Scott Alexander on Nonfiction Writing

Scott writes the Slate Star Codex blog.

  1. Divide things into small chunks
  2. Variety is the spice of life (add images etc.)
  3. Keep your flow of ideas strong
  4. Learn what should and shouldn’t be repeated.
  5. Use microhumor
  6. Use concrete examples
  7. Figure out who you’re trying to convince, then use the right tribal signals
  8. Anticipate and defuse counterarguments
  9. Use strong concept handles
  10. Recognize that applying these rules will probably start disastrously

Details of the above at:


Chaotic Nazi Germany

Something caught my eye in an article on The Logical Fallacies of History:

“Whilst it is true that Owens’ performance was indeed remarkable – he won four gold medals – he by no means spoiled the party for Hitler. The games provided him with the opportunity to showcase the organizational skills of his regime (which actually went against the grain, since Nazi Germany in many ways was run very chaotically).”

This is new to me. The stock cliche is that “Hitler made the trains run on time,” or maybe it was Mussolini? Anyway, both Germany and the Nazi war machine were notoriously orderly.  I want to look into this claim that they were run chaotically.

Hail the Maintainers

I am finally clearing out some old Instapaper articles. One that I really enjoyed was Andrew Russell’s examination of our civilizational obsession with “innovation” at the expense of maintenance and sustainable operability.

This is something we in cloud services learned fairly recently. Features are increasingly table stakes, fundamentals (e.g. availability, supportability, security, privacy, operability, maintainability, etc.) are the crucial differentiators.

Hail the Maintainers 



Tyranny and the Cloud

Only one thing worries me about the cloud: It facilitates state control because Cloud Computing reverses the decentralization (distribution) of computer power that heralded the internet. I think I got this fear from Cory Doctorow and his “The coming war on general computing.”

Anyway, maybe it is just a phase. Distributed Computing may very well be making a comeback as we see the end of Cloud Computing.

“World War III will be a global information war with no division between civilian and military participation.” -Marshal McLuhan

Rubble films

“Which, then, are these rubble films (Trümmerfilme)?

…Shandley instead defines “rubble films” as a short-lived but important production “cycle.” It is recognizable in recurrent narrative and visual motifs of “the returning solider/coming home” theme and settings that register the aftermath of massive war: rubble-strewn streets, collapsed hotels, crumbling apartment houses (all usually studio-constructed sets, as Shandley reveals). He goes on to offer perceptive close readings of the chosen films’ “berubbled mise-en-scène,” casting, genre conventions, and character construction. One might quibble over the particular film selections or their parameters; for example, the strict and not fully justified insistence on 1949 as an end point precludes discussion of such a striking film as the 1951 German production Der Verlorene [The Lost One], directed by and starring Peter Lorre. But overall Shandley cogently argues the legitimacy and intellectual value of the “rubble film” category, taking thereby an approach that many instructors of German film and history may find a useful complement to other media research on the period (much of it available only in German.) Especially Shandley’s careful formal analysis of the films’ visual and audio construction adds a welcome and somewhat rare perspective to nationally-delineated cinema histories. He also provides some details about each film’s production and reception, essentially presenting the selected films as a series of historical/cultural case studies which, he argues, record rubble films’ “important role in the formation of a collective attitude toward the past, one that shaped many public debates in German in the decades thereafter (p. 4).”

Also see:

Sweeping up the Past: Gender and History in the Postwar German “Rubble Film”

Extraordinary footage of destroyed Berlin

Orwell on the difference between nationalism and patriotism

By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

What kind of monster am I?

The pool of acceptable hate groups has shrunk down to the dregs now: old white men. Not even hillbillies and Chavs are acceptably odious anymore. As a white middle-aged middle-class heterosexual cis-gendered able-bodied capitalist property-owning politically slightly-right-of-center male atheistic Westerner, I am a member of the most universally despised minority in history.

Get your insults in while we last. The mantle of victimhood cannot be withheld forever….