It’s not right to want others to believe wrong thoughts, is it?

October 14th, 2018

The new San Francisco school board president has dispensed with the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of board meetings and has substituted the new tradition of reading from Maya Angelou. This reminded Travis Corcoran (The Powers of the Earth) of The Children’s Story, by James Clavell:

That’s the one where the US loses a war and the “new teacher” helps the children cut up the American flag so they can each have pieces as a “new tradition”.

You can find the full text of the story easily enough, and it’s a quick, breezy read.

The story of how it came to be is almost as interesting as the story itself:

Children's Story 1
Children's Story 2
Children's Story 3

There’s also a short movie version:

Far more catechized by popular culture than by the church

October 13th, 2018

Rod Dreher addresses Handle’s critique of his Benedict Option:

I have had an open tab on my browser for almost three weeks now, trying to figure out how to engage with this massive, massive post about The Benedict Option from a blogger named Handle. It might be the longest single post anyone has ever written about the book. He likes parts of it, and he doesn’t like parts of it. Most of his commentary is really interesting, and I’ve been struggling with how to engage it without giving myself over to a 7,000-word reply that few people will read.

[...]

To be clear: my Ben Op argument has always been that conservative Christians already are in very bad shape. Political power is holding up a façade that won’t remain much longer, precisely because politics is a lagging indicator of culture. Christians in America today — even those who identify as conservative — are far more catechized by popular culture than by the church. It’s not even close. The statistics are clear (I present them in my book.)

Learn at night and relearn in the morning

October 12th, 2018

We already know that (1) spacing practice out results in better learning and long-term retention than cramming it all together, and (2) sleep enhances learning and long-term retention.

A team of French researchers combined these two effects into a simple practice scheduling hack:

Two groups of 20 participants were tasked with learning the French translations of 16 Swahili words. All 40 participants went through the same exact training, but there was one teensy difference.

One group (“wake” group) had their first study session at 9am, and their relearning session at 9pm on the same day. The other group (“sleep” group) had their first study session at 9pm, and their relearning session at 9am the following morning.

[...]

The researchers kept track of how much practice the participants needed to get all 16 translations correct. The sleep group got to perfect recall in about half the time that it took the wake group (3.05 cycles through the list vs. 5.80 cycles). Plus, every single participant in the sleep group got a perfect score within 5 attempts, whereas 75% of the wake group needed more practice.

[...]

A full half a year later, the sleep group continued to out-remember the wake group (8.67 correct vs. 3.35).

Dementia starts in the ICU

October 11th, 2018

Doctors are gradually realizing that a trip to the intensive care unit can lead to serious memory problems:

This dementia, a side-effect of intensive medical care, can be permanent. And it affects as many as half of all people who are rushed to the ICU after a medical emergency. Considering that 5.7 million Americans end up in intensive care every year, this is a major problem which, until recently, has been poorly appreciated by medical caregivers.

[...]

“This is a huge problem,” says Dr. E. Wesley “Wes” Ely, an intensive care specialist who heads that effort. He says post-ICU syndrome — a cluster of cognitive symptoms that can include anxiety, depression and PTSD, as well as delirium — affects 30 to 50 percent of all patients who are rushed to the ICU because of a medical emergency. That’s including younger patients who had no prior mental challenges. And in some of those patients, dementia soon follows.

“You have somebody coming into the ICU with a previously very well-working brain and they leave critical care not being able to have a good conversation,” Ely says. “They can’t balance their checkbook, they can’t find the names of people at a party and they get very embarrassed, so they start socially secluding themselves. Our patients tell us what a misery this form of dementia is.”

Ely has been tracking his patients for more than a decade through scientific studies such as the BRAIN-ICU study. He says about one third of patients who have cognitive problems following their ICU stay fully recover; another third stay about the same after their dementia sets in — and a third continue to go downhill.

For many, the damage to mental processing is akin to what’s seen with a traumatic brain injury, or in a condition called mild cognitive impairment — or even Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers don’t yet know how the brain is changing to give rise to these symptoms, or how extended delirium leads to that brain damage; Ely is launching a large study to help tease out some of those mechanisms. What parts of the brain are affected, and how does the damage differ from that caused by other forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s? One idea he will explore is whether tiny blood clots might be forming in the brain and playing a role the long-term damage.

In the meantime, Ely says, one thing the doctors treating these patients with sudden dementia are certain of is that their mental problems are linked to the degree of delirium they experience while in the ICU.

“Every day you’re delirious, you have about a 35 percent increased risk of this dementia,” he says. “So if you do the math on that — [after] three days of delirium, you have almost a sure thing you’re going to have some elements of the dementia.”

Why is English so weirdly different from other languages?

October 10th, 2018

John McWhorter, professor of linguistics and American studies at Columbia University, explains why English is so weirdly different from other languages:

The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a “spelling bee” competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.

[...]

There is no other language, for example, that is close enough to English that we can get about half of what people are saying without training and the rest with only modest effort. German and Dutch are like that, as are Spanish and Portuguese, or Thai and Lao. The closest an Anglophone can get is with the obscure Northern European language called Frisian.

[...]

We think it’s a nuisance that so many European languages assign gender to nouns for no reason, with French having female moons and male boats and such. But actually, it’s us who are odd: almost all European languages belong to one family — Indo-European — and of all of them, English is the only one that doesn’t assign genders that way.

[...]

There is exactly one language on Earth whose present tense requires a special ending only in the third-person singular. I’m writing in it. I talk, you talk, he/she talk-s — why just that? The present-tense verbs of a normal language have either no endings or a bunch of different ones (Spanish: hablo, hablas, habla). And try naming another language where you have to slip do into sentences to negate or question something. Do you find that difficult?

Read the whole thing.

McWhorter’s book, The Language Hoax, refutes the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which suggests that language influences thought, and that some languages might lead to clearer thinking.

Why Paul Romer and William Nordhaus won the Nobel Prize in economics

October 8th, 2018

Tyler Cowen explains why Paul Romer won the Nobel Prize in economics and why William Nordhaus won the Nobel Prize in economics:

These are excellent Nobel Prize selections, Romer for economic growth and Nordhaus for environmental economics. The two picks are brought together by the emphasis on wealth, the true nature of wealth, and how nations and societies fare at the macro level. These are two highly relevant picks. Think of Romer as having outlined the logic behind how ideas leverage productivity into ongoing spurts of growth, as for instance we have seen in Silicon Valley. Think of Nordhaus as explaining how economic growth interacts with the value of the environment.

Lessons from Escape University

October 7th, 2018

In The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War, Neal Bascomb explains what Allied POWs learned at Escape University:

In 1917 the most troublesome, breakout-prone Allied POWs were sent to a land-locked prison called Holzminden. By assembling such a group with dozens of attempts under their belts, the Germans unwittingly created an “Escape University”. Its practiced artists taught each other how to detect weaknesses in the camp’s defenses, build secret caches, create makeshift compasses, smuggle in supplies, tailor German uniforms, pick locks, and engineer any number of elaborate constructions to get beyond the walls. Nine months after Holzminden opened, its prisoners orchestrated the war’s greatest escape. Twenty-nine got out, 10 made it to freedom, and their effort inspired the Allies in the darkest time of the war. In WWII, these “escape artists” guided MI-9, the secret British escape and evasion service, that aided tens of thousands of men reach freedom after being caught behind enemy lines.

Here are their hard-fought lessons that I gleaned from reading dozens of their memoirs, letters, and notes on their lectures:

1. Be prepared. In WWI pilots and soldiers had little to no supplies if they found themselves behind enemy lines. A small compass, knife, maps, a knife, portable food, first aid kit — all these will help evade capture in the first hours/days.

2. Once captured, your best chance of escape is the immediate one. Take a breath, assess your surroundings, and go when the opportunity strikes. In transport, there are few guards and you are likely closer to safer ground. The further into enemy territory you go, the harder things become. Once in a camp, your options become more limited.

3. When you find yourselves in a prison — or the like — again, your chances of breaking out are often in the earliest days. Guards have not yet detected weaknesses in security. Take advantage.

4. If it looks like you are in for the long-term, remember that no prison is impregnable, regardless of commandant’s warnings otherwise. Reconnoiter the whole place. Walk the perimeter. Time guard rotations and movements. Watch entrance and exits. Who is allowed in and out? What kind of passes do they need to show? Are interior walls solid? What kind of locks secure doors? Are there dark areas where the lights do not shine? Are there work duties that allow greater movement? What kind of uniforms do staff where? Are their tools that can be stolen? Is communication beyond the walls possible? Can supplies be smuggled inside? Opportunities exist. They only need be found.

5. Find partners. Solo escapes are often the most difficult. Ideas need to be hashed over. Many hands make light work. You need lookouts, diversions, skills that others have. Morale support is also imperative. Further, once outside the walls, traveling in pairs or threes, is often easier. Watches can be set so one can rest. Again, having someone to lean on in tough moments is helpful.

6. The former notwithstanding, secrecy is essential. Spies are often everywhere. A slipped word, an indiscreet remark, can foil the best of plans. Keep the cabal small, and information limited to those who need to know.

7. Allies among the guards. Foster these. Make nice. A bribe might do. They need not know your plans — or even intentions to escape — but they can provide information, and sometimes key supplies.

8. Be patient. There will be roadblocks thrown into your path. That is to be expected. Do not lose hope.

9. It is not enough to get beyond the walls, one has to make it to a place of safety, whether a border or otherwise. Plan accordingly. Secure supplies for your run. Food, good boots, a compass, and maps are key. A head start also helps, so weave that into your plans. The longer you have to get away from the prison before you are discovered missing, the wider the search range, the better shot you have of getting away for good. Have a cover plan too. What if you run into a local or even a policeman? What story do you have to tell? Travel by night. Rest by day. Steer far from populated areas. Never cross a bridge if you can ford the barrier below.

10. Last, but certainly not least, luck favors the bold. Often the most audacious plans are rewarded with the most success. The massive tunnel escape at Holzminden proved this lesson.

Did China use a tiny chip to infiltrate U.S. companies?

October 6th, 2018

Bloomberg claims that China used a tiny chip to infiltrate U.S. companies:

A Chinese military unit designed and manufactured microchips as small as a sharpened pencil tip. Some of the chips were built to look like signal conditioning couplers, and they incorporated memory, networking capability, and sufficient processing power for an attack.

The microchips were inserted at Chinese factories that supplied Supermicro, one of the world’s biggest sellers of server motherboards.

The compromised motherboards were built into servers assembled by Supermicro.

The sabotaged servers made their way inside data centers operated by dozens of companies.

When a server was installed and switched on, the microchip altered the operating system’s core so it could accept modifications. The chip could also contact computers controlled by the attackers in search of further instructions and code.

The claims are… incredible:

In emailed statements, Amazon (which announced its acquisition of Elemental in September 2015), Apple, and Supermicro disputed summaries of Bloomberg Businessweek’s reporting. “It’s untrue that AWS knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental,” Amazon wrote. “On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, ‘hardware manipulations’ or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server,” Apple wrote. “We remain unaware of any such investigation,” wrote a spokesman for Supermicro, Perry Hayes. The Chinese government didn’t directly address questions about manipulation of Supermicro servers, issuing a statement that read, in part, “Supply chain safety in cyberspace is an issue of common concern, and China is also a victim.” The FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, representing the CIA and NSA, declined to comment.

Rebel leadership continued to be plagued by breakdowns in leadership and planning

October 5th, 2018

The Angry Staff Officer looks back at the battle for Hoth:

The situation on Hoth was as such: a Rebel task force under the command of General Carlist Rieekan established defensive positions around Echo Base. The heart of Echo Base was the power shield generator which provided overall protection for the base from off-planet bombardment by the Empire’s star destroyers. This capability denied the Imperial Navy use of their chief weapons platform and forced them to deploy ground troops in a conventional force-on-force engagement.

Now, just as with all military debates, there are two schools of thought as to the Rebels’ courses of action. One states that the Rebel base was merely temporary and should not have been defended more than it was; and that General Rieekan’s evacuation of his fleet and garrison was not unlike George Washington’s evacuation from New York during the American Revolution. In essence, Rieeken saved his forces – minus the ground troops lost in delaying the Imperials – and harbored his strength to fight another day. The other school of thought is that Rieeken missed a prime opportunity to deal a devastating defeat to the Empire by luring them into an engagement area and destroying their ground troops in detail. However, this assumes a unified Rebel chain of command with adequate command and control and good staff functions, all of which were nonexistent on Hoth.

[...]

Stepping into the communication breach was Leia Organa – serving as operations officer – who provided task and purpose to the pilots of the Rebel task force and briefed them their mission, direction, fire support plan, and coordination measures. Because of this, the air arm of the task force was able to accomplish its mission. The land forces never received the same attention.

General Rieekan’s opposite number was Lord Vader, who also failed to utilize mission command in his operations. Rather than provide vision, Lord Vader summarily executed his primary admiral in charge of fleet operations for making a tactical error. While this did inspire prompt movement from his subordinates, it was also created a risk-averse atmosphere. As the joint commander, Vader issued instructions to initiate planetary invasion while establishing a blockade around Hoth. Vader’s desire to always be in control led him to micromanage his commanders throughout the entire operation. Nothing like holographic technology to enable you to micromanage the hell out of your troops.

[...]

As it was, Rebel land forces neglected a golden opportunity. Their intelligence preparation of the battlefield had led them to build their base in the heart of a deep draw, where the only ground approach was through a long valley, flanked on either side by steep ridgelines. However, the Rebels decided that their only defenses were to be a few short lines of trenches backed by heavy weapons systems. Because they had committed themselves to a linear defense, they lost any ability to maneuver in the face of the enemy. They also allowed themselves to fall victim to the enemy’s primary forward-facing weapons on the AT-ATs. By neglecting to build any type of flanking positions, the Rebels lost their chance strike the Imperial armor from the sides and back, where it was the weakest.

[...]

General Rieeken entrusted the air cover for the defense to Commander Luke Skywalker. Skywalker – who had gained notoriety for his destruction of the Death Star – was not a trained airspace coordinator. Nor was he an able squadron leader. His assault with snow speeders was right over the top of the forces he was supporting and straight into the guns of the enemy armor. Had he begun his approach over either the left or right ridgeline, Skywalker could have engaged the enemy armor in their vulnerable flanks and rear while keeping his ships out of the limited fan of fire that characterizes the AT-AT. What could have been an effective sortie ended instead in the loss of all ships after only destroying two AT-ATs.

[...]

The Rebel center of gravity was their fleet, including transports, supply ships, and life support ships. In getting the fleet to safety and preserving their ability to sustain themselves, they effectively managed to gain a strategic victory while enduring a tactical defeat. Poor maintenance nearly cost the Alliance Leia Organa and Han Solo, however, when the freighter Millennium Falcon nearly failed to start. Lack of spare parts for dissimilar ships was an endemic issue for the Alliance in all of its operations.

[...]

The lesson of the Battle of Hoth could be postulated as “ignore the warfighting functions at your own risk.” Rebel leadership possessed many advantages at the outset of the Battle of Hoth: superior intelligence, excellent terrain, exceptional protection from air bombardment, and experienced troops. However, each of these advantages was squandered because there was no system of unified command and control that disseminated plans in an orderly fashion. Rebel leadership continued to be plagued by breakdowns in leadership and planning as it had been in the Battle of Yavin 4.

We are willing to suffer more to keep what we have now

October 4th, 2018

T. Greer reviews two books by Kenneth Payne on the psychology of strategy — The Psychology of Strategy: Exploring Rationality in the Vietnam War and Strategy, Evolution, and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence:

Payne isolates several aspects of human psychology that are especially relevant to strategic decision making. Payne divides these aspects into three broader themes: unconscious biases that affect strategic decision making, interaction between emotions and strategic action, and the critical role that social esteem plays in the psychology of strategy.

[...]

For example, there is strong evidence humans become more certain in our beliefs and in our decisions when angry; the strategic calculations of an angry decision maker will be fundamentally different from a sorrowful one. One of the more intriguing ideas in Payne’s catalog of biases is his interpretation of Clausewitz’s dictum that the defense is stronger than the offense. This is true, Payne argues, because humans are loss averse. We are willing to suffer more to keep what we have now than we are to earn something new. If humans think about territory or international prestige this way, then commanders will be bolder when trying to recover lost ground, and their soldiers will be more determined in defense than on the attack.

The most interesting part of this discussion is Payne’s analysis of honor and esteem. Humans are social animals. The need for the esteem of other humans seems deeply ingrained in human psychology, and statesmen and strategists are not immune to this. In The Psychology of Strategy Payne provides scores of examples of strategic decisions made by Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and other officials that were made more to bolster the social esteem of the decision maker than to defeat the enemy. For Johnson and his officials, esteem and reputation were often explicitly described as the most important objective in the war — one administration official estimated in a memo that 70% of the reason the U.S. was escalating in Vietnam was to avoid humiliation; the other 30% was divided between the need to keep Vietnam out of Chinese hands and to help the people of South Vietnam live a freer life.

[...]

Esteem, emotion, and cognitive biases are human phenomena. If wars were fought by non-humans they would be fought differently. This is exactly what Payne imagines for the future of war. Artificial intelligence will be a revolution in warfare, Payne claims, because for the first time in man’s evolutionary history, strategy will be freed from the limits of human psychology: “Rather than creating a danger from AI acting strategically against humans, the main effects of AI are likely to be felt from AI acting in our interests.”

The Russians are considering a semi-catamaran aircraft carrier

October 3rd, 2018

I don’t know much about naval architecture, but I remember idly musing — while reading about World War II, of course — that a catamaran design would allow an almost arbitrarily large flight deck on an aircraft carrier — and I wondered what I was missing.

Now it looks like the Russians are considering a semi-catamaran design for their new Krylov light aircraft carrier:

The underwater part of the light aircraft carrier features a semi-catamaran hull which is the major distinction of the project designed by the Krylov Scientific Center, a representative of the organization told TASS.

Krylov Light Aircraft Carrier Stern

“The project is distinguished by the underwater part of a semi-catamaran form. Catamaran actually means two hulls united by a platform. It has a wide deck which is important for an aircraft carrier. The design adds flight deck space on which the number of aircraft depends. As a result, a medium-displacement ship can carry a full-fledged air wing,” he said.

Eating bitterness

October 2nd, 2018

Matthew Polly’s Bruce Lee: A Life is the first new Bruce Lee biography in decades. It presents Lee as a 145-pound, muscled collection of extremes, Kevin Chong says:

a short-tempered brawler who studied philosophy; a kung fu devotee whose fighting borrowed from Muhammad Ali and fencing manuals; a loving husband and father who blew his earnings on sports cars and whose dalliances were trumpeted on Hong Kong gossip pages.

Bruce Lee wasn’t exactly Chinese:

Polly begins his account with Lee’s father Li Hoi Chuen, aged ten, standing outside a Cantonese restaurant and shouting out the specials: out of the blue, he was talent-spotted by a Cantonese opera troupe. Bruce was born in 1940 in Oakland, California, at a time when his father was touring the US with his wife Grace Ho, a mixed-race socialite, in tow. (Through her, Lee had English and Dutch-Jewish ancestors.) During the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong from 1941 to 1945, it was thanks to Li’s star power as an opera and film actor that the family was able to eat. Lee’s own talent emerged early on: he became a child actor, a cha-cha champion and a student of the Wing Chun School of Kung Fu. He picked fights in his drive to dominate any group, and Polly mentions one childhood friend who “describes young Bruce’s personality as ‘teeth brushing,’ [Cantonese] slang for boastful, cocky, a peacock”. In 1959, after a fight got him in trouble with the school headmaster – Lee had earlier been expelled from another English-language Catholic school for forcibly removing a classmate’s trousers and painting his genitalia red – his parents sent him to the US to complete his education in Seattle.

At this point, the brash young man became an underdog. While studying at high school and then at the University of Washington, Lee washed dishes at a restaurant of a family friend; he married Linda Emery, whose mother disapproved of their mixed-race union. Lee also gained, however, the maturity through adversity – what the Chinese call “eating bitterness”– to merge his brawling tendencies with a philosophical approach to combat.

I hadn’t heard this version of his death:

The story of Lee’s life ends mid-stride, like the flash-frozen final frame of Fist of Fury (1972), just as his career is lifting off. Over­extending himself during the filming of Enter the Dragon, Lee collapsed in a hot recording studio while overdubbing dialogue, and died two months later. Conflicting rumours and theories emerged about what may have happened, and Bruce Lee: A Life concludes with a lengthy coda as Polly unpacks the details. Polly suggests a simple explanation: heat stroke. This idea fits with anecdotes about Lee’s poor physical reaction to high temperatures and surgery he had undergone, three months before his death, to remove sweat glands for cosmetic reasons.

They need to wake up in the morning and pray for a mission to go kill enemies

October 1st, 2018

Secretary Mattis recently gave a speech at the Virginia Military Institute and was then asked about women in combat:

Yeah. It’s a very, very tough issue because it goes from some people’s perspective of what kind of society do we want, you know?

In the event of trouble, you’re sleeping at night in your family home and you’re the dad, mom, whatever. And you hear glass break downstairs, who grabs a baseball bat and gets between the kids’ door and whoever broke in, and who reaches for the phone to call 9-1-1?

In other words, it goes to the most almost primitive needs of a society to look out for its most vulnerable.

This is an issue right now that we have Army, Navy, Marine all looking at as we speak, and that is the close quarters fight being what it is. You know, is it a strength or a weakness to have women in that circumstance?

Right now, what my job is is to make certain that as the chief of staff of the Army or commandant of the Marine Corps or chief of Naval Operations, bring problems to me — chief of staff of the Air Force — and I help them solve them.

Today, because so few women have signed up along these lines, we don’t even have data at this time that I can answer your question, OK?

You make a very valid question, I might add, because I was never under any illusions at what level of respect my marines would have for me if I couldn’t run with the fastest of them and — and look like it didn’t bother me. If I couldn’t do as many pull-ups as the strongest of them.

It would just — it was the unfairness of the infantry. How did the infantry get its name? Infant soldier. Young soldier. Very young soldier. They’re cocky, they’re rambunctious, they’re necessarily macho and it’s the most primitive — I would say even evil environment. You can’t even explain it.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a Civil War veteran, as you know, who became one of our most noted articulate Supreme Court associate justices, talking to veterans themselves decades after the war, he looked at them.

And here’s the most articulate justice you could come up with. And he says, “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war.” And he meant close combat.

This is an area we’re going to have to resolve as a nation. And the military has got to have officers who look at this with a great deal of objectivity and at the same time remember our natural inclination to have this open to all.

But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense, and I’ve got this being looked at right now by the chief of staff of the Army, commandant of the Marine Corps and all.

This is a policy that I inherited, and so far the cadre is so small we have no data on it. We’re hoping to get data soon. There are a few stalwart young ladies who are charging into this, but they are too few. Right now it’s not even dozens; it’s that few. So when we get a little more data I’ll give you a much more objective answer. Clearly the jury is out on it but what we’re trying to do is give it every opportunity to succeed if it can.

The other nations that have had this for 20 years still have too few women in the infantry ranks to even draw a conclusion. So I can’t give you a good answer right now. I’m open to it and I’ll be working with the Chief of Staff of the Army and the others to sort it out.

Michael Yon is a bit more direct, calling it the dumbest thing ever:

I served in the Army during peacetime, and then later spent more combat time with infantry troops than just about any war correspondent you ever have heard of. That top 1% of 1%, I was there. Just like Joe Galloway and very few others.

Been in more firefights bombings and just general mayhem than even I can remember. Looking back on my own photos and videos, made by my own hands, I have been in so many fights that even I do not remember until seeing my own work.

Yes. That much. It is a miracle to be alive.

There often were women in combat on the ground with infantry Soldiers. Not just in trucks or in the skies, but really on the ground. They were medics, intelligence, civil affairs, female engagement teams and sorts. They got into a lot of firefights. So many. And so many bombings.

How many photos from Iraq and Afghanistan have you seen of women in ground combat firing their weapons or carrying dead or wounded Soldiers IN COMBAT. (Not off the helicopter back on base, but in combat when bullets were flying.) I never saw women really fighting other than excellent pilots who are just as good as the men.

[...]

Our women in Iraq and Afghanistan saw loads of combat up close. But they are not fit for infantry work. Not even close. They are no more fit for infantry work than for playing as linemen in the NFL.

This is amazingly stupid. And not due to fraternization. That is trivial when bullets or are flying, people are dying, and brute strength is paramount.

Another thing that even the most physically courageous and fit women typically lack is sheer homicidal will to impose death upon enemies even if they must stab them in the throat or strangle them to death.

Infantry is brutal. Evil. The worst job in the world. Effective infantry troops are killers. Total killers. They need killer instinct that is nurtured. They need to wake up in the morning and pray for a mission to go kill enemies.

Nature has won

September 30th, 2018

In reviewing Robert Plomin’s Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are, Gregory Cochran says, forget Nature versus Nurture. Nature has won:

Assuming that this work is correct, what does it mean? What are the implications?

It means that we have to completely rethink and rebuild the social sciences. Steven Pinker said: “For most of the twentieth century it was assumed that psychological traits were caused by environmental factors, called nurture.” This was completely wrong. Problems like p-value fishing and the current ‘replication crisis’ are nothing compared to the tsunami that’s coming.

Indeed, social scientists have done such a terrible job that it’s hard to see how the field can be repaired. They wanted the false results they got, and they still do. I’m sure their descendants will as well. Isn’t heritability grand?

We need a different kind of social science researcher, smarter, less emotional, and more curiosity-driven. Intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic. But where will we find them?

Abixia is a paracosm

September 29th, 2018

Alison Gopnik explores the imaginary worlds of childhood:

In 19th-century England, the Brontë children created Gondal, an imaginary kingdom full of melodrama and intrigue. Emily and Charlotte Brontë grew up to write the great novels “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre.” The fictional land of Narnia, chronicled by C.S. Lewis in a series of classic 20th-century novels, grew out of Boxen, an imaginary kingdom that Lewis shared with his brother when they were children. And when the novelist Anne Perry was growing up in New Zealand in the 1950s, she and another girl created an imaginary kingdom called Borovnia as part of an obsessive friendship that ended in murder — the film “Heavenly Creatures” tells the story.

But what about Abixia? Abixia is an island nation on the planet Rooark, with its own currency (the iinter, divided into 12 skilches), flag and national anthem. It’s inhabited by cat-humans who wear flannel shirts and revere Swiss army knives — the detailed description could go on for pages. And it was created by a pair of perfectly ordinary Oregon 10-year-olds.

Abixia is a “paracosm,” an extremely detailed and extensive imaginary world with its own geography and history. The psychologist Marjorie Taylor at the University of Oregon and her colleagues discovered Abixia, and many other worlds like it, by talking to children. Most of what we know about paracosms comes from writers who described the worlds they created when they were children. But in a paper forthcoming in the journal Child Development, Prof. Taylor shows that paracosms aren’t just the province of budding novelists. Instead, they are a surprisingly common part of childhood.

Prof. Taylor asked 169 children, ages eight to 12, whether they had an imaginary world and what it was like. They found that about 17 percent of the children had created their own complicated universe. Often a group of children would jointly create a world and maintain it, sometimes for years, like the Brontë sisters or the Lewis brothers. And grown-ups were not invited in.

Prof. Taylor also tried to find out what made the paracosm creators special. They didn’t score any higher than other children in terms of IQ, vocabulary, creativity or memory. Interestingly, they scored worse on a test that measured their ability to inhibit irrelevant thoughts. Focusing on the stern and earnest real world may keep us from wandering off into possible ones.

But the paracosm creators were better at telling stories, and they were more likely to report that they also had an imaginary companion. In earlier research, Prof. Taylor found that around 66% of preschoolers have imaginary companions; many paracosms began with older children finding a home for their preschool imaginary friends.

Children with paracosms, like children with imaginary companions, weren’t neurotic loners either, as popular stereotypes might suggest. In fact, if anything, they were more socially skillful than other children.

Why do imaginary worlds start to show up when children are eight to 12 years old? Even when 10-year-olds don’t create paracosms, they seem to have a special affinity for them — think of all the young “Harry Potter” fanatics. And as Prof. Taylor points out, paracosms seem to be linked to all the private clubhouses, hidden rituals and secret societies of middle childhood.

Prof. Taylor showed that preschoolers who create imaginary friends are particularly good at understanding other people’s minds — they are expert at everyday psychology. For older children, the agenda seems to shift to what we might call everyday sociology or geography. Children may create alternative societies and countries in their play as a way of learning how to navigate real ones in adult life.