Crazy Eyes

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Scott Adams (Dilbert) shares his thoughts on Crazy Eyes:

I have a hypothesis that you can detect in a person’s eyes when they have a preference for imagination over direct observation. Let’s call that look Crazy Eyes because it can be unsettling to the third-party observer. With Crazy Eyes, I think the brain is accessing the imagination instead of the rational part of the brain, and it causes the eyes to have a sort of glassy, unblinking, dreamy, scary look. At least that’s how it looks to me.

I was noticing this again recently as I watched a news program about religious activists who were organizing their lives around a worldview that needs to be imagined because it can’t be directly observed. Their eyes had a spooky, dreamy look when they spoke of their plans, as if they were accessing their imaginations instead of whatever part of the brain does math. I’m not saying their worldview is wrong. I’m only saying that objective evidence in support of their worldview can’t be directly observed, so imagination necessarily has an important role in their daily lives, and their eyes showed it. They had Crazy Eyes.

Suppose you did a study where you took one group of religious people and one group of skeptics and filmed each of them speaking about whatever is important to them. Then you cropped out everything but the eyes and showed the films to a group of volunteer subjects. Could the volunteers distinguish the skeptics from the believers just by their eyes? I think they could, at least more than chance would predict.

I thought of this topic because the other day while working out in the gym I was having an exceptionally good hypomanic creative flood. It was wonderful. One good idea after another was popping into my head. I stopped to use the restroom, and when I was washing my hands I looked in the mirror and noticed that I had Crazy Eyes. I was so deep in my imagination that my eyes looked different even to me. It was jarring.

No child has ever been killed by poisoned candy

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

No child has ever been killed by poisoned candy, Lenore Skenazy reminds us — ever:

Even when I was a kid, back in the “Bewitched” and “Brady Bunch” costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.

That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy. (Oh, yes, he concedes, there was once a Texas boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix. But his dad did it for the insurance money. He was executed.)

Halloween isn’t Halloween any more:

Think of how Halloween used to be the one day of the year when gaggles of kids took to the streets by themselves — at night even. Big fun! Low cost! But once the party moved inside, to keep kids safe from the nonexistent poisoners, in came all the nonsense. The battery-operated caskets. The hired witch. The Costco veggie trays and plastic everything else. Halloween went from hobo holiday to $6 billion extravaganza.

Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

The OkTrends data-miners, who usually analyze free-dating-site OkCupid’s own data, make the admittedly self-serving argument that you should never pay for online dating, based on the for-pay sites’ own data:

  1. We’ll start with their yearly revenue: $250M in 2009 as reported by the industry analysts at Piper Jaffray and CNBC2.
  2. Since eHarmony charges users by the month, we’ll divide that big number by 12 and, rounding up, get $21M.
  3. Now all we need to know is how much the average user pays per month. If we divide that into the $21M they make, we know how many subscribers they have. Their rates run this gamut:

    $19.95 per month, for a 12-month subscription
    $29.95 per month, for a 6-month subscription
    $59.95 per month, for 1 month at a time

    From those numbers, we can see that they have somewhere between about 350,000 and 1,050,000 subscribers (the lower number supposes everyone is month-to-month, the higher supposes everyone is yearly).

  4. What’s the exact number? Well, I found this helpful nugget in eHarmony’s advertising materials3: On average, eHarmony obtains 12-15k new users every day and sees full audience turnover every 6.5 months.
  5. The most charitable way to interpret this last sentence is to assume their average account life is 6.5 months.
  6. We’re almost there. To get eHarmony’s total subscribers, we divide their $21 million in revenue by the average subscription price. Therefore maximizing total subscribers is just a question of minimizing the average monthly fee. First off, let’s do them the favor of assuming no one pays month-to-month.
  7. Our remaining dilemma can be expressed mathematically like this: We want to minimize monthly revenue (29.95x + 19.95y) while making sure the average account life works out to 6.5 (6.5x + 12y = 6.5) where x is the [share] of users on the 12-month plan, and y is the [share] of users on the 6-month plan.
  8. After some dickery with a legal pad we discover, in the best case for eHarmony, 1/13 of their users are on the yearly plan, and the rest subscribe 6 months at a time. Thus the minimum average monthly fee is $29.18. They have at most 719,652 subscribers.
  9. For the sake of argument, let’s round that up to an even 750,000.

So, having given eHarmony the benefit of the doubt at every turn, let’s look at where that leaves their site: 750,000 subscribers / 20,000,000 profiles ? 96.25% of profiles are dead.

Yes, only 1/30th of the “20 million users” they advertise is someone you can actually talk to. That’s the paradox: the more they pump up their membership totals to convince you to sign up, the worse they look.

Hun Archery

Friday, October 29th, 2010

I’m just pedantic enough to cringe when I hear about an archer firing a bow — but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this demonstration of a modern Hun rapid-firing in the manner of his ancestors:

Shooting 12 arrows in 17 seconds may seem slow compared to a modern semi-auto pistol, which can shoot a dozen rounds in four or five seconds, but it’s much faster than just about anything available until the late 1800s — and he was hitting moving targets, not spraying and praying.

Woman picks up own head after horse fall

Friday, October 29th, 2010

When you read that a young woman picked up her own head after falling off a horse, you may wonder about the gruesome particulars:

Thea Maxfield, who runs a stud farm in Oxfordshire, England, suffered a “hangman’s break” a clean break of the upper cervical vertebra when she fell from her dressage horse.

She tried to get out of the animal’s way as it galloped around after the fall, but when she tried to pick herself up, the horrified 26-year-old found her head stayed where it was.

Realising she had to move to avoid being stomped on, Ms Maxfield cupped her hands around her own head and lifted it into place to avoid damaging her spinal cord.
Doctors initially warned she may be permanently paralysed.

But incredibly after using a revolutionary fixed brace connected to a computer by tiny sensors for three months to help fuse the bones back together, she is now back riding seven months after the accident.

Do they save up “news” stories like this for seven months, until Halloween?

How Barack Obama is like Joan Jett

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Not many people could credibly explain how Barack Obama is like Joan Jett, but entertainment industry lawyer Jackie Fuchs can — and did, two years ago — because she went to Harvard Law School at the same time as Barack Obama, and, previously, under the name Jackie Fox, she had been the bass player for The Runaways:

Barack Obama reminds me of Joan Jett. They are the only two people I’ve ever known who have affirmatively chosen to give themselves a larger-than-life persona and then grew to fill it. I saw this a little better with Joan, given that she was a younger age when I knew her than Barack was when I knew him.
I don’t remember which came first, the persona or the black hair, but they pretty much went hand-in-hand. One day Joan just decided to become a bad-ass rock star. She dyed her hair black, bought a leather jacket, and started scowling. She turned her slouch from that of a shy person to that of a rocker who wears her guitar slung just a bit too low. She started standing at the front of the stage and doing the most talking in interviews. It was a noticeable and calculated transformation and if it seemed a bit silly and over-the-top at first, it has served her well over time. Act like a rock star long enough, do it unfailingly and well enough, and you become one.
When I met Barack Obama, in our first year of law school, he had already put on his big-time politician act. He just didn’t quite have it polished, and he hadn’t figured out that he needed charm and humor to round out the confidence and intelligence. One of our classmates once famously noted that you could judge just how pretentious someone’s remarks in class were by how high they ranked on the “Obamanometer,” a term that lasted far longer than our time at law school. Obama didn’t just share in class – he pontificated. He knew better than everyone else in the room, including the teachers. Or maybe even he knew he didn’t know, but knew that the leader of the free world had to be able to convince others that he did. Looking back now I can see that he had already decided that he was a future president, and he was working hard at filling that suit.

I wonder — was there a moment in his life when he did the presidential equivalent of dying his hair black and putting on a leather jacket? I’m betting there was, but he’d already done it by the time I met him. I’m sure Barack as a child was perfectly ordinary, just like Joan was. Until the moment he decided that he was a star. The Barack with whom I went to school wasn’t the Barack that debuted on the national stage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, but the president suit was already on, even if it was still too big for him.

In law school the only thing I would have voted for Obama to do would have been to shut up. When he made that speech [2004 Democratic Convention keynote address] almost exactly four years ago, I wanted to vote for him. For something, for anything. Now, as his vision of himself becomes a real possibility, though, I find that he may have filled out that suit all too well. It’s hard to see the humanity underneath. Even the humor feels calculated now. And again, just like with Joan, I have to wonder — is he so focused on the goal that he has to live that persona every moment of every day?

First Contact

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

In 1930, Australian prospectors made first contact with the people living in the interior of New Guinea:

This is the classic film of cultural confrontation that is as compelling today as when it was first released over 20 years ago.

When Columbus and Cortez ventured into the New World there was no camera to record the drama of this first encounter. But, in 1930, when the Leahy brothers penetrated the interior of New Guinea in search of gold, they carried a movie camera. Thus they captured on film their unexpected confrontation with thousands of Stone Age people who had no concept of human life beyond their valleys. This amazing footage forms the basis of First Contact.

Yet there is more to this extraordinary film than the footage that was recovered. Fifty years later some of the participants are still alive and vividly recall their unique experience. The Papuans tell how they thought the white men were their ancestors, bleached by the sun and returned from the dead. They were amazed at the artifacts of 20th century life such as tin cans, phonographs and airplanes. When shown their younger, innocent selves in the found footage, they recall the darker side of their relationship with these mysterious beings with devastating weapons.

Australian Dan Leahy describes his fear at being outnumbered by primitive looking people with whom he could not speak. He felt he had to dominate them for his own survival and to continue his quest for gold.

(Hat tip to Steve Sailer, who notes that a village chief recently spent $120,000 from Exxon to buy brides — well, pigs, with which to buy brides — and beer.)

A New Kind of Science is on the iPad

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

When Stephen Wolfram announced that a new kind of science is on the iPad, I assumed he meant that some version of Mathematica was coming to Apple’s tablet, but he was literally referring to A New Kind of Science, his book about using tools like Mathematica:

I and my assistants spent literally years producing all the diagrams in the book. But to keep the printed version to a manageable size (the 1280 pages of the book were the absolute limit for the binding technology we used), we had to print most of the diagrams quite small. Still, underneath, the algorithms we used generated incredible detail, most of which was invisible, except through the magnifying glass that I kept near my desk.

But now, with the iPad, I didn’t need that magnifying glass any more. I could just immediately use a couple of fingers to zoom in. And I went from page to page, looking at all sorts of diagrams, and seeing all those features that I last saw in fleeting moments more than a decade earlier on the screen of the NeXT computer on which I developed most of the book.

Many aspects of the science in the book rely on observation — on actually looking at systems in the computational universe. And I have no doubt that there are significant discoveries lurking in the details of many pictures in the book — that can now be exposed just by a simple zoom on the iPad.

There are other good things about having A New Kind of Science on the iPad too.

When I wrote A New Kind of Science, I broke it into two parts: the main text, which tells the core story of the science, and the notes, which give all sorts of details, background, and extra material — including some of my favorite technical and historical facts.

In the printed book, the notes had to be formatted quite small — and even so, they took up 300 pages. But they were so popular that we actually had to print a separate, large-format version of them. On the iPad, though, there’s no such issue; the notes are immediately accessible, and all nicely linked to the main text.

How much German World War I propaganda have you read?

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

How much German World War I propaganda have you read? Not much, I’m sure. Mencius Moldbug recommended reading The Vampire of the Continent, and Foseti took him up on it:

Before I started reading this, I decided to think about what I knew about the beginning of WWI. I knew that Europe was a tangled mess of alliances. I knew that England followed its historical pattern of allying itself in such away as to maintain a “balance of power” in Europe. I knew that the major powers were building up their armies and navies. I knew that when war broke in the Balkans, the alliances caused every country to instantly be at war with every other country. I knew that England was pledged to defend Belgium, but that it could have easily decided not to do so, when German attacked France. I knew that the war lasted a very long time and that lots of people died.

Looking back now on this narrative (which I have perhaps over-simplified slightly), I see some holes. Why were the alliances the way they were? If the major powers were accidentally drawn into war with each other — as the story goes — why were they willing to fight so long and lose so much? Why were they building up their armies prior to the outbreak of WWI? What did they hope to gain from the war once it had begun? Etc.

Reading Reventlow’s work, I realized that my understanding of WWI is based largely on Allied propaganda — this is really only a slight exaggeration. The hazy answers that I would have been able to provide to these questions were also based on Allied propaganda — this is hardly an exaggeration. Allied propaganda in 1916 (the year Reventlow wrote this book) is now known as “history.” The Allies, after all, won.

Reventlow’s work is over-the-top. But if Germany had won the war, it would probably be known as “history” now. Thus, one can argue that most of history is written by cranks.

Reventlow explains the build-up to WWI, starting with British foreign policy going back to the Spanish Armada:

Thus began, as British historians solemnly tell us, the “hero­ic age” of the English people. It was an age characterised by organised piracy and high way robbery; which was at first tolerated, and subsequently sanctioned, by the English sovereigns — especially by the Virgin Queen, the champion of Protestantism.

This is hard to argue with, Foseti notes:

In Reventlow’s telling, England did nothing good. In fact, in his telling, the industrial revolution didn’t really start in England. It started elsewhere, but since England controlled the seas, England prevented any other country from becoming truly industrialized. Instead, England stole technology from others and ensured that markets around the world were opened to its goods. In other words, if you want to industrialize, you should: 1) steal others’ technological advancements, 2) prevent their goods from being sold abroad, and 3) prevent anyone from closing off other markets to you. Actually, this sounds like it would be highly effective.

The Docs

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

The Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) has produced The Docs, a 200-page graphic novel, to help Navy Corpsmen with the stresses of combat deployments:

“The Docs” portrays four expeditionary Corpsmen from both active duty and Reserve components, who are deployed with Marine Corps and seabee units.

The story follows them as they grapple with having to kill enemy forces; struggle to save the lives of wounded Sailors and Marines; encounter home front problems such as injuries to their children, and other concerns that test their resilience.

In addition, they battle the stigma of seeking mental health care for their patients and for themselves, and gain greater awareness of their need to care for one another.

It’s always Mardi Gras at the Airport!

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

It’s always Mardi Gras at the airport, Borepatch reminds us, now that the Louis Armstrong International Airport has installed Rapid Scan 1000 millimeter-wave scanners:

To Tame Traffic, Go With The Flow

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

I thought this was old news, but a recent Santa Fe Institute working paper demonstrates that traffic lights that measure traffic inflow and outflow and communicate with their nearest-neighbor lights can smooth traffic and achieve the green wave:

When that happens, no drivers have to wait very long and sections of road don’t become so filled with cars that there’s no room for entering vehicles when the light does go green.

To achieve this rare bliss, traffic lights usually are controlled from the top down, operating on an “optimal” cycle that maximizes the flow of traffic expected for particular times of day, such as rush hour. But even for a typical time on a typical day, there’s so much variability in the number of cars at each light and the direction each car takes leaving an intersection that roads can fill up. Combine this condition with overzealous drivers, and intersections easily become gridlocked. Equally frustrating is the opposite extreme, where a driver sits at a red light for minutes even though there’s no car in sight to take advantage of the intersecting green.

“It is actually not optimal control, because that average situation never occurs,” says complex-systems scientist Dirk Helbing of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, a coauthor of the new study. “Because of the large variability in the number of cars behind each red light, it means that although we have an optimal scheme, it’s optimal for a situation that does not occur.”

Helbing and his colleague Stefan Lämmer from the Dresden University of Technology in Germany decided to scrap the top-down approach and start at the bottom. They noted that when crowds of people are trying to move through a narrow space, such as through a door connecting two hallways, there’s a natural oscillation: A mass of people from one side will move through the door while the other people wait, then suddenly the flow switches direction.

“It looks like maybe there’s a traffic light, but there’s not. It’s actually the buildup of pressure on the side where people have to wait that eventually turns the flow direction,” says Helbing. “We thought we could maybe apply the same principle to intersections, that is, the traffic flow controls the traffic light rather than the other way around.”

Their arrangement puts two sensors at each intersection: One measures incoming flow and one measures outgoing flow. Lights are coordinated with every neighboring light, such that one light alerts the next, “Hey, heavy load coming through.”

That short-term anticipation gives lights at the next intersection enough time to prepare for the incoming platoon of vehicles, says Helbing. The whole point is to avoid stopping an incoming platoon. “It works surprisingly well,” he says. Gaps between platoons are opportunities to serve flows in other directions, and this local coordination naturally spreads throughout the system.

“It’s a paradoxical effect that occurs in complex systems,” says Helbing. “Surprisingly, delay processes can improve the system altogether. It is a slower-is-faster effect. You can increase the throughput — speed up the whole system — if you delay single processes within the system at the right time, for the right amount of time.”

The researchers ran a simulation of their approach in the city center of Dresden. The area has 13 traffic light–controlled intersections, 68 pedestrian crossings, a train station that serves more than 13,000 passengers on an average day and seven bus and tram lines that cross the network every 10 minutes in opposite directions. The flexible self-control approach reduced time stuck waiting in traffic by 56 percent for trams and buses, 9 percent for cars and trucks, and 36 percent for pedestrians crossing intersections. Dresden is now close to implementing the new system, says Helbing, and Zurich is also considering the approach.

Gorgeous George

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

So much of what we consider pro wrestling goes back to Gorgeous George, a decent wrestler who took the entertainment element of the “sport” to new levels:

At 5’9” and 215 pounds, Wagner was not particularly physically imposing by professional wrestling standards, nor was he an exceptionally gifted athlete. Nevertheless, he soon developed a reputation as a solid in-ring worker. In the late 1930s, he met Betty Hanson, whom he would eventually marry in an in-ring ceremony. When the wedding proved a good drawing card, the couple re-enacted it in arenas across the country (which thus enlightened Wagner to the potential entertainment value that was left untapped within the industry).

Around this same time, Vanity magazine published a feature article about a pro wrestler named Lord Patrick Lansdowne, who entered the ring accompanied by two valets while wearing a velvet robe and doublet. Wagner was impressed with the bravado of such a character, but he believed that he could take it to a much greater extreme.
Subsequently George debuted his new “glamour boy” image on a 1941 card in Eugene, Oregon; and he quickly antagonized the fans with his exaggerated effeminate behavior when the ring announcer introduced him as “Gorgeous George.” Such showmanship was unheard of for the time; and consequently, arena crowds grew in size as fans turned out to ridicule George (who relished the sudden attention).

Gorgeous George was soon recruited to Los Angeles by promoter Johnny Doyle. Known as the “Human Orchid,” his persona was created in part by growing his hair long, dyeing it platinum blonde, and putting gold-plated bobby pins in it (which he deemed “Georgie Pins” while distributing them to the audience). Furthermore, he transformed his ring entrance into a bona-fide spectacle that would often take up more time than his actual matches. He was the first wrestler to really use entrance music, as he strolled nobly to the ring to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance,” followed by his valet and a purple spotlight.

Wearing an elegant robe sporting an array of sequins, Gorgeous George was always escorted down a personal red carpet by his ring valet “Jeffries,” who would carry a silver mirror while spreading rose petals at his feet. While George removed his robe, Jeffries would spray the ring with disinfectant (which reportedly consisted of Chanel No. 5 perfume), which George referred to as “Chanel #10″ (“Why be half-safe?” he was famous for saying) before he would start wrestling.

Moreover, George required that his valets spray the referee’s hands before the official was allowed to check him for any illegal objects, which thus prompted his now-famous outcry “Get your filthy hands off me!” Once the match finally began, he would cheat in every way he could. Gorgeous George was the industry’s first true cowardly villain, and he would cheat at every opportunity, which infuriated the crowd. His credo was “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!” This flamboyant image and his showman’s ability to work a crowd were so successful in the early days of television that he became the most famous wrestler of his time, drawing furious heel heat wherever he appeared.

It didn’t take long for pro wrestling to “evolve” into “sports entertainment”:

Muhammad Ali famously cited Gorgeous George as one of his influences:

A 19-year old Ali met a 46-year old George at a Las Vegas radio station. During George’s radio interview, the wrestler’s promo caught the attention of the future heavyweight champion. If George lost to Classy Freddie Blassie, George exclaimed, “I’ll crawl across the ring and cut my hair off! But that’s not gonna happen because I’m the greatest wrestler in the world!” Ali recalled, “I saw 15,000 people comin’ to see this man get beat. And his talking did it. I said, ‘This is a gooood idea!’” In the locker room afterward, the seasoned wrestler gave the future legend some invaluable advice: “A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous.”

Why George Soros Supports Legal Marijuana

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal has published a piece by George Soros on why he supports legal marijuana. After glancing at its subtitle — We should invest in effective education rather than ineffective arrest and incarceration — my expectations dropped, but the article itself starts with a reasonable point:

Our marijuana laws are clearly doing more harm than good. The criminalization of marijuana did not prevent marijuana from becoming the most widely used illegal substance in the United States and many other countries. But it did result in extensive costs and negative consequences.

Law enforcement agencies today spend many billions of taxpayer dollars annually trying to enforce this unenforceable prohibition. The roughly 750,000 arrests they make each year for possession of small amounts of marijuana represent more than 40% of all drug arrests.

Regulating and taxing marijuana would simultaneously save taxpayers billions of dollars in enforcement and incarceration costs, while providing many billions of dollars in revenue annually. It also would reduce the crime, violence and corruption associated with drug markets, and the violations of civil liberties and human rights that occur when large numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens are subject to arrest. Police could focus on serious crime instead.

Although I agree with the larger point, I feel compelled to play devil’s advocate on at least a few smaller points.

First, why is it a problem that 40% of all drug arrests are for small amounts of marijuana? I suspect that far more than 40% of the Americans who are in possession of drugs at any moment — maybe 90% — are holding nothing more than small amounts of marijuana. Should we expect small-time sellers to be dramatically harder to catch than big-time distributors?

Second, I find it disingenuous to refer to people arrested for marijuana possession as otherwise law-abiding citizens. In theory? Sure. In practice, law enforcement rarely comes into contact with otherwise law-abiding citizens. The people convicted for mere possession likely took a plea bargain or didn’t have enough evidence against them to justify a conviction for selling the drugs.

The rest of Soros’s argument seems aimed at mainstream liberals, not conservatives:

The racial inequities that are part and parcel of marijuana enforcement policies cannot be ignored. African-Americans are no more likely than other Americans to use marijuana but they are three, five or even 10 times more likely — depending on the city — to be arrested for possessing marijuana. I agree with Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, when she says that being caught up in the criminal justice system does more harm to young people than marijuana itself. Giving millions of young Americans a permanent drug arrest record that may follow them for life serves no one’s interests.

Racial prejudice also helps explain the origins of marijuana prohibition. When California and other U.S. states first decided (between 1915 and 1933) to criminalize marijuana, the principal motivations were not grounded in science or public health but rather in prejudice and discrimination against immigrants from Mexico who reputedly smoked the “killer weed.”

Although the stat that African-Americans are no more likely than other Americans to use marijuana seems suspect, it’s largely irrelevant when discussing arrest rates for possessing marijuana, because, again, arrests and convictions for possession aren’t primarily about casual users but about low-end dealers.

I would expect the Journal to focus on the simple point that prohibition is almost always a worse policy, for its stated goals, than taxation.

The Volunteer

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

James McCormick reviews Michael Ross’s The Volunteer: A Canadian’s Secret Life in the Mossad, which certainly sounds interesting:

It all started, as much of life does, with a girl. By marrying an Israeli girl, having a child, working on a kibbutz, learning Hebrew, and converting to Judaism, Michael Ross also took on the obligation of service in the Israeli reserves. In this book, he contrasts his basic training in the Israeli Defense Forces with what he received in the Canadian military. While the Canadian army is professional force with a noticeable distance between officers and men, the reserve forces in the IDF are known by name to their commanders and the men themselves form life-long bonds in the small country. Unbeknownst to most of his Israeli compatriots, however, Michael Ross had already served in Canada’s 2nd Special Service Force… a unit (since disbanded) which provided the bulk of commandos for the Canadian military. While maligned on occasion by Canadian newsmagazines as “lethal Boy Scouts” in comparison to the UK’s SAS, membership in the SSF nonetheless marked Ross as much more than an ordinary young soldier. His strength and exceptional marksmanship soon put him in charge of his platoon’s machine gun, one of three in his 150-man reserve company. With completion of his active service, he was transferred from a “regular combat engineering post” to a demolitions platoon in a reserve unit of the Golani Brigade. Again, this isn’t the mark of a JAG — just another guy. By 1985, he was deployed into south Lebanon for operations to ambush Hezbollah fighters.

Active service in IDF over, he was able to return to his young family and the kibbutz and spend time amongst the orchards and fields tended by his community. It was then he received a nondescript letter from the Israeli government inviting him to interviews for a government job. The interviews were unusual and the questions he was asked appeared aimless at times. His own imminent plans were to head back to British Columbia with his family. He was given a card with a number to call if he was still interested in a job when he returned to Israel.