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20130331A History Written in Genes

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It is strange sometimes how something that seems to be impossible to know suddenly becomes obvious and relatively easily available for learning. The new technology that opened human genome for sequencing and analysis over last 50 years is one of such examples and this book quite well describes this knew knowledge.

There is a precious little technical information in this book; just enough to inform us that mail and female part of humanity could be traced separately via exclusively female mitochondrial DNA and exclusively mail Y-chromosome.

Steve Olson makes somewhat convincing case that we all genetically came from one source – mutated humanoids in Africa and much less convincing case that we are all the same; meaning that DNA variation between human races is insignificant. He spends lots of effort trying to be as much politically correct as possibly and convince a reader that whatever is the difference – color of skin or anything else is either insignificant or result of different cultural development.

Sometimes it sounds absolutely ridiculous when he is stating that even if easily measurable parameters such as average size or the same color of skin are clearly different, more complex features such is intellect are the same on average across all human races and populations.

What I do not understand is why does it matter? Why do we need to substitute old Nazi type racism that held that some groups are inferior and therefore should be violently suppressed by the state, with the new liberal/progressive racism that holds that all groups are the same and therefore some groups should be violently promoted by the state? Either form of racism does not make any sense whatsoever. If a group is inferior it will always loose in fair competition; if all groups are the same everybody eventually will get equal share of everything. In both cases no violent interference of state is necessary.

I also cannot understand the logic of averages as applied to individuals. Even if we have a group of people who are on average have low IQ, it does not mean that one individual in this group could not be the greatest genius who ever lived. So if we deprive these low IQ group individuals of equal opportunity, we deprive ourselves of potential huge benefit that the genius’ effort could bring to all of us. By the same pattern promoting somebody only because this person belongs to high IQ group would hurt us if it results in incompetent person in highly position.

In short I believe that we just need to take care to provide opportunity in as much blind way as possible. For example I would make all decisions about admission to high value educational institutions in such way that decision makers would have no clue what race, background, beauty, or anything else unrelated to ability to succeed in obtaining education this individual has. It is the only way to get the best outcome for everybody. I also see absolutely no problem if one group of people commonly defined as race X is highly overrepresented in sport and entertainment, while another commonly defined as race Y if highly overrepresented in writing and sciences. I do not get why would anybody care as soon as we get the best possible musicians, writes, and everybody else.

One nice thing however is clear that with current intermixing and communication of people from all background it just a few dozen years we would be hard pressed to find anybody who would be find it conceivable to claim purity of race and all weird staff will just fade away.

20130331 God and Gold + Bourgeois Dignity = Power and Prosperity

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I think this is a very profound book about contemporary history and, quite possibly, with implication for future development. It talks about sources and meaning of maritime powers that were represented first by Dutch, then by British, and currently by American power. It aims to answer 6 questions:

1. Why Anglo-Saxon powers are always winning in clash of civilization against other powers either continental European powers of France / Germany / Russia or ancient states that fallen behind in XVII – XVIII centuries like India and China?
2. What moves people who passionately hate Anglo-Saxon civilization and all that it represents?
3. How relatively small Anglo-Saxon powers were able to put together economic and military resources that enabled them to defeat all enemies for hundreds of years
4. How the great philosophical idea of invisible hand become deep seated foundational notion of Anglo-Saxon culture leading to tolerance in all areas of life – economics, religion, entertainment, and all other areas of human activity that resulted in diversity of ideas and, consequently, continuous growth in economic and military power.
5. Why Anglo-Saxon optimism about future is nearly always was wrong.
6. What three centuries of Anglo-Saxon success means for world history.

Walter Russell Mead uses some 400 pages to answer to all these questions in details. I think he gives pretty good answers, but I’d like to add one thing that seems to be missing. In my opinion a lot of this is explained by different relationship between individuals at the top layers of society and individuals at the bottom.

To put it mildly the individuals at the bottom of Dutch-Anglo-Saxon culture always had a lot more appreciation of their own value then individuals in other cultures. Whether it is coming from religious specifics of Protestantism or from simple fact that sailor is always more skilled and therefore more valuable then soldier, or from tradition of clearly identified private property of individuals versus everything belonging to the king, but result is the same – individual in maritime culture has much more space for incentive, wealth creation, and wealth acquisition then in other cultures.

This is transferred into technological and overall material advantage, which in every long lasting military encounter overcomes ability of other cultures easily sacrifice regular individuals to whatever objective leaders deem worth of persecuting.

Actually the issue of dignity of self sufficient and productive individual as driver of Western prosperity is thoroughly explored by Deirdre McCloskey in her book “Bourgeois dignity”. She adds a human dimension sorely missing in typical analysis not only history, but also current politics either internal or external. Her meticulous review of all other conceivable causes of Western prosperity seems to leave very little space for these alternatives.

I actually believe that all of these causes interplayed in the creation of Western civilization that provided for unprecedented level of prosperity and hope that currently ongoing destruction of this civilization form inside is just a temporary setback which will be stopped and reversed as soon as negative impact of this destruction on their lives and well being will become obvious for significant enough numbers of individuals in Western world.

20130323 Herders vs. Growers / Bureaucrats vs. Productive

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By some strange coincidence I was watching an epic documentary about American West just a few weeks after reading an epic book about Genghis Khan and Mongolian conquests. It caused me to compare two historical events that occurred with some 600 years difference in time and brought me to conclusion that these two events had pretty much the same meaning while quite opposite outcome.

These two events were Mongol conquest of Asia and Europe and European conquest of American West. In both cases two civilizations founded on two different ways of resource acquisition encountered each other, clashed in multiple wars over the long period of time, which ended in absolute victory for one civilization, and defeat for another. However long term consequences where absolutely different.

In both cases Herders (Mongols and American Indians) fought agricultural civilizations with different level of manufacturing abilities (Chinese, Central Asians, Russians, and Americans). In one case herders (Mongols) won the clash hands down, but either accepted cultures of conquered agrarians (China and India) or just limited themselves to taking tribute for a few centuries until losers where able develop enough military power to repulse attacks after stopping paying tribute (Russia and other European nations). In another case herders (American Indians) lost every battle they fought save one against agrarians/manufacturers (Americans) and where pretty much obliterated as independent entities from the face of the Earth.

The reason for such different outcomes came from what they were fighting for. The herders where fighting either to obtain goods and services from agrarian/manufacturers that they could not produce themselves or just to maintain control over natural resources that they where not able to use intensively. The agrarians/manufacturers on other hand were fighting for control over natural resources either in the form of land or in the form of gold which they could use much more intensively then herders maintaining more people, building cities and industries

For herders the winning meant to make agrarian/manufactures to provide their goods and services for free which could be done only if they remained alive and productive. For the agrarian/manufacturers the winning meant to get access to natural resources and eliminate herders as completely as possible because herders represented nothing more then obstacle to their prosperity. Looking at these clashes from such point of view makes it obvious that any victory of herders was temporary, while any victory for agrarian/manufacturers was not just final, but often genocidal for herders.

Somehow this history resonates with the biggest clash of our time between politicians and bureaucracy on the one side and productive individuals of society on the other side. Doesn’t matter how many victories politicians and bureaucrats are able to obtain, their every victory diminishes productive ability of society and consequently decreases quality of life for everybody creating foundation for backlash. On other hand the victory for productive part of society could be final with restructuring of society in such way that bureaucrats and politicians have no more ability to rob productive members of society then American Indians maintain tribal lifestyle based on hunting buffalo on American plains.

Let’s just hope that bloody and eventually futile victories of politicians and bureaucrats that they achieved in XX century in such places like Nazi Germany and Soviet Union will be avoided in XXI century, while eventual defeat of politicians and bureaucracy will be bloodless with peaceful weaning of these people off their habitual behavior of robbing and looting productive people via dual mechanism of taxation / regulation.

Hopefully equal rights for natural resources with ability to sell them to highest (presumably more productive) bidder would provide them enough incentive to accept loss of ability to loot and, who knows, maybe achieve higher level of consumption and satisfaction then they were able to achieve via looting

20130317 Entitlements and Education as Investment

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I somewhat sick and tired to hear about Social Security and Medicare that they are direct transfer programs of moving resources from young people to the old. Obviously it is truth, but it nearly always mentioned without any reference to the huge expense that old incurred over time of their productive lives to provide resources for young people to survive until adulthood and obtain education. It seems to be clear that without these resources young people would not become productive and would not be able generate new resources necessary for old people to enjoy their Social Security and Medicare.

Given that, unfortunately while resources provided to meet physiological need of young generation where more then adequate – they are bigger, stronger, and often fatter then their parents, resources provided for their education where wasted on the scale unimaginable by previous generations – just look at inability of significant percentage of youth to find productive employment or start their own businesses.

I submit that the reason of this failure comes from one and one source only – the big part of investment was transferred from older generation to young generation via hierarchical organization of politicians and bureaucrats also known as government. As always with no exception to the rule, bureaucrats and politicians used these resources for their own gratification with education of youth or lack thereof being insignificant byproduct of bureaucratic activities.

The solution from the point of few of Rights Libertarian (RL) would be to substitute hierarchy of politicians and bureaucrats with direct investment of older people into younger people the same way as people invest in any company, organization, or entity which has at least some chance to generate more resources then were consumed.

Contemporary technology allows creating a market for trade between young people or their parents (custodians) and completely unrelated people with current resources supplied in exchange for obligation to pay back a share of specific individual’s income in the future. It would obviously create competition for resources between young people who would try to demonstrate that they are a better investment then other guy. This would add to educational process the part, which is most missing – deep interest of youth to obtain marketable skills whatever they are. It would also create competition among resource providers for opportunity to invest in the most promising young people and therefore greatly improve resource allocation process. By the way profitability would mean that some people would try to invest in great geniuses, but other would invest in bad cases where marginal improvement at decent scale could bring significant profits.

If such market created, all supplemental market activities like insurance, educational programs, materials, and services will be generated in necessary amount and of much higher quality then bureaucrats and politicians can do. It would open a great opportunity for all bureaucrats and politicians who actually capable to teach effectively to earn much higher return on their talents then what they get from being part (usually lower) of bureaucratic educational structure.

20130616 Fountainhead and Regular Heads

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Last weekend I watched a very old movie from 1949 – The Fountainhead after Ayn Rand’s novel with the same name. It was made in the best traditions of propaganda movies of the first half of XX century – a simple idea expressed very directly with no recognition of realities of life.

For those who did not read the book and/or did not see the movie, the plot is going like this – highly talented architect Howard Roark refuses to compromise his talent by doing what other people want him to do and agrees to apply his incredible talents only on condition that his projects will be accepted and paid for as is, with no modifications to his vision.

Initially he is deprived of opportunities to apply his vision so he is working as manual laborer, but his superior and heroic personality overcomes all resistance and he builds all he wants to build the way he wants to do it until his friend convinces him to design a project for public housing. He does it without compensation, but on condition that integrity of design will not be violated. As it is to be expected, evil forces intentionally distort design and build new buildings in the way unacceptable for genius. In retaliation the genius blows buildings up (literally) and makes the great speech during the trial about individual’s right and even duty to live selfishly in his/her own interest and not give a damn about other people expectations, providing he is not interfering with their selfish interests.

Somehow jury behaves strangely different from surrounding masses of people who demand his blood, and acquits him. The happy end comes in the form of opportunity to build the biggest and most visionary building in the world with lesser people providing financing and conveniently removing themselves from the scene. Or, and for a cherry on the top of the cake he gets a beautiful and rich women who is in love with him from the moment she saw him as laborer on construction site.

Actually I am pretty much agree with Libertarian ideology and with Ayn Rand on main parts of her philosophy. I just see no more reason in trying to convince people to be selfish then in trying to convince them to be selfless. They will do whatever they believe is in their interest anyway with this “whatever” being unpredictable. Whether it would be “washing beggar’s feet” as Mather Teresa did or running “Ponzi schema” as Barry Medoff did depends purely on what the individual perceives as his/her paramount interest at the time – saving the soul or maintaining the image of great investor at any cost.

However Ayn Rand’s paeans to illusionary superior human beings, geniuses, “job creators”, and visionaries cause huge damage because they tend to send message to regular people that they are not important in the Libertarian world, that they are just a tool or raw materials in achieving goals and visions of some heroic capitalist. Real people observe real capitalists, see no superior talents or heroic deeds and know that these capitalists do the same as all people do to obtain resources and achieve their goals and this “the same” is not always pretty. Sometimes they work harder, but sometimes they do not. Sometimes they are more knowledgeable, but sometimes they are not. In short there is no way that regular people would accept their own inferiority and supported a hero in real life.

The secondary message – that everybody will be better off if capitalists, heroic or not, do whatever market makes them to do, while true could not possibly resonate if it means to loose one’s job here and now without any way to know whether one will be able to get similar or better job in the future.

In short I believe that Libertarian ideas could and eventually will get traction, but only after Libertarians will be able to come up with a solution that provides reliable backup plan for everybody in any situation while leaving wide open the way up for everybody who is willing to try. So let’s stop blabbering about heroic “job creators” and start looking for solution that would prompt regular people to switch their support from politicians and bureaucrats who promise them share of loot to Libertarians who provide a feasible way to prosperity through self-reliance without risk of absolute failure and poverty.

20130310 It is “In Our Hands” to avoid “Coming Apart”

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In my mind these two books are going together. One of them is documenting in details the dramatic changes in American society at the beginning of XXI century while another one, interestingly enough written a few years earlier, provides an alternative solution to failing welfare state in America.

“Coming Apart” provides details of growing differentiation between well educated and effective in their dealings with live Americans who are quickly becoming an upper class and poorly educated, overwhelmed by complexity, and failing in their managing of contemporary life Americans who are becoming lower class.

Charles Murray is doing a great job in looking at details of this coming apart process in all areas of life – industriousness, honesty, religiosity, and marriage while demonstrating the growing difference between emerging upper and lower classes and how it threatens wellbeing of American society.

Being written before “Coming Apart”, “In Our Hands” does not directly addresses issues of failing society, but rather proposes a detailed suggestion of how to provide for failed individuals in very rich American society in more effective and efficient way then welfare state could possibly do. I believe Charles Murray has no illusions in regard to feasibility of his plan to become reality; he just needs to put it up for review and discussion.

In my opinion it is a great plan – to give everybody $10,000 per year per adult person as grant, link it to income so people with higher income would cover the grant for people with lower income, and rid of welfare state which is destroying American society. Too bad it was pretty much ignored by all parties of the great American discussion of our time.

I think that the reason for this quiet rejection is that in reality the main beneficiaries of welfare state are not poor and powerless 20% of population at the bottom. The real beneficiaries are all – middle class, plutocrats, and everybody else who has one of the giant number of meaningless jobs created by big government to produce goods and services that nobody needs and nobody would ever buy on the free market.

The contemporary society is so hugely productive that we have 2% of active people producing enough food for 100% to suffer from overeating. We have 8% of population manufacturing everything that we need. We have 0.01% of population producing all entertainment we can possibly consume. At this point we use a big government in all its forms – services, regulations, etc. to provide “jobs” and living to people either in form of salary for high-income regulation compliance specialist or meager social security disability payments for young man not capable to find meaningful application for his energy.

We need completely different way of creating and distributing goods and services and, even more important, providing everybody with a meaningful way to apply their energies and talents. If American society fails to find such way, we’ll be in trouble sooner then anybody expects.

20130308 .45 ACP

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.45 ACP is a type of handgun bullet. It was designed in 1904 by John Browning for the new Colt pistol adapted by US Army in 1911. It proved itself possessing a very high stopping power during World War I and is a very popular high caliber handgun ammunition in America ever since. The reason for this is a very simple one. The stopping power is an ability of bullet to stop a big man with bayonet running towards you from driving this bayonet through your guts. A different bullet may kill the man, but would not stop him and his bayonet. .45 ACP would reliably do this stopping trick so your guts will be just fine.

Last week I encountered a situation that I did not encounter for the last 23 years ever since I immigrated to America from the Soviet Union – the widely used popular commodity product manufactured for more then a century disappeared from the shelves of the stores. This product is .45 ACP bullets. The shop assistant happily informed me that it is just a temporary inconvenience caused by dramatically increased sales of guns and ammunition so supplier cannot keep up with the demand He had no doubt that eventfully they will catch up and everything will be back to normal.

So while media of all kinds is discussing fine points of American gun culture, the regular members of this culture are buying ammunition in huge quantities despite the fact that it is not cheap even for dwellers of American suburbs with jobs and/or small businesses.

The media discussion is very often concentrating around self-defense issues with only sporadic reference to American tradition of being armed against tyrannical government. In reality the violent crime is down and in Suburbia it is practically non-existent. The government is obviously growing like cancer tumor, but we still seem to be quite a bit away from setting up concentration camps for dissidents, the situation that would call for use of guns and ammunition.

I think that the piece that is missing in this discussion is a symbolic value of a gun as tool of power. In any encounter of a person with the gun with person without gun, the person with gun is powerful, while person without gun is powerless. When I was growing up in USSR after WWII it was a usual thing in movies of, unknown to Americans genre of industrial drama, to see a powerful person like plan manager or even scientist with a gun, usually in his desk. Contrary to the rules of Russian school of dramatic art it would be never used, but it always had the same deep meaning – this guy allowed to have a gun so he must be important and powerful.

Meanwhile in real life to have unauthorized gun would be a crime punishable by long prison term. Even veterans of war who had guns given to them as award for some heroic action with their name and description of action inscribed on the gun (popular way to reward an officer without going through bureaucratic nightmare of getting him a decoration) were strongly recommended to give their guns to government for “safekeeping”. As usual it was an offer that nobody could refuse.

It short, I believe we should look at gun control battles for what they really are – a struggle of politicians and bureaucrats to deprive Americans of these symbols of power in hope that it would help them to break resistance to their political agenda.

I think politicians and bureaucrats should be very careful and remember old flags of American Revolution depicturing snake and “Don’t step on me” slogan. Recently these flags start flying again. Just keep in mind that when you are stepping on the people, nobody knows when and if they start using the stopping power of .45ACP. One thing is for sure – you cannot have a big government without stepping on the people.

20130302 Dean Ornish – “Love and Survival”

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“Love and Survival” is interesting because it provides a pretty good scientific support to what I consider a plain common sense – a human being needs another human being(s) to have close relationship in order to have good and healthy live.

It makes a perfect evolutionary sense because everybody has periods of temporary weakness physical or psychological or both and need support of somebody else. Besides it is quite obvious that no human being could survive the first 10-15 years of life without external help.

Actually it provides for a very good case for every individual to adhere to boring traditional family values – that is to have, love, and cherish a spouse and take care about young and old not as matter of goodness and morality, but as a matter of self-preservation. As far as I am concern it just makes for a higher quality of life.

Here are a couple samples from the book:

The Harvard Mastery of stress study – In 1952-54 126 healthy Harvard student questioned about relationships with their parents. 35 years later 91% with cold relationships had serious diseases typical for midlife while on 45% with warm relationships had such diseases.

The John Hopkins Study – 1100 medical students followed starting in 1940-s. It was defined that closeness to parents had valid predictive value for good or poor psychological and physiological condition 50 years later.

Overall it contains reference to some 15+ studies that leave no doubt about value of close relationship for human wellbeing.

I do not share Ornish’s interest in eastern philosophy, dieting, and overall science/mystery staff. For me it is just shows the simple way to good live – find somebody to love you and love them back as they are without being judgmental and trying to change them to become more to your liking. If you cannot do that with humans, just get a dog, still would be better for your health then any dieting and even many medicines.

20130301 Jack Weatherford: “Genghis Khan”

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A while ago when I was some 10 years old I learned in school about the great scourge of humanity – Tatar-Mongols. According to the history that I was taught, they where savages who came from distant and nearly inhabitable steppes in XIII century, devastated all civilized world from Pacific shores of China to Eastern part of Europe and where stopped only by heroic fight of noble Russians who despite loosing all the battles and being subjugated by Mongols for 200 years nevertheless weakened Mongols to such extent that they could not expand much farther to the West. As result as usual ungrateful Western Europe was saved to develop its civilization which eventually produced wonderful contemporary industrial world. Russia meanwhile paid for its heroism by falling behind and was still catching up at the middle of XX century some 700 years after invasion.

This book provides much more interesting and logically much more probable account of the greatest kind of empire in human history. The reason I used words “Kind of empire” is that what Mongols mainly created was not a big bureaucratic state, but rather a common space of trade and communications that established foundation of contemporary word. Obviously being not less bandits then Russian noblemen or Chinese bureaucrats or American politicians they robbed everybody in their power, but it was somewhat more orderly robbery with enough space for people being robbed to produce sufficient wealth for themselves. In short while other robbers treated people in agricultural way that is like peasants treat their crop – planting, growing, and cutting with continuing attention and control over process of growing, Mongols treated conquered people like horses, allowing free pasture with little attention and getting what they needed when enough wealth was produced.

For me the most interesting is history of conversion of pastoral culture of Mongols who were not cowboys, but rather horse-boys and lived off pastures and horses in necessarily small family size groups into the most powerful military force known to history until advance of contemporary technology. Especially interesting is Genghis Khan’s ability to accommodate independent, self-sufficient, and quite individualistic Mongolian horseman into well coordinated military unit.

The military strength of Mongols came from combination of every warrior being self sufficient with 5-6 horses and hunting ability that provided for food, shelter, and mobility with team discipline and loyalty to the unit that allowed tens of thousands of such warriors coordinate their actions. Resulting ability of Mongols to fight equally well in retreat as in advance with decisions readily made at every level without excessive fear of superiors provided for the huge advantage in any encounter with big armies of agricultural people with their well armed knights, huge masses of poorly armed conscripts, top down decision making, and inability to move fast either spatially or intellectually because of bureaucratic hierarchy.

I do not know how much details of this book regarding Mongols religious tolerance, support of science, technology, and trade are correct, but the undeniable fact of Mongol’s movement over the huge Euro-Asian space and mingling and mixing multiple people living in this space could not possibly occur without giant exchange of information and knowledge causing upgrade of everybody’s level to the top level achieved elsewhere. In short it looked like the beginning of one world in which we are living today.