The Goals of a University Education

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

What are the goals of a university education?, Steven Pinker asks:

It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition.

On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.

I believe (and believe I can persuade you) that the more deeply a society cultivates this knowledge and mindset, the more it will flourish. The conviction that they are teachable gets me out of bed in the morning. Laying the foundations in just four years is a formidable challenge.

The Missing Institution

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

There is no Jaime Escalante School of Mathematics Teaching, Michael Strong notes, but that’s the kind of missing institution we need to scale up quality instruction:

Teaching is fundamentally a performance art — real time interactions in chaotic and complex human situations. There are no institutions in our society that provide for an environment in which master practitioners of this performance art systematically transfer their expertise.


Imagine, instead, if Escalante had been a great martial arts teacher. He might have established his own school. Students from around the world would have flocked to learn directly from him. Gradually, some of his best students would open up their own schools. They would prominently display their lineage, the fact that they had studied directly with Escalante. People who were interested in becoming serious about a particular martial arts form would ask around to discover who were the best teachers. Those schools could charge a premium. Sometimes such schools would trace their lineage back through several generations of great teachers.

Becoming an Adult Prodigy

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Child prodigies get a lot of attention, Daniel Coyle says, but adult prodigies are even more impressive:

I’m talking about people in their thirties, forties, and beyond — people who are miles past any of the “learning windows” for talent, and who yet succeed in building fantastically high-performing skill sets.

People like Dr. Mary Hobson, who took up Russian at 56, and became a prize-winning translator. Or Gary Marcus, a neuroscientist who took up guitar at the age of 38 and taught himself to rock, or pool player Michael Reddick, or Dan McLaughlin, a 31-year-old who took up golf for the first time four years ago and now plays to an outstanding 3.3 handicap (and who also keeps track of his practice hours — 4,530 and counting, if you wanted to know).

We tend to explain adult prodigies with the same magical thinking as we use to explain child prodigies: they’re special. They always possessed hidden talents.

However, some new science is shedding light on the real reasons adults are able to successfully learn new skills, and exploding some myths in the process. You should check out this article from New Scientist if you want to go deeper. Or read Marcus’s book Guitar Zero, or How We Learn, by Benedict Carey.

The takeaway to all this is that adult prodigies succeed because they’re able to work past two fundamental barriers: 1) the wall of belief that they can’t do it; and 2) the grid of adult routines that keep them from spending time working intensively to improve skills.

Ivy League Admissions

Monday, September 29th, 2014

The most-read article in the history of the New Republic is not about war, politics, or great works of art, Steven Pinker notes, but about the admissions policies of a handful of elite universities:

At the admissions end, it’s common knowledge that Harvard selects at most 10 percent (some say 5 percent) of its students on the basis of academic merit. At an orientation session for new faculty, we were told that Harvard “wants to train the future leaders of the world, not the future academics of the world,” and that “We want to read about our student in Newsweek 20 years hence” (prompting the woman next to me to mutter, “Like the Unabomer”). The rest are selected “holistically,” based also on participation in athletics, the arts, charity, activism, travel, and, we inferred (Not in front of the children!), race, donations, and legacy status (since anything can be hidden behind the holistic fig leaf).


t would be an occasion for hilarity if anyone suggested that Harvard pick its graduate students, faculty, or president for their prowess in athletics or music, yet these people are certainly no shallower than our undergraduates. In any case, the stereotype is provably false. Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski have tracked a large sample of precocious teenagers identified solely by high performance on the SAT, and found that when they grew up, they not only excelled in academia, technology, medicine, and business, but won outsize recognition for their novels, plays, poems, paintings, sculptures, and productions in dance, music, and theater. A comparison to a Harvard freshman class would be like a match between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals.

What about the rationalization that charitable extracurricular activities teach kids important lessons of moral engagement? There are reasons to be skeptical. A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back — forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.

10 Lessons From Real-Life Revolutions That Fictional Dystopias Ignore

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Esther Inglis-Arkell lists 10 lessons from real-life revolutions that fictional dystopias ignore:

The Enemy of Your Enemy Is Not Your Friend. And even though smugglers who deal in that contraband may seem to oppose their government, they’re actually part of a stable system.

The Top Guy Isn’t Always the Problem. There were, and are, plenty of dictators who brutally check every attempt at reform. There have also been kings who supported the cause of justice and attempted reform, only to be stopped by a large group of people who had enough power and wealth to topple the monarchy more quickly than peasants could.

Sometimes Making Concessions Leads To Rebellion. Authors are concerned with making dictators frightening, rather than frightened. Remember that sometimes a “reasonable response” is not actually a reasonable response. Dictators are morally wrong — but they might be, practically speaking, right not to compromise.

Two Downtrodden Groups Will Usually Be Fighting Each Other. Both the Union and the Confederacy passed conscription acts. Exceptions to both conscription acts were contingent upon wealth.

Never Neglect the Practicalities. Women rioting for bread got the ball rolling on both the French and the Russian revolutions.

New Regimes Come With Crazy Ideology. Sometimes these radicalization plans are horrific, like China’s Great Leap Forward. The program was meant to modernize the nation, but was planned and executed by non-experts. As a result the modernization plans included asking farmers and urban neighborhoods to make steel in “backyard furnaces,” build aqueducts with no training, and kill every sparrow. The resulting insect plague and irrigation disaster caused a food shortage that resulted in between 18 and 45 million deaths.

Revolutions Take Place on a World Stage. When Americans rebelled against Britain, they didn’t do it alone. The French enacted devastatingly effective naval warfare against the British, committing 32,000 sailors to the cause. They also contributed soldiers, supplies, and money. Which made it awkward when France underwent its own revolution, and both the royalists and the republicans expected the United States to be on their side.

Violent Conflicts Keep Cropping Up From Within. Every revolution starts out by employing the “we are all brothers and sisters” ideology to get people on board.

Fear Alone Can Precipitate the Explosion. The French revolution was exported from Paris to the provinces because peasants, coming off a bad harvest and looking forward to a good one, were worried that their local nobility would sabotage their food supply in retaliation for the goings-on in Paris. Terrified, they took to the country houses, demanding food, cash, and rights. They took the Revolution nation-wide not because any particular event sparked retaliation, but because they feared it soon would.

Afterwards There Will Be Mythology for the Losing Side. There are very few regimes so terrible that they can’t be romanticized. This is especially true after they have been defeated. It’s easy to be sentimental about something when nobody has to deal with it anymore.

Could your birthday predict your fate?

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Could your birthday predict your fate? Yes, to some small extent:

The most obvious effects concern school grades — children born in at the end of the school year perform slightly worse than those born in the beginning, although the differences tend to peter out over the years. But there are other, more startling patterns that are not so easily explained.

In the late 90s, for instance, Leonid Gavrilov at the University of Chicago found that people born in the autumn tend to live longer. He has since confirmed the discovery with many different studies, looking at centenarians, his latest paper found that autumn babies are about 40% more likely to live to 100 than people born in March.

Gavrilov’s discoveries initially met with resistance and misunderstanding. “People who are not familiar with the most recent scientific studies on this topic remain sceptical, associating the work with astrology,” he says. “But when we submit our findings to peer-reviewed professional journals, they are now very well received by experts.” Sreeram Ramagopalan, at the University of Oxford, agrees that the field is gaining momentum. He points out that some of the earlier studies had only examined a small number of participants — meaning it was hard to be sure that the results weren’t simply a fluke. “Only very recently, in the last four or five years, have large studies addressed those issues comprehensively,” he says. Some of the recent findings come from tens of thousands of participants. Ramagopalan’s own studies, for instance, looked at the health records of nearly 60,000 patients in England, showing that winter and spring babies are typically more at risk of schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.

Others traits influenced by your birth season appear to be your eyesight (winter babies are the least likely to be highly short-sighted) and your risk of allergies (people born in the summer are less susceptible).

Admittedly, the mechanisms behind these trends are a little murky. Changes in diet and yearly waves of infection could, feasibly, influence the growth of developing baby, with a lingering effect on its health for decades afterwards — even your talent at baseball could be affected (professional baseball players are more likely to have been born in autumn than in spring, possibly because they were healthier at the very start of their lives). You may also be exposed to different kinds of allergens during different seasons. Alternatively, it could be as simple as the length of the day. When it comes to eyesight, for instance, studies have shown that periods of darkness help to regulate the growth of the eyeball.

How Civilizations Die

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Arnold Kling describes David P. Goldman’s How Civilizations Die as very anti-Islam, very pro-Jewish and pro-Christian, very heavy on the civilization-barbarism axis and shares this representative sample:

Wherever Muslim countries have invested heavily in secondary and university education, they have wrenched their young people out of the constraints of traditional society without, however, providing them with the skills to succeed in modernity. An entire generation of young Muslims has lost its traditional roots without finding new roots in the modern world. The main consequence of more education appears to be a plunge in fertility rates within a single generation, from the very large families associated with traditional society to the depopulation levels observed in Western Europe. Suspended between the traditional world and modernity, impoverished and humiliated, the mass of educated young Muslims have little to hope for and every reason to be enraged.

He thinks that recent events will lead people to give more consideration to such darker outlooks — and notices a change in the Zeitgeist:

By the way, my Facebook feed has changed radically in recent months, with much less political snark and a surfeit of cute animal videos. Part of me wonders if something like that happened in Britain when Hitler took power in 1933. Was politics just too unpleasant to contemplate at that point?

Chinese Diving Training

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Rett Larson is performance manager for EXOS-China in Shanghai, where he helps oversee and organize the Chinese Olympic team’s training. He shares 10 surprising truths from that talent hot-bed:

We mix ages like crazy: The juniors aren’t all lumped together like they are in most systems — instead, three-time Gold medalists train with top 10-year-olds. Each diving coach might be responsible for five athletes – three Olympic veterans and two juniors. The juniors get to mirror the elites all day, from training to eating to bedtimes. It also creates a sense of humility in the juniors, who have likely dominated in their provinces since they were six years old.

We spend most of our time working on super-basic dives: The Chinese have a higher training volume than the rest of the world – often more than 100 dives per day. But many of those dives are very basic. The first ten dives of the day might all be starting with your butt on the edge of the platform and falling into a simple dive. That’s it — and that’s the point.

We applaud spectacular failures: For the past decade China has won almost every competition by doing simple dives very, very well. Their technical proficiency is incredible because they practice longer and harder than any other country. But, they also know that they have to push themselves and innovate. You’ll see in the video a male diver attempting to be the first human to do four flips from the 10-meter board starting from a handstand. He doesn’t make it — spectacularly. What you don’t see is the ovation he gets from the rest of the team after his failed attempt.

We are obsessive about coaching every single rep: Each dive is given feedback, even the basic ones. A dozen coaches sit on the side of the pool and give immediate feedback on every dive that their athlete performs that day.

We avoid allowing our athletes to specialize in one discipline: The 10-meter platform divers won’t spend all day on the 10m board. They’ll have dives on the 3m, 5m, 6m, 7m, and even the springboards depending on what their coach wants them to work on. Each day the athletes receive a laminated sheet with their daily dives listed.

We accomplish our most important work outside of the pool: Chinese divers perform dry-land training better than anyone else in the world. If you ask the coaches — this is what has led to China’s dominance. As you’ll see in the video, their dryland training facilities are a Disneyland for divers. Like their dives in the pool, each athlete has a laminated sheet of dryland exercises that take them from the trampoline to the foam pit to the mats or to the runway to practice approaches. They move around the gym and are never on one piece of equipment for more than 20 minutes.

We seek lots of feedback from lots of coaches: As the athletes move around the dryland training area, they move into the zones of different coaches who offer a variety of corrections based on what their “coaching eye” sees. Chinese coaches all share a basic methodology so there’s no worry of conflicting messages being sent.

We use video as much as humanly (and technically) possible: In both the dryland facility and the pool there are closed circuit cameras that catch the dives being performed. After the athletes get out of the pool and receive feedback from the coach, they can look up on the huge monitors and see the dives for themselves.

We seek ways to establish team identity through sacrifice: No other Olympic team in the complex trains before 9 a.m. — but three days a week, our team rises early to train at six — because it’s a sacrifice. There’s no need to train at 6am instead of 9am. They do it because it’s inconvenient, and it creates an air of “we work harder than anyone else.”

We have way more fun than you might guess: Dryland training is a place where there is frequent playing around and laughing. The coaches let the athletes be kids. Now I’m not saying that it’s like a frat party (this is Communist China, after all), but compared to many teams I’ve worked with over the last 2.5 years in China, they have a good time.

Artificial Sweeteners, Glucose Intolerance, and the Gut Microbiota

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

I finally read the abstract of the Nature paper finding that artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota:

Non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) are among the most widely used food additives worldwide, regularly consumed by lean and obese individuals alike. NAS consumption is considered safe and beneficial owing to their low caloric content, yet supporting scientific data remain sparse and controversial.

Here we demonstrate that consumption of commonly used NAS formulations drives the development of glucose intolerance through induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota. These NAS-mediated deleterious metabolic effects are abrogated by antibiotic treatment, and are fully transferrable to germ-free mice upon faecal transplantation of microbiota configurations from NAS-consuming mice, or of microbiota anaerobically incubated in the presence of NAS.

We identify NAS-altered microbial metabolic pathways that are linked to host susceptibility to metabolic disease, and demonstrate similar NAS-induced dysbiosis and glucose intolerance in healthy human subjects. Collectively, our results link NAS consumption, dysbiosis and metabolic abnormalities, thereby calling for a reassessment of massive NAS usage.

Middle Class Values

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

The 20th century redefined what it meant to be middle class, Henry Dampier says, especially in the United States:

In the past, it was a particular set of mercantile and moral values combined with a basic material requirement of property ownership.

Gradually, with the help of more than a century of propaganda, it changed into a squishy set of beliefs centered around faith in education and in sending children to be educated by their priestly betters. This was not the case in the 19th century, especially in the United States: you can read about the disdain for formal education broadly shared by the barons of the bourgeoisie. Similarly, you can find a disdain for high culture, preferring the virtues of hard work, thrift, and personal restraint.

Previously, the role of thrift was critical. It was middle class to wear inexpensive shoes and simple clothing. Investors who wanted to show canniness would condemn company owners who used fancy pens or who purchased gilded books for paying excessive attention to form over function.

Parents instructed their daughters to marry men who displayed such values, in large part because it’s more natural for women to be physically attracted by rakes and not by dentists.

We can criticize these values from a different standpoint, but that’s not the point of this post. Whether or not those values were good or bad is less important than observing how they have been obliterated in the present.

Currently, middle class has become less about thrift and ownership and more about displaying your access to credit with enormous vanity purchases used to signal class status. Because, under democracy, it’s not possible to formalize class distinctions in law, people will often expend enormous sums to signal their status informally. They will buy expensive new cars on credit, buy expensive (and useless) educations for their children from the most prestigious (holy) institutions that they can get their children into, and buy ticky-tacky houses in the nicest neighborhoods that they can borrow for.

Part of this has to do with many decades of monetary experimentation that punishes saving and rewards borrowing, but that, too, is co-morbid with a change in values.

One of the big problems is that we have told everyone that they are ‘middle class’ even though that they show none of the attributes that were historically attributed to that class.

How to Write a Thriller

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Ian Fleming explains how to write a thriller:

People often ask me, “How do you manage to think of that? What an extraordinary (or sometimes extraordinarily dirty) mind you must have.” I certainly have got vivid powers of imagination, but I don’t think there is anything very odd about that.

We are all fed fairy stories and adventure stories and ghost stories for the first 20 years of our lives, and the only difference between me and perhaps you is that my imagination earns me money. But, to revert to my first book, Casino Royale, there are strong incidents in the book which are all based on fact. I extracted them from my wartime memories of the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, dolled them up, attached a hero, a villain and a heroine, and there was the book.

The first was the attempt on Bond’s life outside the Hotel Splendide. SMERSH had given two Bulgarian assassins box camera cases to hang over their shoulders. One was of red leather and the other one blue. SMERSH told the Bulgarians that the red one con-tained a bomb and the blue one a powerful smoke screen, under cover of which they could escape.

One was to throw the red bomb and the other was then to press the button on the blue case. But the Bulgars mistrusted the plan and decided to press the button on the blue case and envelop themselves in the smoke screen before throwing the bomb. In fact, the blue case also contained a bomb powerful enough to blow both the Bulgars to fragments and remove all evidence which might point to SMERSH.

Farfetched, you might say. In fact, this was the method used in the Russian attempt on Von Papen’s life in Ankara in the middle of the war. On that occasion the assassins were also Bulgarians and they were blown to nothing while Von Papen and his wife, walking from their house to the embassy; were only bruised by the blast.

So you see the line between fact and fantasy is a very narrow one. I think I could trace most of the central incidents in my books to some real happenings.

We thus come to the final and supreme hurdle in the writing of a thriller. You must know thrilling things before you can write about them. Imagination alone isn’t enough, but stories you hear from friends or read in the papers can be built up by a fertile imagination and a certain amount of research and documentation into incidents that will also ring true in fiction.

Having assimilated all this encouraging advice, your heart will nevertheless quail at the physical effort involved in writing even a thriller. I warmly sympathise with you. I too, am lazy My heart sinks when I contemplate the two or three hundred virgin sheets of foolscap I have to besmirch with more or less well chosen words in order to produce a 60,000 word book.

One of the essentials is to create a vacuum in my life which can only be satisfactorily filled by some form of creative work – whether it be writing, painting, sculpting, composing or just building a boat – I was about to get married – a prospect which filled me with terror and mental fidget. To give my hands something to do, and as an antibody to my qualms about the marriage state after 43 years as a bachelor, I decided one day to damned well sit down and write a book.

The therapy was successful. And while I still do a certain amount of writing in the midst of my London Life, it is on my annual visits to Jamaica that all my books have been written.

But, failing a hideaway such as I possess, I can recommend hotel bedrooms as far removed from your usual “life” as possible. Your anonymity in these drab surroundings and your lack of friends and distractions will create a vacuum which should force you into a writing mood and, if your pocket is shallow, into a mood which will also make you write fast and with application. I do it all on the typewriter, using six fingers. The act of typing is far less exhausting than the act of writing, and you end up with a more or less clean manuscript The next essential is to keep strictly to a routine.

I write for about three hours in the morning – from about 9:30 till 12:30and I do another hour’s work between six and seven in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.

I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used “terrible” six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren’t disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks.

I don’t even pause from writing to choose the right word or to verify spelling or a fact. All this can be done when your book is finished.

When my book is completed I spend about a week going through it and correcting the most glaring errors and rewriting passages. I then have it properly typed with chapter headings and all the rest of the trimmings. I then go through it again, have the worst pages retyped and send it off to my publisher.

They are a sharp-eyed bunch at Jonathan Cape and, apart from commenting on the book as a whole, they make detailed suggestions which I either embody or discard. Then the final typescript goes to the printer and in due course the galley or page proofs are there and you can go over them with a fresh eye. Then the book is published and you start getting letters from people saying that Vent Vert is made by Balmain and not by Dior, that the Orient Express has vacuum and not hydraulic brakes, and that you have mousseline sauce and not Bearnaise with asparagus.

Such mistakes are really nobody’s fault except the author’s, and they make him blush furiously when he sees them in print. But the majority of the public does not mind them or, worse, does not even notice them, and it is a dig at the author’s vanity to realise how quickly the reader’s eye skips across the words which it has taken him so many months to try to arrange in the right sequence.

But what, after all these labours, are the rewards of writing and, in my case, of writing thrillers?

First of all, they are financial. You don’t make a great deal of money from royalties and translation rights and so forth and, unless you are very industrious and successful, you could only just about live on these profits, but if you sell the serial rights and the film rights, you do very well. Above all, being a successful writer is a good life. You don’t have to work at it all the time and you carry your office around in your head. And you are far more aware of the world around you.

Writing makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living, though you might not think so to look at most human beings, is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product of writing.

Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector

Friday, September 26th, 2014

The US Marine Corps recently showed off a half-scale prototype of its Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector (UHAC):

The tracks, which are made of what the Marines call “captured-air foam blocks,” extend like flippers to propel the craft through the water. When it hits the beach, the foam flattens to become like the tracks on a tank or a bulldozer, only much softer, according to a report from Stars and Stripes.

Last week, the UHAC prototype, which is about half the size of envisioned production models, carried an assault vehicle from the Rushmore to the beach. The Marine Corps says a full-size UHAC would be able to carry much more.

“The full-scale model should be able to carry at least three tanks and a HMMVW (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle),” Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Perera, the Warfighting Lab’s Infantry Weapons Project officer, said in a statement. That’s about three times the load that the Corps’ current craft assigned to the task, called a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), can handle.

It also will be able to surmount bigger obstacles. While an LCAC can only get over a 4-foot-high sea wall, a full-size UHAC will be able to get over sea walls as high as 10, 12 or even 16 feet, according to the Corps.

The UHAC prototype type is not armored or armed, but Perera said production models would have armor plating and a .50-caliber machine guns for protection.
They also would be much faster. The prototype could only go 5 mph on the water, but a full-size UHAC should do 25 mph, Gen. Kevin Killea, commander of the Corps’ Warfighting Lab, told Stars and Stripes.

The UHAC prototype used last week is the third in the program, built upon a concept originally proposed by the Hawaii-based shipbuilding and research firm Navatek, Ltd.

“There has been a one-fifth scale model, then a one-quarter scale model and this is a half-scale model, so we have been progressing,” Frank Leban, program officer at the Office of Naval Research, said in a statement. “Every vehicle has incorporated more features and technology to help get us to the full scale.”

3D-Printed Drone

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Researchers have devised a 3D-printed drone, using a Google Nexus 5 smartphone for avionics:

Pig Carcass Wound Ballistics Lab

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Two (humanely killed) pig carcasses were shot with various weapons in order to take a look at the accompanying tissue damage:

Blunt injury to the base of the skull and chest with a pipe left insignificant visible damage. Although the skulls were not dissected, no obvious fractures or depression of the skulls were noted on external exam. Blunt impact to the chest wall did not result in any broken ribs. This may be a testament to the elasticity of the ribs in these relatively young animals. Conclusions: blunt trauma may indeed be an effective strategy through pain compliance (and may potentially be deadly force) but a large amount of force is required to cause significant tissue damage.

A single slash wound to the lateral chest wall with a small (~2.5 in) blade easily cut through the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and muscle. A single stab wound to the abdomen with the same blade penetrated through skin, muscle, peritoneum, and nicked the large bowel. A Special Circumstances, Inc. custom push dagger effortlessly punched through skin, muscle and rib into the chest cavity. Conclusion: a small, fixed-blade edged weapon provides an ideal balance between concealable and effective.

There was essentially no discernible difference between the Federal HST .40 and 9mm wound channel. Both rounds penetrated through chest and pelvic cavities leaving small but ragged wound channels. Both penetrated through interceding bone leaving comminuted fractures (to include sturdy structures such as scapula and pelvis.) Neither round exited the opposite side of the carcass. The 9mm round that had gone through the chest cavity was found under the skin of the opposite shoulder and retrieved. The round appeared intact and had fully mushroomed. Conclusion: “9 is fine.” Users of a high quality 9mm round should not feel outgunned.

The Hornady TAP 5.56 rifle round penetrated deeply into the chest and pelvic cavities. There was a large permanent wound cavity of macerated tissue. Both ribs and pelvic bones were fractured. Tiny fragments of metal jacket were recovered from the wounds, but the rounds otherwise appeared to have completely fragmented prior to stopping. Neither round penetrated through the opposite side of the carcass, although tissue deficits on the opposite side could be palpated through the intact skin. Conclusion: rifle rounds create devastating wounds due to significantly higher velocities than handgun rounds. The TAP round performed as advertised, creating a large permanent wound channel with massive tissue damage, dumping all energy into the target without exiting the opposite side. Again of note: there were no interceding barriers such as clothing, glass, or drywall.

Shotgun wounds were delivered to the lower extremities at what I believe would be the equivalent of the human equivalent of the lower leg near the ankle. Both bird- and buckshot left large diameter soft tissue wounds, and penetrated to and fractured the underlying bone. However, the birdshot penetrated no further than the bone. All buckshot pellets penetrated through the bone, out the opposite side of the limb, and into the contralateral limb, again fracturing bone. Several of the pellets penetrated completely through the contralateral limb, with one moderately deformed buckshot pellet being recovered deep in the tissue. Conclusion: for defensive purposes, buckshot is the way to go. Indeed, birdshot at close range left a devastating wound channel and fractured the underlying bone, but that was all. A shot to center mass with birdshot, even at close range, could stop short prior to contact with any vital structures and fail to stop.

Cannon Fodder

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

The great European armies relied on cannon fodder, Gary Brecher (The War Nerd) explains:

Often the best cannon fodder came from ethnic groups that were systematically crushed by the empire, then groomed as cannon fodder, where their desperation made them easy marks for flattery for “bravery” in the service of the empire that had destroyed their people. The Prussian Army recruited heavily among the Poles, Belarussians, Lithuanians and other Slavic groups. Slavs were excluded from Prussian institutions, which worked out very nicely, guaranteeing recruiters a steady supply of men of military age with no other option. And if they didn’t speak German, they could be taught by the rod.

That’s the horrible logic of recruiting the lowest of the low: The worse their lives become, the easier it is to sign them up as cannon fodder. If you look into the history of the most famous, illustrious military units, you find their origin in a minority ethnic group that’s been brutalized, walled off from the civilian economy, and then offered a chance to take the king’s shilling. Since European armies loved elaborate uniforms, these units would be “honored” with headgear or some other ethnic marker. And sure enough, whip-sawed by desperation and flattery, these units performed heroically, generating more flattery and a tradition of joining up, making the recruiter’s job even easier.

Which is why certain highly-decorated British regiments wear kilts. The Highland Scots, now extinct, scared the life out of Britain in 1745 by wading through better-equipped regular-army units staffed by English soldiers at Prestonpans. The Highlanders weren’t cute, quaint, or beloved in the minds of the London elite, when they heard how the Scots had charged out of the fog, swinging huge broadswords and screaming in Gaelic. The Highlanders were alien monsters — and Papists to boot, the worst crime of all in 18th-c. Britain.

After the inevitable defeat of the small, disorganized, half-armed Scottish invaders, the Empire pursued a classic two-phase plan. First, the extinction of the Highland Scots’ culture. The Earl of Cumberland, in charge of this phase, issued a classic “No prisoners!” order covering all Gaelic-speaking men of military age, armed or not. Anything associated with the rebel ethnic group was banned. Wearing tartan and playing the bagpipes were capital offenses in Scotland in 1746.

So how did it happen that this brutalized ethnic minority ended up marching in the Empire’s parades, decked out in tartan, with the pipes blaring, all through Victoria’s long century? That was phase two, and it worked very well, as it usually does. Once the insurgent ethnic group has been destroyed, it can be made quaint. Its markers — tartan, the pipes — can be used to flatter young Highland men into taking the king’s shilling. And best of all, the utter devastation of their homeland gives them no other options. And that’s always been the bottom line for getting good-quality cannon fodder: Make sure they have no other options.

You’ll find that grim sequence behind every military unit recruited from a crushed ethnic group.

Americans, fixated on skin color as a “racial” marker, tend to understand what the empires did (and do) to non-European groups like the Sikhs but miss how the technique — crush’em, then recruit’em and flatter’em — worked on other “white” European minorities just as well.