Sandy and the Moon Halo

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“US-based academics and those at top-ranked institutions exhibit higher egocentrism and toxicity in their tweets”

Compared to other academics, that is.  They are still more reasonable than the general public on Twitter.  Here is the paper by Prashant Garg and Thiemo Fetzer.  Here is a useful tweet storm about the paper.  Via Kris Gulati.

The post “US-based academics and those at top-ranked institutions exhibit higher egocentrism and toxicity in their tweets” appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.


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Collections: How to Raise a Tribal Army in Pre-Roman Europe, Part III: Going To War With the Army You Have

This is the third and final part of our three-part (I, II, III) look1 at how some ‘tribal’ or more correctly, non-state agrarian peoples – particularly the Celtiberians, Gauls and also many Germanic-language speaking peoples on the Rhine and Danube- raised armies to fight the Romans (and anyone else who came knocking) in the third, second and first centuries BC.

Last time, we looked at the communal governing structures these non-state polities had and discussed both how they coordinated collective military action, but also why they were too weak to really function as states, with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in the society. Instead, as we noted, military power wasn’t institutional (that is, vested in institutions bigger than the individuals occupying them) but personal, held by individual Big Men who could raise their clients as armies (rather than, say, as voters) for either foreign wars or domestic conflict.

This week, at last, we’re going to raise our non-state army. First we’re going to look at what we can chart of the process used to raise these armies and then discuss the kind of armies that process resulted in. Finally, we’re going to take in the whole system: what are its strengths and what are its weaknesses?

But first, if you want to join the warrior retinue of this blog, you can by sharing this post – I rely on word of mouth for all of my new clients readers. And if you want to become a loyal aristocratic retainer of the blog, you can do so by supporting this project on Patreon; amici of the blog engage in ritual gift exchange with me (the princeps of the blog) wherein I give you monthly research updates. If you want updates whenever a new post appears, you can click below for email updates or follow me on twitter (@BretDevereaux) for updates as to new posts as well as my occasional ancient history, foreign policy or military history musings, assuming there is still a Twitter by the time this post goes live. I am also on Bluesky ( and (less frequently) Mastodon (

Finally Raising The Army

At last, with all of our pieces in place, both the foundational social structures and the communal governing institutions, we can raise our army. This is a process we never quite see very clearly in our sources, but I think there’s enough details we do gather that we can basically chart how a Gallic, Celtiberian or Germanic-language-speaking civitas mobilizes for war.

The move to war pretty clearly starts at the top, with either a civitas senate or the principes who are a subgroup of it. These are the fellows who are regularly engaged in foreign affairs and the point-of-contact for foreign ambassadors (e.g. Diod. Sic. 31.39; App. Hisp. 51, 94; Livy 32.30.7-11; Caes. BGall. 2.5, 8.22.2 and explicitly at Tac. Germ. 11.1). One of the things we see quite clearly in Caesar’s narrative in Gaul is that one way civitas government could break down is when one of the principes wants to urge the civitas to war, but is blocked by the others, as in the case of Dumnorix, Vercingetorix and purportedly Correus (Caes. BGall. 1.16-17; 7.4; 8.21), but while that evidently happens frequently enough that the communal institutions clearly lack full control over the use of military force, presumably in most cases the community goes to war collectively. So the principes, sensing threat or opportunity, come together and make that decision; I think, given what we see, we ought to assume that the iuvenes, themselves likely often the sons and relatives of the principes were usually a pro-war constituency not explicitly represented among the seniores or senatores, but whose rank and weapons gave them a capacity to ‘act out’ if the elders didn’t go to war as they wanted.2

The next step is to call the popular assembly, which can double as the muster. I’d guess there is an official system for notifying the various settlements (pagi, villages and oppida, fortified towns) that a muster has been called – when in doubt, assume organization, not disorder, because these are thinking humans3 – but the news is also going to come through the aristocrats. After all, that muster is also a meeting of the public assembly, so each aristocrat, for political reasons, is going to want their clients to show up and be visible: it both increases the aristocrat’s status, but also could potentially sway votes.

So the principes, having decided for war, now rush to mobilize their clients and supporters for the muster. They’re of course relying on those dense social networks we detailed in the first post: they draw on their clients, for whom military service is the trade they make for the help in tough years and access to gifts and goods from the Big Man. Some of those clients are themselves Big Men with their own clients and they have all sorts of incentives to turn them out too. And when the pressure reaches down to the individual communities (those pagi), you have the horizontal bonds kick in: if your brother-in-law and your cousin and both of your good friends are grabbing their weapons to head to the muster, you will too (out of shame if nothing else – shame is one of the few things people fear as much, if not more than, death) even if you don’t feel particularly attached to the Big Man sounding the call.

Now the civitas government almost certainly does not have the institutional structure to pay these fellows, much less arm them – though some Big Men may have ‘gifted’ weapons to their clients as part of their reciprocity which conveniently also creates warrior-voters. The most state-like civitas we see in this period (which again, is third-through-first century BC; much ‘state-ier’ Germanic-language-speaking polities in Late Antiquity) is probably the civitas of the Aedui with their supreme magistrate (the Vergobret) and some centralized taxes. But those taxes notably are portoria (customs duties) and vectegalia (revenues from state-owned things, probably rents from land), not tributum (direct head or land taxes), so the revenue from them is probably pretty slight (Caes. BGall. 1.18) and they’re farmed out to an aristocrat in any case. That’s probably not going to provide the kind of cash to pay wages to soldiers or stockpile equipment for them, but that’s fine, because this system doesn’t need that.

Instead, I think we have a lot of indicators in these societies that the possession of arms was the sine qua non of free and full membership in the community, so the fellows coming to the muster are bringing all of their own kit. Tacitus says this explicitly about the Germani (Tac. Germ. 13.1-3), while Caesar notes that one voted in Gallic popular assemblies by clashing weapons, which of course means you have them (Caes. BGall 5.56.1-2; 7.21.1, note also Tac. Hist. 5.17). The fact that Vercingetorix can outflank the principes of the Arverni by just mobilizing the countryside also suggests that even the “poor and desperate” he is recruiting are armed (Caes. BGall. 8.22). Meanwhile, among the Celtiberians, we have less detail and aren’t told that weapons are key to political participation, but what we do see is a repeated pattern where the Romans are negotiating and appear to be making progress, only to demand that, as part of whatever peace negotiation that the Celtiberians lay down their arms: in all but the most desperate of cases, this produces immediate angry rejection from the Celtiberians – Florus has the Celtiberians quip that to surrender their woulds would “be like cutting off their own hands” (App. Hisp. 31, 95; Diod. Sic. 33.16; Florus 1.34.18).

And of course in the archaeological record of all three societies we see weapons in burials, a point we’ll get back to in just a moment. So these guys are showing up with their weapons and gear and they probably don’t expect to be paid to serve their own civitas (serving someone else as mercenaries is another matter!).

At the muster/public assembly, it seems like there are two main tasks for the whole community to vote on. First, they have to ratify the senate or principes decision to go to war in the first place (Livy 32.30.6; Caes. BGall. 5.56.3; Tac. Germ 11-12) and second, they may have to select a leader for the effort. Presumably for civitates that have either a king or a supreme magistrate that can leave the borders of the state (the Aedui Vergobret, for instance, cannot – he’s a purely internal figure) the position may default to them. But one habit we see really clearly especially in Celtiberia is the election of a general, seemingly for a campaign: the Arevaci’s election of Carus in 153, followed by their election of Ambo and Leuco as joint generals after his death (App. Hisp. 45, 46) or the Lusitanians electing Viriathus in 147 (App. Hisp. 62) and his replacement Tantalus (App. Hisp. 75) all seem to show examples where the muster is called first, war is decided on and then a leader for the war immediately elected (note also Florus 1.33.17 on the importance of Celtiberian and Lusitanian war-leaders). Certainly even when we can’t see how the war-leader is selected, our sources have no problem identifying a single individual or at most a pair, generally directing a given campaign. These are not leaderless hordes, they’re organized armies.

And at this point with the men and equipment mustered, the war declared and a leader chosen, the civitas‘ army can proceed to war. It’s clear that precisely because horizontal aristocratic networks stretched over multiple civitates, a civitas going to war is likely to try to call in its neighbors, so running in parallel to these activities might be either personal or communal diplomatic overtures to try to form broader coalitions, which are very common in the warfare of these societies.

So we’ve raised our army, now we want to ask what kind of army have we raised?

Aristocrats, Common Warriors and The Great Change

And this is a question the answer to which is subject to pretty clear chronological variation which we can actually see relatively clearly in the archaeological evidence: who fights and thus what the army looks like pretty clearly begins shifting starting around the fourth or third centuries. Goodness, it is nice to be back at a question archaeology can answer with some confidence, so we’re not just entirely reliant on our textual sources. The key evidence here are changing patterns of weapon deposition in Gallic and Celtiberian contexts, which suggest similar shifts in the composition of the armies this system is producing.

We see this shift earlier in Spain among the Celtiberians (and the coastal Iberians as well). In the fifth century, our archaeological evidence is broadly dominated by what are clearly aristocratic burials – individual burials with prestige goods. The panoply they come with matches: shields with wide bronze bosses that cover most of the wooden core of the shield, cuirasses made of a harness composed of a half-dozen bronze discs linked together, metal-crested helmets and bronze greaves. It’s a lot heavier than what we see later, but it’s also clearly more expensive. In short, most of the weapon deposits we see are confined to the burials of what seem to be Big Men, suggesting an aristocratic focus in warfare: you have a class with weapons (by this point, iron weapons, but much of the armor is still in easier-to-work-into-complex-shapes bronze) who does most of the fighting.

But as we get into the fourth and third centuries in Celtiberia, these smaller aristocratic burial groups are supplemented (and in many cases, replaced) by much larger cemeteries with a lot more and a lot simpler burials, which nevertheless often contain weapons. At the same time, the extravagant parts of the aristocratic panoply just drop away: the disc-cuirasses and metal-crested helmets drop away, the latter replaced, it seems, by helmets of organic materials (leather or textile), as do the bronze greaves (literary sources report greaves of hide or hair, e.g. Diod. Sic. 5.33.3). So we evidently have a wider slice of society bearing arms, but the equipment they have is a lot humbler, which suggests a broadening of the fighting class. And that fits, as we’ll see, with what we can tell from army figures: by the time the Romans are fighting these guys in the late third and second centuries, we’re seeing mobilizations that suggest these societies can put a huge proportion of their military-aged male population under arms.4

And we see a similar progression in the La Tène material culture sphere, particularly in Gaul proper occurring a bit later, starting in the mid-third century. Once again, depositions of military equipment expands, both into humbler grave sites but also into communal ritual sites, like the massive deposits at Gournay-sur-Aronde and Ribemont-sur-Ancre as well as the site of La Tène itself. But where the Celtiberian aristocrats seem to have adopted fancy versions of the humbler panoply (which they used on horseback), in the La Tène material culture sphere, we see a pretty clear distinction between the aristocratic panoply and the equipment these new, poorer warriors seem to have. ‘Chieftain’ burials frequently feature metal helmets, often decorated, and sometimes feature mail armor, whereas most warriors appear to clearly lack both.

And that bears out in our other evidence (textual, representational). While the basic elements of the kit (the La Tène shield, sword, spear and possibly javelins) was shared, the gap between the aristocrat and the common warrior grew to be enormous. The Big Man on his horse likely had a fine iron helmet (often very well decorated) and wore very expensive mail armor; his sword was probably a fine piece of pattern-welded steel. Next to him, on foot, the common warrior had, at best, a textile defense for his head and body – if he wore any armor at all – and a sword that imitated the shape of the aristocrat’s weapon, but without the quality of the metal. Surely there were some fellows in between, but even a very basic thing like metal helmets only get passably common in non-aristocratic contexts in the first century and even then the ‘low end’ of these types (things like the ‘Coolus’ type helmet) are very humble indeed. This too suggests a broadening of the fighting class and like the Celtiberians, by the second century Gallic peoples are putting out armies that suggest they can field a large proportion of their military-aged males.5

Via the British Museum (inv. 2001,0501.1) the Braganza Brooch. If you want to know more, there is an entire multi-author scholarly volume on just this one object, it is A. Perea, La Fibula Braganza (2011); the chapters are in a range of languages but a lot of the good stuff is in English.
On the one hand, this is an object which really shows the kind of wealth an aristocratic Big Man might have: someone commissioned an artisan (probably Greek) to make this fantastically opulent gold brooch depicting a Gallic warrior. On the other hand, the warrior himself wears no body armor. Just the helmet (a Gallic ‘Montefortino’ type) marks him as well-to-do – it’s fairly clear most Gallic warriors couldn’t even afford that much.

So we have what seems to be a transition from an early period where the army likely consisted of just the aristocrats and some of their core retainers, to the point where those aristocrats are mobilizing their peasant clients en masse to create truly mass armies that field most of the manpower in the civitas. Why the change? Obviously, we cannot be certain, but it is easy to see a few factors pushing in this direction. One is simply technology: iron is a cheap, whereas bronze was expensive. The shift to iron weapons thus enabled putting swords and spears (and not much else!) in the hands of more men. There’s also pressure: the anarchic conditions of warfare in the non-state zone which will have pressured aristocrats and their civitates to militarize in order to survive.

But perhaps more decisive was the pressure of encroaching state societies with large, bureaucratically organized armies. For Gallic and Celtiberian peoples, starting in the sixth century, they had Greek, Carthaginian and later Roman communities knocking on their doors – that pressure starts relatively light and distant and intensifies over time and it comes sooner and stronger in Spain, which may explain a bit of the chronology here. Our non-state civitates are smaller societies (the largest tribal civitates are probably something like a tenth the size of the Roman or Carthaginian republics in population) but also much poorer, because they’re not yet very urbanized and don’t have a lot of specialized, non-agricultural labor. But they can compete (more or less) if they get everyone onto the field of battle. So that is what they do.

The result of all of this are armies that are, ironically more stratified by equipment than the state-based armies they fight, despite the fact that those imperial states have far more stratified civilian hierarchies (if just because an imperial elite in Rome or Carthage could be much richer than any Gallic or Celtiberian aristocrat). The gap is most obvious in the Gallic context, as noted above: a Gallic aristocrat on his horse was one of the most technologically advanced, expensive soldiers anywhere on his contemporary battlefield, matching the equipment of the fanciest elite cavalry in the Mediterranean. But his client, unarmored, on foot, was drastically more poorly equipped than the line infantry of a Roman or Hellenistic army (or the small African core of a Carthaginian one). In Spain the picture isn’t quite so dramatic because the aristocrats also adopted the lighter panoply, but the gap in quality is still significant and we certainly see what must have been ‘rich man’s’ weapons in things like the soliferreum, an ‘all iron’ javelin that at some point I should probably discuss in depth.

Once again, via Wikipedia, the Gundestrup Cauldron – here serving as a really good dichotomy of the poorer regular warriors (below) with their textile helmets and lack of body armor, with the Big Men on their horses (above), wearing what seems to be mail, with decorated helmets. These helmets may seem fanciful, but we’ve actually recovered a helmet exactly like the one with the bird device on top, from Ciumeşti.

Nor are these lightly equipped common warriors employed as some sort of flexible skirmishing or support force, the way the larger states of the Mediterranean generally used light infantry. Instead, they’re employed very much as line infantry, going toe-to-toe with the heavy infantry formations of the more urbanized states, which often means going head-on against opponents in heavy armor. It’s striking that when these fellows show up as mercenaries in those large state armies – which they often do – they show up employed as ‘mediums,’ holding the flanks of the real heavy infantry, but the Celtiberians and Gauls don’t have any real heavy infantry, so when they fight as part of a civitas army, these common unarmored warriors are the main line of battle. Notably, we don’t really see the aristocrats employed in these armies to create blocks of true heavy infantry: if we see the wealthy elite as a distinct force on the battlefield, it is because they are on horseback (where they make fairly good cavalry – generally they perform quite better than Roman equites, for instance). I suspect the reason is simple: no Gallic civitas has enough men who can afford armor to make up an intentional core block of truly heavy infantry to anchor the rest of the army around – but a striking force of heavy cavalry (much smaller!) they can do.

And, via Wikipedia, here is that helmet. It’s in rough shape now, but would have been quite fine when originally made. The reason it is in such bad shape is that it is made in iron (which rusts), a testament to advanced Gallic metallurgy in this period (the helmet dates to the third century; you’ll see older references to a fourth century date, but that’s probably too early).

I suspect this, in turn, leads to the topos in the ancient literature for the Gauls in particular of the fierce onset of their first charge, but often lacking the ability to endure or stay in the fight if things do not initially go their way. That makes a lot of sense: the Gallic or Celtiberian warrior has very lethal weapons! We’ve discussed La Tène weapons before – they’re quite effective! The same can be said for the weapons of the Celtiberian Meseta (the Romans gleefully adopt their sword and also their dagger, the pugio). But most of these guys have basically no armor or just very basic textile defenses, so if the morale shock and initial (mostly psychological) impact of their initial charge doesn’t disorder the enemy or sweep them away, the resulting attrition is going to go very badly for them, especially against Romans whose army is designed for that attrition. What Greek and Roman sources interpret as a barbaric lack of culture and forethought (e.g. Vitruvius 6.1.10) may actually have been a fairly sensible response to the tactical conditions at hand.

From the Antikensammlung as part of the broader Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, here is another very fine Gallic helmet (inv. Misc. 11910, L 78), with the core in iron covered in bronze detailing. The ‘top end’ of Gallic equipment (and Celtiberian equipment) is very high, but very few Gauls could afford this kind of kit. By contrast, Roman helmets are never this decorated when we find them, but they’re much more consistent in their quality (which tends, in the third and second century, to be pretty good).

Fighting Rome With the Army You Have

Now of course we know that these fellows are largely going to lose. The Romans will end up conquering Celtiberia in the second century and almost the whole of the La Tène in the first century, so one by one this brilliant kaleidoscope of polities is going to vanish into the growing Roman Republic, soon to become the Roman Empire. The Germani, by dint of distance and logistics will fair a little better, but Rome is going to maintain the fairly clear dominant position on the Rhine-Danube frontier for several centuries and it won’t be until the Germani are forming into much larger polities in Late Antiquity that they’re really able to challenge thatdominant position, the occasional victory (most notably Teutoburg Forest) not withstanding.

But of course nobody could really hold off Roman armies in the third, second and first centuries. The powers that did, be they the peoples east and north of the Rhine and Danube or the Parthians or the peoples to the south like the Garamantes or the Kingdom of Kush dis so in part because they were really far from the Mediterranean, forcing the Romans to operate on the outer edge of communications and logistics. And even then, when the Romans made concerted campaigns, they tended to win, even if they couldn’t then secure and control such distant places.

Instead, what I want to note here is that the non-state polities of Celtiberia and Gaul (and the Germani) punched wildly above their weight in this period. After all these are small polities. Estimating their total population is a bit of educated guesswork, but they’re clearly small. Population density estimates for all of Celtiberia suggest a total population (all ages, male and female) ranging from 155,000 to 310,000 split between something like 10 civitates, though the Arevaci seem to have been quite large, perhaps as much as all of the others put together.6 That fits with Diodorus Siculus who claims roughly that the tribes of Gaul range from 50,000 to 200,000 in size (Diod. Sic. 5.25.1); Caesar gives the pre-war population of the Helvetii at 263,000 (Caes. BGall. 1.29). Pliny offers the post-conquest population of a few Spanish civitates too: 240,000 for the Astures, 166,000 in Lucus and 175,000 for the Bracari (Plin. HN 3.3.28). So the largest these polities tend to get is in the 200-300,000 range, with many smaller ones being quite a bit smaller (from Caesar’s reports of the military strength of groups in Gaul, I think its clear many of the weaker civitates are probably in the bottom of the range Diodorus is suggesting).

By contrast, Roman Italy probably has a population in this period of 3-3.5 million; Carthage’s imperial domains might be around 4 million and Ptolemaic Egypt is around the same. The Antigonids, the runt of the imperial litter, are probably around 3 million, while the Seleucids, the monster of the bunch probably peaks above 15 million.

Why are these non-state polities so much smaller? Precisely because they’re non-state: their structure is personalistic based on relationships of friendship, marriage, kinship and hospitality between aristocrats and then the client-network of those aristocrats and there is a limit to how large personalistic non-state polities can become while remaining stable. Because the system is personalistic, very capable and charismatic leaders can push past these limits from time to time (often far past), but when they die, the limits generally reassert themselves through a range of mechanics. Sometimes it is partible inheritance leading to fragmentation, or simply the inability of a less charismatic leader to manage all of the personal relationships on which the system depends, or the simple impermanence of a polity based on a person that straight-up ceases to exist when that person dies. The institutions of states can be durably scaled in a way the personal systems of non-state polities generally cannot be.

And yet despite this huge size disparity, the Gauls and Celtiberians are often able to hold their own. Heck, Gauls and Celtiberians manage what none of the great states of the eastern Mediterranean could: they manage at points to defeat Roman field armies. The Celtiberians indeed manage it several times, largely holding off Roman power from 181 to 133 (when the Romans finally win out). A group of Gauls, the Galatians (much later to get a Letter from Paul), manage to crash through Greece beginning in 281, smash a Hellenistic army lead by Ptolemy Ceraunus, cross the Hellespont and set up shop permanently in the center of Anatolia, where they are contained but not pushed out by the Seleucids in the late 270s (where they substantially Hellenize).

They do this by fielding what are actually quite respectably sized armies. Livy reports a Celtiberian muster in 182 of some 35,000 warriors (Livy 40.30.1) which I don’t think is wholly made up: the Roman commander in the theater reacted with caution, not a trait one generally associates with Roman generals unless they are, in fact, badly outnumbered (and sometimes not even then). The army of the Helvetii at Bibracte, Caesar claims, was some 92,000 (with elements from five civitates) – this figure we might view with more skepticism (Caes. BGall 1.29), but it is clear from his battle narrative the force was quite large. Polybius reports the combined force of the Gaesatae, Insubres and Boii to have been around 70,000 and while, again, we might be skeptical, the Romans send both consular armies against it, so I actually think that number may be more or less accurate (Polyb. 11.31-33). We haven’t discussed the coastal Iberians very much here – the evidence as to if they have a similar system of recruitment is inconclusive (there isn’t much of it) – but they may and they also are capable of huge mobilizations, providing, inter alia, about half of all Carthaginian manpower during the Second Punic War.7 Calculated as ‘mobilization rates,’ these fellows are putting anywhere from 8-25% of their total population on the battlefield, which is to say anywhere from one-third to ::checks notes:: all of their military-aged males.8 The similar total-population-mobilization figures, by the by, for imperial polities not named ‘the Roman Republic’ range from something like 0.5% to around 4.5%.9

Of course the only way for polities of this size to field armies that can compete with the big imperial powers is to mobilize everyone. And as we’ve seen, they’ve developed a mobilization system – organized around personal ties of loyalty to the aristocracy – to do exactly this. It doesn’t scale, it isn’t extensive, but it pulls a very high proportion of the total resources of the society: it is intensive. These polities compete by putting everything they have, all of the men, all of the metal, on the field all at once to come up to parity with what larger states can field. And often, it works! These societies can mobilize a large amount of their resources and the ‘overhead’ of administration and bureaucracy, the ‘deadweight loss’ of more bureaucratic state systems, is effectively zero. These are polities which are ‘all tooth, no tail‘ at the social level and that lets them put outsized armies (compared to their tiny size) in the field.

Now that came with some fairly major downsides. One was that these armies and societies could be really brittle: if they lost a major battle badly, that was basically all they had. They might be able to reconstitute over years as a new generation came of age (assuming the society wasn’t migrating – in cases where a migrating host of Gauls gets checked hard, it tends to cease to exist because the women and children are caught in the defeat), but there is very little strategic depth here. They could also be brittle in another way: because the system was personalistic, the death of the person holding together a larger coalition could cause its swift collapse, as we see with the deaths of figures like Viriathus, Correus and Idutiomarus.

But another disadvantage is precisely that huge divide between the very well equipped aristocrats and the quite poorly equipped line infantry: these societies are fielding everyone, but lack the bureaucracy to systematically redistribute weapons and arms to (or shift military costs away from) the poorer men being fielded. By contrast, the Roman Republic has a few structures that serve to raise the equipment ‘floor’ on the heavy infantry: the very poor serve as screening light infantry velites not expected to fight in close combat, soldiers are paid a (very small, but extant) wage raised based on the tributum, a land tax where large landholders are going to pay more and the habit of creating colonies in conquered areas with land divisions designed to maximize the amount of heavy infantrymen they could field. Even more than this these non-state societies are not just smaller, they’re also poorer and it shows: they just have less metal for armor and weapons and what they have is, as a result, more concentrated among the handful of very wealthy Big Men.

So when these societies stretch to field absolutely everyone, that means loading up the army with a ton of troops with very little armor and expecting them to hold the line because there’s simply no one else available to do it. Now I should note that these non-state people aren’t just relatively light on armor compared to the Romans (the Romans are unusually heavily armored in this period compared to everyone), but even compared to the Hellenistic states and probably compared to the heavy infantry Carthage raises in Africa (though we have less information there), who are in turn a little light compared to the Romans.

Of course the problem these non-state peoples faced was the Roman Republic, a state which could come close to matching their levels of militarization, but which was more than ten times the size of the largest non-state civitas. With that absolutely massive resource base, the Romans would flatten every Mediterranean society, able to wage war with large, absurdly well-equipped armies on multiple fronts simultaneously at great logistical distance. If you are asking, “wait, how did they do that?” – well, my book project is called Of Arms and Men: Why Rome Always Won. I am finishing the manuscript now, so we might see it in print in 2025 (with Oxford University Press, where it is under contract).

What I find most striking about the tale of Celtiberia and especially Gaul, though, are the signs that these were societies in relatively early stages of state formation: they were moving towards the solution, which would have been to form a polity kind of like Rome to hold off the Romans. We see early urbanization (into oppida) in both regions in this period, as well as the emergence of larger coalitions that might have developed eventually into larger-scale polities and then states. We also see the beginnings of bureaucracy and administration among the Helvetii and Aedui in Gaul, albeit just the beginnings. Given time, these societies seemed to be on a similar road as Rome had been on in the 500s and 400s, forging a path towards a centralized state capable of impressive mobilizations.

They may have just needed a few centuries (we may get some sense of how long by looking at the Germani, who still take quite a while to form those larger kingdoms and tribal confederations). There simply wasn’t time: the Romans were there now and the Gallic and Celtiberian societies were subsumed into the Roman state.

*Jan Morris: life from both sides*

That is the recent biography from Paul Clements, which I enjoyed very much.  In part I liked it because I have never much loved her writing, or found it insightful.  To me the book (to some degree unintentionally) raises the questions of why so much travel writing does not age well, and why so much travel writing is simply boring to read, even though a trip to the same place might be fascinating.

Here was one good passage:

…at a conservative estimate, Morris’s books alone contain more than five million words — and then there is her journalism and literary criticism, which run to several million more.  From the days of the Arab News Agency in 1948 until its conclusion, her career spanned seventy-three years of publication.  Every aspect of her life fuelled her writing; her entire published corpus, from 1956 to 2021, totalled fifty-eight books, while she edited a further five volumes.

Posterity will remember Jan Morris.  What makes her work sui generis is the genre-less way that she combined topography, the social landscape, history, personal anecdote, and an acute imagination.  Morris forged an unlikely style that was vigorous, precise, and entertaining.  Hers was a language nourished by the music of childhood, conditioned by The Book of Common Prayer and Shakespeare, energised by journalism, and inspired by travelling the world as a student of human nature.  Like all writers, Morris had her foibles: her voluptuous vocabulary included words such as ‘tatterdemalion,’ ‘swagger,’ ‘gallimaufry,’ ‘coruscate,’ ‘fizz,’ ‘parvenu,’ ‘rodomontade,’ ‘gasconade,’ ‘palimpset,’ ‘simulacrum,’ ‘fandango,’ and ‘chimerical.’  The three Morris m’s — magnificent, melancholy, and myriad — ripple through her work, not forgetting her love of the two Welsh h’s —hwyl and hiraeth.  Her writing could be indulgent at times, but Morris did not take an exalted view of herself as a writer.  She was the one who called her work, in A Writer’s World, ‘hedonistic,’ ‘boisterous,’ and ‘impertinent,’  In a newspaper questionnaire in 1998, Morris was asked how she would like to be remembered, and she replied: ‘As a merry and loving writer.’

As an aside, not all those words cited seem so weird to this writer.  Swagger, fizz, and parvenu are in ordinary usage, chimerical too.

Among its other virtues, I feel this book captures British history and British intellectual history very well.  In any case, you can buy the book here, and I have ordered some additional Morris works to read.  If I really like any of them, I will let you all know.

The post *Jan Morris: life from both sides* appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



Related Stories


Systems: What does a board of directors do?

Nearly every organization that is designed to have impact has a board of directors, whether that's a small non-profit, or a giant corporation, or anything in between. But having served on a number of boards across that entire range of institutions, I realize that most people who've never been in the boardroom have a lot of questions (and often, anxieties) about what happens on a board, so I wanted to share a very subjective view of what I've seen and learned over the years.

An overview

First of all, what's the job of a board? Put simply, it's making sure the organization is running in the best way possible, covering everything from whether it has the right leadership, enough resources, a credible plan for the future, a good understanding of potential risks, and a vision for what it wants to achieve overall. The most common description of board members' responsibilities is that they have a fiduciary duty to the organization that they're serving. It's a common misconception to think that "fiduciary" exclusively means an economic or financial lens on things, but it's best understood as an ethical obligation to objectively do the right thing for the organization overall, not just for the bottom line.

At a practical level, boards function by having regular meetings (these will usually be on a quarterly basis), being responsive if there are urgent or emergency meetings or decisions that need to be made, and getting regular briefings on the operations of the organization both during board meetings and at other times as the need arises. The level of obligation and time commitment can vary a lot, as a new organization that's just starting up, or a company that's going through something dramatic like a leadership change or an acquisition can be extremely demanding of time. Conversely, there are a lot of organizations where some board roles are almost entirely ceremonial or honorary, as when a lot of non-profits name board members that help raise their profile or help them raise funds, but who don't spend as much time poring over operational details.

What do board meetings look like?

The actual mechanics of a board meeting offer a good glimpse into the overall work that board members are expected to do. A typical rough outline might look like this:

  • Pre-briefing: A good leadership team will send a structured, well-written pre-brief ahead of every board meeting, outlining the current state of the organization including any recent major news or announcements, an overview of current fundamentals like the balance sheet and financials, an agenda of what to expect from the upcoming board meeting including necessary context for any discussions to be had, a recap of the minutes of the prior board meeting, and maybe a more specific deep-dive into any topics that the board wanted to focus on such as a strategic initiative or a specific challenge the organization is facing. The documentation part of a pre-briefing will often also be accompanied by personal briefings from the CEO or Executive Director to individual board members, especially if there are specific initiatives or efforts that they want to persuade board members to support in the upcoming meeting.
  • Board meeting fundamentals: At the start of the actual board meeting, the executive leadership of the organization will usually lead the board through the review of the business fundamentals. To editorialize a little bit, the ideal here is that this should be the most obvious, or even boring, part of the discussion; if board members are being surprised by anything they see at this stage, that's a sign of poor preparation. Even if some of the fundamentals are bad (missing a fundraising or revenue target, slow growth, etc.) those are topics that should have been prepped well in advance of the review portion of the meeting.
  • Departmental or functional briefings: Typically, the executive in charge will then delegate to individual members of their executive team to lead briefings about their lines of work. In a for-profit context, this will often be a report on sales and revenues; in a non-profit, this will be on fundraising and grants. Another executive will update on strategic work, like reporting on products or research & development, or progress towards strategic initiatives tied to the organization's mission. If the board meeting is structured by function, individual leaders who report out might be in roles like marketing, HR, or finance. If the organization leans more towards business units or departmental reporting, there might be a parallel structure where each person who reports out includes updates about things like marketing within the context of their own reporting structure.
  • Strategic discussion: Most board meetings will dedicate time to matters of strategic concern, like how the current landscape of competitors or partners is looking, or how the larger economic or political environment is expected to impact the organization. Ideally, these are really open debates, but in a well-functioning organization, the goal is that the board is helping form a point of view that is being decided by the executive team, with the board in a supporting role.
  • Organizational development: Good leadership will dedicate part of the conversation to how they're helping their team succeed. This can be everything from an update on hiring, news about any key roles that are being introduced (or asking board members to help recruit), changes in organizational culture or problems that have been identified, and progress against longer-term goals for areas like retention and employee engagement. This can also expand into focusing on areas of improvement in governance, or development of the board itself for things like creating committees and adding new board members.
  • Business at hand: There will often be structural decisions for a board to make that must be captured in the minutes and recorded as part of the organization's accountability processes, whether that's major economic commitments, significant strategic shifts, approving key hires, or simply capturing functional decisions like updating bylaws and the like.
  • Executive session: Finally, a board should have a regular session for those who are involved in overseeing executive governance, where they have a session without the CEO or Executive Director to talk about whether the overall leadership and strategy of the company is progressing as expected or if they need to provide feedback to the leadership team. In an extreme circumstance, this is where they would talk about proposing a leadership change.

Board meetings can be as short as a few hours for a small organization whose board is in tight, ongoing communication with the team, to a multi-day marathon complete with team-building exercises to bond the board together as a team and teach them more about the organization they're working to serve.

In the room, almost every board I've ever been on, nearly everyone in the room is deeply engaged and helping in whatever way they can. Because board members are often selected for specific areas of expertise (one person might be the marketing expert in the room, or be great at hiring), there are times when the conversation is most engaged with particular members, but in general there's pretty short patience amongst competent board members for others who show up unprepared or unfamiliar with the work at hand. There can be a slightly higher tolerance in contexts like non-profits, where there are often people who either are deeply passionate about the mission but perhaps less expert in some areas, or when someone is obviously in the room because they had cut a big check and everyone else is just indulging them.

How boards function

My perspective on boards is informed by my own experiences serving on them, but also by having been an outside observer and in coaching (or simply commiserating) with people who were preparing for board meetings. There are lots of different kinds of boards, and different kinds of board members.

Boards can range from a loosely connected group that assembled on occasion to indifferently rubber-stamp what an executive tells them, or they can be deeply and intrusively involved in an organization in a way that undermines leadership. Generally, they’re somewhere in between, acting as a resource that amplifies the capabilities and execution of the core team, and that mostly only helps out or steps in when asked to. It can be a very toxic thing to have a board that meddles outside of defined ways of interacting with the organization's leadership, but it can be an incredibly motivating and positive thing when people in an organization see that their board members are passionate and enthusiastic about the work they're doing.

Similarly, individual board members can range from figureheads who do nothing but have their name used by the organization to shadow CEOs who actually lead an organization while nominally only serving on the board. In all cases, the extremes are dysfunctional, but most organizations tend to be much more toward the middle, with a board that has a range of ways to help, and board members who do their best to be valuable in their area of expertise. Ideally, a good board is a mix of a broad range of skills, talents, experiences and perspectives that provides a set of capabilities to organizational leadership.

That being said, there are often obviously different agendas amongst different board members. For example, in a for-profit business, there are almost always board members who represent investors, and they are almost always completely unabashed about articulating the agenda they're promoting: a big return. I've been fortunate enough (and selective enough) that almost all of the investors I've sat next to in a board room are also keenly aware of the need to balance maximizing returns against longer-term goals that address the needs of workers and customers and community, but I've absolutely heard horror stories of investor board members who epitomize the worst caricature of a soulless exploiter trying to push the company towards its worst impulses.

There can also be really peculiar dynamics about power struggles that aren't rooted in diagreements over goals, but rather over personalities or agendas. If everyone agrees that the mission of the organization is to give everyone a cute puppy, but two different leaders have completely contradictory plans or preferences for how to make it happen, it can often turn into a lot of back-channel politicking that surfaces as awkward tensions or passive-aggressiveness in the board room. Being able to win over the board room can be a huge factor in determining who actually leads and succeeds in an organization.

How do you get in the room?

By far one of the most common questions I get when I've talked to people about serving on boards is, "How did you get in there?" There's a huge amount of mystique and (understandable!) skepticism about who makes up the board of directors for many organizations.

The first thing to know is, your initial impressions and suspicions are correct: it's not far, and it's not nearly inclusive. I've been on 7 boards for organizations I didn't found, and 4 more for the companies I've started, and I think in every single one I was the only person (for example) who didn't have a college degree. The for-profit organizations were overwhelmingly comprised of very wealthy white men, with a small smattering of Asian American men, though the non-profits were notably better in nearly every dimension of inclusion.

More pervasive, though, is the old-boys' network. I got most of these opportunities due to relationships with people I'd had for years. Sometimes they were explicitly looking to diversify their boards (whether that was stated or not) and since I used to fairly visible in a lot of tech- or media-adjacent circles, I was someone they might think of to participate. It certainly helped that I had credentials that could also be read as performing respectability, like having had a "CEO" title. I'm not prone to insecurity, but I expect someone who is more normal than I am in that regard would definitely have felt some impostor syndrome when being in a room full of people who had almost all served on boards before.

I've always advocated for opening up the boards I serve on to be more inclusive, but there's a bit of a selection bias there, because any place that would let me in is probably already amenable to that argument. From talking to those who've served on more traditional boards, there's an almost uniform, reflexive dismissal of the idea, where legacy board members will assert that any class of people who haven't been in the board room before must certainly have been excluded on the basis of merit, as everyone in the room got there purely on their own skills and talents. It's bullshit, but I've heard it so consistently, in almost the same stupid "we can't lower the bar" phrasing, that it must be the common belief of the majority of people serving on boards today. And I expect that a lot of people who agree with the desire to make things more inclusive probably also feel the pressure of being the "only one" in the room, so they don't want to be seen as arguing for inclusion, lest they get treated as the token diversity hire on the board and have their other ideas dismissed.

This is probably the area where my board experiences vary most from a "typical" board member, so I unfortunately don't have a lot of specific advice to offer on getting into the room except that nearly every institution is going to want to see that credential or signifier that "explains" why someone is on the board, with the possible exceptions of founders, who get a board seat by virtue of their catalyzing work, but very often lack much of the other specialized expertise that outside board members bring in.

Broadening board participation is an area I've thought a lot about over the years. When I was CEO of Glitch, we began a process of seeking a community-nominated outside board member. Eventually we ended up stopping the effort, largely because people inside the company felt the board recruiting process was too much of a distraction. Not seeing that through is a real regret of my time leading the company; I'd love to help an organization try that approach again, and think about more structural ways that business leaders can intentionally make their boards (and board recruiting processes) more open.

What do I do when I'm on a board?

The thing I've read the least about is people's actual lived experience of serving on a board. My example may not be typical, but I think its not that far off from perhaps what a lot of other engaged board members do. I can outline the work at sort of a range of varying time scales.

  • Daily/Weekly: I've got Google Alerts and social media monitoring set up for every organization, past and present, where I've served on the board, and I read virtually every press mention as well as every blog post or press release that they put out. My personal expectation is that if anyone outside the organization knows something significant about the company, then I should know it too, in the same time frame that they do. I've backed away from a lot of my social media engagement over the last several years, but for a long time I also tried to be an informal social media ombudsperson for the organizations I was involved with also, forwarding on any feedback or complaints or suggestions I saw to the appropriate parties who could respond or engage from within the team. This is probably the single biggest time commitment, but it's a lot easier since I work with organizations that I care about and would want to track closely anyway.
  • Monthly: When organizations are going through a transition, or if I have particular skills that might be helpful for a specific project, I'll have checkins with leadership or the appropriate team leaders on a monthly cadence. These are often less-formal discussions, where I'm serving as a sounding board or giving feedback, but sometimes people will save up specific requests like introductions to particular people, or a review of a specific message or document, that they want to cover in those calls.
  • Quarterly: The big one here is obviously board meetings. Generally, most of the organizations I work with spend about 3 hours, plus or minus, for a standard board meeting. I'll block out the time, cancel my other meetings, and also almost always schedule pre-reading time to review the board briefing documents a few days ahead of the meeting. Rarely, I'll ask for a quick call with the executives in charge if I have questions that need to be answered before the upcoming meeting. There's often a social component (the board goes out to dinner, or coffee with board members I want to connect more with) that turns these shorter meetings into the equivalent of a full-day commitment, but that's not every time.
  • Yearly: Most boards will have one "big" meeting each year, when the board is expected to engage for a full day or more on board work. This can also often involve travel for an offsite meeting. That takes all the usual planning for a quarterly board meeting, plus a lot more logistical support. Most organizations will also usually have, at least once a year, some particular emergency or urgent issue that I need to help out on, so I budget for another day of rapid response each year for when unexpected things arise.
  • Beyond: Even after leaving boards that I've served on, or when the organizations have transitioned to a new phase where they no longer have an independent board, I've almost always stayed in common with both the leadership teams and a few of my fellow board members. The mission and goals that brought us together are almost always still part of what we focus on, and if anything we all only have better insights to share over time, so I'm never surprised to get a text out of the blue from someone who I used to see in quarterly board meetings.

At a personal level, people who haven't seen me work up close are often surprised when we're on a board together. I tend to like the really wonky stuff, focusing a lot on governance (do we have the right tools for ensuring strong, steady leadership over time), financials (I end up on the finance commmitte, reading a lot of spreadsheets, surprisingly often) and on marketing/messaging and crisis communications response. Most organizations are very bad at quickly repsonding to unexpected outside surprises in a fast, humane, thoughtful way, and that's often when I get pulled in to help a team that may not have as much expertise. I've also worked to help a lot with transitions, like the inevitable moment when an organization matures into needing a new leader who's not the founder, or when someone who's been in an organization for a long time is no longer the right person to lead a key team after a strategic shift. Those things are really hard human moments, and very often the rest of a leadership team wants to support that person at a human level even if the professional transition is necessariliy painful. Maybe one of the things people would least expect is that, on a well-functioning board, much of the most vital work is really just about people, far more than about other concerns.

Of course, there can also be a crisis that arises from outside the organization like if a product is failing in the market or a major funder stops supporting the work. Those are different urgent problems, but also tend to be an "all hands on deck" kind of challenge, so everyone comes together to solve those things. In that case, I usually play more of a supporting role as a utility player if I can, since a big cause of stress can often by from having too many cooks in the kitchen at a moment when everyone is feeling the urgency of the problem.

How do you make a board do the right thing?

This is sort of the core question that people ask, in their own ways, about being on a board. If the stereotypical view of a boardroom is a dark-paneled room full of moustache-twirling villains planning their acts of villainy, then the thing we want to imagine is how we'd go into that room and stop them. In practice, the mistakes and harms are far more often the result of ordinary human flaws, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about how you anticipate those and work to prevent the worst problems.

For example, a big question to ask amidst all the reports and charts that one sees in a board meeting is: what's being measured? Are the right things being measured, and if so, are we doing so accurately? Which important things can't be measured at all? Who have we listened to or consulted in choosing what we measure?

Similarly, a key focus should be on what principle the organization is trying to achieve. Many alignment problems and strategy challenges come from people not having strong, clear agreement on those basic principles. It's a classic cause, for example, of when you see a cofounder "pushed out" of an organization they helped start. Very often it's not just their other cofounder(s) wanting them out — although interpersonal tensions and stress fatigue are a real thing — but also the board choosing one vision over another as they've started to diverge.

There's also making sure everybody has the willingness to call out the inevitable gaps between what we're trying to do, and what we're actually doing. This goes back to that whole idea of "the purpose of a system is what it does" — is our mission statement just a comforting myth, or is the organization really doing the work? This kind of question can be harder for a board to assess than it may seem, because they're always seeing the hardest challenges or biggest risks all the time. So things that can seem like an obvious shortcoming to employees or customers can be less visible or obvious to board members — especially if their primary way of getting information about the company is filtered through reports delivered by the execs who run that company. There's a distorting effect that's hard to get around, which is why I put a lot of priority on talking to customers and community members, and being open to having things surfaced by employees when appropriate. I think this is one of the most common causes of "why didn't the board know?" failures at organizations.

One aspect of making sure board members are thinking long-term and holistically is making sure incentives are aligned. Obviously, in a for-profit context, having investors at the table is going to skew things to focus on their concerns, so it's really key to have other players around the table. (In my experience, both VCs and institutional investors generally tend to work as a team with strong consensus about what they want.) But all kinds of anti-patterns arise from people being misaligned in a boardroom, especially if anyone on the board is just looking out for themselves, whether it's financially, career-wise or anything else.

Interestingly, good board members have many of the same traits as good employees: They're curious, genuinely interested in the larger goals of the organization, supported in speaking up when they see something going wrong, coachable when they're making a mistake or off-track, and fluent in the larger world or market where they're trying to have impact. Boards also fail for the same reasons that any other team at a company does: they get siloed or isolated from customers, the community, or the rest of the organization. They have their own goals or cross-purposes that they see as more important than what the larger organization is focused on. They put themselves ahead of the collective good, and act or communicate in ways that make them unreliable or undisciplined.

But in truth, very rarely does the problem in any given organization start or end at the board level. In very large publicly-traded companies, very often the board is just a set of people chosen by the executives to rubber-stamp their choices. In smaller public or larger-size private companies, the boards are often very dynamic with people rotating on or off the board, so the leadership of the company holds more sway over time. And in smaller companies or non-profits you have more of a mix of heavy-handed funders with less experienced board members who are still learning how to effect change in their organizations. That has the same impact, though: the organization's leadership sets most of the direction, and the board follows (and ideally offers support).

I've found a lot of people have a hopeful aspiration of thinking a board will come through and fix a problem that an organization's leadership has caused, or undo a mistake that leadership has made. Honestly, I think that kind of deus ex machina board action is extremely uncommon. A far more effective tactic may be to make enough noise that a board will obviously have to ask leadership about a particular challenge or problem that's come on their radar. (Note: this is not saying "just email everyone on the board with your complaint" — 99% of the people who do that are cranks, and it's easy to get grouped in with them if you use the same methods.) If you've organized a thoughtful, consistent, effective effort to point out an organization's efforts or flaws, making sure that your work gets in front of the board can absolutely be an effective way to make sure they ask executives about that issue.

That doesn't mean they're going to say "change what you're doing", though. And it definitely doesn't mean that they're going to immediately say "we gotta replace this exec". Since most boards see their role as being about supporting the leadership team, they're inherently conservative and biased towards the status quo. Changing a board's incentives and motivations requires straegic thinking about getting them to see evolutionary changes as possible, rather than hoping to jolt them into radical change unless there's a particularly extreme crisis.

Put simply, people don't join the board of an organization because they think it's broken and needs to change, except in the case of activists getting named to a board — and that's almost always activist investors whose agendas are brutally obvious.

What to take away

A board of directors is a structure that is about power in an organization. In its ideal, it's a clear balance against executive power, with a predictable schedule and process of operation, that provides a stabilizing influence over longer periods of time. In reality, well... it ain't always exactly that. The minor challenges are the usual human weaknesses and foibles, like distraction or greed or ego or ambition. The major challenges are structural, in being profoundly exclusionary and, in too many cases, corrupt.

I believe in the structure of a board (usually along with some separate advisors) to help an organization reach its fullest potential, in much the same way as I believe in governments having separate branches with separate forms of accountability and appointment. In practice, having nearly all-powerful executives select the membership of the organization that's meant to hold them accountable tends to fail just as badly in business or non-profits as it does in governments.

I don't necessarily think my experiences or point of view on serving on a board of directors are typical, but I do think that they can possibly be useful in demystifying an insitutional structure that far too few people ever get to witness. And I'd definitely urge everyone to think deeply about the role of these pervasive structures when considering how to change or influence any institution that matters.

Up next: Answering your questions!

I put out a call on my various social media channels and got dozens of really interesting questions about boards and being a director on a board. Instead of making this long post even longer, I'll be back with answers to all your questions. Stay tuned!

Friday: Existing Home Sales

Mortgage Rates Note: Mortgage rates are from and are for top tier scenarios.

• At 10:00 AM ET, Existing Home Sales for May from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The consensus is for 4.10 million SAAR, down from 4.14 million.

Isar Aerospace raises $70 million

Isar Aerospace
Isar Aerospace

European small launch vehicle developer Isar Aerospace has raised more than 65 million euros ($70 million) in an extension of an earlier round that includes participation from a new NATO-backed fund.

The post Isar Aerospace raises $70 million appeared first on SpaceNews.

ExoTerra raises $8 million to boost propulsion system production

ExoTerra Resources raised $8 million to expand production of microsatellite propulsion systems.

The post ExoTerra raises $8 million to boost propulsion system production appeared first on SpaceNews.

ESA takes first step to modify georeturn policies


European Space Agency member states have taken a step towards modifying long-standing policies that award contracts for agency programs based on the size of each country’s financial contribution.

The post ESA takes first step to modify georeturn policies appeared first on SpaceNews.

Seven Conversation Hacks

  1. Say their name if you think they aren’t listening. In a meeting with five or more humans, it’s ok if someone checks out of part of the conversation. Not every topic is of equal interest to all humans. When you know the conversation is steering back to a human who isn’t listening, say their name.
  2. Repeat the hard part when you don’t understand. Or, repeat the last thing they said and add a question mark. Ask questions if you don’t understand.
  3. Pause if you need more time to think. Let the conversation breathe.
  4. Move your line of sight below theirs. Hunch over a bit. This changes the sense of who is in charge of the conversation. I learned this subtle move from a fascinating book about improv. We, as humans, react to the relative position of another’s gaze. Higher, they are driving. Lower, they are receiving.
  5. Look them in the eye if you think your point isn’t landing. Or if it’s important to them. Repeat the point. Once. A variant of saying their name, except in this scenario, you have their attention, but it’s unclear if they understand the point.
  6. Stop talking. Ask them what they think. Or slow your cadence. I get on a roll often, conversationally, and what feels like a delicious conversational tale to me is rambling. When the room starts to tell me this, I stop. I stop for five seconds. In five seconds, you can effectively reset the tempo of a conversation. Possibly my favorite conversational move. s
  7. Listen to the room when you are done to see and hear what they heard. Does the conversation continue immediately on the same or related topic? Excellent. Is there a painful, long silence where it’s clear you didn’t deliver your message? Keep trying.

SpaceX launches latest SES broadcast satellite

SpaceX successfully launched Astra 1P for Luxembourg fleet operator SES June 20 toward geostationary orbit, where it is eventually due to replace four older broadcast satellites over Europe. 

The post SpaceX launches latest SES broadcast satellite appeared first on SpaceNews.

Honeywell sees space opportunity with $1.9 billion CAES acquisition


U.S. manufacturing giant Honeywell plans to buy defense electronics maker CAES for $1.9 billion to enhance its military hardware for space and other domains.

The post Honeywell sees space opportunity with $1.9 billion CAES acquisition appeared first on SpaceNews.

House Intelligence chair blasts White House over Russia’s space nuke threat

Rep. Mike Turner warns of a 'Cuban missile crisis in space'

The post House Intelligence chair blasts White House over Russia’s space nuke threat appeared first on SpaceNews.

Ursa Space partners with Japan’s NEC to deliver SAR data insights

Ursa Space Systems, based in Ithaca, New York, operates a platform that ingests data from a vast network of satellite data partners

The post Ursa Space partners with Japan’s NEC to deliver SAR data insights appeared first on SpaceNews.

Starlab Space adds Palantir as strategic partner on commercial space station effort


Commercial space station developer Starlab Space has added Palantir Technologies as a strategic partner, seeking to use its artificial intelligence capabilities to support station operations.

The post Starlab Space adds Palantir as strategic partner on commercial space station effort appeared first on SpaceNews.

Michelle Parker, Boeing Space Mission Systems – Leading Women in Space

Michelle Parker
Michelle Parker

In this, the first episode of the SpaceNews Leading Women in Space series, correspondent Debra Werner speaks with Candace Givens, Sector VP Mission Assurance, Northrop Grumman.

The post Michelle Parker, Boeing Space Mission Systems – Leading Women in Space appeared first on SpaceNews.

Thursday 20 June 1661

At home the greatest part of the day to see my workmen make an end, which this night they did to my great content.

Read the annotations

China's demographics will be fine through mid-century

Photo by Lan Lin on Unsplash

In discussions about China’s economy, the issue of demographics comes up quite a lot. In 2022, China’s population began to decrease (and coincidentally, India’s population surpassed China’s). The country’s fertility rate, which had already fallen below replacement levels decades earlier, fell again recently, to just 1.09 — one of the lowest rates in the world, and even lower than Japan.

This is prompting a lot of hand-wringing about the future of China’s economy, both from people within China and from foreign observers. For example, here’s a quote in the WSJ:

“As the population peaks, China is showing signs of Japanification,” Yin Jianfeng, deputy director of the National Institution for Finance and Development, a state-backed think tank, wrote in an article published in June. Yin urged the Chinese government to spend more on child rearing and education to avoid the fate of Japan, which experienced decades of stagnation.

Here’s The Economist:

China’s economy risks shrinking, too, as a result. With an enormous burden of care on the horizon, the government senses an impending disaster…China is getting old before it gets rich. In 2008, when Japan’s population started to fall, its GDP per person was already about $47,500 in today’s dollars. China’s is just $21,000. As more of that money is spent on protecting ageing citizens, less of it will be available for the working generation to consume or invest.

And here’s the most dire post I could find, from The Conversation:

Population shifts can lead to a “doom loop”…As lower productivity begins to affect production in particular sectors, China may be compelled to increase imports to satisfy demand in those industries…This could significantly affect innovation and entrepreneurship which in turn can further diminish productivity. New ideas…drive economic growth. The size of the workforce affects innovation because as the number of employed individuals shrinks, the pool of new ideas becomes narrower…If population growth becomes negative or falls to zero, then the knowledge behind those ideas stagnates. In addition, there is evidence that the peak of a person’s innovative activities and scientific output comes at around 30 and 40 years of age…Current demographic trends are therefore likely to stifle technological advances and innovation in China…At the same time, studies suggest that entrepreneurship can be negatively affected by the ageing of the population as the percentage of young people is positively linked to entrepreneurial activities. This hampers the dynamism of the economy and contributes to slower economic growth.

Now, I absolutely do think this is a problem for China in the long term. In fact, China is far from unique in this regard — every developed country is aging rapidly, and most developing countries aren’t far behind.

And there really are negative consequences to population aging. I wrote about those problems in this post:

In fact, the shrinking of the population isn’t actually the problem — it’s the aging. Rising old-age dependency ratios do put a huge economic burden on working people, and an aging workforce probably does reduce innovation and productivity growth. This is true despite automation. A world top-heavy with old people will be a world where young people have to toil harder and harder, all over the globe.

But in the short term, I think the catastrophizing over China’s demographics is overdone. Americans searching desperately for a reason to dismiss China’s competitive threat might be tempted to seize on the country’s low fertility. But China’s economic might is not going to go “poof” and disappear from population aging; in fact, as I’ll explain, it probably won’t suffer significant problems from aging until the second half of this century.

Meanwhile, there’s an even greater danger that China’s leaders will panic over the country’s demographics and do something very rash. My former Bloomberg colleague Hal Brands has argued that China may start a war in Asia in the next few years out of fear that if it waits any longer, its power will decline — similar to how Germany rushed to war in 1914 because its leaders believed their window was vanishing. That worry is unfounded, as I’ll show. But it wouldn’t be the first rash blunder that Xi Jinping has made.

So it would be good for both Americans and Chinese people to understand the non-urgency of China’s demographic situation.

China has a baby bulge in the pipeline

The first and most important reason that China’s demographics are non-catastrophic is that they’ve got a large generation of young people, currently aged 5 to 15, that will relieve demographic pressure in the coming years.

Wikipedia has a good animated population pyramid for China, with data taken from UN forecasts. Here’s what the pyramid looks like for 2024. I’ve annotated the graph with generation labels, roughly corresponding to the similar generations in the United States:

Adapted from Tweedle - Own work

As you can see, China’s current young working generation — the Zoomers — are a small generation. But the generation younger than that — the Alphas, currently aged 5 to 15 — are a bigger generation than the Zoomers.

China’s Alphas are not a true “baby boom” in the classic sense — there was no surge in fertility rates 5 to 15 years ago. Instead, the Alphas are a demographic echo of the large Millennial generation, which is itself an echo of China’s extremely large Baby Boom generation. The U.S. had a fertility rate of 3.5 during its Baby Boom; China’s was over 6. China has a lot of Alphas only because it had a truly enormous amount of Boomers back then.

Anyway, as the Alphas reach working age over the next decade, they will stabilize China’s demographics. China’s working-age population is actually projected to increase over the next few years, before beginning a slow decline:

As Charlie Robertson has shown, this will stabilize China’s dependency ratio at a very favorable level through the end of the decade:

China’s dependency ratio in 2030 will still be as good as Japan’s at the height of its economic miracle. Only by mid-century will China’s ratio deteriorate to the level of Japan’s in 2020.

So aging basically won’t be a problem for China’s workforce until mid-century. Around 2050, things start to look worse. China’s big Millennial generation will begin to age out of the workforce, and no large young cohort will be coming up to replace them:

Adapted from Tweedle - Own work

This forecast assumes, of course, that the post-pandemic plunge in Chinese fertility rates doesn’t bounce back within the next decade. That remains to be seen. But whatever happens, China’s demographic structure is unlikely to have major problems for a quarter century.

China can compensate for aging in the short term

Even though China’s demographics don’t get severe until 2050 or so, it will still experience gentle aging over the next 26 years. Its median age is projected to rise from 39.5 to 50.7:

After 2027 or so, China’s working-age population will start to decline, and its dependency ratio will start to worsen.

None of this spells catastrophe, for reasons laid out in the previous section. But it does present a challenge. Fortunately for China, there are a couple of fairly easy policies it can use to compensate for the short-term burden of aging.

First, and most importantly, it can raise the retirement age. The country currently has the world’s lowest retirement age — just 60 for men and 50-55 for women. Simply changing this to 65 will decrease the dependency ratio significantly, and reduce the burden on working people. In fact, China reportedly plans to do this:

Jin Weigang, president of the Chinese Academy of Labor and Social Security Sciences, said China was eyeing a "progressive, flexible and differentiated path to raising the retirement age", meaning that it would be delayed initially by a few months, which would be subsequently increased.

"People nearing retirement age will only have to delay retirement for several months," the Global Times said, citing Jin. Young people may have to work a few years longer but will have a long adaptation and transition period, he said.

The second policy lever is something China has already done — increase the college enrollment rate. In 2010, only 26.5% of college-aged Chinese people were enrolled in postsecondary education; by 2023 that increased to 60.2%.

As every labor economist knows, a better-educated workforce is a more productive workforce. The Chinese workers that will retire over the next quarter century — the Gen Xers and older Millennials — are not very highly educated. The workers that will replace them — the Alphas — are very highly educated. That will compensate for much of the loss of working-age population.

Between welcoming a big youth cohort, raising the retirement age, and sending a lot more kids to college, China should experience few problems from the gentle demographic headwinds of the next two and a half decades.1 Its leaders still need to worry about the long-term demographic challenge after 2050, but most of its rivals are in even worse shape.

All in all, the narrative that demographics will tip the balance of economic and geopolitical power away from China in the next few decades seems overblown and unrealistic. That means more competition for the rest of the world to worry about. But it also means that China’s window of opportunity to act on the world stage won’t close anytime soon.

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A lot of people will say that China can also A) use automation to compensate for loss of human labor, and B) move more people from the countryside to the cities. I’m skeptical of both of these. Regarding the first of these, the finding that aging decreases productivity holds true despite significant automation over the last few decades. So automation helps, but it doesn’t fully plug the gap yet (though perhaps with better AI it will). As for moving more workers to cities, official statistics claim that China’s urbanization rate lags that of other developed countries, but satellite evidence shows that China is already more densely urbanized than Germany. So I don’t see much upside there. But in any case, I don’t think China needs these factors to offset aging over the next 25 years — increased education and a higher retirement age should be enough to take care of it.

Links 6/20/24

Links for you. Science:

Updated COVID-19 Vaccines for Use in the United States Beginning in Fall 2024. FDA Updates Advice to Manufacturers of COVID-19 Vaccines (2024-2025 Formula): If Feasible Use KP.2 Strain of JN.1-Lineage
Yes, Everyone Really Is Sick a Lot More Often After Covid: It’s not your imagination: At least 13 communicable diseases are surging past pre-pandemic levels (It’s important to draw attention to this, but my hunch is that the explanations–note the plural–will be very place/time/disease dependent; one dissertation advisor, who was an accomplished theoretician once told me, “Mike, it ultimately comes down to those stupid fucking natural history facts”)
Project 2025 Has Bad Medicine for HHS
Too many children with long COVID are suffering in silence. Their greatest challenge? The myth that the virus is ‘harmless’ for kids
L.A. County COVID cases, hospitalizations rise amid FLiRT variants summer uptick
The Oldest Ecosystems on Earth


As MAGA pursues an agenda of gaslighting and cruelty, timid responses won’t cut it in 2024
How an American Dream of Housing Became a Reality in Sweden. The U.S. once looked to modular construction as an efficient way to build lots of housing at scale, but Sweden picked up the idea and put it into practice (gift link)
GOP Lawmaker Grilled On Why Abortion Was ‘Best Choice’ For His Girlfriend, But Not Others (rape, incest, and me exceptions)
Tales of the Resistance (“Which puts a different complexion, to my way of thinking, on the question of how bad “the generals” were when they balked at Trump’s commands: what’s your responsibility, when your commander and his orders are stupid and corrupt?”)
Trump Reportedly Couldn’t ‘Keep A Thought Straight’ At CEO Meeting: ‘All Over The Map’
Clarence Thomas’ Opinion Legalizing Bump Stocks Is Indefensible
Ex-Aide Says Trump Discussed ‘Executing People’ More Than Bill Barr Claims To Recall
What Made Kathy Hochul Flip? Inside the governor’s sudden U-turn on congestion pricing. (“She traded the MTA for a House seat? Are you fucking crazy?!”)
Trump Is Fine With SCOTUS Legalizing Bump Stocks, Which He’d Helped Ban
D.C. traffic cameras have led to sharp decline in speeding, data shows
Almost 9 In 10 House Republicans Voted To Put A Confederate Memorial Back At Arlington National Cemetery
Senate Republican blocks Democratic-led effort to pass Supreme Court ethics bill
Washington Post Publisher and Incoming Editor Are Said to Have Used Stolen Records in Britain
Elon Musk’s Neuralink forced a pregnant employee to work with herpes-infected monkeys that scratched her, lawsuit says
Sony’s Will Smith Post-Slap Rebound
Crews Rescue 28 People Trapped Upside Down High On Oregon Amusement Park Ride
Inflation Is Not Destroying Joe Biden. But something is! (housing)
The Left’s Trumpnesia Problem: A new poll finds that not only do many young and first-time voters not really remember the chaos of the Trump years, but they don’t really care that much, either, when presented with examples of Trump’s most inflammatory rhetoric.
CEOs at Trump meeting: Ex-president ‘meandering’ and ‘doesn’t know what he’s talking about’
Biden’s Love for His Son Is Beautiful — and It Hits Home for Me
Crypto Tries to Recreate the Koch Money Machine to Pack Congress with Shills
For-Profit Journalism is Unsustainable
The Internet Archive Is a Library
The Democratic Base Has Gotten More Progressive— But Elected Democratic Leaders, Not So Much
The Zombie Classical
The Little-Known Legacy of the EP

Louisiana Should Use the Exodus 34 Version of the Ten Commandments

Since the Great State of Louisiana now requires that the Ten Commandments should be displayed in educational institutions, they now must figure out which version. While much of this has focused on the differences between Catholics and Protestants (no Jews allowed I guess…), there actually are three different versions in the Bible, and one of them, the Exodus 34 (verses 11-24) is very different.

As I’ve argued before, it would be a hilarious protest to post that version. Because we like helping!

Thursday assorted links

1. AI to manage your social media accounts?

2. Portland International Airport Recruits Thousands for “Dress Rehearsal”.

3. India’s Farmers Are Now Getting Their News From AI Anchors (Bloomberg).

4. How a council of 50 members of the Austrian public decided to give away a large sum of money (NYT).  Effective Altruism it ain’t.

5. “As well as stripping rants of their frightening tone, the AI will step in to terminate conversations it deems have been too long or vile.”  FT link.  Is this a good way to protect the morale of call center workers?

6. Was Willie Mays the greatest baseball player ever? I recall as a young boy owning some Willie Mays baseball cards. He simply seemed classier and more special than the other players, as if he had some magic, secret power that others did not.

7. Generative models can outperform the experts that train them.

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Where My Big Idea Came From

I’ve often been asked where the idea for Everything is a Remix came from. But I’ve never given a detailed answer because it came from such a wide and wild melee of sources.

For my upcoming creativity course, The Remix Method, I will answer this question once and for all. But here’s some of the explanation.

Everything is a Remix came unbidden

Everything is a Remix emerged. There was no plan and I wasn’t pursuing anything in particular. This was the process in a nutshell:

  • I discovered interesting segments

  • I saw a connection between them

  • I merged those into a narrative

  • I gave that narrative a theme 

The individual breakdown sections came first: Apple Macintosh, Quentin Tarantino, Star Wars, and Led Zeppelin, along with William Burrough’s cut-ups. I’d likely known about the Mac’s origins for years but realized it could be a good video. Kill Bill came out a few years earlier and I was film nerdy enough to know that it was packed with copying. The Mac and Kill Bill were the bits that got the ball rolling.

All I intended to do with these segments was release them as separate short videos. I didn’t even know they had any relation other than being examples of creative work. But once I had a few of them, I saw a deeper theme, although I couldn’t quite name it.

Along comes remixing

Mash-ups were exploding at the time and I saw the connection between that and these older, classic works. But I didn’t like that term mash-up and it seemed too specific to music. I never considered using it as the framing.

The term remix came from Larry Lessig’s 2008 book Remix. That book was the biggest single influence on Everything is a Remix. This was the first time I’d ever seen the word remix used to mean anything more than a music remix. I remixed Lessig’s use of the remixing concept.

From remixing to hip hop

Music seemed the best way to start telling this story. Hip-hop was the clear way to bridge mash-ups and my first break-down, Led Zeppelin. Hip-hop required almost no research. I’d lived through its rise and knew its history.

The actual phrase Everything is a Remix was one of the last things I did. It was conceived quickly and I ran with it. It just seemed a succinct way to sum up the video.

The source of the style

Mash-up culture and hip-hop were the major stylistic influences on Everything is a Remix, but a couple early video essays took root in my imagination. 

The primary influence was The Substance of Style by Matt Zoller Seitz, which was about the stylistic influences of Wes Anderson. Seitz’s breakdowns and split screens strongly influenced me. (That video seems to be offline. If anyone can find it, please send it to me!)

Another big influence was Red Letter Media’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Review. I didn’t especially like the Plinkett character or the gross comedy, but I liked the analysis and the format. That series also showed me that you could make a video about older stuff and people might care. (The Phantom Menace had been out for nine years.) Aside from mash-ups, there was nothing topical in Everything is a Remix.

Those two series were major, early innovations in the evolution of the video essay format.

The Everything is a Remix concept had been brewing for many months, but the first Everything is a Remix video was made quickly. There wasn’t much editing or even research. The Led Zeppelin segment came together fast and was mostly sourced from this.

There’s way more to the origin of Everything is a Remix and it’s taken some time to unravel it. Pre-order The Remix Method to get the full deep-dive.

"Good" Design

I’ve had some complaints about the pace of the publishing, that there’s too much to read. I can space my posts out a little, but when I’m in full writing mode as I am now, you’re going to see draft chapters in pretty much real time. If you’re behind, you’ll get caught up. The community is providing excellent, timely feedback, which is what I need.

What d…

Read more

Latinx: Supporting Their Businesses in 2024

Latinx are the largest minority in the US and contribute a major chunk to the US economy. Around five million Hispanics and Latinx are business owners. These businesses create employment opportunities and drive revenue for the US economy. They also form a community for people living in the neighborhood for their well-being and skill development.

From being second-class citizens to revenue-driving equals, Latin Americans have come a long way. So, what better way to honor their struggles than by supporting their businesses? All of us, despite our ethnic background, should support minority-owned businesses, as a way of helping them prosper in a majorly-white economy.

Latin Americans are also a major consumer base for the country, so you can see this as a way of giving back to the community. Just like big companies have dedicated customer service for Hispanic customers to encourage inclusivity, we should also try and support our Latin American fellows. Spectrum servicio al cliente, for example, provides immediate assistance to its Hispanic customers.

 Now let us get to the Latinx-owned businesses you should consciously buy from and support them.

How to Support Latinx-Owned Businesses?

Support comes in various forms. Yes, buying from these businesses is one major form of support, but you can try other ways as well: 

  • Spread the word: Visibility is the most important thing a business could have. You can support them by recommending them in your circles and on social media. You can feature them online and encourage your friends with a following to do the same. 
  • Engage on their social media: Social media is the bread and butter for all businesses now, especially the Latinx-owned ones. Some of these businesses may not have the funds for marketing and advertisement. You can engage on their social media posts and share them with your friends and families. 
  • Invest: Funding is the way for such businesses to grow and expand. If you have the funds, you can partner with them and allow them to expand in whatever capacity they want to.
  • Collaborate for Corporate Events: Every business seeks a corporate client since they bring in more profits. You can support these Latinx-owned businesses by collaborating with them for corporate events. For more impact, you can place their standees in your events. 

Top Latinx -Owned Businesses to Support

These are just some of the suggestions, but as we mentioned above, there are millions of Latin-owned businesses so you can find the local ones and make a conscious effort to support them. We have listed some of them below:


Everyone loves flowers. But what we love more are ethically harvested flowers. BloomsyBox is owned by Juan Palacio, a Latin American of Columbian origin. It is a flower subscription website which specializes in providing bouquets made from farms in Latin American countries like Columbia, Ecuador, Argentina, and Nicaragua. 

Palacio believes in embracing your roots. BloomsyBox allows you to receive different varieties of flowers grown in these countries, all year round. It is a great way to connect to your Latin American roots, if any, and buy from a business that spends to protect the integrity of native lands and communities. 

Los Colores de la Tierra

Think heritage jewelry, but completely plastic-free. Los Colores de la Tierra, translated as the colors of the Earth, is a jewelry brand dedicated to improving the working conditions of jewelry artisans in Guatemala.

The jewelries are made from clay, fabric, and locally sourced jade. It is inspired by the Mayan people. These jewelries are completely plastic-free and is made from age-old techniques. The owner, Jaime Vargas works to dignify the working conditions of the jewelry artisans. The brand also has physical shops in Antigua but you can buy jewelry from the website as well. 


Ceremonia is a hair care brand run by a Latin American, Babba Rivera. 

Having a father who was a hair-dresser, Rivera grew up with the importance of healthy hair in her culture. She takes the hair care rituals from her Latinx heritage and sustainably produced natural ingredients to formulate hair care products. 

Ceremonia has products that cater to help in frizz control, correcting damaged hair, maintaining scalp health, and caring for curly hair. Rivera also frequently shares tips and tricks on the website blog as well, which gives more insight into Latinx hair-care heritage.

Min & Mon

Co-owned by the Columbian couple Andrés Felipe Quintero and Carolina Llano, Min & Mon specializes in handbags. These bags are made from leather, traditionally produced in Columbia. 

It started when Carolina Llano was not allowed to work, post-immigration, due to her visa and she would design bags. The design caters to the younger generation, as a means of connecting them to the owners’ Columbian heritage. It fosters individuality, with its unique and quirky designs. These bags are handcrafted in Columbia, and allow the local artisans to have improved working conditions and fair wages.


Latin American countries are known for their diverse flavor range. Pisqueya is a Latin American brand that makes high-quality Dominican food products. 

The owner, Maritza Abreu, felt the absence of Dominican representation from the global food scene. She filled the gap by making a brand out of inherently Dominican food products like sauces, spices, and rubs. The hot sauce is made from a recipe that has existed in her family for decades. The sauces are earthy, spicy, and are bound to become a staple in your pantry. 

Wrapping Up

Latinx individuals have a lot more to contribute to the US market than just revenue. Their innovative ideas, rooted in their heritage, set them apart. Supporting these businesses helps them grow, and creates more opportunities for different ethnicities to come to the forefront.


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Rocket Lab successfully launches its 50th Electron rocket

A close-up shot of the nine Rutherford engines at the base of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. The flight marked the 50th launch of Electron since its debut in 2017. Image: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab successfully reached a milestone that few commercial rockets achieved and at a pace that outperformed its competition. The company launched its 50th Electron rocket to date just seven years after the vehicle’s debut in May 2017.

The instantaneous liftoff from Launch Complex 1 at New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula happened at 6:13 a.m. NZST on Friday, June 21 (2:13 p.m. EDT, 1813 UTC on Thursday, June 20).

Onboard the rocket were five satellites on behalf of France-based internet of things company, Kinéis. This was the first of five dedicated flights for the company to deploy its full constellation, consisting of 25 satellites. All five on this flight were successfully deployed.

The satellites will orbit at an inclination of 98 degrees with the five satellites deploying “in a precise sequence in singles and as pairs to build out the constellation exactly as Kinéis needs it,” according to Rocket Lab.

The golden launch

The launch for Rocket Lab comes at a busy time for the business, which is pushing towards becoming an end-to-end space company. That includes multiple upcoming missions for U.S. agencies, like the National Reconnaissance Office and the U.S. Space Force as well as preparing for a planetary mission to Mars with Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket as the ride to space.

Prior to Electron’s 50th launch, Sir Peter Beck, the founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, said he and his team are immensely proud of reaching this milestone in the time that they did.

“Out of all the commercially developed rockets in the world, Electron reaching 50, we did it in the fastest amount of time. So, we scaled faster to 50 than anybody else, faster than the Falcon 9, faster than Pegasus, faster than anything else commercially,” Beck said. “And that’s a really hard thing to do because whether it’s a giant rocket or a little rocket, the scaling element is the same and it’s super, super hard.”

A graph of commercially-developed, orbital-class rockets and how quickly they reached or approached 50 launches. Graphic: Rocket Lab

Beck said much of the Electron rockets flying today are quite similar to the rockets that kicked off their orbital launch business. He said in addition to their successes, they’ve also taken away a great deal from their failures as well.

“I prefer not to think about it because they’re such devastating moments. They’re incredibly painful. And yes, it’s true that after those moments, you build a better vehicle,” Beck said. “But I always remind the team to never, never be happy, because if you’re happy, the rocket gods will come down with a baseball bat and let you know who’s in charge.

“So, we’re always striving to improve the vehicle. Every opportunity we can to improve it or make it more reliable, we take. And it’s just the harsh reality of spaceflight: it’s incredibly difficult.”

He noted that they are continuing to book more and more Electron flights each year as they progress with the program and prepare to bring the larger and reusable Neutron rocket to market by mid-2025. But he said their pace of launch will continue to be driven by customer demand.

A recoverable Electron rocket lifts off from the North Island of New Zealand carrying the Acadia 1 satellite for Capella Space. Image: Rocket Lab.

“Any CEO is going to say say that they want to see it scale vertically, right? The reality is, we scale with our customer demand. And the customer demand changes all the time, depending on geopolitical circumstances, where people are at in building their constellations and all the rest of it,” Beck said.

“What I will say is, this year, we sold more Electrons than we’ve ever sold before and next year is shaping up to be the same. So, we certainly hope that the scaling continues for the product, but it’s purely driven by market demand.” Reports Active Inventory Up 36.0% YoY

What this means: On a weekly basis, reports the year-over-year change in active inventory and new listings. On a monthly basis, they report total inventory. For April, reported inventory was up 35.2% YoY, but still down almost 34% compared to April 2017 to 2019 levels. 

 Now - on a weekly basis - inventory is up 36.0% YoY. has monthly and weekly data on the existing home market. Here is their weekly report: Weekly Housing Trends View—Data for Week Ending June 15, 2024
Active inventory increased, with for-sale homes 36.0% above year-ago levels.

For the 32nd straight week, there were more homes listed for sale versus the prior year, giving homebuyers more options. This past week, the inventory of homes for sale grew by 36.0% compared with last year, maintaining the same rate of growth as the previous week.

New listings–a measure of sellers putting homes up for sale–were up this week, by 8.0% from one year ago.

Seller activity continued to climb annually last week, matching last week’s annual growth rate of 8%. These past few months sellers have been particularly sensitive to mortgage rates, with newly listed homes being one of the first metrics to respond to the small fluctuations seen in mortgage rates in recent months. If the promising inflation readings seen in May continue, it could lead to softening rates and increase in seller interest toward the latter half of the year. Meanwhile, newly listed homes remained approximately 22% below pre-pandemic (2017 to 2019) levels.
Realtor YoY Active ListingsHere is a graph of the year-over-year change in inventory according to

Inventory was up year-over-year for the 32nd consecutive week.  

However, inventory is still historically low.

New listings remain below typical pre-pandemic levels although up year-over-year.

Thomas Schelling meets LLMs?

Drawing on political science and international relations literature about escalation dynamics, we design a novel wargame simulation and scoring framework to assess the escalation risks of actions taken by these agents in different scenarios. Contrary to prior studies, our research provides both qualitative and quantitative insights and focuses on large language models (LLMs). We find that all five studied off-the-shelf LLMs show forms of escalation and difficult-to-predict escalation patterns. We observe that models tend to develop arms-race dynamics, leading to greater conflict, and in rare cases, even to the deployment of nuclear weapons. Qualitatively, we also collect the models’ reported reasonings for chosen actions and observe worrying justifications based on deterrence and first-strike tactics.

That is from a new paper by Juan-Pablo Rivera,, via the excellent Ethan Mollick.  Do note that these recommended tactics are for the U.S., so perhaps the LLMs simply are telling us that America should be more hawkish.

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Related Stories


‘That’s Odd — Usually the Blood Gets Off at the Second Floor’

Speaking of Louie Mantia, back in 2011 he made a terrific wallpaper of the iconic hallway carpeting from the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. He just remade it, with even better color accuracy and texture. And to go along with it, a new wallpaper based on the carpet inside room 237. There ain’t nothing in room 237. But you ain’t got no business going in there anyway. So stay out. You understand? Stay out. But feel free to use the wallpaper.


Louie Mantia on Dark Mode App Icons

Louie Mantia:

Apple’s announcement of “dark mode” icons has me thinking about how I would approach adapting “light mode” icons for dark mode. I grabbed 12 icons we made at Parakeet for our clients to illustrate some ways of going about it. [...]

Unfortunately, some icons appear to have lost or gained weight in dark mode. For example, the Settings gear didn’t change size in dark mode, but it appears to occupy less space because the dark circle around it blends with its background. That makes it appear smaller than the Find My icon, which now looks enormous next to FaceTime. This is a remnant of some questionable design choices in iOS 7 that have lingered now for the last decade.

That last sentence is the most diplomatic thing I’ve ever heard from Louie. What a splendid post this is — exemplary work to illustrate his advice.


The Science of Having a Great Conversation. “The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard. Some of the best talkers are, on this account, the worst company.” (Excerpted from David Robson’s The Laws of Connection.)

💬 Join the discussion on

Perplexity AI Is Lying About Their User Agent

Robb Knight:

I put up a post about blocking AI bots after the block was in place, so assuming the user agents are sent, there’s no way Perplexity should be able to access my site. So I asked:

What is this post about

I got a perfect summary of the post including various details that they couldn’t have just guessed. Read the full response here. So what the fuck are they doing?

I checked a few sites and this is just Google Chrome running on Windows 10. So they’re using headless browsers to scrape content, ignoring robots.txt, and not sending their user agent string. I can’t even block their IP ranges because it appears these headless browsers are not on their IP ranges.

Terrific, succinct write-up documenting that Perplexity has clearly been reading and indexing web pages that it is forbidden, by site owner policy, from reading and indexing — all contrary to Perplexity’s own documentation and public statements.


A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet; An Encryption Back Door by Any Other Name Would Still Smell Like Shit

Signal president Meredith Whittaker, responding to a new initiative in the EU to ban end-to-end-encryption (for some reason published as a PDF despite the fact that Signal has a blog):

In November, the EU Parliament lit a beacon for global tech policy when it voted to exclude end-to-end encryption from mass surveillance orders in the chat control legislation. This move responded to longstanding expert consensus, and a global coalition of hundreds of preeminent computer security experts who patiently weighed in to explain the serious dangers of the approaches on the table — approaches that aimed to subject everyone’s private communications to mass scanning against a government-curated database or AI model of “acceptable” speech and content.

There is no way to implement such proposals in the context of end-to-end encrypted communications without fundamentally undermining encryption and creating a dangerous vulnerability in core infrastructure that would have global implications well beyond Europe.

Instead of accepting this fundamental mathematical reality, some European countries continue to play rhetorical games. They’ve come back to the table with the same idea under a new label. Instead of using the previous term “client-side scanning,” they’ve rebranded and are now calling it “upload moderation.” Some are claiming that “upload moderation” does not undermine encryption because it happens before your message or video is encrypted. This is untrue.

Yes, but it’s a great idea to let these same EU bureaucrats design how mobile software distribution should work.


Copilot Plus PCs, Where the ‘Plus’ Means More Dumb Stickers

Paul Thurrott on Threads, after getting his new Samsung Galaxy Book4 Edge laptop:

Former Windows head Terry Myerson once told me the goal of partnering with Qualcomm on Windows on Arm was to “get those f#$%ing Intel stickers off of PCs.”

Mission accomplished, Terry. There are no Intel stickers on the new Qualcomm-based Copilot+ PCs.

Still covered with stickers. And as Thurrott’s photo hints at, and this screenshot from Tim Schofield’s unboxing video shows clearly, Samsung can’t even be bothered to apply the stickers straight. Looks like they were applied by a little kid. Screams “premium” experience.

Two of these stickers don’t even make sense. The Snapdragon one is obviously paid for by Qualcomm, the same way Intel pays PC makers to apply their stickers. But why would Samsung booger up its own laptops with stickers promoting their own Dynamic AMOLED 2X display technology? And what’s the deal with the Energy Star stickers? Who pays to put those on laptops and why?


Samsung Warns That Their New Snapdragon-Based PCs Aren’t Compatible With Fortnite or Some Adobe Apps

Yang Jie and Jiyoung Sohn, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

Samsung’s Galaxy Book 4 Edge [sic], which went on sale Tuesday in the U.S., South Korea and some other markets, contains Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor. It runs a version of Microsoft’s Windows 11 for PCs that uses technology from U.K.-based Arm.

On Wednesday, Samsung put a notice on its Korean-language product site listing applications that it currently determines are incompatible with the new laptop or can’t be installed. The list included some Adobe software as well as popular games including “League of Legends” and “Fortnite.”

Sounds like maybe Microsoft’s Prism isn’t as good as Apple’s Rosetta 2 after all? Or that Prism isn’t capable of running low-level anti-piracy (Adobe) and anti-cheating (Epic) rootkit-style system extensions?

The issues offer an early hint of the challenges some tech companies may face as they introduce new AI-powered computers and smartphones while seeking to maintain compatibility with existing software.

What an odd paragraph. This has nothing to do with phones, and the only “tech companies” affected are Microsoft, who makes Windows, and PC makers whose machines run Windows and have adopted Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon chips. Macs made the transition from Intel’s x86 architecture to Apple’s ARM-based Apple silicon without users noticing anything other than dramatically longer battery life and faster performance, including when running x86 software in emulation.

(I put a sic above because Samsung’s new laptops are named “Galaxy Book4 Edge”, with no space between the “Book” and the “4”. Great product name that rolls right off the tongue, as usual, from Samsung.)


FTC Lawsuit Alleges Adobe’s Cancellation Fees Are Illegal

Ashley Belanger, reporting for Ars Technica:

The government’s heavily redacted complaint laid out Adobe’s alleged scheme, which starts with “manipulative enrollment practices.”

To lock subscribers into recurring monthly payments, Adobe would typically pre-select by default its most popular “annual paid monthly” plan, the FTC alleged. That subscription option locked users into an annual plan despite paying month to month. If they canceled after a two-week period, they’d owe Adobe an early termination fee (ETF) that costs 50 percent of their remaining annual subscription. The “material terms” of this fee are hidden during enrollment, the FTC claimed, only appearing in “disclosures that are designed to go unnoticed and that most consumers never see.” [...]

Because Adobe allegedly only alerted users to the ETF in fine print — by hovering over a small icon or clicking a hyperlink in small text — while the company’s cancellation flows made it hard to end recurring payments, the FTC is suing and accusing Adobe of deceptive practices under the FTC Act.

Adobe is too good a company to push dark-pattern subscription schemes like this. They should concede, apologize, and eliminate every subscription that isn’t a simple straightforward annual or monthly plan.


Mike Masnick: ‘The Surgeon General Is Wrong; Social Media Doesn’t Need Warning Labels’

Mike Masnick, writing for The Daily Beast:

We put health warnings on things that are inherently harmful, with little redeeming health value. That is, things that are actually toxins: nicotine, lead, poisons.

The complaints here are with speech. [...]

The American Psychological Association released a similar report, concluding: “Using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people.” Instead, it finds that when young people struggle with mental health, their online lives are often just a reflection of their offline lives.

Lots of other research has shown the same thing, yet Murthy’s call for health warnings never mentions all of this research that suggests social media is actually beneficial for many. Instead, he cites a few anecdotes of children who were bullied online. But bullying happened prior to social media, and we did not talk about putting health warnings on telephones or notepads or other forms of communication.

Just pure panic-driven ninny-ism. It’s like the whole nonsense with “trigger warnings”. Masnick brings up Reagan-era Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s nonsensical crusade against video games in the 1980s. I’m also reminded of Tipper Gore’s campaign for warning labels on music albums.


OpenAI Expats Found ‘Safe Superintelligence Inc.’

Ilya Sutskever, Daniel Gross, and Daniel Levy:

We approach safety and capabilities in tandem, as technical problems to be solved through revolutionary engineering and scientific breakthroughs. We plan to advance capabilities as fast as possible while making sure our safety always remains ahead.

This way, we can scale in peace.

Our singular focus means no distraction by management overhead or product cycles, and our business model means safety, security, and progress are all insulated from short-term commercial pressures.

We are an American company with offices in Palo Alto and Tel Aviv, where we have deep roots and the ability to recruit top technical talent.

Sutskever was the chief scientist and cofounder of OpenAI, who launched a failed coup against Sam Altman earlier this year. I certainly hope they’re more safe than OpenAI is open.

(Via Techmeme.)


Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Decrease to 238,000

The DOL reported:
In the week ending June 15, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 238,000, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 242,000 to 243,000. The 4-week moving average was 232,750, an increase of 5,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 227,000 to 227,250.
emphasis added
The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Click on graph for larger image.

The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims increased to 232,750.

The previous week was revised up.

Weekly claims were close to the consensus forecast.

Single Family Starts Down Slightly Year-over-year in May; Multi-Family Starts Down 50%

Today, in the Calculated Risk Real Estate Newsletter: Single Family Starts Down Slightly Year-over-year in May; Multi-Family Starts Down 50%

A brief excerpt:
Total housing starts in May were below expectations, however, starts in March and April were revised up slightly, combined.

The third graph shows the month-to-month comparison for total starts between 2023 (blue) and 2024 (red).

Starts 2022 vs 2023Total starts were down 19.3% in May compared to May 2023.  Note that starts in May 2023 were very strong, so the year-over-year comparison was difficult.

The YoY decline in total starts was mostly due to the sharp YoY decrease in multi-family starts, although single family starts were down slightly YoY following 10 months of year-over-year increases.
There is much more in the article.

Housing Starts Decreased to 1.277 million Annual Rate in May

From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions
Housing Starts:
Privately‐owned housing starts in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,277,000. This is 5.5 percent below the revised April estimate of 1,352,000 and is 19.3 percent below the May 2023 rate of 1,583,000. Single‐family housing starts in May were at a rate of 982,000; this is 5.2 percent below the revised April figure of 1,036,000. The May rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 278,000.

Building Permits:
Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,386,000. This is 3.8 percent below the revised April rate of 1,440,000 and is 9.5 percent below the May 2023 rate of 1,532,000. Single‐family authorizations in May were at a rate of 949,000; this is 2.9 percent below the revised April figure of 977,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 382,000 in May.
emphasis added
Multi Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts since 2000.

Multi-family starts (blue, 2+ units) decreased in May compared to April.   Multi-family starts were down 49.5% year-over-year.

Single-family starts (red) decreased in May and were down 1.7% year-over-year.

Multi Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsThe second graph shows single and multi-family housing starts since 1968.

This shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then the eventual recovery - and the recent collapse and recovery in single-family starts.

Total housing starts in May were below expectations, however, starts in March and April were revised up, combined.

I'll have more later …

Recovering Public Keys from Signatures

Interesting summary of various ways to derive the public key from digitally signed files.

Normally, with a signature scheme, you have the public key and want to know whether a given signature is valid. But what if we instead have a message and a signature, assume the signature is valid, and want to know which public key signed it? A rather delightful property if you want to attack anonymity in some proposed “everybody just uses cryptographic signatures for everything” scheme.

New Blog Moderation Policy

There has been a lot of toxicity in the comments section of this blog. Recently, we’re having to delete more and more comments. Not just spam and off-topic comments, but also sniping and personal attacks. It’s gotten so bad that I need to do something.

My options are limited because I’m just one person, and this website is free, ad-free, and anonymous. I pay for a part-time moderator out of pocket; he isn’t able to constantly monitor comments. And I’m unwilling to require verified accounts.

So starting now, we will be pre-screening comments and letting through only those that 1) are on topic, 2) contribute to the discussion, and 3) don’t attack or insult anyone. The standard is not going to be “well, I guess this doesn’t technically quite break a rule,” but “is this actually contributing.”

Obviously, this is a subjective standard; sometimes good comments will accidentally get thrown out. And the delayed nature of the screening will result in less conversation and more disjointed comments. Those are costs, and they’re significant ones. But something has to be done, and I would like to try this before turning off all comments.

I am going to disable comments on the weekly squid posts. Topicality is too murky on an open thread, and these posts are especially hard to keep on top of.

Comments will be reviewed and published when possible, usually in the morning and evening. Sometimes it will take longer. Again, the moderator is part time, so please be patient.

I apologize to all those who have just kept commenting reasonably all along. But I’ve received three e-mails in the past couple of months about people who have given up on comments because of the toxicity.

So let’s see if this works. I’ve been able to maintain an anonymous comment section on this blog for almost twenty years. It’s kind of astounding that it’s worked as long as it has. Maybe its time is up.

Kidney transplants for cats

 Kidney transplants for cats are a thing, and they all take the form of kidney exchange with a very short chain, in which the lives of two cats are saved. The donor cat is either an unadopted cat from a 'kill shelter,' or a veteran of a medical research trial, who (as the story below says) would otherwise face a "bleak future." But when such a cat becomes a living kidney donor, it is adopted into the family of the cat who receives the transplant (and I guess it goes without saying that they love cats..)

The Washington Post has the story

.Cat kidney transplants: For some, the pricey procedure is well worth it. The surgery can cost up to $25,000. “I just spent $17,000 on my roof, and I love my cat a lot more than my roof,” one person said.  By Marlene Cimons

"Segal, then living in the Boston area, drove his cat to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia where Despy underwent a kidney transplant in 2018. Today, Despy is thriving. So is Stevie, the kidney donor cat from a local shelter that Segal agreed to adopt as part of the renal transplant.


"Chronic kidney disease is one of the most common conditions in aging cats and a leading cause of death. The disease can be heritable, afflicting young cats such as Despy, and can result from toxin exposure, such as eating lilies.


"Like humans, cats have two kidneys, which filter waste from the body, and can live with just one if that kidney is healthy.

"Kidney transplants in cats began more than 25 years ago, although they still are rare, and only three facilities perform them: Penn Vet, the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Penn Vet has performed 185 transplants since 1998, the Georgia school more than 40 since 2009, and Wisconsin 87 since 1996.


"Many pet health insurance companies will cover some of the costs for the recipient, but usually not for the donor because “the donor is not the insured pet,” according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. The cost for the donor surgery to harvest the kidney is about 25 percent of the $25,000 total, Aronson says.


"Matching is easier for cats than it is for humans needing a transplant because there are only two blood types among all cats.

"Donors come from cat research breeding facilities or shelters, where they might otherwise have a bleak future, and families whose cats undergo transplants must adopt the donors. “For the cost of a kidney, [the donor cats] get to move in with a cat-loving household and are universally loved by their new adoptive families,” Schmiedt says.


"Transplants other than kidneys in pets aren’t viable because most require the death of the donor. Kidney transplants in dogs can be challenging because, unlike cats, they often suffer problems with immunosuppression, says Aronson, who has performed three. (The dogs survived but did not do as well long-term as cats, she says.)



Monday, November 23, 2020

Colin Sullivan on organ transplant policy (and on the job market this year)

His job market paper is an experiment with an exceptionally creative design. (Spoiler: it involves a cat actually getting a kidney transplant.) 

Eliciting Preferences Over Life And Death: Experimental Evidence From Organ Transplantation by Colin by D. Sullivan

How Picasso Turned Me into a Strategy Consultant

The story of how I became a strategy consultant is shameful.

I was a student at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and needed a job after graduation. I wanted to work in the music or entertainment industries—but I soon learned this was an impossible dream.

They didn’t want me. And they didn’t want my classmates either.

Here I am—in the “Face Book” (that’s really what we called it) for my business school class. My beard was soon gone in this new setting.

Hundreds of companies came to our business school to recruit talent, and they included most of the leading US corporations. So I talked with everybody—Coca Cola, Morgan Stanley, Atari, Procter & Gamble, you name it.

But no record label or movie studio ever showed up. They didn’t even send job listings.

Can you guess why?

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I asked around on campus and was told the following (off the record):

Come on, Ted. You will never see the entertainment business recruit here. Those folks are not looking for business talent.

They give the choice jobs to their family members—the idiot nephew gets hired, not an MBA. Even better if it’s an idiot son.

And if there are other openings? Well….You’ve heard about the casting couch, haven’t you? Let me give you a hint—that couch isn’t just for auditioning the cast.

But you wouldn’t want a job there even if they gave you one. When time comes for a promotion, the drooling idiot nephew moves up—not you.

I’ve never shared that story before—because I know how people inside the music business hate hearing it.

And maybe it’s not a fair story.

All I can say is that I found this advice very helpful. I stopped planning on a career in the music business. And I also developed a very useful theory to explain why record labels are so bad at making strategic decisions.

I call it the “Idiot Nephew Theory”:

THE IDIOT NEPHEW THEORY: Whenever a record label makes a strategic decision, it picks the option that the boss’s idiot nephew thinks is best.

And what does the idiot nephew decide? That’s easy—they always do whatever the company lawyer recommends.

Maybe this theory is wrong. All I can say is that it helps me predict events in the entertainment industry with a surprising degree of accuracy.

I always operate on the assumption that there’s no business strategy in the music or movie business—only legal maneuvering.

Years later, when the music business got totally reamed by tech companies—a phase we’re still living through, by the way—I wasn’t surprised in the least. The record labels respond to every new music technology by litigating, but whenever they encounter a company with more legal clout than them (Apple or Google/YouTube, for example), they just give up.

In the future, you can test this theory yourself. You will see that it possesses great explanatory power.

Back in my student days, someone told me the story of a Stanford MBA who had graduated a few years before me. His childhood dream was to work for the Disney Corporation.

He kept trying to get an interview for a job there—writing letters and cold calling—and was constantly rejected.

But he was so persistent that, after months and months, he finally got hired in the finance department. I’m told that the level of financial incompetence he encountered was so extreme that he could hardly believe it. Even as a junior employee he made huge improvements in their banking arrangements and cash management.

I can’t confirm that story—I got it second-hand. But it rings true. Hollywood was run on nepotism, and so, of course, the financing would be dodgy.

Hey, that made me feel better. But I still needed a job.

Even though I knew record labels and movie studios didn’t want me, I found it hard to give up my dreams.

I started hanging out at the offices of Palo Alto Records, a jazz label backed (I was told) by the guy who invented the money market fund. The label was run by Dr. Herb Wong and Al Evers, and I tried to convince them to hire me.

I honestly didn’t care how much they paid. I just wanted a chance to work in a field I loved.

But it didn’t pan out. (And that was probably a blessing, because the label didn’t last long.) So I started looking at other options.

Management consulting firms approached me. This surprised me—I’d never seen myself doing that kind of work. But the consulting firms had more confidence in my skills than I did myself.

And after my frustrations with the music businesses, it felt nice to get recruited.

But what did I know about consulting? Absolutely nothing.

I need to emphasize that I had entered business school without any meaningful work experience. It’s a miracle they even let me in. And maybe even more of a miracle that I survived and earned a MBA. (I’ve written about that here.)

Even after all those business courses, I still thought like a musician.

And—here’s the strangest part of the story—that obsession with music is why I decided I wanted to work with the Boston Consulting Group.

BCG sent me a recruiting brochure about the firm. And the brochure had a reproduction of Picasso’s painting Three Musicians on the cover.

I made my decision to become a strategy consultant on the basis of that picture.

Here it is:

I know what you’re thinking—what kind of idiot picks a job based on the cover photo in a recruiting brochure?

That idiot is me.

I assumed that the people at the Boston Consulting Group must be very cool and creative if they picked Three Musicians for the cover.

Only years later did I realize that some outside design firm had probably made this decision. By then it was too late. I was already a strategy consultant.

But I never regretted my decision—although I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I’d just moved to Hollywood and started knocking on doors of record labels in search of a job.

The plain truth is that I’ve always acted spontaneously—and not just when confronted by Picasso paintings. Somehow it all works out.

I married my wife after only spending a few days in her company, and we’re still going strong after 32 years. Many of the biggest decisions in my life got made after deliberating a few minutes—or maybe not even that much.

Frankly, I don’t think my situation is so unusual. All of us are guided by feelings and impulses, and not just brute logic and rationalism. I’m probably more impulsive and spontaneous than most people because of my jazz obsession, but we all need at least a little dose of jazzy risk-taking in our lives.

Of course, I still had a lot to learn in this new role.

The Boston Consulting Group was very different in those days. Frankly, a lot of what BCG does nowadays makes me uneasy—I don’t think I would fit in with its ideology today.

But back when I joined, it was tiny. The firm only had 340 consultants in the entire world—by comparison, it has more than 10,000 professionals today! Back then, you could know everybody by name, and they were impressive, freewheeling folks.

That world is gone now.

In those early days of strategy consulting, there was no bureaucracy. It was more like a musical group. (In fact, we had an actual rock band at the firm.) Risk-taking was encouraged; high quality conceptual thinking and big, bold ideas were rewarded.

We were free to draw on any tool that might produce results—game theory, Monte Carlo simulations, private detective work, even drawing pictures.

For my part, I found a place where I could fit in—and without sacrificing my individuality or creativity. That’s never easy to do.

I wasn’t at BCG for long—I eventually left to teach jazz at Stanford—but I learned a lot during that period and still draw on it today. (I will write more about that later.)

So I have Picasso to thank for all this. He’s better at career advice than you think.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Part XXIV

WashingtonTimes: Residents in rural America are eager to access high-speed internet under a $42.5 billion federal modernization program, but not a single home or business has been connected to new broadband networks nearly three years after President Biden signed the funding into law, and no project will break ground until sometime next year.

A big part of the problem is the piling on to any government program a host of progressive wish-list items including:

• Preference for hiring union workers, who are scarce in some rural areas.

• Requiring providers to prioritize “certain segments of the workforce, such as individuals with past criminal records,” when building broadband networks.

• Requiring eligible entities to “account not only for current [climate-related] risks but also for how the frequency, severity, and nature of these extreme events may plausibly evolve as our climate continues to change over the coming decades.”

If this sounds familiar, recall my post on Building Back Key Bridge Better (note the date).

By the way, the FCC estimates that 7.2 million locations, i.e. houses and businesses, don’t have broadband access. $42.5 billion is enough to give all 7.2 million locations a 4-year subscription to Starlink (7.2 million locations * $120 per month * 48 months=$42.7 billion), and I am sure Elon would give us a discount so I didn’t include set up costs. Of course, the FCC decided that Starlink was not eligible for the program citing “SpaceX’s failure to successfully launch its Starship rocket.” Note that the FCC made their decision in 2022, years before the program was to rollout.

The post Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Part XXIV appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.




America’s rich never sell their assets. How should they be taxed?

It is tempting to tax them during their lives. It is wiser to do so after their deaths

Indian state capitalism looks to be in trouble

A weakened Narendra Modi is bad news for investors in government-controlled firms

Peruvian tips for public speaking

Why the author Daniel Alarcón likes to read a curious little Peruvian book of speeches and toasts when he’s feeling homesick

- by Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Is America approaching peak tip?

The country’s gratuity madness may soon calm, so long as Donald Trump does not get his way

The disruption nexus

Black and white photograph depicts a flood with rising water levels in a residential area. Strong currents and waves are visible, and houses in the background are partially submerged. Floodwater covers much of the landscape, with a lone tree and partial wooden structure in the foreground.

Moments of crisis, such as our own, are great opportunities for historic change, but only under highly specific conditions

- by Roman Krznaric

Read at Aeon

Europe faces an unusual problem: ultra-cheap energy

The continent is failing to adapt to a renewables boom

China Accused of Erasing Uyghur Names from Villages in Xinjiang

Human Rights Watch accuses Chinese authorities of systematically renaming Uyghur villages in Xinjiang in a way that erases references to Uyghur religion, history or culture. According to their research, about 3,600 of 25,000 villages in Xinjiang were renamed between 2009 and 2023. “About four-fifths of these changes appear mundane, such as number changes, or corrections to names previously written incorrectly. But the 630, about a fifth, involve changes of a religious, cultural, or historical nature.” [BBC News]

OpenStreetMap Is Dealing with Some Vandalism

It seems OpenStreetMap has had to deal with a wave of vandalism attacks lately. If you see some nonsense on OSM, this post on their community forum outlines what to do about it (it may have already been taken care of even if it’s still appearing, so check for that; also, don’t post screencaps, because propagating the nonsense is what the vandals want). The OSM ops team provided this update on Mastodon today: “OpenStreetMap is now stronger with improved monitoring, automatic blocking, and respectful limits on new accounts. The default map is now quicker at fixing large-scale vandalism. Offline actions are also progressing.”

Topo and Trail Maps Coming to Apple Maps in iOS 18/macOS Sequoia

Three views of Apple Maps in hiking/trail mode on an iPhone. (Apple)

Topographical maps and hiking maps are coming to Apple Maps on the Mac, iPhone and iPad as of macOS Sequoia and iOS/iPadOS 18, due out this fall. The hiking maps will be at least for U.S. national parks, and will also be available in offline mode because hiking in areas without cell service is the point. Other features coming to Maps include custom walking routes and saved places. [Spatially Adjusted]

Do dragons fight on the altar of the sky?  Do dragons fight on the altar of the sky?

The polity and culture that is Oregon

Oregon voters will likely decide in November whether to establish a historic universal basic income program that would give every state resident roughly $750 annually from increased corporate taxes.

Proponents of the concept say they likely have enough signatures to place it on the ballot this fall, and opponents are taking them seriously…

“It’s looking really good. It’s really exciting,” said Anna Martinez, a Portland hairstylist who helped form the group behind the campaign, Oregon People’s Rebate, in 2020. If approved by voters, the program would go into effect in January 2025.

Most of the Portland business community opposes the proposal.  Here is the full story, via Mark W.

The post The polity and culture that is Oregon appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



Related Stories


Do not stifle supply and then subsidize demand

That phrasing comes from Arnold Kling, right?  It is also the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is one bit:

Unfortunately, the US already was setting a bad example for the British. Recent plans from the Biden administration called for a broadly similar approach to housing policy, namely subsidizing demand. Earlier this year, Biden called for $10,000 tax credits for Americans buying starter homes and for those selling them. That too will boost the demand for housing and raise prices, and thus much of the value of the subsidy will be captured by current homeowners.

The Biden plan could increase home prices further yet. If Americans come to expect that the government will act repeatedly to prop up home prices, housing will appear to be a safer investment. Thus there will be yet another reason for demand to rise.

Like Sunak’s, Biden’s plan also calls for more construction, namely two million new or renovated affordable homes. The problem is that in the US, most of the obstacles to new construction come at the city, county and state levels. The Biden plan mentions tax credits for cheaper homes, and there are efforts to jawbone local governments to allow more building. But again, the federal government is better at handing out cash than inducing America’s decentralized political system to deregulate construction. So if this plan were to move forward, the likely outcome — as in the UK — would be subsidized demand and stifled supply, leading to higher home prices.

Lessons our governments still need to learn…

The post Do not stifle supply and then subsidize demand appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



Related Stories


Armchair Analysis on Mental Stability

Media’s Obsession with Biden and Trump’s Mental Fitness Overshadows Policy Issues

The presidential campaigns — and an inordinate number of media reports — are making a lot of noise these days about the mental capacities of Joe Biden and Donald Trump, apparently part of the relentless concern about two aging candidates.

Of course, among the campaigns themselves, exaggeration is a game of persuasion. If the campaigns can make us think the opponent is doddering, unable to focus or otherwise just out of it, the expectation is that any rational voter would opt for their candidate for that reason alone.

In other words, we have become inured to these treatments, and expect campaigns to stretch the truth or outright lie about opponents.

The questions arising from media reports about the campaigning, about the public appearances of candidates, about flip-flops, gaffes and missteps, are something else altogether. The coverage of the campaigns now likely has an outsized role in setting perceptions about what the candidates themselves even have to say.

As such, we are seeing plenty of evidence that the political lean of various organizations offering “news” as well as commentary, is leading us down unwanted paths of mental and emotional psychology and intentions for and against all the candidates. Through selectivity of images and words, we’re receiving constant messages not about issue differences or even the desire to defend or undercut democratic institutions, but about the candidates’ supposed mental state.

Gaffes Aplenty

An image of Biden turned to watch an arriving paratrooper during the European gathering of international leaders was variously cropped and presented in selected media as if he was completely out of the moment and place — evidence of a doddering fellow who didn’t know where he was.  Reports from a private fund-raiser between Trump and various business leaders suggested that Trump was babbling incoherently, much to the amazement of those present. MSNBC routinely cuts away from Trump speeches because he repeats so many provable lies about himself and the country’s political life.

We’re being presented these “facts” with incomplete context, that are treated differently on CNN or in The New York Times or The Washington Post than on Fox News and commentary hours, as if it is the media outlet’s campaign for office. Then commentators suggest that the mainstream outlets are biased for the perceived liberal and The New York Post and Fox for the more conservative.

The Wall Street Journal, which usually is seen as awfully mainstream itself, brought industry criticism on itself with a highlighted article about what how confused Biden seems to be as a working partner — quoting only Republican opponents who had negotiated with Biden over policy. Whatever else, the presentation appeared unfair and unbalanced through its choices of whom to quote.

The point is that any news reporting is unlikely to change any minds about candidates now, still months before the election, because anything seen as criticism of one candidate is perceived as untrue or biased. On one hand, any trust in the storytellers is being eroded by the day. On the other, the various audiences of voters are not open to hearing criticism about their choice in candidates.

Worse, however, is the desire to paste labels about mental acuity and competence based on verbal or physical gaffes from over-subscribed 80-year-olds. Surely, there are some conclusions we can draw from public behaviors, but they are nowhere near the level of what gets thrown about by lay commentators on the ever-present cable stations.

Polls, Interviews And Momentum

The film clips of Trump’s rallies do show a certain incoherence in the speaker’s insistence on moving from story to story without a lot of connectedness or verbal focus. But whether that lack of focus is an indicator of governance seems much less important than what Trump is telling us about how he will value personal loyalty over expertise, or how he will seek to use a Justice Department to go after rivals, or how he will seek tariffs and seek tax cuts that will boost prices rather than reduce them.

The clips of Biden that show him physically shuffling or holding a page of notes, and the reports of forgetting a name, hardly seem to reflect the ability to command international alliances in two current wars and a working knowledge of a variety of simultaneous legislative efforts. Again, what he really does as president should outweigh whether Fox and Friends think he lacks spryness.

Presidents run teams of people, who deploy on vast numbers of simultaneous issues. The federal agencies comprise a couple hundred thousand employees. It never is about one individual who is president. Indeed, it would be fair to judge a candidate on the kind of people that individual would appoint as a leadership team, Supreme Court justices or as ambassadors for change.

This week, Biden is highlighting campaign ads that play up Trump as a convicted felon in the hush-money-business-records-falsification case. It’s not about Trump’s mental state, it’s about his record, maybe his character, but about something behavioral and recorded as real. Even more important is the fact that in decrying his prosecution, Trump consistently undercuts any trust in our judicial systems.

In return, Trump has every right to hit at Biden over his record on the border and over our commitments to allies in the overseas conflicts, which also are real and measurable — but loses ground by suggesting that Biden is feeble-minded, an attack on aging from which he clearly exempts himself.

We may not much like the fact that our two major candidates are both old, white men who embellish their own histories. But psychoanalyzing one or the other as mentally unstable hardly seems as if it is persuasive to a system that is so committed only to winning at all costs. Plus, it’s not medically sound. If commentors want to focus on the need for mental competence testing beyond memorization of five words in order, fine.

Can’t we ask the armchair analysts just to stick to reporting what happens and let us decide whether the candidate is too wifty to trust with a nuclear button?


The post Armchair Analysis on Mental Stability appeared first on

Thursday: Housing Starts, Unemployment Claims, Philly Fed Mfg

• At 8:30 AM ET, Housing Starts for May.  The consensus is for 1.380 million SAAR, up from 1.360 million SAAR in April.

• Also, at 8:30 AM, The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for 240 thousand initial claims, down from 242 thousand last week.

• Also, at 8:30 AM, the Philly Fed manufacturing survey for June. The consensus is for a reading of 4.5, unchanged from 4.5 last month.

America’s first Black astronaut candidate finally flew. Now it’s time to make more

Ed Dwight exits Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft on May 19, 2024. Credit: Blue Origin / Felix Kunze
Ed Dwight exits Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft on May 19, 2024. Credit: Blue Origin / Felix Kunze

Ed Dwight was supposed to be the first astronaut of color. Now the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship is trying to create space opportunities for Black students.

The post America’s first Black astronaut candidate finally flew. Now it’s time to make more appeared first on SpaceNews.

Spanish startup gets funds to deploy commercial IoT constellation

FOSSA, a Spanish operator of tiny picosatellites, has secured funds for around 20 slightly larger cubesats to start offering full commercial connectivity services for remote monitoring and tracking devices.

The post Spanish startup gets funds to deploy commercial IoT constellation appeared first on SpaceNews.

Wednesday 19 June 1661

All the morning almost at home, seeing my stairs finished by the painters, which pleases me well. So with Mr. Moore to Westminster Hall, it being term, and then by water to the Wardrobe, where very merry, and so home to the office all the afternoon, and at night to the Exchange to my uncle Wight about my intention of purchasing at Brampton. So back again home and at night to bed.

Thanks be to God I am very well again of my late pain, and to-morrow hope to be out of my pain of dirt and trouble in my house, of which I am now become very weary.

One thing I must observe here while I think of it, that I am now become the most negligent man in the world as to matters of news, insomuch that, now-a-days, I neither can tell any, nor ask any of others.

Read the annotations

Space Force takes another swing at modernizing satellite ground systems

The Rapid Resilient Command and Control (R2C2) program is the Space Force’s third attempt in recent years to revamp the systems used to monitor, operate and direct the activities of satellites in orbit

The post Space Force takes another swing at modernizing satellite ground systems appeared first on SpaceNews.

Noam Chomsky and the end of "America bad"

By Hans Peters / Anefo - Nationaal Archief, CC0

Some outlets are publishing obituaries, but as of this writing, it’s not yet clear whether Noam Chomsky has died. So instead I’ll write an obituary for Chomsky’s ideas on foreign policy, which have had more than enough time to have a deep and lasting effect on how Americans think about their country’s role in the world. Most of that impact, in my opinion, was negative — slightly negative for U.S. national security, but deeply harmful for global stability and human rights.

My first contact with Chomsky was as a child, when my dad — who had been a Vietnam War protester — bought a copy of Deterring Democracy after the 1991 Gulf War. I picked it up off the shelf and read it, and I got the gist well enough. The book is a criticism of America’s support for dictatorial and repressive regimes during the Cold War. That criticism made sense to me. When Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992 and accused George H.W. Bush and his Republican predecessors of “coddling dictators”, I heard a familiar refrain.

But even at the time, something seemed a little off to me about Chomsky’s arguments. In Deterring Democracy, Chomsky excoriates the U.S. for supporting Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, in his war against Iran. He cites Saddam’s use of chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds as proof of Saddam’s evil. And yet when Chomsky discusses the Gulf War, he dismisses the notion that American foreign policy became more idealistic after the Soviet threat receded. Instead, he argues that the purpose of the Gulf War was to maintain U.S. control over Middle Eastern oil. Obviously oil was part of the reason, but the large number of countries who supported Operation Desert Storm seemed to suggest that international stability was an important goal as well.

When the U.S. and NATO bombed Serbia to protect the population of Kosovo in 1999, Chomsky airily dismissed the stated humanitarian justification for the intervention. Instead, he claimed that the purpose of the intervention was to punish Serbia for not carrying out neoliberal economic reforms:

[T]he real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians. It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neoliberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated.

Chomsky was also a staunch opponent of the Iraq War a decade later. George W. Bush’s denunciation of Saddam Hussein closely echoed Chomsky’s own — “He gassed his own people!”, Bush thundered, in what could have been a line straight out of Deterring Democracy. But just as in 1991, Chomsky staunchly asserted that America’s claimed reasons for invading Iraq were lies, and that the true purpose of the war was to control oil supplies.

Though Chomsky was right that the Iraq war was a bad idea, it's notable that he refused to give the U.S. any credit for turning on a dictator that he had previously criticized it for supporting. It was not the nature of America’s action in the world that drew his animus — it was the fact of American action itself. Chomsky’s north star as a foreign policy thinker — his fixed belief, around which all of his other beliefs revolved, and to whose contours they were forced to mold themselves — was that America is an Evil Empire bent on world domination. To borrow Imre Lakatos’ terminology, “America bad” was the core of Chomsky’s foreign policy thought, and everything else was an expendable periphery.

Read more

Links 6/19/24

Links for you. Science:

Pathogen genomic surveillance as a scalable framework for precision phage therapy
NASA says Voyager 1 is back online months after it stopped making sense. The deep-space probe is now sending back data from all four of its scientific instruments.
Reading dies in complexity: Online news consumers prefer simple writing
Pasadena Sees Surge in Typhus Fever Cases, Health Officials Warn
In New England, a tree-killing worm may spell the end of autumn’s yellow hues. As a parasite infects beech forests in the Eastern United States, a team of researchers is trying to fight back — before it’s too late.
The Boston hippies who developed technologies that Silicon Valley wouldn’t dare to make. Today’s self-proclaimed tech ‘disrupters’ have nothing on the countercultural nerds working out of a Lewis Wharf lab in the 1960s.


The GOP’s Finely Tuned Bribery Machine. It’s playing out right before our eyes, but the secret 2025 agenda it’s facilitating is even more scandalous.
Why Plutocrats Are Rallying to Trump
Congestion pricing: How do people get to Hochul’s favorite Midtown diners? Mainly by foot and transit
Israeli Student Activists Are the Foot Soldiers of Their Right-wing Government. Not content with the erosion of Israel’s global standing, local politicians, as well as some student leaders, seem intent on turning universities into pariahs
Opponents of Hochul’s Move to Halt Congestion Pricing May Go to Court (gift link)
Raising the Minimum Wage Comes Cheap. Studies overwhelmingly show that the effect of increasing the minimum wage on employment rates is basically zero.
An All-out War in Lebanon Promises Nothing for Israel but Digging Deeper Into the Mud
The Supreme Court Wants More People to Die in Mass Shootings
A Tel Aviv Suburb Gave in to a Creeping Orthodox Takeover. Then the Liberals Joined Forces
Hillary Clinton Just Made the Wrong Choice in One of 2024’s Most Crucial Races
Trump’s habitual incoherence caught top CEOs by surprise. How is that possible?
Elon Musk’s Creepy Workplace Is Techno-Feudalism in Action
Basic faith in law enforcement is Trump’s biggest challenge
How Republicans Bootstrap Lies And Conspiracy Theories To Gain Power At The Expense Of Functioning Democracy
Hunter Biden’s conviction proves Trump and the GOP are lying
Republicans Are Revealing Their Own Weaknesses
The Bloody River
Boston’s mojo ain’t working. Can Mayor Wu and business leaders get it back?
The Hammer, Not the Handshake: Your own labor power is the only thing they can’t take away from you.
We’re thinking about productivity wrong. We can do less and get more done. Computer scientist Cal Newport talks about how the modern office worker is primed for professional burnout and how hybrid work makes it worse.
In Trump’s second act, say goodbye to public media
What’s in a name? In Ireland, a host of letters that Americans find hard to pronounce
Are People OK
Priced out: How Boston’s broken liquor license system drives chefs from the city
Conservative group challenges Biden dishwasher, washing machine rules
Flagging Martha-Ann Alito’s right-wing flag-flying antics

D.C. Needs Statehood: The Speeding Camera Edition

The august solons of the Republican House caucus apparently think the State of the Union is so good, they have the time to involve themselves in D.C.’s traffic laws (boldface mine):

House Republicans are trying to prevent D.C. from using automated traffic enforcement, including speed cameras, and want to restrict District enforcement to prevent motorists from turning right on red at certain intersections.

…D.C. fought similar riders last year.

Of course, this sort of assholery is par for the course for House Republicans, as they’ve also proposed to:

  • Maintain an existing rider that prohibits D.C. from spending local funds on abortions for low-income women.
  • Prohibit D.C. from using local funds to commercialize adult-use marijuana.
  • Prohibit D.C. from using local funds to implement its Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022.
  • Reduce the maximum age of eligibility for D.C.’s Youth Rehabilitation Amendment Act of 1985.
  • Prohibit D.C. from using local funds to implement its law that allows noncitizens to vote in local elections.
  • Prohibit the of local funds to enforce any COVID-19 mask or vaccine mandate.

Republicans are also proposing a 50% cut in funding for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, which provides $10,000 for D.C. students who attend public universities outside of the District.

The latest legislation would provide $20 million for the program, which was started in 1999 to help make up the difference for out-of-state tuition, since D.C. doesn’t have a major public university.

I suppose Republicans are afraid if D.C. uses its own tax dollars to subsidize tuition at public universities, then other states might consider doing the same? (heaven forfend!)

Imagine having Marjorie Taylor Greene (aka Congresswoman Jewish Space Laser) deciding your suburb’s speeding enforcement rules. Now imagine that for everything.

D.C. needs statehood now.

The Art of the Soft Landing

Yesterday, Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius wrote:
Last week's benign US inflation data reinforced our view that the Q1 spike was an aberration. Meanwhile, the labor market stands at a potential inflection point where a further softening in labor demand would hit actual jobs, not just open positions, and could therefore push up the unemployment rate more significantly. We thus continue to expect two Fed rate cuts this year (in September and December) ...
emphasis added
The "Art of the Soft Landing" requires that the Fed reduce rates quick enough to keep economic growth positive, and slow enough not to reignite inflation.  My view is a soft landing is achieved if growth stays positive, inflation returns to target, and the yield curve flattens or reverts to normal (long yields higher than short yields).

The good news is growth has stayed positive and inflation has moved closer to the 2% target.  However, the yield curve is still inverted, and we are not out of the woods yet.

10-Year Treasury Constant Maturity Minus 2-Year Treasury Constant MaturityHere is a graph of 10-Year Treasury Constant Maturity Minus 2-Year Treasury Constant Maturity from FRED since 1976.  

If Hatzius is correct that the reported pickup in Q1 inflation was an "aberration", it seems like the FOMC will cut rates soon (probably September).

Most market participants expect 2 rate cuts this year, with the first cut in September. 

Congratulations to SSI Inc.!

Here is the tweet announcement.  Here is Bloomberg coverage from Ashlee Vance.

The post Congratulations to SSI Inc.! appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



Related Stories


The Trough of Despair

Things always get worse before they get better

—The Sad Truth of Software Design (also lots of other activities)

You have a design. You need it to be better at supporting new features. How do you get from here to there?

Here’s the Sad Truth of Software Design—it always gets worse before it gets better. We can ignore the Sad Truth, try to leap directly to the better design, but reality always gets a veto. Leaping creates risk.

Software design improvement always looks like this:

  1. We got to the design we have by (attempting to) improve the previous design.

  2. When we set out to improve the design, things will always get worse before we see improvement.

  3. We choose the size of the steps we take to get, eventually, to improvement.

It is the designer’s job to envision the desired state. It is also the designer’s job to design the shape of the curve, subject to reality’s annoying veto.


The obvious job of the software designer is to imagine what a better design would look like. The key question for the designer is, “What would the system’s structure need to be so that <some feature> would be no harder to implement than necessary?” (It’s a bit surprising when designers don’t ask this question, instead simply asking, “What should the design look like?”—for what purpose?)

How high do you reach? You as a designer have a wide range of options.

But this is only the beginning of the designer’s job.

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That initial dip is the price you inevitably pay for improvement. If you built a factory you’d expect to pay first, see widgets later. How much you pay & when, how many widgets you see & when, those are the parameters that determine whether you’ve made a good investment. So with software design—how much you pay & when & how many features you see & when, those are the parameters that determine whether you’ve made a good software design investment.

First you have to get through the Trough of Despair:

This is the period where everybody but the programmers are saying, “Why are we slowing down? We need to go faster, not slower.” The Trough is characterized by 2 factors under the influence of the designer:

How much worse is it going to get? How long is it going to get worse?

The designer might decide to reach for a lower eventual goal in order to rein in how much & how long things are going to get worse.


The Trough isn’t infinite, at least if you remain employed. Eventually the design gets better. The key factors under the software designer’s influence are:

  • How soon until things are at least better than they were?

  • How quickly do things improve after that?

The designer can’t fully control either factor, but they can change the sequence of the project to change time-to-first-value and rate of improvement.


The final factor under the designer’s influence is the step size of the transformation. How much of the design will be changed between (for example) deployments. (The Empirical Software Design answer is, “Tiny steps. No, smaller than that. Then get good at taking steps quickly.”)


All of these factors add up to the design skill I call “succession”. For a desired end state:

  • What are the steps to get to that end state?

  • How are the steps ordered?

Software designers can influence design transformations by:

  • Choosing the improvement in structure based on what features are coming, how certain those features are, how cheap they need to be to implement, & how the organization will react to the design transformation, especially the Trough of Despair.

  • Choosing a succession to make the “getting worse” phase acceptable.

  • Choosing a succession to make “how much worse” acceptable.

  • Choosing a succession that achieves first value in an acceptable time, and for the “right” features.

  • Choosing a succession that achieves acceptable rate of improvement.

  • Choosing a step size that balances risk, human factors, & overhead.

Software design isn’t just designing software. Anyone who says different is selling something.

Electric vs Gas

An idling gas engine may be annoyingly loud, but that's the price you pay for having WAY less torque available at a standstill.

Wednesday assorted links

1. New results on lying.

2. China’s demographics are not as bad as you might think.

3. The worm charmers.

4. Might Russia sell some land to China?

5. Radical claims about batteries.

6. “Using three longitudinal samples of funded and unfunded grant applications from three of the world’s largest funders—the NIH, the NSF, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation—we find that the percentage of promotional language in a grant proposal is associated with the grant’s probability of being funded, its estimated innovativeness, and its predicted levels of citation impact.”  Link here.

7. Should Congress preempt state AI legislation?

The post Wednesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.




NAHB: Builder Confidence Declined in June

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 43, down from 45 last month. Any number below 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as poor than good.

From the NAHB: High Mortgage Rates Act as a Drag on Builder Confidence
Mortgage rates that continue to hover in the 7% range along with elevated construction financing costs continue to put a damper on builder sentiment.

Builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes was 43 in June, down two points from May, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. This is the lowest reading since December 2023.

“Persistently high mortgage rates are keeping many prospective buyers on the sidelines,” said NAHB Chairman Carl Harris, a custom home builder from Wichita, Kan. “Home builders are also dealing with higher rates for construction and development loans, chronic labor shortages and a dearth of buildable lots.”

“We are in an unusual situation because a lack of progress on reducing shelter inflation, which is currently running at a 5.4% year-over-year rate, is making it difficult for the Federal Reserve to achieve its target inflation rate of 2%,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “The best way to bring down shelter inflation and push the overall inflation rate down to the 2% range is to increase the nation’s housing supply. A more favorable interest rate environment for construction and development loans would help to achieve this aim.”

The June HMI survey also revealed that 29% of builders cut home prices to bolster sales in June, the highest share since January 2024 (31%) and well above the May rate of 25%. However, the average price reduction in June held steady at 6% for the 12th straight month. Meanwhile, the use of sales incentives ticked up to 61% in June from a reading of 59% in May. This metric is at its highest share since January 2024 (62%).
All three HMI component indices posted declines in June and all are below the key threshold of 50 for the first time since December 2023. The HMI index charting current sales conditions in June fell three points to 48, the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months fell four points to 47 and the gauge charting traffic of prospective buyers declined two points to 28.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast held steady at 62, the Midwest dropped three points to 47, the South decreased three points to 46 and the West posted a two-point decline to 41.
emphasis added
NAHB HMI Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the NAHB index since Jan 1985.

This was below the consensus forecast.

Jon Stewart Talks About His Split With Apple on Matthew Belloni’s ‘The Town’

Interesting two-part interview, with far more information than we’ve heard about the demise of The Problem With Jon Stewart on Apple TV+. Part two is here; Overcast links to parts one and two; Apple Podcasts links to parts one and two.

Some nuggets:

  • The split seemed very much amicable. Stewart isn’t one to hold back, and he emphasized repeatedly there are no hard feelings. He even professed to getting his morning news in Apple News.

  • Apple paid the show’s staff for all of season 3, despite cancelling the show before production began. That’s nearly unheard of in the entertainment industry.

  • Stewart himself admits that season one more or less stunk.

Well worth a listen.


Willie Mays, Greatest Centerfielder in Baseball History, Dies at 93

John Shea, the San Francisco Chronicle:

Willie Mays, the iconic and endearing “Say Hey Kid” who charmed countless fans with his brilliant athleticism and graceful style and was widely considered baseball’s greatest and most entertaining player, died Tuesday of heart failure. He was 93.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” Mays son, Michael Mays, said. “I want to thank you all from the bottom of my broken heart for the unwavering love you have shown him over the years. You have been his life’s blood.” [...]

Mays spent most of his 23-year playing career with the Giants, six in New York and 15 in San Francisco, making him a cherished superstar from coast to coast. He hit 660 home runs, made 24 All-Star appearances and won 12 Gold Gloves, which weren’t given out until Mays’ sixth season.

The consummate five-tool player, Mays was elite at hitting, power hitting, defending, throwing and baserunning, and his ability to out-think and out-smart the competition served as a valuable sixth tool.

My dad was a clerk in the Navy, stationed in New York for a stint in the late 1950s, and they’d give free tickets to servicemen to attend ballgames for all three teams in the city: the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants. At the time, all three clubs had centerfielders destined for the Hall of Fame: Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, and Mays. My dad has never wavered from his conviction that Willie Mays was the best baseball player he ever saw, hands down. He hit for power and average, ran like the wind, made catches no one else could make, and had a cannon for an arm.

Best ballplayer I’ve seen play was Mays’s godson, Barry Bonds.


[RIDGELINE] Slow Time and the Bali Walk and Talk

Ridgeline subscribers — Time is yours, he said, and it was — time, ours, for the next week as we walked across Bali. Time and sweat, so much sweat. Leeches? They were ours, too, but with less blood and horror than expected. (“Our record is thirty on one person!” they told us. We maxed out at just a handful, no boots sloshing thick with our own juice.) Stink was also ours, as were home cooked vegetarian meals and mangosteens and shared cigarettes and crossword puzzles and sleeping side by side on elevated wooden platforms and Jean Valjean’s lyrical plight and bandanas and making our guide laugh so hard he cried and a single flat white coffee so perfect and mythic and unexpected it can only be explained as Indonesian jungle magic.

Wired: ‘Perplexity Is a Bullshit Machine’

Dhruv Mehrotra and Tim Marchman, reporting for Wired (News+ link):

A Wired analysis and one carried out by developer Robb Knight suggest that Perplexity is able to achieve this partly through apparently ignoring a widely accepted web standard known as the Robots Exclusion Protocol to surreptitiously scrape areas of websites that operators do not want accessed by bots, despite claiming that it won’t. Wired observed a machine tied to Perplexity — more specifically, one on an Amazon server and almost certainly operated by Perplexity — doing this on and across other Condé Nast publications.

The Wired analysis also demonstrates that despite claims that Perplexity’s tools provide “instant, reliable answers to any question with complete sources and citations included,” doing away with the need to “click on different links,” its chatbot, which is capable of accurately summarizing journalistic work with appropriate credit, is also prone to bullshitting, in the technical sense of the word.

This paints Perplexity as, effectively, an IP theft engine, and its CEO, Aravind Srinivas, as a degenerate liar. None of this is an oversight or just playing fast and loose. It’s a scheme to deliberately circumvent the plain intention of website owners not to have Perplexity index their sites. Liars and thieves. Utterly shameless.


Centralized assignment mechanisms that don't include all the relevant choices, by Kapor, Karnani and Neilson in the JPE

 One of the issues in organizing a centralized matching mechanism is to make the market thick, by including all or most of the relevant choices in the centralized system.  If not, there will be transactions outside of the centralized marketplace, and some of them may be costly to the system.

Here's a paper that explores that in the context of  college admissions in Chile.

Aftermarket Frictions and the Cost of Off-Platform Options in Centralized Assignment Mechanisms, by Adam Kapor, Mohit Karnani, and Christopher Neilson, Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming.

Abstract: "We study the welfare and human capital impacts of colleges’ (non)participation in Chile’s centralized higher-education platform, leveraging administrative data and two policy changes: the introduction of a large scholarship program and the inclusion of additional institutions, which raised the number of on-platform slots by approximately 40%. We first show that the expansion of the platform raised on-time graduation rates. We then develop and estimate a model of college applications, offers, wait lists, matriculation, and graduation. When the platform expands, welfare increases, and welfare, enrollment, and graduation rates are less sensitive to off-platform frictions. Gains are larger for students from lower-socioeconomic-status backgrounds."

"in virtually every practical implementation there exist many off-platform options that are available to participants of the match. In primary and secondary education, these include private schools or charter schools that do not participate in the centralized system. In other cases, such as higher education, some providers may be excluded from the platform by regulation, while others may choose not to participate. When off-platform options exist, applicants may renege on their assigned matches in favor of programs that did not participate in the centralized process. In turn, these decisions lead to the use of wait lists and aftermarkets, which may be inefficient due to the presence of congestion and matching frictions and can be inequitable if some students are better able to navigate this partially decentralized process, negating some of the benefits of the match.

"In this paper, we study the empirical relevance of the configuration of on- and off-platform options for students’ welfare and for persistence and graduation in higher-education programs. We document the importance of negative externalities generated by off-platform options and quantify a measure of aftermarket frictions that contribute to generating them in practice. Our empirical application uses data from the centralized assignment system for higher education in Chile, which has one of the world’s longest-running college assignment mechanisms based on the deferred-acceptance (DA) algorithm.2 We take advantage of a recent policy change that increased the number of on-platform institutions from 25 to 33, raising the number of available slots by approximately 40%. We first present an analysis of the policy, which shows that when these options are included on the centralized platform, students start college sooner, are less likely to drop out, and are more likely to graduate within 7 years. Importantly, these effects are larger for students from lower-socioeconomic-status (SES) backgrounds, suggesting that the design of platforms can have effects on both efficiency and equity.


"We find that when students are allowed to express their preferences for a larger variety of options on the platform, welfare increases substantially, as does the share of students graduating on time.


"Intuitively, when a desirable program is not on the platform, it can cause some students who would have placed in that program to instead receive a placement in a different program available on the platform. These students may then decline that placement in favor of the off-platform program, creating vacancies that in turn lead to increased reliance on wait lists, which may be subject to frictions. Moreover, the absence of a particular program may distort the placements of other students, even if the students whose placements are affected would never enroll in that program. These students may also be less satisfied and more likely to decline their placement.

"Taken together, our results show empirically that the existence of off-platform options affects the equity and efficiency of centralized assignment systems. "


Earlier (with some links to still earlier papers):

Monday, May 9, 2022

MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications increased 0.9 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Applications Survey for the week ending June 14, 2024.

The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, increased 0.9 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index decreased 0.1 percent compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index decreased 0.4 percent from the previous week and was 30 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 0.1 percent compared with the previous week and was 12 percent lower than the same week one year ago.

“Mortgage rates dropped last week following the latest inflation data and the FOMC meeting, with the 30- year conforming rate dropping to 6.94 percent and reaching its lowest level since the end of March,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s SVP and Chief Economist. “Purchase applications increased a small amount for the week, led by applications for conventional loans. Refinance application volume was also down slightly for the week but remains about 30 percent higher than this time last year.”

Added Fratantoni, “Purchase volume is still more than 10 percent behind last year’s pace, but MBA is forecasting a pickup in home sales for the remainder of the year as more inventory is hitting the market.”
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($766,550 or less) decreased to 6.94 percent from 7.02 percent, with points decreasing to 0.61 from 0.65 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
emphasis added
Mortgage Purchase IndexClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index.

According to the MBA, purchase activity is down 12% year-over-year unadjusted.  

Red is a four-week average (blue is weekly).  

Purchase application activity is up slightly from the lows in late October 2023, and below the lowest levels during the housing bust.  

Mortgage Refinance Index
The second graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

With higher mortgage rates, the refinance index declined sharply in 2022, and mostly flat lined since then with a slight increase recently.

The Hacking of Culture and the Creation of Socio-Technical Debt

Culture is increasingly mediated through algorithms. These algorithms have splintered the organization of culture, a result of states and tech companies vying for influence over mass audiences. One byproduct of this splintering is a shift from imperfect but broad cultural narratives to a proliferation of niche groups, who are defined by ideology or aesthetics instead of nationality or geography. This change reflects a material shift in the relationship between collective identity and power, and illustrates how states no longer have exclusive domain over either. Today, both power and culture are increasingly corporate.

Blending Stewart Brand and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, McKenzie Wark writes in A Hacker Manifesto that “information wants to be free but is everywhere in chains.”1 Sounding simultaneously harmless and revolutionary, Wark’s assertion as part of her analysis of the role of what she terms “the hacker class” in creating new world orders points to one of the main ideas that became foundational to the reorganization of power in the era of the internet: that “information wants to be free.” This credo, itself a co-option of Brand’s influential original assertion in a conversation with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak at the 1984 Hackers Conference and later in his 1987 book The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT, became a central ethos for early internet inventors, activists,2 and entrepreneurs. Ultimately, this notion was foundational in the construction of the era we find ourselves in today: an era in which internet companies dominate public and private life. These companies used the supposed desire of information to be free as a pretext for building platforms that allowed people to connect and share content. Over time, this development helped facilitate the definitive power transfer of our time, from states to corporations.

This power transfer was enabled in part by personal data and its potential power to influence people’s behavior—a critical goal in both politics and business. The pioneers of the digital advertising industry claimed that the more data they had about people, the more they could influence their behavior. In this way, they used data as a proxy for influence, and built the business case for mass digital surveillance. The big idea was that data can accurately model, predict, and influence the behavior of everyone—from consumers to voters to criminals. In reality, the relationship between data and influence is fuzzier, since influence is hard to measure or quantify. But the idea of data as a proxy for influence is appealing precisely because data is quantifiable, whereas influence is vague. The business model of Google Ads, Facebook, Experian, and similar companies works because data is cheap to gather, and the effectiveness of the resulting influence is difficult to measure. The credo was “Build the platform, harvest the data…then profit.” By 2006, a major policy paper could ask, “Is Data the New Oil?”3

The digital platforms that have succeeded most in attracting and sustaining mass attention—Facebook, TikTok, Instagram—have become cultural. The design of these platforms dictates the circulation of customs, symbols, stories, values, and norms that bind people together in protocols of shared identity. Culture, as articulated through human systems such as art and media, is a kind of social infrastructure. Put differently, culture is the operating system of society.

Like any well-designed operating system, culture is invisible to most people most of the time. Hidden in plain sight, we make use of it constantly without realizing it. As an operating system, culture forms the base infrastructure layer of societal interaction, facilitating communication, cooperation, and interrelations. Always evolving, culture is elastic: we build on it, remix it, and even break it.

Culture can also be hacked—subverted for specific advantage.4 If culture is like an operating system, then to hack it is to exploit the design of that system to gain unauthorized control and manipulate it towards a specific end. This can be for good or for bad. The morality of the hack depends on the intent and actions of the hacker.

When businesses hack culture to gather data, they are not necessarily destroying or burning down social fabrics and cultural infrastructure. Rather, they reroute the way information and value circulate, for the benefit of their shareholders. This isn’t new. There have been culture hacks before. For example, by lending it covert support, the CIA hacked the abstract expressionism movement to promote the idea that capitalism was friendly to high culture.5 Advertising appropriated the folk-cultural images of Santa Claus and the American cowboy to sell Coca-Cola and Marlboro cigarettes, respectively. In Mexico, after the revolution of 1910, the ruling party hacked muralist works, aiming to construct a unifying national narrative.

Culture hacks under digital capitalism are different. Whereas traditional propaganda goes in one direction—from government to population, or from corporation to customers—the internet-surveillance business works in two directions: extracting data while pushing engaging content. The extracted data is used to determine what content a user would find most engaging, and that engagement is used to extract more data, and so on. The goal is to keep as many users as possible on platforms for as long as possible, in order to sell access to those users to advertisers. Another difference between traditional propaganda and digital platforms is that the former aims to craft messages with broad appeal, while the latter hyper-personalizes content for individual users.

The rise of Chinese-owned TikTok has triggered heated debate in the US about the potential for a foreign-owned platform to influence users by manipulating what they see. Never mind that US corporations have used similar tactics for years. While the political commitments of platform owners are indeed consequential—Chinese-owned companies are in service to the Chinese Communist Party, while US-owned companies are in service to business goals—the far more pressing issue is that both have virtually unchecked surveillance power. They are both reshaping societies by hacking culture to extract data and serve content. Funny memes, shocking news, and aspirational images all function similarly: they provide companies with unprecedented access to societies’ collective dreams and fears.6 By determining who sees what when and where, platform owners influence how societies articulate their understanding of themselves.

Tech companies want us to believe that algorithmically determined content is effectively neutral: that it merely reflects the user’s behavior and tastes back at them. In 2021, Instagram head Adam Mosseri wrote a post on the company’s blog entitled “Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works.” A similar window into TikTok’s functioning was provided by journalist Ben Smith in his article “How TikTok Reads Your Mind.”7 Both pieces boil down to roughly the same idea: “We use complicated math to give you more of what your behavior shows us you really like.”

This has two consequences. First, companies that control what users see in a nontransparent way influence how we perceive the world. They can even shape our personal relationships. Second, by optimizing algorithms for individual attention, a sense of culture as common ground is lost. Rather than binding people through shared narratives, digital platforms fracture common cultural norms into self-reinforcing filter bubbles.8

This fragmentation of shared cultural identity reflects how the data surveillance business is rewriting both the established order of global power, and social contracts between national governments and their citizens. Before the internet, in the era of the modern state, imperfect but broad narratives shaped distinct cultural identities; “Mexican culture” was different from “French culture,” and so on. These narratives were designed to carve away an “us” from “them,” in a way that served government aims. Culture has long been understood to operate within the envelope of nationality, as exemplified by the organization of museum collections according to the nationality of artists, or by the Venice Biennale—the Olympics of the art world, with its national pavilions format.

National culture, however, is about more than museum collections or promoting tourism. It broadly legitimizes state power by emotionally binding citizens to a self-understood identity. This identity helps ensure a continuing supply of military recruits to fight for the preservation of the state. Sociologist James Davison Hunter, who popularized the phrase “culture war,” stresses that culture is used to justify violence to defend these identities.9 We saw an example of this on January 6, 2021, with the storming of the US Capitol. Many of those involved were motivated by a desire to defend a certain idea of cultural identity they believed was under threat.

Military priorities were also entangled with the origins of the tech industry. The US Department of Defense funded ARPANET, the first version of the internet. But the internet wouldn’t have become what it is today without the influence of both West Coast counterculture and small-l libertarianism, which saw the early internet as primarily a space to connect and play. One of the first digital game designers was Bernie De Koven, founder of the Games Preserve Foundation. A noted game theorist, he was inspired by Stewart Brand’s interest in “play-ins” to start a center dedicated to play. Brand had envisioned play-ins as an alternative form of protest against the Vietnam War; they would be their own “soft war” of subversion against the military.10 But the rise of digital surveillance as the business model of nascent tech corporations would hack this anti-establishment spirit, turning instruments of social cohesion and connection into instruments of control.

It’s this counterculture side of tech’s lineage, which advocated for the social value of play, that attuned the tech industry to the utility of culture. We see the commingling of play and military control in Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, which was a huge influence on early tech culture. Described as “a kind of Bible for counterculture technology,” the Whole Earth Catalog was popular with the first generation of internet engineers, and established crucial “assumptions about the ideal relationships between information, technology, and community.”11 Brand’s 1972 Rolling Stone article “Spacewar: Fantastic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer” further emphasized how rudimentary video games were central to the engineering community. These games were wildly popular at leading engineering research centers: Stanford, MIT, ARPA, Xerox, and others. This passion for gaming as an expression of technical skills and a way for hacker communities to bond led to the development of MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) programs, which enabled multiple people to communicate and collaborate online simultaneously.

The first MUD was developed in 1978 by engineers who wanted to play fantasy games online. It applied the early-internet ethos of decentralism and personalization to video games, making it a precursor to massive multiplayer online role-playing games and modern chat rooms and Facebook groups. Today, these video games and game-like simulations—now a commercial industry worth around $200 billion12—serve as important recruitment and training tools for the military.13 The history of the tech industry and culture is full of this tension between the internet as an engineering plaything and as a surveillance commodity.

Historically, infrastructure businesses—like railroad companies in the nineteenth-century US—have always wielded considerable power. Internet companies that are also infrastructure businesses combine commercial interests with influence over national and individual security. As we transitioned from railroad tycoons connecting physical space to cloud computing companies connecting digital space, the pace of technological development put governments at a disadvantage. The result is that corporations now lead the development of new tech (a reversal from the ARPANET days), and governments follow, struggling to modernize public services in line with the new tech. Companies like Microsoft are functionally providing national cybersecurity. Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet service, is a consumer product that facilitates military communications for the war in Ukraine. Traditionally, this kind of service had been restricted to selected users and was the purview of states.14 Increasingly, it is clear that a handful of transnational companies are using their technological advantages to consolidate economic and political power to a degree previously afforded to only great-power nations.

Worse, since these companies operate across multiple countries and regions, there is no regulatory body with the jurisdiction to effectively constrain them. This transition of authority from states to corporations and the nature of surveillance as the business model of the internet rewrites social contracts between national governments and their citizens. But it also also blurs the lines among citizen, consumer, and worker. An example of this are Google’s Recaptchas, visual image puzzles used in cybersecurity to “prove” that the user is a human and not a bot. While these puzzles are used by companies and governments to add a layer of security to their sites, their value is in how they record a user’s input in solving the puzzles to train Google’s computer vision AI systems. Similarly, Microsoft provides significant cybersecurity services to governments while it also trains its AI models on citizens’ conversations with Bing.15 Under this dyanmic, when citizens use digital tools and services provided by tech companies, often to access government webpages and resources, they become de facto free labor for the tech companies providing them. The value generated by this citizen-user-laborer stays with the company, as it is used to develop and refine their products. In this new blurred reality, the relationships among corporations, governments, power, and identity are shifting. Our social and cultural infrastructure suffers as a result, creating a new kind of technical debt of social and cultural infrustructure.

In the field of software development, technical debt refers to the future cost of ignoring a near-term engineering problem.16 Technical debt grows as engineers implement short-term patches or workarounds, choosing to push the more expensive and involved re-engineering fixes for later. This debt accrues over time, to be paid back in the long term. The result of a decision to solve an immediate problem at the expense of the long-term one effectively mortgages the future in favor of an easier present. In terms of cultural and social infrastructure, we use the same phrase to refer to the long-term costs that result from avoiding or not fully addressing social needs in the present. More than a mere mistake, socio-technical debt stems from willfully not addressing a social problem today and leaving a much larger problem to be addressed in the future.

For example, this kind of technical debt was created by the cratering of the news industry, which relied on social media to drive traffic—and revenue—to news websites. When social media companies adjusted their algorithms to deprioritize news, traffic to news sites plummeted, causing an existential crisis for many publications.17 Now, traditional news stories make up only 3 percent of social media content. At the same time, 66 percent of people ages eighteen to twenty-four say they get their “news” from TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter.18 To be clear, Facebook did not accrue technical debt when it swallowed the news industry. We as a society are dealing with technical debt in the sense that we are being forced to pay the social cost of allowing them to do that.

One result of this shift in information consumption as a result of changes to the cultural infrastructure of social media is the rise in polarization and radicalism. So by neglecting to adequately regulate tech companies and support news outlets in the near term, our governments have paved the way for social instability in the long term. We as a society also have to find and fund new systems to act as a watchdog over both corporate and governmental power.

Another example of socio-technical debt is the slow erosion of main streets and malls by e-commerce.19 These places used to be important sites for physical gathering, which helped the shops and restaurants concentrated there stay in business. But e-commerce and direct-to-consumer trends have undermined the economic viability of main streets and malls, and have made it much harder for small businesses to survive. The long-term consequence of this to society is the hollowing out of town centers and the loss of spaces for physical gathering—which we will all have to pay for eventually.

The faltering finances of museums will also create long-term consequences for society as a whole, especially in the US, where Museums mostly depend on private donors to cover operational costs. But a younger generation of philanthropists is shifting its giving priorities away from the arts, leading to a funding crisis at some institutions.20

One final example: libraries. NYU Sociologist Eric Klinenberg called libraries “the textbook example of social infrastructure in action.”21 But today they are stretched to the breaking point, like museums, main streets, and news media. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams has proposed a series of severe budget cuts to the city’s library system over the past year, despite having seen a spike in usage recently. The steepest cuts were eventually retracted, but most libraries in the city have still had to cancel social programs and cut the number of days they’re open.22 As more and more spaces for meeting in real life close, we increasingly turn to digital platforms for connection to replace them. But these virtual spaces are optimized for shareholder returns, not public good.

Just seven companies—Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia and Tesla—drove 60 percent of the gains of the S&P stock market index in 2023.23 Four—Alibaba, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft—deliver the majority of cloud services.24 These companies have captured the delivery of digital and physical goods and services. Everything involved with social media, cloud computing, groceries, and medicine is trapped in their flywheels, because the constellation of systems that previously put the brakes on corporate power, such as monopoly laws, labor unions, and news media, has been eroded. Product dependence and regulatory capture have further undermined the capacity of states to respond to the rise in corporate hard and soft power. Lock-in and other anticompetitive corporate behavior have prevented market mechanisms from working properly. As democracy falls into deeper crisis with each passing year, policy and culture are increasingly bent towards serving corporate interest. The illusion that business, government, and culture are siloed sustains this status quo.

Our digitized global economy has made us all participants in the international data trade, however reluctantly. Though we are aware of the privacy invasions and social costs of digital platforms, we nevertheless participate in these systems because we feel as though we have no alternative—which itself is partly the result of tech monopolies and the lack of competition.

Now, the ascendence of AI is thrusting big data into a new phase and new conflicts with social contracts. The development of bigger, more powerful AI models means more demand for data. Again, massive wholesale extractions of culture are at the heart of these efforts.25 As AI researchers and artists Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler explain in the catalog to their exhibition Calculating Empires, AI developers require “the entire history of human knowledge and culture … The current lawsuits over generative systems like GPT and Stable Diffusion highlight how completely dependent AI systems are on extracting, enclosing, and commodifying the entire history of cognitive and creative labor.”26

Permitting internet companies to hack the systems in which culture is produced and circulates is a short-term trade-off that has proven to have devastating long-term consequences. When governments give tech companies unregulated access to our social and cultural infrastructure, the social contract becomes biased towards their profit. When we get immediate catharsis through sharing memes or engaging in internet flamewars, real protest is muzzled. We are increasing our collective socio-technical debt by ceding our social and cultural infrastructure to tech monopolies.

Cultural expression is fundamental to what makes us human. It’s an impulse, innate to us as a species, and this impulse will continue to be a gold mine to tech companies. There is evidence that AI models trained on synthetic data—data produced by other AI models rather than humans—can corrupt these models, causing them to return false or nonsensical answers to queries.27 So as AI-produced data floods the internet, data that is guaranteed to have been derived from humans becomes more valuable. In this context, our human nature, compelling us to make and express culture, is the dream of digital capitalism. We become a perpetual motion machine churning out free data. Beholden to shareholders, these corporations see it as their fiduciary duty—a moral imperative even—to extract value from this cultural life.

We are in a strange transition. The previous global order, in which states wielded ultimate authority, hasn’t quite died. At the same time, large corporations have stepped in to deliver some of the services abandoned by states, but at the price of privacy and civic well-being. Increasingly, corporations provide consistent, if not pleasant, economic and social organization. Something similar occurred during the Gilded Age in the US (1870s–1890s). But back then, the influence of robber barons was largely constrained to the geographies in which they operated, and their services (like the railroad) were not previously provided by states. In our current transitionary period, public life worldwide is being reimagined in accordance with corporate values. Amidst a tug-of-war between the old state-centric world and the emerging capital-centric world, there is a growing radicalism fueled partly by frustration over social and personal needs going unmet under a transnational order that is maximized for profit rather than public good.

Culture is increasingly divorced from national identity in our globalized, fragmented world. On the positive side, this decoupling can make culture more inclusive of marginalized people. Other groups, however, may perceive this new status quo as a threat, especially those facing a loss of privilege. The rise of white Christian nationalism shows that the right still regards national identity and culture as crucial—as potent tools in the struggle to build political power, often through anti-democratic means. This phenomenon shows that the separation of cultural identity from national identity doesn’t negate the latter. Instead, it creates new political realities and new orders of power.

Nations issuing passports still behave as though they are the definitive arbiters of identity. But culture today—particularly the multiverse of internet cultures—exposes how this is increasingly untrue. With government discredited as an ultimate authority, and identity less and less connected to nationality, we can find a measure of hope for navigating the current transition in the fact that culture is never static. New forms of resistance are always emerging. But we must ask ourselves: Have the tech industry’s overwhelming surveillance powers rendered subversion impossible? Or does its scramble to gather all the world’s data offer new possibilities to hack the system?


1. McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard University Press, 2004), thesis 126.

2. Jon Katz, “Birth of a Digital Nation,” Wired, April 1, 1997.

3. Marcin Szczepanski, “Is Data the New Oil? Competition Issues in the Digital Economy,” European Parliamentary Research Service, January 2020.

4. Bruce Schneier, A Hacker’s Mind: How the Powerful Bend Society’s Rules, and How to Bend Them Back (W. W. Norton & Sons, 2023).

5. Lucie Levine, “Was Modern Art Really a CIA Psy-Op?” JStor Daily, April 1, 2020.

6. Bruce Schneier, Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World (W. W. Norton & Sons, 2015).

7. Adam Mosseri, “Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works,” Instagram Blog, June 8, 2021; Ben Smith, “How TikTok Reads Your Mind,” New York Times, December 5, 2021.

8. Giacomo Figà Talamanca and Selene Arfini, “Through the Newsfeed Glass: Rethinking Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers,” Philosophy & Technology 35, no. 1 (2022).

9. Zack Stanton, “How the ‘Culture War’ Could Break Democracy,” Politico, May 5, 2021.

10. Jason Johnson, “Inside the Failed, Utopian New Games Movement,” Kill Screen, October 25, 2013.

11. Fred Turner, “Taking the Whole Earth Digital,” chap. 4 in From Counter Culture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (University of Chicago Press, 2006).

12. Kaare Ericksen, “The State of the Video Games Industry: A Special Report,” Variety, February 1, 2024.

13. Rosa Schwartzburg, “The US Military Is Embedded in the Gaming World. It’s Target: Teen Recruits,” The Guardian, February 14, 2024; Scott Kuhn, “Soldiers Maintain Readiness Playing Video Games,” US Army, April 29, 2020; Katie Lange, “Military Esports: How Gaming Is Changing Recruitment & Moral,” US Department of Defense, December 13, 2022.

14. Shaun Waterman, “Growing Commercial SATCOM Raises Trust Issues for Pentagon,” Air & Space Forces Magazine, April 3, 2024.

15. Geoffrey A Fowler, “Your Instagrams Are Training AI. There’s Little You Can Do About It,” Washington Post, September 27, 2023.

16. Zengyang Li, Paris Avgeriou, and Peng Liang, “A Systematic Mapping Study on Technical Debt and Its Management,” Journal of Systems and Software, December 2014.

17. David Streitfeld, “How the Media Industry Keeps Losing the Future,” New York Times, February 28, 2024.

18. “The End of the Social Network,” The Economist, February 1, 2024; Ollie Davies, “What Happens If Teens Get Their News From TikTok?” The Guardian, February 22, 2023.

19. Eric Jaffe, “Quantifying the Death of the Classic American Main Street,” Medium, March 16, 2018.

20. Julia Halprin, “The Hangover from the Museum Party: Institutions in the US Are Facing a Funding Crisis,” Art Newspaper, January 19, 2024.

21. Quoted in Pete Buttigieg, “The Key to Happiness Might Be as Simple as a Library or Park,” New York Times, September 14, 2018.

22. Jeffery C. Mays and Dana Rubinstein, “Mayor Adams Walks Back Budget Cuts Many Saw as Unnecessary,” New York Times, April 24, 2024.

23. Karl Russell and Joe Rennison, “These Seven Tech Stocks Are Driving the Market,” New York Times, January 22, 2024.

24. Ian Bremmer, “How Big Tech Will Reshape the Global Order,” Foreign Affairs, October 19, 2021.

25. Nathan Sanders and Bruce Schneier, “How the ‘Frontier’ Became the Slogan for Uncontrolled AI,” Jacobin, February 27, 2024.

26. Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, Calculating Empires: A Genealogy of Technology and Power, 1500–2025 (Fondazione Prada, 2023), 9. Exhibition catalog.

27. Rahul Rao, “AI Generated Data Can Poison Future AI Models,” Scientific American, July 28, 2023.

This essay was written with Kim Córdova, and was originally published in e-flux.

Think Nvidia looks dear? American shares could get pricier still

Investors are willing to follow whichever narrative paints the rosiest picture

Accelerating India’s Development

What will India look like in 2047? Combining projections of economic growth with estimates of the elasticity of outcomes with respect to growth, Karthik Muralidharan in Accelerating India’s Development reports:

Even with a strong GDP per capita growth rate of 6 per cent, projections for 2047 paint a sobering picture if we maintain our current course. While India’s infant mortality is projected to halve from 27 per 1000 births to 13 in 2047, it will still be well above China’s current rate of 8. Child stunting will only decrease from 35.5 to 25 per cent, which is only a 10.5 percentage point or 30 per cent reduction in nearly 25 years. In rural India, 16 per cent of children in Class 5 will still not be able to read at a Class 2 level, and 55 per cent of them will still not be able to do division at the Class 3 level.

Bear in mind that this is assuming an optimistic 6% growth rate in GDP per capita. Even more telling is that if growth increased to 8%, infant mortality would only fall to 10 per 1000 (instead of 13). Growth is great. It’s the single most important factor but it’s not everything. If India can double the elasticity of infant mortality with respect to growth, for example, then at the same 6% growth rate infant mortality would fall to just 6 per 1000 by 2047–that’s millions of lives saved. The big argument of Muralidharan’s Accelerating India’s Development is that India can get more development from the same level of growth by increasing the total factor productivity of the state.

There are many “big think” books on growth–Landes’ Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Acemoglu and Robinson’s The Narrow Corridor, Koyama and Rubin’s How the World Became Rich–but these books are primarily historical and descriptive. The big think books don’t tell you how to develop. Create institutions to strike “a delicate and precarious balance between state and society” isn’t much of a guide to development. Accelerating India’s Development is different.

“Accelerating” opens with two excellent chapters on the political economy of politicians and bureaucrats, outlining the constraints any reforms must navigate. It concludes with two chapters on the future, including ideas like ranked choice voting, representing its aspirations. It’s in-between the constraints and the aspirations, however, that Accelerating India’s Development is unique. I know of no other book that offers such a detailed, analytical, and comprehensive examination and evaluation of a country’s institutions and processes.

Muralidharan’s recommendations are often based on his own twenty years of research, especially in education, health and welfare, and when not based on his own research Muralidharan has read everyone and everything. Yet, he offers not a laundry list but a well-thought out, analytic, set of recommendations that are grounded on political and economic realities.

To give just one example, India’s bureaucracy is far over-paid relative to India’s GDP per capita or wages in the private sector. With wages too high, the bureaucracy is too small–a  reflection of the concentrated benefits (wages to government workers), diffuse costs (delivering services to citizens) problem. Lowering wages for government workers is a non-starter but Muralidharan argues persuasively that it is possible to hire new workers from local communities at prevailing wages on renewable contracts. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), for example, is India’s main program for delivering early childhood education. There are 1.35 million anganwadi centers (AWCs) across India and typically a single anganwadi worker is responsible for both nutrition and pre-school education but they spend most of their time on paperwork!

A simple, scalable way to improve early childhood education is to add a second worker to AWCs to focus on preschool education….In a recent study, my co-authors and I found that adding an extra, locally hired, early-childhood care and education facilitators to anganwadis in Tamil Nadu doubled daily preschool instructional time…we found large gains in students’ maths, language and executive function skills. We also found a significant reduction in child stunting and malnutrition…We estimate the social return on this investment was around thirteen times the cost….the ECCE facilitators typically had only a Class 10 or Class 12 qualification and received only one week of training, and were still highly effective.

The example illustrates Muralidharan’s methods. First, the recommendation is based on a large, credible, multi-year study run in India with the cooperation of the government of Tamil Nadu. Second, the study is chosen for the book because it fits Muralidharan’s larger analysis of India’s problems, India has too few government workers which leads to high potential returns, yet the workers are paid too much so these returns are fiscally unachievable. But hiring more workers on the margin, at India’s-prevailing wages, is feasible. India has lots of modestly-educated workers so the program can scale–this is not a study about adding AI-driven computers to Delhi schools under the management of IIT trained educators, a program which would be subject to the heroes aren’t replicable problem. The program is also politically feasible because it leaves rents in place and by hiring lots of workers, even at low wages, it generates its own political support. Finally, note that India’s ICDS is the largest early childhood development program in the world so improving it has the potential to make millions of lives better. Which is why I have called Muralidharan the most important economist in the world.

One of the reasons state capacity in India is so low is premature load bearing. Imagine if the 19th-century U.S. government had attempted to handle everything today’s U.S. government does—this is the situation in India. When State Capacity/Tasks < 1, what should be done? In premature imitation, Rajagopalan and I advocate for reducing Tasks–an idea best represented by Ed Glaeser’s quip that “A country that cannot provide clean water for its citizens should not be in the business of regulating film dialogue.” Accelerating India’s Development focuses on increasing State Capacity but without being anti-market. In fact, Muralidharan proposes making the state more effective by leveraging markets more extensively.

Indian policy should place a very high priority on expanding the supply of high-quality service providers, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector.

Hence, Muraldiharan wants to build on India’s remarkably vibrant private schools and private health care with ideas like vouchers and independent ratings. Free to choose but free to choose in an information-rich environment. My own inclinations would be to push markets and also infrastructure more–we still need to get to that 6% growth! But I have few quibbles with what is in the book.

Accelerating India’s Development is an exceptionally rich and insightful book. Its comprehensive analysis and innovative recommendations make it an invaluable resource. I will undoubtedly reference it in future discussions and writings. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding and improving life in the world’s largest democracy.

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Eating well in Stockholm

Yes, the fancy expensive places are great.  But more generally, I recommend that you order the dishes with game and lingonberries, most of all lingonberries.  Soups here are above average, and I do not generally love soups.  The pizza is surprisingly good, make sure you order it with “pizza salad,” which turns out to be cabbage.  If you are craving non-Western food, I would try Persian before Indian or Chinese.  At breakfast, butter is consistently good.  Overall, Stockholm is a quality food city, though it is not superb when it comes to breadth.

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RIP: Willie Mays (1931-2024)

Willie Mays, a perennial candidate in any serious discussion of the greatest players in baseball history, died on Tuesday at the age of 93.

Mays began his career in 1948, at age 17, with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. Both the Red Sox and Yankees were among the teams scouting Mays in the late 40s, but the deep-seated racism of both organizations -- even though a small number of Black players had been permitted into the major leagues a few years earlier -- meant they had no intention of signing him.

Imagine Mays and Ted Williams playing in the same outfield (and lineup) for more than a decade . . . Boston's poor treatment of one of Mays's teammates, signing him in an attempt to get greater access to Mays and cutting him when that ploy failed, also soured Birmingham's willingness to deal with the Red Sox. 

Mays joined the Giants organization in 1950. After missing the 1953 season because of military service, Mays returned to the Giants and lit up the National League, leading the Giants to a World Series title and winning the MVP award at age 23. Mays led both leagues in batting (.345) and slugging (.667), while also topping the NL in triples (13), OPS (1.078) and OPS+ (175, which he surprassed only once in his career (185 in 1965)).

From 1957 to 1966, Mays never finished lower than sixth in the NL MVP voting: 4th, 2nd, 6th, 3rd, 6th, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 1st, 3rd.

A few factoids from the link above:

Mays was the first player to hit 20 or more home runs for 17 consecutive seasons (1954-70).

Mays remains the major league leader for putouts by an outfielder (7,095) and extra-inning home runs (22).

He played in two dozen All-Star Games, and holds or shares records for appearances (24), at-bats (75), runs (20), hits (23), triples (three), extra-base hits (eight) and total bases (40). (Stan Musial also played in 24 ASG and Hank Aaron played in 25. All three guys were helped by the fact that two All-Star Games were played in 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962.)

Mays was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1979, but 23 of the 432 voters (5.3%) left him off their ballots.

What I’ve been reading

Jill Ciment, Consent: a memoir.  A good short book on how you can have a creepy life for decades, and not be so aware of it.  In this case, a 17-year-old girl (Ciment) ends up marrying a man who first slept with her when he was 47 and married.  They had an apparently normal marriage for decades, or did they?  How much does “creepy” matter anyway?  She doesn’t seem to be complaining about unhappiness.  But is it just wrong anyway?

Hugh Warwick, Cull of the Wild: Killing in the Name of Conservation.  A well-written and subtle account of the tensions and paradoxes involved in attempts to conserve nature.  What if conserving one animal leads to the destruction of others?  I am slowly learning how many British people are obsessed with hedgehogs.  And I hadn’t known how much the importation of earthworms in the 18th century, from Britain to North America, shaped the environment.

Ebbe Dommissse, Anton Rupert: The Life of a Business Icon is a very favorable biography of who was probably South Africa’s richest man, with cigarettes being the central part of his business empire.  For a contrasting perspective, read Pieter h de Toit, The Stellenbosch Mafia: Inside the Billionaire’s Club.

Charles King, Every Valley: The Desperate Lives and Troubled Times That Made Handel’s Messiah.  This is what you would want from a book on Handel’s Messiah.  I hadn’t known that Handel was briefly supported by the Medici in Florence.  By the way, Suzuki will be conducting the Messiah in DC in late December, be there or be square!

Phumlani M. Majozi, Lessons from Past Heroes: How the rejection of victimhood dogmas will save South Africa.  A libertarian Zulu approach to what the subtitle promises.

David Albright with Andrea Stricker, Revisiting South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Its History, Dismantlement, and Lessons for Today.  It is odd how little-mentioned this episode in world history has become, in any case this is the go-to book on it, interesting throughout.

Still in my pile is Nathaniel Popper’s The Trolls of Wall Street: How the Outcasts and Insurgents are Hacking the Markets, which covers the WallStreetBets phenomenon.

The post What I’ve been reading appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



Related Stories


Wednesday: Markets Closed, Homebuilder Survey

Mortgage Rates Note: Mortgage rates are from and are for top tier scenarios.

• All US markets will be closed in observance of Juneteenth National Independence Day

• At 7:00 AM ET, The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) will release the results for the mortgage purchase applications index.

• At 10:00 AM, The June NAHB homebuilder survey. The consensus is for a reading of 46, up from 45 last month. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as poor than good.

Lockheed Martin wins contract to build U.S. geostationary weather satellites

Lockheed Martin will develop and build the next generation of U.S. geostationary weather satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under a contract announced June 18.

The post Lockheed Martin wins contract to build U.S. geostationary weather satellites appeared first on SpaceNews.

CPHC Central North Pacific Outlook

Central North Pacific 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Central North Pacific 7-Day Graphical Outlook Image


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center Honolulu HI
800 PM HST Thu Jun 20 2024

For the central North Pacific...between 140W and 180W:

No tropical cyclones are expected during the next 7 days.

Forecaster Wroe

NHC Atlantic Outlook

Atlantic 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Atlantic 7-Day Graphical Outlook Image


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
200 AM EDT Fri Jun 21 2024

For the North Atlantic...Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico:

1. Southwestern Atlantic Ocean (AL92):
A small but concentrated area of showers and thunderstorms persists
with an area of low pressure located around 225 miles east of
Jacksonville, Florida. However, it is unclear if the system
possesses a well-defined surface circulation. Environmental
conditions remain marginally conducive for some additional
development, and this system could become a short-lived tropical
depression as the low moves west-northwestward at 10 to 15 mph. The
system is expected to approach the northeastern coast of Florida or
the Georgia coast later today, and interests there should monitor
the progress of this system. An Air Force Reserve aircraft is
scheduled to investigate the system later this morning, if
* Formation chance through 48 hours...medium...50 percent.
* Formation chance through 7 days...medium...50 percent.

2. Southwestern Gulf of Mexico:
A broad area of low pressure is forecast to form over southeastern
Mexico and northern Central America later today. Environmental
conditions appear conducive for gradual development after this
system moves over the Bay of Campeche on Saturday, and a tropical
depression could form over the southwestern Gulf of Mexico this
weekend while it moves slowly west-northwestward or northwestward.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...medium...40 percent.
* Formation chance through 7 days...medium...60 percent.

Forecaster Papin

NHC Eastern North Pacific Outlook

Eastern North Pacific 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Eastern North Pacific 7-Day Graphical Outlook Image


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
1100 PM PDT Thu Jun 20 2024

For the eastern North Pacific...east of 140 degrees west longitude:

Tropical cyclone formation is not expected during the next 7 days.

Forecaster Papin

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Hubble s NGC 1546

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Heavy Rain and Flooding Concerns From the Southwest to the Upper Midwest; Heat Continues to Build in the East