Ebola Education

September 19th, 2014

Eight bodies belonging to an Ebola education team have been found in the village latrine in Wome, a village close to the town of Nzerekore, in Guinea’s southeast, where Ebola was first identified in March:

[Guinea's Prime Minister Mohamed Saïd ] Fofana said the team that included local administrators, two medical officers, a preacher and three accompanying journalists, was attacked by a hostile stone-throwing crowd from the village when they tried to inform people about Ebola.

Three of them had their throats slit.

Tactics in Vietnam versus World War II

September 19th, 2014

Gen. DePuy discusses tactics in Vietnam versus World War II:

From the offensive point of view, the big difference was between seeking out the enemy force and seeking out terrain. Terrain was less important in Vietnam for two reasons. First, most terrain didn’t give you visibility or observation, so it was unimportant from that standpoint. And, it was totally unimportant if it wasn’t important to the enemy. So, except for Nui Ba Den and some other big mountains used for radio relays, terrain in Vietnam made no difference. Visibility was what you were looking for, visibility around a defensive position. So, instead of going for terrain and bypassing the enemy, you were forced to fight the enemy. You were forced to do something with him on ground chosen by him. You couldn’t pry him out of his position by getting the high ground to his rear, which is what we tried to do in World War II. That led to going right after him, and going right after him led to the things that we talked about earlier. Sometimes, if there were just a few of them, a good dashing charge with a lot of shooting was probably the right thing to do; but, it was awfully hard to tell when that was the right thing to do. If he happened to be in bunkers it was almost suicidal to do that. As you know, I preferred that the leading elements not automatically charge the enemy. Attacking the enemy should be done as a result of a decision, not as a result of an automatic response.

I do not like automatic reactions to contact. And, I say that, even though I admit that if you had an airborne unit under your command, with all tigers in it, then it might be that on the average, you’d do better by an immediate charge. If you had a disaster, it would be a big disaster, but often it worked, in Vietnam, where you had to go directly after the enemy force and you couldn’t attack where the enemy was weak, it raised this other question. So, what I tried to emphasize was that when you make contact, make contact with a small force because you’re going to make contact in adverse circumstances. You’re probably going to be in his killing zone. After you’ve made contact, don’t go after him unless a competent person like the company commander or the battalion commander decides to do so. Try to find out how big he is. Now, we had some rules about that. If you only hear rifles, it’s probably a platoon; if you hear a machine gun and rifles, it’s probably a company; and if you hear rifles, a machine gun and a mortar, it’s most likely a battalion. So, act accordingly. It is not smart for a platoon to attack a battalion. You’ll just lose the platoon. We should do like the Viet Cong did at Bau Bang against Paul Gorman’s battalion — probe around and find the general configuration of the position, and determine whether it’s fortified or not, then report back to the next higher headquarters. That way you don’t get so enmeshed that you can’t shoot at it, or you can’t drop a bomb on it. The best thing to do would be to bring up more force and try to surround it, but don’t surround it too tightly; that way you can still bomb it. Now, we often tried to do that. Sometimes we made a real mess of it. Sometimes everything went wrong. By the way, the VC decided not to attack Paul Gorman. They were smart. He was loaded for bear.

So, those are the big differences.

Coming to America

September 18th, 2014

There are about 100 times more blacks in the U.S. today than arrived via the slave trade. In fact, between 2000 and 2010, the number of legal black African immigrants in the United States doubled, to one million.

How Gangs Took Over Prisons

September 18th, 2014

California had prisons for nearly a century before the first documented gang — or security threat group — appeared, but now gangs run prisons — and the street, too:

Another common misconception about prison gangs is that they are simply street gangs that have been locked up. The story of their origins, however, is closer to the opposite: the Mexican Mafia, for example, was born at Deuel Vocational Institution, in Tracy, California, in 1956, and only later did that group, and others, become a presence on the streets. Today, the relation of the street to the cellblock is symbiotic. “The young guys on the street look to the gang members inside as role models,” says Charles Dangerfield, a former prison guard who now heads California’s Gang Task Force, in Sacramento. “Getting sentenced to prison is like being called up to the majors.”

But Skarbek says the prison gangs serve another function for street criminals. In a 2011 paper in American Political Science Review, he proposed that prison is a necessary enforcement mechanism for drug crime on the outside. If everyone in the criminal underworld will go to prison eventually, or has a close relationship with someone who will, and if everybody knows that gangs control the fate of all inmates, then criminals on the street will be afraid to cross gang members there, because at some point they, or someone they know, will have to pay on the inside. Under this model, prison gangs are the courts and sheriffs for people whose business is too shady to be able to count on justice from the usual sources. Using data from federal indictments of members of the Mexican Mafia, and other legal documents, Skarbek found that the control of prisons by gangs leads to smoother transactions in the outside criminal world.

Gangs effect this justice on the inside in part by circulating a “bad-news list,” or BNL. If your name is on a BNL, gang members are to attack you on sight — perhaps because you stole from an affiliate on the outside, or because you failed to repay a drug debt, or because you’re suspected of ratting someone out. Skarbek says one sign that the BNL is a rationally deployed tool, rather than just a haphazard vengeance mechanism, is that gangs are fastidious about removing names from the list when debts are paid.

A Small Mistake

September 18th, 2014

When Mao died, The Economist made a small mistake describing his legacy:

In the final reckoning, Mao must be accepted as one of history’s great achievers: for devising a peasant-centered revolutionary strategy which enabled China’s Communist Party to seize power, against Marx’s prescriptions, from bases in the countryside; for directing the transformation of China from a feudal society, wracked by war and bled by corruption, into a unified, egalitarian state where nobody starves; and for reviving national pride and confidence so that China could, in Mao’s words, ‘stand up’ among the great powers.

The emphasis is David Friedman’s:

The current estimate is that, during the Great Leap Forward, between thirty and forty million Chinese peasants starved to death.

Up the Down Staircase

September 18th, 2014

One reason Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman’s classic novel about a New York City schoolteacher, has aged so well is the particular moment in which its story is set:

Kaufman’s own teaching career coincided with a golden age in public education, and it was a golden age for some largely ignored reasons. Public schools were only expected to send a small fraction of students on to college. Congress’s restriction of immigration in 1924, not fully lifted until 1965, gave schools two generations to acculturate and assimilate newcomers. The horrific job market during the Great Depression, combined with commonplace sexism of the day, filled public-school faculties with overqualified educators, many of them women with no other career options apart from nursing.

(Hat tip to Education Realist.)

Well-Trained Squads

September 18th, 2014

When DePuy arrived to lead a battalion in Budingen in the mid-50s, it was just as if it was the day after World War II:

Nothing had changed. The weapons were the same and the terrain was the same. So, I just felt very much at home. As I looked at the training of the battalion, which was as good as any of the battalions over there, I found that at the squad level it was a shambles, just like my battalion had been in World War II. At the platoon level, it was a little bit better. The company commanders were better. They had good potential. So, I decided to spend my time at the bottom. Now, that is when I first applied the overwatch — at least under that terminology. I had an opportunity when I was at corps to go over and watch 2nd Armored Division tank training under General Howze.* In my opinion, General Howze was the best trainer in the Army. Unfortunately, he wasn’t appreciated the way he should have been. Everything that he had written about how to train a tank platoon struck me as precisely the way to train a rifle squad since each of them have two operating sections or teams. So, I wrote up several little booklets which we used as training manuals and doctrine in that battalion. I trained all of the squads and platoons uniformly. I personally tested them all. I tested every squad three or four times. I used to spend days and weeks out there with those squads. I knew every squad leader well — both his good points and bad points. They got very, very good.

The other thing I brought with me from World War II was that I insisted that when the battalion was dug in, you couldn’t see it from the front. All of my colleagues had come from Korea, and they built big forts. When you got out in front, you could see everything. Well, one of the problems that I had was that the umpires who came to test me thought I was crazy. They didn’t understand why I hadn’t built Korean pillboxes on the military crest or at the bottom of the hill. Instead, I had my guys behind rocks, trees and bushes. I wouldn’t let them disturb the bushes, but made them dig in behind them, so you couldn’t see a thing from the front.

Well, to make a long story short, when I took my first annual training test at Wildflecken, the first thing we did was the defense, and all of the company and platoon umpires ran back to the battalion umpire and said, “This battalion is totally unsatisfactory. They don’t know how to dig in.” So, the battalion umpire came and told me that, and I said, “Okay, stop. Go and get the regimental commander, we’re going to have a little talk.” This was very ironic because the fellow testing me, Colonel Claude Baker, was the man who had previously commanded my battalion. I had taken over from him, and now he was testing me. But, he was a hell of a good man. He had been in the 5th Regimental Combat Team in Korea and was a terrific fighter. We talked it over, and he agreed one hundred percent with what we were doing. He got all his umpires together and instructed them. They also were skeptical about the overwatch, and bounding, and all of that. Anyhow, we took the test, and we got a low score. We got 80 on a scale of 100. Well, it turned out that when the year was over, 80 was the high score in the corps, but it was a hard way to get started.

The point of all this is, that if your squads are well-trained, and you know that they are doing one of three things, then you can visualize how much space they take. And, if the platoons are trained the same way, everything is uniform. Now, there is plenty of room for initiative on the part of the leaders to adapt this to the terrain and to the enemy, but at least you know what it is that they are working with. And, the battalion ran just like a clock. The problem was that it was about a decade or two ahead of its time. That sounds a little egotistical, but that’s exactly right, because if you went out and looked at a rifle squad or a platoon today, you would see exactly that. If you looked at the defensive positions, you would see what you knew in Vietnam as the DePuy foxhole, where they all had frontal cover and were all camouflaged. So, that’s what happened to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry.

Rule by the Middle Class

September 17th, 2014

Jerry Pournelle raised the subject of the difference between a Democracy and a Republic, and a commenter calling himself Porkypine offered this “loose collection of related thoughts”:

The original Greek democracies notoriously suffered from poor impulse control, choosing all sorts of famously destructive policies by show of hands in public assemblies of whatever eligible voters chose to show up.

Athens deciding to invade Sicily in the heat of the moment is the classic example. (The campaign was both largely pointless and a badly-led overextended cluster-foxtrot disaster, of course.)

Republics, governments run by representatives rather than directly by the citizens, designed to filter, delay, and damp down popular enthusiasms were of course the answer arrived at by subsequent generations (not least of these the post-kingdom pre-empire Romans.)

And democratic republics, like the one our Founders designed in 1787, of course choose those representatives by popular vote — though it’s often overlooked that ours did this at first via an electorate sharply limited in one interesting way (I’ll get back to this.) They also voted indirectly, in the case of the President via state-selected electors, and for Senators via their state legislatures. Our original republic further used an innovative system of internal checks and balances to prevent abuses and excess concentrations of power. It all worked quite well too, for as long as we resisted the impatient power-hungry tinkerers.

A vastly oversimplified description, of course, but I think that’s the gist of the difference you were alluding to?

I believe there are some interesting additional points to be made in the modern context, however, relevant both to fixing our disastrous foreign policies of recent decades, and to fixing what’s happening to our original republic now.

Early Greek democracy’s problem was not only a structure that allowed impulsive decisions. This was, I think, compounded by narrow and easily manipulable information channels. It was far too easy for demagogues to feed those electorates a slanted picture of some given situation, with little or no option for timely reality checks. (This is not something I’ve seen discussed much — though perhaps, hence our Founders’ emphasis on a free press?)

The Roman Republic did quite well for a while, but by the time of Marius it had gotten into a bind — a combination of expansion of military commitments, and shrinkage in the militarily-eligible portion of the population (military and political eligibility were determined by a minimum-property qualification) was causing a shortage of soldiers.

Marius solved this by opening up recruitment to landless wage-workers, while at the same time setting things up so that the troops’ hopes of land grants at the end of a military campaign depended directly on their field commander. This combination, as you’ve pointed out, led in fairly short order to the end of the Roman Republic. Rome itself survived and even prospered for some centuries after, but the Roman Empire had a chronic problem with soldiers selecting governments rather than vice-versa.

That grave policy error aside, I suspect that the Roman Republic’s failure to foster its essential middle-classes, “those with the goods of fortune in moderation”, was also a major element of that Republic’s fall. I’ll get back to this.

Meanwhile, though, fast-forward two millennia.

“Liberty” was a standard trope in US political rhetoric from the start.

“Freedom” seems to have largely replaced it sometime in the last century, but without so far doing excessive harm to clarity of public policy discussion.

“Democracy”, on the other hand, has progressed from the Founders’ clear understanding that “there never was a democracy that did not commit suicide”, to currently in US public rhetoric being up there with motherhood and apple pie. Enough of the voting public no longer have a clue about the distinction between “democracy” and the democratic republic this country was for much of its first two centuries that public figures who even hint that pure one-man-one-vote “democracy” might not be an unalloyed good might as well also admit they molest children.

I suspect this change happened during the 20th century, and I suspect it was pushed deliberately by various “progressives” — Woodrow Wilson’s and FDR’s rhetoric comes to mind — as one way to legitimize direct central progressive bypass of old republican institutions via the new means of centralized mass communications propaganda. (See previous remarks about democracy’s vulnerability to narrow and easily manipulable information channels.) But, that’s an educated guess. Proving it would be a matter for more research than I have time for now (paging Jonah Goldberg!) More on these suspicions also in a bit.

Unfortunately, our current policy makers apparently also no longer understand the distinction between pure democracy and a competent-electorate representative republic. This has led to mindless US support for undiluted majority-rule democracy in recent years, with various disastrous results. Egypt, for instance, would have become a classic case of “one man, one vote, once” with the Muslim Brotherhood (think Hamas in business suits) in charge, except the Brotherhood was too impatient and failed to neutralize the Egyptian Army first.

Turkey, on the other hand, seems now effectively run by a Muslim Brotherhood branch that was patient enough to spend the last decade completing the neutralization of the Turkish Army (with ongoing Western approval and even help.) This is the same Turkish Army which since Ataturk had a central political role in ensuring secular middle-class (minority) rule in Turkey. This point needs emphasizing: All those decades when Turkey was gaining its (rapidly-fading) reputation as the exemplar of a modern efficient westernized Moslem nation, it was being ruled by its secular middle-class minority via its Kemalist (IE, aggressively atheist) Army.

Post “leading from behind” Libya meanwhile can’t even muster the social coherence for a new one-man-one-vote-once dictatorship and has descended into violent anarchy.

It is becoming glaringly obvious that the guide star to steer policy decisions in such cases is not “democracy”. Nor, less obviously, is it necessarily “democratic republic” — any number of nations over the years have gotten terrible results despite modeling their government structures on ours — much of South America, among others.

I submit that the correct guiding goal for our policymakers is, rule by the middle class.

The middle class, “those with the goods of fortune in moderation”, almost by definition consists of those with the habit and discipline of looking at the long-term in making important decisions. (Without that, they won’t long remain middle class.) On the evidence, this extends to making sound long-term political decisions.

Consider: The US was founded with voting largely restricted to property-owners — effectively, to the middle-class and up. (Yes, yes, yes, largely to white male middle-class and up. No, no, no, I’m not here supporting those other early-days franchise restrictions.) By the time property qualifications were largely dropped, the majority of the US population had reached the middle class. (The early-to-mid-period US also had a thriving and very decentralized free press, by the way.)

Germany and Japan, post-WW2, meanwhile, were both relatively easy to reform into stable majority-rule representative democracies, both because their recent examples to the contrary were so horrible and because both countries already had or were very near middle-class majorities.

South Korea provides a usefully different example. Post WW2, South Korea was largely a peasant economy; its middle and upper classes a small minority. Democratic forms were imposed by the US occupiers, but South Korea was fortunate (or more likely some involved were wise enough) that the series of effective autocracies that resulted tended to focus on fostering and expanding South Korea’s middle class, to the point where South Korea eventually had a middle-class majority and was actually ready to transition to competent majority rule.

In Egypt, Turkey, and Libya, on the other hand, the middle classes are to varying degrees minorities, and the results of one-man-one-vote bad.

Tunisia was the exception to the “Arab Spring” turning out so badly, and that is very likely related to its middle class having apparently crossed over to majority status in recent decades.

I submit that in places where the middle class is a small minority, imposing doctrinaire democracy is a recipe for disastrous one-man-one-vote-once. If the locals are lucky they’ll merely get kleptocracy, if not, rule by murderous fanatics.

A realistic US policy in such cases would be exerting influence to foster some flavor of autocracy that will adopt a policy of growing the local middle class to the point where it’s ready to rule as a majority.

It occurs to me that the US actually did pursue something like that policy from the end of WW2 through the mid-seventies, although generally not defended as such. A case in point: The Shah’s Iran. The Shah was explicitly a secular pro-middle-class modernizer, but also explicitly anti one-man-one-vote. Iran’s majority was ill-educated peasants, like all such highly susceptible to demagoguery, and the Shah was no doubt aware what majority rule in Iran would lead to. After a prolonged western campaign successfully delegitimized the Shah as anti-democratic, well, we all know what it did in fact lead to.

A more recent example of what not to do is the 2010 US acquiescence in Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s refusal to hand over power despite losing his majority in Iraq’s parliament. Maliki’s by-then obvious Shia-uber-alles divisiveness aside, the US broke Iraq’s old government, and it was up to us to use our influence to keep the Iraqis from then immediately breaking their new one — to lead them (by the nose if necessary) through a practice exercise in peaceful transfer of power.

The current Islamic State is a direct consequence of that US policy failure (along with our simultaneous over-hasty troop withdrawal.)

Iraq, for what it’s worth, looks to me already fairly close to being majority middle-class, and could probably get there with less than a generation of competent economic and political management. It won’t, alas, get the needed guidance from us, on the evidence. We seem to have neither the political-class competence nor the patience for that sort of thing anymore.

Closer to home, I would say that the relationship between US education and economic policies that have been undermining our middle classes for decades (more and more are massively mal-educated and easily demagogued, while many are falling out of the middle classes entirely) and the current extreme shakiness of what’s left of our original republic hardly needs detailed exposition.

As for the “why” of this, the proper question is “cui bono” — who benefits — and the obvious answer is, the progressives that have been working to remove small-r republican restrictions on their power for a century now. Their obvious goal is to form a permanent voting majority either bribed (by them) from the public treasury or ignorant enough to be swayed (by them) via mass propaganda. Once they succeed, prudent middle-class rule is at an end. We’re just about there now.

The keys I see for saving our future as a free self-governing people are: To expand and decentralize information channels so centralized manipulation and mass-control becomes harder (if not impossible), and to expand rather than contract the size of the genuine middle class (IE those with middle-class virtues: Prudence and forethoughtfulness along with sufficient knowledge to apply these effectively) via sensible economic and education policies.

In other words, the progressives’ centralization and seizure of modern media and education systems would be cause for despair, save for the internet. We have hope, for as long as the internet too has not been centralized and seized.

In that regard, I find it more than a little worrying that our government and our internet moguls are in hot competition to create the tools to do exactly that. For just one example, data security and strict privacy ought to be the default in a basic smart phone, not an extra that costs thousands. Consider that if AT&T had data-mined landline calls the way Google and Apple data-mine smart phones and emails, AT&T’s management would have vacationed at Club Fed, not Fiji or Burning Man.

To sum up, the wisdom of nation-building abroad may be debatable, but when we do attempt it (or less debatable, when we encourage the locals to attempt it) we should not guarantee failure by ignoring the essential makeup of a competent electorate.

And we most especially should not attempt the very-much-needed nation-rebuilding here at home in a manner guaranteed to fail, no matter what progressive dogma we outrage in the process…

Resenting Super-Wizards

September 17th, 2014

Scott Adams (Dilbert) has dubbed the coming decades the Age of Magic because our smartphones and other technology will soon allow us to navigate our environment as if we are wizards:

Doors will identify us as we approach and unlock for the right wizards only. Lamps will respond to wizard hand signals from across the room. Cars will drive themselves. You get the picture. In about ten years you won’t need to physically touch anything you want to control. Your location and identity will be continuously broadcast from your smartphone, and because of that your environment will respond to your preferences as if by magic.

But here’s the interesting thing. People will have different levels of magic based on income. The top 1% will be like super-wizards, able to control their environments with both technology and money. If you are rich, you have access to more services, apps, clubs and businesses. Additional doors literally open for you as you approach. Stores offer you more services and even special sale prices. Self-driving taxis are never far from you because their central brain recognizes you as a frequent user. Or perhaps you paid extra to never wait more than two minutes for your taxi.

I won’t bore you with a million examples because I think you get the point. The environment will someday snap to attention when a rich person enters the room but it will ignore anyone who can’t afford a smartphone or can’t afford the services of businesses that allow you to control them via hand gestures and verbal command. Rich people will someday walk among the public like super-wizards.


My point is that if you think the resentment about the top 1% is bad now, imagine how bad it will be when the rich have super-wizard powers and the rest of society does not. In 2014, a top one-percenter can blend in with the crowd. In ten years that might be nearly impossible because the environment will change as rich people enter the space.

To that, I say, “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.”

Six Great Things an Independent Scotland Could Do

September 17th, 2014

Nathan Lewis suggests six great things an independent Scotland could do:

Britain, today, is basically Spain or Italy plus the financial industry centered in London. Britain has been in decline for a long time. Eventually, the financial industry will locate elsewhere, most likely Shanghai.

Or, perhaps, Scotland. I think Scotland could again become a world leader in commerce and finance, as it was in the 18th century – along with other unlikely places like Holland, Hong Kong, Japan and Switzerland … or New York … who also had their time in the sun, until they blew it.

But, first Scotland would have to get off the sinking British ship. Here are six great things an independent Scotland could do to become one of the most prosperous places on Earth:

1) Get a rational tax system. There are two basic questions to answer regarding taxes. One is: how much, as a percentage of GDP, do we want to raise in the form of tax revenue? I suggest that about 15% (total government) is a good number, which can provide most of the government services we value today, while also presenting a very manageable burden upon the private economy. Singapore (14%) and China (17%) serve as good examples here.

The second question is: how to raise this amount of revenue in a fashion that causes the least harm and distortion to the private economy? Hong Kong’s flat-tax environment again provides an excellent example, although there are other modalities that could work, including systems based mostly on consumption-related taxes.

2) Get a rational currency policy. As a small country, with a high degree of trade, Scotland would have difficulty with a fully-independent currency. The exchange-rate fluctuation with other major world currencies would be troublesome. However, Scotland could adopt an “open currency” model – in other words, people could officially use any currency they see fit.

Into this “open currency” environment, Scotland’s government (or private entities with government sanction) could introduce gold-based currencies, which people could also use as they wished – or not use, if that is appropriate. In this way, Scotland would be providing an alternative to today’s fiat-currency madness, which people could adopt voluntarily if they felt it was helpful. Or, they could stick with dollars, euros and pounds if they felt that was best. After a few decades, I think many would find that Scotland’s gold-based solution was superior, and would either adopt the Scottish “gold sovereign” as an international currency, or imitate it.

3) Remake public social services. I’ve argued that Japan’s current fiscal problems, related to public pensions, healthcare, and other welfare services, are mostly characteristic of welfare programs that were invented in the late 19th century, and were appropriate for the 1950s and 1960s, but are no longer appropriate today. Independence would be a chance to introduce new public policy structures that are appropriate to today’s reality of long lifespans and low birthrates, without being too expensive. Hong Kong, formerly part of the British Empire, provides universal public healthcare at a cost of 3% of GDP.

4) Get a “competitive advantage” versus other financial centers. Financial surveillance and taxes in the U.S. are becoming intolerable to about everyone. Europe is not much better; besides, people are at risk of being “bailed-in” at any moment. Switzerland was once a haven for wealth and free finance, but that is not so true today. There’s a great market need for a place today that could be what Switzerland, or New York, was in the past. Singapore seems to provide about the best alternative at this point, along with places like the Cayman Islands.

5) Get a great environmental policy. Scotland used to have one of Europe’s great fisheries. In the 13th century, the natural oyster beds of the Forth covered over 129 square kilometers. Alas, by 1957, the Firth of Forth was found to have no oysters at all; they had been harvested to biological extinction. The nice thing here is that oysters (or other fishing) are no longer an important industry, so nobody cares if you ban fishing altogether. Perhaps, after forty years or so, Scotland will have again one of the most bountiful marine environments in Europe, if not the world.

Today, prosperity and abundance don’t necessarily have an environmental cost at all. The coal-burning factories of 19th-century Scotland need not be recreated. Additional progress could be made by phasing out personal automobiles by way of high taxes on petroleum and cars, much like Singapore or Britain today. Essentially, this would be a return to the train-centric arrangements of Scotland in, for example, 1890. Although Scotland is a major oil and gas producer, domestic energy efficiency would allow both greater energy independence and also more revenue from export sales.

6) Respect freedom and liberty. Tired of the surveillance state of Britain, the U.S., and (following close behind) the Eurozone? Move to Scotland.

This should be a familiar list. Indeed, it was the Scottish “political philosophers” who put much of it into words, a long time ago. The world then was also characterized by oppressive, militaristic statism, notably in the case of Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) and also James II of England (1633-1701). The Scots took a different path, and began their first era of world-beating success.

Scotland (population 5.3 million) could become much like Singapore (5.4 million) or Hong Kong (7.2 million), or even Monaco (36,000), a popular alternative to oppressive statism and economic decline throughout the developed world.

Along the way, Scots could get rich.

The Ultra-Aerodynamic Schlörwagen

September 17th, 2014

The Schlörwagen German experimental vehicle from 1939 achieved a drag coefficient of 0.15 — making it dramatically more streamlined than a modern Prius:

Despite the lack of widespread wind tunnel testing and computer modeling, the 1920s and 1930s were a booming era for aerodynamics. The Czech Tatra 77, Chrysler Airflow, and Mercedes-Benz 540K Streamliner were impressive attempts to limit drag. These cars “conformed to the still fairly primitive understanding of aerodynamics (or streamlining) of the day, which approximates to making a car as close to a teardrop as possible,” says Sam Livingstone, director at Car Design Research and a judge for the World Car Awards. They looked a bit unusual but not loony, and they went into production, with varying levels of success.

Schlörwagen 3

The Schlörwagen was something else altogether. German engineer Karl Schlör, at the Aerodynamischen Versuchsanstalt (Aerodynamic Institute) in Göttingeng, started with a 38-horsepower Mercedes 170H. Inspired by the shape of airplane wings, he redesigned the exterior, setting the windows flush with the shell for cleaner airflow and extending the body over the front wheels. “Basically, the Schlörwagen is a wing on wheels,” says Andreas Dillmann, head of the Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the successor to the Aerodynamischen Versuchsanstalt.

Schlörwagen 1

The result, unveiled at the 1939 International Motor Show in Berlin, was nicknamed the “Göttingen Egg.” It was nearly seven feet wide (just inches narrower than a first-generation Hummer) and had three-row seating for seven.

Schlörwagen 2

The changes worked: The 170H topped out at roughly 65 mph. The Schlörwagen, using the same engine, hit 84. And it needed just eight liters of fuel to cover 62 miles, a 20 to 35 percent improvement. The 0.15 drag coefficient is beaten only by modern designs of less practical cars like the General Motors EV1 and Volkswagen XL1.

Testing Battalions

September 17th, 2014

In 1953 Gen. DePuy ended up back in Europe, testing battalions:

It was very strenuous because each one of those tests lasted for a day and a half. We didn’t get any sleep and then, after one day of rest, we would test another battalion. I went through a little over 20 battalions each year. I watched people do it right, and I watched people do it wrong. I saw a lot more do it wrong than I saw do it right. I was struck by the fact that those who had commanded battalions in war were something like five times as good and those who hadn’t. I blamed a little of that on Leavenworth, because the ones who hadn’t commanded in war, more or less took a passive attitude, and waited for voluminous recommendations from their staff. With all of that going on, there was never time enough to move the troops, or to let them dig in, or to do all of the things that they had to do. They were always late, or lost, or mixed-up in one way or another. Now, the guys who previously had commanded battalions, more or less made up their own minds, and the staff ran around behind them and made it work. They gave the troops plenty of time to move and to dig in, which made it a lot better.

The Tim Ferriss Show

September 16th, 2014

If you enjoyed Peter Thiel’s recent AMA, you might also enjoy his quasi-interview on The Tim Ferriss Show.

For that matter, you might also enjoy the previous episode, with the most interesting man in the world, Kevin Kelly.

Catastrophe 1914

September 16th, 2014

While reading Catastrophe 1914, by Max Hastings, Vox Day has noticed a few things:

  1. Civilian leadership usually appoints the wrong commanders.
  2. The main thing lacking in military leaders, from the highest level to the lowest, is a willingness to accept the risk of defeat. Nothing assures failure like indecisiveness.
  3. Advances in communications technology increases the amount of civilian interference into war operations.
  4. Civilian leadership seldom has a clear objective in mind.
  5. Military commanders regard “the book” as an intrinsic excuse and therefore have a tendency to cling to it.
  6. A historian’s take on a given war is strongly influenced by his nationalist sympathies.
  7. The temptation to interfere with a strategic plan once it is put into action appears to be almost overwhelming.

Tarot Counselors

September 16th, 2014

Robin Hanson recently watched a demonstration of Tarot card reading:

The reader threw out various associations of the cards she threw down, and watched the subject carefully for reactions, moving the interpretation closer to the options in which the client seemed to be more engaged. Though the subject was a skeptic, she admitted to finding the experience quite compelling.

Contrast such life readings to school career counselors. Such counselors usually refer to statistics about the income or gradations rates of broad categories of people given certain types of careers, colleges, or majors. Such advice may be evidence based but it seems far less compelling to students. It is not connected to salient recent personal experiences or the subjects, or to outcomes in which they are very emotionally engaged. It is clear but uncertain, in contrast to the certainty and ambiguity of Tarot readings.

It seems obvious to me that many students would be more engaged by more Tarot like career counseling. It also seems obvious that many parents and other citizens would loudly object, as this would be seen as unscientific and lower the status of this school, at least among elites. Even if the process just took on the appearance of Tarot readings but mainly gave the usual career counseling content.

The high status of science seems to push many people to have less compelling and engaging stories of their lives, even if such stories are more accurate.