The Very Slowly Falling Building

Or, as I’ll explain, Sunk Costs.

millenium tower

In 2010, the owners of a a 58-story condominium in San Francisco learned that their building was sinking at the rate of 1.5 to 2 inches per year. The building has sunk 17 inches since construction and tilts 14 inches off center. There are cracks in the basement, deviations in the surrounding sidewalk, and a mysterious popping window on the 36th floor.

Skyscrapers have always fascinated me as someone with low mathematical intelligence. How do these buildings stay vertical? (I’m also fascinated by airplanes. How do you engineer rotary blades and an engine that turns fast enough to keep a one-ton Cessna aloft, much less a 747 or supersonic F-16?) But apparently the basic skyscraper model is pretty simple: you drill holes in the dirt until you get to the bedrock that rings the whole planet. Then you drive piles into the holes and fuse them with the building’s foundation–that’s what holds up everything.

This is real simple in places like Atlanta, Georgia, which is geologically just a few feet of dirt on top of solid granite.

atlanta skyline
Midtown Atlanta looking Downtown
stone mountain
Stone Mountain a few miles east

In San Francisco, this is more complicated and expensive since the bedrock is 250 feet down, so the developer relied on 80-feet long “friction piles” driven into sand. The “friction” of the surrounding sand keeps the pile stationary, like hammering in a tent stake at the beach. Of course, the soil on the San Francisco peninsula is kind of a fluid medium, and there’s also the causation theory that an adjacent project desiccated the soil when they pumped out groundwater, so now the tower has sunk and is out of plumb. Now what?

If it were me with unlimited resources and thinking about one of the planet’s more notorious fault lines running right underneath, I’d start dismantling the Millenium Tower. I figured the reason the City hadn’t was because of sunk costs: the building’s public costs are “sunk,” i.e., unrecoverable; the building hasn’t fallen down (yet); and the costs to un-screw things haven’t yet been incurred so there’s incentive to say they shouldn’t be.

The players are, you might say, sticking with the devil they know. Once you’ve built 58 stories of glass, steel and concrete, how do you go about tearing it down? I actually thought about this and hypothesized you would do it the opposite of how it went up, starting at the top and working from the facade inward.

As it turns out a lot of very smart, well-paid engineers have studied this and come up with a $100 million solution, a lot cheaper and less disruptive than Anti-Gnostic’s desperate plan to just take down that whole effing thing. The plan calls for piles to be driven the 250 feet necessary to hit bedrock under the wobbly corner of the building, which will shift 20% of the load on to the bedrock, where it belongs, and the building will settle to repose.

Of course that other 80% of the load would still be on my mind but again, these are the top people in their field doing amazing things. So I hope everything works out, and it probably will.

Anyhoo, the sunk costs fallacy stuck in my fevered brain after reading about all that. We keep on doing what we do because the costs are sunk, and God only knows what happens when we take things in a different direction. In the meantime, there are always plenty of people with their livelihoods and identities reliant on the status quo. Radical change becomes unthinkable.

This seems to drive decision-making in all sorts of institutions like, say, the Orthodox Church! Many years ago–over 500 of them in fact–the Church’s whole model for ecumenical governance blew up. Constantinople fell (it had actually been falling for a couple of centuries) and a whole Greco-Roman civilization just disappeared. But–sunk costs–nobody ever got around to reforming the ecclesiology and there were plenty of people invested in the status quo.

Now, even the successor nation-state model is breaking down with transnational migration but oh well, sunk costs, and lots of people who benefit from the status quo. Or, the Old Calendar, that is, the Julian Calendar, which is celestially wrong and gets more wrong every year. But doggone it, sunk costs.

Or US policy! We’re still in Afghanistan–how do we even leave? Who wants to be the person who makes the call to the parents of the last soldier to die there? Immigration, a now-venerable socio-political narrative dedicated to the premise that everybody else on Earth is an American who hasn’t gotten here yet.

The universal franchise, as democratic politics become a cruel, dysfunctional joke. Moral permissiveness. Federal Reserve balance sheet purchases. Public education!

And so SCALE* increases until resolution to the angle of repose really and truly can’t not happen. One day, Orthodox ecclesiology will reflect the facts on the ground. One day, the United States’ socio-political contradictions will be resolved. In the meantime, we wait for things to work themselves out in our very slowly falling building.

* – Size Complexity Atomization Liberalism Elitism

Real news

Two bits of reality managed to intrude on the Narrative this week.

First, Caster Semenya is a man. This is all much simpler than the Narrators have been telling you. Semenya apparently has an XY chromosomal pair, no ovaries, no vagina terminating in a uterus, and no mammary glands. I’m not sure why this was ever in doubt.

semenya niyonsaba

Another world-class 800M runner, Francine Niyonsaba (above, on the right), is also an “XY female,” that is, a man. So was the third 800M medalist at the Rio Olympics, Margaret Wambui (in the middle, with Semenya and Niyonsaba, below).

wambui

I wouldn’t have thought that a heavy-boned, muscular man being told he can’t compete in women’s athletic events would be controversial, but here’s the NY Times, wrestling not against flesh and blood, but testosterone itself. (Sailer reads it so you don’t have to).

Here’s the thing about women’s sports: nobody really cares. They are a healthy outlet for athletic women, and they are a pleasant diversion from men’s sports. They are healthy enough and pleasant enough that some women can make a very good living at them, but that’s it. The true benchmarks in speed and strength will always be set by men. It’s unfair to women athletes to compete against men, and it’s unfair to Semenya and other men with undescended testicles and androgen uptake issues to insist they alter their natural hormone levels to further the delusion that they are “female athletes.” We provide a protected category for female athletes because otherwise even the strongest, fastest women on the planet would literally be lost in a sea of men and boys.

thompson capture

Reality next intruded into the crazed ideological Narrative of US foreign policy in Venezuela, an area of strange confluence between the Establishment press and the otherwise despised Trump administration.

Nacho Guido is the Rightful President of Venezuela according to the US government. So everybody was all excited and thundering about the imminent populist revolt against the Wrongful President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro. Except it looks like lots of Venezuelans, and most importantly the Venezuelan military, aren’t exercised enough about Maduro to throw him out of office. So now Juan Gaucho is going around asking the military to back him up in his coup d’etat. The NY Times has some helpful advice for Gato: confidence, consensus and inevitability. My advice is a little more down-to-earth: guns and tanks, lots of them. But my impression is that the 35-year old clone of James Woods and Barack Obama is in a bit over his head talking with the colonels. What’s he supposed to promise them–less pay and influence?

ola langley
Ola?! Langley?

Personally, I don’t care which socialist runs Venezuela. Their oil is on the world market, so my car’s six thirsty cylinders are happy, and if the Venezuelans all want to live off the oil money and pretend to work otherwise that’s fine with me. So far as I can tell, at least half of Venezuelan voters seem fine with that arrangement. My advice would be to let this corrupt Latin American country with a clunky, ambiguous constitution work things out on its own.

Totalitarianism

Back when the world made sense, we had a good idea where totalitarianism would come from and how we would recognize it. The socialist State, personified most often in the Soviet Union, would grind everybody up into a gray, utilitarian mass. This was hilariously satirized in a popular commercial from the glory days of Reagan’s America.

The satire works because of its element of truth. When profit is outlawed, the economic engine starts to misfire. Costs become impossible to calculate because the ultimate market clearing price has been eliminated. Producers, unable to gauge market demand, mechanically follow political mandates. Can you even imagine a bureaucracy trying to put together a hamburger? With condiments? All of society is transformed into a polluted, corrupt, tragedy-of-the-commons which people risk death to escape. Reality itself must be obscured by the gnostic regime which purports to rewrite the laws of the physical universe. Thus we get the Total State of  a socialist Stalin or Mao, as opposed to the merely authoritarian State.

cultural-revolution-1966-2 (1)

 

augusto
God rest the soul of His servant, Augusto.

The authoritarian State wields a firm or even brutal hand, but non-State institutions nonetheless operate and nobody has to kill themselves because citrus trees won’t grow on the tundra. The totalitarian State has a more daunting task:  its utopian vision above all must be maintained whether it conforms to reality or, more often, does not. Thus, the totalitarian State cannot content itself with merely imprisoning or executing dissidents. History, the sciences, reality itself must be propagandized, obscured and denied.

unpersoned

In retrospect, humanity sidestepped this grim, collectivist future rather handily. The conception of the individual and his inalienable rights triumphed over the dreary old USSR. So imagine the surprise of myself and other children of the Cold War to see totalitarianism rear up from a completely unexpected quadrant.

In many ways, Max is a typical 14-year-old. He eschews soft music in favour of rock and heavy metal, likes to wear hoodies, giggles when he’s nervous and has a flair for drawing animals. He can be opinionated and sarcastic one moment, shy and withdrawn the next.

His insecurities, however, run deeper than run-of-the-mill teenaged angst.

“I have a male brain that doesn’t match up with the body I’m in,” says the Grade 9, Surrey, B.C., student, who was the female gender at birth.

“It’s like being trapped in a cage.”

Max is now at the centre of a complicated legal fight over who gets to decide the course of treatment for his gender dysphoria. Max and his mom, Sarah, with the support of the gender clinic at B.C. Children’s Hospital, want to proceed with a treatment plan that would involve injecting Max with testosterone — a key step, they say, in Max’s desire to transition from a female to a male body.

In the time of ultimate individualism of course, the notion that a biological female can have a male brain is a fait accomplit, and the role of the State is to reinforce that notion over the objections of a mere parent. So society has come full circle, from the tyranny of the collective to the tyranny of the individual. The State, not content with the 30,000-foot view, now takes the scanning electron microscope-level view, displacing parental authority and purporting to legislate biological reality itself. North Koreans would be appalled.

chastity chaz
This is a man, bigots.

Secular democracy, as it turns out, has removed all intermediating institutions between the State and the individual. Who imagined within my lifetime that the Total State would be path-dependent on individualism?

Why are we still in Afghanistan?

hornet's nest

Does anybody know?

The three Marines killed Monday [April 8, 2019] in a car bombing outside Bagram Air Field died only days before there were expected to return home from Afghanistan.

Now friends and family of Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.; Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., are left with memories and grief.

Officials are still investigating the incident, which wounded three other Americans, an Afghan contractor and five Afghan civilians. No specific details were available, Marine Forces Reserve said in a statement.

“Our focus in the wake of this attack is to support the family, friends and loved ones of our fallen Marines,” said Maj. Roger Hollenbeck, a Marine Forces Reserve spokesman. “These Marines are honored for their extraordinary bravery and for their direct contribution to the defense of this nation.”

The fallen Marines were assigned to 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. They deployed to Afghanistan in October 2018 as part of a program in which Marines train and advise Georgian infantry troops that the former Soviet republic contributes to the NATO mission there.

So the answer in this case is that US troops are in Afghanistan to train Georgian troops to be in Afghanistan. This makes sense because after all, freedom is a universal value and only some provincial bigot would ever think that Georgians don’t need their freedom defended too.

I’m personally skeptical of the Iraq-Afghanistan-freedom nexus. I don’t perceive that my life has gotten any less complicated or more free since Operation Enduring Freedom. But nobody wants to believe they lost an eye or had to bury their children for government propaganda.

I watched the 2014 documentary The Hornet’s Nest recently, which is a war correspondent’s account of a group of US troops in Afghanistan.

The film was thin on details and the bigger picture, but my impression from this small slice of the Afghan campaign is some Afghans really resent the US presence in Afghanistan, so they join the Taliban which lays low but pops up every now and again to kill US troops. On the other hand, some Afghans seem to really like the US troops and are glad to tell them about Taliban activity in the area. I suspect this is because the Taliban relies on brutal shakedowns of the locals in order to buy arms and explosives and to stay fed.

The whole thing seems kind of disorganized, with the word coming down from on high that the Taliban are “active” in some area so US troops need to go on patrol there to kick in doors and seize arms caches. Sure enough, when they go into an area they draw small arms fire and end up in these ad hoc firefights. They kill the bad guys, seize the caches, high-five each other, and head back to the base.

The troop count is small enough that we can outfit them in the latest gear. Like the photograph in the lede shows, everybody gets night-vision goggles and red dot scopes that practically aim themselves. Everyone in the documentary is the God’s-honest best of white male America: big, brave, good-humored, and armed to the teeth. But all it takes is one little bit of supersonic metal hitting the femoral artery and that young, fit 200-pound soldier just slumps down and dies within a few minutes.

I didn’t get the sense from the film that the troops are emotionally or ideologically invested in their mission. They love each other, they love the soldier’s trade, and Afghanistan is where they get to ply it. So I think as soon as they hear that we’re leaving Afghanistan then they’ll follow their survival instincts and tell their superiors to go on their own m—–f—ing patrols.

The withdrawal announcement will produce numerous cascade effects. The money to the big network of informants and local rajas will dry up, so they’ll start getting assassinated. Arms and money will start flowing in the other direction and patrols will become more dangerous. We’re already unwilling to commit expensive air support and tanks for ground campaigns, so everybody will find excuses to stay on the base and wait for transport home. At the very end, it looks like this.

saigon

And after the last helicopter takes off, then the Taliban get to roll into Kabul and declare victory over the biggest, baddest army on the planet.

So there’s your answer for why US troops are still in Afghanistan: nobody can think of a good way to end it. Everybody gets careerist credentials for participating but leaving just means humiliation and back to the petty bureaucratic world of Stateside postings. So we stay.