How Japan has almost eradicated gun crime

January 18th, 2017

The BBC naively explains how Japan has almost eradicated gun crime:

Japan has one of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world. In 2014 there were just six gun deaths, compared to 33,599 in the US. What is the secret?

If you want to buy a gun in Japan you need patience and determination. You have to attend an all-day class, take a written exam and pass a shooting-range test with a mark of at least 95%.

There are also mental health and drugs tests. Your criminal record is checked and police look for links to extremist groups. Then they check your relatives too — and even your work colleagues. And as well as having the power to deny gun licences, police also have sweeping powers to search and seize weapons.

That’s not all. Handguns are banned outright. Only shotguns and air rifles are allowed.

The law restricts the number of gun shops. In most of Japan’s 40 or so prefectures there can be no more than three, and you can only buy fresh cartridges by returning the spent cartridges you bought on your last visit.

Police must be notified where the gun and the ammunition are stored — and they must be stored separately under lock and key. Police will also inspect guns once a year. And after three years your licence runs out, at which point you have to attend the course and pass the tests again.

This helps explain why mass shootings in Japan are extremely rare. When mass killings occur, the killer most often wields a knife.

It’s quite reassuring that mass-killers there use other tools.

It’s also impressive how Japan’s gun-control laws keep Japanese-Americans from committing gun crimes. (Some estimates place Japanese-American gun crime rates even lower than the Japanese rate.)

Eugenics for music

January 18th, 2017

Didi Kirsten Tatlow is living in China, where her daughter is in second grade. When the music teacher told them, “We’ve chosen your children according to their physical attributes,” she considered it eugenics for music:

Teacher Wang proceeded to describe a program by which a group of 8-year-olds, selected purely on the basis of physical characteristics rather than interest, would build the best band in the world that would travel overseas and wow audiences with the flower of Chinese youth.

“For the best band, we’ve chosen the best students and the best teachers,” Teacher Wang continued.

Mr. Wang, whom parents addressed only as “Teacher,” (a sign of respect common here) stood before a giant white screen on which he projected a power point full of instrument images. “I’ve chosen your kids, one by one, out of a thousand kids.” Mr. Wang was referring to band C, the third in the school which trained the youngest students, some of whom would eventually rise through the ranks to band B and on to A, at which point they would perform at overseas gigs.

“I’ve looked at their teeth, at their arms, their height, everything, very carefully,” Teacher Wang said. “We don’t want anyone with asthma, or heart problems, or eye problems. And we want the smart kids; the quick learners.”

“Your kids were chosen not because they want to play this or that instrument, but because they have long arms, or the right lips, or are the right height, say for the trumpet, or the drums,” he said.


Two other non-Chinese, 8-year-old friends of my daughter were among the chosen. The Italian mother of one said her daughter had been chosen for saxophone because the girl was strongly built.

“The other girl playing the sax is a Russian, and she’s also pretty built up and strong,” said my friend. (I have omitted their names out of respect for their privacy and that of their children.)

My friend recalled that some of the parents had asked Teacher Wang why he was choosing children in grade 2 now, rather than earlier when they were in grade 1. Teacher Wang’s reply: “Because in grade 1 their teeth are falling out,” she said. My friend said that Teacher Wang had personally inspected each child’s teeth, as if, she said, “they were horses in the market.”

There was discussion of what kind of lips worked best for the trumpet.

And in a statement that shocked both of us profoundly, Teacher Wang said something about how Africans had long arms and so would be good at particular instruments, such as the cello.

The American father of the third girl said a dentist had visited the school to see which students’ teeth were best suited to play wind instruments. His daughter, braces-free, passed and is learning to play the clarinet.

My daughter, who has some wonky teeth and braces, is a drummer. Apart from the teeth, I can see why; she has the mad energy of Animal in The Muppets and loves what the Chinese call “renao,” or “hot noise,” excitement.

Next thing you know, they’ll start recruiting the tall kids for the basketball team and the tough kids for the wrestling team. Crazy!

How to Age Disgracefully in Hollywood

January 17th, 2017

The main problem facing today’s aging women is not sexism, Camille Paglia argues, but the lingering youth cult of the 1960s:

Traditional mating patterns have been disrupted: Marriage is postponed by extended education and early career demands. Because of easy divorce, middle-aged women are now competing with younger women for both men and jobs — and thus are resorting to costly interventions to look 20 years younger than they are.

If aging stars want to be taken seriously, they must find or recover a mature persona. Stop cannibalizing the young! Scrambling to stay relevant, Madonna is addicted to pointless provocations like her juvenile Instagrams or her trashy outfit with strapped-up bare buttocks and duct-taped nipples at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala in May. She has forgotten the legacy of her great precursor, Marlene Dietrich, who retained her class and style to the end of her public life.

Populists are not fascists

January 17th, 2017

Comparisons between the United States today and Germany in the 1930s are becoming commonplace, Niall Ferguson, but there’s a better analogy:

Journalists are fond of saying that we are living in a time of “unprecedented” instability. In reality, as numerous studies have shown, our time is a period of remarkable stability in terms of conflict. In fact, viewed globally, there has been a small uptick in organized lethal violence since the misnamed Arab Spring. But even allowing for the horrors of the Syrian civil war, the world is an order of magnitude less dangerous than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, and a haven of peace and tranquility compared with the period between 1914 and 1945.

This point matters because the defining feature of interwar fascism was its militarism. Fascists wore uniforms. They marched in enormous and well-drilled parades and they planned wars. That is not what we see today.

So why do so many commentators feel that we are living through “unprecedented instability?” The answer, aside from plain ignorance of history, is that political populism has become a global phenomenon, and established politicians and political parties are struggling even to understand it, much less resist it. Yet populism is not such a mysterious thing, if one only has some historical knowledge. The important point is not to make the mistake of confusing it with fascism, which it resembles in only a few respects.

He lists the five ingredients for populism:

The first of these ingredients is a rise in immigration. In the past 45 years, the percentage of the population of the United States that is foreign-born has risen from below 5 percent in 1970 to over 13 percent in 2014—almost as high as the rates achieved between 1860 and 1910, which ranged between 13 percent and an all-time high of 14.7 percent in 1890.

So when people say, as they often do, that “the United States is a land based on immigration,” they are indulging in selective recollection. There was a period, between 1910 and 1970, when immigration drastically declined. It is only in relatively recent times that we have seen immigration reach levels comparable with those of a century ago, in what has justly been called the first age of globalization.

Ingredient number two is an increase in inequality. Drawing on the work done on income distribution by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, we can see that we have recently regained the heights of inequality that were last seen in the pre-World War I period.

The share of income going to the top one percent of earners is back up from below 8 percent of total income in 1970 to above 20 percent of total income. The peak before the financial crisis, in 2007, was almost exactly the same as the peak on the eve of the Great Depression in 1928.

Ingredient number three is the perception of corruption. For populism to thrive, people have to start believing that the political establishment is no longer clean. Recent Gallup data on public approval of institutions in the United States show, among other things, notable drops in the standing of all institutions save the military and small businesses.

Just 9 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the U.S. Congress—a remarkable figure. It is striking to see which other institutions are down near the bottom of the league. Big business is second-lowest, with just 21 percent of the public expressing confidence in it. Newspapers, television news, and the criminal justice system fare only slightly better. What is even more remarkable is the list of institutions that have fallen furthest in recent times: the U.S. Supreme Court now has just a 36 percent approval rating, down from a historical average of 44 percent, while the Presidency has dropped from 43 percent to 36 percent approval.

The financial crisis appears to have convinced many Americans—and not without good reason—that there is an unhealthy and likely corrupt relationship between political institutions, big business, and the media.

The fourth ingredient necessary for a populist backlash is a major financial crisis. The three biggest financial crises in modern history—if one uses the U.S. equity market index as the measure—were the crises of 1873, 1929, and 2008. Each was followed by a prolonged period of depressed economic performance, though these varied in their depth and duration.

In the most recent of these crises, the peak of the U.S. stock market was October 2007. With the onset of the financial crisis, we essentially replayed for about a year the events of 1929 and 1930. However, beginning in mid to late 2009, we bounced out of the crisis, thanks to a combination of monetary, fiscal, and Chinese stimulus, whereas the Great Depression was characterized by a deep and prolonged decline in stock prices, as well as much higher unemployment rates and lower growth.

The first of these historical crises is the least known: the post-1873 “great depression,” as contemporaries called it. What happened after 1873 was nothing as dramatic as 1929; it was more of a slow burn. The United States and, indeed, the world economy went from a financial crisis—which was driven by excessively loose monetary policy and real estate speculation, amongst other things—into a protracted period of deflation. Economic activity was much less impaired than in the 1930s. Yet the sustained decline in prices inflicted considerable pain, especially on indebted farmers, who complained (in reference to the then prevailing gold standard) that they were being “crucified on a cross of gold.”

We have come a long way since those days; gold is no longer a key component of the monetary base, and farmers are no longer a major part of the workforce. Nevertheless, in my view, the period after 1873 is much more like our own time, both economically and politically, than the period after 1929.

There is still one missing ingredient to be added. If one were cooking, this would be the moment when flames would leap from the pan. The flammable ingredient is, of course, the demagogue, for populist demagogues react vituperatively and explosively against all of the aforementioned four ingredients.

Populists are not fascists:

They prefer trade wars to actual wars; administrative border walls to more defensible fortifications. The maladies they seek to cure are not imaginary: uncontrolled rising immigration, widening inequality, free trade with “unfree” countries, and political cronyism are all things that a substantial section of the electorate have some reason to dislike. The problem with populism is that its remedies are wrong and, in fact, counterproductive.

What we most have to fear—as was true of Brexit—is not therefore Armageddon, but something more prosaic: an attempt to reverse certain aspects of globalization, followed by disappointment when the snake oil does not really cure the patient’s ills, followed by the emergence of a new and ostensibly more progressive set of remedies for our current malaise.

Pro-Catholic Propaganda

January 16th, 2017

William Peter Blatty recently passed away. He wrote the original novel The Exorcist as well as the screenplay.

I haven’t read the novel, but I have seen the movie — and, perhaps more importantly, I’ve seen the DVD extras. In one of the making-of pieces, he explains that he wrote the story as a piece of pro-Catholic propaganda! My jaw dropped. But I guess I wasn’t his target audience.

He knew a thing or two about propaganda, by the way. Earlier in his career he had worked his way up to become head of the Policy Branch of the USAF Psychological Warfare Division.

He also got divorced three times (and married four).

Oh, I almost forgot, the original true story that the novel was based on wasn’t quite true.

Building a 21st Century FDA

January 16th, 2017

Building a 21st Century FDA shouldn’t be hard:

A 2010 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by researchers from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas found that the time from drug discovery to marketing increased from eight years in 1960 to 12 to 15 years in 2010. Five years of this increase results from new regulations boosting the lengths and costs of clinical trials. The regulators aim to prevent cancer patients from dying from toxic new drugs. However, the cancer researchers calculate that the delays caused by requirements for lengthier trials have instead resulted in the loss of 300,000 patient life-years while saving only 16 life-years. If true, this is a scandal.

How much higher are the costs of getting a new drug through the FDA gantlet? A new study, “Stifling New Cures: The True Cost of Lengthy Clinical Drug Trials,” by Manhattan Institute senior fellow Avik Roy points out that in 1975 the pharmaceutical industry spent about $100 million on research and development (R&D) before getting a new drug approved by the FDA. By 1987, that had tripled to $300 million and that has since quadrupled to $1.3 billion. But even these figures may be too low. Roy cites calculations done by Matthew Herper of Forbes, who divides up the R&D spending of $802 billion by 12 big pharma companies since 1997 by the 139 drugs that have since gotten FDA approval to yield costs of $5.8 billion per drug.

Currently, new pharmaceuticals typically go through Phase I trials using fewer than 100 patients to get preliminary information on the drug’s safety. Phase II trials involve a few hundred subjects and further evaluate a new drug’s safety and efficacy. Phase III trials enroll thousands of patients to see how well it works compared to either placebo and/or other therapies and to look for bad side effects.

“The biggest driver of this phenomenal increase has been the regulatory process governing Phase III clinical trials of new pharmaceuticals on on human volunteers,” notes Roy. Between 1999 and 2005, clinical trials saw average increases in trial procedures by 65 percent, staff work by 67 percent, and length by 70 percent.

Not only do FDA demands for bigger Phase III clinical trials delay the introduction of effective new medicines, they dramatically boost costs for bringing them to market. Roy acknowledges that pre-clinical research that aims to identify promising therapeutic compounds absorbs 28 percent of the R&D budgets of pharmaceutical companies. Setting those discovery costs aside, Roy calculates that the Phase III trials “typically represent 90 percent or more of the cost of developing an individual drug all the way from laboratory to market.”

Does Fungal Infection Cause Male Pattern Baldness and Heart Disease?

January 15th, 2017

Mangan has gone down another rabbit hole in his health research, prompted by a reader’s unusual experience:

This started when a reader told me that he had started donating blood after reading this site and my book on iron.

He said that he had had seborrheic dermatitis of many years standing. (Click here if you want to see what that looks like.) It’s basically something like really terrible dandruff, but can be on any part of the body. He had tried both anti-fungal medication and topical steroids, and nothing worked. Since it didn’t bother him much, he quit worrying about it.

After his first blood donation, it started clearing up, and after his third donation, it completely disappeared.

What in the world? It turns out that both dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis are linked to a fungal infection by the fungus Malassezia. So is tinea versicolor, a skin infection; when I lived in Sierra Leone, virtually everyone had it to some degree.

Dandruff is caused by a fungal infection.

All microorganisms that invade man and cause disease require iron. (Every living thing requires iron.) Withholding iron from microbes is at the center of an evolutionary arms race. It stands to reason that donating blood can treat fungal infections of the skin by lowering skin iron levels. (Donating blood will also make you look younger.)

Shampoo that contains salicylate and ciclopirox effectively treats dandruff. Ciclopirox is an iron chelator (attaches and removes iron). So is salicylate. By attaching and removing iron, they deprive fungus of required growth material, it dies, and dandruff is treated.

Ketoconazole, an anti-fungal chemical that works by inhibiting fungal steroid synthesis, also treats dandruff.

Male pattern baldness has been linked to fungal infection as well, and the antifungal drug ketoconazole treats male pattern baldness just as well as minoxidil (Rogaine).

If this holds true for many or all cases of male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia), then our notions of why some men go bald (that it’s due to testosterone metabolites) may be all wrong. Curiously, folklore has it that hats cause baldness — perhaps by giving fungus a warm, moist environment in which to grow?

Male pattern baldness is also associated with heart disease. Severe baldness was associated with a 2.5 fold greater risk of death from heart disease. Huge increase.

If fungal infection in the skin causes both male pattern baldness and dandruff, then iron is implicated, because all invasive microorganisms must take iron from their hosts.

High iron (ferritin) is also associated with heart disease. The mechanism usually postulated is increased oxidative stress of the walls of arteries; iron is a very reactive metal capable of damaging biological structures.

But another mechanism might be the stimulation of fungal growth. “Occult fungal infection is the underlying pathogenic cause of atherogenesis” (from the journal Medical Hypotheses).

Peter Turchin on the Fall of Rome

January 15th, 2017

There is no question that the Roman Empire reached its peak under the “five good emperors,” Peter Turchin explains:

There are literally dozens of quantitative measures for imperial might that all agree with each other: territorial extent, overall population, internal peace and political stability, economic activity proxied by shipwrecks and the amount of industrial pollution, monument building, production of literature and art … After the death of the last “good emperor” in 180 all these indicators headed south. Together they tell us a much more quantitative and nuanced history than an artificial binary construct of “the Fall of Rome”. As a single example, here’s the trajectory of the volume of imports of particularly fine ceramics from Africa to Italy:

Roman Importation of African Red Slip Ware

If we follow these trajectories, we will learn that there were peaks and valleys. For example, a key indicator, social and political instability, went up after 180 and stayed high to the end of the third century. However, there were several peaks on top of this elevated level, recurring at roughly 50-year intervals. Such dynamical richness doesn’t fit the narrative of a “collapse.”

Most of the fourth century was relatively peaceful, but then the western half really disintegrated. The center of gravity moved east, to Byzantium, which experienced its own decline in the seventh century. Which was followed up by more cycles.

Thus, a much better question is not why Rome collapsed, but why the Roman Empire experienced those massive waves of social and political instability, accompanied by political fragmentation, population decline, and (later) dramatic loss of literacy, disappearance of monumental buildings, decrease of economic activity etc.

Turchin, of course, explains this through his structural-demographic theory:

Growing political instability is first and foremost a result of elite overproduction leading to excessive intra-elite competition and conflict. This main driver is supplemented by mass mobilization of non-elites resulting from popular immiseration and by failing fiscal health of the state.

How Amazon innovates in ways that Google and Apple can’t

January 14th, 2017

Timothy B. Lee explains how Amazon innovates in ways that Google and Apple can’t:

Amazon has figured out how to combine the entrepreneurial culture of a small company with the financial resources of a large one. And that allows it tackle problems most other companies can’t.


Google’s approach — solve the hard technical problems first, worry about the business model later — is rooted in the engineering background of Google Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In contrast, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spent almost a decade working for several Wall Street firms before starting Amazon — a background that gives him a more pragmatic outlook that’s more focused on developing products customers will actually want to pay for.

Bezos has worked to create a culture at Amazon that’s hospitable to experimentation.

“I know examples where a random Amazon engineer mentions ‘Hey I read about an idea in a blog post, we should do that,’” Eric Ries says. “The next thing he knows, the engineer is being asked to pitch it to the executive committee. Jeff Bezos decides on the spot.”

A key factor in making this work, Ries says, is that experiments start small and grow over time. At a normal company, when the CEO endorses an idea, it becomes a focus for the whole company, which is a recipe for wasting a lot of resources on ideas that don’t pan out. In contrast, Amazon creates a small team to experiment with the idea and find out if it’s viable. Bezos famously instituted the “two-pizza team” rule, which says that teams should be small enough to be fed with two pizzas.

Ries says that new teams get limited funding and clear milestones; if a team succeeds in smaller challenges, it’s given more resources and a larger challenge to tackle.

But Amazon doesn’t spend too much time on internal testing. “They prioritize launching early over everything else,” one engineer wrote in an epic 2011 rant comparing Amazon’s culture to other technology companies. Launching early with what Ries has dubbed a “minimum viable product” allows Amazon to learn as quickly as possible whether an idea that sounds good on paper is actually a good idea in the real world.

Of course, this method isn’t foolproof; Amazon has had plenty of failures, like its disastrous foray into the smartphone market. But by getting a product into the hands of paying customers as quickly as possible and taking their feedback seriously, Amazon avoids wasting years working on products that don’t serve the needs of real customers.

This seems to be the approach Amazon is taking with Amazon Go, its new convenience store concept. It’s a technology that could work in many different types of retail stores, but Amazon’s initial approach is modest: a single, relatively small convenience store. Media reports suggest that Amazon plans to open 2,000 retail stores, but the company disputes this. The Amazon way, after all, isn’t to open one store because there’s a plan for 2,000. It’s to open one store and then open thousands more if the first one is a big success.

In the abstract this approach — minimize bureaucracy, start out with small experiments, expand them if they’re successful — sounds so good that it’s almost banal. But it’s surprisingly difficult for big companies to do this, especially when they’re entering new markets.

Over time, big companies develop cultures and processes optimized for the market where they had their original success. Companies have a natural tendency to establish uniform standards across the enterprise.


“It doesn’t matter what technology” teams use at Amazon, one of the company’s former engineers wrote in 2011. Bezos has explicitly discouraged the kind of standardization you see at companies like Google and Apple, encouraging teams to operate independently using whatever technology makes the most sense.

Bezos has worked hard to make Amazon a modular, flexible organization with a minimum of company-wide policies.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling.)

Africa and the cold beauty of Maths

January 14th, 2017

PISA has the capacity to spread embarrassment far and wide, in rich as well as poor countries, and Dr. James Thompson is “all in favour of that” — but that means that many countries opt out of it (and TIMMS), especially poorer countries in Africa, but a new working paper from the Center for Global Development gets around this:

Internationally comparable test scores play a central role in both research and policy debates on education. However, the main international testing regimes, such as PISA, TIMSS, or PIRLS, include very few low-income countries. For instance, most countries in Southern and Eastern Africa have opted instead for a regional assessment known as SACMEQ. This paper exploits an overlap between the SACMEQ and TIMSS tests—in both country coverage, and questions asked— to assesses the feasibility of constructing global learning metrics by equating regional and international scales. I compare three different equating methods and find that learning levels in this sample of African countries are consistently (a) low in absolute terms, with average pupils scoring below the fifth percentile for most developed economies; (b) significantly lower than predicted by African per capita GDP levels; and (c) converging slowly, if at all, to the rest of the world during the 2000s. While these broad patterns are robust, average performance in individual countries is quite sensitive to the method chosen to link scores. Creating test scores which are truly internationally comparable would be a global public good, requiring more concerted effort at the design stage.

The results are grim:

Substantively, the results here are daunting for African education systems. Most of the national test-score averages I estimate for the thirteen African countries in my sample fall more than two standard deviations below the TIMSS average, which places them below the 5th percentile in most European, North American, and East Asian countries. In contrast, scores from the SACMEQ test administered to math teachers are much higher, but fall only modestly above the TIMSS sample average for seventh- and eighth-grade pupils, in line with earlier analysis by Spaull and van der Berg (2013). African test scores appear low relative to national GDP levels; in a regression of average scores on per capita GDP in PPP terms, average scores in the SACMEQ sample are significantly below the predicted value using all three linking methodologies. Furthermore, there is little sign that African scores were improving rapidly or converging to OECD levels during the 2000s.

Really grim:

In some African countries teachers seem to have lower abilities than students in Europe or East-Asia!

Raising scholastic attainment is unlikely to be a simple question of investing money, Dr. Thompson notes:

A summary of investment in education suggests that the pay-off is front-end loaded: the first $5000 has a big effect, and then it tends to plateau thereafter. Another way of looking at it is to note that once countries get to $16,000 GDP per capita then schooling in those countries accounts for only 10% of the variance of student attainment. So, poor countries (most of Africa is well below this level) should have plenty of scope for educational gains.

Scientists Say the Clock of Aging May Be Reversible

January 13th, 2017

Researchers at the Salk Institute are resetting the clock of the aging process — in genetically engineered mice:

Ten years ago, the Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka amazed researchers by identifying four critical genes that reset the clock of the fertilized egg. The four genes are so powerful that they will reprogram even the genome of skin or intestinal cells back to the embryonic state. Dr. Yamanaka’s method is now routinely used to change adult tissue cells into cells very similar to the embryonic stem cells produced in the first few divisions of a fertilized egg.

Scientists next began to wonder if the four Yamanaka genes could be applied not just to cells in glassware but to a whole animal. The results were disastrous. As two groups of researchers reported in 2013 and 2014, the animals all died, some because their adult tissue cells had lost their identity and others from cancer. Embryonic cells are primed for rapid growth, which easily becomes uncontrolled.

But at the Salk Institute, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte had been contemplating a different approach. He has long been interested in regeneration, the phenomenon in which certain animals, like lizards and fish, can regenerate lost tails or limbs. The cells near the lost appendage revert to a stage midway between an embryonic cell, which is open to all fates, and an adult cell, which is committed to being a particular type of cell, before rebuilding the missing limb.

This partial reprogramming suggested to him that reprogramming is a stepwise process, and that a small dose of the Yamanaka factors might rejuvenate cells without the total reprogramming that converts cells to the embryonic state.

With Alejandro Ocampo and other Salk researchers, Dr. Izpisua Belmonte has spent five years devising ways to deliver a nonlethal dose of Yamanaka factors to mice. The solution his team developed was to genetically engineer mice with extra copies of the four Yamanaka genes, and to have the genes activated only when the mice received a certain drug in their drinking water, applied just two days a week.

The Salk team worked first with mice that age prematurely, so as to get quick results. “What we saw is that the animal has fewer signs of aging, healthier organs, and at the end of the experiment we could see they had lived 30 percent longer than control mice,” Dr. Izpisua Belmonte said.

The U.S. Army’s Radical Idea to Save Its Tanks from Enemy Missiles

January 13th, 2017

The U.S. Army’s radical idea to save its tanks from enemy missiles involves a shield:

OBJECTIVE: Develop and demonstrate a model for a mechanism capable of moving an armor panel of at least 1 square foot with an areal density of 100 pounds per square foot (PSF) 10” horizontally in less than 5 seconds. The movement is intended to be repeatable and controlled from the interior of the vehicle and shall not pose harm to dismounted personnel.

DESCRIPTION: Conventional armor solutions currently being integrated are “not adaptable” in providing increased threat capability and protection from a greatly expanded set of threats. A solution is needed for threats that are not feasibly addressed with conventional armor systems. Conventional armor systems are essentially static and unable to respond to unanticipated changes in threats deployed against the system; essentially the army has limited potential to increase the capabilities of current static armor recipes in order to balance size, weight, and performance requirements.

Increased threat defeat using conventional armor is prohibitive due to the significant weight burdens associated with increased protection. Any increase in weight has secondary effects such as limited off-road mobility and increased logistics burden.

This SBIR topic solicits new, innovative approaches to incorporate mechanisms into an armor system to provide protection against increased threats. For the purpose of this effort the system shall be designed to interface with a 1” plate of Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA) Plate that represents a surrogate vehicle structure. The mechanism needs to be capable of moving a 100 PSF armor panel 10 inches horizontally in less 5 seconds. The mechanism needs to be able to withstand automotive loading as well as environmental conditions typical of a combat vehicle. The proposal should discuss in detail how the system could be incorporated onto a vehicle platform and what the projected Space, Weight, Power, and cooling (SWAP-C) at the vehicle level.

The proposal shall not include a system that could be describe as an Active Protection System (APS). A system is considered an APS system if any of the two statements apply: 1. A light-weight hit avoidance vehicle defense system which, when integrated on a ground combat vehicle, can detect, track; and then interdict by diversion, disruption, neutralization, or destruction of incoming line-of-sight threat munitions. 2. A system that deploys a counter-measure that does not providing any inherent protection to the vehicle system when the counter-measure does not perform as designed.

Newton made three bets

January 12th, 2017

Paul Graham knows a thing or two about risk and discovery:

Because biographies of famous scientists tend to edit out their mistakes, we underestimate the degree of risk they were willing to take. And because anything a famous scientist did that wasn’t a mistake has probably now become the conventional wisdom, those choices don’t seem risky either.

Biographies of Newton, for example, understandably focus more on physics than alchemy or theology. The impression we get is that his unerring judgment led him straight to truths no one else had noticed. How to explain all the time he spent on alchemy and theology? Well, smart people are often kind of crazy.

But maybe there is a simpler explanation. Maybe the smartness and the craziness were not as separate as we think. Physics seems to us a promising thing to work on, and alchemy and theology obvious wastes of time. But that’s because we know how things turned out. In Newton’s day the three problems seemed roughly equally promising. No one knew yet what the payoff would be for inventing what we now call physics; if they had, more people would have been working on it. And alchemy and theology were still then in the category Marc Andreessen would describe as “huge, if true.”

The other stuff is much more fake

January 12th, 2017

Maureen Dowd asked Peter Thiel if Mr. Trump and Mr. Musk are similar:

“I’m going to get in trouble, but they are, actually. They’re both grandmaster-level salespeople and these very much larger-than-life figures.”

He recalls a story from his and Mr. Musk’s PayPal days, when Mr. Musk joined the engineering team’s poker game and bet everything on every hand, admitting only afterward that it was his first time playing poker. Then there was the time they were driving in Mr. Musk’s McLaren F1 car, “the fastest car in the world.” It hit an embankment, achieved liftoff, made a 360-degree horizontal turn, crashed and was destroyed.

“It was a miracle neither of us were hurt,” Mr. Thiel says. “I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, which is not advisable. Elon’s first comment was, ‘Wow, Peter, that was really intense.’ And then it was: ‘You know, I had read all these stories about people who made money and bought sports cars and crashed them. But I knew it would never happen to me, so I didn’t get any insurance.’ And then we hitchhiked the rest of the way to the meeting.”

Thiel learned a few things while tag-teaming with Hulk Hogan against Gawker in court:

“There’s some resonances between Hogan beating Gawker and Trump beating the establishment in this country,” Mr. Thiel says. Hulk Hogan was “this crazy person” who didn’t seem like the best plaintiff, but “he didn’t give up.”

Using two wrestling terms he learned, Mr. Thiel says that many people assumed Mr. Trump was “kayfabe” — a move that looks real but is fake. But then his campaign turned into a “shoot” — the word for an unscripted move that suddenly becomes real.

“People thought the whole Trump thing was fake, that it wasn’t going to go anywhere, that it was the most ridiculous thing imaginable, and then somehow he won, like Hogan did,” Mr. Thiel says. “And what I wonder is, whether maybe pro wrestling is one of the most real things we have in our society and what’s really disturbing is that the other stuff is much more fake. And whatever the superficialities of Mr. Trump might be, he was more authentic than the other politicians. He sort of talked in a way like ordinary people talk. It was not sort of this Orwellian newspeak jargon that so many of the candidates use. So he was sort of real. He actually wanted to win.”

Pac-Pro Football

January 11th, 2017

The NFL relies on college football for its minor league, but that may change:

Don Yee, better known as Tom Brady’s agent, is launching a professional football league that will target young players who don’t qualify for college or just want to make money sooner rather than later. In limiting the player pool to those between 18 and 22 years old, the venture will challenge a nearly century-old system in which the National Football League relies almost entirely on colleges to prepare its future workforce.


The National Collegiate Athletic Association has steadfastly refused to pay athletes but has begun supplementing their scholarships with a monthly living stipend. The amount depends in part on whether an athlete lives on campus but can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000. Also, Northwestern’s football players lost their bid to unionize and be treated as employees of the university.

In light of those developments and an NFL rule that requires players to be three years removed from high school to be eligible, Yee and other advocates for athletes have argued for an alternative route for players who want to make it to the highest level of the sport.


Yee hopes to avoid joining a long list of failed professional football leagues, a group that includes the World Football League, the United States Football League, and the XFL. The NFL folded its own alternative league called NFL Europe in 2007 after 15 seasons. These leagues collapsed amid declining interest and mounting expenses. Beyond paying a minimum of 45 players, owners need training facilities, equipment, coaches and insurance policies — expenses that can reach $5 million to $10 million annually.

“Pac-Pro Football” as its executives refer to it, will have a single-entity structure rather than a franchise model, with the league controlling all team and personnel decisions.


The Pac-Pro league, McCaffrey said, will target players with NFL-level talent that require additional seasoning. Among those players who could fit the bill are those who struggle with academics or lost their scholarships for disciplinary reasons, or junior-college standouts not yet ready for the NFL.

Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, for example, spent a year playing at tiny Blinn College after a series of problems forced him to leave the University of Florida. Though Newton later thrived at Auburn, he is the type of athlete the Pac-Pro founders hope will see the new league as a viable option.

Those athletes will be able to get jump on learning the professional style of play, which requires a different skill set than big-time college football.

Well, there is a decent pool of players, I suppose. Fans though?