Belmont Club


More people believe in magic than we would care to admit. ISIS is currently carrying out a campaign against wizards in their midst and is executing those they suspect of dabbling in it. But that is understandable given their world view.


a ginger-bearded ISIS barbarian ordered the beheading of an elderly prisoner – after accusing him of being a wizard. The extremist can be seen using a microphone to read out charges in a town square near Damascus in Syria. Another photo shows a blindfolded pensioner – accused of being a ‘sorcerer’ – being held down over a wooden chopping block by two more fanatics.

When the last cellphone in the Caliphate is destroyed or worn out no one will know how to make another. Their 8th century is capable of producing fanaticism but probably couldn’t make a ball point pen. Objects in the ISIS universe are “magical” — put there by Allah in the possession of the infidel for holy warriors to plunder and enjoy until the power which inheres in them gradually fades away.

Surprisingly much of the modern world is not very different. Many people treat technology like magic even in the West. How does a cell phone work? Dunno. Where does it come from? The store. Civilization depends on the knowledge of a small fraction of the world’s 7.5 billion population. The know-how to make pharmaceuticals, complex devices, aircraft, computers, industrial chemicals from scratch is probably confined to a few million people concentrated in North America, Europe, Russia and North Asia.  The rest of us are end users.

If a global catastrophe destroyed all of civilization’s works yet spared these few millions, they could re-create every object in the world again. By contrast, if only these few millions perished, the remaining billions, though untouched, could continue only until things broke down. It is knowledge which sustains civilization. Of course, knowledge is also stored in libraries against catastrophe. Or is it? If universities began seeing science as old “white man” sorcery, they might start purging it like ISIS does wizardry. Richard Montgomery describes the culling of University of California Santa Cruz’s libraries:


In 1990, when I arrived to work at UCSC, I took pride in our Science Library. By 2000 new journals were no longer displayed. By 2010 the journal room was gone, turned into a large study. We could no longer browse new journals.

After journals had been vanquished, the next enemy was clear: books.

At the beginning of this Fall quarter I entered the library. No books on the first floor. I walked up to the second floor, where the math and physics collection used to be. Nothing. No books.

Space. Lots of space. Students scattered around on their devices. Some eating. Some drinking.

Of course, many students could be accessing the digital versions of the now missing books but many are probably acquiring only the finished knowledge product, the processed information from the university “store”. That was the mistake of Hillary Clinton, made when she bought the latest election model. It failed her because they were confined to what her expensive tool could do. They could not go beyond it. “Her campaign was so confident in its data that it opted not to do tracking polls in states that decided the election,” according to Charlie Cook of the National Journal.

The in­fatu­ation with ana­lyt­ics after Obama’s reelec­tion in 2012 promp­ted some of his op­er­at­ives to say they didn’t need tra­di­tion­al polling any­more.

When Hil­lary Clin­ton began put­ting to­geth­er her 2016 cam­paign, she brought on board many Obama vet­er­ans, go­ing all in for the new tech­no­logy. …

The re­li­ance, or per­haps over­re­li­ance on ana­lyt­ics, may be one of the factors con­trib­ut­ing to Clin­ton’s sur­prise de­feat. The Clin­ton team was so con­fid­ent in its ana­lyt­ic­al mod­els that it op­ted not to con­duct track­ing polls in a num­ber of states dur­ing the last month of the cam­paign. As a con­sequence, de­teri­or­at­ing sup­port in states such as Michigan and Wis­con­sin fell be­low the radar screen, slip­page that that tra­di­tion­al track­ing polls would have cer­tainly caught.


Basic knowledge is still relevant because “magic”, even technological magic, cannot completely cope with the complexity of the world.  When tools fail, a man with knowledge makes another. If that too fails, he makes still another. A man without knowledge is confined to what he can buy in the store. But there will always remain issues which must be regarded from first principles. A friend noted in an email to me that the Climate Change problem was particularly insusceptible to hard scientific validation, yet politicians think there’s a tool they can buy to predict it.

There was an article at WAPO about saving the existing climate data before Trump burns it like Staked out witches. A he won’t do it, other’s will use the rumor of it disappearing as an excuse for their own future failures, because eventually people will find they’ve been made a fool of because B it’s not science until the algorithms are posted along with the data and the steps to reproduce the results. And the results reproduced several times, and since the costs are so great, larger than any drug failure the reproduction and analysis must at least meet that bar. Reproduction, data and algorithm published, and double blind analysis of the results. Else it’s not science.

See Michael Crichton’s work. Oops. it’s been disappeared from the web even darker than Trotsky edited out his pictures with Lenin. It’s gone from even the internet archive. But you can see the page indices his web site content disappearing over time on the archive, you can burn the papers but I can see the ashes. I wonder who is running scared from a few words that demonstrate how using science as arguing from authority is not science but a religion. Bring back Michael Crichton, he spent the last 3 years of his life dying from cancer getting the word out, holding out through terrible pain to keep on spreading the word. He needs a statue in his memory in the foyer of the NSF building.

Just sayin. No algorithm. No attempt at invalidation funded at the same level of discovery, no science. “but.. they stutter, it’s too big a risk not to impoverish and kill or waste the life product of billions like the soviets did.”


The earth’s climate is too large and chaotic to reproduce in the lab. One can scientifically validate parts but arguments as they apply to the whole must rely on deduction and inference. Global Warming depends crucially on the model, but who knows the model? Yet the Climate Change model attempts a far more complicated problem than the subject of Hillary’s failed analytics.

For really big problems — and human history is one — hard science is hampered by the difficulty of reproducing the experiment. In these cases we go back to some form of magic.  Society uses science and technology to deal with defined, reproducible events. When we need to make a call we buy a phone. When we need to create peace in the Middle East we leave it to John Kerry and the United Nations.

In the face of really big uncertainties humanity too often falls back on assumptions, religion or magic. The reason why magic is the stock in trade of politicians and millennial movements is they concern themselves with the potentially unknowable. So we put our trust in hoax and change. ISIS frankly does this and is up front about it. The liberal project by contrast is too ashamed to admit it and often disguises models as “settled science” but it’s witchcraft, wicked witchcraft. And although, I know, it’s strictly taboo to admit it.

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Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.


The Face Of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme, by John Keegan. In this vivid reassessment of three battles, Keegan examines the physical conditions of fighting, the particular emotions and behavior generated by battle, as well as the motives that impel soldiers to stand and fight rather than run away.


Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs, by Julia Turshen. More than 400 recipes and variations of truly great home cooking, from the go-to recipe developer and co-author of such bestsellers as Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, Mario Batali’s Spain…A Culinary Road Trip, and Dana Cowin’s Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen. And more than 160 photographs.

Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power, Examining nine landmark battles from ancient to modern times – from Salamis, where outnumbered Greeks devastated the slave army of Xerxes, to Cortes’s conquest of Mexico to the Tet offensive – author Victor Davis Hanson explains why the armies of the West have been the most lethal and effective of any fighting forces in the world.

Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story, by John Bloom. This is the story of Iridium, the revolutionary satellite system developed by Motorola in the 1990s, and how it was saved from destruction by Dan Colussy, a former president of Pan Am, in one of the greatest business deals of all time.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, by Michael Lewis. This new book from the author of The Big Short, The Blind Side, etc. tells the story of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, whose Nobel Prize–winning theory of the mind altered our perception of reality, created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, and advanced evidence-based medicine.


For a list of older books, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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