Is it possible to do parkour with a Captain America shield?

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

An Australian parkour athlete tries to perform his usual skills with a “Captain America” shield:

A campfire story, the greatest of all tall tales

Monday, December 18th, 2017

In The War Nerd Iliad, John Dolan presents The Iliad as a campfire story, the greatest of all tall tales:

Homer’s epics were first written down at a curious turning point between two eras, when the Greek Dark Ages gave way to Classical Antiquity. Before the seventh century BCE, there had been no ‘Western literature’, only Western literacy. The earliest Greek writing system — Minoan Linear B — was a bean counter’s tool to make receipts and invoices, not a medium for fiction or poetry. But though most storytellers probably couldn’t read, they weren’t slack in developing their art. The Iliad is long and complex enough to compete with modern novels. Indeed, since it emerged from the mists of oral tradition, it’s inspired a big family of literate authors, from Virgil and Dante to Ezra Pound and Thom Gunn.

Until the twentieth century, we didn’t know much about those mists of oral tradition. Then, in the 1930s, an American linguist named Milman Parry visited rural Yugoslavia, where oral epics were still performed by illiterate singers. Studying their cultures, he hoped to learn how oral poems were composed, how they were taught to the next generation and how much a poem’s text changed between singers and locales. Unfortunately, Parry died from an accidental gunshot wound soon after his return to the US. It took his student Albert Lord many years to continue the research and publish it in a 1960 book, The Singer of Tales.

Parry and Lord made a startling discovery: oral epics weren’t recited from set texts, but rather improvised by the singer during each show. In Lord’s words, ‘An oral poem is not composed for but in performance.’ Traditional bards were therefore much closer to today’s freestyle rappers than to page-poets like Virgil. While they inherited storylines, devices and formulae, each telling of a story was unique and off-the-cuff. The Iliad we have now wasn’t based on a previously used text, but on a specific performance dictated to a scribe.

Even so, it’s a very old story. Since the 1870s, archaeologists have found piling evidence that there was a real Trojan War between Bronze Age Greeks and Hittites. This means that the Iliad had been told and retold for at least five hundred years before a version got written down.

Some parts of Homer only seem like features and not bugs when we consider this oral heritage. Why do the Iliad and the Odyssey both start with the now-hackneyed phrase ‘sing, Muse’? That’s the performer — palms sweaty, vomit on his chiton, mom’s spaghetti — invoking divine aid to bless his improv. After writing had given poets the leisure to save and redraft their work, the ‘sing, Muse’ trope stagnated from a living superstition to an undead cliché.

Such a situation makes special problems for translators. Translation is more than just carrying a text from language to language; it’s also a passage from audience to audience. To its Greek listeners, the Iliad didn’t need footnotes or endnotes. It wasn’t ‘literature’ or a status marker for taste and education. It was popular entertainment, put on at boozy gatherings by MCs whose talent could get them free drinks. That mood is hard to recapture now, even if a translator’s philology is faultless. (Imagine a future where students pore over John Carpenter screenplays in Penguin Classics editions, but no living person has watched The Thing!)

John Dolan’s latest book, The War Nerd Iliad, offers a new approach to this challenge. Dolan is a retired professor and cult author most famous for blogging as ‘the War Nerd’, a curmudgeonly anti-expert who writes war analyses mixed with Swiftian black comedy. Since the early noughties, he’s sparred with right wingers over the legacy of ancient Greek civilisation — rebuffing the suggestion that it had any ‘Western values’ in common with modern America. The early Greeks, he emphasised, lived in a Talibanesque world shaped by endless warring between tribes and clans. Their culture allowed paederasty but frowned on any hetero desire that went beyond reproduction and arranged marriage. ‘Everything about [the Greeks] was alien,’ Dolan wrote in 2005.

The Stormtroopers’ normal human precision only seems inferior by comparison

Saturday, December 16th, 2017

Jonathan Jeckell busts the Stormtrooper marksmanship myth:

Clone Troopers used long rifles in their role as a mass land army during the Clone Wars, fighting engagements with the Droid Army in a variety of terrain that often called for heavy firepower and accurate long-range shots. But most Stormtroopers were issued pistols that fit their new role in short-range engagements, like fighting insurgents in cities or in the corridors onboard ships. Short weapons are handier than rifles for shock troops leading boarding parties fighting in confined spaces and also as lightweight sidearms for constabulary forces dealing with a few unruly civilians (or keeping the governor and other regional elites in line).

E-11 Blaster Rifle

The transition from rifles to pistols has a profound effect on the range and accuracy of engagements. A rifle provides a long foundation to support the weapon to control where it is pointed with many opportunities to brace it to keep it steady. A standing shooter has control of the weapon in at least three points across its length. The non-firing arm holds the end of the barrel, the butt of the weapon is planted firmly in the shooter’s armpit, and the firing hand holds the rifle in the middle. The shooter may also brace against a solid object, which substantially increases stability and the ability to accurately hold the weapon on target long enough to fire.

Pistols in contrast are held by one point (or two in the case of the long pistols used by Stormtroopers). The shooter’s body has many joints between the pistol and the ground, all of which continuously jostle despite efforts to hold them steady. The short barrel means that even the smallest movement results in larger deviations from the target as the shooter struggles with a single bracing point, trying to hold many levers (all the joints in your body) steady without jitter.

To illustrate the difference, the maximum effective range of the U.S. Army’s Beretta M9 9mm pistol is 50 meters, which means that the average person will hit 50% of the time at 50 meters. Meanwhile, the maximum effective range for the M4 Carbine is 500 meters—10 times further.

This becomes even more difficult when the shooter must react quickly and under extreme stress. Many shooters who excel on the range fail to hit what they are shooting at in combat unless they also train in realistic stressful quick-reaction scenarios. Police and the FBI maintain more useful statistics for pistol engagements because they are all studied in-depth afterwards. The FBI has found that pistol accuracy suffers when shooting in a real engagement. FBI data from 1989-1994 shows that the majority of engagements occurred within 6-10 feet (yes, feet). Less than 40% of the engagements were over 21 feet (7 meters). 60% of the engagements were within 0-21 feet, 30% from 21-45 feet, and 10% from 45-75 feet. None occurred beyond 75 feet. The average defender fires three rounds against a single assailant. The bad guys shooting at police hit their target just 14% of the time, and 95% of the police who achieve a 1st shot hit survive. This drops to 48% on the second shot. Law enforcement officers average 75-80% missed shots.

This means that Luke, Leia, and Han make some really unbelievable shots with pistols (and the scope doesn’t help). Chewbacca’s bow is held like a rifle, so his shots don’t stand out as much on the battlefield as being extraordinary. This makes the Stormtroopers’ normal human precision seem inferior in contrast. We know Luke is a Jedi, which can explain his extreme long-range accuracy with a blaster. We also know Leia has latent Force powers, which explains hers as well. Han may not be a Jedi, but he may have latent force-sensitivity despite his skepticism about the Jedi and the Force. Despite laughing off the Jedi, his piloting skill surpassed normal human capabilities like one, even though he always laughed off the Jedi.

I estimate the distance from Luke to these Stormtroopers to be at LEAST 150 meters, yet he shot two in quick succession here, then shot a foot-square door control before egressing from the fight. Leia and Han regularly made many such shots throughout the series.

The standard weapon of the Stormtroopers is the E-11 blaster rifle, which, despite its name, is rarely depicted with a stock. It was based on the British Sterling Mk IV submachine gun.

What’s odd, I pointed out to Jeckell, is that the professional soldiers aren’t decent with their primary arms, but the rebels are skilled with the Stormtroopers’ weapons. It’s clear Luke is an avid shooter (and pilot), as a country boy, but I wouldn’t expect him to be much of a pistol shot. I have no trouble imagining Han and Chewie as avid shooters, with their own weapons. I like the idea of Leia being plucky enough to get her hands dirty, but pistol-shooting is only intuitive out to five yards or so. It takes tremendous practice to master.

An inelegant weapon for a more barbaric age

Friday, December 15th, 2017

A lightsaber would not be an elegant weapon, as any plasma torch able to cut through a blast door like butter would vaporize flesh explosively:

He thanks Matter Beam of Tough SF for running the numbers. His estimate of a light saber’s output was 35 MW, about the same as a nuclear submarine’s reactor.

I found some footage of a modern plasma torch cutting through meat:

Star Trek’s phasers have the same problem as Star Wars’ light sabers, by the way. Vaporizing a human wouldn’t be much more elegant.

Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art comes to life

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Visual Effects students at the DAVE school in Florida have brought Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art to life in a trailer for The Star Wars:

Am I just reading fortune cookie riddles?

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

The Tao Te Ching shows up multiple times in Tim Ferriss’s books, but most people don’t “get” it:

The Tao Te Ching does show up a lot in both books. It also didn’t click for me for decades, and even now, I often think to myself: Am I just reading fortune cookie riddles?

So, you’re not alone!

I think this book opens more internal doors, or sparks more original insights, if you’re someone whose had at least 3-5 years of deep experience with meditation, psychedelics, or slow tai chi. It seems to depend on time spent in certain altered states. This probably sounds odd, and I could be wrong, but it’s something I’ve observed in myself and across dozens of others.

My and Josh Waitzkin’s preferred translation is by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, but this book can be confusing or seem like a dead end no matter what.

I might suggest first trying out a few other “manuals for life” that also pop up a lot across the 130+ people in Tribe of Mentors, etc. like Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, or even Zorba The Greek. Dune is also a common recommendation by incredible leaders who think certain characters exemplify excellent leadership.

Hope that helps!


They are helplessly drawn to celebrity

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

For years the press has been telling us that industries that hire mostly men must be bad for women, Steve Sailer notes:

Instead, however, we see that careers where women are most abundant and most ambitious, such as television and movies, are where they are most exploited.

Why? It’s simple supply and demand.

Conversely, just as women got the vote way back in 1870 in the frontier states of Wyoming and Utah because cowboys wanted to encourage schoolmarms to migrate, women tend to be treated rather well by lonely male employees in industries where they are rare.

For example, secretaries at midcentury Lockheed Aircraft, such as my mother and her friends, tended to do quite well for themselves in acquiring husbands. After my mother was widowed when her Marine first husband was killed in combat on Iwo Jima in early 1945, she found my engineer father. They were married from 1946 until her death in 1998.

My father wasn’t a genius engineer. His career was spent figuring out how to keep the more brilliant designers’ envelope-pushing airplanes, such as the F-104, from crashing. And he was socially awkward. But he was a good man.

My mother’s best friend married another engineer, Henry Combs. They were married from 1948 until her death in 2013. Ben Rich called Henry a “genius” in his superb memoir Skunk Works about Lockheed’s legendary R&D wing that Rich led. Combs became the technical director of the Skunk Works and, according to Rich, was the chief designer of the 2,000-mph SR-71, the most awesome airplane ever built.

The founder of the Skunk Works, Kelly Johnson, America’s most famous aeronautical engineer, married a girl in the Lockheed accounting department in 1937. When she was dying in 1969, she explained to Kelly that he was too busy to take care of himself, so she had arranged for him to marry his secretary, which he did. When his second wife was dying, she in turn found a third wife for him.

But that was Kelly Johnson in the bad old days in a conservative industry. In contrast, in progressive media industries in feminist 2017, alpha males like Weinstein and Rose treat women more like Ismail the Bloodthirsty did.

The female sex has shown that their emotional responses have not yet evolved to deal well with modern visual media. Women tend to be too impressed by the men on screen and too hell-bent to get themselves on screen.

In one of Philip Roth’s lesser novels, The Dying Animal, the narrator is a 62-year-old college professor who seduces one of his undergraduate students every semester and then discards her for a new one the following semester. How does the old dog do it? He moonlights on the local PBS channel as an arts expert for a few minutes per week. This might not seem like much fame, but for a 19-year-old coed, Roth’s narrator explains, “They are helplessly drawn to celebrity, however inconsiderable mine may be.”

The result is monotony and boredom

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

The Harvey Weinstein episode revealed two generational truths about Hollywood culture, Victor Davis Hanson argues:

One, the generation that gave us the free-love and the anything-goes morals of Woodstock discovered that hook-up sex was “contrary to nature.” Sexual congress anywhere, any time, anyhow, with anyone — near strangers included — is not really liberating and can often be deeply imbedded within harassment and ultimately the male degradation of women.


Two, Weinstein reminded us, especially in his eleventh-hour medieval appeals for clemency by way of PC attacks on the NRA and Donald Trump, that mixing politics with art was, as our betters warned, always a self-destructive idea.

Hollywood ran out of original thought about three decades ago, and the people noticed and so keep avoiding the theaters. How many times can a good-looking, young, green progressive crusader expose a corporate pollution plot, or battle a deranged band of southern-twangy Neanderthals, South African racists, or Russian tattooed thugs, or a deep-state CIA cabal in sunglasses and shiny suits? How many times can the nth remake of a comic-book hero be justified by updating him into a caped social-justice warrior from L.A.? Ars gratia politicorum is suicide.

The ruling generation in Hollywood is out of creative ideas mostly because it invested in political melodrama rather than human tragedy. It cannot make a Western, not just because Santa Monica’s young men long ago lost the ability to sound or act like Texans in 1880, but because its politics have no patience with the real world of noble people who are often doomed, or flawed individuals who are nevertheless defined by their best rather than worst traits, or well-meaning souls who can cause havoc, or courageous men who fight for bad causes.

Political correctness has become Maoist: All art must serve progressive struggle, defined in Hollywood as good race and gender warriors pitted against bad racists and sexists. The result is monotony and boredom. All the cleavage, flexed biceps, cheap obscenity, rap-music scores, and car crashes cannot hide that lack of an idea.

An important tradition for Gotham’s inner city in these hard times

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

The Wayne Manor Holiday Food Drive has become an important tradition for Gotham’s inner city in these hard times:

Not everybody knows your rules

Friday, November 10th, 2017

Seinfeld co-creator Larry David did something during his Saturday Night Live monologue that is almost unknown in 21st-century America, Steve Sailer reports. He engaged in Jewish self-criticism in front of gentiles:

It’s hardly surprising that David would be the one to stumble upon this prime directive of contemporary culture: Don’t recognize Jewish patterns.

Both Seinfeld and David’s subsequent HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm are shows about rules, about the descendants of shtetl dwellers awkwardly adrift in a world without an all-encompassing set of laws itemized in the Talmud. David’s characters are constantly either getting in trouble for violating rules that they didn’t know existed or are outraged that other people aren’t aware of rules that seem obvious to them.

As Larry’s blond wife on Curb explains to him in exasperation after his attempt to enforce his assumption that the cutoff for Halloween trick-or-treating ought to be age 13 ends in disaster:

You know what? Not everybody knows your rules, Larry. You’ve got your own set of rules and you think everyone’s going to adhere to them, but they’re not because nobody knows them.

On SNL, Larry, who is now 70, was appealing to an older Jewish-American rule that the most obvious way for Jews to avoid criticism for stereotypically Jewish failings, such as exploiting shiksas as if they were members of a different tribe, is to try to behave better.


In other words, show some shame. And don’t try to shame everybody else.


It’s worth observing that White Guilt and Jewish Guilt are diametrically opposite. White Guilt is the worry that your ancestors were too ethnocentric, but Jewish Guilt, as given its classic formulation in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, is the concern that you aren’t ethnocentric enough for your ancestors.


One common explanation for why nobody, not even Larry David, is supposed to joke about Jewish tendencies is because Jews are so powerless.

An alternative and perhaps more plausible answer is because Jews are so powerful.


Indeed, much of the Late Obama Age Collapse of the progressive coalition into squabbling factions seems to be focused on heavily Jewish institutions such as Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the universities. There isn’t all that much wealth left in red-state America for identity-politics groups to strip-mine, so their claws are now out for the wealthy institutions of blue-state America, whose leaderships are, of course, quite Jewish.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. An intelligent people should be able to sidestep these kinds of self-inflicted disasters. But when you make your highest priority keeping everybody else unaware, you wind up intellectually disarming yourselves as well.

Who would appreciate storytelling more?

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Country music may not be popular with African-Americans, but it is popular with Africans:

Think about it. More than any other American popular music, country music tells a story. And who would appreciate storytelling more than a people who come from an oral storytelling tradition. In Africa, radio beats television in popularity and availability, so what’s important on radio is what’s important to Africa.


Henry Makhoka heads programming for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, the nation’s oldest and largest radio station. Makhoka says the allure of country music in Africa is its iconic characters — the gamblers and the highway men, the handwringing mothers and the cock-sure sons, the Rubys, the Lucilles, the Joleens, the grievous angels and the folks who just ain’t no good. These are the characters whose stories Kenyans identify with more than anything that smells like teen spirit.

(Hat tip to HBD Chick.)

Your politics may go dormant for a second or four

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

Lazarus demonstrates the difficulty, if not impossibility, of telling an anti-tech, anti-futurist, anti-inherited-wealth dystopic story in a visual medium:

It exemplifies a revised (rebooted?) version of François Truffaut’s maxim about the conundrum of antiwar war movies: they are too exciting and filled with triumph to convince the audience of war’s inhumanity.

Like the 1980s British comic Judge Dredd or the Hunger Games movies, the very nature of visually representing a dystopia compounds the problem, because the aesthetic requirements of the genre mask its political urgency. The ruling class, no matter how vile, will simply look cooler than the ruled. Exclusively textual depictions of dystopias like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We allow appropriately wary minds to create fittingly forbidding images. We don’t have the same freedom with comics, movies, TV, or video games.

You can approach the series completely in sync with its political commitments, but when Forever Carlyle shakes off a grizzly rifle shot to the ribs and vaults over a tank like a super-powered Simone Biles, your politics may go dormant for a second or four. This tension makes for good entertainment — which Lazarus is — but can Lazarus’s creators really say they’re offering an earnest warning about neo-feudalism when the series makes the body armor look so good?

I don’t blame Rucka and Lark. The difficulty is baked into the genre. It’s extremely hard to guess what a truly political dystopia might look like. Typically, when an underclass triumphs against the existing order the story ends. There’s no blueprint for what comes next. And all too often, in life and in art, what comes after dystopia is more dystopia.

There are no decent civil servants, there are no smart cops, there are no loyal first responders out there

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

David Brin doesn’t like the anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian message of Lucas’s later Star Wars movies, but he recognizes that even non-propaganda films have their reasons for depicting failing civlizations:

Why do almost no films ever show civilization functioning, institutions doing their jobs, democracy working? The answer is simple: laziness. A storyteller’s job is to keep his or her characters in pulse-pounding jeopardy for 90 minutes of film, or 600 pages of a novel. It’s hard to do that if they can dial 911 and get skilled professionals to come to their aid. So you see a panoply of tricks used by directors and authors to deny their characters useful aid. That’s fine, but when the trick is to simply spread the assumption that there are no decent civil servants, there are no smart cops, there are no loyal first responders out there, then that spreads a propaganda message that such things are impossible. It takes real writing to come up with a way of keeping your characters in jeopardy, despite there being skilled professionals who want to help them.

There’s a reason the Western was such a successful genre for so long — and why so many sci-fi and fantasy settings resemble Westerns.

Six turning and four burning

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

The Convair B-36 Peacemaker was the largest mass-produced piston-engined aircraft ever built, with the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built:

The genesis of the B-36 can be traced to early 1941, prior to the entry of the United States into World War II. At the time it appeared there was a very real chance that Britain might fall to the German “Blitz”, making a strategic bombing effort by the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) against Germany impossible with the aircraft of the time.


After the establishment of an independent United States Air Force in 1947, the beginning in earnest of the Cold War with the 1948 Berlin Airlift, and the 1949 atmospheric test of the first Soviet atomic bomb, American military planners sought bombers capable of delivering the very large and heavy first-generation atomic bombs.

The B-36 was the only American aircraft with the range and payload to carry such bombs from airfields on American soil to targets in the USSR. The modification to allow the use of larger atomic weapons on the B-36 was called the “Grand Slam Installation”.


Beginning with the B-36D, Convair added a pair of General Electric J47-19 jet engines suspended near the end of each wing; these were also retrofitted to all extant B-36Bs. Consequently, the B-36 was configured to have ten engines, six radial propeller engines and four jet engines, leading to the B-36 slogan of “six turning and four burning”. The B-36 had more engines than any other mass-produced aircraft. The jet pods greatly improved takeoff performance and dash speed over the target. In normal cruising flight, the jet engines were shut down to conserve fuel. When the jet engines were shut down, louvers closed off the front of the pods to reduce drag and to prevent ingestion of sand and dirt.

The B-36 features prominently in the 1955 film Strategic Air Command, along with Jimmy Stewart, who was a real-life military pilot:

He does not mean that the state of Denmark needs to adjust its tax rate

Monday, October 9th, 2017

I recently shared a video about how American animated films have progressed from conservative fairy tales to liberal allegories as CGI technology has transformed the filmmaking process:

T. Greer doesn’t quite agree with the videomaker’s characterization:

Perhaps a better phrase for these films would be “Mencian fairy tales.” Ancient China nerdery is strong among my readers, and most of you probably understand the reference. For those who don’t, an explanation: Mencius is a famous philosopher who discoursed his way across the central Chinese plains back in ye olde ancient days. In the textual record he is depicted as the first great Confucian after Confucius himself. One of his big ideas was that the most important way to ensure stability and happiness of a kingdom is cultivate virtue in its ruler.


For Mencius, politics is ultimately personal. The rise and fall of kingdoms and countries is a matter of character. But this is hardly an idea unique to the Chinese tradition. When Hamlet struts onto the stage and declares that there is “something rotten in the state of Denmark” he does not mean that the state of Denmark needs to adjust its tax rate, or that it the bureaucracy is overstaffed and inefficient, or that the Danish peasantry are being oppressed by the yoke of entrenched intersectional prejudices embedded in its structures of power. Hamlet means that the court of Denmark has nosedived into moral decline, and that the stench of the court’s moral depravity poisons all of the kingdom around it.

So it is with most of these Disney stories.