Randaly

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Covid 9/17: It’s Worse

Blade Runner 2045 movie

2049, not 2045.

Trump continues to promise a vaccine by late October. The head of the CDC says that’s not going to happen. Trump says the head of the CDC is ‘confused.’ The CDC walks the comments back. On net, this showed some attempt by the CDC to not kowtow to Trump, but then a kowtow, so on net seems like a wash.

This is missing the last step, which is that the CDC then walked back its walk back (?!?). See here:

The CDC scrambled to explain; by about 6 p.m., the agency was claiming Redfield had misunderstood the original question and was referring to the time period when all Americans would have completed their Covid-19 vaccination.

The CDC’s initial statement was plainly false: During Wednesday’s Senate hearing, a senator asked Redfield when a vaccine will be “ready to administer to the public,” and Redfield acknowledged the precise question before delivering his response.

“If you’re asking me, when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of a vaccine to get back to our regular life? I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” he said.

At around 9 p.m. Wednesday, however, the CDC contacted reporters to rescind its statement walking back Redfield’s prior comments, saying only that it had not been “cleared” by higher-ups.

AFAICT where this wound up was that Redfield then issued a bland statement that a vaccine was important.

Lessons on AI Takeover from the conquistadors

I don't really have a great answer to that, except that empirically in this specific case, Spain was indeed able to extract very large amounts of resources from America within a single generation. (The Spanish government directly spent very little on America; the flow of money was overwhelming towards Europe, to the point where it caused notable inflation in Spain and in Europe as a whole.) I don't disagree that running a state is expensive, but I don't see why the expense would necessarily be higher than the extracted resources?

Lessons on AI Takeover from the conquistadors

(1) Local support doesn't end after the first stages of the war, or after the war ends. I mentioned having favored local elites within one society/ethnicity continue to do most of the direct work in (2); colonizers also set up some groups as favored identities who did much of the work of local governance. For example, after the Spanish conquest, the Tlaxcala had a favored status and better treatment.

(2) Not sure why you'd expect low fidelity control to imply that it ends up as a wash in terms of extracting resources, can you clarify?

Lessons on AI Takeover from the conquistadors

I feel like there's two points causing the confusion:

(1) The assumption that natives are an undifferentiated mass. There were a variety of mutually hostile indigenous peoples, who themselves sough out allies against each other; and, in particular, who sought to balance the strongest local powers. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, page 48:

The search for native allies was one of the standard procedures or routines of Spanish conquest activity throughout the Americas. Pedro de Alvarado entered highland Guatemala in 1524 not only with thousands of Nahua allies, but also expecting to be able to take advantage of a Mexica-Tlaxcala type rivalry; the two major Maya groups of the region, the Cakchiquel and the Quiche, had both sent ambassadors to Mexico City a year of two earlier. As a result, for the rest of the decade, a brutal civil war ravaged the highlands as the Spaniards used these groups against each other and against smaller Maya groups, while periodically turning with violence upon these native "allies". Conversely, Spaniards under the Montejos sought desperately to make sense of regional politics in Yucatan in order to exploit or establish a similar division, being forced in the end to make a series of often unreliable alliances with local dynasties such as the Pech and Xio. These Maya noble families controlled relatively small portions of Yucatan, and the Spaniards never achieved control over the whole peninsula...

Manco's great siege of Cuzo in 1536 would probably have resulted in the elimination of Pizarro's forces were it not for his Andean allies. There were initially less than 1,000, but grew to over 4,000 later in the siege as two of Manco's brothers and other nobles of the same Inca faction came over to Pizarro's side...

The taking of native allies from one zone of conquest to the next was a practice established at the very onset of Spanish activity in the Americas. Caribbean islanders were routinely carried between islands as support personnel on conquest expeditions, and then brought to the mainland in the campaigns into Panama and Mexico. For example, Cortes brought 200 native Cubans with him to Mexico in 1519.

(2) This also neglects native power structures, which conquistadors mostly left intact in the years immediately after the conquest; note also that part of the conquered region had previously been conquered by the Aztecs, so there the Spanish were simply substituting one empire for another. The Spanish initially didn't speak the native languages, worked through local elites, and reused existing systems of tribute and corvee labor. The Spanish eventually exercised more direct control, but this took an extremely long time. (Fun fact: the last native rebellion against European control in Mexico ended in 1933).

(I am less familiar with India.)

Lessons on AI Takeover from the conquistadors

[Like, it's not for nothing that the Aztecs told the Conquistadors that they thought the latter group were gods!]

It is unlikely that the Aztecs actually believed that the Conquistadors were gods.  (No primary sources state this; the original source for the gods claim was Francisco Lopez de Gomara, writing based on interviews with conquistadors who returned to Spain decades later; his writing contains many other known inaccuracies.)

Claims that are related to, but distinct from, the Aztecs believing that the Conquistadors were gods:

  • The Aztecs, and other natives, plausibly believed or said that the Conquistadors were sent by God(s). This is likely because the conquistadors repeatedly and explicitly said that they had been sent by God.
  • There is substantially stronger evidence that the Aztecs said that they had long-awaited the return of their rightful rulers (implying that the Spanish were the rightful rulers.) Cortes, Bernal Diaz, and the Florentine Codex all agree that this occurred; however, it is impossible to say if it was meant literally.
Lessons on AI Takeover from the conquistadors

On Diamond and writing, see previous discussion here. It is highly unlikely that writing was critical:

  • Pizarro was illiterate
  • The Aztecs had writing, yet didn't beat the Spaniards (or avoid having their leader kidnapped)
  • Cortes' conquests were only a decade or so before- a short enough period that writing wasn't necessary to communicate the lessons. Pizarro was physically present in the Americas at the time.
  • There's not actually any clear pathway from "have writing" -> "Atahualpa refuses to leave his army to meet with Pizarro". Writing did not make all European monarchs cautious and immune to ambushes or kidnapping; it is not the case that the Inca didn't understand the idea of deception.

In the linked thread, Daniel Kokotajlo suggests that the relevant difference was that the Spaniards had experience with more cultures than the Inca, and in particular were far more experienced with first contacts. This sounds plausible to me.

Authorities and Amateurs

The specific evidence you’ve cited is weak. (1) You write that “The argument that we should be listening to experts and not random people would make a lot of sense if the "armchair" folks didn't keep being right.” It is extremely easy to be right on a binary question (react more vs less). That many non-experts were right is therefore more-or-less meaningless. (I can also cite many, many examples of non-experts being wrong. I think what we want is the fraction of experts vs non-experts who were right, but that seems both vague and unobtainable.)

(Note that this is importantly different, and stronger, than the claim you made in the final paragraph. I agree with that claim.)

(2) For many, but probably not all, of the policy failures you describe, there is little reason to attribute them to experts. The United States is not a technocracy.

Cortés, Pizarro, and Afonso as Precedents for Takeover

That quote seems to provide no evidence that the 'literate tradition' mattered. Cortes' conquest was only 14 years before; Pizarro had arrived in the New World 10 years before that; Cortes' conquest involved many people and was a big/important deal; even if the Spanish had no writing at all, Pizarro would likely have known the general outline of Cortes' actions.

It's strictly speaking impossible to rule out Pizarro indirectly being influenced by writing; but I don't think it would be possible for stronger evidence against the importance of writing in this specific case to exist.

Cortés, Pizarro, and Afonso as Precedents for Takeover
The Portuguese presumably were reasonably educated

Pizarro was illiterate.

Jan Bloch's Impossible War

That is not true; the CSA had worse railroads, but they were still important throughout the war. Some of the most important Union offensives late in the war- the Atlanta campaign and the siege of Petersburg- were intended to sever the South's railroads; and the war ended almost immediately after the Union cut off the railroad routes to the CSA capital of Richmond at the Battle of Five Forks. Both sides were heavily reliant on railroads for supply, and also used railroads to move troops (for the CSA, e.g. moving Longstreet's corps to fight at Chickamagua).

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