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Philip Tetlock has been arguing for awhile that experts are horrible at prediction, but that his superforecasters do much better. If that's the case how did they do with respect to the fall of Afghanistan? As far as I can tell they didn't make any predictions on how long the Afghanistan government would last. Or they did make predictions and they w…
 
This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race by: Nicole Perlroth Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by: Mark Manson Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It by: Chris Voss Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore by: Michele Wucker Golden Sonby: Pierce Brown Red …
 
When people consider the harms which might be caused by technology, they often point to the "precautionary principle" as a possible way to mitigate those harms. This principle seems straight forward but once you actually try to apply it the difficulties become obvious. In particular how do you ensure that you're not delaying the introduction of ben…
 
My hot take on the situation in Afghanistan. Highlights: -Why couldn't we have maintained a presence at Bagram, even if we pulled out everywhere else (think Guantanamo and Cuba). -Biden had more flexibility than he claimed. -It feels like this might lead to a loss of confidence similar to what we experienced after Vietnam -The effect on our allies …
 
Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race by: Shanna H. Swan End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by: Katie Mack Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America by: Charles Murray Winning: The Unforgiving Race to Greatness by…
 
I discussed Fermi's Paradox in my last newsletter. In this I discuss the hint it provides that technology may be inevitably linked to extinction. That the reason the universe is not teeming with aliens is that the technology to get to that point presents insuperable risks which cannot be overcome. As I said this is a hint, but I think it's a hint w…
 
Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters by: Steven E. Koonin Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science by: Peter Godfrey-Smith The Start 1904-30 by: William L. Shirer The Storm on Our Shores: One Island, Two Soldiers, and the Forgotten Battle of World War II by: Obmascik, Mark Catherine t…
 
The massive attention being paid to UFOs in the form of the Pentagon/Naval videos has rekindled interest in the subject and by extension interest in Fermi's Paradox. I think people's interest in these subjects is entirely too trivial. Treating it as a curiosity rather than one of the most important indications of what the future has in store for hu…
 
In a continuation of the last episode I examine my favorite explanation for the inflection point in 1971: that this is when energy decoupled from economic growth. Economic output which has no connection to energy usage is a new and strange beast, much easier to manipulate in ways that produce inequality and inflation and all the other ills which ha…
 
The website wtfhappenedin1971.com presents a series of charts which show that there was inflection in rates of everything from inequality to obesity in 1971. In every case with things getting worse. Why would that be? In this episode I examine at 8 explanations (possibly more depending on how you count). Full warning, my favorite explanation is not…
 
My capsule reviews for the month: Persepolis Rising by: James S. E. Corey Project Hail Mary by: Andy Weir The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century by: Stein Ringen The Ethics of Authenticity by: Charles Taylor Legal Systems Very Different From Ours by: David D. Friedman Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by: Alfred Lansing The Gra…
 
I've been talking about the knobs of society in my newsletters. Well one of the knobs we appear to have lost all fear of is the spending knob and we've decided we can pretty much turn it as high as we want without consequence. And yet everyone regardless of their economic ideology realizes that we can't turn it up forever. And the key problem is th…
 
I recently encountered the term Wizards and Prophets as a way of describing those who were, respectively, optimistic about technology or pessimistic about it. I think this is a good way of thinking about things, and as the context I encountered these terms ended up being a full-throated defense of wizardry, I thought it might be worthwhile to offer…
 
Making any predictions about China is difficult, but that doesn't mean it's not important. It may in fact be one of the most important things we can do if we want to have some idea of what the future holds. And while predictions are difficult, it does seem like a worthwhile endeavor to look at potential inflection points. Points where we can defini…
 
“Engineering the Apocalypse” Podcast Episode by Sam Harris and Rob Reid This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World by: Yancey Strickler The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life by: Boyd Varty Babylon’s Ashes by: James S. E. Corey Peter the Great: His Life and World by: Robert K. Massie Exhalation: Stories by: Ted Chiang What’s Wrong Wi…
 
In my last newsletter I described the temple of technology and progress with a countless knobs that could be turned. Some of the knobs obviously inspire caution, but some seem like an unalloyed good. Like the knob for safety. Accordingly that's what we've done we've turned the knob of safety all the way to 11, but as with all progress the effects h…
 
Lately there have been a lot of attempts to relitigate history. It is felt that taking history which has been ignored and giving it new emphasis will both increase the accuracy of that history and also help mitigate the negative effects of historical events. I show that this is generally not the case and that what we choose to emphasis is more base…
 
There were various approaches to fighting COVID, and in retrospect we ended up with the worst of all. It's understandable that we didn't follow China in taking the authoritarian approach. And it's also understandable that we weren't going to be as lackadaisical as we were in 1918. But what kept us from taking the technolibertarian approach of human…
 
Secular Cycles by: Peter Turchin and Sergey A. Nefedov Where Is My Flying Car? A Memoir of Future Past by: J. Storrs Hall A Short Stay in Hell by: Steven L. Peck Cibola Burns by: James S. A. Corey Nemesis Games by: James S. A. Corey Classical Philosophy: A history of philosophy without any gaps, Volume 1 by: Peter Adamson Playing at the World: A Hi…
 
I present a metaphor for technology and progress as an ancient temple with thousands of knobs. Technology allows us to turn the knobs, but we're never quite sure what they do, and we generally decide to turn the knobs as far as we can without this understanding. In the metaphor they control the weather, but in reality they control the weather of ci…
 
The recent Netflix series "Murder Among the Mormons" bills itself as a true crime drama, but really it's a multi-faceted philosophical inquiry into questions of epistemology. Most notably through the central role fraud and forgery plays in the story, but the inquiry goes beyond that into issues of divine revelation, the reconstruction of history an…
 
Scott Alexander recently posted a study showing European municipalities which had the Napoleonic Code imposed upon them did better economically than nearby municipalities which didn't. He uses this to support a contention that radical reform is better than traditional institutions at delivering positive outcomes. My contention is not that we should…
 
The WEIRDest People In the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by: Joseph Henrich Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World’s Greatest Scientific Expedition by: Stephen R. Bown The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism by: Thomas Frank Billy Miske: The St. Paul Thunderbolt by: Cla…
 
The problem of political unity weighs heavily on people's minds. But as with most problems technocrats imagine that if they just implement the right policy that unity will follow. In reality people only unify around myths, and historically myths have been assembled into religions. Both things that technocrats are generally opposed to. But can they …
 
Technocracies have been much in the zeitgeist recently, at least in the corners of the internet I frequent. And there appears to be significant disagreement as to how effective they are. While I understand the idea behind them and the way in which they're supposed to work, I'm not sure they actually work in the way people expect. Or perhaps more im…
 
Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Courts by: Ilya Shapiro The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by: Joseph Henrich Rhythm of War (Book Four of The Stormlight Archive) by: Brandon Sanderson The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 19…
 
Two episodes ago I covered the disasters which can occur when we try to exercise too much control over natural systems. In the last episode I talked about how systems can be too controlling, and how it's better that a system be legible than that it attempt perfection. In this episode, much like peanut butter and chocolate, I combine these two great…
 
In a recent newsletter, Matthew Yglesias suggested three steps for creating effective policies: It’s easy for everyone, whether they agree with you or disagree with you, to understand what it is you say you are doing. It’s easy for everyone to see whether or not you are, in fact, doing what you said you would do. It’s easy for you and your team to …
 
This is the second half of my book reviews for books I finished in December. It contains reviews for: Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the 116 Days that Changed the World by: Chris Wallace Enemy At the Gates by: William Craig Necroscope by: Brian Lumley Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by: John McPhee Bang For Your Buck by: Stefan Gasi…
 
This one was long enough, and book reviews sit poorly with podcasts in any event, that I decided to split it in two. This one has my monthly short personal update along with reviews for: Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by: James C. Scott Status Anxiety by: Alain de Botton…
 
Back at the beginning of 2017 I made some long term predictions, at the beginning of 2020 I made some short term predictions and the time has come to see how I'm doing on the long-term ones and how I did on the short term ones. Along with that is a reminder of my philosophy of predictions, lots of additional predictions for 2021, and then finally I…
 
The number of teenage girls identifying as transgender has skyrocketed, by as much as 4,400% in the last decade by some accounts. What explains this staggeringly rapid and precipitous increase? Abigail Shrier thinks that these girls are falling pray to a peer contagion. A combination of the typical confusion and discomfort associated with puberty c…
 
Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years by: Vaclav Smil The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley By: Malcolm X (Author), Alex Haley (Author), Laurence Fishburne (Narrator) Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets By: Sudhir Venkatesh Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters B…
 
In politics there's always a choice between extremism and moderation. In this episode I discuss all the reasons for making moderation the default, and under what circumstances it might be appropriate abandon it and pursue extremism instead. My general conclusion is that there aren't many, but that it's a very difficult problem where clear lines are…
 
Most people understand that voting is a way of making decisions via consensus, what people have forgotten is that voting is also a proxy for power. A much better proxy than those which have existed historically, and positively fantastic when compared to directly matching power via bloodshed and violence. If people have decided (as Trump supporters)…
 
Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies by: Geoffrey West From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia by: Pankaj Mishra Just like You by: Nick Hornby Seven Types of Atheism by: John N. Gray Why Not Parliamentarism? by: Tia…
 
I think many people expect too much out of the election. Trump supporters expect that if he manages to get reelected that he will do all the things he's been promising since 2016, while Biden supporters expect that their long nightmare of political dysfunction will finally be over. But political dysfunction has been around for a lot longer than Tru…
 
Any rational assessment of the effect of your vote on the presidential election is bound to conclude that there is no effect if you're not in a swing state and that even if you are in a swing state the effect is still infinitesimal. But what other option do you have? Well that's what this episode is designed to reveal. I would argue that there's a …
 
In this episode we discuss China, and the various opinions about what they're up to, and what we should do in response to whatever that is. There are numerous opinions and while I don't try to cover them all, I cover a lot of them, and it's safe to say opinions are all over the place. But beyond all of the opinions of others I provide my own unique…
 
Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by: Christopher Ryan The End of History and the Last Man by: Francis Fukuyama Sidhartha by: Herman Hesse The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Sławomir Rawicz Alien Oceans: The Search for Life in the Depths of Space by: Kevin Peter Hand Kansas City Noir by: Various Innsmouth: (The Weird of H…
 
In the book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama spends quite a bit of time talking about the idea of legitimacy, in particular how the End of History represents a time when only liberal democracy has any reserves of legitimacy. But two questions occur, first where does a nation go if liberal democracy starts failing? And second do…
 
Coming up with solutions is difficult. I've read many books that present an excellent diagnosis of the problem, but then finish things off by presenting utterly ridiculous solutions. I take one of these books Civilized to Death by Christopher Ryan and go into detail on why the solutions he proposed are so inadequate and then go into some detail as …
 
With the stock market prices seemingly bearing little relationship to the actual economy, investment strategies are on the mind of many. Here I briefly describe my own investment strategy which unfortunately has very little to say about the current craziness, but hopefully contains some wisdom about longer term investing. In particular the idea tha…
 
Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk by: Justin Tosi, Brandon Warmke The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by: Iain McGilchrist The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust by: John Coates Peace Talks (The Dresden Files, #16) by: Jim Butcher Euripide…
 
We're told that in order to combat fake news, conspiracy theories, and misinformation of all kinds that we need to do a better job of examining the evidence, of looking at the data, but what if this is entirely backwards? What if we're too focused on the data, on the little bits of evidence that make up our world view, and that the problem is we're…
 
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