What rooms are inside real medieval castles?

January 21st, 2020

What rooms are inside real medieval castles?

Every stuffed friend is a characteristic of PTSD

January 21st, 2020

A. A. Milne served as a lieutenant in the Great War, was wounded at the Somme, and then finished the war writing propaganda back in England. He went on to write an anti-war book, Peace with Honour, and may have suffered from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder — mistaking buzzing bees for bullets and popping balloons for gunshots:

It’s been theorized by Dr. Sarah Shea that Milne wrote into each character of Winnie-the-Pooh a different psychological disorder. While only A. A. Milne could tell us for certain, Dr. Shea’s theory seems pointed in the right direction, but may be a little too impersonal. After all, the book was written specifically for one child, by name, and features the stuffed animals that the boy loved.

It’s more likely, in my opinion, that the stories were a way for Milne to explain his own post-traumatic stress to his six-year-old son. Every stuffed friend in the Hundred Acre Woods is a child-friendly representation of a characteristic of post-traumatic stress. Piglet is paranoia, Eeyore is depression, Tigger is impulsive behaviors, Rabbit is perfectionism-caused aggression, Owl is memory loss, and Kanga & Roo represent over-protection. This leaves Winnie, who Alan wrote in for himself as Christopher Robin’s guide through the Hundred Acre Woods — his father’s mind.

Why do medieval buildings overhang their lower floors?

January 20th, 2020

Why do medieval buildings overhang their lower floors?

(Hat tip to Alistair, who led me down the Shadiversity rabbit hole.)

Comfortable lives at constant ambient temperature contribute to a lower metabolic rate

January 20th, 2020

Since the early 19th century, the average human body temperature in the United States has dropped, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine:

That standard of 98.6 F was established by German physician Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich in 1851. Modern studies, however, have called that number into question, suggesting that it’s too high. A recent study, for example, found the average temperature of 25,000 British patients to be 97.9 F.

[...]

Parsonnet and her colleagues analyzed temperatures from three datasets covering distinct historical periods. The earliest set, compiled from military service records, medical records and pension records from Union Army veterans of the Civil War, captures data between 1862 and 1930 and includes people born in the early 1800s. A set from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I contains data from 1971 to 1975. Finally, the Stanford Translational Research Integrated Database Environment comprises data from adult patients who visited Stanford Health Care between 2007 and 2017.

The researchers used the 677,423 temperature measurements from these datasets to develop a linear model that interpolated temperature over time. The model confirmed body temperature trends that were known from previous studies, including increased body temperature in younger people, in women, in larger bodies and at later times of the day.

The researchers observed that the body temperature of men born in the 2000s is on average 1.06 F lower than that of men born in the early 1800s. Similarly, they observed that the body temperature of women born in the 2000s is on average 0.58 F lower than that of women born in the 1890s. These calculations correspond to a decrease in body temperature of 0.05 F every decade.

[...]

The decrease in average body temperature in the United States could be explained by a reduction in metabolic rate, or the amount of energy being used. The authors hypothesize that this reduction may be due to a population-wide decline in inflammation: “Inflammation produces all sorts of proteins and cytokines that rev up your metabolism and raise your temperature,” Parsonnet said. Public health has improved dramatically in the past 200 years due to advances in medical treatments, better hygiene, greater availability of food and improved standards of living.

The authors also hypothesize that comfortable lives at constant ambient temperature contribute to a lower metabolic rate. Homes in the 19th century had irregular heating and no cooling; today, central heating and air conditioning are commonplace. A more constant environment removes a need to expend energy to maintain a constant body temperature.

The bird’s fingers are important for steering

January 19th, 2020

Birds change the shape of their wings far more than planes do, and David Lentink, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, and his team explored this while creating their PigeonBot:

The researchers used common pigeon cadavers to try to figure out the mechanics of how birds control the motion of their feathers during flight. Scientists had thought the feathers might be controlled by individual muscles. But they learned that some aspects of bird wing motion are simpler than they expected.

Lentink says that several doctoral students realized that simply by moving the birds’ “wrist” and “finger,” the feathers would fall into place. When the bird’s wrist and finger moves, “all the feathers move, too, and they do this automatically,” he said. “And that’s really cool.”

The findings are some of the first evidence that the bird’s fingers are important for steering. The team replicated the bird’s wing on the PigeonBot using 40 pigeon feathers, springs and rubber bands connected to a wrist and finger structure. When the wrist and finger move, all the feathers move, too.

The researchers used a wind tunnel to see how the feather-and-rubber band design worked under turbulent conditions. “Most aerospace engineers would say this is not going to work well, but it turned out to be incredibly robust,” Lentink says.

They also pinpointed something interesting about how the feathers work together that helps most birds fly in turbulent conditions. At certain moments during flight, such as when a bird is extending its wings, tiny hooks on the feathers lock together like Velcro.

“These tiny, microscopic micro-structures that are between feathers lock them together as soon as they separate too far apart, and a gap is about to form. And it’s really spectacular,” Lentink adds. “It requires an enormous force to separate them.”

These tiny hooks are so small that they’re hard to see even through a microscope. Then, when a bird tucks its wing back in, the feathers unlock automatically, like directional Velcro. Separating the locked feathers makes an audible sound for most birds. The team published this finding in a separate paper in the journal Science.

It’s worth noting that the PigeonBot doesn’t incorporate something you might associate with birds’ wings – flapping. The designers were focused on incorporating the more subtle wrist-and-finger motions of the wings, so the bot appears to be gliding through the air while it’s in flight.

I guess Dune‘s ornithopters might not be so fanciful after all, and we might see a better human-power ornithopter, too.

Instinctive sleeping and resting postures

January 19th, 2020

Michael Tetley presents an anthropological and zoological approach to the treatment of low back and joint pain, based on instinctive sleeping and resting postures:

If you are a medical professional and have been trained in a “civilised” country you probably know next to nothing about the primate Homo sapiens and how they survive in the wild. You probably do not know that nature has provided an automatic manipulator to correct most spinal and peripheral joint lesions in primates. In common with millions of other so called civilised people you suffer unnecessarily from musculoskeletal problems and are discouraged about how to treat the exponential rise in low back pain throughout the developed world. Humans are one of 200 species of primates.1 All primates suffer from musculoskeletal problems; nature, recognising this fact, has given primates a way to correct them.

The study of animals in the wild has been a lifelong pursuit. I grew up with tribal people and in 1953-4 commanded a platoon of African soldiers from nine tribes, who taught me to sleep on my side without a pillow so that I could listen out for danger with both ears. I have organised over 14 expeditions all over the world to meet native peoples and study their sleeping and resting postures. They all adopted similar postures and exhibited few musculoskeletal problems. I must emphasise that this is not a comparison of genes or races but of lifestyles. I tried to carry out surveys to collect evidence but they were meaningless, as tribespeople give you the answer they think you want. They often object to having their photographs taken, so I have demonstrated the postures.

Tetley was born in Kenya, where he encountered much worse Mau-Mauing than what Tom Wolfe described:

Mike, who was born and raised in Kenya speaking its native language Swahili, was conscripted to command indigenous troops in the King’s African Rifles as unrest began to spread throughout his homeland.

It was after Mau Mau militants ambushed a police truck that a battle erupted between the rivals.

A clash Mike so vividly recalls as it marked the last time he could appreciate the gift of sight before it was lost.

Remembering the battle, Mike said: “One of the Mau Mau threw a grenade at me and it landed by my foot. I jumped away from it and threw myself on the ground hoping that when it went off I wouldn’t get hit.

“The next thing I remember I was running flat out and I got a bullet in my right ear which came out of my right eye.

“My dad always said I didn’t have anything between my ears and now he’s got definite proof.

“The next thing I remember I fell over and as I picked myself up everything went black. I sat down and I can’t remember much more than that — not in a logical sense anyway.”

Dissatisfied with blasting their victim with a rifle — nearly killing him — the Mau Mau rebels returned armed with machetes to cut up Mike, who lay helpless on the ground nursing his wound. Powerless to defend himself, Mike has always owed his survival to an ally soldier, Reguton — with whom he still has regular contact — who shot dead the seven rebels.

“I was on the ground and they came forward with guns and knives and they tried to cut me up,” he said “Reguton had his gun and shot them and killed them. He killed seven of them from 25 yards — that’s very good shooting, particularly when you’ve only got 28 bullets in a magazine. From 25 yards he would have had three bullets for each person until they were on top of him — I’m very indebted to him.”

For Mike, vivid scenes of massacre and torture remain poignant in his memory. Images of bloodshed to which Mike was repeatedly exposed before he lost his sight have proved impossible to dispel from his mind.

More than 1,800 Kenyan civilians are known to have been murdered by the Mau Mau. Many of the murders of which they were guilty were brutal in the extreme and Mike recalled just one of the savage killings.

“I was walking back to my tent and there was a 12-year-old girl in the middle of the road with her throat cut. There was a note next to her which read ‘We’re not frightened of you, we’ll take you on, the army and the police. It was signed Corporal Kanwemba of the Mau Mau.”

Mike was transferred to a military hospital in England after the attack where he received the devastating news that he would never see again.

He enrolled in a physiotherapy course with the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) — which brings us back to his paper:

Figure 1 shows a mountain gorilla lying on the ground on his side without a pillow — a position in which I have also seen chimpanzees and gibbons sleeping — and a Kenya African in a similar position on a palm leaf mattress on a concrete floor. Note how he uses his laterally rotated arm as a pillow and can listen out for danger with both ears.

Sleeping Figure 1A Kenyan

Sleeping Figure 1B Gorilla

When lying on one side you do not even need the arm as a pillow: when the lower shoulder is fully hunched, the neck is completely supported. I think the neck should deviate towards the ground as gravity then shuts the mouth, preventing insects from entering, and a little traction is applied to the cervical spine (fig 2, top). When the head is down, the vertebrae are stretched between two anchors and every time the ribs move through breathing the tension is increased, the vertebrae realign themselves, and the movement keeps the joints lubricated. Current thinking is to keep the spine straight by use of a pillow. Has anyone ever seen a gorilla shinning up a tree with a pillow? Note also the plantar flexed foot. A dorsiflexed foot rotates the knee and alters the Q angle (between the resultant pull of the quadriceps muscle and the patella tendon), producing uneven wear and, in time, pain.

Sleeping Figure 2B Side Lying Modified

Sleeping Figure 2A Side Lying

Tribal people do not like lying on the ground in the recovery position while wearing no clothes as the penis dangles in the dust and can get bitten by insects. When the legs are in the reverse recovery position (fig 2, bottom), the penis lies on the lower thigh and is protected. In this position the Achilles tendon of the leading foot can be inserted in the gap between the big toe and the first lesser toe to help correct a bunion.

When sleeping in the open in very cold climates and when the ground is wet, humans often resort to sleeping on their shins, like the Tibetan caravaneers photographed by Peter, Prince of Greece and Denmark, in 1938 (fig 3). Nature has not covered the anterior border of the tibia and the medial border of the ulna with muscle, so in this position there is only skin and bone in contact with the cold ground and heat loss is reduced. The body is also folded to conserve heat; both ears can listen for danger, be it lion or terrorist; and when the head is down gravity shuts the mouth and it is impossible to snore.

Sleeping Figure 3 Tibetans

Figure 4 shows the “lookout posture,” another position using the arm as a pillow to reset shoulder, elbow, and wrist: accessory joint movement is regained because the weight of the head resting on the arm is at right angles to the line of movement, producing a lateral glide. I have seen Howler monkeys using this position in Costa Rica

Sleeping Figure 4 Lookout Posture

Quadrupedal lying (fig 5) is ideal for stretching collagen fibre throughout the body. In the penis protect position, with the pelvis locked, the spine is rotated and flexed. With the elbows out sideways and the chest on the ground, many spinal lesions can be corrected gently using nature’s automatic manipulator. Animals are clever because they use the radiant heat from the sun to encourage relaxation of their muscles when they adopt this posture. In this photograph note that the dog’s sternum is in full contact with the ground but that of the human is not: this can be easily corrected by rotating the right arm medially to lower the sternum. It has been noted that guide dogs working in towns breathe the same pollutants as humans yet do not have asthma. Could this be because when they lie on their chests the kickback from the upper ribs keeps the corresponding vertebrae mobile, allowing the sympathetic system to work efficiently?

Sleeping Figure 5 Quadrupedal Lying

Arabs in the Sahara will sit in the position shown in figure 6 for hours and it keeps the forefoot aligned on the hindfoot, as the ischia rest directly on the calcanea and the feet point straight backwards. People who sit like this do not seem to get much osteoarthritis in their knees in old age. Cross legged sitting prevents arthritic hips. A flying doctor from Kenya remarked to me that over the years as local tribesmen became more civilised he more often saw arthritis of hips and knees.

Sleeping Figure 6 Sitting on the heels

The full squat, with the heels on the ground (fig 7) resets the sacroiliac joints; takes hips, knees and ankles through the full range; and can be very useful in treating backs. To start with, some Westerners have to hold on to a door frame.

Sleeping Figure 7 Full Squat

Largely anecdotal evidence has been collected by “old timers” for over 50 years from non-Western societies that low back pain and joint stiffness is markedly reduced by adopting natural sleeping and resting postures. This observation must be recorded to allow further research in this direction as these primitive societies no longer exist and the great apes living in the wild are heading for extinction. All we have to do is to be good primates and use these preventive techniques.

(Hat tip to Gwern.)

Lothar Zogg counts to 10

January 18th, 2020

On James Earl Jones’ birthday yesterday, the Muppet History Twitter account remarked that he was Sesame Street’s first celebrity guest, which sent me down a rabbit hole:

In 1969, Jones participated in making test films for the children’s education series Sesame Street; these shorts, combined with animated segments, were shown to groups of children to gauge the effectiveness of the then-groundbreaking Sesame Street format. As cited by production notes included in the DVD release Sesame Street: Old School 1969–1974, the short that had the greatest impact with test audiences was one showing bald-headed Jones counting slowly to ten. This and other segments featuring Jones were eventually aired as part of the Sesame Street series itself when it debuted later in 1969 and Jones is often cited as the first celebrity guest on that series, although a segment with Carol Burnett was the first to actually be broadcast.

Jones is a famous movie star now, but what had he been in when they filmed these segments in 1969? Two movies: Dr. Strangelove and The Comedians. I’m assuming the Sesame Street crowd knew him from his stage work.

For the 40th anniversary of Dr. Strangelove, Jones looked back:

Kubrick based his initial script on “Red Alert,” a tense thriller about the possibility of an accidental nuclear war written by the British author Peter George. When Stanley came to New York to scout George C. Scott for the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, George happened to be playing in “The Merchant of Venice” at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. So was I. Stanley recruited George, and given that Kubrick wanted to make the film’s B-52 crew multiethnic, he took me too. It was my first movie role.

As the script evolved, Kubrick decided to bring in the renowned “bad boy” Terry Southern to rework the film as a satire. Among many other changes, an entirely new character was added to the story — the eponymous Dr. Strangelove (initially called Von Klutz). Southern and Kubrick gave all the characters comic-book names. Sterling Hayden’s Gen. Quintin became Gen. Jack D. Ripper. Slim Pickens now played Maj. T.J. “King” Kong. Keenan Wynn was Col. “Bat” Guano, and George was Gen. “Buck” Turgidson. Of course, Peter Sellers took on three roles: Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, a British Exchange Officer; Dr. Strangelove himself; and U.S. President Merkin Muffley.

My character, the B-52′s bombardier Lt. Lothar Zogg, took his name from Mandrake the Magician’s sidekick, a black and bald-headed man who provided Mandrake with muscle power when prestidigitation failed. In the original script, the bombardier’s role included pointed questioning of the authenticity of Gen. Ripper’s command-orders to nuke Russia. But as “Dr. Strangelove” evolved into a satire, Zogg’s voice of reason shrank to essentially a single question: “Sir, do you think this might be some kind of loyalty test or security check?”

In spite of having been stripped of the lines that made the role attractive to me in the first place, I felt very fortunate to be working with Kubrick, one of the most brilliant and innovative directors of our time.

I had to look up Mandrake the Magician and his supporting cast:

Mandrake the Magician was a syndicated newspaper comic strip, created by Lee Falk (before he created The Phantom). Mandrake began publication on June 11, 1934. Phil Davis soon took over as the strip’s illustrator, while Falk continued to script. The strip was distributed by King Features Syndicate.

Mandrake, along with the Phantom Magician in Mel Graff’s The Adventures of Patsy, is regarded by comics historians as the first superhero of comics, such as comics historian Don Markstein, who writes, “Some people say Mandrake the Magician, who started in 1934, was comics’ first superhero.”

[...]

Lothar is Mandrake’s best friend and crimefighting companion, whom Mandrake first met during his travels in Africa. Lothar was the Prince of the Seven Nations, a mighty federation of jungle tribes but forbore becoming king to followed Mandrake on his world travels. Lothar is often referred to as “the strongest man in the world”, with the exception of Hojo — Mandrake’s chef and secret chief of Inter Intel. Lothar is invulnerable to any weapon forged by man, impervious to heat and cold, and possesses the stamina of a thousand men. He also cannot be harmed by magic directly (such as by fire bolts, force bolts, or spell incantations). He can easily lift an elephant by one hand. One of the first African crimefighting heroes ever to appear in comics, Lothar’s début alongside Mandrake was in the 1934 inaugural daily strip. In the beginning, Lothar spoke poor English and wore a fez, short pants, and a leopard skin. In a 1935 work by King Features Syndicate, Lothar is referred to as Mandrake’s “giant black slave.” When artist Fred Fredericks took over in 1965, Lothar spoke correct English and his clothing changed, although he often wore shirts with leopard-skin patterns.

What they need to do is die

January 18th, 2020

I was not expecting to stumble across a GQ video of Jocko Willink breaking down combat scenes from movies:

Putting knife-defense to the test

January 17th, 2020

Nick Drossos decided to challenge random folks at the park to “cut” him with a marker, to test his knife-defense skills:

Every time a reader reads to the end of a 3,000-page book, the author earns almost 14 dollars

January 17th, 2020

Self-published romance is no joke:

A genre that mostly features shiny, shirtless men on its covers and sells ebooks for 99 cents a pop might seem unserious. But at stake are revenues sometimes amounting to a million dollars a year, with some authors easily netting six figures a month. The top authors can drop $50,000 on a single ad campaign that will keep them in the charts — and see a worthwhile return on that investment.

This has led to some unscrupulous practices:

Book stuffing is a term that encompasses a wide range of methods for taking advantage of the Kindle Unlimited revenue structure. In Kindle Unlimited, readers pay $9.99 a month to read as many books as they want that are available through the KU program. This includes both popular mainstream titles like the Harry Potter series and self-published romances put out by authors like Crescent and Hopkins. Authors are paid according to pages read, creating incentives to produce massively inflated and strangely structured books. The more pages Amazon thinks have been read, the more money an author receives.

The per-page payment model was actually an attempt to crack down on a previous strategy of capitalizing on Kindle mechanics. When Kindle Unlimited was first introduced, authors were paid a flat fee per book that readers “borrowed” through the program. “Those of a kind of a black hat mindset saw the opportunity,” says David Gaughran, a blogger who has been following the phenomenon of book stuffing since 2016. “They started producing these eight-page books … very short, like recipe books, how to lose weight, no-carb diet, whatever.”

Readers, as it turned out, hated checking out books and later finding out that the books were really pamphlets. Shortly thereafter, Amazon rolled out the next iteration of Kindle Unlimited — authors would now be paid per page read.

Many self-publishers, says Gaughran, moved on to producing books that were thousands of pages long. Some of the books would include multiple translations into several languages — all run through Google Translate. Others would include junk HTML code. These methods — blatant violations of the terms of services — weren’t tolerated. Books were removed and authors were banned.

It’s not clear if these early book-stuffers moved onto the self-publishing romance scene, or if some of the self-publishing romance authors began to pick up on these tricks. Either way, book stuffing plagues the romance genre on Kindle Unlimited, with titles that come in at 2000 or even 3000 pages (the maximum page length for a Kindle Unlimited book). That’s approximately the length of Atlas Shrugged or War and Peace.

Book stuffing is particularly controversial because Amazon pays authors from a single communal pot. In other words, Kindle Unlimited is a zero-sum game. The more one author gets from Kindle Unlimited, the less the other authors get.

The romance authors Willink was discovering didn’t go in for clumsy stuffings of automatic translations or HTML cruft; rather, they stuffed their books with ghostwritten content or repackaged, previously published material. In the latter case, the author will bait readers with promises of fresh content, like a new novella, at the end of the book.

Every time a reader reads to the end of a 3,000-page book, the author earns almost 14 dollars. For titles that break into the top of the Kindle Unlimited charts, this trick can generate a fortune.

Of course, you might be wondering if any readers actually read through all 3000 pages. But authors deploy a host of tricks in service of gathering page reads — from big fonts and wide spacing to a “link back.” Some authors would place a link at the very front of the book, to sign up to a mailing list. The link would take them to the back of the book, thus counting all pages read. It’s not clear whether any of this actually works. A spokesperson for Amazon told The Verge that Amazon uses a standardized page count that won’t take big fonts or wide spacing into account. A June blog post by the Kindle Direct Publishing Team assured authors that the KENPC system (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count) recorded pages read with “high precision” and that the company was constantly working to improve its “fidelity.”

Neovictorian’s Reality

January 16th, 2020

When I reviewed Neovictorian’s first novel, Sanity, I noted that it is, in a sense, didactic; it purports to explain how the world really works. With a title like Reality, I expect his second novel to do the same.

He thanks a few folks by name and then “a few fine people who prefer to remain in the shadows.” I had to read all the way through the first line of the prologue before I saw my own shadowy influence.

Neovictorian Reality Prologue

If you don’t immediately spot it, read to the end of this old post.

The most intriguing unpredictable election process was probably that of the medieval Venetian Republic

January 16th, 2020

The Venetians had a somewhat tedious way of combining voting and randomness, Nick Szabo explains, that reduced blackmail and pay-to-play political donations:

If would-be purchasers of political favors cannot predict who will win, or even who might win with substantial probability, they cannot purchase any favors prior to an election. A perfectly unpredictable election would be bribe-free.

We can’t make elections perfectly unpredictable, but we can get pretty close. There are historical and even contemporary precedents. For example, we choose jurors by lot from a pool much larger than the twelve jurors selected. This prevents wealthy plaintiffs, defendants, or governments from buying jurors through the selection process. (After selection, there are a number of legal and physical sequestering mechanisms that can be used to isolate a jury from contact with favor purchasers. As for political office, this article deals only with bribery during the selection process).

In ancient Athens, not only juries but many office-holders were selected by lot. But the most intriguing unpredictable election process was probably that of the medieval Venetian Republic. This republic helped turn a secure island into Europe’s wealthiest trading empire. In Venice, many political offices were selected by a repeated cycle of lottery, vote, …. lottery, vote. The final lottery and vote, at least, were held one after the other in the same room, giving favor purchasers no time or privacy to do their business.

I’ve mentioned unpredictable elections before, but sortition came up recently.

This “shadow ban” is very real

January 15th, 2020

While sharing his best writing from 2019, Greg Ellifritz also provides a little “behind the scenes” look at his numbers:

Only about 23% of my visitors come to the site directly or read my posts via email updates. The vast majority (76%) of my readers arrive at my site from either a social media link or a search engine.

The social media giants are notoriously anti-gun. The largest search engines are regularly directing searches away from websites with lots of firearms or self-defense related content. This “shadow ban” is very real.

My website pageviews peaked in the year 2016. In that year, I had 5,120,608 page views. Coincidentally, that was the year that search engines and social media sites began their effort to “de-platform” content they don’t like. My site is filled with content that the large social media giants hate.

I went from over five million pageviews in 2016 down to 2,981,315 pageviews in 2017 despite releasing more and better content. Since 2017, my page views have continued to plummet. In 2019 I had 2,347,144 pageviews.

I intentionally created 22% more content in 2019, hoping the additional articles would boost my readership. It didn’t matter. Page views continue to slowly decrease year after year. Despite writing more than 50,000 more words (half a fictional novel) in 2019 as compared to 2018, I lost half a million readers.

Dogs follow a strict code of conduct

January 14th, 2020

Canids (members of the dog family) follow a strict code of conduct when they play:

1. Ask first and communicate clearly. Many nonhumans announce that they want to play and not fight or mate. Canids punctuate play sequences using a bow to solicit play, crouching on their forelimbs while standing on their hind legs. Bows are used almost exclusively during play and are highly stereotyped — that is, they always look the same — so the message “Come play with me” or “I still want to play” is clear. Play bows are honest signals, a sign of trust.

Even when an individual follows a play bow with seemingly aggressive actions such as baring teeth, growling or biting, their companions demonstrate submission or avoidance only around 15% of the time, which suggests they trust the bow’s message that whatever follows is meant in fun. Trust in one another’s honest communication is vital for fair play and a smoothly functioning social group.

2. Mind your manners. Animals consider their play partners’ abilities and engage in self-handicapping and role reversing to create and maintain equal footing. For instance, a coyote might not bite their play partner as hard as they can, handicapping themselves to keep things fair. And a dominant pack member might perform a role reversal, rolling over on their back (a sign of submission that they would never offer during real aggression) to let their lower-status play partner take a turn at “winning.”

Human children also behave this way when they play, for instance, taking turns overpowering each other in a mock wrestling match. By keeping things fair in this manner, every member of the group can play with every other member, building bonds that keep the group cohesive and strong.

3. Admit when you are wrong. Even when everyone wants to keep things fair, play can sometimes get out of hand. When an animal misbehaves or accidentally hurts his play partner, they typically apologize, just like a human would. After an intense bite, a bow sends the message, “Sorry I bit you so hard — this is still play regardless of what I just did. Don’t leave; I’ll play fair.” For play to continue, the other individual must forgive the wrongdoing. And forgiveness is almost always offered; understanding and tolerance are abundant during play as well as in daily pack life.

4. Be honest. An apology, like an invitation to play, must be sincere. Individuals who continue to play unfairly or send dishonest signals often quickly find themselves ostracized. This has far greater consequences than simply reduced playtime. For example, my long-term field research shows that juvenile coyotes who do not play fair often end up leaving their pack and are up to four times more likely to die than those individuals who remain with others. There are substantial risks associated with dispersal by young coyotes, and violating social norms, established during play, is not good for perpetuating one’s genes.

[...]

A few people have asked me if dogs always play fair, mentioning a few examples in which play escalated into an encounter that seemed to be aggressive or it seemed like this was going to happen. I explain that this is extremely rare, and tell them about a study by Melissa Shyan and her colleagues in which it was reported that fewer than 0.5 percent of play fights in dogs developed into conflict, and only half of these were clearly aggressive encounters.

That place is like Africa Light

January 13th, 2020

Greg Ellifritz just got back from Africa, where not quite everything went to plan:

Before leaving the airport, I tried three different ATMs to get local currency. All three rejected my card. My ATM card wouldn’t work at all in South Africa. That’s the first country I’ve been to (besides Cuba) where my ATM card didn’t work. That made life challenging, but I was smart enough to bring an emergency stash of American cash that I was able to exchange in a dodgy black market currency transaction (arranged by a taxi driver) for some local South African Rand.

I can understand why some folks don’t like traveling.

He booked a room in a guest house on a farm outside of Jo-burg:

Outside, there was an eight foot cement wall topped with an additional four feet of electric fence surrounding the entire property. It’s was crazy to see that every rural house was a completely walled estate. The South Africans really like barbed wire and electric fences. Almost every house was enclosed by a wall with an electrified fence.

[...]

On my third day, I hired a private tour guide (recommended by the owner of my guesthouse) to give me a tour of some of the grittier parts of Jo-burg. That was an education just as potent as the Apartheid museum.

There are entire parts of the city classified as “no-go” zones. If you don’t live there, you are not welcome. There are constant protests, roadblocks and tires burning in the streets of some neighborhoods. The downtown area of Jo-burg is a wasteland. Most of the skyscrapers are empty as large corporations have fled to the safer suburbs. Many buildings have no utilities, but were nonetheless inhabited by squatters.

I’ve never seen so many homeless people in one place. There were thousands of homeless people squatting in dozens of buildings without any electricity or running water. People defecated openly by the side of the road. There were huge trash drum fires and lots of people aimlessly hanging out in the streets.

While driving through the downtown area, we had to keep changing routes due to large amounts of rubble placed in the roadway as a roadblock during recent protests. I’ve been a lot of places. Downtown Jo-burg looked more apocalyptic than any other location I’ve visited and gave me an idea of what things would look like if our power grid fails. It wasn’t a happy thought.

Following the tour of downtown, we drove into some of the “townships” or slum areas. The most famous Jo-berg township is SOWETO (South Western Township) where Nelson Mandela lived. The townships had lots of ramshackle buildings, but the people seemed much more organized than the squatters living downtown. People were poor, but worked, had families and a purpose for existence. The townships I visited didn’t seem dangerous at all. The townships were kind of like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro without all the open air drug sales.

Ellifritz is a cop, and he carefully notes how gun laws and law enforcement work in other countries:

My tour guide was a former soldier, a gun owner, and an avid shooter. He explained that residents of South Africa could own a handgun and two hunting rifles with the proper permits. He owned a Glock 17 that he bought for 7000 Rand (about $500 US). Concealed carry was theoretically possible, but my guide didn’t know anyone who actually had the necessary permits to carry legally.

The cops in Jo-berg wore external plate body armor and often carried long guns (R-4 or R-5 rifles that are South African Galil variants). I only saw two cops armed with handguns. Both carried Beretta 92s. One was carried in a cheap nylon IWB holster that placed the gun so deeply in the beltline, that the grip was barely visible. The other carried his Beretta in a 1990s vintage Uncle Mikes “twist draw” retention holster on a duty belt with a big can of pepper spray.

I didn’t see any support gear like handcuffs or batons carried by the local cops. That fact might be a useful fact for you travelers to notice. When the cops aren’t carrying handcuffs, they clearly expect criminals to either submit to arrest without incident or be shot. No half measures.

No thanks. I’m good. I prefer to stay far away from cops who don’t train and carry less lethal weapons.

After Kruger, they made their way to the Karongwe Wildlife Reserve:

The monkeys in camp were an absolute menace. A group of about 20 raided our camp and began grabbing people. As I was trying to clear them off a neighbor’s porch, they tried an ambush attack.

I actually had a Mexican standoff with a growling monkey as I had my OC spray ready to hose him down. He kept growling and advancing. As soon as I pointed the OC canister at him, he stopped, stared at me for a few seconds, and then walked away.

He righteously should have gotten some spicy treats, but I didn’t want to forever be known as the dude who pepper sprays monkeys. The vervet monkeys are such a problem in some parks, that the government employs people armed with paintball guns and slingshots to keep them away from tourists.

At Karongwe they were also able to take a hike in the bush:

Since all of the “Big Five” most dangerous African game animals live on the property, we had to be accompanied by a guide and a “gun bearer.”

The gun bearer walked up to our group. He had a beat-to-shit CZ .458 Win Mag bolt gun. There was absolutely no finish left on the barrel. The wood stock looked like some small varmint had chewed on it.

The rifle was unloaded. The bolt wasn’t in the gun. The gun bearer was carrying the bolt stuck behind this belt in the appendix position. He was wearing a leather loop cartridge holder full of 10 rifle rounds at the four o’clock position behind his hip.

I thought: “Wow, they are actually sending us out into the bush with our ‘protection’ carrying a disassembled and unloaded rifle. What could possibly go wrong?”

We walked about 100 meters away from the camp and the gun bearer installed the rifle bolt and loaded it with five rounds. He took the rounds from the most forward cartridge loops, thereby guaranteeing that he would have to reach far behind his back to access the remaining cartridges should he have to reload in a hurry. Brilliant.

The gun bearer made an elaborate show of loading each round into the magazine. He then pushed the cartridges down with his thumb and moved the bolt forward. Once the bolt was over the top of the cartridges in the magazine, he closed and locked the bolt with a flourish, stating “Now we are ready.”

I normally shut my mouth in the evidence of such stupidity, but I couldn’t hold back.

“There’s no round in the chamber. You aren’t ‘ready.’ The gun is in a better condition to fire now as compared to when you brought it out unloaded, but you are far from ‘ready’.“

He kind of looked at me sheepishly. I continued:

“Don’t worry. When the lion attacks you while you are trying to get the gun in play, I’ll be there. I know how to run that bolt. I’ll pick up your rifle off the ground, chamber a round and shoot the lion off your corpse.

It’s great having a plan. Now we’re ‘ready.’”

Neither he nor the guide really had too much to say after that.

Absolutely frightening muzzle discipline displayed during the whole hike. When the guide talked, the gun bearer stood with the rifle butt placed on his boot, leaning forward with both hands covering his muzzle. He was essentially using the muzzle of a loaded .458 Win Mag as a hand rest.

Then they went to Zimbabwe:

A passenger on the flight from South Africa to Zimbabwe said the following as we were disembarking and walking into the sweltering airport:

“We aren’t in South Africa anymore. That place is like ‘Africa Light.’ Now we are in the real deal.”

That’s a quality analysis.