a brief guide to the interstate highway system — 6/20/17

Today’s selection — from The Long Haul by Finn Murphy. A trucker’s tips for understanding the U.S. Interstate Highway system:
“Here’s a kind of fun primer for you four-wheeler drivers out there: On the US Interstate Highway System there’s always a mile marker represented by a small green sign on the right shoulder. Truckers call them lollipops or yardsticks. Within each state, mile markers run south to north, so in South Carolina mile marker 1 is one mile from the Georgia border, and mile marker 199 is at the North Carolina border. On a horizontal plane, mile markers run west to east, so on I-80 in Pennsylvania mile marker 311 is at the New Jersey border, and mile marker 1 is near the Ohio border. When truckers communicate with each other, they use lollipops to give a location such as ‘Kojak with a Kodak 201 sun­set,’ meaning a state trooper has a radar gun at mile marker 201 on the westbound side.

Page from Rand McNally 2016 Road Atlas
“Interstate highways have even numbers for east-west routes and odd numbers for north-south routes. The larger the odd num­ber, the further east it is, and the larger the even number the fur­ther north it is. I-5 goes up the West Coast, and I-95 goes up the East Coast. In between, the major routes are I-15, 25, 35, 55, 75, and 85. East-west I-10 (the Dime) goes from Jacksonville, Florida, to Los Angeles (Jayville to Shakeytown). I-90 goes from Boston to Seattle (Beantown to Needle City). In between are I-20, 40, 70, and 80. Three-digit numbers indicate spur routes to the system. Odd-numbered three-digit routes do not reconnect to the main highway; even-numbered routes are circular and are usually belt­ways around cities. Using Washington, DC (Bullshit City), as an example, I-495 goes around the city, and I-395 ends in the city. It’s a simple system that works extremely well except in massive, older urban areas like Chicago (Windy City), where the route numbers coalesce into a Rubik’s Cube of confusion.
“Every driver should own and use the Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas. Get the one with the laminated pages so when you spill your coffee you can wipe it off. It’s the best fifty-nine dollars you’ll ever spend. Forget about online systems, and don’t rely on the voice. It can be useful as a backup, but your primary guide needs to be a map. You need to visualize the route in your mind. Willie Joyce told me that since they started using GPS, drivers get lost or confused three times more than when they used road maps.”
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The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road

Author: Finn Murphy
Copyright 2017 by Finn Murphy
Pages: 116-117

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incentives can impede productivity

Today’s encore selection — from Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. Financial incentives, or “pay-for-performance,” have been demonstrated as effective for improving productivity in jobs that are repetitive or transactional. But as the type of work in our society increasingly evolves toward creative work — such as designing new software, creating new marketing campaigns or inventing new products — it is worth noting that not only are financial incentives less effective in eliciting improved performance for this type of work, they can actually impede performance:
“Behavioral scientists often divide what we do on the job or learn in school into two categories: ‘algorithmic’ and ‘heuristic.’ An algorithmic task is one in which you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion. That is, there’s an algorithm for solving it. A heuristic task is the opposite. Precisely because no algorithm exists for it, you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution. Working as a grocery checkout clerk is mostly algorithmic. You do pretty much the same thing over and over in a certain way. Creating an ad campaign is mostly heuristic. You have to come up with something new.

“During the twentieth century, most work was algorithmic — and not just jobs where you turned the same screw the same way all day long. Even when we traded blue collars for white, the tasks we carried out were often routine. That is, we could reduce much of what we did — in accounting, law, computer programming, and other fields — to a script, a spec sheet, a formula, or a series of steps that produced a right answer. … The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates that in the United States, only 30 percent of job growth now comes from algorithmic work, while 70 percent comes from heuristic work. A key reason: Routine work can be outsourced or automated; artistic, empathic, nonroutine work generally cannot.

“The implications for motivation are vast. Researchers such as Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile have found that external rewards and punishments — both carrots and sticks — can work nicely for algorithmic tasks. But they can be devastating for heuristic ones. Those sorts of challenges — solving novel problems or creating something the world didn’t know it was missing — depend heavily on … the intrinsic motivation principle of creativity, which holds, in part: ‘Intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity; controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity.’ In other words, the central tenets of Motivation 2.0 [external ‘carrot and stick’ motivation] may actually impair performance of the heuristic, right-brain work on which modern economies depend.
“Partly because work has become more creative and less routine, it has also become more enjoyable. That, too, scrambles Motivation 2.0’s assumptions. This operating system rests on the belief that work is not inherently enjoyable — which is precisely why we must coax people with external rewards and threaten them with outside punishment. One unexpected finding of the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi … is that people are much more likely to report having ‘optimal experiences’ on the job [in heuristic work] than during leisure. But if work is inherently enjoyable for more and more people, then the external inducements at the heart of Motivation 2.0 become less necessary. Worse, as [Edward L.] Deci began discovering forty years ago, adding certain kinds of extrinsic rewards on top of inherently interesting tasks can often dampen motivation and diminish performance. …
“What happens when you give people a [complex] conceptual [problem] and offer them rewards for speedy solutions? Sam Glucksberg, a psychologist now at Princeton University, tested this in the early 1960s by timing how quickly two groups of participants solved the … problem. He told the first group that he was timing their work merely to establish norms for how long it typically took someone to complete this sort of puzzle. To the second group he offered incentives. If a participant’s time was among the fastest 25 percent of all the people being tested, that participant would receive $5. If the participant’s time was the fastest of all, the reward would be $20. Adjusted for inflation, those are decent sums of money for a few minutes of effort — a nice motivator.
“How much faster did the incentivized group come up with a solution? On average, it took them nearly three and a half minutes longer.’ Yes, three and a half minutes longer. (Whenever I’ve relayed these results to a group of business people, the reaction is almost always a loud, pained, involuntary gasp.) In direct contravention to the core tenets of Motivation 2.0, an incentive designed to clarify thinking and sharpen creativity ended up clouding thinking and dulling creativity. Why? Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster. But ‘if-then’ motivators are terrible for [complex conceptual problems]. As this experiment shows, the rewards narrowed people’s focus and blinkered the wide view that might have allowed them to see new uses for old objects.”
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Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Publisher: Riverhead Books
Copyright 2009 by Daniel H. Pink
Pages: 27-29, 40-42, 59-60

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the star-spangled banner — why baltimore? — 4/07/17

Today’s selection — from The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan. America’s location makes it almost invulnerable to invading forces from other countries. The last best chance any country had to disrupt America’s progress was the British during the geographically pivotal battle for Fort McHenry in 1814:
“Beyond Mexico and Canada, there are no other powers that could even theoretically march on American territory. … As hard as it is to conceive of a credible military threat to the United States arising in North America, coming up with one from beyond the conti­nent strains the imagination. The oceans serve as fantastic buffers, sharply limiting unwanted interaction with the larger populations of Europe and East Asia. … The shortest distance from Europe to the United States is over three thousand [miles].
“Considering the distances involved, the outside world missed its best chance to disrupt America’s development in the War of 1812, one of only two occasions when the Americans faced an extrahemispheric invasion (the other being the Revolutionary War). The critical battle was for Fort McHenry in September 1814.

“The British had sacked and captured Washington, D.C., just three weeks before and were moving north by land and sea toward Baltimore. At the time, Baltimore was the largest city in the region and a notorious hub for the privateers who had been raiding British shipping lines. But it was also the sole meaningful land link between the northern and south­ern states: With the Allegheny Mountains to the west, all roads hugged the Chesapeake Bay, which in turn led to the bay’s major city and port. As importantly, the entirety of inland America was dependent upon Bal­timore. The Cumberland Narrows through the Appalachians lay just to the west, and only three years earlier the government had begun construc­tion on a road to connect the Potomac River to the Ohio valley. Instead of a months-long sail down to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to the Ohio, this new National Road would allow Baltimore to serve as an imme­diate outlet for Pittsburgh and lands beyond.

“If the British could hold Baltimore, the war’s other theaters would be rendered moot and the young America would be split into North, South, and interior. Luckily for the Americans, Major George Armistead’s heroic defense of Fort McHenry convinced British commanders that the post could not be taken with available forces. While time has eroded the details from the American mind, all Americans instantly recognize the descrip­tion of the battle and its outcome as recorded by an American who watched the battle from the deck of a British vessel where he was being held pris­oner: Francis Scott Key’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’ “
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The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder

Author: Peter Zeihan
Copyright 2014 by Peter Zeihan
Pages: 58-60

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voters never approved the euro — 4/06/17

Today’s encore selection — from War and Gold by Kwasi Kwarteng. European countries have high levels of trade with each other, so they needed currency exchange rates that are relatively stable. In the early twentieth century, having their currencies tied to gold provided that. After World War II, it was provided by the Bretton Woods agreement, which tied these major currencies to the dollar, which was in turn tied to gold. But after President Richard Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard in 1971, the need reappeared and a number of European countries created a mechanism called the “snake,” which constrained fluctuations of currencies, and then the “exchange rate mechanism,” which did much the same thing. But the ultimate dream was to create a single currency — the euro — in one of the boldest monetary initiatives in history. For something so resolute and so laden with potential moral hazard, and for something that has in recent years contributed to so much European economic pain, it was surprisingly the creation of technocrats, and never taken to any country’s voters for their approval:
“The fiscal situation of the European countries which aspired to join the single currency [in 1997] did not inspire confidence. All through the late 1990s, the lack of preparedness of certain EU countries to join the euro was a subject of open debate. ‘There has, of course, been some sleight of hand,’ wrote Rupert Cornwell in the Independent in February 1998. ‘It remains mysterious quite how Italy, which for years regularly ran double-digit budget deficits, conveniently slashed last year’s to a mere 2.7 per cent of GDP.’ It was obvious, even before the euro was launched, that the single currency was an almost purely political project, which would be pursued without any real regard for the underlying economic reality. As the Frenchman Jacques Rueff had said, ‘Europe will make itself by money or not at all.’ The words of the Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres at the Madrid summit in December 1995 were even more grandiose and emphatic: ‘When Jesus resolved to found a church, he said to Peter, “You are Peter, the rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.” You are the euro, and upon this new currency we will build our Europe.’

“There was never any idea that the people of Europe, the citizens of the individual states, would be consulted before this momentous step was taken. As [Otmar] Issing [the German economist who also served as a member of the European Central Bank’s first executive board], himself later admitted, it was ‘doubtless in Germany that resistance to EMU was the greatest’. The decision to ‘abandon the D-Mark required a great deal of political courage’, he remembered. In opinion polls conducted as late as the autumn of 1995, only 34 per cent of Germans were in favour of the single currency, while 45 per cent were against. Needless to say, these figures were reversed as the decade wore on and the single currency became more imminent. By the spring of 1999, some 55 per cent of Germans now supported the single currency while only 36 per cent continued their opposition.

“In the same poll from 1995, the Finns were shown to be the least in favour of the currency among the nations which eventually joined: 53 per cent of Finns were hostile to the currency, while only 33 per cent approved. It is important to grasp the extent to which Europe’s political elites were committed to the single currency. The reasons why numerous political figures and bankers became strong advocates of the euro differed. For the Germans, it was often as much a symbol of fiscal discipline as a badge of European unity. For Issing, the benefits of the euro were explicitly focused on the need for fiscal discipline. This was a view widely held in Germany and the Netherlands.
“The people of Europe, of course, had not been consulted before the single currency was officially launched on 1 January 1999. The euro was always conceived as an elite project, conjured up by technocrats, to be foisted upon a largely acquiescent and amorphous European public. There was as yet no European superstate, a fact which worried Germans, unsure of whether a monetary union was possible without a political union.”
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War and Gold: A Five-Hundred-Year History of Empires, Adventures, and Debt

Publisher: PublicAffairs
Copyright 2014 Kwasi Kwarteng
Pages: 277-278

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stalin starves more than one million to their death — 3/10/17

Today’s selection — from Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. Joseph Stalin wanted to build his country and advance the cause of communism. Central to that was his desire to build industrial factories in cities. But to do that he needed to make a massive investment in large-scale machines, purchasing them in large part from more advanced countries. The only way to afford these machines was to sell surplus grain, which required collectivizing and squeezing a surplus from the primitive farming communities in the vast and fertile lands of the Ukraine. Over time, this effort led to the death of millions of Soviet citizens:
“[After an initial attempt at collectivization that failed,] Stalin maintained that the problem with collectivization was that it had been imple­mented with just a little too much enthusiasm. It had been a mistake, he now asserted, to force the peasants to join the collective farms. The latter now dis­appeared just as quickly as they had been created. In 1930, peasants in Ukraine harvested the winter wheat, and sowed the seeds for the autumn crops, just as if the land belonged to them. They could be forgiven for thinking that they had won.
“Stalin’s withdrawal was tactical. Given time to think, Stalin and the politburo found more effective means to subordinate the peasantry to the state. In the countryside the following year, Soviet policy preceded with much greater deftness. In 1931, collectivization would come because peasants would no longer see a choice. The lower cadres of the Ukrainian branch of the Soviet communist party were purged, to ensure that those working within the villages would be true to their purpose, and un­derstand what would await them if they were not. The independent farmer was taxed until the collective farm became the only refuge. As the collective farms slowly regrouped, they were granted indirect coercive power over neighboring independent farmers. They were allowed, for example, to vote to take the seed grain away from independent farmers. The seed grain, what is kept from one crop to plant the next, is indispensible to any working farm. The selection and preservation of the seed grain is the basis of agriculture. For most of human his­tory, eating the seed grain has been synonymous with utter desperation. An in­dividual who lost control of the seed grain to the collective lost the ability to live from his or her own labor.
Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933
“Deportations resumed, and collectivization proceeded. In late 1930 and early 1931, some 32,127 more households were deported from Soviet Ukraine, about the same number of people as had been removed during the first wave of de­portations a year before. Peasants thought that they would die either of exhaus­tion in the Gulag or of hunger close to home, and preferred the latter. Letters from exiled friends and family occasionally escaped the censor; one included the following advice: ‘No matter what, don’t come. We are dying here. Better to hide, better to die there, but no matter what, don’t come here,’ Ukrainian peas­ants who yielded to collectivization chose, as one party activist understood, ‘to face starvation at home rather than banishment to the unknown.’ Because col­lectivization came more slowly in 1931, family by family rather than whole vil­lages at once, it was harder to resist. There was no sudden attack to provoke a desperate defense. By the end of the year, the new approach had succeeded. About seventy percent of the farmland in Soviet Ukraine was now collectivized. The levels of March 1930 had been reached again, and this time durably. …
“By autumn 1931 the failure of the first collectivized harvest was obvious. The reasons were many: the weather was poor; pests were a problem; animal power was limited because peasants had sold or slaughtered livestock; the pro­duction of tractors was far less than anticipated; the best farmers had been de­ported; sowing and reaping were disrupted by collectivization; and peasants who had lost their land saw no reason to work very hard. …
“More than half of the (nonspoiled) harvest was removed from Soviet Ukraine in 1931. Many collective farms met their requisition targets only by handing over their seed grain. Stalin ordered on 5 December that collective farms that had not yet fulfilled their annual requirements must surrender their seed grain. Stalin perhaps believed that peasants were hiding food, and thought that the threat of taking the seed grain would motivate them to hand over what they had. But by this time many of them truly had nothing. By the end of 1931, many peasants were already going hungry. With no land of their own and with little ability to resist requisitions, they simply had no way to ensure that a sufficient number of calories reached their households. Then in early 1932 they had no seed grain with which to plant the fall crop. The Ukrainian party leadership asked for seed grain in March 1932, but by that time the planting was already delayed, meaning that the harvest that fall would be poor.
“In early 1932 people asked for help. Ukrainian communists requested that their superiors in the Ukrainian party ask Stalin to call in the Red Cross. … Ukrainian party members bypassed [General Secretary Stanislav] Kosior and wrote directly to Stalin, taking an angry tone: ‘How can we construct the socialist economy when we are all doomed to death by hunger?’
“The threat of mass starvation was utterly clear to Soviet Ukrainian authori­ties, and it became so to Stalin. Party activists and secret police officers filed countless reports of death by starvation. In June 1932 the head of the party in the Kharkiv region wrote to Kosior that starvation had been reported in every single district of his region. Kosior received a letter from a member of the Young Communists dated 18 June 1932, with a graphic description that was probably, by then, all too familiar: ‘Collective farm members go into the fields and disap­pear. After a few days their corpses are found and, entirely without emotion, as though this were normal, buried in graves. The next day one can already find the body of someone who had just been digging graves for others.’…
“That Stalin’s own policy of collectivization could cause mass starvation was also clear. By summer 1932, as Stalin knew, more than a million people had already starved to death in Soviet Kazakhstan. … Stalin, a master of personal politics, presented the Ukrainian famine in personal terms. His first impulse, and his lasting tendency, was to see the starvation of Ukrainian peasants as a betrayal by members of the Ukrainian communist party.”
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright 2010 by Timothy Snyder
Pages 32-35

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human sacrifice — 1/30/17

Today’s selection — from Mexico City by Nick Caistor. When Hernando Cortez and his troops arrived at Tenochtitlán (current day Mexico City) they witnessed the Mexica [rulers of the Aztec empire] performing the ritual of human sacrifice. These sacrifices were performed at a moment of dread for the Mexica, the end of a 52 year cycle, when they were unsure whether the world would be renewed or come to an end in disaster, and they offered these sacrifices in hopes that the cycle would be renewed:
“During the final assault on Tenochtitlán, Bernal Díaz del Castillo was witness to what happened to some Spanish soldiers captured by the Mexica and taken to the Great Temple. His gruesome account spared no details:
Human sacrifice as shown in the Codex Magliabechiano, Folio 70.


Again there was sounded the dismal drum of Huichilobos (Huitzili) and many other shells and horns and things like trumpets and the sound of them all was terrifying, and we all looked towards the lofty Cue [Great Temple] where they were being sounded, and saw that our comrades whom they had captured when they defeated Cortés were being carried by force up the steps, and they were taking them to be sacrificed. When they had got them up to a small square in front of the oratory, where their accursed idols are kept, we saw them place plumes on the heads of many of them and with things like fans in their hands they forced them to dance before Huichilobos, and after they had danced they immediately placed them on their backs on some rather narrow stones which had been prepared as places for sacrifice, and with stone knives they sawed open their chests and drew out their palpitating hearts and offered them to the idols that were there, and they kicked the bodies down the steps, and Indian butchers who were waiting below cut off the arms and feet and flayed the skin off the faces, and prepared it afterwards like glove leather with the beards on, and kept those for the festivals when they celebrated drunken orgies, and the flesh they ate in chilmole. In the same way they sacrificed all the others and ate the legs and arms and offered the hearts and blood to their idols, as I have said, and the bodies, that is their entrails and feet, they threw to the tigers and lions which they kept in the house of the carnivores.

“Experiences such as this meant that when Cones and his men finally completed their conquest of the city, they were all the more determined to pull down the ‘accursed’ buildings of the Mexica. Like much of the rest of the city center, the Great Temple was razed to the ground. Some of its stones were used in the construction of the first Christian churches in the Spanish Mexico City. And that was the last that was seen of the Great Temple for more than 450 years. …
“The [archeologists] who [beginning in 1978] uncovered the remains [of Tenochtitlán] confirmed what the early Spanish chroniclers had suggested: that Tenochtitlán, the city of the Mexica, was first and foremost a religious and ceremonial center. Its main function was a religious one, … the Mexica hoped to bring divine blessing, to ward off evil, and to keep the world turning. …
“The sacrifices, which had so horrified Díaz del Castillo, were not mere acts of barbarism, but a sacred reenactment of that victory over the dark forces that constantly threatened the stability of the Mexica world. This hill in the middle of the island on the great lakes of Tenochtitlán was the focal point, …  the central point on the vertical plane in which human beings, gods, and their spirits existed. The souls of the Mexica dead went down through nine planes to reach the realm of Mictlán. The gods dwelled on the thirteen higher levels, while at the highest sat the ‘lords of creation’ of the myth, Omeyocan and Ometecuthli. It was the Templo Mayor that offered access to all these worlds.
“But this world was an unstable one, in which the forces of life, the sun, and the water god Tlaloc, who also had his temple at the top of the sacred hill, were constantly threatened. Human sacrifice was needed to ensure that the cycle of life and death continued as it should, with the rebirth of the cosmos at the end of each 52-year period that the Mexica calendar described.
“The Florentine Codex of Mexica history describes this moment of dread, when the Mexica were unsure whether the world would be renewed or come to an end in disaster. As the closing days of the old period approached, everyone in their homes put out their domestic fires, swept the hearths clean, and threw their household gods into the waters of the lake. On the fearful night that had been calculated as the end of one great heavenly cycle, the fire priests and a chosen warrior climbed the Hill of the Star in Tenochtitlán. All the people watching ‘with unwavering attention and necks craned towards the hill became filled with dread that the sun would be destroyed forever.’ The priests watched the progress of the constellation we know as the Pleiades as it moved across the heavens on that one night after 18,980 nights. Seeing that it still moved through the night sky, the priests saw it as the sign that the world had not stopped turning. A small fire was then kindled. The warrior was laid out on the sacrificial stone, ‘then speedily the priests slashed opened the breast with a flint knife, seized the heart, and thrust it into the fire.’ The people of Tenochtitlán cut their ears ‘and spattered their blood in the ritual flicking of fingers in the direction of the fire on the mountain.’ That fire was taken down from the Hill of the Star and conveyed by priests to the Templo Mayor, where it was placed in front of the statue of the god. Messengers and runners then took fire back to all the towns of the empire, where people rekindled their fires, sure in the knowledge that the stars and the sun would continue on their way for another cycle of 52 years.
“However solid and imposing the Great Temple looked to worshippers and to Spaniards alike, the world that revolved around it was a fragile one. And when Cortés and his men arrived toward the close of one of these 52-year cycles, it seemed like a confirmation of the Mexica’s worst forebodings.”
Mexico City: A Cultural and Literary Companion (Cities of the Imagination)

Author: Nick Caistor
Publisher: Interlink Publishing Group
Copyright Nick Caistor 2000
Pages 43-48

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Delanceyplace.com is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.