Thursday, June 30th, 2011

You may have heard that a peanut is not a true nut, but a legume. So, what is a true nut?

A nut in botany is a simple dry fruit with one seed (rarely two) in which the ovary wall becomes very hard (stony or woody) at maturity, and where the seed remains attached or fused with the ovary wall.

So, hazelnuts, hickories, chestnuts and acorns are true nuts. That leaves just about everything we call a nut as a non-nut, typically a seed:

  • Almonds, pecans and walnuts are the edible seeds of drupe fruits — the leathery “flesh” is removed at harvest.
  • Brazil nut is the seed from a capsule.
  • Candlenut (used for oil) is a seed.
  • Cashew nut is a seed.[4]
  • Gevuinanut
  • Horse-chestnut is an inedible capsule.
  • Macadamia nut is a creamy white kernel (Macadamia integrifolia).
  • Malabar chestnut
  • Mongongo
  • Peanut is a legume.
  • Pine nut is the seed of several species of pine (coniferous trees).
  • Pistachio nut is the seed of a thin-shelled drupe.

Would you like some roasted drupe-fruit seeds?

Athletes’ Inevitable Decline with Age

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Derek Jeter’s 37th birthday raises the issue of athletes’ inevitable decline with age:

The mythology is that old-time players, who did not lift weights and knew nothing about nutrition, had mercilessly short careers. And that today’s players, who condition themselves year-round — often with the help of private trainers, the most up-to-date scientific methods, nutritionists and massage therapists — play longer and have more years of peak performance. It makes sense. It’s also not true.

With more rigorous drug testing, a typical baseball career is beginning to look again as it did throughout the game’s history. Journeymen players stay in the game until their early- or mid-30s, and all-star-level players maybe a couple of years beyond that. A handful of superstars retain enough skills to make significant contributions into their late 30s. Those with the most talent almost certainly lose their skills at the same rate as lesser players, but they stay in the game for a long time because 85 percent of a superstar is still a very good player.

The rotund, hard-living Babe Ruth was a productive player until age 39. Older baseball fans remember Willie Mays’s sad last years with Mets, when he was past 40 and couldn’t play anymore, and may assume that he hung on far too long. But at age 40, while still playing for the San Francisco Giants, Mays led the league in on-base percentage and stole 23 bases.

Even the game’s greatest players, though, cannot defy biology. However long they play, their best seasons occur when they are still strapping young men in all their fast-twitch glory. Stan Musial, who played till age 42, had his best home-run year at 27. Joe DiMaggio retired at 36 but his strongest season — 46 home runs, 167 runs batted in, .673 slugging percentage — came when he was just 22. Ken Griffey Jr. played through the heart of the steroid era but is one of the few sluggers from that age untouched by scandal. His four best power years were from age 26 to 29.

Steve Sailer believes that’s a bit dogmatic:

We’ve seen evidence of ballplayers in the past who extended their primes into their thirties by working out. Slugging shortstop Honus Wagner peaked in 1908 at age 34, probably because he lifted weights. Ruth got himself a personal trainer after his bad 1925 season and worked out during the winters, so he had his famous 60 homer season in 1927 at age 32.

What about more recent examples of late resurgences?

I could list some, but one of my readers has a theory that the impact of steroids on famous American sports statistics can be traced way, way back before Jose Canseco’s 40-40 season in 1988. All those great seasons from the 1970s, 1960s, or even late 1950s that you think of as shining examples of a more innocent age? All on the juice, he asserts. After all, we know Olympic shotputters and the like were using steroids in the later 1950s, so why not professional athletes?

QB John Hadl has said that the San Diego Chargers strength coach was handing out steroids in the locker room in 1965. Or how about The Juice? O.J. Simpson went from a pretty good high school player in 1964 to the most exciting college football player since Red Grange in 1967. How’d that happen? (When Ken Kesey read about O.J.’s little run-in with the law in 1994, he said: That sounds like a combination of cocaine and steroids.)

Growing up on the West Coast in the 1960s and 1970s, I assumed, like most people, that the outstanding performance of West Coast athletes was simply part of the general shift of money and talent to California. Maybe, but maybe there was also a Venice Muscle Beach / Hollywood / Castro Street gay / Olympic track & field steroids connection to West Coast pro athletes going on.

I don’t think there’s much doubt. The 1963 Chargers led the way:

As training camp approached, Gillman sent letters to his players, explaining that they would be lifting weights and turning the conventional wisdom of decades on its head at Rough Acres. On the first day of camp, he introduced a 5-foot-6 Louisiana man named Alvin Roy, the mastermind of their weight program.

“[Gillman] said, ‘This man is what every team will eventually have: a strength coach,’” says Hall of Fame offensive tackle Ron Mix.

And then Roy addressed the players.

“I still remember his speech, almost verbatim,” Mix says. “He said, ‘Because you’re going to be lifting weights in addition to working out twice a day, you’re going to need more protein.’ And he said, ‘When I was a trainer for the U.S. team in the Olympics, I learned a secret from those Rooskies.’ And he held up a bottle of pink pills, and he says, ‘This stuff is called Dianabol and it’s going to help assimilate protein and you’ll be taking it every day.’ And, sure enough, it showed up on our training tables in cereal bowls.”

Dianabol was the brand name for methandrostenolone, an artificial form of testosterone designed to promote healing and strength in patients. In 1963, it had been on the market for only five years, and used by U.S. weightlifters for fewer than three.

It was legal.

It wasn’t banned by any athletic organization.

And as the players discovered, it worked.

“It was probably at the end of the camp, people were talking: ‘Have you noticed anything?’ Yeah, I noticed,” offensive guard Pat Shea says. “The strength was there.”

This is the same era when they left “bennies” (amphetamines) in a bowl, like M&Ms, for the players to grab on their way in or out of the locker room.

From San Diego, the Chargers’ strength coach moved on to Kansas City, where the Chiefs soon gained a reputation for massive linemen.

Corruption of Institutional Purpose

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

William S. Lind discusses the inevitable corruption of institutional purpose that has spread even to the leanest branch of our armed forces:

When I first came to Washington in 1973 to join the staff of Senator Robert Taft, Jr. of Ohio, I assumed naïvely that our armed forces defined themselves in terms of winning battles, campaigns and wars. Senator Taft thought that is what they should be about, which is why working for him was both a pleasure and an honor. But I quickly discovered that for three of the four, victory was defined less in military than in bureaucratic and political terms. The Army, the Navy and the Air Force had already lost sight of their institutional purposes. What they were about, at senior levels, was selling programs and getting money from Congress. Whether the program had any relevance to war was not important, so long as it sold.

My wake-up call came when the Navy approached the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which Senator Taft served, with a request for $1.4 billion (in 1974 dollars) for a nuclear-powered “Strike Cruiser.” Senator Taft and I had the same response: How do you fight the Soviet Navy, which was largely a submarine navy, with nuclear-powered cruisers? The Navy had no answer, and Taft led the fight to kill the program. The ship was never built, and the Navy has hated me ever since.

At that time, and for many years more, up until the mid-1990s, there was one service that stood out as an exception to the corruption of institutional purpose: the Marine Corps. At all levels, including the most senior, the Marine Corps was still about war, not money. When I began writing on maneuver warfare in 1976, Marines of every rank were interested. They weren’t quite sure what I was talking about — there was then very little literature in English on the evolution of German military doctrine — but if it pertained to war, they felt they should learn. That joint effort of civilians, Marines, and Air Force Colonel John Boyd culminated in the adoption of maneuver warfare as the Marine Corps’ official doctrine when Al Gray became Commandant.

Sadly, the Marine Corps is no longer an exception. As has long been true with the other services, now, if you talk about war at Quantico or HQMC — especially Fourth Generation war, the kind of war Marines are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan — you are neither right nor wrong, you are simply irrelevant. Fourth Generation war does little to justify programs and increase budgets, so it is not of interest. The “real world” is the world of budget politics, not war.

As I said, this type of corruption, corruption of institutional purpose, is subtle. Few Marines, or soldiers, sailors, or airmen for that matter, ever make an explicit, conscious choice to become corrupt in this way. They merely accept the rules of the game as given and play by them, and that is all it takes. As members of hierarchical, bureaucratic organizations, they have been encouraged since their first day at OCS to play by the rules. Thinking about whether those rules were valid was “above their pay grade” — and still is, even when they become generals.

“The Pentagon now controls the world’s largest planned economy.”

Lennon was a closet Republican

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

By 1979, John Lennon had become embarrassed of his former radicalism and had become a closet Republican, according to Fred Seaman, who was his assistant at the time:

John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on Jimmy Carter.

He’d met Reagan back, I think, in the 70s at some sporting event… Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that… He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.

I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who’s an old-time communist… He enjoyed really provoking my uncle… Maybe he was being provocative… but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he’d been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naivete.

(Hat tip to Samuel Lenser.)

Auction Ends Myth of Plump Marilyn Monroe

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

A recent auction ends the myth of a plump Marilyn Monroe, Virginia Postrel reports:

The auction’s top-ticket item was Monroe’s famous white halter dress from “The Seven Year Itch,” the one that billowed up as the subway passed. It sold for almost $5.66 million (including the buyer’s premium) to an unknown phone bidder. Sharing a rotating mirrored platform with Hedy Lamarr’s peacock gown from “Samson and Delilah” and Kim Novak’s rhinestone- fringed show dress from “Jeanne Eagels,” Monroe’s costume was displayed on a mannequin that had been carved down from a standard size 2 to accommodate the tiny waist. Even then, the zipper could not entirely close.

But that’s just one dress. Perhaps the star was having a skinny day. To check, you could look across the room and see that Monroe’s red-sequined show dress from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was at least as petite, as were the saloon costume from “River of No Return” and the tropical “Heat Wave” outfit from “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

In fact, the average waist measurement of the four Monroe dresses was a mere 22 inches, according to Lisa Urban, the Hollywood consultant who dressed the mannequins and took measurements for me. Even Monroe’s bust was a modest 34 inches.

That’s not an anecdote. That’s data.

The other actresses’ costumes provided further context. “It’s like half a person,” marveled a visitor at the sight of Claudette Colbert’s gold-lame “Cleopatra” gown (waist 18 inches). “That waist is the size of my thigh,” said a tall, slim man, looking at Carole Lombard’s dress from “No Man of Her Own” (a slight exaggeration — it was 21 inches). Approaching Katharine Hepburn’s “Mary of Scotland” costumes, a plump woman declared with a mixture of envy and disgust, “Another skinny one.”

The pattern she noticed was real. At my request, Urban took waist measurements on garments worn by 16 different stars, from Mary Pickford in 1929 (20 inches) to Barbra Streisand in 1969 (24 inches). The thickest waist she found was Mae West’s 26 inches in “Myra Breckinridge,” when the actress was 77 years old.

I suppose knowing their heights would help put their other measurements in context.

Seeing Through the Other Side’s Eyes

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

After the 2004 Khobar massacre, an al Qaeda journal, Sawt Al-Jihad, published an interview with the leader of the attack. Whether the account is genuine or not, William S. Lind says, it provides us an opportunity to see through the other side’s eyes:

Much of Al-Nashami’s account could come straight from Homer. It stresses the vast strength and great riches of the opponent, contrasted with the weakness of the four men who made up the al Qaeda raiding group. Allah is a constant player, just as gods fought for Greeks and Trojans. Defeated enemies are publicly humiliated: “We tied the infidel by one leg [behind the car]…everyone watched the infidel being dragged.” While the enemy was strong in numbers, they were also cowards: “We encountered forces that hastened to defend the Americans…Their great cowardice was evidenced by their behavior. They were very far away, and as we approached them they kept withdrawing and distancing themselves.” Heroes boast and show enemy heads: “Brother Nimr swaggered around inside the compound…we found a Swedish infidel. Brother Nimr cut off his head, and put it at the gate so that it would be seen by all those entering and exiting.”

Right in the midst of the fighting, when the raiders are hungry they eat and when they are tired they sleep. After the first encounter, “We turned to the hotel. We entered and found a restaurant, where we ate breakfast and rested a while.” Later, surrounded by Saudi security forces, “The brothers slept for an hour…Then we decided we would be the ones to attack.”

Yet the modern is mixed intimately with the Homeric. Sawt Al-Jihad asks, “How did you begin [the operation]?” Al-Nashami replies, “We left the apartment at precisely a quarter to six.” Arab time keeping is usually like Scandinavian cuisine: there isn’t much of it and most of what there is is bad. Mission orders show up: “We met with the brothers and I explained to them the goals and plan of the operation.” The raiders did multiple recons, and “we had learned more than one route to the second site.” Most interestingly, the raiders use television both to send and receive information. In the middle of the raid, they call Al-Jazeera and do an interview. When they need tactical intel, they turn on the TV: “Then I went to one of the rooms. I watched the news on television…and the news was that the emergency forces ‘were now breaking into the compound.’ I split up the brothers to certain positions in the hotel, and we got ready to repel an attack by the dogs of the state…”

This mix of ancient and modern is a central characteristic of 4GW, and it is one of the strengths of religiously motivated non-state forces. It is also a very difficult thing for militaries such as our own to understand. It is central to our opponents’ strength at the moral level, which shows through strongly in the interview: “Many [of the Arabs and Muslims at the compound] prayed for our victory and success…We spoke with them…until their fear was gone and they began to joke with us and to direct us to the sites of the infidels…”

On the other side, the reported cowardice of the state security forces illustrates a problem with hiring people to fight for a cause they do not believe in: “The tracer bullets frightened these cowards greatly…We shouted ‘Allah Akbar’ and ‘There is no God but Allah, and…We broke through the first ring [of security], and the second, and the third.” Hireling troops often do not have much fight in them, as we have also seen in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, the raiders escape with only one killed by a deus ex machina ending: “We ascended above one of the artificial waterfalls which overlooked the road. The distance between us and the ground was very great, 13 meters…But with Allah’s mercy, the ground was soft and wet, because of the waterfall.” The only thing missing is Zeus or Athena gently handing the raiders down.

Again, there is no question that the account is propaganda. But propaganda is itself revealing. It allows us to see our enemies as they see themselves, and the self-image of al Qaeda that emerges from this account is one that should concern us. The seamless blending of ancient and modern, of divinely protected heroism and technological competence, is potent. That is particularly true when, as in this case, al Qaeda’s opponent is the hired troops of a corrupt regime — a regime America depends on to keep the oil flowing.

The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments is an old-school chemistry book for young teens, which has a reputation for being way too dangerous.

(You can download a PDF, too.)

Camp Century

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The Cold War led to some wild projects, like Camp Century, a nuclear-powered research center, built just 800 miles from the North Pole, on a 6,000-foot high plateau in Greenland, where temperatures reached –70°F and winds reached 125 mph:

Construction started June 1959 and was completed October 1960. The completed project cost $7,920,000, which included the $5,700,000 cost of the portable nuclear power plant. Maximum use was made of snow as a building material. Camp Century utilized a “cut-and-cover” trenching technique. Long ice trenches were created by Swiss made “Peter Plows”, which were giant rotary snow milling machines. The machine’s two operators could move up to 1200 cubic yards of snow per hour. The longest of the twenty-one trenches was known as “Main Street.” It was over 1100 feet long and 26 feet wide and 28 feet high. The trenches were covered with arched corrugated steel roofs which were then buried with snow. Prefabricated wood work buildings and living quarters were erected in the resulting snow tunnels. Each seventy-six foot long electrically heated barrack contained a common area and five 156 square foot rooms. Several feet of airspace was maintained around each building to minimize melting. To further reduce heat build-up, fourteen inch diameter “air wells” were dug forty feet down into the tunnel floors to introduce cooler air. Nearly constant trimming of the tunnel walls and roofs was found to be necessary to combat snow deformation. [...] Maintaining the tunnels at Camp Century required time-consuming and laborious trimming and removal of more than 120 tons of snow and ice each month. Camp Century was abandoned for good in 1966. The Greenland icecap, in constant motion, would completely destroy all the tunnels over the course of several years.

I can only imagine the How I Spent My Summer Vacation essays that resulted from this:

On August 30, 1960, two Boy Scouts were selected to serve as “Junior Scientific Aides” at Camp Century, upon invitation of the Army Engineers. Their job was to assist the engineers and scientists at Camp Century. The two chosen were Kent Goering, of Neodesha, Kansas and Soren Gregersen of Korsor, Denmark. Goering and Gregersen were selected from the many top Scouts who applied. Beginning in October of 1960, they spent five months living and working in the city under the ice. Goering stressed that the principal lesson he learned was “how to live with others and myself, in isolation, at close quarters, every minute of every day for months.” Gregersen, who spent two consecutive summers at Camp Century, described his time there as a great personal experience, and one that most likely influenced his career choice of geophysics.

You simply must watch the video:

(Hat tip to io9.)

Old Malls Refuse to Die

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Indoor malls have been replaced by open-air lifestyle centers, but the old malls often have good locations — like the Beverly Center, just east of Beverly Hills — and refuse to die:

In general, Taubman Centers’ plan of attack involves going upscale and pressing for stores with high sales per square foot. The mall’s movie theater was recently replaced with the Forever 21 store. In the U.S., theaters get only $95 in sales per square foot, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Food courts, at $792 per square foot annually, have higher revenue than restaurants, at $459. Jewelry stores get $887 per square foot, on average, and Mr. Taubman wants more of them at the Beverly Center. He notes that Prada and Tiffany signed leases there in the depths of the recession.

Philly Flash Mobs

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

What happens when you take the tools of benign, ironic, hipster pranks and give them to a much less benign, much less ironic group? Well, at the Upper Darby Sears, dozens of West Philly “boys” stormed in and ran off with thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise:

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said he believed that the group organized the mass theft through social networking, although the exact networking site was not yet clear.

He said that the kids traveled together on public transportation and arrived at the store on 69th Street en masse about 7:10 p.m.

The kids — Chitwood estimated there were around 40 boys — scattered throughout the store and began to “rob, steal and pillage,” he said.

They took everything from sneakers to watches but left behind the boxes and tags, Chitwood said.

As of this weekend, Sears was still trying to tally up its losses, which were believed to be in the thousands of dollars, police said.

Responding officers were able to capture 16 of the suspects, the youngest of which was 11 and the oldest, 19. The 19-year-old was charged with retail theft and corrupting the morals of a minor.

The other 15, all of whom were juveniles from West Philadelphia, were charged with retail theft and released to the custody of their parents, Chitwood said.

At least a bunch of them got caught.

On Saturday a similar group went on a rampage in Spring Garden, in central Philadelphia, beating people up:

Philadelphia police responded to two reports of pedestrians being assaulted by a large group of young people along Broad Street about 9:30 p.m.

One of those reports came from Emily Guendelsberger, 27, city editor for local arts and entertainment content for the Onion, the satirical newspaper and website. She was walking with seven friends on Green Street near Broad when they were accosted, she said. Guendelsberger, who remained hospitalized with a broken leg yesterday, declined to comment further.

A friend who was with her at the time, Daily News staff writer Molly Eichel, said that they were walking down Green Street when a group of teens was walking down Broad. “We heard kids yell, ‘Run, run,’ ” Eichel said. “Some kid just came out of nowhere and punched my friend Charlie in the face.”

Eichel said that when her group tried to run, about 20 teens chased them down the street. “They were kicking kids down and punching them when they were down,” she said.

Two other friends sought treatment at area hospitals for facial injuries, Eichel said.
Shortly before Guendelsberger’s assault, police said, they responded to another assault, about five blocks away at Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue, of a 20-year-old man who said that he was attacked by a large group of men and women.

Police said that he was treated for a bruise and abrasion under his right eye.

Twitter users said that the mob ranged from 50 to 100 people and that participants not only assaulted people but also threw trash cans and lit fireworks.


Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

In Philip K. Dick’s alternative-history classic, The Man in the High Castle, the Nazis don’t simply win the war; after conquering Europe and Africa, they go on to drain the Mediterranean and convert it into farmland, too. Lebensraum!

What I didn’t realize was that this idea was not a product of PKD’s wild imagination; it was a real plan proposed in the 1920s by the (non-Nazi) German architect Herman Sörgel, who hoped to create a counterpart to the Americas called Atlantropa:

Its central feature was a hydroelectric dam to be built across the Strait of Gibraltar, which would have provided enormous amounts of hydroelectricity and would have led to the lowering of the surface of the Mediterranean Sea by up to 200 metres, opening up large new lands for settlement, for example in a now almost totally drained Adriatic Sea.

Sörgel saw his scheme, projected to take over a century, as a peaceful European-wide alternative to the Lebensraum concepts which later became one of stated reasons for Nazi conquest of new territories. Atlantropa would provide land and food, employment, electric power, and most of all, a new vision for Europe and neighbouring Africa.

The Atlantropa movement, through its several decades, was characterised by four constants:

  1. Pacifism, in its promises of using technology in a peaceful way;
  2. Pan-European sentiment, seeing the project as a way to unite a war-torn Europe;
  3. White-centric superiority (and even racist) attitudes to Africa (which was to become united with Europe into “Atlantropa”), and
  4. Neo-colonial geopolitics which saw the world being divided into three blocs, America, Asia and Atlantropa.

While it was generally considered technically feasible in its time, and became well known even in mainstream society, active support was generally limited to architects and planners from Germany and a number of other primarily northern European countries.

Critics derided it for various faults, ranging from lack of any actual cooperation of Mediterranean countries in the planning to the impacts it would have had on the historic shoreline cities stranded inland when the sea receded.

The project reached great popularity in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and for a short period again, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but soon disappeared from general discourse again after Sörgel’s death.

Hell’s First Cousin

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

What Thomas Barnett proposes in The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action is bad in two senses, William S. Lind argues — it won’t work, and if somehow it did the result would be evil:

In both books, Barnett divides the world into two parts, the Functioning Core and the Non-Integrating Gap. This is parallel to what I call centers of order and centers or sources of disorder, and I agree that this will be the fundamental fault line of the 21st Century. Barnett’s error is that he assumes the Functioning Core will be the stronger party, able to restore order in places where it has broken down. [...] A cynic might suggest that the United States can’t even do this in New Orleans much less in foreign countries.

If somehow this worked, it would bring about Hell’s first cousin, Lind says — a Brave New World:

He would create an inescapable new world order that bears a remarkable resemblance to the one Aldous Huxley described in his short novel Brave New World, published in the 1930s — a “soft totalitarianism” where the first rule is, “you must be happy.” Happiness, in turn, is a product of endless materialism, consumerism, sensual pleasure and psychological conditioning. If that sounds like a good description of American popular culture, it is exactly that culture Barnett proposes to force down the throat of every person on earth, with the U.S. military serving as the instrument of coercion.

Playing OPFOR

Monday, June 27th, 2011

A former infantry soldier who was stationed at the Ft. Irwin National Training Center tells his tales of playing OPFOR against visiting units:

Our units would spend two weeks every month living in small towns and dressing up in Arabic attire. We would all be assigned families, names and job titles. Only a hand-full of us would be enemy combatants though. Roughly 60% were civilians. When the soldiers would come through on random patrols/searches, it was our job to deceive them, test them, teach them customs (which we were taught) and mainly point out their weaknesses by engaging them in fire-fights, blowing up their convoys, and trying to sneak into their bases (so freaking fun).

There were also Iraqi interpretors who lived alongside us (women, men, no children) who mostly traveled from San Diego. They were paid very well from what I hear. However, they never played the role of terrorist and were just there to provide us with working knowledge of the culture, as well as to provide a more realistic environment for the units who were training against us. I’ve trained with special forces, SEALs and many, many units who have come through. Some of the best times and most fun I’ve ever had in my life happened out in those towns.

Also, do you want to to know the true definition of camping? LOL. To me, that’s when we would be assigned roles as a sniper team, and were told that BLUEFOR (the soldiers) would be coming into town for a few hours to patrol. Wake up at 6am, grab your weapon, MRE, water and sneak into a 3 story building without being scene by choppers or scouts. Wait 5 hours, every few minutes peeking out the window to see if they’ve arrived. Keep smelling your buddies farts permeate the dusty 100 degree room that you’re sharing with him. Wait until the patrol has moved into town and set up. Give it just a few more minutes of silence, just when the soldiers think that everything is cool, and then open fire from a dark room. Pop off as many rounds as possible without giving away your presence and then hi-tail it out of there once you’ve realized you’ve been compromised. Try to make it out the back of the building – jump in an F-150 and speed the fuck out of there before being cornered by 3 bradleys. Man, I miss it.

Here he tells his best story:

I was given this role along with another guy one time to try and enter their base and kill them. That was like, not really done before – but they were always thinking of new missions for us. Our towns would usually be about 10-15 miles away from their bases. My friend and I got up at 6am and were driven in an F-150 truck out to a road and dropped off about 500 meters from their entrance. It was like 100 degrees in the middle of summer, and we had never really been trained on sniper tactics (we were just infantrymen). So, I guess just from watching a lot of movies and playing Operation Flashpoint and BF2 we did our best.

We slowly crawled, inch by inch, 400 meters on our stomachs for 2 hours on the hot desert sand into their FOB (forward operating base). Pretty much .. it’s where that unit was set up in the desert. Barbed wire parameter, white tents – all of their medic tents, chow tents, weapons, sleeping tents were in this little city. We snuck in, stole their weapons, went into their HQ (radio tent, headquarters) aimed our rifles at them all (since they werent expecting to be killed, they had no laser gear on) so we said “You’re dead, you’re dead, you’re dead.’

We hear an alarm go off and we hid behind a humvee while all the soldiers cluster fucked around, running and screaming “wtf is going on?!” -”You’re dead, you’re dead.” Eventually we were captured and detained in the back of a bradley for about 3 hours. The rules were that if we were ever captured, we could only be held for a day and then returned to our town. Our roles would be changed, or we wouldn’t be allowed to play as bad-guy again for that rotation because they’d already seen our faces.

Well… someone forgot that we were there. For 3 hours we just sat in the heat with no water. Eventually we said “fuck this shit.” and planned our escape. It was like… some units didn’t take this training very seriously – and complacency kills. So, Brian and I decided to steal their weapons again and actually LEAVE their base with them and return to our town. We knew that this was… really role playing and kind of straying from the scope of our roles. But, being young dumb 21 year old grunts we had nothing better to do.

We snuck out of the bradley and went into one of their tents where they had their M-4s just laying on a table. We grabbed 1 each and snuck our way through the base until we reached the barbed wire. I forgot how we managed to get through them, but we made our way out and crawled another 400 meters to the road. We flagged down a guy in our town and we went back. I think I was expected to be chewed the fuck out for stealing their weapons, but we were actually escorted infront of our CO and 1SGT and commended for thinking “outside the box”.

The next day a patrol came through and raided our entire town looking for the weapons. Our CO – 1SG and XO did not play OPFOR with us – they remained a referee between us and the units. My 1SG walked out with the two M-4s and approached their CO and said something like, “Next time, don’t let your soldiers put their weapons down”. – which is what you’re trained even in Basic. Always know where your weapon is, don’t leave it.

I enjoyed his “special mission” story:

One night, after a two week training mission when we were about to pack up to head back to base, we get told we’d have a “special” mission at around mid-night. Normally we would all be given roles to play, ie: My name is Akbar Majdeen and I’m a part of Family x and I’m a sheep herder (secret bomb maker). It would be up to the unit we’re role-playing with to determine who is a threat, and who knows what. Yet, since we had just finished our two week training, we didn’t know who the hell we were supposed to play against at midnight.

We were pretty much told, “Go up to your rooms and wait. When it happens, you’ll know.” Ooook? … cool. So I go upstairs and we have our weapons. At around 12am we all figure nothing is going to happen (typical Army shit – Hurry up and wait). So I decide to bust out my cot and go to sleep. Shut my eyes for a bit and then I hear a clink – clink a few feet in front of me. Open my eyes and BOOM. A fucking flash bang grenade goes off. My vision turns white, ears start ringing – some sight comes back but everything is wobbly and fuzzy.

A silhouette of 6 figures comes running up the staircase and we’re told “GET THE FUCK DOWN”. As I reach for my M-4 I get pushed against a wall and kneed in the gut. I’m on my knees and my hands are then zip-tied behind my back. Myself and about 7 other guys are escorted downstairs and placed against the walls. All I could see was two teams of 6 guys, big guys – tall, built dudes with some high-tech gear. Cameras mounted to their kevlar helmets, ballistic side-arms – tactical gear.

One of them starts demanding, “Who the hell is your leader!?” (we’ll… see.. the thing is we weren’t given roles this time. We had no idea who we were supposed to be). After a stagnant silence, one of the guys grabs my friend and puts him against a wall and makes him crouch. It was some type of stress position. Nothing worked, he didn’t crack because he didn’t know anything. And then, suddenly, everyone stops talking and one of the big ass dudes says, (I’ll never forget this) “Ok guys, thanks for playing. One team, one mission.” And all 12 of them exit the small building located in the middle of no-where (200 miles in the desert). We quickly stand up and run outside to see them.

At 2am, in the pitch dark these guys simply disappear. No sound of a chopper. No sound of any vehicles. No sight of them at all. Soon we all gather around the center of town and someone says, “Who the fuck..”. Our CO comes out and says, “SEALS.”

The SEALs were quiet, fast – operated on their own terms. They were completely… unconventional in every aspect.

In other parts of the mock town, SEALS did encounter resistance from other soldiers playing roles. Gotta look at it from my perspective though. Just spent 2 weeks in the desert training non-stop. Usually 5am – 1am every day. Out of no-where on our last day we’re told to stay for some “surprise” mission. At some point in the night, after hearing and seeing nothing – and not knowing what to expect, I crashed the fuck out.

If it was anyone other than SEALS/Spec Ops we would have most likely heard them. I was expecting choppers, Bradley’s, tanks – something loud… an attack/ambush. No where in my wildest dreams did we expect spec-ops. They were so silent and fast that it didn’t matter. One of the SEALS did “die” in the tunnels below the city in a fire-fight. The entire fight in the city lasted about an hour between 60+ enemies and like… 12-20? SEALS (not sure on the number). My “family” however was in a 2 story building, and 2 guys were pulling guard while me and another person slept. Still didn’t matter if I was awake or not. I wouldn’t have seen or heard them come up those steps anyway. Pretty quiet for such huge fucking guys. Every one of them was at least 6’0+

The Perils of Threat Inflation

Monday, June 27th, 2011

When we hear about the military threat posed by China, we need to remember the perils of threat inflation, which William S. Lind discussed a few years ago:

China is, to coin a Rumsfeldism, the threat we want, not the threat we face. By dint of much puffery, China can be made into the devoutly prayed for “peer competitor,” an opponent against whom our “transformed,” hi-tech, video-game future military can employ its toys, or more importantly, justify their acquisition. Our real enemy, the thousand faces of the Fourth Generation, fails to meet that all-important test and is therefore deflated into “rejectionists” and “bad guys.”

In fact, China’s conventional forces are a long way from being able to take the United States on, especially at sea or in the air. The issue is not less equipment — not that China has much of it — but personnel. Chinese ships spend little time at sea, its fighter pilots get few flight hours, and one can hardly speak of a Chinese “navy”: it’s really just a collection of ships. In a naval and air war with the United States, China would have little choice but to go nuclear from the outset, which is what I suspect it would do.

Taiwan, a small island of no strategic importance to the United States, is somehow pushing the US into a strategic rivalry with China:

Taiwan is vastly important to China, because the great threat to China throughout its history has been internal division. If one province, Taiwan, can secure its independence, why cannot other provinces do the same? It is the spectre of internal break-up that forces China to prevent Taiwanese independence at any cost, including war with America.

But America has no corresponding interest. A war with China over Taiwan would be, for the U.S., another “war of choice,” not of strategic necessity. We are currently fighting two other “wars of choice,” and neither is going particularly well.

A strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China points to an obvious parallel, the strategic rivalry between England and Germany before World War I. That parallel should give Washington pause. If the rivalry — completely unnecessary in both cases — leads to war, as it then did, the war will have no victor. Germany and Britain destroyed each other. While Britain finally won, the British Empire died in the mud of Flanders.

A war between China and the United States could easily result in a similar fatal weakening of the U.S. (perhaps after a strategic nuclear exchange), while a defeated Chinese state may dissolve, with China becoming a vast region of stateless, Fourth Generation instability. Is Taiwan worth risking such an outcome? Was Belgian neutrality worth the Somme, Bolshevism and Hitler?

Somali Pirates Are Using Human Shields

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Somali pirates are using human shields:

Piracy continues to thrive in northern Somalia (mainly Puntland). Last year, some 40o ships were attacked, and about a thousand civilian sailors were captured and held for ransom. Over $100 million in ransom was paid, after ships and crews were held, on average, for five months. At least a third of the captive sailors were abused in some way. About a third have been used as human shields, on smaller cargo and fishing vessels used as mother ships. All this causes little uproar in the West because most of the captured sailors are Indian or Filipino.

The pirates are increasingly carrying human shields on their mother ships, thus protecting themselves from attack by the anti-piracy patrol. However, the warships have taken to shooting up the speedboats (used for the actual attacks on merchant ships) towed behind the mother ships. This will force the pirates to haul the speedboats onto the mother ships (usually fishing ships or small cargo vessels).