Open Takes 1
Kicking Off a New Era of Powerful Takes
Higher School of Economics, Moscow.
As announced this Friday, I am leaving The Unz Review.
Nothing is set in stone. I am considering various alternatives, from resurrecting my website as an active blog, to more exotic Web 3.0 options, such as urbit, where a WordPress clone might be ready as early as EOY. However, I suspect that most of my future writings, at least in the medium-term, will be on this Substack.
As such, if you’re interested in following my work, I would suggest you:
The frequency of new posts will drop, as befits what will now be more of a “newsletter” than a “blogging” format, though I will continue posting weekly Open Threads (henceforth, Open Takes) to serve as a focal point for the community that has aggregated around my scribblings. Going forwards, I will also be privileging “effortposts” such as longreads and book reviews, while shorter content will henceforth be relegated to Twitter.
Paying subscribers will receive additional benefits. I will work out the details in 2-3 weeks’ time.
Meanwhile, welcome to the first Open Takes on Powerful Takes!
* WAGMI. I think the logistical kerfuffles that are afflicting much of the world - cargo ship congestion off California, spiking natural gas prices in Europe, the blackouts in China - are sooner bullish than bearish. One and a half years’ worth of pent up consumer demand, fueled by the money printers of the world’s central banks, is coming back online (IRL-line?) with such fury and vengeance that the world’s physical infrastructure of c.2019 is breaking apart at the seams. And you think this is bearish!?
There are no certainties, and this “everything bubble” probably won’t pop quietly come the end. (Although who knows? Noah Smith has made some interesting arguments that the 2020s will be the decade in which accumulated technological breakthroughs will finally begin to turbocharge productivity growth). In the meantime, George Soros is buying Bitcoin. “When I see a bubble forming, I rush to buy, adding fuel to the fire.” Probably best not to fade the capo di tutti capi of speculation.
* IDIOCRACY UPDATE. Basic idea: Scientific fields so much bigger now that “deluge of papers” leads not to new breakthroughs, but “ossification of canon”:
Chu, J. S. G., & Evans, J. A. (2021). Slowed canonical progress in large fields of science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118(41).
Basically yet another symptom of what I noted is the tendency for problems to become harder over time in Apollo’s Ascent.
* PANDORA & PDS. As Paul Robinson notes, the actual leaks - all 12 million pages of them - mention Putin zero times. But The Guardian’s story about the Pandora Papers by Luke Harding mentions Putin no fewer than 50 times. Now, there is nothing surprising about this… it’s not that Putin’s circles aren’t corrupt - they obviously are - but that it would be really stupid of them to relocate their wealth to offshore locations in the post-2014 age of intense frictions with the West. Hence why the Russian names that do pop up now are only tangentially connected to Putin, and typically concern deals made more than a decade ago; quite a change from the era of the Panama Papers, which showed $100M in assets linked to Sergey Roldugin, an old celloist friend of Putin’s and the godfather of one of his daughters. The collapse of relations with the West, coupled with Putin’s policies of “nationalizing the elites”, have clearly stemmed capital flight from within the ranks of the Inner Party (if not from the less well-connected). Meanwhile, as regards Russia’s plucky democratic neighbor, just as the Panama Papers revealed Poroshenko’s offshore accounts, so Pandora revealed Zelensky’s. In this sense, the Ukraine has remained true to form, a country where the bandits remain “roving” while in Russia they have transitioned to a “stationary” existence; a suboptimal state of affairs to be sure, but at least one that offers up the possibility of long-term development.
* KAZAKHS. Russian data blogger acer120 has produced an extremely detailed ethnic map of Kazakhstan based on 2021 data. The most important take is that the ethnic Russians of North Kazakhstan (once “South Siberia”) are not so much getting “replaced” by Kazakhs, as declining in absolute numbers through emigration to Russia. Even so, despite fertility differentials, the lack of substantial Kazakh inflows means that the region remains predominantly Russian.
* STRANGE PRIZE. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was not Navalny… not even Tsikhanovskaya… but Dmitry Muratov, the chief editor of oppositionist newspaper Novaya Gazeta and a guy who is otherwise largely unknown amongst Russians. Navalny, to be sure, is “problematic” given his past (if fleeting) associations with Russian nationalism and racist comments, but why not the female Guaidó of Belarus? As @RWApodcast speculates, it’s almost as if the West, across a broad panoply of fronts, is dialing down the conflict with Russia.
* SKYRIM FOR THE RUSSIANS! Rubtcova et al. (2017). The Political Dimension of Skyrim’s Civil War: A Study of Russian Gamers Community. Most Russian gamers apparently side with the Stormcloak rebels against the Empire in TES V: Skyrim. If you’ve played this game, you know the story: Nationalist uprising against a corrupt and decadent occupying Power that has repressed Skyrim’s native religion (i.e., nationalists vs. globalist stooges). Or in the pro-Imperial reading, racist bigots and dupes of Elven supremacists who exploit them as useful idiots to undermine the one human polity that has some chance of resisting them (the comparisons to the Azov Battalion beg themselves). It would be an interesting project in comparative sociology to see what percentage of gamers of different nationalities side with which faction and the political allusions that inform their choices.
* SOVOK SOAP OPERA. Mikheil Saakashvili returns to Georgia, soon after declaring his love for a Ukrainian chick (leaving his Dutch wife in a funk), where he is promptly arrested for abuse of power during his Presidency. At that point, mutual accusations of “acting in the interests of Russia” are exchanged by both sides. On his part, he says that he is a “personal prisoner of Putin.”
* MOSCOW. World’s Best Cities ranking puts Moscow in 4th place. I am not familiar with the organization or its methodology, but I don’t view it as bizarre; Moscow really is a very pleasant place to live in these days. Saint-Petersburg is 17th. Prestigious London is ranked 1st.
* PRESS X FOR DOUBT. Some “Global Organized Crime Index 2021” claims that Kosovo has the best Criminality Scores Ranking in the Western Balkans, while Serbia has the worst. (Korenchkin helpfully notes, “funding provided by the United States Government”).
Science & Culture
* J*URNOS. Emil Kirkegaard and his friends have published a new meta-analysis of journalist voting patterns across Western countries:
Kirkegaard, E. O. W., Pallesen, J., Elgaard, E., & Carl, N. (2021). The Left-liberal Skew of Western Media. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice: The Official Journal of Division 49, Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy of the American Psychological Association, 3(3).
TL;DR: The charts (displayed here) say it all. Journalists vote systemically more leftist (environmentalism, feminism, social liberalism, EUphilia) than the general population. Quelle surprise.
The most interesting, because novel, aspect to me personally was the ratings of journalistic (pro-leftist) bias per country. It was especially high in France and the Scandinavian countries, but (surprisingly?) modest in the United States, as well as Germany, and lowest of all in Slovenia (based and Žižekpilled).
* WOMEN. Cory Clark & Bo Winegard in The Myth of Pervasive Misogyny point out a recent study showing that people react better to investigations of sex differences that indicate a female advantage in a given positive character trait, and that this also applies to professional psychologists. Hard to say if this bias is positive or negative overall - this is, after all, a result that one might expect from basic evopsych - but certainly worth confirming it exists (and conversely, that claims of “structural patriarchy” and the like are dubious, at least so far as mainstream topics are concerned).
* WOKEISM. Black employee at Tesla rewarded $130M (sic!) because people were allegedly (no evidence) racist to him. “Elon has not called me, sent me a letter, a text, sky writing, or sent up one of them spaceships to say I’m sorry.” Hopefully those $130M will assuage his anguish. :clown-world: Hire Blacks meritocratically? Get sued on disparate impact grounds. Hire Blacks to tick the diversity boxes? Get repaid with absurd lawsuits. I have often noted that it seems that a disproportionate percentage of the world’s most interesting developments in technology accrue to the American commercial sector, which is notably much more competent than its government. IMO, America’s single biggest advantage is that it retains a “can do” spirit that it is thoroughly lacking in modern Europe (China does have it, but it is more constrained by conformism). And yet, there’s probably limits to how much Woke abuse even the vigorous US private sector can withstand before collapsing into mediocrity. We’ll see.
* RATIONALITY. Steve Sailer reviews Steven Pinker’s latest book, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters. He has an introduction to it at Quillette, and has discussed it with Richard Hanania. I think Pinker is generally 80% of things, most counter-arguments being nitpicks, not hard refutations. Still, from the sounds of it, I’m not sure it’s worth the time invested for people who already have some degree of exposure to Pinker’s prior work on adjacent topics (Better Angels, Enlightenment Now, etc.), the LessWrong subculture, the replication crisis, superforecasting, Radical Centrism, and related concepts (i.e., most readers of my blog). My current reading list is jam-packed as it is.
* ROMANS. Cool @StilichoReads thread about the late Roman military. TL;DR, the problem wasn’t that the Germanics undermined fighting cohesion, but that the enemies the Romans had to face banally became much better over the centuries (better organized barbarians, as well as other Roman armies).
* FILM REVIEW. Commenter “melanf” has a visually detailed review of Dune (2021) back at the penultimate Open Thread on Russian Reaction. I haven’t watched it yet. The book itself didn’t leave a big impression on me; the world-building was top-tier, but as often happens in sci-fi, the characters were not memorable (in fiction, characters > plot > world-building in importance). Still, perhaps that had something to do with me reading it as an adult, not a teenager, and many of its most distinctive motifs were already somewhat familiar from other works (e.g. the Fremen as Aiel, “swords in spaceships” an already well-established trope, etc.). Perhaps it would have left a deeper imprint had I read it at a younger age.