Cancel Caltech

There’s a petition circulating around Caltech to remove Robert Millikan’s name and image from campus buildings and fixtures. Millikan won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his oil drop experiment and was the founding president of Caltech. But, it turns out he was also a proponent of eugenics, and that is Unacceptable.

I’m reminded of an incident a couple years ago, when one very woke Stanford student urged the university to rename Terman Library. You see, Lewis Terman was a eugenics supporter, and that kind of hate has no place on a diverse and inclusive campus like Stanford University.

That was all well received, until someone informed the kid that Terman was in fact named after Frederick Terman, the former Dean of Engineering and cofounder of Stanford Research Park. That’s why Terman is the name of the Engineering library and not the Race Science library. Lewis Terman, the eugenicist, was Frederick’s dad.

This mistake has happened multiple times.

I’m also reminded of that time the Palo Alto school board decided to rename Terman Middle School (this time they got the right Terman). A board committee chose the name Yamamoto Middle School, in honor of Fred Yamamoto, a Japanese-American who was sent to FDR’s concentration camps during WWII. Staunchly loyal to the country (or inordinately optimistic), Yamamoto later enlisted in the Army and died in battle.

A hero and inspiration to us all. BUT —

The school board somehow overlooked the fact that Fred shares a surname with another famous Yamamoto — Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who led the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Parents complained, and the school board swapped in the name of a Holocaust survivor, Ellen Fletcher. Fletcher Middle School it is.

Maybe the lesson here is that building names are stupid. It’s not an honor to have a namesake if names change with the latest Radical Chic. And if names are so impermanent, it’s stupid to affix one to a building. Just put a Victim-of-the-Month placard on the front entrance, if that’s what you’re trying to do.

I’m not surprised to see this kind of bullshit go down at Stanford, where they have multiple departments dedicated to Grievance Studies. But I always had higher expectations for Caltech. No athletic recruits, no diversity quotas, no humanities department. That’s what a real university should look like.

Many years ago, when Quora was still a thing, I answered a query: “Does Caltech have the hardest undergraduate experience in the world?

It’s all a matter of perspective: To a Caltech student, the Feynman Lectures might be a little bit hard. To a Stanford student, 8th grade algebra might be hard.

Hard as in demanding, time-consuming, you-must-surrender-your-soul. You’re not left with spare bandwidth to notice microaggressions, and it doesn’t matter because Demoralization is a Feature, not a Bug — That overwhelming sense of inadequacy is exactly how you’re supposed to feel when contemplating the Poincaré conjecture! There’s an old Caltech webcomic called Crippling Depression, which basically sums up the nature of scientific research and life at Caltech.

We always thought it was the challenging coursework that crushed our egos, but hey maybe it was actually the racist building names. The students should demand reparations.

Happy Juneteenth!

Happy Juneteenth everyone! Here is how NOT to celebrate:

Allow me to translate:

Juneteenth is a dumb contrived holiday that does nothing to end racism. It’s a pointless ritual on par with canceling Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth. The day has zero relevance to me or my family, aside from the fact that we really like fried chicken and watermelon.

Professor Hanson’s crime isn’t that he’s racist; it’s that he pointed out the hollowness of celebrating Juneteenth. Blasphemy! That’s almost as big a crime as noticing that George Floyd and Rayshard were not exactly model citizens.

On Juneteenth, every major corporation will engage in collective self-flagellation, host an office wide Eight-Minutes-46-Seconds Hate against toxic whiteness, and pay homage to Black Lives Matter™. Be sure to purge the noncompliant from positions of power before upcoming elections.

Large numbers of strangers can only cooperate by believing in common myths. You know, like religion. This ensures that everyone knows their place and follows the rules. Blessed are the meek. You don’t have to deep down believe every story, but at least pretend and signal that you’re willing to play along. Heathens must be rooted out, because anyone who doesn’t fear the same God can’t be trusted to cooperate and play by the rules.

An actual productive way of celebrating Juneteenth might be to refuse to pay taxes until the government ends its War on Drugs. But that would defeat the purpose of the exercise, which is not to empower but to subjugate. Diverse thinkers be damned.

On a side note, this would be a good time for China to scoop up some smart, but insufficiently woke, academics. It’s not like Professor Hanson will find gainful employment in the US after an outburst like that. On second thought, maybe faux-libertarian economists are just as useless in China as they are here.

How do you reconcile libertarianism with support of the police?

I’ll admit — my original question was not phrased so diplomatically. It went more along the lines of, OMG what is wrong with you? Do you have any idea how fascist you sound on Twitter?? Nick Szabo was a good sport about it, so here is a summary of his response.

Note: This is the third (and probably last) in a series of questions.

Libertarians believe in the right to life and property. Securing physical things requires the use of physical force. Self-defense and private arms are crucial, but realistically there’s only so much one person can do against a mob, much less an invading army. And not everyone can afford to have private security detail.

There are economies of scale when it comes to physical security. The state does not (and should not!) have a monopoly on violence. But police forces, at several different levels of government, are also crucial. Without a state defense force, you end up with a bunch of roving bandits fighting over the same territory, like the Mexican drug cartels or Somali warlords.

Bitcoin secures digital financial rights with cryptography; a police force secures the rights to physical life and property with violence. Security should be asymmetric – the cost of breaking the law is higher than the cost of enforcing the law, and the cost of attacking ones’ rights higher than the cost of defending them. In cryptography, we make the cipher as strong as possible. We don’t dumb it down with smaller key sizes to give the attacker a “fair fight.” Thinking that people defending their life and property, or police enforcing the law, should “fight fair” is both juvenile and dangerous.

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf” –George Orwell


Obviously if cops only ever busied themselves with defending life and property, no one would be protesting right now. Maybe the media selectively amplifies certain instances of police brutality, and maybe the wrongful acts of violence are actually few and far between, buuut… What ever happened to consent of the governed?

There’s an Ian Morris book that asks, War! What is it Good For? War is Good, because when a stronger state dominates a weaker state, it suppresses the internal violence that would have occurred between multiple weak states. The government is motivated to do this because the suppression of violence leads to greater economic output and tax revenue. The archetypal example is British colonialism in India, where the British unified multiple warring territories and brought forth democracy and railroads. Or the indigenous tribes in North America — instead of hunting and gathering and battling for turf, the Native Americans now live indulgent lives on reservations while running casinos. Or the Iraqis… oh wait.

So that’s what the cops are doing in Minneapolis and Missouri. They’re waging savage wars of peace. On the other hand, maybe there are populations that would rather not have the forced suppression of violence, and instead keep their own rules and culture and right to self-determination at the expense of gains in life expectancy. But nobody ever asks.

Is social upheaval good for Bitcoin?

Is social upheaval good for bitcoin? I asked Nick Szabo.

Note: This is the second in a series of questions. See Also: Could Cypherpunks have done cool stuff without in-person interactions?

A collapse in societal trust will generally increase demand for trust-minimized assets like gold and Bitcoin. People may come to realize that the trusted third parties they were relying on are not as reliable as expected.

For example, people are learning the hard way that police have no legal duty to protect you. Banks, exchanges, and custodial wallets are also security holes. You and your account are just bits to these operators, who will freeze or seize your assets when political winds shift strongly enough against you.

Bitcoin has what I call “deep safety”, in that it’s secure against legal and political threats. As opposed to an asset like Treasury bonds, which avoids volatility risk while being vulnerable to everything else. A situation that creates legal and political instability might be good for Bitcoin, but will be bad for the world in general.

Personally, I would rather not have societal collapse, even if it is good for Bitcoin. Only a sociopath would be in favor of massive death and destruction for the sole purpose of making a number go up.

Could Cypherpunks have done cool stuff without in-person interactions?

Tech conferences are on hiatus, and virtual ones just aren’t the same. Could cypherpunks have done cool stuff without in-person interactions? I asked Nick Szabo. His response is summarized below.

Note: This is the first in a series of questions. Others will be posted pending correspondent approval.

Cypherpunks was a creature of internet mailing lists, a virtual place to exchange ideas. The main purpose of hosting in-person events is to build trust and suss out the sock puppets. Interpersonal trust is important for a subversive discussion group.

It’s possible to do this without local meetups. List membership was generally by invitation — people invited those they had met through other Usenet groups.

That created a self-selection process. In the early 90s, few people had internet access, and fewer still could get on Usenet. AOL served as a honeypot for normies, a shiny diversion where people could feel like they were using cutting-edge technology without getting in the way of hardcore nerds who were actually trying to build things. Kind of like Ethereum.

Cypherpunks were motivated by cool technology rather than money. We were coders, not traders. Today, you have investors assembling mailing lists full of big important people for the sake of discussing Big Ideas, but they end up trying to impress each other or schmooze. You end up with Davos, but on the internet.

Highly motivated individuals don’t need a shared physical space to get stuff done. Most of the cool stuff was done remotely. Lance Cottrell was in San Diego when he wrote the Mixmaster anonymous remailer. Julian Assange first became widely known by his posts from Australia. Adam Back occasionally visited California, but mostly developed hashcash in England. Nick Szabo’s bit gold was inspired and informed far more by mailing list conversations and university library research than by face-to-face meetings.

It also helped that the topics of discussion were mostly abstract and mathematical, reducing the need for empathy and nuance than if you were to discuss, say, blockchain governance.

«Record Scratch»

When you discuss topics of emotionless objectivity, there is no need for empathy and nuance. It’s just logic and math, right?

I asked Nick about the lack of diversity on the Cypherpunks mailing list (I’m woke like that), at which point he hung up on me. But the last statement didn’t seem quite right. People argue about seemingly objective topics all the time, and quite emotionally so — just look at all the Bitcoin forks!

I’m reminded of an interview with Max Levchin, co-founder of Paypal. (The transcript seems to have vanished down the memoryhole.) Levchin attributes Paypal’s early success to the team’s lack of diversity. You don’t waste time arguing about frivolous stuff if everyone thinks just like you do. You also don’t worry so much about empathy and nuance if everyone comes from the same background. Those who complain about a “toxic culture” are probably just too diverse to fit in.

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