A Whole Generation Rushing to Volunteer

August 21st, 2016

I wouldn’t call the US a nation of cowards, but Bryan Caplan would — after calculating how few young men volunteered after Pearl Harbor:

According to the 1940 Census (table No. 11), the U.S. had 6.2 million males ages 15-19, 5.7 million males ages 20-24, and and 5.5 million ages 25-29.  That’s 17.4 million men of combat age.  Let’s use David’s high figure of 140k [volunteers] for all three months.  This means that during the first three months of U.S. involvement — a period where our national mythology describes a whole generation rushing to volunteer — just 2.4% actually did.

Guns Used in Crimes

August 21st, 2016

Lawful gun owners commit less than a fifth of all gun crimes — which is still more than I would’ve expected, to be honest:

In the study, led by epidemiologist Anthony Fabio of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, researchers partnered with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to trace the origins of all 893 firearms that police recovered from crime scenes in the year 2008.

[...]

More than 30 percent of the guns that ended up at crime scenes had been stolen, according to Fabio’s research. But more than 40 percent of those stolen guns weren’t reported by the owners as stolen until after police contacted them when the gun was used in a crime.

[...]

It’s also likely that many guns on the black market got there via straw purchases — where a person purchases a gun from a dealer without disclosing that they’re buying it for someone else. This is illegal under federal law. One potential sign that straw purchasing is a factor in the Pittsburgh data: Forty-four percent of the gun owners who were identified in 2008 did not respond to police attempts to contact them.

[...]

Additionally, past research has demonstrated that a small fraction of gun dealers are responsible for the majority of guns used in crimes in the United States. A 2000 report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that in 1998, more than 85 percent of gun dealers had no guns used in crimes trace back to them. By contrast, 1 percent of dealers accounted for nearly 6 in 10 crime gun traces that year.

Don Quixote de la Garrapata

August 20th, 2016

I didn’t watch the Tick cartoon or the live-action show, but I did read the original comics back in the day, so I made time to watch Amazon’s pilot for a new Tick show, and I must agree with this review:

The Tick 2016 throws a bravura mix of tones at its audience: it’s campily loopy yet deadly serious, satirical yet sincere, cartoonish yet fraught with dread.

I was not expecting them to take The Tick into darker and edgier territory, but it certainly makes the hero’s delusional idealism stand out even more.

If you’re interested in the original comics, there appear to be no collections in print. Sigh.

By the way, as a gun guy I got a chuckle out of the Terror’s henchmen, armed with Ruger 22/45 Lite pistols:

Tick Terror Henchmen with Ruger Lite Pistols

Who is to blame for angering the Bogeyman?

August 20th, 2016

When the Vikings sacked the monastery at Lindisfarne, the Anglo-Saxons came to the logical conclusion that God was angry with them:

What followed in Britain as well as the rest of Christendom was more than just a military response to the Vikings. There was a spiritual revival. The secular authorities contributed to the Church and invited the bishops and priests into the granular management of society. The Church reformed religious orders and cleaned up the monasteries and nunneries. The role of women in religious orders was also diminished at this time. In other words, Europeans responded to a pagan assault by getting right with the Almighty.

Oliver Cromwell was pretty sure he was in God’s good graces. After all, he went from minor political figure to the head of the parliamentary army to the Lord Protector of God’s people, the English. After the disastrous military expedition into the Caribbean and a Royalist revolt, Cromwell came to the obvious conclusion. God was not happy with him and the English people. He set off on a campaign to restore liberty of conscience and promote both outward and inward godliness throughout England.

In the early 19th century, Abolitionists were sure that slavery was an offense to God and its presence in the new world would bring an end to the America Experiment. The people of Yankee New England were convinced that America was the city on the hill, the savior of mankind. They still believe this. The lyrics to the Battle Hymn of the Republic make this quite clear.

We may live in a post-Christian era, but that does not mean this kind of thinking has gone away.

How Hobby Games Introduce Coding Concepts

August 19th, 2016

Game-designer Jay Little explains how hobby games teach basic coding concepts:

For me, no other game influenced this more than Magic: The Gathering. I’m a firm believer that if you can play Magic: The Gathering (or just about any other collectible or living card game), you are well on your way to understanding coding and the logic behind it. Even if you never touched a lick of code — even if you never see the Matrix in all those ones and zeroes — you understand the basics. Enough to really cut down the learning curve for a number of visually-based drag-and-drop game design programs like Game Salad, Game Maker, or Stencyl.

High Towers and Strong Places

August 19th, 2016

In High Towers and Strong Places, Timothy R. Furnish presents a political history of Middle Earth:

Departing from the tradition of analyzing Tolkien’s works as literature, poetry, linguistics, mythology, culture and even roots in Christian theology, Furnish applies the disciplinary lens of political science and opens up into view the geopolitics of Middle-Earth; Sauron as tyrannical theocrat, Gondor as hegemon and Gandalf as the grand strategist of the West. Furnish, a former Arabic linguist and Army chaplain with a PhD in Islamic history, emphasizes that J.R.R. Tolkien, as a scholar and “subcreator” was deeply concerned with history and historical realism as a substantive basis for his fictional world that he took to “amazing lengths” of detail. This makes Middle-Earth a prime candidate, Furnish argues, to be analyzed in “real-world fashion”.

What are the evolutionary roots of West African sprinting and East African distance running dominance?

August 18th, 2016

Jon Entine argues that Usain Bolt’s Olympic gold shows again why no Asian, white, or East African will ever be crowned world’s fastest human, but Razib Khan argues that Entine’s wrong — because better drugs and biological engineering mean that the fastest human alive is soon going to be non-African, probably Chinese.

Khan sees running a few seconds faster in the 100 meter dash as a non-adaptively beneficial trait, but Steve Sailer wouldn’t be surprised if the ability to outrun those who are after you and mean to do you harm were an important life skill that is highly adaptive in Darwinian terms:

For example, in 1982, when I had just moved to Chicago, I was headed into the Century Mall on N. Clark St., when a black teen rushed out, followed by two twenty-something Hispanic security guards in close pursuit. I watched them head up Clark Street with the teen in sneakers pulling away from the guards in shiny black leather shoes.

But whether sprinting ability or distance running ability is best for survival depends upon how long pursuers’ sightlines extend in your home terrain.

The shoplifter then turned left at the first corner. It occurred to me that was an important life decision he had just made: if it was a dead end he was in big trouble. But if it were a thru street then he just needed to make a series of seemingly random turns until he had lost his pursuers.

In contrast, if the pursued had headed into open grassland, his pursuers could keep him in sight for a long time, so his better sprinting ability might prove nugatory if they had more endurance.

Perhaps in forested or brush covered terrain, as in West Africa, sprinting is selected for because the pursued individual can get lost faster, while in open grassland, as in East Africa, endurance running is the surest way to get away.

Up In Schmoke

August 18th, 2016

In the late 1970s, Kurt Schmoke was, according to Z Man, the hottest thing in black politics since Martin Luther King:

Schmoke was different. He was charming and smart with credentials from the Ivy League. Most important, he was not standing on ghetto corners yelling about the honkies. Instead, he had moderate political views, worked in the legitimate economy as an attorney and he participated in mainstream politics. He was the sort of well-behaved black guy white liberals love.

Schmoke was supposed to be the example of how Progressive race polices would succeed. He went to public school, but got into Yale, went onto a Rhodes Scholarship and then Harvard Law School. This was how race policy was supposed to work. Given the opportunity to be free of white racism, blacks could rise to the very top of society and compete with whites. No one talked about affirmative action and it probably never played much of a role. Schmoke was a genuinely smart guy, but that did not stop white liberals from taking credit.

Schmoke eventually won office in ’82 and then became mayor of Baltimore in ’87. Everyone assumed he would be governor one day and then who knows. Instead, the politics of Baltimore devoured him. He went into office as a cerebral, race neutral technocrat. He was going to fix the city and avoid the racial politics. By the time he left office, he was wearing a dashiki and waving the flag of the African National Congress. Instead of being the sort of black politician that made white liberals proud, he ended up the sort that made them ashamed.

[...]

The reason Schmoke rose to be a star was that he was black. In order to remain a star, or at least remain in office, he had to keep getting blacker.

How Persuaders See the World

August 17th, 2016

Scott Adams explains how Rational People, Word-Thinkers, and Persuaders see the world:

Rational People: Use data and reason to arrive at truth. (This group is mostly imaginary.)

Word-Thinkers: Use labels, word definitions, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking. This group is 99% of the world.

Persuaders: Use simplicity, repetition, emotion, habit, aspirations, visual communication, and other tools of persuasion to program other people and themselves. This group is about 1% of the population and effectively control the word-thinkers of the world.

Intellectuals are Freaks

August 17th, 2016

Intellectuals are freaks, Michael Lind, an intellectual, reminds us:

It was never possible for Chinese mandarins or medieval Christian monks in Europe to imagine that their lifestyles could be adopted by the highly visible peasantry that surrounded them. But it is possible for people to go from upper middle class suburbs to selective schools to big-city bohemias or campuses with only the vaguest idea of how the 70 percent of their fellow citizens whose education ends with high school actually live.

Danes Live Better in the U.S.

August 16th, 2016

Denmark is wealthy, has strong social and economic indicators, and it offers a comprehensive safety net, Tyler Cowen notes, but Danes live better in the U.S.:

or instance, Danish-Americans have a measured living standard about 55 percent higher than the Danes in Denmark. Swedish-Americans have a living standard 53 percent higher than the Swedes, and Finnish-Americans have a living standard 59 percent higher than those back in Finland. Only for Norway is the gap a small one, because of the extreme oil wealth of Norway, but even there the living standard of American Norwegians measures as 3 percent higher than in Norway. And that comparison is based on numbers from 2013, when the price of oil was higher, so probably that gap has widened.

Of the Nordic groups, Danish-Americans have the highest per capita income, clocking in at $70,925. That compares to an U.S. per capita income of $52,592, again the numbers being from 2013. Sanandaji also notes that Nordic-Americans have lower poverty rates and about half the unemployment rate of their relatives across the Atlantic.

It is difficult, after seeing those figures, to conclude that the U.S. ought to be copying the policies of the Nordic nations wholesale. It is instead more plausible to think that Americans might learn something from the cultural practices of Nordic-Americans. Sanandaji says those norms include hard work, honesty, a strong civil society and an ethic of cooperation and volunteerism.

My own view is that many groups work hard, but that a disciplined, family-based approach to education and human capital investment is the important norm in this context. All the main Nordic groups in the United States have high school graduation rates over 96 percent. That compares to an average of about 82 percent for the U.S. as a whole.

I enjoyed this angle:

Most of all we should consider the option of greater freedom of choice for residence decisions. For all the anti-immigrant sentiment that is circulating at the moment, would it hurt the U.S. to have fully open borders with Denmark? It would boost American gross domestic product and probably also improve American education. History teaches that serious assimilation problems would be unlikely, especially since many Danes already speak English.

Open borders wouldn’t attract Danes who want to live off welfare because the benefits are so generous at home.

How’s this for a simple rule: Open borders for the residents of any democratic country with more generous transfer payments than Uncle Sam’s.

The Fetishistically Focused Firearms of the Olympics

August 16th, 2016

The firearms at the Olympics are as fetishistically focused as any inanimate object can be:

The pistol, rifle, and shotgun events are governed by the International Shooting Sports Federation’s thick rulebook, and the construction and calibration of these precise firearms is regulated by strict guidelines and staggering amounts of minutia that dictate everything from trigger pull weight and barrel construction to thumb rest ergonomics and ammunition specs.

The wildest firearms are the least restricted. In “Free Pistol,” the unofficial term for the 50-meter pistol event, .22-caliber handguns are bound by the loosest of requirements and look the part. The rulebook requires only that the firearms are safe to shoot and incorporate an open iron sight (no scopes or lasers) and a grip that doesn’t extend beyond the wrist. Subsequently, these hot rod handguns tend to feature long, thin barrels (for accuracy and low weight), and a strangely stripped-down, almost steampunk look. They fire .22-caliber long rifle ammo.

Free Pistol Shooters

Air-powered rifles and pistols lack the aural impact of a .22, but they demand exceptional accuracy. Competitors fire at 10-ring targets from 10 meters. To land a bullseye at that distance, a tiny .177-caliber lead projectile must hit a circle the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The emphasis here is on extreme precision: Serious contenders miss the bullseye once or twice out of every 60 shots, and the relatively recoil-free nature of the firearms put more pressure on the shooter’s steadiness and the integrity of the tiny pellet, as the slightest distortion of its shape will affect its aerodynamic profile, and subsequently, its path.

The air rifles and pistols tend to use pressurized air to propel the pellet, which is sometimes referred to as SCUBA drive, since it relies on atmospheric air rather than compressed carbon dioxide. CO2 is rarely used, as temperature fluctuations can affect the accuracy of the shot. (Ed. note: a commenter notes that air is used for other reasons. “Many European nations strictly regulate the release of CO2, including from airguns, and that got in the way of purchase and use of CO2 airguns and filling gas,” commenter Wanlance Yates notes. “In addition, CO2 is more complex to obtain and use when filling the gas cylinders, whereas SCUBA pressure air is commonly available from dive shops (and is less regulated). There are even hand pumps that can be used to fill the air cylinders, although this requires more time and effort, and most airgun shooters just get a SCUBA tank to use for their refills.”)

Highly specialized accessories accompany air-powered competition, with rules dictating virtually every article of clothing, down to the underwear. For maximum steadiness, competitors climb into stiff leather suits not unlike motorcycle gear for additional support. Wide-soled shoes enable a steadier stance, and some events involve padded rolls for ankle support when a kneeling posture is required. To prevent eyestrain and squinting, small blinds can be attached to the firearm or headgear — a quirky detail that all but removes the cool factor from this admittedly cerebral sport.

Apart from their custom built stocks, shotguns used in Olympic level skeet and trap competitions resemble standard-issue hunting implements. But virtually everything about them is customized for competition.

Geomythology

August 16th, 2016

The field of geomythology relates ancient stories of great floods to real events:

Around the tsunami-prone Pacific, flood stories tell of disastrous waves that rose from the sea. Early Christian missionaries were perplexed as to why flood traditions from South Pacific islands didn’t mention the Bible’s 40 days and nights of rain, but instead told of great waves that struck without warning. A traditional story from the coast of Chile described how two great snakes competed to see which could make the sea rise more, triggering an earthquake and sending a great wave ashore. Native American stories from coastal communities in the Pacific Northwest tell of great battles between Thunderbird and Whale that shook the ground and sent great waves crashing ashore. These stories sound like prescientific descriptions of a tsunami: an earthquake-triggered wave that can catastrophically inundate shorelines without warning.

Other flood stories evoke the failure of ice and debris dams on the margins of glaciers that suddenly release the lakes they held back. A Scandinavian flood story, for example, tells of how Odin and his brothers killed the ice giant Ymir, causing a great flood to burst forth and drown people and animals. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how this might describe the failure of a glacial dam.

While doing fieldwork in Tibet, I learned of a local story about a great guru draining a lake in the valley of the Tsangpo River on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau – after our team had discovered terraces made of lake sediments perched high above the valley floor. The 1,200-year-old carbon dates from wood fragments we collected from the lake sediments correspond to the time when the guru arrived in the valley and converted the local populace to Buddhism by defeating, so the story goes, the demon of the lake to reveal the fertile lake bottom that the villagers still farm.

Brazenly Public

August 15th, 2016

In the Old West, prostitutes achieved virtually every goal of early feminism:

At a time when women were barred from most jobs and wives had no legal right to own property, women like Jennie Rogers and Mattie Silks, the queens of Denver’s red-light district, owned large tracts of land and prized real estate.

Prostitutes made, by far, the highest wages of all American women. Several madams were so wealthy that they funded irrigation and road-building projects that laid the foundation for the New West. Jessie Hayman, Tessie Wall, and other madams in San Francisco fed and clothed thousands of people left homeless by the 1906 earthquake. Decades before American employers offered health insurance to their workers, madams across the West provided their employees with free health care.

While women were told that they could not and should not protect themselves from violence, and wives had no legal recourse against being raped by their husbands, police officers were employed by madams to protect the women who worked for them, and every madam owned and knew how to use guns.

While feminists were seeking to free women from the “slavery” of patriarchal marriage, prostitutes married later in life and divorced more frequently than other American women. While women were taught that they belonged in the “private sphere,” prostitutes traveled extensively, often by themselves, and were brazenly “public women.”

Long before social dancing in public was considered acceptable for women, prostitutes in the West invented many of the steps that would become all the rage during the dance craze of the 1910s. When gambling and public drinking were forbidden for most women, prostitutes were fixtures in Western saloons and they became some of the most successful gamblers in the nation.

Most ironically, the makeup, clothing, and hair styles of western prostitutes, which were maligned for their overt sexuality (lipstick was “the scarlet shame of street-walkers”), became widely fashionable among American women and are now so respectable that even First Ladies wear them.

You can choose to see 19th-Century prostitutes as quite progressive, or modern progressive women as quite, well, brazen.

Better Surrender Technique

August 14th, 2016

Everyone is talking about police violence against African-Americans, Scott Adams says, but there isn’t much discussion about practical solutions:

In the short term, the most productive approach probably involves teaching citizens how to surrender better.

You’ve probably seen tutorials on the correct way to handle a traffic stop by police. You should put both hands on the top of the steering wheel, fingers open and outstretched, and wait for the police officer to give you permission to reach for your wallet. If you have time before the officer gets out his car, your wallet should already be out and on the dashboard so you don’t have to reach for it in a suspicious-looking way. That’s good surrender technique, and I think it would work for many situations.

But I think we can simplify it even more.

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Communication experts will tell you that a message is only as credible as the sender. Your first interaction with a police officer will tell him – accurately or not – who you are. So if the first impression looks like rebellion, the officer will interpret everything that follows according to that model. If the first impression is obvious concern for mutual safety, you put the officer on your side from the start. Once you have established yourself as a respectful citizen who is primarily interested in safety, any ambiguous communication on your part will be seen through that filter.

Jocko discussed the same thing in a recent podcast.

Of course, many people already “surrender” just fine, and others don’t, and one might notice certain patterns…