No, protesters did not try to burn down the Seattle East Precinct

October 1st, 2023

The Seattle Times’ statement that “[During the] summer of 2020 … protesters tried to burn down the East Precinct” is not a true and fair account of the facts. [ST 2022-10-04] The much less sensational truth is well-documented below:

  • The group of “protesters” did not try to burn the East Precinct. In fact, protesters as a group protected the East Precinct and even extinguished one of the three fires that were set.
  • There were fires, but not serious attempts at arson. In three separate instances, fires were set outside at or near the East Precinct, but the building was never ignited.
  • The perpetrators were isolated and caught. The key perpetrators of all three fires have been identified and charged. The three cases were not related.

Background and Facts

Following the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, protests nationwide varied in intensity.

Arson in Minneapolis

Minneapolis, unsurprisingly, saw the most intense protests in 2020, since it was there that the Floyd murder took place. Minneapolis saw activity fairly characterized as riots on several nights in late May.

On May 28, 2020, protesters surrounded the Minneapolis police third precinct building. Arsons of buildings on surrounding blocks had occurred over the prior day, including by provocateurs not affiliated with the protest. [NYT 2020-07-03] Vandals breached the doors of the precinct house and according to press reports, the Minneapolis mayor ordered the building evacuated. During and after the evacuation of the precinct, dozens of smaller fires were started inside, eventually causing the structure to catch fire and burn to a total loss. [NYT 2021-04-28]

Seattle’s single riot and escalating protests

The only true riot of 2020 in Seattle was on May 30, when after an afternoon of escalating clashes with police, roving groups ran unopposed through several blocks of downtown, smashed glass and looted stores, stole and fired police rifles, burned police cars, and set building fires through the evening. [ST 2020-05-31] Reports claiming later events to be “riots” are sensationalism. The police “declared a riot” at other times, but a fair-minded historian would call those times, such as the June 1, 2020 “umbrella incident,” skirmish-line clashes.

Part of the escalation on May 30 was the heavy-handed police response. [ST 2020-06-02] Whether or not the May 30 police actions were justified, they magnified the city’s outrage. Subsequent and growing protests included some extreme elements, but were in large measure drawn from a wide swath of the community. By the first week of June, a minimum of 10,000 citizens had been in the streets of the city in protest. [CC 2020-06-10]

The focus during these subsequent protests shifted from being solely focused on George Floyd and police racism, and now included condemnation of Seattle’s police and mayor.

Location shifts to East Precinct

Starting the first week of June, recurring protest activity moved to Capitol Hill — the dense, liberal, diverse, and protester-friendly neighborhood a half-mile uphill from the downtown core. The hill is also home to the Seattle Police East Precinct building (“EP”), adjacent to which a recurring “skirmish line” tended to form.

After a week of clashes of varying intensity, the Seattle Police department abruptly evacuated the East Precinct on June 8, 2020. They left the building essentially unprotected, except for plywood and Cyclone fencing. The response of protesters was to paint over the signage (“Seattle People Department”), and then to post sentries to prevent damage to the building. [KN 2020-06-09]

The police department would return to the building weeks later on July 1, 2020. [ST 2020-07-01]

Fires and the East Precinct

There were three distinct incidents that involve fires at or around EP that summer:

June 12, 2020 (early morning) — ITW Fire. A single vandal (ITW) pours gas or some other accelerant onto a pile of wood and paper along the fence outside of the EP and lights it. As he absconds, a hue and cry goes up within seconds among the surrounding protesters, who awaken and rush to put it out, running over jugs of water and “scattering the burning debris and using handheld fire extinguishers.” [WDWA 2020-07-14]

August 24, 2020 (night) — DDP Fire. A vandal (DDP) with an unknown number of accomplices uses an accelerant and bags of trash to start a fire within the “sally port” area of the EP. Disturbingly, accomplices make (amateurish) efforts to block the nearest exit door from opening outwards. Within minutes, SPD officers arrive to knock down the fire with portable extinguishers, and SFD arrives thereafter. No structural damage is reported. [ST 2021-01-25]

September 1, 2020 (night) — JG/DM Fire. Two vandals (JG and DM) with an accomplice throw a total of three (3) Molotov-type glass bottles toward the EP. Only one hits the building, while the others hit the fence and a light post. An additional accomplice may have been trying to blind security cameras, but did not throw a Molotov. [KCSC 2021-12-13]

How is the Seattle Times’ statement misleading?

Although there are some facts behind the statement, there are more facts that are needed in order to understand the truth in a way that is not misleading.

Protesters actually tried to protect the East Precinct

Protesters tried to protect the East Precinct, including specifically from a fire. The single most persusasive evidence here is the actual footage of the ITW fire [YT 2020-06-12]:

Anybody around the EP at 3:00 AM on that day was likely a protester — including ITW, the man who poured gas onto the side of the EP. However, the one-minute video clearly shows at least 15 of those protesters reacting by shouting “water, water” and running toward the fire to extinguish it, which they successfully did.

It’s clear that the ITW fire does not support the Seattle Times’ statement, but in fact, tends to support the diametrically opposite interpretation: namely, that protesters as a group tried not to burn down the EP.

Following the ITW fire, and for the entire remainder of the CHOP/CHAZ period during which the EP was vacant, there were no recorded arson attempts. Whether or not the CHOP/CHAZ protesters deserve credit for that, they certainly don’t deserve blame for fires that never happened.

Ineffective fires are not obviously “trying to burn down” the EP

The later two fires were set by more than one person, clearly protesters of some stripe, even if they were mentally ill or deficient. But can we fairly consider these as actual attempts to burn down the EP? We should take them individually, and with some important context about what what “trying to burn down” the EP would require.

The EP is a masonry building, equipped with interior sprinklers. [KC 2023-08-20] Every bicycle and patrol car in the garage is equipped with a fire extinguisher and/or Cold Fire bottle, in addition to the usual complement of up-to-code extinguishers in the building. Seattle Fire Department station house #25 is literally one block kiddy-corner uphill at 13th and Pine — in a pinch, Ladder 10 might even be able to hit the East Precinct with its elevated hose while parked at the station. [AM 2023-10-01]

If you are trying to set a masonry building on fire, you will need to get a critical mass of flammable inside material ablaze faster than suppression efforts can take effect. You can’t do it by lighting the bricks or concrete from outside. When the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct was set afire, it was in the time after the building had been evacuated, giving several parties of arsonists time to spread throughout the building committing their crimes. It was reported in the NYT that there were “nearly four dozen separate places of origin” in the Minneapolis precinct fire. [NYT 2021-04-28]

Both of the following, most serious incidents, occurred 1-2 months after Seattle Police had re-occupied the EP on July 1, 2020. This makes the acts both more egregious, because they were fires set at an occupied premise, but also less efficacious, because they were sure to be suppressed by a trained and equipped force on site.

DDP Fire

The DDP fire was clearly the most serious event: it involved the most participants, who can fairly be considered protesters. You can see the action starting at 2:29 in this video (around 23:36 in the timestamp overlay; apologies, there does not appear to be any way to embed this video in-line)

At 2:30:08 you can see several figures moving in and out of the top left corner, and a small flame burning on the sidewalk. By 2:31:30 there are probably around 10 figures who have moved in and out., and by 2:33:00 there are significant visible flames. By 2:34:45, SPD has chased off the arsonists and begins to mitigate the fire. By 2:37:30, the flames appear completely extinguished.

Some of those people moving in and out through the smoke had piled up trash and lighter fluid against the doors inside the loading dock area and lit it. They then squirted sealant into the door mechanisms, threatening to seize up the doors’ movements. Others had stacked more trash on the flames, but what burned was the trash and the accelerant, not the building.

The fire lasted about five minutes, and was constrained to the outside of the building. Effectively, there was no structural damage. The fire was an emotionally evocative symbol, but was not a serious attempt to set the building on fire.

JG/DM Fire

The September fire was also clearly the work of more than one person in concert, and those people were clearly protesters. However, the JG/DM fire was also not a serious attempt.

JG and DM each carried a Molotov cocktail and threw it at the building, as did an accomplice. Only one hit the building; the others hit a fence and a light post. While it’s possible that they could have gotten lucky and managed to get a Molotov in through an open door or window, these were in practice ineffectual gestures. It’s plausible JG and DM might have wanted to be more effectual, but were too dumb or naive, and so this attempt was not serious, either (he was 19 at the time which is why he used “O’Douls” non-alcoholic beer bottles; his older co-conspirator wanted him to use his parents’ alcohol or “cheap vodka” as fuel). [KCSC 2021-12-13]

Thought Experiment: what if protesters actually had tried to burn the EP?

Combining the statement “protesters tried to burn down the EP” with the fact that the EP never was burned down, would tend to imply that the protesters as a group tried but were unable. That is not plausible, as I describe below. It’s far more plausible that there was never any serious effort by the protesters to burn down the EP — because they certainly could have at several points.

The CHOP/CHAZ weeks reveal lack of intent or attempt to burn the EP

Between the night of June 8 and the morning of July 1, the East Precinct was evacuated and boarded up, and the area surrounding the nearby park was termed “CHOP/CHAZ” and was effectively a police-free zone. Immediately upon the pull-out of SPD from EP, the building exterior was vandalized by painting, and tents were set up around its perimeter, creating a visual if physically ineffectual “occupation” of the site. There were reports of rumors of some incursions inside of the boarded-up building, but the building itself was not “occupied” nor opened up — it remained boarded up and surrounded.

If protesters as a group — or even a meaningful subset of them — had intent to try to burn down the precinct, there were nearly four full weeks during which there was effectively no physical or law enforcement impediment. The EP was a sitting duck for the entirety of the “CHOP/CHAZ” period. During that time, only one fire was attempted, by one perpetrator, and it was immediately put out by an overwhelming group of standers-by — protesters themselves.

Why does this matter?

It troubled me that the Seattle paper of record — which has generally been fairly even-handed about describing the facts of 2020 — chose to put a sensational spin on these events, in a way that even its own reporting shows to be misleading. This should matter to you, too, for several reasons.

Because truth matters to our posterity

History and memory depend on how journalists and others write about the facts of 2020. There are many ways to describe a situation that may be factually true but more or less misleading. Truth is its own virtue, and we ill serve future citizens by writing history out of selective, incomplete facts that tend to mislead.

It is equally factually true to say that “protesters successfully banded together to stop a fire at the unprotected East Precinct,” as it is to say that “protesters tried to burn down the EP.” But neither sentence says enough to actually illuminate what happened that summer, and so either statement alone tends to mislead.

Because America at this moment needs more calm understanding, not more polarization

The history of 2020 is plenty fascinating and exciting without needing to exaggerate or sensationalize. Despite this, however, a lot of media have created sensational portrayals, whether to garner attention and sell ads, or to grind a partisan axe. The “attention economy” rewards the sensational.

Sensationalism is polarizing and inflaming to the body politic. America today needs more calm and rational assessment, and less inflamed rhetoric and polarization.

If you go around telling people who aren’t from Seattle the factually true-ish but misleading statement, “protesters tried to burn down the East Precinct in 2020,” you are leading them down the primrose path to several conclusions that don’t actually follow:

  • The protesters as a group support arson.
  • The protesters are as a group therefore bad people.
  • The cause of the protesters is therefore suspect or tainted.
  • I should oppose the protesters and their cause(s) just as strongly as I oppose arson!

If that kind of persuasion is the goal, here’s how to achieve it (at what moral cost?). But it is a dishonest means to a political end. It isn’t accurate or truthful. It is arson against the truth, in service of your own counter-protest.

Because this same rhetorical dishonesty can be turned any way

If you set a norm of treating truth this way, it might be turned immediately against you, as well. For example, consider the 2020 SPD vehicular intimidation incidents.

Seattle Police employee vehicular menacing example

During 2020’s protests, there were several incidents during which Seattle Police personnel menaced or assaulted protesters with motor vehicles in ways that could have led, but ultimately did not lead, to protesters being run over.

It is incontrovertible that during 2020, certain personnel from the Seattle Police drove their vehicles in a way that created alarm and required mitigating action from the victims to avoid being run over.

It would, however, be misleading to state “in the summer of 2020, the Seattle Police tried to run over protesters.” Here, as with the EP fires, the wrongdoing was by a subset, not the consensus policy of the group; the wrongdoing was ultimately not effective at what was purportedly the goal; and, it’s plainly obvious that the wrongdoers in each case would have had ample opportunity to actually achieve their goal with trivial barriers, if that had really been their intent.

On more calmly and clearly assessing the events of 2020

The following might make you more or less on edge to ponder, but consider: at virtually every protest event of scale in Seattle, there were multiple firearms on both sides of any skirmish line. I observed at least one open-carry sidearm and a variety of “fast-action gun bags” or similar long-gun concealment options personally while on the ground in 2020-2021.

Indeed, we have about one (1.1) guns per person in the US, mostly handguns. We also have about one (0.75) car per person in the US, each of which is more lethal than a handgun as a weapon against a crowd. So it’s not only fair to estimate that every protester had access to lethal weapons that could have been used against the police line, it’s factual to note that several of them actually carried such weapons. And, of course, it’s trivial to see that every cop on the line had at least one gun.

And yet, despite the violence on the skirmish lines during 2020, and despite the fact that both sides of that line had ready access to lethal weapons — there were no deaths. There weren’t even shots fired across the line. (This refers to between protesters and on-duty police; sadly, there were both gunshot wounds and vehicular homicide committed by others, or at other times.)

The conclusion here should be that — however much you may condemn various actions of various parties during the Seattle 2020 protests — the core clash between protesters and police was not unlimited or unrestrained. It had at all times the potential to be much worse — a holster-draw away from a potential bloodbath — and yet it never did.

Please, think of this principle when talking to your ranting FOX News uncle, or your firebrand ACAB cousin, both of whom have been amped up on conflict propaganda, about what happened in 2020. And if you are in a position of wider influence in the media, please consider the factual and logical content here and apply a similarly even hand to your coverage.

Appendix: Timeline

During CHOP / CHAZ

– 2020-06-08 (Monday) daytime. The Seattle PD evacuates the East Precinct. A metal fence and concrete jersey barrier perimeter is left surrounding the building, and the windows are boarded up with what appears to be ordinary plywood. [KN 2020-06-09]

– 2022-06-08 night. Seattle Police try to draw people away from Capitol Hill by broadcasting false threats of armed right-wing militia on publicly-available dispatch radio. The ruse instead results in protesters taking up arms and invigilating the entire area, including the EP. [ST 2022-01-05]

– 2022-06-09. The “CHOP/CHAZ” area surrounding EP is first declared. [CHS 2020-06-09]

– 2020-06-12 3:00 AM. ITW Fire. [WDWA 2020-07-14]

– 2020-06-13 – 2020-06-30. CHOP / CHAZ descends into a very nasty place, as criminal score-settling and overanxious self-defense result in several deaths and woundings.

– 2020-07-01. CHOP / CHAZ area is disbanded by order of the Mayor, enforced by over 100 SPD officers who are met with minimal resistance. [ST 2020-07-01]


– 2020-07-01 – 2020-08-31. Throughout July and August, protests continue frequently.

– 2020-08-24 night. DDP Fire. [ST 2021-01-25]

– 2020-08-31. Meteorological summer ends.

– 2020-09-01 night. JG/DM Fire. [KCSC 2021-12-13]

– 2020-09-22. Autumnal Equinox (Astronomical summer ends)


  1. Beekman, Daniel. “Seattle Police Faked Radio Chatter about Proud Boys as CHOP Formed in 2020, Investigation Finds.” Seattle Times, January 5, 2022. [ST 2022-01-05]
  2. Bick, Carolyn. “Person Claiming to Be SPD Officer Drives Onto Crowded Sidewalk, Calls Protestors ‘Cockroaches.’” South Seattle Emerald, August 18, 2020. [SSE 2020-08-18]
  3. “CASE SUMMARY – REPORT OF INVESTIGATION.” Seattle Office of Police Accountability, 2020OPA-0545, September 4, 2020. [OPA 2020-09-04]
  4. Green, Sara Jean. “Seattle Police Recruits Study the People They’ll Serve.” Seattle Times, October 4, 2022. [ST 2022-10-04]
  5. Justin “jseattle” Seattle. “‘Welcome to Free Capitol Hill’ — Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone Forms around Emptied East Precinct — UPDATE.” CHS Capitol Hill Seattle News, June 9, 2020. [CHS 2020-06-09]
  6. Kamb, Lewis. “Seattle Police Continue to Use ‘Flash-Bang’ Grenades during Protests, despite Recommendations.” Seattle Times, June 2, 2020. [ST 2020-06-02]
  7. Kiley, Brendan, Ryan Blethen, Sydney Brownstone, and Daniel Beekman. “Seattle Police Clear CHOP Protest Zone.” Seattle Times, July 1, 2020. [ST 2020-07-01]
  8. “King County Department of Assessments: EReal Property.” Accessed August 20, 2023. [KC 2023-08-20]
  9. Michelson, Alan. “Pacific Coast Architecture Database – City of Seattle, Fire Department (SFD), Station #25, Second Station, Capitol Hill, Seattle, WA.” Accessed October 1, 2023. [AM 2023-10-01]
  10. Paybarah, Azi. “Burning of Police Station After George Floyd’s Death Draws 4-Year Sentence.” New York Times, April 28, 2021, sec. U.S. [NYT 2021-04-28]
  11. Seattle Police Department. “East Precinct Arson 6/12/2020.” YouTube, June 12, 2020. [YT 2020-06-12]
  12. Seattle Police Department. “SPD Investigating Boren and Olive Way Collision Involving Off-Duty Officer.” SPD Blotter, July 4, 2020. [SP 2020-07-04]
  13. Seattle Times staff. “Seattle Mayor, Police Face Questions over Response to George Floyd Protests, Downtown Turmoil.” Seattle Times, May 31, 2020. [ST 2020-05-31]
  14. “State v Greenberg (Statement of Defendant).” King County Superior Court (WA), 20-1-07403-5 SEA, December 13, 2021. [KCSC 2021-12-13]
  15. Stockman, Farah. “‘They Have Lost Control’: Why Minneapolis Burned.” The New York Times, July 3, 2020, sec. U.S. [NYT 2020-07-03]
  16. Subpixel Alchemist. “#seattleprotest #seattleprotests #seattleprotestcomms,” August 24, 2020.
  17. Sun, Deedee. “Armed Protesters Protect East Precinct Police Building after Officers Leave Area.” KIRO 7 News, June 9, 2020. [KN 2020-06-09]
  18. Takahama, Elise. “Alaska Man Pleads Guilty to Helping Set Fire at Seattle Police East Precinct Last Summer.” Seattle Times, January 25, 2021, sec. Law & Justice. [ST 2021-01-25]
  19. “USA v Willoughby (Complaint).” Western District of Washington, 2:20-mj-00425-BAT, July 14, 2020. [WDWA 2020-07-14]
  20. Weinberger, Hannah. “Seattle Health Workers March to Expose Racism as a Health Crisis.” Crosscut, June 10, 2020. [CC 2020-06-10]

Behavioral science behavior and the replication crisis, at Harvard and beyond

September 30th, 2023

Noam Scheiber at NYT writes about the Ariely / Gino falsification controversy and the generalized cesspool of behavioral science: Effectively, the accusation is that they either willfully or negligently caused data to be altered that supported their surprising, novel, pop-sci-book-type conclusions.

I am strongly inclined to take these criticisms seriously, and to look at much of the soft science around human behavior, decision-making, and mindfulness with a very jaundiced eye, because of an experience I had while at Harvard around the year 2000. In short, it was strongly implied to me by a grad student that a micro-celeb prof was ginning up completely spurious anecdotal nonsense in order to bootstrap a pet theory. And I had, it turns out, personally seen it happening.

(Note: I reserve my agita here very specifically for the soft “science” of social / psych / behavior stuff — that is, people who are purporting to apply rigor to the measurement and theoretical explanations of it. If you derive benefit from meditation or visualizing your desired outcomes, or you feel counting to 10 helps you make better food choices, good for you and keep it up!)

Around 1998, I got a work-study job at the computer help desk of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which is roughly speaking the main body of Harvard, including the College — everything except the professional schools like Law, Business, etc. By luck of the draw I got assigned to a small offshoot of FAS — the William James Hall help desk. WJH was a white mid-century modern tower that housed the Psychology department among other things, including an entire armored floor of monkey (or some other animal) experimentation that drew occasional protestor ire, and a sweet penthouse conference room where one could sometimes score leftover hors d’oeurves and opened bottles of white wine from the profs’ confabs. For reasons I never fully understood, but probably relating in similar measures to both the needs of Cat-5 cable runs and the egos of psychologists, WJH got its own standalone IT manager and help desk. The WJH subset of the help desk only served clients inside WJH, which meant importantly that during Cambridge winters we never had to travel further than an elevator ride. In short, it was a cushy gig. And, since I needed to post up hours as part of my financial aid package, I stuck with it as long as I could (I think I started in 1998 and stayed until 2000 or maybe 2001).

Maybe 5% of the job was mobile — all inside the building — to go power-cycle a professor’s computer or swap out a network cable. 95% was spent at the desk, which overlooked a nicely appointed computer lab mainly used by grad students, and otherwise was open to the hallway that ran past the elevators and to rows of offices of faculty and grad students. We’d answer the occasional phone call or email ticket, but mostly it was paid time to do your classwork or goof off (the WJH workload was also much lower than the FAS helpdesk workload from what I gathered).

One semester, I noticed a couple of new grad student faces on the floor. Reader, forgive me, and remember that I was probably technically still a teenage lad: the newcomers were a blonde and a redhead as I recall, somewhere deep enough into their 20’s that they were clearly untouchably beyond our undergraduate social world, and attractive enough that I and at least my male colleagues definitely took notice. I maybe spoke to them a handful of times over the year in the course of my duties, but never became familiar. (I mention their looks only because it’s part of why I remember the sequence of events — honest. Well, that, and it’s nice color for an otherwise dismal story.)

About a year had gone by — maybe it was 6 months, maybe 12-15 months — but I’d been aware of Blonde and Red for some time, to where their presence had faded into the background routine. Then something weird happened. I was at the desk, when down one of the usually very quiet hallways I heard and sort of observed some commotion. I looked over and there was a small dog and a few people. I think Blonde and Red were there – but it was a ways away, not not my business. There might have been more than one dog, but I only recall one, something small and golden. So I went back to whatever I was doing.

Some time later that day I was sitting alone at the desk when one of the grad students — Blonde, I think — came over and spoke to me.

“Hey.” She looked a little deflated, and didn’t appear to have a crashed laptop in hand.

“Hi. What’s up?”

“Did you see what was going on in the hallway earlier?”

“No,” I honestly replied. I mean, I’d seen something, but had had no idea what was going on.

“Do you know who that professor was?”

“No.” This was getting weird.

“That was Ellen Langer.” She kind of paused a beat. It was clearly a name that had some weight for her, but meant very little to me — I’d seen the name on directories, maybe on some help desk tickets or emails. “She was making us call her dogs.”

That seemed weird, but not extraordinarily weird. “Oh, ok.”

“It was supposedly an experiment.” She was, I think, so disenchanted or angry with the situation that she needed to vent to someone — clearly, pretty much anyone, including the IT help desk undergrad. “She made us sit there and do math problems in our head, and then, we both called the dog. She was trying to see if the dog would go to which of us did the more complex problem.”

“Did it?”

“No! The dogs just wandered around.” Her exasperation was apparent. “It’s supposedly part of mindfulness, but …” she kind of trailed off. We chit-chatted a bit more. I think I learned where she went to undergrad and what her name was, but I forget those things. The only other thing I remember about that exchange was that she seemed to be re-evaluating whether it was a good thing to have signed on to work with a domain-famous psych professor anyhow, if it was going to result the ignominy of being a prop for dog-obedience anecdata.

I kind of filed this away as a weird experience in my head. Later, I ran into the name Langer in a few different contexts, including the copy machine study, which seems sort of surprising but plausible (basically, giving a spurious reason, “because I need to make copies,” to cut the line for the copy machine, seems to work if it’s a small imposition on the people in front).

When, about 10 years later (and now 10 years ago), the Bem controversy came out (basically: a tenured Cornell professor published a peer-reviewed paper proving either the existence of ESP or the deficiency of social science peer review, depending on your view of reality) I remembered this little anecdote but I was a tad busy with a few startups and children, so I never wrote it up.

It would also be disingenuous to leave out here the fact that I am a little hesitant to tattle on, effectively, a co-worker, in writing. The sausage-making in almost any field of endeavor is a messy process, and especially having been a bootstrapped entrepreneur, I have respect for trying things that don’t scale (including sometimes, things that don’t have adequate experimental design or plausible mechanisms of action).

But I also studied History of Science (History and Science), and one of the key things you learn there is that the stuff that actually happened is not the highly abstracted and purified result of published papers and 4-color textbooks. The real stuff is messier and for career reasons, you’ll never see the tenured elite opening up as to what kind of tomfoolery led on the winding road to their (legit or falsified) results. You might get more of the real story from the lab techs, or the relatives of your experimental subject, etc. I used to think that it was tedious that historiographically we were always being pushed to inject class or power analyses into our writing, but now I think it’s axiomatic that you need to find people who are outside of or below a particular power structure to help fill in the truth if you really want to understand what happened in that structure.

Anyhow: the lesson here is that publishing, tenured professors even at the “best” university, not only in living memory but likely still to this day, may think it’s a good use of their mandate and their grad students’ time and IQ to perform worthless, un-designed, un-controlled, crap “experiments” to advance their woo-woo whims. It’s a fundamental unseriousness and egotism and, I fear, the corollary is that many who have already achieved positional power in the social sciences are likely to advance their intuitions and pet [sic] theories with total disregard for the ways for discerning and illuminating actual truth that our species has painfully earned over the centuries.

And: to that grad student who felt the need to unburden herself of her deep skepticism about Langer’s dog-calling junk “experiment,” I hope you found a niche of psychology where your efforts produce truth and understanding first, and hopefully also human well-being, whether or not they sell a bunch of bullshit self-help books and seminars. Your skepticism was warranted. And if you know more than I do about weaknesses in the corpus of 20th century quantitative social science, please consider speaking out now.

King County Coroner’s Inquest File Mirror

March 26th, 2023

The King County, Washington coroner’s office is mandated to convene a special inquest whenever a police killing occurs. There are documents, all of which are meant to be public, about the process itself (like motions, declarations, stipulations, etc.) and admitted evidence exhibits.

However, the county is doing its very best to keep anyone from seeing the documents by making the only way you can get them to install some arcane Microsoft Azure tool and then navigating through some “blob” options and undiscoverable direct magic links.

This obviously should all just be on the web and on, to boot, so I just mirrored it here: a direct dump of the King County Inquest Program Document Library. This include the concluded inquests, which should not change over time (including the heavily publicly scrutinized Charleena Lyles proceeding) and in-progress inquests which almost certainly will change. I’ll do another snapshot(s) in future.

How to get GM Service Manuals (wiring diagrams, etc.)

January 17th, 2022

AC Delco TDS (Technical Delivery System) is the bizzaro-land name for the parallel universe you must enter if you want to get actual useful information from GM.

Don’t bother going to or contacting them — although amazingly you can, with persistence, get through to someone even on a Saturday afternoon with grease on your fingers. They will try to brain-drain you for their CRM-filling, and then ask you helpful things like, “have you looked in the owner’s manual?”

The actual stuff you want: service manuals, technical bulletins, wiring diagrams, diagnostic procedures, specifications, etc. are actually pretty darn good within AC Delco TDS.

It costs $20 for a three-day online subscription. You can’t reliably capture or print out the information (you can use browser-level print etc.). There are, however, for most diagrams, good vector graphics that you can use (their proprietary shitty in-browser crippleware viewer) to zoom in on.

Good luck to you!

Delta Dental phone number for Trinet PEO employees

October 6th, 2021

If you have Trinet acting as your PEO (pseudo-employer for tax and benefit purposes), and you have “Delta Dental,” like say the plan “Delta Dental Group 50” or such, you might not be able to figure out how to call them on the phone. Just call 866-222-8545 if this is you.

Rant: This is by design, because Delta Dental is a sort of franchise scheme, with state-by-state (mostly) branches. Or maybe it’s like Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a Swiss Verein (do you remember when every Deloitte email you got had an extended essay on their jurisdictional tomfoolery? Ahh, memories.)

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that in such an arrangement, versus a covered employee user who needs administrative help, every state Delta Dental becomes highly user-hostile, a Warre of all against all. Consider if, say, Domino’s Pizza never took orders by phone, but nonetheless still had a phone line for complaints and problems. Every individual Domino’s would hide its phone number assiduously and, by policy, would be hostile to any user trying to get the phone number of his local Domino’s. It’s a huge drag and cost center, and can’t possibly bring them any revenue, except in the most peripheral and roundabout brand-halo way, for the south Poughkeepsie Domino’s to help you find the phone number for the west Rapid City Domino’s.

Well anyway, that’s how it is dealing with Delta Dental. Not only do they have no web-mediated lookup tool, if you can find your way to a phone number it’ll be for one state’s Delta affiliate, and they won’t help you figure out which state to call.

Trinet themselves couldn’t tell me for sure which state org this number was for, the 866-222-8545 number, though they said there were clues that it might be for Nevada or Virginia. However, the helpful young lady who answered was in Georgia. (She wasn’t sure, either, what state’s Delta she was working for, making me think that this number goes to a call center that serves Trinet only nationwide).

Good luck, and don’t forget to floss.

The Wile E. Coyote Economy, Part I

August 25th, 2020

In the Road Runner cartoons of my misspent youth, Wile E. Coyote would chase the bird, often right over the side of a cliff. Both would keep running, but at some point, the hapless coyote would look down and realize he was in thin air. Only then did he plummet to the bottom of the canyon.

It’s August 2020. COVID deaths seem to have settled to a steady rate (that is, no longer accelerating, but still a terrifying daily plane crash full of premature deaths).

The stock market is at or near an all-time high. Software revenue multiples are high as ever. VC deal volumes (with a bit of reporting lag) are surging.

It’s not just financial assets. Top-tier market housing prices are strong as ever.

In addition, that venerable barometer of bubbliciousness, the SPAC, is pinging off the charts. Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, the so-called back-door IPO, have gone insane, nearly doubling the deal count and with a markedly increased deal size from 2019 to 2020, despite the pandemic.

My thesis is that the US economy is running on a form of inertia right now — the way Wile E. Coyote would run right past the edge of the cliff — and that an inevitable reckoning is due any moment.

Why haven’t we seen this yet in asset prices (everything from stock tickers to VC deal valuations to house prices and bonds)? Absurd money printing. Money printing of a type and degree that dwarfs the 2008-09 crisis intervention.

In addition, this money printing is so furious it’s overflowing the usual spillways and is seeping or gushing out through all sorts of unconventional pathways (unconventional and, importantly, highly corruptible).

The Fed is literally buying corporate bonds, meaning, lending money to selected corporations. The stated reason here is to support the overall lending market, but the way that happens is literally by making it cheaper for companies to borrow than the market would otherwise price it at. That is, they are directly subsidizing the borrowing of select companies. They are a hair’s breadth from just buying individual stocks to support the price.

Arguably, the Kodak loan fiasco is exactly this, a debt-fired pump and dump directly orchestrated by a presidential crony.

Since that which is unsustainable cannot be sustained, I have a few predictions. They are absolute in effect but uncertain in time, though we have some hints about timing.

First, the current (Trump 1st term) administration will be doing absolutely everything in its power to goose the markets and the money supply through the November election. If 2020 starts to look like 2008, namely, the market tanks going into November, the incumbent will lose in a landslide. The incumbent’s only hope economically is to pump another speedball of easy debt and loose spending in. The administration, however, is so remarkably incompetent that we cannot be assured that they will succeed even in this.

Second, a major reckoning will come in equities, but it will probably be an across-the-board, “risk-off” correction where all assets deflate in price. This will either be sort-of-orderly, in the sense that it may be a reaction to “strong medicine” from the Fed (unlikely until after the election and only in reaction to inflation that might arise from, say, an unexpectedly fast and effective vaccine release). Or, it will be not-at-all orderly, more in the vein of Q4 2008.

Third, public debt will go bananas. Tax revenues will be so screwed for so many jurisdictions that they will need to borrow record amounts. Unemployment coffers are empty, rainy-day funds are being emptied out, and personal and corporate income (and gross / B&O taxes like we have in Washington) will be so impacted that few states or cities are going to balance their budgets.

Fourth, longer term, the inflationary imperative WILL eventually take hold. I admit I expected that vast increase in money supply following 2008-09 would have had this effect, but it didn’t. But that was more of a steady asset price tailwind that went along with reasonably OK public finances and tax receipts. This time, the combined pressures of state and federal debt service levels will create an irresistible impulse for politicians to inflate away the debt.

(A note and a hedge: the risk-off reckoning and the inflationary imperative seem destined each to happen but obviously Washington DC and NYC will be doing their best to overlap them. If they stick that landing, virtuosic if improbable, then we might not see them independently happen. Rather, you might get CPI inflation kicking in for the first time in a while while financial assets stay bounded. But I think it likely that you see them independent: first a financial asset correction and then a scramble to prop it all up which results in the inflation.)

Fifth, the generational effects here are going to drive massive political will to swing the pendulum away from favoring accumulated capital. Since the effects of asset price inflation (even the relatively mild continuous stuff we’ve been seeing) tend to hugely advantage large and leveraged asset owners, those who are currently under age 31 (average first time home buyer) are going to get the double whammy of increased dependency ratio along with basically no benefit from asset inflation. This will be Piketty r<g stuff. They are going to vote the bastards out.

So. It’s going to be a bumpy decade. Hold on to your hats. And hold some cash, TIPS, and gold. (Do NOT buy more beans and ammo than you should already have; there IS no run-for-the-hills scenario because we need each other to feed, heal, supply, counsel, teach, and otherwise keep body and soul together. There is no America if you are shooting neighbors over your canned beans.)

Very soon, and it may be while the heat of summer still rages, Wile E will look down and discover the canyon below. One thing is certain for me though: gravity exists and it will not let the coyote cross the canyon to the other side completely without some kind of reckoning.

In Part II I will have some more specific thoughts about how the Wile E Coyote inertia is affecting specific social relations in the world of entrepreneurial startups.

Exchanging thoughts on a Thoughtexchange investment

January 30th, 2020

I’m very pleased and excited that Thoughtexchange is Voyager Capital‘s first investment in British Columbia out of our new Fund 5. The press coverage has been great, and the company’s mission and traction should always be the primary focus — but here on my personal blog I wanted to share a bit of why I’m so excited to be a part of the Thoughtexchange story.

It starts with a lunch conversation going into overtime, but it might be helpful to understand a little background on why the entire project of Thoughtexchange is so important and so timely, both for me personally and for our society.

I like to describe Thoughtexchange as an antidote to the ills of social media. Where social media have given us distraction, discord, and disinformation, Thoughtexchange enables a positive interaction that tends towards consideration, cooperation, and consensus.

Background – Ills of the Social Media Age

After the 2016 US election, several themes came together for me. Social media’s very architecture was a treadmill demanding attention in a way that drowned out signal in favor of noise (or manipulation). Personalization and prediction had been touted as panaceas, but instead became structural pillars reinforcing this architecture of negativity.

This is not just an annoyance but a major, maybe existential, threat: the biggest problems of our nation and humanity will more and more be solvable only through collective action, so a social media architecture that depletes our individual executive function and our interpersonal goodwill might very well prevent us from solving for climate or other planetary-scale challenges.

These ills are magnified in terms of speed and scale, far beyond all precedent, by the technology that our industry produces. If anybody has the power to help alter this course, it’s the relative handful of technologists, entrepreneurs, and investors making focused, reasoned choices about architectures and products that proliferate, not the atomized mass of consumers responding to what’s on offer. So it’s particularly incumbent on VCs and startup folks to act.

Yet, acting on this imperative presents a challenge for me professionally: my “hammer” as a VC requires me to deliver financial returns to our investors. So, we need to look for “nails.” As promising as any given open source or non-profit effort might be, we would have to turn away and work only on what could be powered by a venture investment. So when I started focusing in earnest in 2018, it was unclear to me that there even could be a for-profit approach that could serve this urgent need.

I was delighted, however, once I started looking, to find that there were many thoughtful and dedicated minds working on aspects of this problem. Some were tackling civility and content moderation. Some were approaching the issue of reputation and pseudonymity. But most were very early, establishing traction only with highly intentional communities of early adopters.

Encountering Team Thoughtexchange

That’s why when I sat down for lunch with Throughtexchange’s Dave MacLeod, I got very excited: “Te” (as they call it) was achieving some truly remarkable results with large organizations from industry, nonprofit, and education.

(I also want to express gratitude to my good friend Minh Le from Silicon Valley Bank for originally connecting us. Minh is a banker at the top of his game and a great person.)

Thoughtexchange’s benign social technology tends to create consensus and cohesion. It’s social media’s non-evil twin — the opposite of the FB/Twitter outrage machine. All this, and people were paying them real money! Hammer, meet nail indeed.

What’s more, the team at Thoughtexchange had managed to strike a very useful balance between being mission-driven and being a great business. Not every great mission is suited to a for-profit venture approach — in fact, few are. But “Te” had married a sustainable business model with the kind of aggressive growth plan that calls for venture capital — all the while sticking to their values and a sense of missionary zeal. Wow.

I was worried Dave thought he was dealing with a crazy man as, during our first lunch together, I got more and more excited and tried to tie in this broader thesis with its threads of fake news, filter bubbles, foreign election interference, leading up to existential threat to humanity. But that might not be so crazy after all.

It turns out that versions of these same dangers and difficulties face any large organization that needs its people all pulling together for the common good, be it a school district, an accountancy, a union, or an airline. Te helps them all.

The Commercial Pitch

If you’ve read this far, I feel like I should give you my best shot at the commercial pitch for Thoughtexchange.

For a senior leader in an organization facing open-ended challenges, Thoughtexchange can uniquely help you find the path ahead by relying on your best dataset and analysts — your own people.

Unlike a survey — which is great if you know that the answer is either A, B, C, or D, and you want to find out which one people prefer — Thoughtexchange empowers leaders when the set of possible answers isn’t even known yet.

This is particularly crucial for the hard, scary, “soft” challenges of large organizations, like changes in workforce composition, big digital transformations, and overhauling broken or problematic cultural issues.

And, leaders who use Thoughtexchange not only get better knowledge to map the way forward, they get teams and communities who are more engaged and respect leadership because of how Thoughtexchange makes them feel engaged and respected themselves.

A Cascadia Story

Finally, a story about Thoughtexchange from a Voyager Capital investor wouldn’t be complete without noting that Thoughtexchange is a classical Pacific Northwest story.

The company’s headquarters are located in far eastern British Columbia, in a ski town (Rossland, B.C.). It’s basically required to be an alpine skier in winter and a MTB aficionado in summer. And along with that stereotypical Canadian niceness, there’s a hearty dose of rural Western self-reliance and weighting substance over fluff.

Proof positive that great things don’t exclusively come from the S.F. Bay Area echo chamber, and a great case study in how Northwest companies can survive and thrive because of, not despite, their location and culture.

Self-learning, fault-tolerant parsing

October 12th, 2018

I was reading this piece on “Human Grade Parsers” from jckarter and it reminded me of something that’s been sticking in my brain for the past 18 months or so and refusing to go away.

The idea is for a fault-tolerant adaptive engine that I can apply to data ingestion, combining the ideas of ML and parsers.

For (what has now become) my side project, I get a lot of data files that come in, typically in CSV but also XLS, fixed width, and some oddball proprietary forms, generally with about a kilobyte of numerical data per record.  Happily, though, they mostly all should resolve to something similar: a rectangle of (mostly) floats.  (Sometimes it’s strings or dates or ints but the interesting bits are largely dollar values.)

As I (or my teammates / contractors) have banged out adhoc parsers for this mess, it gets tedious: over and over again, there is a particular step applied.  Sometimes it’s a bit of code you can copy-paste or, if feeling ambitious, try and abstract into a separate method / function.  Sometimes, it’s a bit of analysis you need to apply, hopefully only once, while writing code, usually by looking at a few of the input files: is this column the unique ID?  Is this column a zip code?  A zip+4?  A “only the first five of the zip, if there’s a +4 it’s in the next column?”  Etc., etc.  Only rarely is there something that’s truly unfamiliar or tricky.

The temptation grows to try to block out these various steps into modules like “try breaking this on commas” or “try breaking this on tabs” or more relevantly, “try using some heuristics and a fitness function to search all the possible fixed-width column boundaries to find a list of column break indices.”

Of course, writing this — even if the code itself is modular — as a series of try/catch blocks that sort of tend to fit the shape of the input file/string/stream is still tedious.  What I get to thinking is this: I should have a grammar that defines valid productions, and goes through like a recdescent parser, and tries to find the best valid production for a given input.  At various steps, there may be fitness measures, and there is an ultimate set of fitness measures (or features?) that can be observed: things like, the number of cols per record, the agreement as to number of cols per record, the average size of a record, the presence of certain characteristics (at least one unique ID column, at least one mostly uniqueish string name column), and the overall number of records per input.

The valid candidate productions from the grammar would basically be programs.  If they execute successfully on an input, they would generate an output.  Some of the productions, though, would be variadic in certain elements.  For example, the “find the column break indices” step would require a list of column breaks.

Is this just recapitulating “genetic programming?”  It’s not quite random.  But it does generate a possibly large number of candidates that I will rely upon ML type techniques to optimize for.

Am I just exercising recency bias to think about it as a parsing type problem now?  Parsers usually (in my limited experience) try to return the first or best production but the rules are kind of binary — works or doesn’t — and I will have some rules that could result in several OK but not optimal productions that will need to later be sorted and picked from.

Copious free time here.  But the allure of writing one CSV/XLS(X)/fixed-width parser to rule them all is strong…



Execsplaining the McSweeny’s “Business Words”

March 27th, 2018

Wendi Aarons over at McSweeny’s has been getting a great deal of attention to this cringe-inducing true-to-life parody of a business bro yelling into his phone at the airport:

It’s quite funny but it also strikes me that after 15 years or so straddling between the wild-west of pre-anything startups and the mainstream corporate/business world, I too have fallen into using some of these phrases or tropes.  Why? I wonder.  And the truth is because these stylized phrases are useful shorthand for repeated patterns — they are, inelegant as they may be, the pattern language of business (here, being the practical craft of persuading and making deals among organizations, as practiced primarily by managerial executives).

(So I decided to “Exec-splain” them.  It won’t make a ton of sense if you don’t read the thing first.)

Who just joined? Did someone just join?

Conference calls are a standard way in which more than two people collaborate in real time; other ways include meetings (face to face) and, more recently, chats / Slack channels. Conference calls are audio-only and generally therefore lack the visual cues of who else is present. Socially it’s very important to know who’s present, especially because the real time collaboration methods often are implicitly the informal deal-making that reflect social capital being accumulated or spent (in contrast to formal methods of setting agendas, circulating memoranda, signing contracts or purchase orders, etc.). Most conference calls have a distinctive “chime” signifying the entry of a new party to the call, which prompts curiosity among the participants as to who has joined. Additionally, many business people re-use conference call “bridges” (phone numbers) and therefore might have unknown or unscheduled folks joining. A strong social norm requires new callers to identify themselves, and this norm becomes almost inviolable if they are asked explicitly.

rally the troops; circle our wagons

Business organizations generally have groups of diversely-motivated agents who pursue their own interests (be they individual or sub-group interests, such as salespersons pursuing their commissions or departments protecting their budgets). Organizational goals will, over time, tend to suffer if these sub-goals take priority. Therefore, periodic exhortations must be made to inspire, cajole, bribe, or threaten subordinates if the organizational goals are to be served. An overly militaristic phraseology is an unfortunate commonplace in this world and is reflected here, but it also serves to indicate the speaker’s desire to evoke an esprit de corps and/or a cohesion-inducing in-group/out-group mentality among the larger organization.

circle back; moving forward; main takeaway

Business conversations often descend into details, the overmuch contemplation of which can delay more important decisions and information exchange. Deferring or avoiding this contemplation can be both a necessary practical matter in many cases (avoiding a “rabbit hole”), as well as a rhetorical judo move meant to move the counterparty away from some unfavorable topic (“glossing over” a defect or sticking point). Circling back might signal a willingness to revisit a topic. (Alternatively, circling back might mean a follow-up communication at some point in the future.)

low-hanging fruit

The desirability of business outcomes often follows a Pareto / power-law / diminishing returns distribution function, and some such outcomes will be relatively obvious or non-controversial. It can often therefore speed up the pace of a negotiation or contemplation to have parties agree to exploit the easier, more lucrative, or more efficient parts of that distribution.


A lot of business deals are mired in inertia; the various pre-existing relationships and obligations seem to “weigh” on the ability of parties to move forward. This term is a shorthand for imagining an ahistoric, unconstrained environment, meant to inspire parties to think beyond a local maximum or a short-term equilibrium point.

white papers

In particular, technological business dealings often require an intermediate level of understanding between a merely verbal or largely graphical/visual presentation and a technical implementation. The use of a prose description of perhaps two to ten pages, often augmented by schematic diagrams, is a crucial tool to communicate these intermediate forms and to persuade audiences who have already “qualified” their interest in the matter, yet who may not be worth the time for a deeper and costlier engagement to inform.

drinking from the fire hose

Modern businesses (though frankly even old timey businesses) typically reach far beyond human scale, meaning that at some managerial level it becomes impossible to intake and understand all of the relevant facts and details about some operation in a reasonable time. This might mean it is never feasible, such as for the manager of a large conglomerate, or it might be relative to a time frame, such as for a newly-appointed technical expert expected to opine on some complex system in a few days.


Business executives generally have broad leeway as to how they spend their time, but are accountable for results. It is socially inappropriate in many spheres to indicate that someone is not worth additional time (which is what this means, if you think about it). A face-saving practical measure is to appeal to the interlocutor as a peer and to plead some external force majeur; surely your peer would also yield to the FAA’s phone mandates, so he or she can be shed with minimal insult.


Most negotiated business deals are conducted in a “multi-coup” game-theoretic environment; that is, one expects to play the same or similar game again, eventually, with the counterparty. Therefore, even when driving a hard bargain, it is not acceptable to drive toward an outcome that potentially destroys, bankrupts, or irreconcilably alienates the counterparty.

So.  The McSweeny’s piece is really funny.  And it makes well deserved mockery of business-bro yelling at his phone.

But are business folks buffoons if we keep saying all those things?  (Assuming we actually mean to say all the puffed-up concepts from my exegesis above; of course you’re a buffoon if you’re just saying the words without trying to mean something useful to your work.)  What else do you say?

I sure won’t yell ’em out in an airport though…

B.S. and an apology for private ownership of capital

February 26th, 2018

Stefano Zorzi at Ribbonfarm writes to rehabilitate Bullshit, that is, teleological speech that is at best unconcerned with corresponding to external reality (“truth”) and at worst actively undermines its very existence.

The Unapologetic Case For Bullshit

The whole idea meshes with some thoughts I’ve been having over the past few months about the role of capital, and specifically, individually privately-owned capital, of the real old-school kind.  I don’t mean capital managed by money managers, I mean real rentier-style personal wealth that produces more of itself faster than it can be spent.  I’ll call it big-C Capital for now.

This Capital can bug a (little-r) republican a bit.  One of the criticisms from the bleeding-heart type is that in a society where people still are hungry and ill-clothed, luxuriating in Capital is profligate or at least morally suspect.  Another criticism, one of my favorites, is that the logic of Capital, when it has been accumulated by an extremely capable individual through some productive activity (whether it is high-leverage labor like Michael Jordan or Michael Jackson, or by some kind of entrepreneurial new venture organization), tends to distract its owner away from their productive talents and toward managing the Capital, thereby depriving the world of the exceptional primary talent.

Technocratic types, those with “meritocracy” on the tips of their tongues, as well as the mere bootlickers of existing hierarchy, tend to be friendlier to capital when it is run by institutions or professionals.  Then, the concentration of wealth can be rationalized as serving various abstractions like the “market” and its idea [sic] of the optimal asset allocation, etc. — plus, it conveniently opens a world of jobs in capital-running for those meritocrats or technocrats (and/or bootlickers).  Even the malcontents of that system that have noisily been attacking it, like Taleb with his condemnation of the “intellectuals yet idiots,” seem to be attacking how *well* (risk-return) the Mandarins do at managing (lacking, as they do, skin in the game and hence being prone to all the principal-agent issues), rather than condemning the idea of managing capital toward some achievable optimality.

But the beautiful thing about Capital is that it is not managed toward optimality.  When it is directed by its true owners at their pleasure, they are expressing preference and exercising power — defining the optimal, not pursuing it.

Without Capital, the not-obviously-optimal (or presently sub-optimal, or facially never-going-to-be-anywhere-near-optimal) doesn’t get funded, but with Capital, it might.

What world provides more avenues for opportunity: a world of perfectly rational managed money, run by a Mandarin class self-sure of its judgment and insight?  Or a world of often irrational Capital, where a pet project of an obsessed heiress, or the greed of a spendthrift nephew, yes, as well as the calculated personal intuition of an industrialist, might be the finger on the scale deciding the funding of some ambitious entrepreneur or artist’s dream?  Certainly, if you are amply degreed and pedigreed, and have the taste of boot polish sticking to the roof of your mouth, those rational capital stewards are going to be your friends.  But what if you’re of the wrong race, or religion, or speak with the wrong accent, or have ambitions too big or too small or too long- or short-termed for the career advancement of the Mandarins?  In that case, you’re going to need someone to take a flyer on you, and Capital is uniquely truly free to do that.

Zorzi talks about Bullshit as potentially having an optimal (non-zero) level, and about some greater amount of Bullshit as being a transitional stage in reaching a higher plateau or local maximum of “real” truth.  Well, maybe the same is true here.  Too little B.S. being in circulation might tend to mean too high of a consensus around truth, which means too much ossification.  Similarly, too little of the nation’s wealth being held as rentier Capital might mean too high of a consensus around technocratic market-worship, and a similar congealing.

I’m not super proud of the fact that this reading probably means more lauding of Elon Musk (nothing against him; just that it would be nice if an idea about capitalism had the fresh characteristic of not lionizing Mr. Musk even more).  But I am happy that it doesn’t rely in any way on any strain of libertarianism or Randianism for its apology for Capital.  All it says is that as wonderful as we money manager Mandarins are, there is risk that we become merely a better dressed set of commissars, and that truly keeping the system fluid as well as providing opportunity (though not “fairness” per se) for socioeconomic advancement may benefit from some proportion of capital decisions made by truly orthogonal, market-defining instead of market-serving, principals expressing preferences with their own dough (hard-earned or not).