Antifragility – Nassim Taleb, the author of the outstanding books “Fooled By Randomness” and “The Black Swan“, is currently writing a book on the theme of antifragility. In an excellent Econtalk podcast with Russ Roberts, Taleb’s idea of antifragility is described as different from robustness. “You start off by asking: What is the opposite of fragile? And of course we think we know what that is. The opposite of fragile is robust, you say; it may be unbreakable. But you argue that’s not right way to think about it. It doesn’t capture the essence of fragility. So, why do we need another term? Because if you send a package by mail to your cousin in Australia and it has champagne glasses, you write “Fragile” on it. If it is something that is robust, you don’t write something on the package. You don’t say you don’t care, you can do whatever you want. So the fragile, the upper bound comes back unharmed or [?] and of course the worst is completely destroyed. So, that’s the fragile. The robust has an upper bound of unharmed and a lower bound of unharmed. The empty fragile would be a package on which you’d write: Please mishandle. Because a lower bound would be unharmed. And the upper bound would be improved–you’d get, instead of sending 6 champagne glasses, 8 would arrive. Exactly. Like in mythology. Or they’d be better glasses, stronger somehow. Like the Hydra–you cut one head, two heads grow back. So the robust would be more like the Phoenix–you shoot it and it comes back. So the upper bound and the lower bound are both unharmed; with Hydra, the Hydra wants harm.”
How the welfare/warfare/regulatory state hampers innovation and thus economic growth – “Government regulation and federal spending on the warfare/welfare state are holding back the rate of material progress in the United States. To reverse that trend—to become an innovation nation—we must change our spending priorities and lift innovation-stifling regulations. We must put innovation at the center of our national vision, according to Independent Institute Research Director Alex Tabarrok, author of Launching the Innovation Renaissance.”
How the Swiss Opted Out of War – What is so interesting about the Swiss decision to renounce foreign wars at the end of the Napoleonic Wars is their previous history of belligerence. Today we think of the Swiss as well armed, but polite and peaceful villagers. The average European of 500 years ago would have had a very different view of the Swiss. Beginning with their successful defense against encroaching Austrian knights in the beginning of the 14th century, the Swiss infantry pike/halbard/arquebus phalanx dominated the battle fields of Europe for 200 years. At that time, the Swiss would have been characterized as belligerent, vicious, relentless, and greedy, due to their becoming the favored mercenary infantry of any ruler who was willing to pay. For an outstanding account of the era of Swiss dominance, see Charles Oman’s classics “A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages: Volume Two: 1278-1485 AD” and “A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century“.
RIP Herbert Wilf – Professor Wilf was a mathematician at the University of Pennsylvania who made important contributions in combinatorics. Some of his texts are available for free at the link to his website.
A Christmas Story House and Museum – This is one of my all time favorite movies. I actually saw the movie in the theater when it was first released. Since then, it has become an x-mas classic that is shown as a 24 hour marathon on x-mas eve every year.