New Amsterdam Reload

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Pirates really were bristling with weapons, as the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum explains:

To survive battles in close quarters, pirates had to be walking arsenals. Pistols took time to reload, so most pirates carried more than one. Blackbeard carried six in addition to a cutlass and a dagger.

Jim Cirillo would approve of the New Amsterdam Reload.

Ruling Classes that Lead Dangerous Warrior Lives

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

A successful Malthusian society that manages to form a middle class still needs to mobilize that middle class, Brad DeLong argues, to aid the aristocracy in overwhelming neighbors’ aristocracies:

Think about this, and you will recognize that an aristocracy faces the same Malthusian pressures and dilemmas as does the population as a whole. The population, the demos, lives off the limited resources provided by the land. The aristocracy, the aristoi, live off the wedge between what the demos produce and what they consume. If the aristoi do not find social mechanisms to constrain their numbers, their standard of living will also tend to settle at a point so low that their numbers no longer grow at all rapidly. And the social mechanisms to keep the population growth rate of the aristoi down are the same — and the patriarchal mechanisms of female infanticide, prolonged female virginity, and substantial permanent female celibacy, plus in the case of the aristoi excess male deaths in war, in the duel, or in the hunt. The alternative is to wind up with a very large “upper class” indeed, one made up of huge numbers of princes — but princes who live little better than peasants, a la Armenia or La Mancha.

But there is an additional constraint on the aristoi. A single faction of aristoi controlling an agrarian territory also faces an interesting Laffer curve problem — perhaps the only real-life Laffer curve problem. Tax rates too low leave them with too few resources vis-a-vis neighboring aristocracies. Tax rates too high leave them with too-low a population base. If extent of territory is too small they get absorbed. If extend of territory is too large they suffer rebellion and fraction. Moreover, the tax collectors have to be efficient enough and the soldiers competent enough that the phalanx or whatever is large enough and skilled enough on the battlefield — which means that the upper classes live not in attractive luxury but, rather, “return with your shield or on it”, and there is a premium on figuring out how to attach the middle class to the aristoi to fill out the battle line — to acquire and maintain what Ibn Khaldun called assibiyah, which is difficult because the middle class’s share of the benefits from rule by the current dominant group is not all that large. Add in balance-of-power considerations and the natural diffusion of technology and organization thus lead us to expect to see an agrarian world dominated by ruling classes that lead dangerous warrior lives, mistreat women, and govern moderately-sized principalities in semi-stable military-political equilibrium with each other. True “empires” should be rare, and evanescent. Think Timur-i-Leng, Ashoka, or even Charlemagne.

Leadership: “The Book” versus Reality

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

About two-thirds of the way through his Afghanistan deployment, Chris Hernandez had a new intelligence lieutenant arrive at his firebase, and the crusty old E-7 convinced the young man to go outside the wire with some French Marines the next day. The young lieutenant was nervous about giving a bad order that might get someone killed:

I gave him a serious look. “Lieutenant. You don’t have to worry about giving a bad order tomorrow. You’re a new lieutenant, new in country. If we get into a firefight, and you give an order, nobody will listen to you. So don’t worry about it.”

The lieutenant looked stunned; for a second or two, he was actually speechless. Then he gathered himself, and said, “Uh… okay. In that case, I guess I’ll go.”

He went out with us the next day. And we got into a firefight. The Taliban opened fire on French vehicles as the team I was attached to scrambled down a mountainside. A burst of machine gun fire barely missed a French forward air controller as he stuck his head out of my vehicle. French gunners dumped thousands of .50 and 7.62 rounds back at enemy-occupied compounds. At one point, an RPG flew between the lieutenant’s vehicle and mine as we rolled down a road (I’ll never forget the look on his face when he described watching it zip past). It was a hell of a first mission for a new lieutenant.

It was also his last mission. When we got back to base, his boss told him he couldn’t go out again because it was too dangerous. So he got to go outside the wire one time, and earned a real Combat Action Badge for it.

And I like to think I taught him something important. Just because the book says “the officer is in charge and everyone of lower rank must follow his orders”, real life says “if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing the best thing to do is shut up and listen to those who do”.

Study of Mass Shootings

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has released a report on mass shootings, based on FBI statistics and criminologist Grant Duwe’s research:

Have mass shootings become more common?

Slightly. The average number of mass shootings was a little bit higher in 2009–2013 than in either of the previous five-year periods, and the average number of casualties was more substantially higher. (*) The study attributes both increases essentially to one outlier year, reporting that they “were largely driven by a few incidents in 2012. If 2012 were excluded, the averages would actually have been lower than the preceding five-year period.”

James Alan Fox, an expert on mass murders who teaches criminology at Northeastern University, says the clearest pattern in the study’s data is simply “a great volatility in the numbers. There’s no solid trend.”

Do most of these shootings look like Columbine?

There’s a number of different definitions of “mass shooting” floating around out there, but the CRS report defines it as any gun crime where four or more people are murdered in a single incident. Most Americans process the phrase more narrowly than that: They think of random shootings in schools, at work, and in other public places. The CRS describes these as “mass public shootings,” and it distinguishes them from two other categories: “familicide mass shootings,” in which the murderers kill family members, usually in private spaces or in remote and secluded settings; and “other felony mass shootings,” which are committed in the course of another crime (such as a robbery) or common circumstance (such as an argument that gets out of hand). In theory, these categories can overlap, but the CRS researchers assigned each incident to just one category. (**)

Just as most shootings are not mass shootings, most mass shootings are not public shootings. There have been an average of 4.4 mass public shootings per year since 1999. The figure for familicides is 8.5 and the other-felony count is 8.3.


Have mass public shootings become more common?

Using Duwe’s data, the CRS found an increase in the number of mass public shootings since the 1970s: There was an average of 1.1 incidents per year in that decade, 2.7 per year in the ’80s, 4 in the ’90s, and 4.1 in the 2000s. The shootings also became a bit more deadly over the same time period, with ’70s shootings killing an average of 5.5 people per incident and ’00s shootings killing 6.4. (***)

Those are raw totals, without taking population growth into account. If you look at the number of victims per capita, the average has gone up a little from 1970 to today but the numbers are so small that the fluctuations are essentially statistical noise. “Basically, there is no rise,” says Fox, the Northeastern criminologist. “There are some years that are bad, some that are not so bad.”

Buy the Farm

Friday, August 21st, 2015

The phrase buy the farm is US slang, from the WWII era — the first printed record goes back to the US Air Force in the 1950s:

Similar expressions like buy the plot and buy the lot also existed, although buy the farm is the only one to have survived. When a military pilot with a stricken airplane attempted to crash land in a farmer’s field, he would destroy a portion of the farmer’s crops for which the US government paid reimbursement to the farmer. If it were a bad crash-landing destroying most of the crops then the crash would cause the buying of the whole farm, shortened susequently to the current idiom.

Probably related to older British slang buy it, buy one or buy the packet, both seemingly ironic references to something that one does not want to buy. May come from the common reflection that once someone had finished his service he would go home and buy a farm to settle on.

Also, it may be in reference to the book Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. [Spoiler alert!] Main characters George and Lennie always talk about owning their own farm where they will have to answer to no one and “live off the fatt’a the land.” Later, when George must kill Lennie they talk about how they will buy the farm when George pulls the trigger and shoots Lennie to kill him painlessly.


Friday, August 21st, 2015

The cape has become synonymous with drama. In the Italian fencing tradition, it served as a shield and a distraction. The Japanese had their own useful cape, the horo, which resembled a small parachute:

Horo were used as far back as the Kamakura period (1185–1333).

When inflated the horo was said to protect the wearer from arrows shot from the side and from behind.

Horo on Maeda Toshiie

Wearing a horo is also said to have marked the wearer as a messenger (tsukai-ban) or person of importance. According to the Hosokawa Yusai Oboegaki, the diary of Hosokawa Yusai (1534–1610) taking of an elite tsukai-ban messenger’s head was a worthy prize. “When taking the head of a horo warrior, wrap it in the silk of the horo. In the case of an ordinary warrior, wrap it in the silk of the sashimono”.

(Hat tip to Wrath of Gnon.)

Immigrant Crime

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Many politicians expressed concern over Kathryn Steinle’s death, which they generally represented as aberrational — a mistake, a breakdown in the system — but which some portrayed as anything but aberrational:

The system didn’t break down for Steinle. It functioned as it all too often does. As Senator Ted Cruz pointed out during a July 21 Judiciary Committee hearing on crimes by illegal immigrants, in 2014 alone, immigration authorities released into American communities 193 illegal immigrants with homicide convictions, 426 people with sexual-assault convictions and 16,000 with drunk-driving convictions. Altogether, 104,000 people who by law should have been deported were instead allowed to remain on American soil. The director of the agency in charge of the removals offered as a partial excuse that immigration courts faced a backlog of 500,000 cases.

Whatever the cause, there’s no doubt that removals of immigrants convicted of criminal acts have tumbled in Obama’s second term, after a sharp rise in his first term. Federal immigration authorities removed more than 216,000 such immigrants from the United States in fiscal year 2011, more than double the removals of fiscal 2007. But in fiscal 2014, only 178,000 were removed — a 17 percent drop from the 2011 peak.

Yet even as deportations drop, the flow of new illegal immigrants appears to be accelerating. Since illegal immigration is difficult to measure, many experts use the rate of apprehensions at the border as a rough proxy for the overall flow. After a recession-induced pause in 2008-2010, apprehensions of would-be border-crossers jumped 15 percent in fiscal 2013 over fiscal 2012 — and then spiked 16 percent further in fiscal 2014 over fiscal 2013.


In 2011, the Government Accountability Office delivered a major report on criminal activity by unauthorized immigrants. The GAO was able to locate the arrest and sentencing records of roughly half the immigrants in local jails and state and federal prisons, and then sampled them to estimate what they contained. Here’s what it found:

  • An estimated 25,000 of these undocumented immigrants serving sentences for homicide
  • A cumulative total of 2.89 million offenses committed by these undocumented immigrants between 2003 and 2009 (although half a million of these were for immigration-related offenses)
  • Among those offenses: An estimated 42,000 robberies, 70,000 sex crimes, 81,000 auto thefts, 95,000 weapons offenses, and 213,000 assaults

Second, crime by the unauthorized, like the population of illegal immigrants itself, appears to be disproportionately concentrated in border states. A Texas Department of Public Safety report obtained by the PJMedia estimated that the illegal immigrants in Texas prisons had committed a total of 2,993 homicides in a state that typically suffers between 1100 and 1400 homicides per year. After years of welcome decline, crime rates are rising in immigration hubs including Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and San Diego.

Third, statistics on contemporary immigrant crime likely contain a downward bias. When most studies report that immigrants commit fewer crimes than natives, many rely — as I did above — on incarceration rates. Prison populations are the most authoritative source of data on immigrant crime. It’s much easier to assess the immigration status of a person in custody, after all.

But because U.S. prison sentences are so long, prisons house many people whose criminal activities occurred years, or even decades, in the past. Many of the people in prison today were sent there at a time when the foreign-born population was smaller and crime rates were higher. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 20 percent of the U.S. prison population is foreign born. That does not imply that foreign-born persons are committing only 20 percent of crime right now. Yet that is how the statistic is often used.

Fourth, the native-born crime rate is an aggregate of every sub-population in the country, some of which have low crime rates, some much higher. Among those native-born groups with higher rates of crime: children of immigrants, who offend at rates substantially higher than their parents. Because the children of recent immigrants account for so much of U.S. population growth, higher immigration of groups with higher crime rates must drive crime levels higher than they otherwise would have been. That’s just arithmetic.

Back from the Peruvian Amazon Jungle

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Greg Ellifritz is back from the Peruvian Amazon jungle, where, as a police trainer, he noted what guns were in play:

One of the biggest misconceptions I regularly hear is the erroneous notion that people who live outside of America can’t own guns at all. I’ve visited more than 40 countries in the last ten years. The vast majority allow their citizens to own guns of some type. The restrictions are usually far greater than those in the United States, but most people in other countries CAN own guns if they jump through the correct hoops.

I spoke to a couple of Peruvian citizens who are gun owners. There is a pretty straightforward process to get a gun permit in Peru. It consists of:

  • Background checks through three different government agencies
  • A psychological test evaluating logic and basic hand eye coordination
  • A psychiatric test to ensure that the gun owner is not mentally ill
  • Passing a basic gun safety class taught by the National Police
  • Handgun permits also require a shooting test. The qualification is shot on a silhouette target at 50 feet. Five shots are fired. One hit anywhere on the silhouette (or paying the tester 20 Peruvian Soles…approximately $7 dollars) passes the test. No shooting test is required for a long gun.

According to the folks I spoke with, the entire permit process takes about two days to complete and costs around $150. That doesn’t seem bad based on our salaries, but the average Peruvian income is around $500 dollars a month. Considering that a separate permit is required for each gun owned, the $150 price is a steep cost for the average Peruvian.

The interesting thing about the Peruvian permit process is that the ownership permit also doubles as an unlimited concealed carry permit. Once you can legally own the gun, you can carry it anywhere!

The government limits the caliber of handgun that Peruvians can own. Peruvian citizens are not allowed to own any “military caliber” weapons. In handguns, .38 special/.380 acp are the largest calibers private citizens can own. The Peruvian folks I spoke to who actually know and understand guns carry high capacity .380 autos. They think that 10+ rounds of .380 acp is a better choice than a five-shot .38 revolver. The guns of choice for those in the know in Peru are the Glock 25 (.380 auto not available in the USA that is the same size of a Glock 26/27) or the Beretta Model 85 in .380 auto. Both of these guns cost more than $1000 in Peru because of high import tariffs. Even at that price, it’s rare to find those weapons in a Peruvian gun store. Most folks can’t afford the Glock, so the vast majority of gun store stock consists of Taurus revolvers.

The rural folks who hunt generally use single shot shotguns. Surprisingly, most are in 16 gauge rather than the more commonly seen 12 gauge in the USA. Hunting licenses are required, but the law often goes unenforced with regard to subsistence level hunting by locals.

Why Did Europe Conquer the World?

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Why Did Europe Conquer the World? Philip T Hoffman’s new book presents a strong case that it was gunpowder technology:

Its starting point is the assertion that Europe really did conquer the world, or at least 84 per cent of it, between 1492 and 1914 — but that you probably would not have bet on that outcome had you landed on Earth in the year 900, when our continent was deeply backward in comparison with the cultural and commercial sophistication of the Muslim Middle East, southern China and Japan.

So why did those early leaders of civilisation stay at home and regress, while our ancestors sailed the seas and built empires?

It was not a matter of economic supremacy through industrialisation, which arrived only in the last of the five centuries or so that Hoffman’s study covers.

Rather, he argues, it was down to both military and economic advantage gained through “gunpowder technology” — the continuing development of firearms, artillery, ships armed with guns and fortifications that could resist bombardment — which itself derived from the fact that warfare was “the sole purpose of early modern states in western Europe”.

The core of Hoffman’s analysis is the idea that European powers were engaged in a centuries-long “tournament” — a competition that drove contestants to exert enormous effort in the hope of winning a prize. In pursuit of “financial gain, territorial expansion, defence of the faith, or the glory of victory”, Europe’s rulers fought each other for two thirds of the time between 1550 and 1700; well over 80 per cent of the annual government budgets of England and Prussia between 1688 and 1790 were spent on waging war. Small amounts of tax revenue and state borrowing were spent on other items of statehood, but by far the bulk was spent on armies and navies.

And this investment in ceaseless fighting brought constant improvements in gunpowder technology, both in productivity — measured by shots per minute per infantryman, as well as killing power — and in costs of deployment: the price of a musket in London in 1620 was as little as 10 days’ worth of an unskilled labourer’s pay. When peace and industrialisation came to Europe in the 19th century, after Waterloo, competitive empire-building became the new tournament, while advances in materiel, including railways and steam-powered ships, made possible the annexation of large areas of the globe by relatively small British and European forces.

Future criminals can be spotted at nursery school

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

Children’s prosocial skills predict key adult outcomes, a new American Journal of Public Health study finds:

For the study, teachers rated 700 children on eight criteria, using a five-point scale assessing how each interacted socially with others.


For every one-point decrease in the child’s score, he or she had a 67 percent higher chance of having been arrested and an 82 percent higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing at age 25.

Bizarre High-Tech Kidnapping

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Bruce Schneier shares some details from a bizarre high-tech kidnapping. Were it an episode of CSI: Cyber, he says, you would never believe it:

FBI court filings unsealed last week showed how Denise Huskins’ kidnappers used anonymous remailers, image sharing sites, Tor, and other people’s Wi-Fi to communicate with the police and the media, scrupulously scrubbing meta data from photos before sending. They tried to use computer spyware and a DropCam to monitor the aftermath of the abduction and had a Parrot radio-controlled drone standing by to pick up the ransom by remote control.


The FBI reached out to Tracfone, which was able to tell the agents that the phone was purchased from a Target store in Pleasant Hill on March 2 at 5:39 pm. Target provided the bureau with a surveillance-cam photo of the buyer: a white male with dark hair and medium build. AT&T turned over records showing the phone had been used within 650 feet of a cell site in South Lake Tahoe.

A Freer Market for Force

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

For now the market for private military contractors is a monopsony, Sean McFate (The Modern Mercenary) suggests, but we should prepare for a freer market for force:

The result, McFate predicts, will be a return to the Middle Ages, when private warriors determined the outcomes of conflicts and states stood at the sidelines of international politics. This “neo-medieval” world will be characterized by “a non-state-centric, multipolar international system of overlapping authorities and allegiances within the same territory.” Yet it need not be chaotic, he reassures readers, since “the global system will persist in a durable disorder that contains, rather than solves, problems.”

How can the world avoid replicating the problems generated by hired guns in the medieval era? The answer, according to McFate, is to rely less on mere mercenaries and instead foster “military enterprisers.” The former sell their skills to the highest bidder; the latter “raise armies rather than command them” and thus contribute to stability. During the Thirty Years’ War, military enterprisers included such figures as Ernst von Mansfeld, who raised an army for the elector palatine, and Albrecht von Wallenstein, who offered his services to Ferdinand II, the Holy Roman emperor.

But in sketching out a strategy for dealing with a world of privatized power, McFate is too quick to jettison the state-centric principles that have served the world so well since the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The biggest challenges to U.S. security in the years ahead, from climate change to terrorism to cybersecurity, will require more state-to-state collaboration, not less. And U.S. support, tacit or otherwise, for a free market for force will only serve ?to exacerbate these problems.

McFate offers two in-depth case studies of modern contractors: in Liberia, where they played the role of military enterprisers, and in Somalia, where they acted as mercenaries.

Noisome Odors

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Smells can bring back memories, including traumatic memories — so the military may want to inoculate the troops:

“Our goal was to test whether you could pre-expose or inoculate people with these odors, and subsequently prevent the negative memory from taking,” she recounted. “That’s exactly what we showed. You could take an odor that was initially unfamiliar, expose an individual to it in a neutral context, and then when you paired that same odor with a negative experience, it no longer had a strong associative power.”

Prior to Dalton’s findings, the military trained soldiers in mock villages that were accurate recreations of what soldiers might encounter in Afghanistan or Iraq, but only to a point: these mockups failed to mimic the olfactory environment of the Middle East. “They covered everything with visual cues, and sometimes there was smoke,” said Dalton. “But bodies rotting in the sun for days at a time? Food-smells of a very foreign culture? Those were the things that were likely to be present at the time soldiers were experiencing these extreme stressors, and those were the things that were becoming tightly bound to the negative emotional state and persisting well beyond the original experience.”

Adding the mixed stenches of sewage, burning garbage, and local spices might not seem like the most crucial component of building a mock Iraqi village, but the science behind pre-exposure prevention of PTSD was strong. The military and VA took the hint. “I know they are [now] actually doing training with realistic olfactory environments,” Dalton said.

Familiarizing the armed forces with the smells of war not only helps mitigate soldiers’ future memories of traumatic events, it also prepares newly deployed soldiers for the smells of a novel environment that might otherwise distract them from their duties. In 2006, the Army and the Marines began training some of their troops with virtual-reality devices that included high-tech collars designed to emit noisome odors like melting plastic, or rotting flesh, prior to deployment.

Small-Arms Overmatch

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

A former Ranger with experience commanding troops in Rhodesia and Namibia and then advising troops on the ground in El Salvador and Nicaragua explains what small-arms overmatch really comes down to:

When you’re close enough to engage the enemy with rifles and GPMGs, life is good. You don’t have to chase the rat bastards up hill and down dale dodging land mines and booby traps. No, they’re right over there, in range, and you get to KILL THEM. The units I commanded killed 147 by body count, for the loss of…..Zip, Zero, None. We lost more troops to vehicle crashes than to enemy small arms. The enemy were armed with the standard Soviet array, AKs, RPKs, PKs, and RPGs. We were armed with FN FALs and FN MAGs and yes we ate off the “overmatch”. We would engage them at a distance where their fire was not effective but ours was. And they died and we lived.

So, does this mean the 7.62 NATO round and its Belgian launch platforms are the answer? Well here’s where it gets tricky. The distance where their fire became ineffective was about thirty to forty meters. At or beyond that range they were going to shoot high, sometimes off toward the clouds high, sometimes cracking just over your head high, but high is high if your unit has the training and discipline to take advantage of it. And we did, our fire was effective out to about a hundred meters. Past that we too were just making noise, but inside that gap, and “overmatch” is as good a descriptive as any, we killed. Now I’m sure you’ve noted that every cartridge fired from any of the weapons mentioned above has, on paper, an effective range several times the engagement distances I’ve been talking about. Which, I believe is the point. Effective, killing fire from infantry weapons has very little to do with the weapons and cartridges used, it is almost entirely the result of the training and discipline the units bring to the fight.

The fault lies not in the stars, or in our cartridges, but in our doctrine, and tactics, and training and discipline. For what it’s worth.


Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Camouflage is “the disguising of military personnel, equipment, and installations by painting or covering them to make them blend in with their surroundings,” from the French:

Camouflage Word Origin

late 19th century (in sense ‘disguise, concealment’): French, from camoufler ‘to disguise’ (originally thieves’ slang), from Italian camuffare ‘disguise, deceive,’ perhaps by association with French camouflet ‘whiff of smoke in the face.’ The military sense originated during World War I.

Camouflage Word Use Over Time

So, a camoufleur would camoufler something, and this camouflage would deceive the enemy.

Camouflage New French Word

If the word had been borrowed earlier, we might all be camoofling our equipment today.