Diverse New Avengers

June 28th, 2015

The newest incarnation of the Avangers will be diverse:

“I like the fact that we ended up with an Avengers team with one white guy on it,” said Mark Waid, who will be writing the new Avengers series.

That one white guy will be Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, a core Avengers member. The new team will also include usual cohorts Thor and Captain America, but not the versions of the characters so many have grown up with. Instead, the female Thor (Jane Foster) and the black Captain America (Sam Wilson, otherwise known as Falcon), who debuted to much controversy last year, will join the crew.

Avengers, All-New, All-Different

The team will also feature Spider-Man, but not the classic Peter Parker incarnation of the character. Marvel made waves a few days ago when it announced that Miles Morales, a young man of black and Hispanic descent, would be the main Spider-Man in the Marvel universe. Now Morales will also be an Avenger.

Victims and Offenders

June 28th, 2015

Lawrence Auster contributed to FrontPage Magazine until 2007, when he shared some rather shocking statistics in its pages:

To see the real truth of the matter, let us take a look at the Department of Justice document Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005. (Go to the linked document, and under “Victims and Offenders” download the pdf file for 2005.)

In Table 42, entitled “Personal crimes of violence, 2005, percent distribution of single-offender victimizations, based on race of victims, by type of crime and perceived race of offender,” we learn that there were 111,590 white victims and 36,620 black victims of rape or sexual assault in 2005.

(The number of rapes is not distinguished from those of sexual assaults; it is maddening that sexual assault, an ill-defined category that covers various types of criminal acts ranging from penetration to inappropriate touching, is conflated with the more specific crime of rape.)

In the 111,590 cases in which the victim of rape or sexual assault was white, 44.5 percent of the offenders were white, and 33.6 percent of the offenders were black. In the 36,620 cases in which the victim of rape or sexual assault was black, 100 percent of the offenders were black, and 0.0 percent of the offenders were white. The table explains that 0.0 percent means that there were under 10 incidents nationally.

Politics and Self-Control

June 27th, 2015

There is a link between political ideology and the ability to exert self-control:

In a series of three studies with more than 300 participants, the authors found that people who identify as conservative perform better on tests of self-control than those who identify as liberal regardless of race, socioeconomic status and gender.

They also report that participants’ performance on the tests was influenced by how much they believed in the idea of free will, which the researchers define as the belief that a person is largely responsible for his or her own outcomes.

For example, conservatives who are more likely to embrace the idea of free will overwhelmingly agreed with statements like “Strength of mind can always overcome the body’s desires” and “People can overcome any obstacles if they truly want to.”

“Conservatives tend to believe they had a greater control over their outcomes, and that was predicting how they did on the test,” said Joshua Clarkson, a consumer psychologist at the University of Cincinnati and the lead author of the paper.

To screen for self-control, Clarkson and his colleagues relied on the Stroop test that asks participants to look at a list of color words such as “red” or “blue” that are printed in mismatching color fonts. (Picture the word “orange” printed in green letters.) Volunteers were asked to read the words, ignoring the color of the font, which can be challenging.

200 Blackfeet Loose in an American City

June 27th, 2015

James LaFond writes back to a kindred spirit to explain what Robert E. Howard was really about:

Ishmael, Howard, it seems, was widely misunderstood as an action writer, where he actually wrote about the same stuff that Lovecraft and a modern college professor named Andy Nowicki, wrote and write about in an academic flavored mire of internal conflict. Howard’s genius was that he wrote about alienation in such a belligerent manner from both perspectives: the civilized female and the barbaric man. There is not a simper, or a whine, or a doubt in the mind of the alien barbarian, like there is in the tormented souls of Lovecraft’s and Nowicki’s soft civilized victims of alienation.

Not only are the atmospherics of Howard’s stories horrific rather than fantastic, the action is so brutal that he skips the physicality. He’s not a biomechanical writer that will describe the gelatinous slide of a cleaved part from the rest of the body — but goes right to the emotion of defiance, dominance, conquest and racial hatred.

To me, reading in my youth, and in my prime, and now on the downward side of life, what Howard wrote about in 1933-34 was the ultimate corruption of Civilized Man, of what he saw American society eventually becoming — of course, presented to his editor in a fantastical veiled manner — as seen through the eyes of a hero that strides onto the scene not to set things right, but to punish the weak and greedy and powerful that thrive therein, and then to fade into legend as the whole rotten world goes up in flames. In other words, I see Howard’s fantasy and historical settings as his premonition of our moral predicament, and his heroes such as Kull, Kane and Conan [and Conan most of all] as a type of moral time traveler from a primal age, come to show us what our ancestors would think of Modernity. I get his drift as being along the lines of your suggestion that it would be great fun to bring forward 200 Blackfeet warriors from 1800 and set them loose in an American city.

What Robert E. Howard brings us, as an Aryan mystic obsessed with that which we are driven by our material demons to forget, is the judgment of our ancestors, for our fall, not from grace, but from an honored place.

Shooter Ready

June 26th, 2015

Shooter Ready, a 1987 instructional video starring IPSC champion Rob Leatham, is totally ’80s — but fundamentally sound:

Gone with the Wind Gone with the Wind

June 26th, 2015

In our current climate, I feel like Gone with the Wind may soon be gone with the wind — or at least gone from Amazon and other “reputable” retailers.

Ironically, Amazon was promoting Dukes of Hazzard recently. I tried to watch the pilot, for free, since I vaguely recalled the show from my childhood, but I found it unwatchable.

Inverse Weathervanes

June 26th, 2015

Sociology is useful, Razib Khan pointed out, because it has negative predictive value — which is odd, Gregory Cochran notes:

There are a lot more possible wrong theories than right ones — which means that identifying the right theories is difficult. Identifying anti-correct theories, exact negatives of the truth, should be just as difficult. Perverse, too, of course, but who’s counting?

Considering that sociologists typically deny the very existence of some of the most important causal factors on human behavior (like genetics), you’d think their theories would make about as much sense as Galenic medicine or Freudian psychology — not even wrong. Their theories should not make antisense — more like random nonsense.

Probably they manage this by denying experience. Experience can show that a method works centuries before anyone has a correct theory of why it works. There are things that your grandmother (and her grandmother) knew — (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, blood is thicker than water) — and without those grannies, sociologists wouldn’t know what to disbelieve.

Rangerettes are Back At It

June 25th, 2015

The Rangerettes are back at it. Here’s how the process works:

And just like clockwork, here’s Phase II of the entirely predictable campaign to lower standards for women until they can compete, without regard to the consequences of such a policy.

Phase I, of course, is to admit women to the competition under the express condition that standards will in no way be lowered even if every female candidate fails. Phase II is, when all of the female candidates fail, immediately start pressuring everyone concerned to say that obviously the women failed because of discrimination. Phase III will be to create a loophole or different scoring system so women who fail the course are deemed to have passed anyway.

Phase IV will be sending soldiers home in body bags because members of their unit couldn’t hack it but were included anyway out of political correctness, but we never talk about Phase IV. I mean, even less than we never talk about the first three phases.

All Confederate Flags Must Go

June 25th, 2015

Apple has pulled everything from the App Store that features a Confederate flag, regardless of context. That includes all Civil War games.

A Product of Status, Wealth and Freedom

June 25th, 2015

The self-serving Leftist mythology is that it is a product of oppression, but, Bruce Charlton argues, the opposite is the case:

Leftism is always a product of increasing wealth and freedom — or indeed of established luxury and status.

The earliest Leftists were the industrial proletariat — who were probably the wealthiest and free-est working class group who existed in the world at that time. Early (middle to late 19th century) socialism became established, therefore, among the well-paid workers in the urban areas and among new industries such as coal mining, shipyards, steel making etc.

For example, the late 19th century miners in Newcastle upon Tyne were so wealthy (for their time) that they were renowned for their fancy clothes and expensive pastimes such as drinking, gambling and having fun. They were, indeed, so well-off that their wives did not need to earn any money — and it became a source of ‘macho’ pride to be a sufficiently successful bread-winner that the wife would stay at home and look after the house.

Socialist miners formed the backbone or shock-troops of British socialism until the unsuccessful strike of 1984.

Meanwhile, a few miles down the road, the farm workers remained extremely poor, with no money left over for fun and games, and their wives and children needed to work as much as possible simply to get enough to eat.

Yet Leftist parties almost always opposed the Industrial revolution, which — following Marx’s mistake/ deliberate error — they depicted as impoverishing the working class. In fact, as Greg Clark shows in A Farewell To Alms, the Industrial Revolution benefited the poor far more than the rich — and ended up by abolishing structural poverty altogether — fought every inch of the way by socialism, which afterwards re-wrote history and took the credit for the improvements.

If you read honest memoirs by the likes of Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell, it can be seen that an analogous situation applied in the USA. The ‘civil rights’ era came after the great improvements in the wealth, status and freedom of the ex-slave population in the USA the situation. As usual, Leftism took credit for, and exploited, what had already been achieved without Leftism, and indeed most fought by the most Leftist parties.

[...]

Thus Leftism is a phenomenon invariably associated with increasing wealth, freedom and status — because when people really are oppressed, poor and miserable they are too weak — when the laws and social practices really are against them, when they really are ‘minorities’ — people are much too frightened, vulnerable and exhausted (and with good reason!) to become Leftists and mount political campaigns.

Shelby Foote on the Confederate Battle Flag

June 24th, 2015

Shelby Foote explains his thoughts on the Confederate battle flag:

The flag is a symbol my great grandfather fought under and in defense of. I am for flying it anywhere anybody wants to fly it. I do know perfectly well what pain it causes my black friends, but I think that pain is not necessary if they would read the confederate constitution and knew what the confederacy really stood for. This country has two grievous sins on its hands. One of them is slavery — whether we’ll ever be cured of it, I don’t know. The other one is emancipation — they told 4 million people, you’re free, hit the road, and they drifted back into a form of peonage that in some ways is worse than slavery. These things have got to be understood before they’re condemned. They’re condemned on the face of it because they take that flag to represent what those yahoos represent as — in their protest against civil rights things. But the people who knew what that flag really stood for should have stopped those yahoos from using it as a symbol of what they stood for. But we didn’t — and now you had this problem of the confederate flag being identified as sort of a roughneck thing, which it is not….

I don’t object to any individual hiding from history, but I do object to their hiding history from me. And that’s what seems to me to be going on here. There are a lot of terrible things that happened in American history, but we don’t wipe ’em out of the history books; we don’t destroy their symbols; we don’t forget they ever happened; we don’t resent anybody bringing it up. The confederate flag has been placed in that position that’s unique with an American symbol. I’ve never known one to be so despised.

(Hat tip to Foseti.)

Why an X rather than a cross?

June 24th, 2015

So, why is the Confederate battle flag based on an X rather than a cross?

William Miles’s disappointment with the Stars and Bars went beyond his strong ideological objections to the Stars and Stripes. He had hoped that the Confederacy would adopt his own design for a national flag — the pattern that later generations mistakenly and ironically insisted on calling the Stars and Bars.… Charles Moise, a self-described “southerner of Jewish persuasion,” wrote Miles and other members of the South Carolina delegation asking that “the symbol of a particular religion” not be made the symbol of the nation.

In adapting his flag to take these criticisms into account, Miles removed the palmetto tree and crescent and substituted a diagonal cross for the St. George’s cross. Recalling (and sketching) his proposal a few months later, Miles explained that the diagonal cross was preferable because “it avoided the religious objection about the cross (from the Jews & many Protestant sects), because it did not stand out so conspicuously as if the cross had been placed upright thus.” … If Miles had not been eager to conciliate southern Jews, the traditional Latin (or St. George’s) cross would have adorned his flag.

Precisely the Wrong Stuff

June 24th, 2015

A key principle of human factors is that it is the unspoken rules of who can say what and when that often lead to crucial things going unsaid:

If we don’t like to think that doctors make mistakes, doctors like to think about it even less.

One of the biggest problems identified was the unwritten but entrenched hierarchy of hospitals. Bromiley, who has worked with experts from various “safety-critical” industries, including the military, told me that the hospital is by far the most hierarchical workplace he has come across. At the top of the tree are consultant surgeons, the rock stars of the hospital corridors: highly driven, competitive, mostly male and not the kind who enjoy confessing to uncertainty. Then come anaesthetists, often quieter of disposition and warier of risk. Further down are nurses, valued for their hard work but not for their brains.

A key principle of human factors is that it is the unspoken rules of who can say what and when that often lead to crucial things going unsaid. The most painful part of the transcript of Flight 173’s final hour is the flight engineer’s interjections. You can sense his concern about the fuel situation, and his hesitancy about expressing it. Fifteen minutes is gonna – really run us low on fuel here. Perhaps he’s assuming the captain and his officers know the urgency of their predicament. Perhaps he’s worried about being seen to speak out of turn. Whatever it is, he doesn’t say what he feels: This is an emergency. We need to get this plane on the ground – NOW. Similarly, the nurses who could see the urgency of Elaine Bromiley’s condition didn’t feel able to tell the doctors that they were on the verge of committing a grave error. So they made tentative suggestions that were easy to ignore.

John Pickles, an ENT surgeon and former medical director of Luton and Dunstable Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, told me that usually when an operation is carried out on the wrong part of the body (a class of error known as “wrong-site surgery”), there is at least one person in the room who knows or suspects a mistake is being made. He recalled the case of a patient in South Wales who had the wrong kidney removed. A (female) medical student had pointed out the impending error but the two (male) surgeons ignored her and carried on. The patient, who was 70 years old, was left with one diseased kidney, and died six weeks later. In other cases nobody spoke up at all.

The pioneers of crew resource management knew that merely warning pilots about fixation error was not sufficient. It is too powerful an instinct to be repressed entirely even when you know about it. The answer lay with the crew. Because even the most experienced captains are prone to human error, the entire aircraft crew needed to act as a collective intelligence, vigilant for problems and responsible for solutions. “It’s the people at the edge of the room, standing back from the situation, who can often see it best,” Bromiley said to me.

He recalled the case of British Midland Flight 92, which had just taken off for its flight from London to Belfast on 8 January 1989 when the pilots discovered one of the engines was on fire. Following procedure, they shut it down. Over the PA, the captain explained that because of a problem with the right engine he was making an emergency landing. The cabin staff, who – like the passengers, but unlike the cockpit crew – could see smoke and flames coming from the left engine, didn’t pass this information on to the cockpit. After the pilots shut down the only functioning engine, British Midland 92 crashed into the embankment of the M1 motorway near Kegworth in Leicestershire. Forty-seven of the 126 people on board died; 74 sustained serious injuries.

The airline industry pinpointed a major block to communication among members of the cockpit crew: the captain. The rank of captain retained the aura of imperial command it inherited from the military and from the early days of flying, when pilots such as Chuck Yeager, immortalised in Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, were celebrated as audacious mavericks. The pioneers of CRM realised that, in the age of mass air travel, charismatic heroism was precisely the wrong stuff. The industry needed team players. The captain’s aura was a force field, stopping other crew members from speaking their mind at critical moments. It wasn’t just the instrument panel that had to change: it was the culture of the cockpit.

Long before they started doing more good than harm, surgeons were revered as men of genius. In the 18th and 19th centuries, surgical superstars performed operations in packed amphitheatres before hushed, admiring audiences. A great surgeon was a virtuoso performer with the hands of a god. His nurses and assistants were present merely to follow the great man’s commands, much as the planets in an orrery revolve around the sun. The advent of medical science gave this myth a grounding in reality: at least we can be confident that doctors today make people better, most of the time. But it reinforced a mystique that makes doctors, and especially surgeons (who, of course, still perform in operating theatres), hard to question, by either patients or staff.

Better safety involves bringing doctors off their pedestal or, rather, inviting them to step down from it. Modern medicine is more reliant than ever on teamwork. As operations become more complex, more people and procedures are involved. Operating rooms swarm with people; various specialists pronounce judgement or perform procedures, and then leave. Surgical teams are often comprised of individuals who know each other only vaguely, if at all. It is a simple but unavoidable truth that the more people are involved in something, and the less well they know each other, the more likely it is that someone will make an error.

The most significant human factors innovation in health care in recent years is surprisingly prosaic: the checklist. Borrowed from the airline industry, the checklist is a standardised list of procedures to follow for every operation, and for every eventuality. Checklists compensate for the inbuilt tendency of human beings under stress to forget or ignore what is important, including the most basic things (the first item on one aviation checklist is FLY THE AIRPLANE). They also empower the people at the edges of the room: before the operation and at key moments during it, the whole team goes through each point in turn, including emergencies, which gives a cue to more reserved members of the team to speak up.

Checklists are most effective in an atmos­phere of informality and openness: it has been shown that simply using the first name of the other team members improves communication, and that giving people a chance to say something at the beginning of a case makes them more likely to speak up during the operation itself.

Naturally, this spirit of openness entails a diminishment of the surgeon’s power – or a dispersal of that power around the team. Some doctors don’t mind this – indeed, they welcome it, because they realise that their team can save them from career-ruining mistakes. Others are more resistant, particularly those who treasure their independence; mavericks don’t do checklists. Even those who see themselves as evolved team players may overestimate their openness. J Bryan Sexton, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in the US, has conducted global surveys of operating-room staff. He found that while 64 per cent of surgeons rated their operations as having high levels of teamwork, only 28 per cent of nurses agree.

One Man, One Vote, One Time

June 23rd, 2015

Ian Smith flew for the RAF in WWII and then returned to Rhodesia and eventually become Prime Minister at an interesting time in African history:

Countries were becoming “independent.”

The post-independence period in all the sub-Saharan countries followed a strangely predictable pattern. Smith called it the “one man, one vote, one time” pattern. In addition to the rise of (generally Communist) dictators for life, the independence movements were also characterized by the rape and slaughter of any remaining white Africans (although it’s supposedly important to protect minorities, protecting whites in Africa is apparently affirmatively bad), massive reductions in economic output and the general decay or outright disappearance of any semblance of civilization. Nevertheless, the Americans and the British (and, of course, the Russians – purely coincidentally, I’m sure) continued to push for independence.

“Freedom” came to Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960), Congo (1960), Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zanzibar (later part of Tanzania), with largely predictable results.

The writing was on the wall for Rhodesia by the early ’60s. They met to draft a new Constitution in hopes the British would grant them independence. Obviously, given the success of other independence movements, the ruling elite (mostly white) were reluctant to follow the fully-democratic route. In drafting the constitution, the leaders met with and obtained approval from over 600 tribal chiefs.

The history of the various constitutions and negotiations is too long (and frankly too depressing) to repeat. Read it, if you can stomach it.

The British perpetually pushed for full elections. The Rhodesians would have elections and consultations with tribal leaders. Always, the elections were considered unrepresentative by the British. Mugabe would convince his supporters to boycott, for example, and the British would be up in arms. Always, the constitutions stated explicitly that the political system was dedicated to “unimpeded progress to majority rule.” It was never enough. Full elections were nearly impossible anyway, in a country that had never taken a census, in which most citizens had no birth certificates, and most citizens were illiterate.

The British essentially outsourced their foreign policy in Africa to the OAU. That organization became a collective of third-rate communist dictators. A fun group to bargain with.

The international community exerted increasing pressure on Rhodesia. The UN labelled Smith a threat to world peace – apparently not wishing to plunge his country into chaos and destruction is a threat to world peace. The UN blockaded the country, even though they simultaneously didn’t recognize its independence. The UN thereby (according to its own logic) blockaded part of the United Kingdom.

Early on, the blockade was largely ineffective. In fact, it gave a boost to agricultural production (at this point Rhodesia actually started exporting food) and industry. However, the blockade put Rhodesia at the mercy of South Africa and Portugal (via it’s colonies, particularly Mozambique).

In a few years, the Portuguese government was overthrown. Portugal soon abandoned its colonies and “free” Mozambique declared war on Rhodesia (ah, freedom).

At this point, Rhodesia was entirely reliant on South Africa for things like access to the sea and bullets. Smith viewed apartheid as “unprincipled and totally indefensible” and an entirely untenable long-term solution.

At this point, South Africa basically threw Rhodesia under the bus, in hopes that doing so would appease the international community. If white South Africans weren’t getting it so badly, you’d almost think they deserved what they were getting for their treatment of Rhodesia.

One can’t help but wonder if South Africa and the international community had their own reasons to focus first on Rhodesia. Was the acceptance of ultimate black rule and the fact that blacks and whites had many equal rights too threatening to South Africa? Was the fact that Rhodesia was so successful too threatening to the international community? For whatever reason, Rhodesia had to be dealt with.

(Smith blames the Communists. Indeed, de-colonization resulted in communist governments in most of Africa. If you read this blog regularly, you may not be surprised that US and British foreign policies were entirely dedicated to gaining additional African territory for communists. Smith, however, was unable to believe that the US and Britain were promoting communist interests. If communists were trying to take over all of Africa (and ultimately the resource rich South Africa), taking Rhodesia first would be a necessary step. This, like much of post-war US and British foreign policy is probably just a coincidence though. It’s worth noting that when Smith visited the US or Britain and spoke to politicians, the politicians were always shocked by Smith’s arguments. Apparently the State Department and Foreign Office were passing communist propaganda on Rhodesia through to politicians. Another coincidence, I’m sure.)

As the situation became more dire, whites started leaving Rhodesia in larger numbers (economic output began declining accordingly). Smith stayed.

A group of black leaders emerged. Generally the leaders were generally tribal leaders (full democracy in these countries at these times just meant putting the largest tribe in control of the country). Leaders at the time include Nkomo, Sithole, Mugabe, and Muzorewa. The latter was the first Prime Minister after Smith, but wasn’t ruthless enough (and hostile enough to whites, one suspects) to keep Mugabe out.

Fully free elections (to the surprise of the British apparently, but not anyone who was actually paying attention) turned out to be competitions to see who could terrorize the largest number of citizens. The prize, under this enlightened method for choosing a leader, would obviously eventually be Mugabe’s.

Smith stayed in Rhodesia until he was stripped of his citizenship, at which point he left for South Africa. He died in 2007. The Zimbabwean “government” seized his land in 2012.

Fixation Error

June 23rd, 2015

In a crisis, the brain’s perceptual field narrows and shortens:

We become seized by a tremendous compulsion to fix on the problem we think we can solve, and quickly lose awareness of almost everything else. It’s an affliction to which even the most skilled and experienced professionals are prone.

Imagine a stalled car, stuck on a level crossing as a distant train bears down on it. Panic rising, the driver starts and restarts the engine rather than getting out of the car and running. The three doctors bent over Elaine Bromiley’s throat were intent on finding a way to intubate, just as the three pilots in the cockpit of United 173 were determined to establish the status of the landing gear. In neither case did these seasoned professionals look up and register the oncoming train: in the case of Elaine, her oxygen levels, and in the case of United 173, its fuel levels.

When people are fixating, their perception of time becomes highly erratic; minutes stretch and elongate. One of the most striking aspects of the transcript of United 173’s last minutes is the way the captain seems to be under the impression that he has plenty of time, right up until the moment the engines cut out. It’s not that he didn’t have the correct information; it’s that his brain was running to a different clock. Similarly, it’s not that the doctors weren’t aware that Elaine Bromiley’s oxygen supply was a problem; it’s that their sense of how long she had been without it was distorted. When Harmer interviewed him, the anaesthetic consultant confessed that he had no idea how much time had passed.

Imagine, for a moment, being one of those doctors. You have a patient who has stopped breathing. The clock is ticking. The standard procedure isn’t working, but you have employed it dozens of times before and you know it works. Each of the senior colleagues around you is experiencing the same difficulty, which reassures you. You cling to the belief that, between the three of you, you will solve the problem, if it is soluble at all. You vaguely register nurses coming into the room and saying things but you don’t really hear what they say. Perhaps it occurs to you to step back from the patient and demand a rethink, but you don’t want your peers to see you as panicky or naive. So you focus on the one thing you can control: the procedure. You repeat it over and over, hoping for a different result. It is madness, but it is comprehensible madness.