FORWARD BASE B

"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

Life Lessons from Starcraft 2

Computer games can be time wasters when we’re just playing against a computer. MMOs tend to be a waste in the absence of an end goal in an environment that’s deliberately designed to be aimless and addictive.

Games of strategy, however, tend to exercise the mind and spirit, especially when your opponents are other humans. This is a role Starcraft II fills admirably with its server packed with thousands of people, a game against fresh opponents always ready to play in a few seconds. Each match has clear objectives and an ending, unlike MMOs. In an hour one can play 3-4 different matches finding out what works and what does not.
One quickly finds even at the lowest level of play human opponents are far more dangerous and unpredictable than any AI.
About every 15-25 minutes you can go through life’s conflicts in miniature. It doesn’t take long to see certain patterns emerge, that certain philosophies work optimally while others are mediocre or fail outright.
I will try to list some of the lessons I’ve learned from starcraft that have proved valuable in real life:

1. Experience trumps wits.   Some idiot who’s simply spent more time playing the game will beat you when you’re new, no matter how fast and clever you think you are. You might think you’re smart, but it’s not as much an advantage as you think if you haven’t put in the time and effort.
Coasting on raw ability alone fails miserably in a contest that relies on learned skills. An ordinary guy who knows an optimal build order to execute a sound strategy will destroy a genius who’s trying to figure everything out for the first time.
This is why there’s plenty of average joes doing well in life while everyone knows that “smart” guy who’s losing at life.
Starcraft 2 teaches there’s no such thing as “potential” only results.

2. Success is a numbers game. You have to lose (a lot) to ever be a winner. As you get better the matchup will try to move you up the ladder to people who are your equal or better in ability.
You lose your ego fast when you constantly go up against opponents who you’ll lose to half the time. You’re never allowed to just stay comfortable crushing people who are below you. Every time a new game begins, you’re up against someone you can’t take lightly. By the time you learn enough to play even half decently, you’ve suffered dozens of humiliating defeats and know what it feels like when the winner decides to be an asshole.
Even if you get good, you know there’s no shortage of people who can slap you around effortlessly. You realize gloating in victory is for children who know little of life. A real life Big Man is above such silliness.

3. Time is the most important resource. A dumbass who’s simply faster than you will destroy you every time. If you aren’t ready when he comes for you, if you can’t react fast enough, that’s it, you’re dead. All your boasting and bragging how you’re a master strategist is for naught. Knowing kung fu makes no difference if you’re dropped right away by a swift punch to the jaw.
Imagine getting extra moves in chess! You’d be able to destroy players monumentally smarter and more skilled than you. The day is often decided simply by getting there first with the most.
The importance of time in deciding conflict can’t be doubted if we glance at the American Civil War. A bit more speed would have prevented the rebel armies from uniting at Manassas. A bit more speed could have threatened Washington after First Manassas. A bit more speed could have destroyed Lee’s army at Gettysburg. Longstreet saved Lee from defeat at The Wilderness by arriving at exactly the right time. A little more speed and there would have been no months-long siege of Petersburg…
Starcraft drills this lesson into your head mercilessly. If you’re playing terran and that bunker is completed just a few seconds too late before that zerg rush hits, it’s game over.

4. To everything there’s a golden mean. Goldilocks and Aristotle had the right idea. Too aggressive, you die. Not aggressive enough, you die. Starcraft teaches you the hard way to have a feel for exactly what kind of approach a situation calls for. When we’re first learning to drive a car, we sway back and forth in the lane, compensating then overcompensating. Soon, we drive straight.
In real life, though, we tend to make a major mistake that causes us to overcompensate to an equally faulty extreme. Then we waste years of our lives compounding our error until continuation becomes so painful we’re forced to re-evaluate our strategy. A few decades later, the lucky among us are finally able to drive that car somewhat competently, the rest never learn.
With starcraft, it becomes possible to see a model of that grand learning process in miniature.

5. Your brilliant ideas mean nothing until you try to execute them. Even a simple plan falls apart when you’re under pressure. Being adaptable in the moment is more valuable than making grandiose complicated plans. This is why armchair generals fail. A game like starcraft becomes a laboratory to test your hypotheses about what will work and what will not.
In real life, we can’t formulate a philosophy and then have a series of 20 minute tests to see if it really works as a guide to our actions. But starcraft allows us to come somewhat close to that. Through trial and error we learn that some approaches are objectively better than others. After trying something 20 times and getting your ass kicked every time, you’re forced to stop rationalizing. That approach doesn’t work. Now, no demagogue, ideologue, or politician will ever convince you otherwise; you’re immune to their poisonous talk of relativism because you’ve experienced objective truth for yourself, often painfully.
In real life, winning conflict requires the same principles as engineering. You want the simplest, lowest investment solution that effectively solves the problem. The more complexity, the more points of failure. Evolution shows us this philosophy is one of the underlying laws of reality. A “fit” living thing accomplishes its goals as efficiently as possible with as few points of failure as possible.
The pages of history are littered with egotistical generals who broke this universal law, thinking themselves military geniuses to the bitter end.

6. Always go for decisive objectives that put your opponent under mortal threat, which forces him to try to stop you with all his resources. As with chess, you want to risk your army for proportionate gains. A new player might wreck his opponent’s new expansion base only to find his own main base is now being gutted. Dealing a painful but not mortal blow allows the opponent to retaliate—and they might well kill rather than wound you. If the opponent is constantly forced to prevent unacceptable losses, you control the game. It’s hard to be aggressive in chess when the King keeps getting put into check! If you can seize the initiative, you’ll usually win.

7. The line between defeat and victory is a narrow one. If you forget detectors, that could cost you the game when cloaked units show up. One small oversight and you instantly lose the game, even if you were otherwise in a position to finish your opponent. In real life, battles both literal and figurative are often decided by the smallest mistakes. This is another great lesson that crushes the ego. It’s hard to be an arrogant victor when you’re keenly aware one small mistake would have reversed the outcome.

8. Decisiveness wins. Even the poorest strategy will sometimes succeed if someone commits to it completely and without hesitation. With indecisiveness, we divide and conquer ourselves. In real life, a weak faction like the North Vietnamese can defeat even an overwhelmingly strong faction that is indecisive, uncommitted, with no clear objectives. Without a clear mission to fulfill or a clear course of action to achieve it, there is no such thing as victory.

9. Starcraft teaches us to be less critical of those who have great responsibility. Even a mere game that shows how easy it is to screw up teaches perspective. Bad luck and small mistakes can easily bring disaster even to the competent. Even those who prove incompetent at the highest levels often stand far above the average guy on the street. You begin to realize that herdbeasts who mock and complain endlessly about their betters are just misbehaving children. They have never known leadership or great responsibility themselves yet deign to criticize as if they were equals.

Conclusion:
Starcraft 2 is certainly not a perfect microcosm of real life. For one thing, the playing field is far too orderly and predictable. We never have that much information when making real decisions. If two opponents played 100 different strategy games against each other for the very first time barely knowing the rules, that would be much more like real life. In fact, I think sloppy bronze league play may simulate real life best. But the controlled environment of starcraft allows us to test ideas more extensively. It invites us to reflect on our own lives and contemplate how the mindset we learn playing battle after battle applies to real conflicts we face.
Looking over the battlefield, what are the most effective actions we can take to defeat the obstacles before us? What objectives are vital and which are distractions?
Many now seem to view life as some kind of sentimental TV drama, but to me it is perhaps just another game, the Great Game.

terran, wall, 6 pool, cheese, stop, block

Terran wall blocks early game allins such as Zerg’s “6 pool”. The SCV stands by to repair any attempts to make a breach. Reacting quickly and keeping cool under pressure is critical to survival.

The 3 Keys To Anglo Success

Anglo societies have succeeded tremendously over the last few centuries, but this success hasn’t meant good lives for individuals.  The secret to Anglo success has been squeezing individual men to work as hard as possible for even moderate levels of success, generating more wealth for the nation as a whole.  Getting the best wine grapes or the best hydroponic pot is about forcing the plants to respond to pressure by trying their hardest and producing their best.  Anglo society, likewise, is built on systematic sexual repression.

1. Picky Women

Through their natural sexual power, women are the de facto police force of culture.  What they desire, men clamor to give them.  Anglo women are among the pickiest on the planet.  Maybe it was the long winters combined with high population density, but whatever the reasons, we know Anglo society is intensely competitive.  If you want to get one plain Jane to consider having your kids, a car and house is the minimum price tag.  As many have noted, this basic entry ticket is no longer any guarantee.  You better stand out in some way and have at least local notability.

The Victorian period never really went away.  Anglo women are still prissy, fussy, picky creatures looking to disqualify all the men around them for a mispronounced vowel or an unfastened coat button. They’re as neurotic and unhappy as they ever were—it’s in their blood. Then as now, they obsess over their waistlines, shrinking away from anything substantial to eat while secretly cramming down starchy biscuits and gallons of heavily sugared and creamed tea.  We still indulge in upper middle class Victorian fantasies of innocent childhood and cute pets dripping with sickeningly sweet sentimental syrup.  What are modern peanut allergies and asthma but the product of Victorian smothering parenting?  What are suburbs but the happy ending of a Dickens novel?

Modern neurotic middle class Anglos do a fine job of keeping the tradition alive as sweat beads on their brow whenever someone uses the wrong fork, grit their teeth whenever someone forgets to say ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’, or rush to clean out every last dust mote from their house and turn on the Enya music on low volume before one visitor arrives.

While women of other cultures get just enough wealth to have kids, and then have them, Anglo women demand every man build her a bower to her precise specifications until it becomes a never-ending Babel.  The kids never arrive. The insufferable females that once drove men to conquer the entire planet do little more than foster barren marriages in an age of birth control. If this was once the impetus behind Anglo greatness, it’s now a central cause of its decline.

White women are also more selective, neurotic, and bitchy than any other kind because being picky was necessary for survival. If you just need a wet hole, chasing white women doesn’t make any sense.  Until you’re an elite man, you can almost always find a better deal in the arms of a dark-skinned woman. Any British soldier of the Victorian period sent off to the colonies would readily attest to this.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

2. Prudery

Anglo culture has long been intensely prudish.  For at least a couple centuries, Anglos have been taught myths of courtly love instead of real skills in getting laid.  This trend started to catch on in the middle ages and by the late 18th century, we have Jane Austen.
Prostitution is kept to the margins or outlawed as much as possible.  Fanatical devotion to depriving men of sexual outlets outside of the official monopoly is perhaps the foundation of Anglo dominance.  It’s all part of the plan to have men work their little hearts out for just a little taste of honey.

They would have removed liquor too if they could have so that a workhorse’s only solace in life would be the act of mounting a homely plow mare as his reward for spending every waking minute destroying his competitors.  As it is, alcohol, especially binge drinking, plays a special role in Anglo culture as almost the only (grudgingly) accepted vice.  Possibly even the most straight-lace Anglos would go insane without the alcoholic outlet.  Even Victorians could more readily indulge in tobacco and opium than our modern SWPL prudes.  Today, with even alcohol less tolerated, binge eating takes the place of binge drinking as possibly the last permitted vice.

I’ve always wondered that Westerners created a science of economics yet never applied the same principles to sexual markets.
It’s a testament to the stubborn prudery of Anglo nations that there never was a ‘sexenomics’ until enough disposable males had access to mass networks. Even when it came to the sciences, prude Anglos and like-minded Westerners felt compelled to strategically cover up one particular area with a well-placed fig leaf.

3. Snobbery

You’re not white until you earn $30,000 a year, and that’s just entry level. To really be white, European blood is not enough.  You better have the car, that house in the suburbs, and the obligatory white collar job complete with white rumpled-up button-up shirts and ill-fitting khakis. You don’t have that, forget it. You’re what was once known as a “scalawag” today more commonly called “trash.” Part of the Anglo formula for success is casting out those who don’t make the cut.  If they can’t be gotten rid of in distant colonies or wars, make them live and breed in a separate underclass.

Are you white trash?  Don’t try to deny it just because you have that useless degree.  It pays to own up to it.  If you’re realistic, you’ll see you have more interests in common with Mexicans and blacks than with your overseers and the planter aristocracy.

Hard experience has taught me a key truth.
White is a social, cultural, economic movement.
European is a group of related ethnicities that share common traits, pale skin among them.  Getting the two confused leads to endless strife.  Until you understand who you really are, you can’t live life as you should.

Conclusion

Many seem to mourn the decline of the old Anglo culture, but I for one am happy to see it go.  It always was just another exploitative system that took advantage of men with limited access to information.
The classic Victorian Anglo culture can’t continue to exist among a population of males informed of market conditions on the internet—it has become obsolete.

Even Ben Franklin in the 18th century lamented that white men fled over the Anglo socio-sexual Berlin Wall to live with the Indians whenever they could.  If anything, this problem was just one more reason Anglo society and the Indians couldn’t co-exist.  That Franklin’s very name means “Freedman” a peasant who beat all the odds and made it into the very small skilled middle classes speaks for itself.

The problem with a repressive system is that it collapses as soon as a better alternative becomes available or can even be imagined!  The Anglo system took over the entire world, an impressive feat.  But I am an individual, not a monolithic society.  I care about getting the best deal for myself, just like the men who fled to Indian tribes in colonial America.
Any new system that lasts must take the interests of human beings into account.  In an age of information, no longer can deception be the foundation of a social order.

A Tale of Two Debtors: Britain and France After the American Revolution

By the 1780s, France and Britain had approximately the same debt after spending huge sums fighting over the American colonies.

One recovered and the other collapsed into revolution.

The difference was their systems of finance and taxation.

While the outstanding war debts may have been the same, the interest rates were not.

Bourbon France had to pay twice as much interest on its loans as did the British. And that made all the difference.

To begin with, the English system relied far more on indirect taxes and tariffs for its income.
The French system meanwhile focused on many direct taxes that ended up discouraging economic growth.

The result was that by the time of the French Revolution, England yielded more tax revenue despite having only 1/2 the population of France.

Britain and France were set apart most of all by their systems of credit.

England had relied on the world’s 1st national bank since 1694 to efficiently raise large long term loans. At the same time, new loans kept flowing and interest rates dropped because the English parliament had the power to consistently raise enough taxes. The stability of this system drew in a steady steam of further capital from Dutch investors.

The French crown on the other hand relied on a host of middle men—tax farmers, nobles, high ranked clergy, lenders, and merchants for loans, at high rates of interest.
Without a central source to consolidate its loans, the crown found itself struggling to raise money quickly, keep track of its loans, or pay interest.

Worse, in the French system of direct tax farming, it was more profitable to farm taxes and loan out advances than it was to start businesses and engage in productive industry.
The French system encouraged parasitic plunder while stifling real economic growth that would produce more wealth in the long run.
Wealth ended up being gradually drained from the economy even as the French national debt skyrocketed with each successive war…

Paraphrased and summarized from:

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
Paul Kennedy, 1987
Pages 76-86

 

UK public debt from National Bank founding to modern times

 

French Debt Until the French Revolution

French Debt Until The French Revolution

Italians do it better !

Our tank is way hotter than yours.

Who needs Abrams anyway ?

Beware those fearsome Venetian Secessionists!

Thoughts On the Ukraine Crisis

I honestly don’t see the need for war.
Ukraine has been paralyzed by conflict between ethnic Ukrainians and Russians since the collapse of the USSR.
I think the government in Kiev is actually better off without them.
My guess for now is parts of Eastern Ukraine, especially Crimea, could end up going back to Russia.
The Russians get to be part of impoverished Russia.
The western part is finally freed to become part of Europe and to join the rich EU.
Russia gains a bit more territory but at the cost of becoming even more diplomatically and economically isolated.  Even more relegated to being a mere commodity provider for rich countries.
It’s not a good move for Russia.
They may actually be doing the Ukrainians a huge favor.
Perhaps the Russian leadership are savvy enough to understand that pressing this issue won’t help them beyond a certain point and are again posturing in an attempt to boost public opinion at home and boost their appearance of prestige abroad.
Yanukovych was Putin’s man in Kiev.  He was an ethnic Russian from the East who wasn’t even fully fluent in Ukrainian, a shortcoming which made him the George W. Bush of Ukraine, sticking his foot in his mouth at every opportunity.
Irrepressible protests arose after he tried to distance Ukraine from the EU in November and there was a revolution that completely ousted him from power.
I find it odd that present news reports barely even mention the Ukrainian revolution that drove Putin to invade Ukraine.
With events out of context, few seem to understand that Putin is the desperate man, trying to salvage what he can from a wreck beyond all repair.
Ukraine is lost to him forever now and it’s only a matter of time now until it becomes part of the EU and NATO.
Putin will seize what scraps he can but even those will come at a precipitous price.  He spent the last 20 years trying to keep the former Soviet Republics in his orbit, so it’s understandable he’s not acting completely rationally.
I’ve looked at an ethnic map of the Ukraine and have understood that ethnic Russians are barely 1/5 of Ukraine’s population. They’re concentrated in the East.  Crimea is the only part of the entire country that’s majority ethnic Russian.  That may well be the only part that goes back to Russia.
I can see people making comparisons to Sudetenland concessions, but I find them ridiculous.  Nazi Germany was an economic powerhouse while Putin’s Russia is a sick man of Europe.
In time, even Russia will be pulled into the economic vortex that is Europe; even their political power plays will amount to nothing, like one tiny person trying to swim against the current of a river.

 

Percent Ethnic Russians in Ukraine Provinces

Plato, Democracy, and Mob Rule

By the 4th century BC, civilizations had already existed for at least a couple thousand years.
By then, most of the basic patterns of civilization were ancient news.

Plato’s observations about governments over 2,000 years ago might seem disturbingly familiar to us now.

Humans may boast of mechanical technologies such as airplanes and atomic bombs, but social technology, the ways we organize haven’t changed since the very first farming villages:

“Every form of government tends to perish by excess of its basic principle.  Aristocracy ruins itself by limiting too narrowly the circle within which power is confined; oligarchy ruins itself by the incautious scramble for immediate wealth.  In either case the end is revolution.   When revolution comes, it may seem to arise from little causes and petty whims…when a body is weakened by neglected ills, the merest exposure may bring serious disease.

Then democracy comes…But even democracy ruins itself by excess-of democracy.  Its basic principle is the equal right of all to hold office and determine public policy.  This is at first glance a delightful arrangement; it becomes disastrous because the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers and the wisest courses.

As to the people, they have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them.  To get a doctrine accepted or rejected it is only necessary to have it praised or ridiculed in a popular play.
Mob-rule is a rough sea for the  ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course.

The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy; the crowd so loves flattery…that at last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, calling himself the ‘protector of the people’ rises to supreme power.

Plato complains that whereas in simpler matters—like shoe-making—we think only a specially-trained person will serve our purpose, in politics we presume that every one who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state.  When we are ill we call for a trained physician, whose degree is a guarantee of specific preparation and technical competence—we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one…when the whole state is ill should we not look for the service and guidance of the wisest and the best?   To devise a method of barring incompetence and knavery from public office, and of selecting and preparing the best to rule for the common good—that is the problem of political philosophy.”

-Plato as quoted, paraphrased, and summarized by Will Durant

The Story of Philosophy
Will Durant, 1953, Pocket Books, Washington Square Press
Excerpts from pages 20-21

How Trends In Education Forecast the Decline of the Roman Republic

“If we bear in mind the principles that governed the education of young men in Rome…
These derived chiefly from tradition, from the way in which the son of a country landowner gradually adapted himself to his father’s lifestyle accompanying him on journeys, observing everything he did, and then attempting to do it himself under his father’s supervision.  It amounted essentially to learning by observation and imitation…
This kind of education was continued in the city too, above all in politics, the chief sphere of activity for members of the nobility.

The nobility appreciated the importance of this largely practical patriarchal education.  This is clear from an edict issued by the censors in 92 BC, banning recently opened schools…

We have been informed that certain persons there have instituted a new kind of training for the young…the young who attend their schools are said to spend whole days in idleness.  Our ancestors determined what children should learn and what schools they should attend.  This new fashion, which is at variance with the uses and customs of our ancestors, neither pleases us nor appears to us right…

Whole days spent at school turned young noblemen into schoolboys, alienated from practical life and forced them into idleness.  Instead of being confronted as individuals with models to be emulated, they were thrown together with their own kind and with teachers.
The young gentlemen were offered little that could command their respect…
What probably told most heavily against the schools was that they estranged the young from their natural environment…

Preparation for adult life did not allow the growing boy much chance to enjoy a carefree childhood and youth.  Many demands were made on him, but this meant that at an early age he was taken seriously.”

Caesar: A Biography
Christian Meier, 1982
Excerpts taken from pages 58-60

My Commentary:
Observe how today’s education system infantilizes young adults, separates them from the adult world, and leaves them with other young people as their role models instead of mature people who’ve gone out into the world and accomplished.
The result is a petty royal court culture in schools ruled by a few top athletes and cheer leaders who’ve never done anything to earn their high stations.  What lesson does undeserved adulation for an aristocracy of useless socialites teach growing children about merit and hard work?
A republic that adopts such a system goes into decline as it slips into this indulgent debauchery, wasting its human capital before it’s even budded.

An Experiment to Test the “Watchmaker” Objection To Evolution

“The origin of adaptations…is one of the deepest problems in Darwinism.  How do novel adaptations arise from small and gradual beginnings?

There is a genus of finches with mandibles that cross over at the tips…called crossbills… The twisted beak allows the bird to pry open closed (pine) cones.
What Benkman and Lindholm did was to uncross the beaks of these birds by trimming the crossed part of the mandibles with an ordinary nail clippers.
The birds with uncrossed bills turned out to be just as good as ever at extracting seeds from dry, open pinecones.  Byt they could no longer handle closed cones.
Day by day, as the twist in their beaks grew back, the birds did better and better with more and more recalcitrant cones.  After a month, their beaks were completely regrown.
Benkman and Lindholm could measure the value of an adaptation from its very beginnings to its final form.
If crossed mandibles were useful to these birds only when fully formed, then it really would be a puzzle how they could have arisen by natural selection.  The cross would have to appear all at once.
It would be the kind of problem before which Darwin felt his theory would “absolutely break down.”

But the finches began to get better at opening pinecones when the cross in their beaks was still too small to be visible to the eye.  Even a slight crossing of the mandibles confers a small, incremental benefit, making more and more tightly closed cones accessible….
The press of competition in the woods would have made the novelty of a crossed beak more and more desirable, because it would allow its possessor to eat food n one else could eat; the same competitive pressure would favor each new twist…
Today, however, theere is no profit to a sparrow or bunting in a deformed, twisted bill, because the crossbill niche is taken.”

-The Beak of the Finch
Jonathan Weiner, 1994
Excerpts from pages 180-184, emphasis mine

My Commentary: As convincing as these experimental results are, I still wonder about species such as the Emerald Jewel wasp that rely on precision brain surgery on the host of their larvae to successfully reproduce.

How Fleeing Ancestral Parasites Enabled Civilization

“The extraordinary variety of human parasites that exist in Africa suggests that Africa was the principal cradle for humankind, for nowhere else did the adjustment between human and nonhuman forms of life achieve anything like the same biological elaboration.

Many of the parasitic worms and protozoa that abound in Africa do not provoke immune reactions.
Opportunities for transfer from one host to another multiply with increased human density…when a critical threshold is surpassed, infection can suddenly develop into runaway hyperinfection.  Such epidemic situations seriously interfere with normal activity…

This…can soon reduce a population until the local density sinks safely below the threshold necessary for hyperinfection.

The establishment of human hunters at the top of the food chain…did not…do much to alter these age-old ecological relations.  In triumphantly claiming a new niche, humanity did not, therefore, transform the system as a whole.

Until relatively recent times (say five thousand years ago), human communities in Africa played a comparatively modest role amid the abundance of other life forms.  Humans were the chief predators, to be sure, but remained relatively rare in the balance of nature.
It is…mainly because sleeping sickness…remains so devastating to human populations that the ungulate herds of the African savanna have survived to the present.   Without modern prophylaxis, humans simply cannot live in regions where the tsetse fly abounds…Within the tsetse’s range, something resembling a pre-human ecological balance survives to the present.

In leaving tropical environments behind, our ancestors also escaped many of the parasites and disease organisms to which their predecessors and tropical contemporaries were accustomed.

Humanity’s place within the balance of nature in tropical regions differed fundamentally from what developed in temperate and Arctic climatic zones.
The array…of infections and infestations was vastly diminished from what had thriven in the tropical luxuriance of humanity’s oldest habitat.

Thus humankind’s biological dominion in temperate climes assumed a different order of magnitude from the start.
Humanity was in a situation like rabbits met when introduced into Australia.  Lacking both natural predators and natural parasites in the new environment…

Food production permitted a vast and rapid increase in the number of people, and so sustained the rise of cities and civilizations.”

Plagues and Peoples
William H McNeill

Excerpts taken from pages, 19-30 in no exact order so long as I put the main idea out there as succinctly as possible.
This guy is brilliant, but he really needed an editor.

A US Collapse Vs. SU Collapse

The US and SU had many things in common as massive highly nationalistic, highly idealistic, highly militarized nation states founded on pioneering territorial expansion across their continents.

In fact, it was their very alikeness that made them competitors for the same niche!

The author of this piece argues that for all its flaws, the cooperative, state run nature of the Soviet Union made it easier to weather governmental collapse than we’d see in a zero-sum super competitive ultra privatized US that barely 20 years after the SU’s is certainly in sharp decline and possibly on its last legs.

LINK

Brookings Institute Talk on Russia and America

I attended a talk today at the Brookings Institution about the future of Russian-American relations.

Naturally there was considerable focus on current issues such as Syria and Snowden being given asylum, and how it might affect the upcoming G20 summit.

I didn’t wonder about it much, really.  There’s nothing in Syria that’s central to Russian interests and Snowden, while a nasty diplomatic slap in the face, does nothing to change the larger situation.

I was more interested in bigger political and economic developments and where they might be headed.

Interestingly, the experts pretty much all agreed that the present political order in Russia is dependent on Putin’s cult of personality – that without his influence there would be nothing to hold Russia’s oligarchs together.
And – there is no plan for succession should something happen to Putin tomorrow…

They addressed how Putin’s main objective with his anti-American gestures is to boost his popularity at home.   His anti-American posturing has a huge appeal to his base – Russia’s working classes.
The urban middle and upper middle class has little loyalty to Putin, often protesting him in Moscow and St. Petersburg, so it’s only natural Russia’s ruler tailors his image to the vast majority he relies on.

While Syria is, relatively speaking, a sideshow, the fate of former Soviet republics is not.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, among Russia’s first concerns is to bring countries like Ukraine closer to Moscow and prevent them from aligning with Western Europe.

If we look at the numbers, though, it seems to me Russia’s agenda is doomed to fail.

Russia’s entire economy is worth 1.8 trillion.  This is enough to make it one of the world’s bigger economies, but to put Russia’s imperial goals in perspective, Italy’s economy is considerably bigger at 2.2 trillion with 1/3rd the population.

Let’s pretend we are Ukraine for a moment:

Which would we align with:  A 1.8 trillion Russia or a 17 trillion European Union?!

Not to mention, Russia’s economy to this day is based heavily on commodities like natural gas rather than skills or tech.
Indeed, one subject to arise during the question and answer session with the experts was brain drain from Russia…

With no Soviet Union any more that can keep their best talent captive, skilled Russians are increasingly ditching their home country for places like Silicon Valley.  And Russia itself with its feudal oligarchs and powerful crime lords tends to be very unfriendly to commerce.
So long as Russian small businessmen are parasitized by protection rackets and foreign investors are confronted with corruption, their economy is not likely to become truly “modern” any time soon.

A main theme of the talk was to ask what Putin really wants and how to get Russia to work more closely with US objectives.  Even the experts seemed to regard Putin as a mystic, inscrutable, Eastern Czar.
If we look at the numbers, though, it seems clear why the US can’t seem to get Russia to budge.

Relatively speaking, the US really is not that important to Russian interests so it simply doesn’t have that much leverage.
The vast majority of Russia’s foreign trade is with the European Union and with China in a distant second place.   Commerce with the US takes a comparatively puny 4th or 5th place with just a few percent of the total.  Also, the US is just about on the other side of the planet from Russia’s major cities while China and Europe are much more immediate neighbors.
It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that US requests take a back seat compared to more immediate concerns.  What decisive advantage does America offer in exchange for Putin’s cooperation?  Putin is a pragmatist, so clearly what he’s being offered isn’t worth as much as he gets from slighting the US to boost his domestic approval ratings.

The economic reality on the ground is that Russia is already just a big commodity provider for the EU, and thus in every meaningful sense, already part of Europe.
If we look at the facts, Russia as a modern great power, is pure fantasy.

During the talk, there was mention of a new, more Western generation of Russians just waiting for the older oligarchs to die off.  Such a generation is bound to reconcile Russia’s political reality with the economic reality.
Instead of trying to keep states like Ukraine from being sucked into Europe, Russia will itself be sucked into the Euro zone.

Even if Russia somehow remains an aloof oligarchic kleptocracy, it will still be useful for its resources as a lesser partner of Europe.

Graph Russia Trade Partners

Does the Decline Make Statistical Sense? Does the American Way Make Financial Sense?

The American economy is worth 15 trillion, still over twice as big in absolute terms as a distant 2nd place, China a desperately poor nation with a huge population…
But is that wealth proportionally useful compared to other places?
If we consider GDP by purchasing power parity, China with many times more people still has only 75% as much relative wealth as the US.

The US national debt has passed 100% of GDP but the US remains one of the worlds most reliable debtors: 2% of GDP, 7-8% of Federal Revenue more than pays off all the
interest each year.  The federal government spends 4x as much each on social programs and the military!
The American debt burden would not impress struggling European powers during the Napoleonic wars.
Nations like Japan are far worse off with close to 150% GNP in national debt or Greece at 200%. Germany isn’t that much better off at 85%

The net US trade deficit is by far the largest in the world at about 450 billion, but another 30-40 billion a year of exports could plug the gap and the difference still pales in comparison next to the massive size of the US economy.

The numbers tell us that the US is a monster, yet those of us who live there are experiencing relentless and accelerating decline.  How do we explain this against awe inspiring numbers?
After all even a US in relative decline is still surpassed only by the entire EU.

Here’s some reflections on reconciling the reality on the ground with the statistics?

Virgin Bride: Unbuyable

Wife: Average income just an entry ticket to the arena

Girlfriend: Average income just an entry ticket.

Job Security: Unbuyable

House: At least $200,000 (realistically far more paid after interest, no one can afford that out of pocket)

Car: At least $10,000 if new. (realistically far more paid after interest, no one can afford that out of pocket)

Rent: At least $600/month, $7200/year even in cheap areas after utilities and fees.

Education: 16 years to satisfy basic prerequisites, consuming at least 6 years from age able to enter workforce. Possibly more than a decade with higher degrees. A doctor or successful lawyer may earn a lot but has to compensate for 10+ years of working part time or not at all. Filling a big black hole of years of tuition + living expenses.

Children, Family Before Age 30: The price is a life of grinding poverty.

How much just to break even?  A couple million dollars earned over a couple of decades? Even if everything goes as planned, break even by middle age?

The simple truth that stares us in the face: The “normal” lifestyle with house/apartment, car, job doesn’t make financial sense.
It entails a huge expenditures of time and energy in a desperate bid to break even.
In the past, people may have had prospect of having a family and securing their genetic futures, but now even this basic reward(readily available to many poor peoples all over the world) is elusive.

Just a glimpse at these basic expenses shows us that rent seeking, fees, tuition, royalties, interest on assets and payments is where wealth can actually be made.

Right now what keeps people going? Fear that the only alternative to the “break even track” is to live in true uncertainty of survival.

The United States remains fantastically wealthy on paper yet is the average person’s life essentially any different than the average across time and place?

Is someone in a poorer country who can hope for a genetic future in their reproductive prime, surrounded by supportive family, with an ancestral home to live in, a family trade to aspire to, in fact, better off?

Are Americans as atomized individuals a whole that’s less than the sum of its parts?
Are Americans despite their unprecedented wealth undermined by backwards and wasteful social institutions and culture?

Or is the present trend of declinism as the numbers suggest, a misguided fad?

Insights on this matter?

The Myth of A Europe United Against the Turks

Many modern day nationalists look back fondly on a fabled age where the Turks were twice driven back from the very gates of Vienna.

What they never seem to mention is that plenty of European powers would have liked to see the fall of Vienna and with it the threat of Habsburg power.

The Habsburgs were the European superpower of the time, with the crowns of the Spanish and Austrian empires united under one family, which included enormous bullion rich territories in the New World.

European powers such as France were more than willing to make deals or even alliances with the Ottomans if it meant taking some pressure off of them by diverting the overwhelming military power and wealth of the Habsburgs.

I’ve met far too many people who like to interpret Euro history first as a conflict between Christianity and Islam when the truth is far more complex.

LINK

France and Ottoman

Francis I of France and his ally, Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire

Female Mate Preferences Change With Circumstance

By looking at “simpler” animals, we gain insights into ourselves.

Some naturalists in the 80s spent a decade watching trends in populations of Darwin’s finches on a single tiny island.

They discovered that mating preferences were almost mechanically pragmatic based on the circumstances of the times.

During a drought, female finches were only interested in super specialists of their own species because only specialists in a niche stand a chance as food grows scarce.

During a wet season female finches often prefer “men” of other species. They want hybrid offspring that can best take advantage of abundance by being able to eat marginally well from multiple food sources.

If preference for finches is this malleable and pragmatic, what are the implications for humans?

The finches obviously aren’t thinking things through as they go, probably, they mainly look at courtship displays and “wealth” in the form of health and surplus body fat.
Whatever is “successful” she wants to mate with. And to a lesser extent, vice versa.

So if ruthless sociopaths are the most successful humans able to put on the most impressive plumage and courtship displays, they by definition become the desirable mating stock.

Presumably once a social bubble collapses from being over-exploited by defector parasites, more cooperative men are those that prosper. i.e. Christians during the decline of the Roman Empire.(Mormons during the present decline?)

Biologically speaking, all that matters to man or woman is:
a. offspring
b. the offspring succeed in having offspring

It would seem our instincts impel us in this direction as surely as if we were clockwork toys.
Human “reason” is far overrated.

Source:

The Beak of the Finch, Johnathan Weiner

Why the Roman Republic Collapsed

“An order usually fails when the community is no longer able, with its help, to perform its tasks more or less satisfactorily, or at least without causing major damage.
The late republic could no longer do this.  It could no longer contend with the social problems at home or the military and administrative problems abroad.  For any attempt to solve them only increased the power of individuals…This led to fierce conflicts, to restrictions…to growing inefficiency and thus to the disintegration of the inherited order.  The senatorial regime was not designed to cope with the problems that now faced it.
Time and again it showed itself to be superannuated.  Yet it could not be easily replaced.

Hence a great crisis arose, the main feature of which was that for a long time no alternative could emerge.  An alternative did emerge in the end…

It is wrong to transfer the notion of revolution, informed as it is by nineteenth-century experiences and expectations, to Roman conditions…the people cannot be seen as a new force that set itself up against the old one represented by the Senate…
What we observe is rather the contentment of all who were powerful… and the powerlessness of all who were discontented.
This was because the whole existence of Roman society, indeed its identity, was so bound up with the inherited order as to block off any thought of change…

The oligarchic republic could thus be replaced only by a monarchy.  Yet this became possible only when society had been so weakened by protracted civil wars as to recognize that things could no longer go on without a princeps…

The republic thus destroyed itself.  It had to, for otherwise nothing new, no alternative, would have emerged.  And it destroyed itself even though no one desired its destruction.”

Caesar: A Biography, Christian Meier, p. 491-493

In short:  Where there is a power vacuum and things aren’t getting done…it must eventually be filled.

Francis Bacon Predicted Airplanes, Submarines, and Lasers in the 17th Century

“Nylon and air-conditioning wouldn’t have surprised Sir Francis Bacon. He predicted them, along with most of our other present scientific wonders, over 300 years ago!…

this astounding man foresaw the airplane, television, movies, submarines, automobiles almost the whole range of modern discoveries.

Recently a research scientist, digging through the latin script of this ancient work checked off the list of these three hundred-year-old predictions and found that every one of them had come true except one!”

LINK

 

Many of these predictions arose in Bacon’s “New Atlantis”,  where he writes about an idealized society ruled by scientific method and where the rulers are scientists.

Not only did Bacon’s ideas lead to modern science and the enlightenment, but he also predicted something very like the modern secular state.

I find Bacon interesting because we see in our present world enlightenment ideas taken to an absurd extreme by ideological types.

Bacon was a shrewd politician and statesman who had a nuanced understanding of the real world.   He would never have believed in childish black and white extremes such as  “a war of all against all” or a “noble savage” that plague our civilization to the present day.

I imagine he would weep if he came back and saw where the intellectual movement he helped begin has ended up.

Francis Bacon perhaps gives us a glimpse of what the “enlightenment” could have been like had it been guided by worldly wisdom and savvy rather than reckless idealism and bookish wishful theory.

 

Philosophy was his hobby after his day job as a senior figure in Elizabeth I's government.

Philosophy was his hobby after his day job as a senior figure in Elizabeth I’s government.

 

Propaganda

Propaganda

Excellent video on propaganda & brain washing. Must see !

MacArthur Style “Containment Policy”

“In interviews published posthumously, MacArthur said he had a plan that would have won the war in 10 days: ‘I would have dropped 30 or so atomic bombs . . . strung across the neck of Manchuria.’

Then he would have introduced half a million Chinese Nationalist troops at the Yalu and then “spread behind us — from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea — a belt of radioactive cobalt . . . it has an active life of between 60 and 120 years.

For at least 60 years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the North.” He was certain that the Russians would have done nothing about this extreme strategy:

“My plan was a cinch.”

LINK

MacArthur knew his push deep into North Korea might trigger a counter-offensive from China and he had a plan to prevent a possibility that soon became a nightmare reality.

MacArthur knew his push deep into North Korea might trigger a counter-offensive from China and he had a plan to prevent a possibility that soon became a nightmare reality.

 

 

Syrian Mad Max Armoured Vehicle !

Syrian Mad Max Armoured Vehicle !

This baby beats the mexican cartels’ trucks fair and square !

The Rest Are Not Rising After All

BRICs map

Brazil, Russia, India, China. The so-called BRICs.

“Over 50 percent of them(Americans), according to a Gallup poll conducted this year, said they think that China is already the world’s “leading” economy, even though the U.S. economy is still more than twice as large…

The notion of wide-ranging convergence between the developing and the developed worlds is a myth…

Of the roughly 180 countries in the world tracked by the International Monetary Fund, only 35 are developed.  The markets of the rest are emerging – and most of them have been emerging for many decades and will continue to do so for many more…

There were a few pockets of countries that did catch up with the West, but they were limited to oil states in the Gulf, the nations of southern Europe after World War II, and the economic “tigers” of East Asia…

It was only after 2000 that the emerging markets as a whole started to catch up; nevertheless as of 2011, the difference in per capita incomes between the rich and developing nations was back to where it was in the 1950s…

Other than being the largest economies in their respective regions, the big four emerging markets never had much in common.  They generate growth in different and often competing ways – Brazil and Russia for example are major energy producers that benefit from high energy prices , whereas India, as a major energy consumer, suffers from them.  Except in highly unusual circumstances…they are unlikely to grow in unison…

Russia’s economy and stock market have been…dominated by an oil-rich class of billionaires whose assets equal 20 percent of GDP, by far the largest share held by the super-rich in any major economy…

…looks back to say the seventeenth century, when China and India accounted for perhaps half of global GDP…

China’s population is simply too big and aging too quickly for its economy to continue growing as rapidly as it has.  With over 50 percent of its people now living in cities, China is nearing what economists call “‘the Lewis turning point'” the point at which a country’s surplus labor from rural areas has been largely exhausted…

One casualty will be the notion that China’s success demonstrates the superiority of authoritarian, state-run capitalism…

Although the world can expect more breakout nations to emerge from the bottom income tier, at the top and the middle, the new global economic order will probably look more like the old one than most observers predict.  The rest may continue to rise ,but they will rise more slowly and unevenly than many experts are anticipating.  And precious few will ever reach the income levels of the developed world.”

Foreign Affairs, November/December 2012 Broken BRICs: Why the Rest Stopped Rising, Ruchir Sharma

Mexican Mad Max Armored Trucks

Mexican Mad Max Armored Trucks

So childish…. so ineffective.

What Martial Arts Does Batman Use?

“Possessing no super-powers and using no weapons (save for what he carries in his ‘utility belt’), he instead relies on his cunning, vast fortune, and, above all, his skills in hand-to-hand combat to defeat his opponents. It has long been known Batman is one of the – if not the – most skilled unarmed combatants in the world, but just how good of fighter is the Dark Knight, and in what disciplines?”

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

3 Dictators Who Weren’t Pure Evil?

1. Park Chung Hee – South Korea

park chung hee

Usual claim to fame: Kidnapping political opponent and future South Korean president Kim Dae Jung from Japan in broad daylight and taking him out for a ride on a boat.
Kim Dae Jung came within minutes of “sleeping with the fishes” and certainly would have if not for immediate US diplomatic pressure.
The Dictator Park was known for allowing torture, the creative use of electric shock was a specialty during his rule.
Above all he turned South Korea into corporate oligarchy mainly concerned with the needs of a few ‘chaebol’ mega-companies. Funny how they never seem to mention that both North and South Korea were dictatorships for decades.

Not Pure Evil?: Park despite his abuses is commonly credited with getting things done and putting the infrastructure in place that has allowed South Korea to become the economic superpower it is today.

Bonus: His daughter is now the president of South Korea.

Park Geun Hye

LINK

2. Augusto Pinochet – Chile

Augusto Pinochet

Usual claim to fame: Made thousands of political opponents “disappear.”

Not Pure Evil?: Pinochet turned around Chile’s economy overnight using his dictatorial power to simply get things done. Ever since, Chile has consistently been the most prosperous and stable country in South America.

Bonus: His look has had enduring influence.

Pinochet and M. Bison

Capcom vs. Reality

Also, the only of these 3 dictators to die from old age…in his 90s.

LINK

3. Rafael Trujillo – Dominican Republic

Rafael Trujillo
Usual claim to fame: Rose to power as a US puppet who was installed to collect debts the Dominican Republic had defaulted on. Soon he owned most of the country’s economy and was more than willing make opponents “disappear.”

Not Pure Evil?: Like the other two dictators Trujillo is credited with strengthening the economy and infrastructure of the Dominican Republic despite making the country into an oligarchic nepotocracy.
Perhaps more remarkable is Trujillo’s establishment of a system of national parks, regulation of logging and slash and burn farming.
Somehow people end up paying more attention to these kinds of regulations when there’s a ruthless dictator enforcing them…
The results of Trujillo’s policies speak for themselves.
Here’s a picture of the border of Haiti and the Dominican republic.

Border Dominican Republic and Haiti

Bonus: How many dictators could be marketed to the green and “fair trade” crowd? Couldn’t you envision him with that trademark smug smirk on the front of a bag of organic coffee?

LINK

An American Mercenary Who Invaded Mexico With An Army of 45 Men

Back in the 1850s, a Tennessean named William Walker and his band of mercs launched an offensive on Baja California and successfully captured the Baja del Sur capital City, La Paz.
He proceeded to declare a Republic of the Sonora complete with territorial boundaries and its own flag.

Republic of Sonora Flag

Republic of Sonora map

More amazing still, he and his men managed to get out of there alive again after the Mexican government started sending armies into the region.

Walker was a real filibuster. Not one of our modern gerontocrats deadlocking sessions of congress. No he was a filibuster in the original sense of the word. A freebooter trying to conquer a sovereign state without permission from any state.
The age of manifest destiny in America fostered an entire generation of filibuster mercs who tried to take over countries and found their own colonies.

For Walker, his personal war with Mexico was just the beginning of his career.

Next, he showed up in Nicaragua with a private army of 60 men and tried to take over the country. He actually succeeded and declared the foundation of (another) new country complete with (another) new flag.

Walker's Nicaraguan Flag

As if taking on one country wasn’t enough, Walker soon found himself at war with Costa Rica as well.
He held on for awhile despite the odds and still managed to escape with the help of the US Navy.

Still not discouraged, Walker next tried to invade Honduras but this time he was caught by the British Navy, who had no intentions of allowing an American to mess around in a zone of influence so close to where they were already planning a canal.

The British simply turned Walker over to the Hondurans, who lost little time in putting him in front of a firing squad.

Walker had no military experience and little grasp of strategy, achieving many of his impressive victories with superior firepower. Both in Mexico and Nicaragua his campaigns were ended by disastrous incidents that led to his forces being cut off from their supply lines.
An impulsive fool, he actually seized steamships from Vanderbilt, the Robber Baron sponsor who was supplying him with food, arms, and transport.
Vanderbilt retaliated by giving gold and guns to Walker’s enemies instead to get revenge and to recover his steamships.
Predictably, Walker found himself suddenly stranded in a foreign country and would have gotten himself and his men killed then if the US Navy hadn’t picked them up.

Walker got his way as a crazily charismatic dreamer in spite of his ineptitude. Newspaper articles about his crazy exploits always got him new followers no matter how badly he screwed up…until his luck finally ran out.

William Walker picture

William Walker, a 5″2 120 pound dynamo of reckless ambition that got himself and lots of his followers killed while trying to found a private Latin American empire.

LINK

Mental Calculators

Interesting piece on how mental calculators are competing against each other to quickly solve math problems:

The high point of the abacus calendar is the All Japan Soroban Championship, which took place earlier this year in Kyoto.

And the high point of the championship is the category called “Flash Anzan” – which does not require an abacus at all.

Or rather, it requires contestants to use the mental image of an abacus. Since when you get very good at the abacus it is possible to calculate simply by imagining one.

In Flash Anzan, 15 numbers are flashed consecutively on a giant screen. Each number is between 100 and 999. The challenge is to add them up.

Simple, right? Except the numbers are flashed so fast you can barely read them.

I was at this year’s championship to see Takeo Sasano, a school clerk in his 30s, break his own world record: he got the correct answer when the numbers were flashed in 1.70 seconds. In the clip below, taken shortly before, the 15 numbers flash in 1.85 seconds. The speed is so fast I doubt you can even read one of the numbers.

I’ve often wondered at how 3d visual displays, like Google Glass, are going to change the way we work with and augment data. It may be possible that we can speed up our own performance dramatically alongside computers that we work with.

More:

http://psychiatry.wustl.edu/Resources/LiteratureList/2001/January/Pesenti.pdf

Calculating prodigies are individuals who are exceptional at quickly and accurately solving complex mental calculations. With positron emission tomography (PET), we investigated the neural bases of  the cognitive abilities of an expert calculator and a group of non-experts, contrasting complex mental calculation to memory retrieval of arithmetic facts. We demonstrated that calculation expertise was not due to increased activity of processes that exist in non-experts; rather, the expert and the non-experts used different brain areas for calculation. We found that the expert could switch between short-term effort-requiring storage strategies and highly efficient episodic memory encoding and retrieval, a process that was sustained by right prefrontal and medial temporal areas.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21834408

Inspired by Ribot’s psychological work (1881), they believed in the existence of not one type of memory but several partial, special, and local memories, each devoted to a particular domain. In all arithmetical prodigies, memory for digits is abnormally developed compared with other memories. Inaudi was considered to be an auditory memory-based mental calculator; when memorizing digits, he did not rely onthe appearance of the items or create visual imagery of any kind. Rather, he remembered digits principally by their sounds. Inaudi’s methods of calculation and memorization were original and different from those used by Diamandi, who was a typical visual memory-based mental calculator. The experiments presented in the 1893 article were among the first scientific demonstrations of the importance to psychology of studying different types of memory. The present work gives a translation of this pioneering experimental article on expert calculators by Charcot and Binet, instructive for the comprehension of normal memory.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22044611 that people with mild intellectual disabilities (ID) have difficulty in ‘weighing up’ information, defined as integrating disparate items of information in order to reach a decision. However, this problem could be overcome by the use of a visual aid to decision making. In an earlier study, participants were taught to translate information about the pros and cons of different choices into a single evaluative dimension, by manipulating green (good) and red (bad) bars of varying lengths (corresponding to the value ascribed). Use of the visualcalculator increased the consistency of performance (and decreased impulsive responding) in a temporal discounting task, and increased the amount of information that participants provided to justify their decisions in scenario-based financial decision-making tasks.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22044611

Previous research has demonstrated that people with mild intellectual disabilities (ID) have difficulty in ‘weighing up’ information, defined as integrating disparate items of information in order to reach a decision. However, this problem could be overcome by the use of a visual aid to decision making. In an earlier study, participants were taught to translate information about the pros and cons of different choices into a single evaluative dimension, by manipulating green (good) and red (bad) bars of varying lengths (corresponding to the value ascribed). Use of the visualcalculator increased the consistency of performance (and decreased impulsive responding) in a temporal discounting task, and increased the amount of information that participants provided to justify their decisions in scenario-based financial decision-making tasks.

The results suggest that the visual calculator has practical applicability to support decision making by people with mild ID in community settings.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20075011

Among the many examples of the congenital form are the calendar calculators, who can quickly provide the day of the week for any date in the past; the musical savants, who have perfect pitch; and the hyperlexics, who (in one case) can read a page in 8s and recall the text later at a 99% level. Other types of talents and artistic skills involving three-dimensional drawing, map memory, poetry, painting, and sculpturing are also observed. One savant could recite without error the value of Pi to 22,514 places. Persons with the acquired form develop outstanding skills after brain injury or disease, usually involving the left frontotemporal area. This type of injury seems to inhibit the “tyranny of the left hemisphere,” allowing the right hemisphere to develop the savant skills. Another way to inhibit the left frontotemporal area is to use transcranial magnetic stimulation in normal subjects; nearly one-half of these subjects can then perform new skills during the stimulation that they could not perform before. This type of finding indicates the potential in all of us for the development of savant skills in special circumstances.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19679763

In the present study, we examined cortical activation as a function of two different calculation strategies for mentally solving multidigit multiplication problems. The school strategy, equivalent to long multiplication, involves working from right to left. The expert strategy, used by “lightning” mental calculators (Staszewski, 1988), proceeds from left to right. The two strategies require essentially the same calculations, but have different working memory demands (the school strategy incurs greater demands). The school strategy produced significantly greater early activity in areas involved in attentional aspects of number processing (posterior superior parietal lobule, PSPL) and mental representation (posterior parietal cortex, PPC), but not in a numerical magnitude area (horizontal intraparietal sulcus, HIPS) or a semantic memory retrieval area (lateral inferior prefrontal cortex, LIPFC). An ACT-R model of the task successfully predicted BOLD responses in PPC and LIPFC, as well as in PSPL and HIPS.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22206802

No gross anatomical differences were observed. By morphological assessment, cerebral volume (1362 mL) was larger than normative literature values for adult males. The corpus callosum was intact and did not exhibit abnormal structural features. The right cerebral hemisphere was 1.9% larger than the left hemisphere; the right amygdala and right caudate nuclei were 24% and 9.9% larger, respectively, compared with the left side. In contrast, the putamen was 8.3% larger on the left side. Fractional anisotropy was increased on the right side as compared with the left for 4 of the 5 bilateral regions studied (the amygdala, caudate, frontal lobe, and hippocampus). Fiber tract bundle volumes were larger on the right side for the amygdala, hippocampus, frontal lobe, and occipital lobe. Both the left and the right hippocampi had substantially increased axial and mean diffusivities as compared with those of a comparison sample of nonsavant adult males. The corpus callosum and left amygdala also exhibited high axial, radial, and mean diffusivities. MR spectroscopy revealed markedly decreased γ-aminobutyric acid and glutamate in the parietal lobe.

See also:

http://colonyofcommodus.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/daniel-tammet-memorization-ways-of-knowing/

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