Review of “The Cobweb” by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George

August 20, 2009

I’ve decided to go back and read some of Neal Stephenson’s earlier writings, and I started with this book.


It’s a very decent thriller, with some aspects of a mystery and some of a spy novel.  The plot is initially divided into separate stories which then become one story.  The first follows Clyde Banks, who is a sheriff in a small, fictional town in Iowa (near where Stephenson lived for a time).  The town has a large university.  The second story follows Betsy Vandeventer who is an analyst at the CIA.


The plot centers on the US invasion of Iraq following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  Without giving too much away, there is an Iraqi plot to develop biological weapons in the US for use in the upcoming war and this plot is foiled by the combination of our heroes.


The book works (even though it’s a bit dated) because of the interesting way in which each of the places, namely Iowa and DC, (and the characters that are very much of the places) are portrayed.  The characters are a bit over-the-top without going so far over-the-top in the good way that makes Stephenson's later characters so great.  But he's great on the workings of government, for example:


Larking Schoendienst had told Betsy that in D.C> there were two ways to murder policy without appearing to have committed a crime.  One was cobwebbing, in which a person with an idea—usually a young and bright person with a good, new idea—would fall victim to the surrounding bureaucrats, who would exclaim, “Why, that’s a good idea!” and throw out a web of reporting requirements, consulting requirements, or new budgeting procedures.  Soon the person and his idea would be totally immobilized by a shimmering silken cocoon, to be put away and devoured another day.  The second method was the interagency task force.  “You have to remember, Betsy,” Schoendienst would say, “that D.C. is not about solving problems.  If we solved problems, there would be nothing else left to do and we would all have to go out and something honest—like fry hamburgers.  No, D.C. is about keeping jobs, which we do by managing problems.  There is no higher achievement than making a problem your own, managing that problem, nurturing that problem along until you’ve made it to retirement and hopefully mentored a whole new generation of young bureaucrats to whom you can bequeath the problem . . .”


The interaction between universities and government and elitism on display among the diplomats are also worth paying attention too.


This book isn’t nearly as interesting as Stephenson’s later work, but I still found it enjoyable.  It made a long flight go by quickly and it had sparks of the very interesting stuff that was to come later from Stephenson.

I’m fascinated by game and politics

August 14, 2009

I saw this linked from Mangan's:

The issue that I and other bloggers are confronting here is the sexual impoverishment of beta males in the modern West. Western civilization is uniquely superior to all other societies because it was built by and for betas, harnessing their physical and mental power to create advanced technology, stable systems of governance, and economic prosperity. No other civilization – not the Chinese, not the Africans, not the Arabs, not the Amerindians – has ever managed to reach the heights obtained by European states and their offshoots because of this crucial difference. The reason angry ladybloggers can sit on their dimpled derrieres in air conditioned buildings and write blog posts displaying their painful ignorance to the world is because of the beta males who designed and built all of those things. Without them, as Camille Paglia said, “we would still be living in grass huts.”

To benefit betas and keep them invested in society, checks were placed on the sexual behavior of women and the alpha males whom they lusted after. The configuration of marriage afforded betas a chance to procreate, while protecting the women with whom they entered into holy matrimony. In the past four decades, these checks have been annihilated. Using the power of the state, radical feminists initiated a massive redistribution of wealth from the provider beta class to women. Alimony and child support payments, along with no-fault divorce, have annihilated marriage’s value, while welfare state programs such as WIC (Women, Infants, Children) reward women who become pregnant out of wedlock. Put simply, the socialist state has reduced the value of the provider beta to nothing. If provider betas were a corporation, it would have filed for bankruptcy and had its assets sold to the highest bidder years ago. Without the opportunity to reproduce, betas will give the bird to society and drop out, leaving the world to rot.

With their value gone, betas have no choice but to learn game to have a crack at getting laid (exempting prostitution, which is illegal, costly, and isn’t as satisfying as nailing a woman who WANTS your love-wrench in her she-place). The nature of game allows any guy to apply its teachings to his life, right away and without delay. However, game is not a complete long-term solution to society’s woes. Urging betas to take on the behavior and mannerisms of alphas will get their penises wet, but it will hasten the coming collapse. A nation of badboys is a nation that will cease to exist in time.

It is important to remember that the existing system that allows women to act out their hypergamous desires is in no way a creation of nature. “Empowered” and “independent” women are dependent on the state-sanctioned transfer of wealth to themselves through welfare, alimony, child support, and also need punitive laws such as VAWA, IMBRA, and “must-arrest” domestic violence clauses that afford them disproportionate power and privilege. Removing these laws and socialist wealth transfer agencies will tear the floorboards out from under the New Girl Order. Conservatism, with its credos of small government and social reservedness, is the ideal ideological system to accomplish these goals. However, working towards uprooting the anti-male government-media complex will take time, and no conservative thinker has proposed a way to address the needs of men right now.

Sentences of the day

August 14, 2009

From Roissy:

. . . they feel the spiritual alpha surge of a thousand ancient warriors coursing through their veins and guiding them on the path of righteousness. Swing your two-handed skin sword and drink heartily from the scrotal-shaped chalice, Warrior-Poet! Your dominion over the gina tingle is assured.

Democracy’s end-point

August 13, 2009

From as best I can tell, most political philosophers prior to recent decades all understood that full-on democracy was a terrible political system because it always degenerated into a system in which:

The top 1% of American households pay more in federal taxes than the bottom 95% combined.

My point is not that the rich are being bled dry. The taxes paid by families in the top 1% amounted to 22% of their adjusted gross income, not a confiscatory rate. The issue is that it is inherently problematic to have a democracy in which a third of filers pay no personal income tax at all (another datum from the IRS), and the entire bottom half of filers, meaning those with adjusted gross incomes below $33,000, have an average tax rate of just 3%. [From Charles Murray]

Review of "Chartism" by Thomas Carlyle

August 12, 2009

You can get the book here or read it here.  This review, however inadequate, is indebted to Mencius Moldbug.

It’s hard to say exactly what this book is about.  The title is taken from the Chartist movement.   The book at first seems to be a discussion of the merits of Chartism, the major principles of which are (taken from Wikipedia):

  1. A VOTE for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
  2. THE BALLOT. – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  3. NO PROPERTY QUALIFICATION for Members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
  4. PAYMENT OF MEMBERS, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.
  5. EQUAL CONSTITUENCIES, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.
  6. ANNUAL PARLIAMENTS, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve-month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

But, the book isn’t really about this movement.  For Carlyle, Chartism is just another name for a phenomenon (“Reform-Bills, French Revolutions, Louis-Philippes, Chartisms, Revolts of Three Days, and what not”) that continues to re-occur.  The purpose of the book is to explain the origin and motivation of these motivations and to describe a system under which they will no longer take place.

The question then becomes whether or not the working people are in such dire straits that they need to resort to revolution/rebellion/chartisms, or whether these movements are unjustifiable.  Carlyle spend a chapter discussing the worthlessness of statistics as far as answering this question.

Then we get to the meat of the book, in which we get some basic laws and truths of nature.  The first:

 He that will not work, and save according to his means, let him go elsewhither; let him know that for him the Law has made no soft provision, but a hard and stern one; that by the Law of Nature, which the Law of England would vainly contend against in the long-run, he is doomed either to quit these habits, or miserably be extruded from this Earth, which is made on principles different from these.  He that will not work according to his faculty, let him perish according to his necessity: there is no law juster than that.

Laws that recognize this are a step in the right direction, but they are only half-measures (on their own they are insufficient):

We define the harsh New Poor-Law to be withal a 'protection of the thrifty labourer against the thriftless and dissolute;' a thing inexpressibly important; a half-result, detestable, if you will, when looked upon as the whole result; yet without which the whole result is forever unattainable. Let wastefulness, idleness, drunkenness, improvidence take the fate which God has appointed them; that their opposites may also have a chance for their fate.

These movements, these chartisms are often veiled as ways for the poor to earn a “living wage or some such indefinable nonsense.  For Carlyle, people do not get agitated because of poverty, the only thing that makes a man rebel/revolt is injustice.  If he believes his treatment is unjust, lookout!

For, in truth, the claim of the poor labourer is something quite other than that ' Statute of the Forty- third of Elizabeth' will ever fulfill for him. Not to be supported by roundsmen systems, by never so liberal parish doles, or lodged in free and easy workhouses when distress overtakes him ; not for this, however in words he may clamour for it; not for this, but for something far different does the heart of him struggle. It is ' for justice' that he struggles; for just wages,'—not in money alone! An ever-toiling inferior, he would fain (though as yet he knows it not) find for himself a superior that should lovingly and wisely govern : is not that too the 'just wages' of his service done ? It is for a manlike place and relation, in this world where he sees himself a man, that he struggles. [emphasis mine]. At bottom may we not say, it is even for this, That guidance and government, which he cannot give himself, which in our so complex world he can no longer do without, might be afforded him ? The thing he struggles for is one which no Forty-third of Elizabeth is in any condition to furnish him, to put him on the road towards getting. Let him quit the Forty-third of Elizabeth altogether; and rejoice that the Poor-Law Amendment Act has, even by harsh methods and against his own will, forced him away from it. That was a broken reed to lean on, if there ever was one; and did but run into his lamed right- hand. Let him cast it far from him, that broken reed, and look to quite the opposite point of the heavens for help. His unlamed right-hand, with the cunning industry that lies in it, is not this defined to be 'the sceptre of our Planet' ? He that can work is a born king of something ; is in communion with Nature, is master of a thing or things, is a priest and king of Nature so far. He that can work at nothing is but a usurping king, be his trappings what they may ; he is the born slave of all things. Let a man honour his craftmanship, his can-do; and know that his rights of man have no concern at all with the Forty-third of Elizabeth.

Or, more succinctly:

It is not what a man outwardly has or wants that constitutes the happiness or misery of him. Nakedness, hunger, distress of all kinds, death itself have been cheerfully suffered, when the heart was right. It is the feeling of injustice that is insupportable to all men. . . .

Now, of course, the next question is:

What is injustice? Another name for disorder, for unveracity, unreality . . . ” and order is: “that so meum may be mine, tuum thine, and each party standing clear on his own basis, order be restored.

Unjustice for Carlyle is disorder and lies.  All the chartisms of the world stem from these sources (disorder and lies).  Just to drive the point home:

Disorder, insane by the nature of it, is the hatefullest of things to man, who lives by sanity and order, so injustice is the worst evil, some call it the only evil, in this world.”

Other conditions are necessary for chartisms/rebellions.  Carlyle pays particular attention to might (i.e. force). But indeed the rights of man, as has been not unaptly remarked, are little worth ascertaining in comparison to the mights of man,—to what portion of his rights he has any chance of being able to make good!

For Carlyle rights are complicated and two-pronged:

All men are justified in demanding and searching for their rights; moreover, justified or not, they will do it: by Chartisms, Radicalisms, French Revolutions, or whatsoever methods they have. Rights surely are right: on the other hand, this other saying is most true, 'Use every man according to his rights, and who shall escape whipping!' These two things, we say, are both true; and both are essential to make up the whole truth. All good men know always and feel, each for himself, that the one is not less true than the other; and act accordingly. The contradiction is of the surface only; as in opposite sides of the same fact: universal in this dualism of a life we have. Between these two extremes, Society and all human things must fluctuatingly adjust themselves the best they can.

If people are demanding these rights, then they must be governed:

in brief, a government of the under classes by the upper on a principle of Let alone is no longer possible in England in these days. This is the one inference inclusive of all. For there can be no acting or doing of any kind, till it be, recognised that there is a thing to be done; the thing once recognised, doing in a thousand shapes becomes possible. The Working Classes cannot any longer go on without government; without being actually guided and governed; England cannot subsist in peace till, by some means or other, some guidance and government for them is found.

If order will solve our problems, where does order come from?  According to Carlyle the universe has provisioned with all we need to achieve order:

Surely of all 'rights of man,' this right of the ignorant man to be guided by the wiser, to be, gently or forcibly, held in the true course by him, is the indisputablest.  Nature herself ordains it from the first; Society struggles towards perfection by enforcing and accomplishing it more and more. If Freedom have any meaning, it means enjoyment of this right, wherein all other rights are enjoyed. It is a sacred right and duty, on both sides; and the summary of all social duties whatsoever between the two.

Democracy doesn’t work, it is not orderly.  What is orderly is government by the ablest:

In Rome and Athens, as elsewhere, if we look practically, we shall find that it was not by loud voting and debating of many, but by wise insight and ordering of a few that the work was done. So is it ever, so will it ever be. . . . Democracy, take it where you will in our Europe, is found but as a regulated method of rebellion and abrogation; it abrogates the old arrangement of things; and leaves, as we say, zero and vacuity for the institution of a new arrangement.

I have written a bunch on anti-elitism and Carlyle helps clarify the points I’ve been trying to make.  Elitism is great, when the elites are great and they will be great when they are chosen appropriately and given responsibility for their actions:

A corporation of the Best, of the Bravest. To this joyfully, with heart-loyalty, do men pay the half of their substance, to equip and decorate their Best, to lodge them in palaces, set them high over all. For it is of the nature of men, in every time, to honour and love their Best; to know no limits in honouring them. Whatsoever Aristocracy is still a corporation of the Best, is safe from all peril, and the land it rules is a safe and blessed land. Whatsoever Aristocracy does not even attempt to be that, but only to wear the clothes of that, is not safe ; neither is the land it rules in safe I For this now is our sad lot, that we must find a real Aristocracy, that an apparent Aristocracy, how plausible soever, has become inadequate for us. One way or other, the world will absolutely need to be governed; if not by this class of men, then by that. [my emphasis]. One can predict, without gift of prophecy, that the era of routine is nearly ended. Wisdom and faculty alone, faithful, valiant, ever-zealous, not pleasant but painful, continual effort, will suffice. Cost what it may, by one means or another, the toiling multitudes of this perplexed, over-crowded Europe, must and will find governors. 'Laissez-faire, Leave them to do ?' The thing they will do, if so left, is too frightful to think of! It has been done once, in sight of the whole earth, in these generations : can it need to be done a second time ?

This orderly type of government would get us as close to utopia as possible:

Intellect, insight, is the discernment of order in disorder; it is the discovery of the will of Nature, of God's will; the beginning of the capability to walk according to that. With perfect intellect, were such possible without perfect morality, the world would be perfect; its efforts unerringly correct, its results continually successful, its condition faultless.

If I were a cynic . . .

August 11, 2009

I would use these stats to argue that there is some vote-buying going on:

In his essay “Decline of the American Male” in USA Today, David Zinczenko, editor of Men’s Health, give us a clue. “Of the 5.2 million people who’ve lost their jobs since last summer, four out of five were men. Some experts predict that this year, for the first time, more American women will have jobs than men.”

Ed Rubenstein, who has written for Forbes, National Review and the Wall Street Journal, blogs on that if one uses the household survey of job losses for June-July, Hispanics gained 150,000 positions, while non-Hispanics lost 679,000. Guess who got the stimulus jobs.

Economists’ predictions

August 10, 2009

What's the difference between these predictions and random guesses?  I have no idea – I suppose random guesses would sometimes be correct.

If economics was a scientific field, economists would be re-evaluating their initial premises and looking for a whole new paradigm.  Instead, they just keep saying the same stuff and coming with new justifications for their ever-increasing follies.

Review of "A Canticle for Leibowitz" by Walter Miller

August 10, 2009

This book is available here.

I haven't read a lot of science fiction – I will definitely be reading more (this was a great book).  The book reminded me a lot of Neal Stephenson's Anathem.

Wikipedia has a good plot summary.  In brief, the book is in three parts, each 600 years apart.  In the first (roughly 2600 a.d.) civilization has been destroyed by nuclear war and humans are living at primitive levels.  Remnants of knowledge are kept alive in Catholic monasteries.  In the second part (roughly 3200 a.d.) scientific knowledge is beginning to accelerate (here is a map of the relevant parts of the world at this time).  In the final part (roughly 3800 a.d.) the cycle begins again and the book ends with another nuclear apocalypse.

The religious aspects of the story are obvious and very interesting.  There is also a little on the divide between theoretical scientific work and actual experimentation (a theme brought more clearly in Anathem) which is also interesting and less often commented upon.

Here is the cycle of history:

Listen, are we helpless?  Are we doomed to do it again and again and again?  Have we no choice but to plat the Phoenix, in an unending sequence of rise and fall?  Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage, Rome, the Empires of Charlemagne and the Turk.  Ground to dust and plowed with salt.  Spain, France, Britain, America–burned into the oblivion of the centuries.  And again and again and again.

I have to say, though I think the book is great, I don't think this is how history works.  Worlds don't end with a bang, they end with a whimper.  I'm not sure Mr Miller would necessarily disagree as he puts it:

"You heard him [a doctor] say it? 'Pain is the only evil I know about.' You heard that?" The monk nodded solemnly.  "And that society is the only thing which determines whether an act is wrong or not?  That too?"  "Yes."  "Dearest God, how did those two heresies get back into the world after all this time? . . ."

Perhaps, for Mr Miller too, this (lack of) morality is the true, ultimate cause of the downfall portion of the cycle.


August 10, 2009

From Mr Sailer:

One of the amusing aspects of Matthew Yglesias's blog is his 1966 liberal obsession with the superiority of the Blue-Eyed Utopias of Northwestern Europe. . . . Obviously, the reason for the difference in quality of postal service between Scandinavia and the Brown-Eyed Dystopias such as Italy, with their excessive clutter of paintings, statues, and other useless junk, must be some wonkish detail in organizational structure.

I grew up in Minnesota, then went to school in Missouri, then moved to DC and now live in Seattle.  I'll add a bit of personal observation to bolster Mr Sailer's point.  Pretty much everything works better in Minnesota and Seattle.  For example, going to the Post Office is simple and quick in MN or WA as compared to DC or MO, where it was nearly impossible and torturous.

I remember going to the DMV at Judiciary Square not long after we moved to DC.  There were rows of chairs in the waiting area and an aisle down the middle of the rows of chairs.  Everyone was sitting on the right side.  So, I sat down on the left.  Then I realized why everyone was on the right side.  Someone had vomited on the floor on the left side.  So I moved to the right.  Two hours later, when my number was called, the vomit was still there.  Everyone was just pretending that it wasn't there.  A parade of new people came in, sat on the left, then realized they were sitting by vomit and moved away.  No one did anything.  I assume someone eventually cleaned it up.  No "wonkish detail in organizational structure" will make the DC janitor clean up the vomit in a reasonable period of time.  In MN, the vomit would not have sat there for hours during normal working hours.

We need the Fed

August 9, 2009

to keep the price level stable.  So, how's that working out?  It seems that the Fed is doing precisely the opposite of keeping the price level stable.  Remember that next time someone says that the Fed will lose its independence if it's audited.