Notes From All Over (26/11/13): Germs, Governments. and Gettysburg

A collection of articles, essays, and blog post of merit.

This is the first “Notes From All Over” I have written this month, so this list is a long one.


 When We Lose Antibiotics, Here’s Everything Else We’ll Lose Too
Maryn McKenna. Wired. 20 November 2013.

If we really lost antibiotics to advancing drug resistance — and trust me, we’re not far off — here’s what we would lose. Not just the ability to treat infectious disease; that’s obvious.

But also: The ability to treat cancer, and to transplant organs, because doing those successfully relies on suppressing the immune system and willingly making ourselves vulnerable to infection. Any treatment that relies on a permanent port into the bloodstream — for instance, kidney dialysis. Any major open-cavity surgery, on the heart, the lungs, the abdomen. Any surgery on a part of the body that already harbors a population of bacteria: the guts, the bladder, the genitals. Implantable devices: new hips, new knees, new heart valves. Cosmetic plastic surgery. Liposuction. Tattoos.

We’d lose the ability to treat people after traumatic accidents, as major as crashing your car and as minor as your kid falling out of a tree. We’d lose the safety of modern childbirth: Before the antibiotic era, 5 women died out of every 1,000 who gave birth. One out of every nine skin infections killed. Three out of every 10 people who got pneumonia died from it.

And we’d lose, as well, a good portion of our cheap modern food supply. Most of the meat we eat in the industrialized world is raised with the routine use of antibiotics, to fatten livestock and protect them from the conditions in which the animals are raised. Without the drugs that keep livestock healthy in concentrated agriculture, we’d lose the ability to raise them that way. Either animals would sicken, or farmers would have to change their raising practices, spending more money when their margins are thin. Either way, meat — and fish and seafood, also raised with abundant antibiotics in the fish farms of Asia — would become much more expensive.

Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future
Maryn McKenna. FERN News. 20 November  2013

CDC Threat Report: Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013  and Press Briefing Transcript: CDC Telebriefing on today’s drug-resistant health threats
Center for Disease Control. CDC Online Newsroom. 16 September  2013. (H/T Fabius Maximus).

This month’s top billing goes to Maryn Mckenna‘s efforts to raise the alarm about the coming ‘post-antibiotic’ future. This is something no one in the futuristics community ever seems to talk about despite its obvious globe-spanning implications. I thank Ms. Mckenna for writing these pieces – as both she and the other sources make clear, the post-antibiotic future is a choice, not an inevitable reality. 

The Wired article is really just a preview for her longer Food and Environmental Research Network report. McKenna writes with a journalist’s flair; a more measured look at the issue can be found in the most recent CDC “Threat Report” on anti-biotic resistance and the interview with the press that accompanied its release.

See also:
China has a plan to stem the rise of antibiotic resistance, and it’s working
Gwynn Guilford. Quartz. 19 November 2013.


Blame Rich, Overeducated Elites as Our Society Frays
 Peter Turchin. Bloomberg. 20 November 2013

Cliodynamist Peter Turchin provides a popular overview of one of his most important theories: elite over production. This is the article to send to your friends. Those wanting to dig deeper into the empirical data or the mathematics of Mr. Turchin’s model should see his follow-up post for the Social Evolution Forum:

 How Elite Overproduction Brings Disorder

 Peter Turchin. Social Evolution Forum. 20 November 2013.

The American Police State
Marc Perry. Chronicle of Higher Education. 18 November  2013

On the Run: Wanted Men in a Philadelphia Ghetto
Alice Goffman. American Sociological Review. (2009) vol. 74: 339-357. 

I often express a healthy amount of disrespect for American academics and public intellectuals who pontificate about working class life without ever having experienced anything remotely close to it themselves. As a general rule of thumb:  the more education they have received, the less attention you should pay to them. 

This rule does not hold for Alice Goffman:

Goffman’s book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (University of Chicago Press), is an up-close account of that prison boom told largely through the story of a group of young friends in Philadelphia’s 6th Street neighborhood. (The location and names in the book are pseudonyms.)… Over six years of fieldwork, Goffman shed much of her old life to view the world through her subjects’ eyes. With them, she dodged police, partied, and discussed shootings. She watched a nurse’s aide pull a bullet out of one boy in an off-the-books, kitchen-table surgery; accompanied various people who arranged for drugs to be smuggled into jail; and attended nine funerals of young men killed in the neighborhood. This drama came to a boil the year Philadelphia police officers brought her in for the interrogation.”

 I strongly recommend her essay in the American Sociological Review. Her description of the way poor, urban black life is dominated by the police closely matches the observations I made during the two years I spent living as a LDS missionary  in very similar ghettos.

Obama Meant to Destroy Solidarity, Not Save It

Brandon McGinley. The Federalist. 19 November 2013

Our choice is not, as is popularly believed, between individualism and collectivism; the former, as it dissolves the fibers of civil society, is merely an antecedent to the latter. Our choice is between civil society—specifically a civil society bolstered by a robust solidarity—and statism.”

Some mind-blowing facts about US metro economies

Mark J. Perry. American Enterprise Institute Blog. 19 November 2013. (H/T John Kranz).


Reflections on the Gettysburg Address
 Peter Lee. International Policy Review. 19 November 2013

Gettysburg Gospel How Lincoln forged a civil religion of American nationalism

 Richard Gamble. American Conservative. 14 November 2013.

 Peter Lee (whose blog is generally excellent) discusses the political and military context for Lincoln’s famous address; Mr. Gamble, in contrast, provides the intellectual context for the thoughts expressed therein. 

See also:
150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln praised ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ – but the words were not his
Daniel Hannan. The Telegraph. 19 November 2013.

Crops, Towns, Government
James C. Scott. London Review of Books. (Volume 35 No. 22, p. 13-15). 21 November 2013. (H/T to Bryn Hammond).

A strong, but not polemical, critique of the Jared Diamond/Steven Pinker narrative of human civilization. Everyone remotely interested in premodern societies should read it.

Translations of The Secret History
Bryn Hammon. Amagalant. 27 October 2013.

I use the Igor de Rachewiltz translation — mostly because it is the version I found on the shelves of the local library!


Best take of the Third Plenum comes from Blood and Treasure:

Boss Xi’s new deal
Jamie K. Blood and Treasure. 15 November 2013.

Taken together, you can see the outline here of a kind of new deal between the Party leadership and the wider party-state. Internally, the grassroots Party must lose powers, subject itself to greater internal discipline and put up with more aggressive policing by CDIC. In return it will be protected from even the most rudimentary form of external challenge. You can see the tactical necessity of this. If the Party is to be subjected to serious internal strain, then it makes sense to protect it from external assault. But you can also see a general policy triangle emerging: satisfy the people; discipline the party; obliterate the opposition. Obviously, one should never underestimate the pure dysfunction of the CPC. But if enough of this goes right then you have a fairly robust template for the future, almost a sort of platonic ideal of 21st century dictatorship.

See also:
James Mann And His Prescient Book “The China Fantasy”
Bill Bishop. Sinocism News Letter. 7 April 2011.

Reuters Investigates published a major report on Ayatollah Khamenei and the personal corporatist empire he has built up over the last two decades. The Iranian people are milked for his personal benefit – the standard model for governments the world over, it seems. The report comes in three parts:

Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizures
 Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati. Reuters Investigates. 11 November  2013

Khamenei conglomerate thrived as sanctions squeezed Iran
 Babak Dehghanpisheh and Steve Stecklow. Reuters Investigates. 12 November  2013

To expand Khamenei’s grip on the economy, Iran stretched its laws
Yeganeh Torbati, Steve Stecklow and Babak Dehghanpisheh. Reuters Investigates. 13 November 2013

See also:
Ayatollah Khomeini: Crony Capitalist and Slumlord
Mark Safranski. 13 November 2013.


Families made us human
Stephen T Asma. Aeon. 7 November 2013.

This essay’s title is poorly named: its true topic is the evolution of language and social complexity among homo sapiens. The article’s breadth impresses me: Mr. Asma synthesizes a wide range of research in neuroscience, primatology, evolutionary theory, and anthropology to reach his conclusions.

War’s Enduring Effects on the Development of Egalitarian Motivations and In-Group Biases.
Bauer M, Cassar A, Chytilová J, Henrich J. Psychological Science. 12 Nov 2013.

We found that greater exposure to war created a lasting increase in people’s egalitarian motivations toward their in-group, but not their out-groups, during a developmental window starting in middle childhood (around 7 years of age) and ending in early adulthood (around 20 years of age). Outside this window, war had no measurable impact on social motivations in young children and had only muted effects on the motivations of older adults. These “war effects” are broadly consistent with predictions from evolutionary approaches that emphasize the importance of group cooperation in defending against external threats, though they also highlight key areas in need of greater theoretical development.

What Mass Killers Want—And How to Stop Them
Ari N. Schulman. Wall Street Journal. 8 November 2013.

Changing the Global Food Narrative
Jonathan Foley. ENSIA. 12 November  2013,


Who is J. C. Wylie?
Lynn C Rees. 23 November 2013. 

He may be the brightest strategic theorist America has ever produced. Have you heard of him?

Recommended Chinese Historical Drama Series (Eng Dubbed)
wonderwealthwisdom. Chinese History Forums. 14 June 2013.

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