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.

Don’t go for kills

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

I don’t know why the makers of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal went with Moneybattle:

SMBC Moneybattle

They could have drawn curved swords, used “slashes” instead of “stabs,” and called the whole thing — wait for it! — Sabermetrics:

Maximum Effective Range of Buckshot

Saturday, April 28th, 2018

Watching an old police-training film, Shotgun or Sidearm?, raised some questions about shotgun patterns, and commenter ASM826, who co-blogs with Borepatch, emphasized the importance of modern pattern-controlled shells.

Brass Fetcher Ballistics tested 12 gauge shotshells — using #4, #1 and 00 buckshot (both plated and unplated) — to determine the maximum effective range of each type of shotshell when shot through a practical 12 gauge shotgun with cylinder choke.

Maximum effective range is defined here as:

  1. Having a hit probability greater than chance (greater than 50% of pellets make scoreable hits on target).
  2. Buckshot traveling fast enough to make incapacitating hit at this range (12.0” or deeper penetration in nominal 10% ballistic gelatin).

They immediately found that unplated #4 buckshot won’t reliably penetrate 12 inches of ballistic gelatin, so it is not acceptable for self-defense at any range. Plated #4 buckshot only penetrates 12 inches of ballistic gelatin out to 11 yards, so it’s not much better.

Bucketshot Velocity vs. Distance
Buckshot Velocity and Penetration
Unplated #1 buckshot penetrates 12 inches of ballistic gelatin out to 29 yards, while plated #1 is effective out to 51 yards.

At this distance, keeping most of the pellets on the target becomes an issue, as they found in their testing:

Distances between muzzle and target for the #4 buckshot and unplated #1 buckshot correspond to the maximum distance at which a single shot pellet is expected to be traveling fast enough to score an incapacitating hit. The remaining shotshells were shot at 40 yards distance.

Buckshot Hit Percentage
Buckshot Maximum Effective Range

It will be noted from above that the physical distance between the muzzle of the test shotgun and the paper targets was 40 yards for the #1 buckshot (plated, pattern-controlled), 00 buckshot (unplated, buffered) and 00 buckshot (plated, pattern-controlled.) This was to ensure that all shot pellets struck the paper and could be accounted for in the further range calculation. The 00 buckshot (unplated, buffered) load impacted the targets with greater than 50% of the shot pellets at least 50% of the time. The #1 buckshot (plated, pattern-controlled) load had a higher hit probability than the unplated 00 buckshot (maintaining a hit probability of 50+% out to 57 yards) but the individual pellets lacked the mass and initial velocity to retain terminal effectiveness beyond 51 yards. As such, the maximum effective range of this load was determined to be 51 yards. The 00 buckshot (plated, pattern-controlled) load maintains a hit probability of 50+% out to 52 yards, which is the limiting factor in maximum effective range because the individual pellets are sufficiently massive and have a high enough velocity to retain terminal effectiveness to a distance of 104 yards.

Determination of hit probability (past the 40 yard distance that was physically tested at) was based upon the average mean radius of the tested 10 shotshell/10 target test groups. Mean radius is defined as the average of the straight line distances between the Center-of-Shot-Group and each shot (USARIEM TECHNICAL NOTE TN-01/2 STATISTICAL MEASURES OF MARKSMANSHIP Richard F. Johnson Military Performance Division February 2001 U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine) and was determined by utilizing OnTarget TDS software (OnTarget TDS).


If your duties or circumstances lead you to carry a shotgun for self-defense when outdoors, we encourage you to make use of shotshells utilizing a pattern-controlled shotcup and copper-plated shot pellets. As tested, pattern-controlled #1 buckshot presents an interesting alternative to the more traditional 00 buckshot (also pattern-controlled) in that the maximum effective range is the same but the felt recoil is reduced by 23% over the 00 buckshot load. Since there is no difference in the long range performance of the two shells, we recommend the Federal LE132 1B load to maximize range and minimize recoil for the defensive shotgun. For self-defense indoors or in environments that physically cannot exceed 10 yards distance, we recommend #4 plated buckshot at 1250 ft/sec or higher muzzle velocity. You can maximize your shotguns effectiveness by selecting buckshot that is effective out to your maximum planned engagement distance and no further.

The manner of their arrival was unscripted

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

On Friday 11th June 1999, at the headquarters of KFOR, the NATO army being assembled to act as peacekeepers in Kosovo, British Lieutenant General Mike Jackson, KFOR’s commander, and US Navy Admiral Jim Ellis, Commander-in-Chief of all Allied Forces in Southern Europe, met in a run down shoe factory just outside of Skopje, Macedonia. General Jackson’s men would begin to cross the border into Kosovo the next day — but it looked like someone else might beat them to the punch:

At about 10:35, the two men turned on one of the TVs in the operations room and tuned it to CNN to see how the press was reporting that breakthrough. What they saw instead amazed them. There, on the screen, were pictures of a column of about 250 troops and vehicles advancing out of Bosnia, with KFOR painted hastily on them. The voiceover helpfully explained that this was the Russian contingent of KFOR, which their sources said was heading to the Kosovan capital, Pristina.

This was news to both Ellis and Jackson — because KFOR didn’t have a Russian contingent.

“It was fair to say the manner of their arrival was unscripted.” Jackson commented later.

Before the two men could properly digest this, the main phone in the operations room began to ring. Simultaneously, the men realised this probably meant that the one person they didn’t want to see this footage yet almost certainly had.

When they heard the voice on the other end of the phone, this was confirmed.

“General Jackson.” Said Wes Clark, US General and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR). “You will secure Pristina Airport before the Russians arrive.”

The little green men have been at this a while.

Shotgun or sidearm?

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Shotgun or sidearm? This 1976 Sid Davis police training film for the Pasadena Police Department should help you decide:

Watch the first couple minutes, with the shootout and its immediate aftermath. How far away did the robber appear to be? And what kind of spread should you expect from buckshot at that range? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that pellets should not be hitting six feet off line at a couple dozen yards.

I was pretty surprised when they set up the scenario at the target range at “the same distance, about 50 yards.” OK, at that distance you should expect a fair amount of spread, but more like a four-foot diameter — which is still plenty dangerous on a crowded sidewalk.

The attitude toward revolvers is, well, it’s quite optimistic: “Most cops get a fair amount of practice with their sidearms, but they don’t fire a shotgun very often.” I especially liked this comment: “With his thirty-eight, Don would have hit only the suspect. One shot.” Yeah, a cop shooting a double-action revolver at 50 yards, while getting shot at, is going to hit the suspect with one shot?

Enjoy the whole thing.

It’s hardly the megawatt monster military scientists dreamed of

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

The U.S. Navy’s most advanced laser weapon looks like a pricey amateur telescope, and, at just 30 kilowatts, it’s hardly the megawatt monster military scientists dreamed of decades ago to shoot down ICBMs, but it is a major milestone, built on a new technology:

The mission shift has been going on for years, from global defense against nuclear-armed “rogue states” to local defense against insurgents. The technology shift has been more abrupt, toward the hot new solid-state technology of optical-fiber lasers. These are the basis of a fast-growing US $2 billion industry that has reengineered the raw materials of global telecommunications to cut and weld metals, and it is now being scaled to even higher power with devastating effect.

Naval Laser by MCKIBILLO

Industrial fiber lasers can be made very powerful. IPG recently sold a 100-fiber laser to the NADEX Laser R&D Center in Japan that can weld metal parts up to 30 centimeters thick. But that high of a power output comes at the sacrifice of the ability to focus the beam over a distance. Cutting and welding tools need to operate only centimeters from their targets, after all. The highest power from single fiber lasers with beams good enough to focus onto objects hundreds of meters or more away is much less — 10 kW. Still, that’s adequate for stationary targets like unexploded ordnance left on a battlefield, because you can keep the laser trained on the explosive long enough to detonate it.

Of course, 10 kW won’t stop a speeding boat before it can deliver a bomb. The Navy laser demonstration on the USS Ponce was actually half a dozen IPG industrial fiber lasers, each rated at 5.5 kW, shot through the same telescope to form a 30-kW beam. But simply feeding the light from even more industrial fiber lasers into a bigger telescope would not produce a 100-kW beam that would retain the tight focus needed to destroy or disable fast-moving, far-off targets. The Pentagon needed a single 100-kW-class system for that. The laser would track the target’s motion, dwelling on a vulnerable spot, such as its engine or explosive payload, until the beam destroyed it.

Alas, that’s not going to happen with the existing approach. “If I could build a 100-kW laser with a single fiber, it would be great, but I can’t,” says Lockheed’s Afzal. “The scaling of a single-fiber laser to high power falls apart.” Delivering that much firepower requires new technology, he adds. The leading candidate is a way to combine the beams from many separate fiber lasers in a more controlled way than by simply firing them all through the same telescope.

There’s much, much more.

Be careful this week

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Greg Ellifritz recommends that we be careful this week:

Terrorists and crazy people put a lot of credence in the importance of symbolism. Historical anniversary dates are important to them.

This week contains the anniversary dates of:

  • The Boston Bombing
  • The Columbine Shooting
  • The Virginia Tech Massacre
  • The Waco Hostage Siege
  • The Oklahoma City Bombing
  • Hitler’s Birthday

We used to own the night

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

We used to own the night, but so many night-vision devices have fallen into enemy hands that we no longer do:

Taliban fighters, many now outfitted with night vision goggles and infrared lasers, have more than doubled nighttime attacks on Afghan and U.S. troops between 2014 and 2017, according to a new report from The New York Times.

This has presented U.S. military officials with quite the conundrum: Do we give more night vision to our Afghan allies to protect themselves, even if that gear has a good chance of ending up in Taliban hands?


The Pentagon sent 210 night vision devices to the Afghan National Army 215th Corps in Helmand Province, for example, but only 161 of them were returned. While the 215th Corps attributed the discrepancy to “battle losses,” according to the Times, it’s also quite common for Afghan troops themselves to dump their own gear on the black market to make a quick buck.

“Free reminder: almost every item issued to Afghan soldiers ends up in Taliban hands,” C.J. Chivers, a Times journalist and Marine vet, wrote on Twitter. “If U.S. opts for wide issue of night-vision equipment, within months the Taliban will have even more.”

This was entirely predictable.

Aim for the waterline

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

I always assumed that gun crews in the Age of Sail aimed at the waterline because that was where water could enter the enemy ship, but that’s not the whole story, Tom Ricks explains:

But, I kind of wondered, if that were the case, why not aim slightly lower, where a good shot likely would let even more water in the enemy’s hull, and be more difficult to plug? (I thought the answer was perhaps that at many angles, the cannonball might skip, rather than plunge into the water, but I wasn’t sure.)

Well, now I know better. There is a very specific reason to aim right at the waterline.

I was reading an discussion of wood rot in boats and trees by Richard Jagels, professor emeritus of forest biology at the University of Maine. He offers a much more precise explanation: On wooden ships, the weakest point on the hull is right along the waterline, because that’s where the most rot occurs.

There’s a biological explanation for that, having to do with oxygen and moisture. Fungi need a balance of both to thrive and rot wood. Let him tell you: “Above the waterline, planking is usually below 20 to 25 percent moisture content, which is too dry for fungal activity. Below the waterline, wood becomes progressively saturated until the oxygen requirement is not met; again decay is halted. Near the waterline, conditions are just right for decay to rapidly progress: the Goldilocks solution for rot.”