy their will to fight that an invasion is rendered unnecessary.

5. The Unlikely New Generation of Unibomber Acolytes

This is a very long and interesting piece that people should read. There are apparently a bunch of anti-social (meaning they are opposed to the social order itself) whackos running around who are very intelligent and as a result have turned into nihilists who want to destroy society, usually with some kind of nutzo environmental bent. It is a very long piece but has a lot of useful insights into these people who are quite frankly the enemies of humanity. Notice how a lot of them seem to be exceptionally intellegent.

6. Donald Trump is a Man of Peace--His Enemies are a War Machine

Dan McCarthy lays into all the usual nutjobs who have been running US foreign policy for decades and have continued to just royally screw everything up and waste lives and money. In McCarthy's words: "This elite views other people’s lives in terms of problems, for which the elite’s calling is to provide knowledgeable solutions. But knowledge only comes from the top, and it can never be absorbed by those further down or on the outside: in theory, the technocratic ideology may be egalitarian, but the failure of egalitarianism is what serves to keep the technocrats in existence as a class. They are needed. They will save you from eating the wrong food or smoking the wrong plants (tobacco bad, marijuana good, or vice versa), or having the wrong attitudes toward people of different colors or habits from yourself. Just as society must become ever more regulated at home – if not always regulated by government, then regulated by enlightened authority in the private sphere, even the enlightened Twitter mob – so the world must benefit from our enlightened regulation as well."

7. PewDiePie’s Battle for the Soul of the Internet

I must say, I don't really like PewDiePie, but I subscribed to him anyway in this battle. For me the PDP vs T Series subscriber battle is reflective of a much larger change. A shift in the cultural center of gravity away from the West to the East. Much like how the economic center of gravity is moving and is projected to continue to move east

This is worrisome for several reasons. On the economic front, I can't help but fear a global banking regime run by China the way it is dominanted by the US now. I don't like the US trying to run the world, but China doing it is a lot worse of a nightmare for everyone involved.

That has not happened yet, and may never happen, and if it starts to happen I suspect there will be a great deal of resistance. However, it is already happening with our culture. There are a lot more people in China, and therefore a much larger market for movies, which means Hollywood is incentivized to import Chinese movie standards in hopes that their movies being let into the country. The result is bland and sterile movies that meet Chinese censorship requirements. A nightmare.

Will giant internet companies be able to resist the same pull? What deals will Google cut to have more access to the Chinese market? The chinese government has already succeeded in getting an American employee fired over a Twitter mistake involving Tibet. 

If you think the problems in this article are bad, just wait until China gets more leverage. A terrifying thought, which is why, frankly, Western-centric (construed broadly to include a lot of places like India and Japan etc.) alternatives are needed that make it very clear that they won't even think about dancing with China.

Song/Video of the Week: Good King Wencelas by The Irish Rovers

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Interesting Things 12/15/2018

1. Taiwan Can Win a War With China

No doubt a very provocatively titled piece, the author goes into many of the fascinating details about the specifics that PRC invasion of Taiwan would entail. For instance, did you know that weather conditions in the strait limit the invasion window to only two months a year? I didn't. Just like I didn't know there are only thirteen suitable landing zones and that due to intelligence penetration and also just the enormous logistical undertaking preparing the invasion would be that everyone would know what was coming 30 to 45 days beforehand, giving Taiwan plenty of time to batten down the hatches and call up their two million reserves. All in all, this is fascinating and a much deeper dive into the "small" details that often get overlooked in things like this.

2. How Asia Fell Out of Love With China's Belt and Road Initiative

An interesting look at problems China is having with its large infrastructure initiative, one of the largest being that everyone else is catching on that it entails becoming a debt slave to China via huge loans. Some interesting details and the authors try to give the impression that electoral results in several places are the result of rising anti-China sentiment. I'm not familiar enough with the details to know how true that is, but it certainly seems to be plausible that it is a factor to some degree. Just another potential roadblock China will have to deal with as it attempts to "rise".

3. China and Russia: A Strategic Alliance in the Making

Graham Allison makes the case that China and Russia are becoming fast friends, as Putin and Xi bro it up over how the mean old US wants to undermine both of their regimes. Very interesting read that raises a bunch of good points. This take is controversial, as China and Russia are usually considered to be natural enemies, just based on a bunch of geopolitical factors, but I think it is a good demonstration of how far the US has bungled things in Europe. My take is to hand Europe off to the Europeans and say Ukraine, Georgia and everything else is your problem and then try and butter Putin up and break up the blooming bro-mance with Xi. Its absurd to consider Russia a threat in any meaningful way. As John Mearsheimer is fond of pointing out, Russia's economy is a giant gas station. Their population is shrinking. If there is a potential external threat to the US way of life it comes from China, specifically their growing economic power and the influence that comes with it. What exactly should be done about that is another question, but driving Russia into the arms of China is definitely exactly what should not be done.

4. US Internet Speeds Rose 40 Percent This Year

Contrary to the doomsday freak out about the end of net-neutrality, US broadband speeds are up 40 percent this year. 

5. Lund Professor Freed Student From Islamic State Warzone

This happened a few years ago, but is apparently just making the news now. A PhD student in Sweden went back to his family in Iraq when ISIS was invading and ended up telling his advisor that he might not be finishing his thesis, what with the beheading crazies bearing down on him and all. In what surely must be a case of record higher education efficiency, the school quickly arranged a team of mercenaries to swoop into town and whisk him and his wife and two children to safety. The moral of the story is that you should probably be writing right now and even being attacked by psycho-terrorists is not an excuse for not having your paper in on time.

6. Medieval Digital Resources

The Medieval Academy of America runs an online list of free to access medieval resources. So if you were looking for a place to access ancient Welsh law texts or a place to help you learn Old English be sure to check them out.

7. Big Government Isn't The Way to Beat Big Tech

I was recently in TAC arguing that even if concerns about the amount of power Big Tech is accumulating are valid, regulations will just help them stay more entrenched. We know from regulatory capture etc. that big firms have lots of influence over regs and they write them to entrench themselves and squash competition. In the end, Big Tech is big because people use their products and services. Consumers made them powerful and can take away that power if they choose. If the industry get mired in a bureacratic regulatory swamp Big Tech will be less concerned with pleasing us consumers and more concerned with lobbying in DC. (Gee, I wonder why Amazon is locating HQ1.5 in DC? Such a mystery.)

Song/Video of the Week: The Lament of Eustace Scrubb

A catchy tune with meaningful lyrics referencing Eustace Scrubb from CS Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Enjoy.