Where is Nomonhan in the list of vital battles?

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Where is Nomonhan in the list of vital battles we teach our high school and college students about WWII? Pretty much nowhere. And yet it decided the course of the war:

“I remember well how, in the spring and summer of 1939, my curiosity was gripped by short newspaper accounts of an undeclared war that was raging between the Japanese and Soviet armies on a desolate stretch of disputed frontier lying between the client states of Manchukuo and Outer Mongolia.”

– Alvin D. Coox, Nomonhan

That battle, Nomonhan or Khalkhin Gol, depending on your perspective, was a watershed in the global conflict that rivaled its contemporary event, the invasion of Poland, in its significance:

“It is generally agreed that, despite IJA silence on the subject, the Japanese decision in 1941 to transfer strategic emphasis to the south, involving war with the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands, stemmed in part from the Kwantung Army’s failure against the Russians in 1939.”

– Ibid

In large part. Had the Japanese succeeded agaisnt Zhukov and joined the Nazis in a two front war against the Russians, the Second Front would have been a disaster for Stalin. Had the Japanese not moved against Pearl Harbor in 1941, war with the US would have been at least delayed, and Roosevelt would have needed some other pretext to come to beleaguered Britain’s aid in its darkest and finest hour.

Failure to understand that conflict and the lessons it taught about the IJA by people who should have taken a much more professional interest led to much needless bloodshed on the part of the British and American military in the Pacific War. The defeat of the Kwantung army by Zhukov (a name that should have been well noted by Americans and Germans alike in 1939), was the primary event that turned the Japanese on a collision course with the US.

Yet where is Nomonhan in the list of vital battles we teach our high school and college students about WWII? Pretty much nowhere. Apropos another conversation on this blog, it seems that the professional military historians outside academia take the study of this battle a little more seriously.

(I’ve mentioned Khalkhin Gol before.)

Quantum of Solace Teaser Trailer

Monday, June 30th, 2008

The new Quantum of Solace teaser trailer is out:

As I mentioned before, the odd title comes from a story by Bond creator Ian Fleming that appears in the collection For Your Eyes Only — but the original is not a story about Bond; it’s a story told to Bond. Fleming saw it as a way to write a story in the style of W Somerset Maugham — and to see it published. The movie screenplay is not an adaptation of that story but a continuation of Casino Royale.

Public schools aren’t designed to be bad

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Public schools aren’t designed to be bad, Paul Graham notes; they just seem that way:

There is an idea floating around that public schools are deliberately designed to turn out brainless conformists. I don’t believe this. I think public schools are just what you get by default. If you build a giant building out in the suburbs and lock the kids in it during weekdays in the care of a few overworked and mostly uninspired adults, you’ll get brainless conformists. You don’t need to posit a conspiracy.

I think nearly everything that’s wrong in schools can be explained by the lack of any external force pushing them to be good. They don’t compete with one another, except in sports (at which they do become good). Parents, though they may choose where to live based on the quality of the schools, never presume to demand more of a given school. College admissions departments, instead of demanding more of high schools, actively compensate for their flaws; they expect less from students from inferior schools, and this is only fair. Standardized tests are explicitly (though unsuccessfully) designed to be a test of aptitude rather than preparation.

Form follows function. Everything evolves into a shape dictated by the demands placed on it. And no one demands more of schools than that they keep kids off the streets till they’re old enough for college. So that’s what they do. At my school, it was easy not to learn anything, but hard to get out of the building without getting caught.

Accidental fungus leads to promising cancer drug

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Accidental fungus leads to promising cancer drug — after some polymers are added:

The drug was known experimentally as TNP-470, and was originally isolated from a fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus fresenius.

Harvards’s Donald Ingber discovered the fungus by accident while trying to grow endothelial cells — the cells that line blood vessels. The mold affected the cells in a way known to prevent the growth of tiny blood vessels known as capillaries.

Ingber and Folkman developed TNP-470 with the help of Takeda Chemical Industries in Japan in 1990.

But the drug affected the brain, causing depression, dizziness and other side-effects. It also did not stay in the body long and required constant infusions. The lab dropped it.

Efforts to improve it did not work well. Then Benny and colleagues tried nanotechnology, attaching two “pom-pom”-shaped polymers to TNP-470, protecting it from stomach acid.

In mice, the altered drug, now named lodamin, went straight to tumor cells and helped suppress melanoma and lung cancer, with no apparent side effects, Benny said.

All untreated mice had fluid in the abdominal cavity, and enlarged livers covered with tumors. Mice treated with lodamin had normal-looking livers and spleens, the researchers said.

Twenty days after being injected with cancer cells, four out of seven untreated mice had died, while all treated mice were still alive, Benny’s team reported.

Americans love a winner

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Steve Sailer notes that, as Patton said, Americans love a winner — and don’t care who was right:

The Anti-Federalists would write, “If the Constitution is ratified,the federal government will grab the power to do X [or Y, or Z].” And Madison, Hamilton, or Jay would answer back, “Oh, no, that would never happen in a million years. It explicitly says right here in Article Whatever that only the states can do that.”

But the funny thing is, Bailyn’s long list of about a dozen or more things the Anti-Federalists warned would happen if the Constitution were ratified … they have all happened. They didn’t all happen right away. Many took until the Civil War, or the New Deal, or the Warren Court, or whatever. Still, when it comes to making long-run accurate predictions, the despised Anti-Federalists were right and the sainted Federalists were wrong.

But, nobody cares. People care about who won, not who turned out to be right.

(Hat tip to Michael Blowhard.)

Devo is suing McDonald’s

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Post-punk pioneer band Devo is suing McDonald’s over its New Wave Nigel Happy Meal doll, which sports the band’s signature red flower pot hat:

In April the fast food chain released a series of American Idol Happy Meal toys in the US based on a range of music genres, including Disco Dave, Country Clay, Rockin’ Riley and Soulful Selma.

Devo’s complaint relates to New Wave Nigel, a toy kitted out in an orange jumpsuit, pink shades, and Devo’s “energy dome” hat.
[...]
“This New Wave Nigel doll that they’ve created is just a complete Devo rip-off and the red hat is exactly the red hat that I designed, and it’s copyrighted and trademarked.

“They didn’t ask us anything. Plus, we don’t like McDonald’s, and we don’t like American Idol, so we’re doubly offended.”

(Hat tip to BoingBoing.)

Go Home, Bill

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Cringely says, Go Home, Bill:

The last two executive actions on the part of Bill Gates that had singular effects on the future of Microsoft were: 1) his 1995 Think Week that resulted in Microsoft shifting course to flow with the “Internet Tidal Wave,” ultimately destroying Netscape, and; 2) his 1988 decision to back Jeff Raikes’ proposal to bundle most of Microsoft’s productivity applications into what they called Microsoft Office, which effectively destroyed all Microsoft’s competitors for shrink-wrapped applications. The first action was that of a strong chief executive operating at the very top of his game while the second was that of a major shareholder who was willing to accept lower earnings in the short term for the long-term success of his investment.

These were radical and dynamic positions to take that resulted in creating thousands of millionaires in the greatest peacetime transfer of wealth since OPEC. But they were also 13 and 20 years ago, respectively. If Gates took another Think Week and determined Microsoft’s future lay in baked goods or virtualization, could he turn the entire company toward one or both of those product directions today? I don’t think so.

No one person can control Microsoft today, which has been obvious to Gates for at least eight years, since that’s how long ago he put Steve Ballmer in the CEO job. For at least eight years, then, these guys have known that their jobs are not so much to steer the Microsoft ship as to try and keep it from drifting onto the rocks. That’s the way it is with huge and successful companies. At best you can trim the sails, because to come about (to significantly shift direction) is just too dangerous for the money machine.

The World’s Healthiest 75-Year-Old Man

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Susan Casey calls Don Wildman The World’s Healthiest 75-Year-Old Man — although fittest is probably more accurate:

Wildman himself is a world-class athlete in several sports. In recent years, he has competed in the Ironman Triathlon nine times, the three-thousand-mile Race Across America bike race, the Aspen downhill ski race, and the New York and L.A. marathons. In the sailing world, Wildman made history by winning all three of the Chicago Yacht Club’s famed Mackinac races in one season. He snowboards the Alaskan backcountry with Olympic downhill champion Tommy Moe. Two years ago, he paddled through the entire chain of Hawaiian islands on a surfboard.

Wildman leads a brutal group workout he calls The Circuit:

“People come here and say, ‘This is madness! What the hell are you doing this for?’ ” he says, working his way through a set of shoulder presses. And it does seem fair to ask whether, maybe, two thousand repetitions might be enough to do the trick (especially since most people his age consider lawn bowling a fine workout). That kind of thinking is alien to Wildman, just as it is to the hardcore group of regulars who adhere to the same philosophy: When it comes to endorphin production, more is more. Along with Hamilton, Commerford, and Winn, the group includes John McEnroe, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios, and another dozen ultrafit men. In Wildman’s crew there are stuntmen and ski racers and motocross riders. There’s a sheriff, a restaurateur, and an ultimate fighter. There is the occasional celebrity (Sean Penn, John Cusack, John C. McGinley) or rock star (Kid Rock, Eddie Vedder). And one time, there was NBA star Reggie Miller.

“Ohhh, Reggie got torn up by this workout,” Commerford says. “I saw him the next day, and man.”

“Well, that’s because Laird tried to kill him,” Wildman says, shaking his head. “We definitely did all six rounds that day.”

Thing is, for Wildman and his crew, this kind of behavior isn’t abusive at all — it’s fun, heavily laced with lactic acid. “It’s just that our play is harder than 99 percent of other people’s work,” he explains.

The assassination, the Bay of Pigs, and Camelot were useless drivel and a distraction

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

John Jay says that the assassination, the Bay of Pigs, and Camelot were useless drivel and a distraction to the serious study of history:

In fact, the most likely (and I do not presume to have the final world on this) candidate for the seminal event of 1960–1964 is Kennedy’s commitment of troops to Vietnam. From this flowed a tremendous amount of history, and not just the further commitments of LBJ and the subsequent social upheaval in the US. If the officers I talked to in the late Soviet period are correct, the Vietnam War bankrupted the Soviet Union. The Soviets spent approximately $1 billion per year in a war it truly could not afford:
“The Soviet Union poured billions of rubles into Vietnam… During 1965-1975 military aid was central, and economic aid was geared entirely to the war effort. By the 1970s Soviet aid amounted to $1 billion or more annually, without which the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) could not have continued the war.”

The adventure in Vietnam and the attendant arms race crippled the economy of the USSR. It severely curtailed their foreign policy adventures. And when Reagan came along and proposed Star Wars, Gorbachev threw in the towel. Not because he thought that the American missile shield would achieve 100% coverage against missile attacks. The Russians were not stupid. And not because they thought we’d even get 75% coverage. It was because even 30% coverage was considerably better than the 0% the Soviets could muster in the near term. And because it would have sapped a couple of percent of our GDP, while even attempting to match it would have cost a significantly grater fraction of their GDP (some officers I talked to estimated as much as 50%). And the US technology would have gotten better with time and experience, which would have sapped even more Russian resources. In this respect, the events of 1989 and 1991 were a direct result of Kennedy’s decision to commit to Vietnam and Reagan’s willingness to capitalize on the advantage gained by bankrupting the USSR and sending it into the period the Russians call “The Stagnation”.

How rich people spend their time

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman has looked at how rich people spend their time, and — surprising to some people — they spend less time doing pleasurable things, and more time doing compulsory things and feeling stressed:

People who make less than $20,000 a year, for example, told Kahneman and his colleagues that they spend more than a third of their time in passive leisure — watching television, for example. Those making more than $100,000 spent less than one-fifth of their time in this way — putting their legs up and relaxing. Rich people spent much more time commuting and engaging in activities that were required as opposed to optional. The richest people spent nearly twice as much time as the poorest people in leisure activities that were active, structured and often stressful — shopping, child care and exercise.

That all sounds highly skewed by using rich to mean high-income. Obviously people who are working very hard to make money have less leisure time. The question is, how do they spend their time once they’ve accumulated a lot of wealth and have a steady stream of investment income?

The Brains Behind the Image Fulgurator

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Charlie Sorrel of Wired describes Julius von Bismarck as The Brains Behind the Image Fulgurator:

But first, about that name: According to von Bismarck, ‘Image Fulgurator’ comes from the Latin for ‘lightning’ (fulgur) and means ‘Flash Thrower’.

First, let us make clear that von Bismarck has applied for a patent for the Fulgurator. He stressed this point. Of course, anyone with the requisite skills can make one of their own, but Julius wants to keep some degree of control over commercial use.

To see why, consider how it works. The device is a modified camera — in this case, an old manual Minolta SLR. A flashgun fires through the camera in reverse, from the back. The flash picks up the image of a slide inside and projects it out through the lens and onto any surface.

The trick is in the triggering. The Fulgurator lies in wait until an unsuspecting photographer takes a picture using a flash. When the device’s sensor sees this flash, it fires its own unit, throwing up an image which is captured by the hapless photographer’s camera while remaining unseen by the naked eye.

Fossil fills out water-land leap

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Fossil fills out water-land leap:

About one hundred million years before dinosaurs began to roam the Earth, Ventastega [curonica] was to be found in the shallow waters and tidal estuaries of modern day Latvia.

According to lead author, Professor Per Ahlberg, from Uppsala University, Sweden, this creature had the head of a tetrapod, an animal adapted to live on land. The body, though, was fish-like but with four primitive flippers.

“From a distance, it would have looked like an alligator. But closer up, you would have noticed a real tail fin at the back end, a gill flap at the side of the head; also lines of pores snaking across head and body.

“In terms of construction, it had already undergone most of the changes from fish towards land animal, but in terms of lifestyle you are still looking at an animal that is habitually aquatic.”

Experts believe that Ventastega was an important staging post in the evolutionary journey that led creatures from the sea to the land.

Sexual Antagonism

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Sexual antagonism provides a genetic explanation for homosexuality:

Gay couples can’t have biological kids together. So if homosexuality is genetic, why hasn’t it died out?

A study published last week in PLoS One tackles the question. It starts with four curious patterns. First, male homosexuality occurs at a low but stable frequency in a wide range of societies. Second, the female relatives of gay men produce children at a higher rate than other women do. Third, among these female relatives, those related to the gay man’s mother produce children at a higher rate than do those related to his father. Fourth, among the man’s male relatives, homosexuality is more common in those related to his mother than in those related to his father.

Can genes account for these patterns? To find out, the authors posit several possible mechanisms and compute their effects over time. They conclude that only one theory fits the data. The theory is called “sexually antagonistic selection.” It holds that a gene can be reproductively harmful to one sex as long as it’s helpful to the other. The gene for male homosexuality persists because it promotes—and is passed down through—high rates of procreation among gay men’s mothers, sisters, and aunts.

This theory doesn’t account for female homosexuality, which another new study (reviewed in Human Nature last week) attributes to nongenetic factors. It also doesn’t account for environmental or prenatal chemical factors in male homosexuality, such as the correlation between a man’s probability of homosexuality and the number of boys previously gestated in his mother’s womb. But it does explain the high similarity of sexual orientation between identical twins, as well as patterns of homosexuality in families. It’s also plausible because sexually antagonistic selection has been found in other species. And many scientists who think environmental and prenatal factors influence homosexuality also believe that genes play a role.

The authors note that according to their computations, the theory implies some testable predictions. One such prediction can be checked against existing data. The prediction is that on average, if you’re a straight man, the reproductive pattern among your aunts will reverse the pattern seen among aunts of gay men. That is, your paternal aunts will produce children at a higher rate than your maternal aunts will. The authors check this prediction against the available data. Sure enough, it holds up.

So the genes aren’t for homosexuality so much as they’re for androphilia, i.e., attraction to men.

It’s mine, I tell you

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Researchers have started studying the evolutionary roots of the endowment effect:

Owen Jones, a professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt University, and Sarah Brosnan, a primatologist at Georgia State University, suspect the answer is that, in the evolutionary past, giving things up, even when an apparently fair exchange seemed to be on offer, was just too risky. These days, as they discuss in a paper just published in the William and Mary Law Review, there are contracts, rights and other ways of enforcing bargains. Animal societies have none of these mechanisms. As Adam Smith observed in the “Wealth of Nations”, “nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog.”

To put flesh on their idea, Dr Jones and Dr Brosnan have been trying to overcome Smith’s observation by training chimpanzees to trade. In 2006 Keith Chen of Yale University showed that capuchin monkeys could learn to do so, and also seemed to exhibit the endowment effect. Chimps, it turns out, can manage to truck too. In the chimp study, tubes of peanut butter and frozen juice bars were used. Both treats were designed to be difficult to eat quickly. This makes it possible for animals that would otherwise consume any food they were given at the first opportunity at least to consider the idea of an exchange.

When presented with a choice, 60% of the chimps preferred peanut butter to juice. However, when they were endowed with peanut butter, 80% of them chose to keep it instead of exchanging it for juice. It was as if the peanut butter became more valuable as soon as it was possessed. And an opposite endowment effect was observed when the chimps were given juice.

Observing the endowment effect in three primate species suggests it does, indeed, have deep evolutionary roots. Better still, before they started work Dr Jones and Dr Brosnan predicted that the strength of the effect would vary with the evolutionary salience of the item in question. Lo and behold, when they tried the same experiments using bone and rope toys, no endowment effect was seen. Food is vital. Toys are not.

Steffen Huck, an economist at University College, London, has an alternative hypothesis:

In societies with markets, customers can go elsewhere. But in a small, tribal society there may be no alternative seller. In that case, those who were reluctant to trade might get better prices. It may thus make sense for an owner to be psychologically predisposed to hold out for a high price as soon as someone else expresses interest in one of his possessions—something Dr Huck’s models predict would, indeed, be evolutionarily beneficial.

How to Survive A Disaster

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Amanda Ripley has written an entire book — The Unthinkable — on how to survive a disaster, and John Robb (Brave New War) has written a review:

I’m living, breathing proof that you can survive a disaster. I’ve lived through two airplane crashes (“catastrophic mishaps” in Air Force jargon), one at the start and one near the end of my Air Force piloting career, as well as a countless number of close calls in between. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to understand fully why I was so successful at navigating disaster and others in similar circumstances weren’t. There hasn’t been a source of solid thinking on the subject until now. Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Unthinkable, is a riveting exploration of the factors that dictate whether you will live through or perish in a disaster — if you’re ever unlucky enough to confront one.

Based on my experience, the top objective in all catastrophes is to move to a safe zone and take as many people with you as you can. While this goal may seem simple, achieving it during the onrush of chaos isn’t. Thinking clearly during a crisis is tough, for reasons more complex than we realize. Ripley shows us what stands in our way as we navigate what she calls the “survival arc,” which consists of two phases: denial and deliberation.

Denial keeps you from realizing that you are in danger. It’s rooted in bad risk assessment, overconfidence, and a lack of relevant experience. Bouts with denial can delay your response, as Ripley illustrates through the testimony of Elia Zedeno, who relates her painfully slow escape from the 73rd floor of Tower One on September 11. Once you realize the extent of the peril, though, fear might take over. Deliberation requires overcoming fear to regain the ability to think clearly. [...] Contrary to popular understanding, group behavior during disasters is rarely panic-driven, but more often extremely docile and overly polite. Getting a group to respond and act effectively often requires aggressive behavior, like barking orders.

Our bodily reaction to fear — regulated by the amygdala and catalyzed by cortisol and adrenaline — deprives us of our higher mental functions and can induce everything from tunnel vision to time compression to extreme dissociation:

We can counter fear, however. The best method, FBI trainers say, is to get control of your breathing. “Combat breathing” is a simple variant on Lamaze or yoga training — breathe in four counts, hold four counts, exhale four counts, and repeat. It works because breathing is a combination of the somatic (which we control) and the autonomic (which we can’t easily control) nervous systems. Regulation of the autonomic system deescalates the biological-fear response and returns our higher-level brain functions to full capacity.

Some people are naturally suited to dealing with chaos:

What makes them different? Some have a natural psychological buffer that allows them to bounce back from extreme stress. Examination of people who always perform well in extreme circumstances has shown high levels in the blood of “neuropeptide Y” — a compound that allows one to stay mentally focused under stress. It’s so closely correlated with success in pressure situations that it is almost a biological marker for selection into elite groups for military special operations.

One of the disaster tales Ripley tells is of the M.V. Estonia, which went down in the Baltic Sea after suddenly listing starboard 30° at 1 AM:

In the bar, almost everyone fell violently against the side of the boat. Härstedt managed to grab on to the iron bar railing and hold on, hanging above everyone else.

“In just one second, everything went from a loud, happy, wonderful moment to total silence. Every brain, I guess, was working like a computer trying to realize what had happened,” he says. Then came the screaming and crying. People had been badly hurt in the fall, and the tilt of the ship made it extremely difficult to move.

Härstedt began to strategize, tapping into some of the survival skills he had learned in the military. “I started to react very differently from normal. I started to say, ‘O.K., there is option one, option two. Decide. Act.’ I didn’t say, ‘Oh, the boat is sinking.’ I didn’t even think about the wider perspective.” Like many survivors, Härstedt experienced the illusion of centrality, a coping mechanism in which the brain fixates on the individual experience. “I just saw my very small world.”

But as Härstedt made his way into the corridor, he noticed something strange about some of the other passengers. They weren’t doing what he was doing. “Some people didn’t seem to realize what had happened. They were just sitting there,” he says. Not just one or two people, but entire groups seemed to be immobilized. They were conscious, but they were not reacting.

Contrary to popular expectations, this is what happens in many disasters. Crowds generally become quiet and docile. Panic is rare. The bigger problem is that people do too little, too slowly. They sometimes shut down completely, falling into a stupor.

On the Estonia, Härstedt climbed up the stairwell, fighting against gravity. Out on the deck, the ship’s lights were on, and the moon was shining. The full range of human capacities was on display. Incredibly, one man stood to the side, smoking a cigarette, Härstedt remembers. Most people strained to hold on to the rolling ship and, at the same time, to look for life jackets and lifeboats. British passenger Paul Barney remembers groups of people standing still like statues. “I kept saying to myself, ‘Why don’t they try to get out of here?‘” he later told the Observer.

Ripley tells another disaster tale, this one about the Beverly Hills Supper Club south of Cincinnati, in which a small electrical fire spread, killing 167:

The disaster delivered many brutal lessons. Some were obvious — and tragic: the club had no sprinkler or audible fire-alarm systems. But the fire also complicated official expectations for crowd behavior: in the middle of a crisis, the basic tenets of civilization actually hold. People move in groups whenever possible. They tend to look out for one another, and they maintain hierarchies. “People die the same way they live,” says disaster sociologist Lee Clarke, “with friends, loved ones and colleagues, in communities.”

At the Beverly Hills, servers warned their tables to leave. Hostesses evacuated people that they had seated but bypassed other sections (that weren’t “theirs”). Cooks and busboys, perhaps accustomed to physical work, rushed to fight the fire. In general, male employees were slightly more likely to help than female employees, maybe because society expects women to be saved and men to do the saving.

And what of the guests? Most remained guests to the end. Some even continued celebrating, in defiance of the smoke seeping into the rooms. One man ordered a rum and Coke to go. When the first reporter arrived at the fire, he saw guests sipping their cocktails in the driveway, laughing about whether they would get to leave without paying their bills.

As the smoke intensified, Wayne Dammert, a banquet captain at the club, stumbled into a hallway jammed with a hundred guests. The lights flickered off and on, and the smoke started to get heavy. But what he remembers most about that crowded hallway is the silence. “Man, there wasn’t a sound in there. Not a scream, nothing,” he says. Standing there in the dark, the crowd was waiting to be led.
[...]
People were remarkably loyal to their identities. An estimated 60% of the employees tried to help in some way — either by directing guests to safety or fighting the fire. By comparison, only 17% of the guests helped. But even among the guests, identity shaped behavior. The doctors who had been dining at the club acted as doctors, administering CPR and dressing wounds like battlefield medics. Nurses did the same thing. There was even one hospital administrator there who — naturally — began to organize the doctors and nurses.

Read the original article for the whole story of Rick Rescorla, the head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter at the World Trade Center.

What got cut from the article was Ripley’s list of 5 Ways to Refine Your Disaster Personality:

  1. Attitude
    People who perform well in crises and recover well afterwards tend to have three underlying advantages:
    1. They believe they can influence what happens to them.
    2. They find meaningful purpose in life’s turmoil.
    3. They are convinced they can learn from both good and bad experiences.
  2. Knowledge
    If you learn more about your actual risks — or the risks that scare you most — you will probably be calmer should something go wrong someday. For example, did you know that most serious plane accidents are survivable? Yes, it’s true. Of all passengers involved in serious accidents between 1983 and 2000, 56% survived. (Serious, for those of you who still don’t believe me, is defined by the National Transportation Safety Board as accidents involving fire, severe injury, AND substantial aircraft damage.)
  3. Anxiety Level
    People with higher everyday anxiety levels may have a greater tendency to freeze or totally shut down in an emergency. As in regular life, if you can learn tricks to control your anxiety, you will probably perform better. For example, some police officers are now trained to do rhythmic breathing (in for four, hold for four, out for four) whenever their guns are drawn.
  4. Body Weight
    The harsh truth is that overweight people move more slowly, are more vulnerable to secondary injuries like heart attacks and have a harder time physically recovering from any injuries they do sustain. On 9/11, people with low physical ability were three times as likely to be hurt while evacuating the Towers.
  5. Training
    It is much better, for example, to stop, drop and roll than to talk about stopping, dropping and rolling. [...] Make surprise drills an annual tradition in your office or home. Take the stairs down to the ground — don’t just stare at the stairwell door.