Look at both sides of the scissors

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is housing six Syrian refugees:

Let me tell you, the Ba’aths have indoctrinated people to the point of maybe no return. People understand that Assad is not a god, but I bet you a lot of Iraqis would like Saddam to come back after what they saw.

The idea that they all have regarded as saying — if you were on the ground, you don’t have this theoretical thing. “This guy is an asshole.” OK, fine. You’ve got to realize what scissors. You got to look at both sides of the scissors.

That when you have civil war you have two groups fighting, so you take the least asshole becomes someone good in your eyes, but you’re only analyzing one portion.

Assad, his father blew up my house. My grandfather was a member of parliament, and voted for pro-Israeli candidate Gemayel, and he came in and blew up our house. So I have a hatred for Assad’s family, but at the same time I just realize I have a bigger hatred for the jihadis and for the clients of Obama.

This is how we can analyze it, comparatively, not naively like one-sided.

You get all the things that you want done for 2 percent

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Is Singapore antifragile?

Singapore has size going for it. You see that we’re talking about a city-state.

Who’s gonna invade it? One thing I’ve learned from history, particularly the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians don’t really have an army or an empire. At some point they had some army, but you might say it’s not economically viable. Why? When you come to invade them, unless you’re Nebuchadnezzar, and supposedly the history books say that he was very nasty, but then fact-checking take place. The genetics don’t actually show what really may have happened.

A guy comes in, very bloodthirsty, comes to you, and you tell him, “Listen, what do you want? You kill us all, you get nothing. Land is not interesting. What are you going to get? We’ll give you 5 percent. What do you want, 5 percent of something or 100 percent of nothing?”

That’s how the Phoenicians operated. Someone would come in. They had a hiccup with Alexander, one pound higher than a hiccup with Alexander.

They had an ego problem on both sides, but other than that, it worked very well as a system.

[The Seleucids did conquer the Phoenicians, right?]

The Phoenicians? No, the Seleucids came in, they said, “OK.” The system, at the time, was patronage. You come in, you’re a vassal state.

You guys here, you don’t understand. I live in New York City, so I have two options. One, pay the state — with all of this now, it’s going to go 50-some percent taxes — and you almost get nothing. Or, you can go to mafia now and give them 2 percent, and you get protection.

You get all the things that you want done for 2 percent. That’s exactly what happened. Think about the defense budget if it were run by the mafia.

The guy would come in, and the system at the time was the system of — when you say “conquer,” the imperial methods everywhere, including the Ottomans, before them the Romans, before them the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. The Ptolemies had more integration.

The whole technique was, you come in… And remember that government role, the GDP was, at the turn of the century in France, 5 percent, OK, last century. So having been, you’re not part of anything, you’re just paying taxes to someone you’ll never see — that was the thing. The integration usually was through commerce, not through military conquest.

The idea of Singapore, someone invaded — let’s say Malaysia decides to take over Singapore. What are they going to do with that? They’ve got nothing. It’s much better for you to go to Singapore, tell them, “We want 2 percent.” Or “We want 10 percent.” And then they will break it down to 3 percent.

Strategists had planned for one set of crises, but got another

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

In 1914 few people expected great power conflict:

If there were to be a crisis, most Europeans expected it to come either on the Rhine River between Germany and France, or in the North Sea between the British and German fleets. But the French and Germans had resumed normal, even productive, relations after the 1911 Morocco crisis, and the Germans had largely ended their attempt to challenge the Royal Navy. In late June 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife arrived in Sarajevo, sailors from the two fleets were getting drunk together at Fleet Week in Kiel. Winston Churchill, who was there, later observed that no one in Kiel could have imagined that they would be at war within a few short weeks.

The shooting of an obscure archduke ought not to have changed this placid picture; indeed, for most Europeans, it did not. Within a few days, the story of a supposedly deranged teenager’s act in a faraway city had largely disappeared from the front pages of newspapers in London, Paris, Berlin, and even Vienna. When European newspapers did discuss their fears of an impending war, they most commonly referred to the possibility of civil war in Ireland after the passage of a controversial Home Rule act in Parliament. If anything were to come out of the latest crisis in the Balkans, it would involve Austria-Hungary and Serbia only, and even then only if the Austrians could prove their allegations that Serbian officials had been behind the plot.

But the Austrian higher leadership read something different into the assassination. They believed that Franz Ferdinand’s assassination amounted to what we would today call state-sponsored terrorism. In their eyes, this meant that Austria found itself in a strangely advantageous strategic situation. All European governments and most European peoples sympathized with the murdered archduke and his wife. If Europeans knew anything about the couple, they knew that Franz Ferdinand had married the woman he loved, despite the fact that she was not a Habsburg. As a result, they had made a modern marriage for love instead of power, even though the emperor’s disapproval led them to be snubbed at court and their children excluded from the line of succession.

To the senior leaders of the empire, the sympathy pouring into Vienna meant that, for the first time in decades, Austria-Hungary appeared as an aggrieved party in a Balkan crisis. They therefore believed that European public opinion would permit them to push matters with Serbia a bit further than they had been able to do during past crises. Moreover, the absolutist regime in Russia might hesitate to support a state that backed regicide, even if the Russians publicly posed as Serbia’s nominal protector. Britain, meanwhile, was distracted by events in Ireland, and the French were enraptured by the final days of the trial of Henriette Caillaux, the wife of a prominent politician who had shot a newspaper editor. (Her lawyer claimed, for the first time in French legal history, that she was not guilty by reason of mental defect because, her husband having refused to challenge the editor to a duel, her female brain could not adjust to playing the male role of having to defend the family’s honor.) In any case, both Britain and France had shown themselves reluctant to get directly involved in past Balkan crises. Austria-Hungary’s leaders had every reason to believe that officials in London and Paris would move slowly during this one.

For senior Austro-Hungarian officials, the military situation created by the assassination was almost ideal. They guessed that no regime in Europe would jump to Serbia’s defense, not even Russia. The British, French, and Italians would likely stay neutral or, in any event, not intervene while Austro-Hungarian forces moved south. If those forces moved quickly and crushed the Serbians, they might present Europe with a fait accompli before the great powers could stop them.

Their German allies read the situation in much the same way. Senior military leaders in Berlin worried about Russian military and industrial growth. Within a few years that growth would render most German military planning obsolete, confronting the Germans with a two-front war that most assumed they could not win. Although only a few people knew it, the German war plan tried to get out of that dilemma by sending seven of its eight field armies against France no matter what diplomatic crisis triggered war. In this particular one, therefore, France might be caught sleeping, Britain might declare neutrality, and, for once, the Austrian ally in whom they had so little faith might have a motivation to fight well. The stars would likely never line up so favorably again.

Thus did Germany issue a “blank check” of support to Austria. If, as expected, Russia remained neutral, then Austria could inflict a devastating blow onto Serbia and Germany would gain by association without having to do anything. If Russia mobilized, then Germany could enact its war plan under extremely favorable circumstances, most notably by quickly attacking a distracted France, most of whose people saw no link whatsoever between themselves and an assassination in Sarajevo. Perhaps most crucially, the German regime could defend its efforts to the German people as a purely defensive response to Russian provocation.

Having drawn these conclusions, the Austro-Hungarians delivered their now infamous ultimatum to Serbia on July 23. It gave Serbia just 48 hours to reply, meaning that the long, slow diplomacy that had taken months to resolve and defuse recent crises in Morocco and Sudan had no time to work. Serbia tried to be conciliatory, but the Austrians, with German backing, wanted war on terms that they assumed were as favorable to them as they could ever hope to get.

Europe was stunned by the ultimatum, not the assassination; for this reason we call the crisis leading to war the July Crisis, not the June Crisis. Soldiers, including many senior leaders on leave in countries soon to be their enemies, hurried home to their units. Statesmen canceled vacations, and many foresaw that Europe was about to go to war over an issue that did not actually affect the vital interests of any of them except Austria-Hungary. They did not so much sleepwalk as awaken from a deep and pleasant slumber by a terrible fire that they could neither extinguish nor escape.

This is why the war that began in 1914 became the First World War instead of the Third Balkan War. The crisis hit too quickly and did not conform to the intellectual idea Europeans had of future war. It had not begun over a German-French confrontation as expected, yet the Germans were sending hundreds of thousands of soldiers to invade France and neutral Belgium. Perhaps more importantly, because Russia had mobilized first, every nation in Europe could defend its actions as essentially defensive in nature, and therefore just.

Europe, and by extension much of the world, was now at war for reasons no one could quite explain, except to say that they were fighting to protect themselves from an enemy immoral and inhuman enough to break the peace. Thus even socialists and most pacifists initially supported what they saw as a just war. Within a few dizzingly short weeks, the initial premise of Austria-Hungary’s demands on Serbia had fallen aside and the war had become a total war, fought for national survival and the complete destruction of the enemy. Unlike many past wars, there were no limited war aims to compromise over or to stop the fighting once attained. Thus were future mediation efforts by the Vatican, the Socialist International, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson doomed to fail.

The causes of the First World War do not belong to a dead past of ancient ethnic grievances or governments ruled by incompetent aristocrats. Instead, the war began because of fatal miscalculations and unexpected contingencies. Put bluntly, strategists had planned for one set of crises, but got another. Their world, much like our own, had changed far too quickly for their plans or their intellectual preconceptions to adjust. In effect, they fought the wrong war, but all of the great powers could plausibly claim (at least in August 1914) that they had fought for the right reason, self-defense.

(Hat tip to Jonathan Jeckell.)

Conflicts can stop escalating even without deliberate agreement

Friday, June 8th, 2018

The most important lesson from micro level conflics that we can apply to the geopolitical level of nuclear war, is this:

Conflicts can stop escalating even without deliberate agreement, without negotiating, apologizing, or offering concessions.

In the world of international politics, the issue is generally posed as either taking a tough stance, or else turning to negotiations. But what do you do when the other side refuses to negotiate? Or when they make it clear that one thing that is not negotiable is building nuclear weapons that can wipe you out? This is a terrible dilemma. It makes advocates of negotiation look like they are shying away from a frightening reality through acts of blind faith. But micro-level conflicts show that there is another way out: threats of violence, even with the strongest expressions of hostility between the sides, nevertheless can arrive at an equilibrium that stops short of the brink. And this happens without negotiating, without making an explicit agreement.

When and how does this happen? Micro conflict shows it is a matter of shared emotional moods shifting over time. It is a minute-by-minute process, or day-by-day, even month-by-month. De facto de-escalation occurs with the sheer passage of time, avoiding irretrievable steps along the way, and keeping the sides in emotional equilibrium.

Look at the timing of how shooting wars break out — the timing of daily events that preceded the actual fighting.


In all these wars, the escalation of force — and the difficulty of de-escalating or extricating oneself– became locked in through a territorial incursion, when boots hit the ground.


Is this a conundrum, or an opportunity for violence to abort?

If neither side attempts a territorial incursion, we are in the same situation as a demonstration that doesn’t turn into a riot while the emotional danger-zone ticks by; in the same situation as gang members showing off their guns while trash-talking but only pointing them in the air. It looks dangerous, but it is survivable.


I am not saying that these leaders (or conceivably others) will decide not to strike, out of consideration for casualties of this scale. But they are feeling the emotional pressure. This adds one more force for delaying the moment, in the usual fashion of violence that does not come about because the “emotional moment that is ripe for violence” has not yet arrived.

Leaders will tend to prolong the decision. And waiting is itself a possible path to emotional de-escalation, perhaps the only path we have.

Show you are capable of violence

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Different groups of people have their specific ways of carrying out quarrels, Randall Collins explains, their own cultures of quarreling:

But cutting across most of them is an unconscious common denominator: most of the time they have ways of keeping their disputes this side of violence. Research on quarrels among roommates or neighbours shows that such disputes often fester, but they almost never go all the way to violence. Gangs have an explicit culture of violence; they brag about it and measure their prestige by it. Nevertheless, close ethnographic observations by trained observers on the spot show that gang fights are much more about showing off their weapons than using them.

Street gangs have a turf and challenge anyone who enters it who fits the demographic of a rival gang; and often in a show of bravado they will invade someone else’s turf. But what happens then? If the groups are more or less evenly matched, they confine themselves to flashing their gang signs, showing their colors, exchanging trash talk. On a schoolyard in southern California, rival gangs pull up their shirts to show the guns tucked in their waist-bands; but nothing happens, until the school janitor comes out and shoos them away. On the streets of west and north Philadelphia, the local culture of gun gesturing has evolved in the last 20 years — opening your coat to show the butt of a gun; pulling the gun but keeping it pointed at the ground while continuing the duet of insults; pointing the gun in the air. This requires a good understanding of what’s going on, and accomplished tough guys need to be able to read the signs of where this ballet of danger displays is leading. Shootings do occur in these neighbourhoods, but most of the time these incidents are survivable.

In Chicago, ethnographer Joe Krupnick accompanied seasoned gang members — men in their 20s who had gone through years of living dangerously, and who always went armed. But although they often met members of rival gangs on the street (this was after the big hierarchic gangs had broken up and no one controlled the old turf in the city projects), they had an etiquette of how to pass one another, with just enough recognition, and without showing too much suspicion that the other would turn on them. When things got escalated, these armed men might even fire a bullet in the air — a way to alert the police, and giving everyone an excuse to leave the scene.

These gangs displayed what Elijah Anderson called “the code of the street”: show you are capable of violence, don’t back down from a threat, but recognize that if we both play by the street code, we can save face and at the same time avoid violence. You gain prestige by playing the street code, and the highest prestige comes not from killing other people but by showing you are in the fraternity of those who know how to handle such situations.

Keep it to common terms of abuse

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Small-scale violence most frequently aborts, Randall Collins notes:

Curtis Jackson-Jacobs, a UCLA researcher, followed a loosely-organized gang in Tucson, Arizona, as they went looking for fights. It consisted of a couple of dozen young white men, all of them bored with middle-class life style, who went to parties hoping to find someone to fight with. They were looking for opponents who would give them some action and boost their prestige, at least in their own eyes: black guys, tough guys, Hispanic gangs, bikers, athletes. But although there were plenty of over-crowded house parties in this desert city, with plenty of loud music and drinking going on, the surprise is how difficult it was for them to find a fight. They took a belligerent attitude, bumped into people, gave people the eye, but most of the time fights didn’t happen. Fights were rare enough that when one happened, the group would spend weeks thereafter talking about it, going over the details, bragging about what they did and even about taking a beating if they lost.

Why did this action-seeking group have so much trouble finding fights? Jackson-Jacobs spelled out the subtle details that had to happen if two sides were going to fight. These little details were only semi-conscious, but they boiled down to the fact that both sides had to decide that a fight was coming up, and this had to be a mutual feeling of emotion and timing. Like a demo only turning into a riot a couple of hours in, no one walks into a party and starts a fight from the very first minute. And if the minutes go by long enough, there is a feeling that this isn’t the time and place, so the action-seekers go somewhere else.

[Another hypothesis is that fights were also inhibited because typically rival groups fight within the same identity or demographic: as we know from gang murders in Chicago (Andrew Papachristos’ research) and gang fights generally, most such violence is segregated: black gangs fight with black gangs, Hispanic gangs with Hispanic, Irish gangs with Irish, Italian Mafias with each other. Jackson-Jacobs’ white middle-class guys were an anomaly on the tough-guy scene; they didn’t identify as skinheads, so they had no counterpart group to fight with them. J-J’s crew were looking for the prestige of fighting somebody tough; maybe they didn’t perceive that the same goes for the other side, and real fighting gangs didn’t think they were a worthy opponent.]

The pattern holds generally across different kinds of small-scale fights: most encounters where people threaten each other with violence do not actually end in violence. Most stay at the level of angry insults — the human bark is worse than our bite. Even if it gets physical, most fights do not go beyond pushing and shoving. Videos of fights (posted from cell phones) generally show that after a few wild swings, fighters tend to spin away from each other, leaving themselves at a distance just out of reach while the fight winds down. Showing your willingness to fight is on the whole more important than what damage you do. Researchers in England, using CCTV from pubs and the streets outside, found that angry disputes were broken up, in the great majority of cases, by friends separating the fighters.


A key feature that keeps quarrels from escalating is when they are balanced. Two guys quarrel with each other. They push out their chests, get their hands into fighting position. They yell insults at each other, each getting louder, trying to shout the other down. A lot here depends on what the audience will do — whether other people take sides or encourage them to fight; or do the opposite, ignoring the quarrel, which tends to take the energy out of it. Left to themselves, the belligerents usually find themselves repeating the same insults, over and over; they are both talking at the same time, which means they aren’t listening to each other, and it just becomes a contest of keeping up the noise. (How long do dogs go on barking at each other? Check it out.) After a short period of time — usually less than 60 seconds — this gets boring. They get tired of a quarrel that is going nowhere. Typically they will break it off, with a gesture of disgust, or slamming the door on the way out.

This suggests some practical advice. If you get into a threatening face-contest with someone, keep it in equilibrium. Just mimic what the other person does; don’t escalate it. After a while it becomes boring — and boredom is your friend. (Sir Francis Bacon, 400 years ago, wrote that if you are in an angry dispute, keep it to common terms of abuse; don’t try to score a cutting remark with a personal insult that your opponent will never forgive.)

When do demonstrations become riots?

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

Randall Collins turns his sociological eye on protest demonstrations and when they do or do not turn into violent riots:

According to Dr. Anne Nassauer, sociologist at the Free University Berlin, most demonstrations are peaceful. Her research focuses on demonstrations in the US and in Germany, with comparisons elsewhere in Europe, where 92–98% of protests are peaceful. The impression that demonstrations easily turn violent is created because the news media ignore most demonstrations unless they are violent.

Even when participants announce in advance they will use violence, that is not enough to predict that a demo will be violent. Nor does it matter whether authorities announce a zero-tolerance policy, declaring that any provocation by demonstrators will be met by force and arrest.

It makes no difference whether or not a demonstration includes participants who come prepared to fight. Since the 1990s, demos have generally included an avowedly violent group known as the Black Bloc — who wear black clothes, facemasks, body armor and shields, and link arms in aggressive tactics against police and opponents. The names have changed over the years; in the 1960s the pro-violence faction were called “Maoists”, while very recently they have gone under the “Anti-Fa” banner. Such groups are usually a small proportion of a large demonstration. But as we can see in photos of riots, only 5-10% of the those present do all the violence; so a relatively small violent group can potentially make a demo into a riot. The surprising finding is that whether such a group is present or not does not make a difference in whether the demo will stay peaceful or not.

Avowed intentions do not matter much when it comes to violence. Declaring that you are going to be violent does not predict what you will actually do. On the flip side, declaring that a protest will be peaceful does not guarantee that it will turn out that way; violence can break out even when demonstrators plan to use non-violent tactics and the policing style is hands-off. As Nassauer shows, even when the police announce they will avoid using force, and both sides meet beforehand to plan the protest route and agree on how to avoid confrontations, things can go wrong. At the moment of outbreak, violence is inflamed by surprise and outrage on each side that their agreement was violated.

Why don’t groups of people do what they say they are going to do? In contentious protests, whether the event turns violent is the result of turning points that first increase tension on both sides, and then trigger off a collective reaction. It is less a matter of conscious planning than of emotions building up during the situation when the two sides confront each other face to face. It is an emergent process. Dr. Isabel Bramsen of Copenhagen University, who studied demonstrations and violence in the Arab Spring uprisings, called her analysis “Route Causes of Violence” — i.e. the causes of violent outbreaks emerge en route, rather than determining what will happen in advance.

Typically, if violence occurs during a protest demonstration, it will break out one to three hours in. A demo does not start out by being violent from the very first minute. Even if protesters intend to be violent, they don’t start off with using rocks, guns, or gasoline fire bombs; nor do authorities immediately fire tear gas and automatic weapons.

[This is true, amazingly enough, even in Arab Spring locations like Tunisia, Bahrain, and Syria. Bramsen found that even though authoritarian regimes order their forces to use force, they do not start firing at the first sign of a demonstration. Here, too, timing and collective emotions determine what will happen.]

It takes time to build up high tension, to build up the feeling of when the moment is ripe for violence. This is a mutual moment felt on both sides.


If the emotional trigger does not happen by then, both sides start to relax. As if both unconsciously feel, too late now, maybe next time.

Confrontational tension and fear make most violence incompetent

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

Violence is difficult to carry out, Randall Collins reminds us:

This is the main finding of research on what happens when humans find themselves in situations threatening violence. It runs contrary to our cultural beliefs, and the way violence is depicted in the news and entertainment media. But the news reports violence that happens, not fights that abort, angry quarrels that fritter out, or guns that are pointed but not fired, or fired but miss. Films and TV shows make violence look dramatic, but if they showed what it actually looks like no one would want to watch it.

He summarizes his own Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory:

Confrontational tension and fear: In situations threatening violence, participants may start out with angry bluster, loud voices, and menacing gesture. But when it comes to bodily attack on their opponent, even the most aggressive show tension and fear on their faces. This tension makes most violence incompetent. Soldiers and cops who are proficient on a firing range often miss when their target is a live human being; gang-bangers are even more incompetent, firing wildly and quickly running or driving away.

Micro-sociology triggers physiology, and bodily reactions get in the way of conscious intentions. Face-to-face confrontations are socially tense, pumping adrenaline, the flight-or-fight hormone, an undifferentiated arousal that can go either way. Many soldiers in combat do not fire their guns. Like cops in shoot-outs, those who do fire often have perceptual distortions, time slowing to dream-like or speeding up to a blur, a sound-proof tunnel where shooters can’t hear their own guns. Some freeze; some hit their own side in friendly fire; some go into a frenzy where they can’t stop firing in an overkill of bullets until they have emptied their magazine. The same applies to fists, kicks, or knife-stabs. The common denominator is high adrenaline levels, which mobilize the large muscles of the body but desensitize fine motor control of hands and fingers.

What happens in a confrontation depends on the relative levels of adrenaline on both sides. If one side can stay in the zone of medium arousal while the other loses bodily control, the more competent performer at violence will beat the incompetent performer. Not that the better fighter at the moment has to be really competent, just less incompetent than the other. At the extreme, one side becomes paralyzed at very high adrenaline levels, making an easy target for the opponent still capable of attacking.

To be skilled in violence is to keep your own adrenaline level down to medium levels, while driving up your opponent’s to high levels that make them incompetent. If adrenaline levels are equal, neither side performs worse than the other, and the confrontation stalls out, the fight aborting or winding down by losing momentum. We see this also in sexual aggression.

Attacking the weak: Confrontational tension and fear (ct/f ) is a barrier that aggressors have to overcome if they are to deliver any violence. There are several ways around this barrier. The most common pattern is attacking a weak victim: someone who is physically much weaker; someone who is unarmed when you are armed; someone who is running away. Outnumbering the opponent is a major confidence-booster. In photos of riots and brawls, the most common pattern is a group of between 3 and 6 attackers hitting and kicking an isolated individual. Without this advantage, evenly matched fights usually are stalemates, coming to nothing or quickly aborting; Having even one supporter on the weaker side shifts the emotional balance.

The advantage is not so much physical but emotional domination. Robbers with guns are nevertheless wary of hold-ups where one is a lone individual outnumbered by victims and bystanders; most successful robberies consist of 2 or 3 robbers against an isolated shop-keeper. Back-up in robberies is confidence-building, and a way to establish emotional dominance over the victim. Even police act this way; the more police on the scene, the more likely they are to commit extensive violence in making arrests. Successful violence comes from establishing the mood and rhythm from the outset, driving the opponent into passivity.

Confrontation-minimizing tactics: Another way around the barrier of ct/f is to avoid the main source of tension: threatening the other person face-to-face. Eye contact makes the encounter tense. Robbers and muggers find it easiest to attack from behind, where the two sides cannot see each other’s eyes. Wearing masks and hoods emboldens the attacker and disconcerts victims by making the attacker appear un-human. And in the modern high-tech world, cyber attacks are psychologically easy, since they involve no human confrontation at all.

Audience support: Onlookers who encourage a fight help overcome ct/f and enable fighters to carry on much longer than they would if there were no one watching. How long and severe the fight is depends on the size and attitude of the audience: most destructive where a large audience is unified in cheering on a fight; shorter and less harmful when the audience is divided or unsure; when bystanders ignore a fight it soon peters out.

Violence as fun and entertainment: Fights are particularly likely on occasions of leisure and fun: parties, drinking places, holidays, crowds at games and concerts. These are carousing zones where normal routines are suspended and special excitement is expected. Violence on these occasions still requires overcoming ct/f, finding emotional domination over weak victims, and/or support of an audience.

With the recent scandals in the news, he goes on to ask, Do the conditions for successful violence apply also to sexual violence? and supplies some examples where confrontational tension and fear play a large role:

A young man in his late teens followed an attractive middle-aged woman into her apartment building, by hurrying through the security door behind her. No one else is in the lobby. In the elevator he pulls a knife and threatens to rape her. Although a small woman (5 foot 2 inches), she is a top executive in a non-profit organization, used to exercising authority. She says disapprovingly, what would your mother think if she knew what you are doing? When the elevator door opened, he runs off.

A tall (5 foot 9 inches), attractive woman in her mid-20s is running in an open area, when a man about her age runs up behind her and grabs her. She turns around and swings at him, knocking off his glasses and breaking them. (What did he look like?) About six feet tall, long hair and mustache, medium build. He immediately starts apologizing. She steps on his glasses, and glares at him as he retreats.

The tables turned when the rapist fails to establish emotional domination. In the previous case, the attacker has a knife, but as in hold-ups, a weapon is not enough to be successful unless the victim is intimidated.

Short of rape, milder forms of sexual aggression often fail, perhaps most of the time. David Grazian’s research on night clubs found that male patrons often engage in “the girl hunt,” seeking pickups. But these young men did more talking among themselves about the women they saw than actually making contact with them. Generally they lowered their sights to getting phone numbers, not too successfully at that; and groups of young women who went to clubs together often gave them fake numbers. In other words, even in venues explicitly themed for sexual encounters, most of the “girl hunters” stayed on the sidelines, did not approach aggressively, and were rarely successful.

Is this true across the spectrum of sexual aggression? Accounts in the news media focus on aggressions that succeed, but even here we find most aggressors do not get far.

He has much, much more to say on the topic, but here’s his bottom line:

The micro-sociology of violence in general suggests there are pathways by which women can deter sexual aggression. Perhaps surprisingly, such micro-deterrence may be more successful in preventing the extreme forms of sexual violence — bodily rape, than lesser forms like verbal aggression. But we just don’t know, since we have so little evidence covering situations where women silence men’s verbal advances. The common denominators are, extrapolating from violence generally: keep facing your opponent; looking him in the face, head up, as directly as possible; keep calm and strong-voiced as possible; repeat-repeat-repeat to the point of boredom. Even the arch casting-couch rapist, Weinstein, failed in the majority of his documented attempts; and this is consistent with other evidence.

We fight for status, and we fight for belonging

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Former British Army officer Mike Martin’s Why We Fight explores the evolutionary psychology of warfare:

When you dig into it and you look at the data, there’s only two things that are worth risking yourself in war for, as an individual. The first thing is an increase in social status. And the reason why that’s worth risking yourself for is as you rise up the status hierarchy, particularly as a man, and men do most of the fighting, you get more mates, more sexual mates. When you have more mates, you have more children. That’s a reason to risk fighting in war.

But there’s another reason why people fight in war. That’s to ensure that they have membership of an in-group. This in-group could be a tribe or a nation-state. It’s the same mechanism, it’s the thing that causes us as humans to feel belonging. It’s the thing that makes you feel homesick. It’s the thing that sends shivers down your spine when you’re at a political rally, or a football match, or you’re singing in a choir in church. These are the mechanisms in your brain causing you to seek to belong.

In evolutionary terms, we need to belong to groups because they’re safe. The main reason that groups exist in evolutionary terms is because they protect us from other humans who are trying to kill us. We fight for status and we fight for belonging. We’ve got these ideas that these two things, status and belonging, and humans seeking those things are what cause individuals to fight in wars.

Actually, this makes sense. Look around the world. We’ve got two global level politicians and the idea of them seeking status and having status disputes with each other is very obvious in their behaviour. Leaders seek to dominate their own groups and that’s what they do. Running for the presidency of the United States is a massive status contest, it’s gruelling.

These people are driven to succeed and they’re driven to achieve high status. The mechanism that guides this seeking status is basically testosterone. The way it works is that the more testosterone you get, the more you seek status, but it’s a feedback loop. It’s a positive feedback loop.

When you get to the top of your group, i.e. you become the leader of your country or perhaps you become the head of your tribe, it depends what scale we’re looking at, you then seek to dominate other leaders who are the leaders of other groups. This is where we see wars at a product of a status disputes between leaders playing out.

Belonging comes into play when those who aren’t leaders seek to take part in wars. We can see this played out and the rise of identity politics at the moment, particularly in the States, but also across Europe. If Why We Fight is correct and war is driven by status and belonging, we’re entering a very dangerous period of history.”

Martin has much more to say on his own site. You may recognize him from his appearance in Adam Curtis’s Bitter Lake:

(Hat tip to Scott Adams.)

Try to hold all these inconvenient truths about Gaza in your mind at the same time

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Yair Rosenberg shares 13 inconvenient truths about what has been happening in Gaza — which I have edited down slightly:

Try, as best you can, to hold them all in your mind at the same time.

1. The protests on Monday were not about President Donald Trump moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and have in fact been occurring weekly on the Gaza border since March. They are part of what the demonstrators have dubbed “The Great March of Return” — return, that is, to what is now Israel.

2. The Israeli blockade of Gaza goes well beyond what is necessary for Israel’s security, and in many cases can be capricious and self-defeating. Import and export restrictions on food and produce have seesawed over the years, with what is permitted one year forbidden the next, making it difficult for Gazan farmers to plan for the future. Restrictions on movement between Gaza, the West Bank, and beyond can be similarly overbroad, preventing not simply potential terrorist operatives from traveling, but families and students. In one of the more infamous instances, the U.S. State Department was forced to withdraw all Fulbright awards to students in Gaza after Israel did not grant them permission to leave.

3. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is an authoritarian, theocratic regime that has called for Jewish genocide in its charter, murdered scores of Israeli civilians, repressed Palestinian women, and harshly persecuted religious and sexual minorities. It is a designated terrorist group by the United States, Canada, and the European Union.

4. The overbearing Israeli blockade has helped impoverish Gaza. So has Hamas’s utter failure to govern and provide for the basic needs of the enclave’s people.

5. Many of the thousands of protesters on the Gaza border, both on Monday and in weeks previous, were peaceful and unarmed, as anyone looking at the photos and videos of the gatherings can see.

6. Hamas manipulated many of these demonstrators into unwittingly rushing the Israeli border fence under false pretenses in order to produce injuries and fatalities.

7. A significant number of the protesters were armed, which is how they did things like this: [shoot down an Israeli drone].

8. It is facile to argue that Gazans should be protesting Hamas and its misrule instead of Israel. One, it is not a binary choice, as both actors have contributed to Gaza’s misery. Two, as the BBC’s Julia MacFarlane recalled from her time covering Gaza, any public dissent against Hamas is perilous: “A boy I met in Gaza during the 2014 war was dragged from his bed at midnight, had his kneecaps shot off in a square and was told next time it would be axes—for an anti-Hamas Facebook post.” The group has publicly executed those it deems “collaborators” and broken up rare protests with gunfire. Likewise, Gazans cannot “vote Hamas out” because Hamas has not permitted elections since it won them and took power in 2006. The group fares poorly in the polls today, but Gazans have no recourse for expressing their dissatisfaction. Protesting Israel, however, is an outlet for frustration encouraged by Hamas.

9. In that regard, Hamas has worked to increase chaos and casualties stemming from the protests by allowing rioters to repeatedly set fire to the Kerem Shalom crossing, Gaza’s main avenue for international and humanitarian aid, and by turning back trucks of needed food and supplies from Israel.

10. A lot of what you’re seeing on social media about what is transpiring in Gaza isn’t actually true. For instance, a video of a Palestinian “martyr” allegedly moving under his shroud that is circulating in pro-Israel circles is actually a 4-year old clip from Egypt. Likewise, despite the claims of viral tweets and the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry that were initially parroted by some in the media, Israel did not actually kill an 8-month old baby with tear gas.

11. There are constructive solutions to Gaza’s problems that would alleviate the plight of its Palestinian population while assuaging the security concerns of Israelis. However, these useful proposals do not go viral like angry tweets ranting about how Palestinians are all de facto terrorists or Israelis are the new Nazis, which is one reason why you probably have never heard of them.

12. A truly independent, respected inquiry into Israel’s tactics and rules of engagement in Gaza is necessary to ensure any abuses are punished and create internationally recognized guidelines for how Israel and other state actors should deal with these situations on their borders. The United Nations, which annually condemns Israel in its General Assembly and Human Rights Council more than all other countries combined, and whose notorious bias against Israel was famously condemned by Obama ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, clearly lacks the credibility to administer such an inquiry.

13. But because the entire debate around Israel’s conduct has been framed by absolutists who insist either that Israel is utterly blameless or that Israel is wantonly massacring random Palestinians for sport, a reasonable inquiry into what it did correctly and what it did not is unlikely to happen.

The Spanish conquistador helmet wasn’t worn by Cortez or Pizarro

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Someone mentioned “Spanish conquistador helmets” on Twitter, and I helpfully added that the iconic helmet is known as a morion. What I didn’t realize is that the Spanish conquistador helmet wasn’t worn by the Spanish conquistadors we’ve all heard of:

The iconic morion, though popularly identified with early Spanish explorers and conquistadors, was not in use as early as the conquest of Mexico by Hernan Cortez or Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas in South America. Thirty to forty years later, it was widely used by the Spanish, but also common among foot soldiers of many European nationalities, including the English; the first English morions were issued during the reign of Edward VI. Low production costs aided its popularity and dissemination although officers and elite guards would have theirs elaborately engraved to display their wealth and status.

The crest or comb on the top of the helmet was designed to strengthen it. Later versions also had cheek guards and even removable faceplates to protect the soldier from sword cuts.

Spanish Conquistador Morion

The morion’s shape is derived from that of an older helmet, the Chapel de Fer, or “Kettle Hat.” Other sources suggest it was based on Moorish armor and its name is derived from Moro, the Spanish word for Moor. The New Oxford American Dictionary, however, derives it from Spanish morrión, from morro ’round object’. The Dictionary of the Spanish Language published by the Royal Spanish Academy indicates that the Spanish term for the helmet, morrión, derives from the noun morra, which means “the upper part of the head”.

In England this helmet (also known as the pikeman’s pot) is associated with the New Model Army, one of the first professional militaries. It was worn by pikemen, together with a breastplate and buff coat as they stood in phalanx-like pike and shot formations, protecting the flanks of the unarmored musketeers.

General Steve commands the UAE’s combat helicopters

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Toumajan is now United Arab Emirates Major General Stephen Toumajan — sort of:

A UAE government website proclaims that “His Excellency Major General Staff Pilot Stephen A. Toumajan” is “Commander” of the UAE’s Joint Aviation Command, which, according to experts on the UAE’s military, operates most of the nation’s combat helicopters. The website says he is responsible for training, combat readiness, and “execution of all aviation missions.”

“I’m the commanding general for the Joint Aviation Command in UAE,” he says in a video on a US Defense Department website. “The UAE is a very small country,” he continues. “We” — meaning the UAE — “don’t have the landmass that you” — the Americans — “have for these types of training events, so we certainly appreciate the hospitality that you’ve shown the United Arab Emirates and to my soldiers.”

His business cards also proclaim he is a UAE general. Reached by cell phone in Abu Dhabi, he answers in an authoritative voice: “General Steve.”

Players aren’t entirely sure who is who

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Brian Train has designed a game based on the 1973 Chilean coup d’état that deposed socialist President Salvador Allende and brought Allende’s appointed army chief, Augusto Pinochet, to power. Rex Brynen of PAXsims reviews Chile ’73:

The game first involves a pre-coup phase (during which players try to bring various military, paramilitary, and civilian assets under their control) of several turns, and then a coup phase (when loyalists and opposition battle to control key locations around the city). During the pre-coup period, players aren’t entirely sure who is who (that is, whether others represent military, police, or civilian leaders), what their agenda is (seeking soft power, hard power, or a coalition), who is on which side, and what the loyalties of most units are. Each may recruit new assets, investigate the loyalties of other units, neutralize a rival player’s influence over a unit, block a rival player’s action, or move units. During the coup phase, units may move and fight. Some locations on the map yield particular bonuses or other game effects.

Chile '73

Chile ’73 is not intended as a high-fidelity simulation of the bloody events of September 1973. Although played on a zonal map of Santiago with units drawn from those that were present in real life, there’s no attempt to simulate the actual leaders and factions that shaped events. In this sense it might be thought of more as a Chile-themed coup game.

Having a short barrel doesn’t mean the pattern will be huge

Monday, May 7th, 2018

Since we were just discussing the maximum effective range of buckshot, Greg Ellifritz’s latest post, on buckshot patterning in a short-barreled shotgun, caught my attention:

I recently got my Federal paperwork back from the creation of a short-barreled shotgun. I have an old HK Benelli M-1 that I equipped with a 14″ barrel and SureFire forend. I took it out to shoot it last weekend for the first time.

With such a really short barrel, you would expect a huge pattern, right? Wrong.

Pattern is more a function of the type of choke the shotgun has than its barrel length. In fact, using buckshot loads that are not buffered or encased in a shot cup, patterns will get LARGER as the barrel length increases. The longer the barrel, the more likely that the pellets hit the inside of the barrel or each other while traveling down the barrel of the gun. Those strikes deform the each of the pellets and cause them to fly erratically, leading to a larger overall spread. Having a short barrel doesn’t mean the pattern will be huge.

Another factor of patterning size is the manufacturer of the ammunition. Not all 00 buckshot is equal. Rounds with a specialized shot cup (Federal Flight Control, Hornady TAP/Critical Defense) will shoot the tightest pattern. “Buffered” buckshot will shoot larger patterns. Unbuffered buckshot will create the largest pattern. In general, the cheaper the round, the larger and more inconsistent the pattern.

For an idea about this variability, take a look at the target below. I shot four different types of 00 Buck through the 14″ Benelli at a distance of 30 feet. There was a tremendous variation.

Buckshot Patterns from 14-Inch Cylinder Bore at 30 Feet

  • The Remington 00 Buck shot a pattern about 10″ in diameter
  • The Speer Low Recoil 00 Buck shot a pattern about 6″ in diameter
  • The Federal 00 Buck shot a pattern about 7″ in diameter
  • The Hornady TAP Magnum 00 Buck shot a pattern less than 3″ in diameter.

There is also a myth that 00 Buckshot spreads approximately one inch per yard of travel. This may be close to true with very cheap buckshot fired out of a cylinder bore. Shotguns that have a choke or rounds that use a specialty shot cup shoot groups much tighter than this standard formula suggests.

CDC did look into defensive gun uses but neglected to tell anyone

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Back in the 1990s, the CDC looked into the number of defensive gun uses (DGUs) — but neglected to make its findings public. Whoops!

Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck conducted the most thorough previously known survey data on the question in the 1990s. His study, which has been harshly disputed in pro-gun-control quarters, indicated that there were more than 2.2 million such defensive uses of guns (DGUs) in America a year.

Now Kleck has unearthed some lost CDC survey data on the question. The CDC essentially confirmed Kleck’s results. But Kleck didn’t know about that until now, because the CDC never reported what it found.

Kleck’s new paper — “What Do CDC’s Surveys Say About the Frequency of Defensive Gun Uses?” — finds that the agency had asked about DGUs in its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 1996, 1997, and 1998.


From Kleck’s own surveys, he found that only 79 percent of those who reported a DGU “had also reported a gun in their household at the time of the interview,” so he thinks whatever numbers the CDC found need to be revised upward to account for that. (Kleck speculates that CDC showed a sudden interest in the question of DGUs starting in 1996 because Kleck’s own famous/notorious survey had been published in 1995.)

At any rate, Kleck downloaded the datasets for those three years and found that the “weighted percent who reported a DGU…was 1.3% in 1996, 0.9% in 1997, 1.0% in 1998, and 1.07% in all three surveys combined.”

Kleck figures if you do the adjustment upward he thinks necessary for those who had DGU incidents without personally owning a gun in the home at the time of the survey, and then the adjustment downward he thinks necessary because CDC didn’t do detailed follow-ups to confirm the nature of the incident, you get 1.24 percent, a close match to his own 1.326 percent figure.

He concludes that the small difference between his estimate and the CDC’s “can be attributed to declining rates of violent crime, which accounts for most DGUs. With fewer occasions for self-defense in the form of violent victimizations, one would expect fewer DGUs.”


UPDATE: You will note the original link doesn’t work right now. It was pointed out to me by Robert VerBruggen of National Review that Kleck treats the CDC’s surveys discussed in this paper as if they were national in scope, as Kleck’s original survey was, but they apparently were not. From VerBruggen’s own looks at CDC’s raw data, it seems that over the course of the three years, the following 15 states were surveyed: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. (Those states, from 2000 census data, contained around 27 percent of the U.S. population.) Informed of this, Kleck says he will recalculate the degree to which CDC’s survey work indeed matches or corroborates his, and we will publish a discussion of those fresh results when they come in. But for now Kleck has pulled the original paper from the web pending his rethinking the data and his conclusions.