Cat turns into woman in Nigeria

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

I don’t know the first thing about the Nigerian Tribune, but if it is a reputable paper in Nigeria, well, I just don’t know what to say. Really, I couldn’t make this up. Cat turns into woman in P/Harcourt – 5 killed as cultists clash:

What could be described as a fairy tale turned real on Wednesday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, as a cat allegedly turned into a middle-aged woman after being hit by a commercial motorcycle (Okada) on Aba/Port Harcourt Expressway.

Nigerian Tribune learnt that three cats were crossing the busy road when the okada ran over one of them which immediately turned into a woman. This strange occurrence quickly attracted people around who descended on the animals. One of them, it was learnt, was able to escape while the third one was beaten to death, still as a cat though.

According to a source who witnessed what happened, the cat-woman said she and the two other cat-fellows had travelled from Abuja to Port Harcourt to kill three people. “The woman said they came to Port Harcourt from Abuja and that they came to kill three people. She said they had succeeded in killing two people, but the third person, whom I guess might be a pastor, was difficult for them and that they were preparing to go back to Abuja,” said the source.

Another witness, who gave his name as James, said the woman started faking when she saw that many people were gathering around her. “I have never seen anything like this in my life. I saw a woman lying on the road instead of a cat. Blood did not come out of her body at that time. When people gathered and started asking her questions, she pretended that she did not know what had happened,” he said.

When the Nigerian Tribune got to the scene of the incident near Garrison Junction, the cat-woman was seen sitting on the ground with blood all over her body. The right side of her face had a deep cut from what was gathered to be from a cutlass.
She was later taken to a hospital for medical attention. It took the intervention of policemen to prevent the mob from killing her.

When reached for information from the police, the Public Relations Officer of the Rivers State police command, Mrs. Rita Inoma-Abbey, said she had been taken to the hospital.

“She has been taken to Teme Clinic. Police will still be guarding her so that she will not disappear,” he said. In another development, at least five people have been confirmed dead while four others were said to be receiving medical treatment following a suspected cult clash in Aluu, one of the host communities of the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

Nigerian Tribune gathered from sources around UNIPORT that the clash, which led to the loss of lives and injury to others, was between two cult groups; Vikings and Black Axe Confraternity, a spill over of the struggle between the two cult groups on the RSUST campus, Port Harcourt.

There has never been a successful right-wing insurgency

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

There has never been a successful right-wing insurgency, Mencius points out:

That is, there has never been any successful movement employing the tactics of guerrilla or “urban guerrilla” (or “terrorist”) war, in which the guerrilla forces were to the political right of the government forces. To some extent you can classify Franco in Spain as a successful right-wing rebel, but his forces were more organized and disciplined than the government’s — Franquismo was a coup that turned into a rebellion, and it succeeded in the end only because, for unusual reasons, England and the US declined to intervene against it.

For example, if oppression and injustice really are the cause of insurgent movements, why was there never anything even close to an insurgency in any of the Soviet-bloc states? Excepting, of course, Afghanistan — a rather suspicious exception. You may be a progressive, but you can’t be such a progressive that you believe there was no such thing as Communist oppression. Yet it never spawned any kind of violent reaction. What up with that, dog?

The obvious answer is just Defoe’s. “When they had the Power in their hands, those Graces were strangers in their gates.” The cause of revolutionary violence is not oppression. The cause of revolutionary violence is weak government. If people avoid revolting against strong governments, it is because they are not stupid, and they know they will lose. There is one and only one way to defeat an insurgency, which is the same way to defeat any movement — make it clear that it has no chance of winning, and no one involved in it will gain by continuing to fight.

I mean, think about it. You hear that in country X, the government is fighting against an insurgency. You know nothing else. Which side would you bet on? The government, of course. Because it is stronger by definition — it has more men and more guns. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be the government.

So insurgency in the modern age is not what it appears to be. It is an illusion constructed for a political audience. If Fisher is right, it was not the Continental Army that prevailed in 1783, but the alliance of the Continental Army and the British Whigs. Together they produced a new Whig republic to replace the old one that had collapsed with Cromwell’s death. Neither could conceivably have achieved this mission alone.

Insurgency, including what we now call “terrorism,” is thus a kind of theater. Guerrilla theater, you might say. It exists as an adjunct to democratic politics, and could not exist without it. (I exclude partisan campaigns of the Peninsular War type, in which the guerrillas are an adjunct to a war proper.)

The goal of an insurgency is simply to demonstrate that the violence will continue until the political demands of its supporters are met. The military arm produces the violence. The political arm explains, generally while deploring the violence, that the violence can be stopped by meeting the demands — and only by meeting the demands.

What’s so beautiful about this design, at least from the Devil’s perspective, is that it requires no coordination at all. It is completely distributed. There is no “command and control.” It often arouses suspicion when politicians and terrorists are good friends. With the insurgency design, both can benefit from each others’ actions, without any incriminating connections. They do not even need to think of the effort as a cooperation.

Insurgents and politicians need not even share a value system. There is no reason at all, for example, to think that Ayman al-Zawahiri shares any values with American progressives. I have a fair idea of the kind of government that Sheikh al-Zawahiri would create if he had his druthers. I can certainly say the same for progressives. They have nothing at all to do with each other — regardless of anyone’s middle name.

Yet when Sheikh al-Zawahiri attributed the Democratic victory in the 2006 elections to the mujahedeen, he was objectively right. The Democrats won because their prediction that Iraq would become a quagmire for the US military (which everyone and his dog knows is a Republican outfit) turned out to be true. Without the mujahedeen, who would have turned Iraq into a quagmire? Space aliens?

To make a proper feedback loop, the efforts of the politicians must assist the insurgents, and the efforts of the insurgents must assist the politicians. The al-Zawahiri effect — which is not exactly a unique case — is a good example of the latter. The former is provided by a tendency in Whig politics that we can call antimilitarism.

Antimilitarism assists the “armed struggle” in the most obvious way: by opposing its opponents. All things being equal, any professional military force will defeat its nonprofessional opponent, just as an NBA team will defeat the women’s junior varsity. The effect of antimilitarism is to adjust the political and military playing field until the insurgents have an equal, or even greater, chance of victory.

Wars in which antimilitarism plays an important role are often described as “asymmetric.” The term is a misnomer. A real “asymmetric” war would be a conflict in which one side was much stronger than the other. For obvious reasons, this is a rara avis. A modern asymmetric war is one in which one side’s strength is primarily military, and the other’s is primarily political. Of course this does not work unless the political and military sides are at least nominally parts of the same government, which means that all asymmetric wars are civil — although they may be fought by foreign soldiers on foreign territory.

How does antimilitarism do its thing? As always in war, in any way it can. In the case of Lord Howe we see what looks very much like deliberate military incompetence. Military mismanagement may occur at the level of military leadership, as in the case of Lord Howe, or in civil-military relations, as with McNamara. The military may win the war and its civilian masters may then simply surrender, as in the case of French Algeria.

The most popular approach today, however, is to alter the rules of war. War is brutal. If you were a space alien, you might expect a person opposed to this brutality to ameliorate it, or at least attempt to, by: (a) deciding to support whichever side is the least brutal; (b) promoting rules of war which minimize the incentive for brutal conduct; and (c) encouraging the war to end as quickly as possible with a decisive and final result.

Modern progressivism does not resemble any of these actions. In fact, it resembles their polar opposite. It is certainly motivated by opposition to brutality, but the actions are not calculated to achieve the effects. In a word, it is antimilitarism.

For example, the modern US military has by far the highest lawyer-to-soldier ratio in any military force in history. It requests legal opinions as a routine aspect of even minor attacks. It is by no means averse to trying its own soldiers for judgment calls made in the heat of battle, a practice that would strike Lord Howe as completely insane. (Here is a personal narrative of the consequences.) Meanwhile, its enemies relish the most barbaric tortures. And which side does the progressive prefer? Or rather, which side do his objective actions favor?

Adjusting the rules of war in this way is an excellent strategy for the 21st-century antimilitarist. He does not have to actually express support for the insurgents, as his crude predecessors of the 1960s did. (As Tom Hayden put it, “We are all Viet Cong now.”) Today anyone who can click a mouse can learn that the NLF was the NVA and the NVA were cold-blooded killers, but this knowledge was controversial and hard-to-obtain at the time. The people who knew it were not, in general, the smart ones. “We are all al-Qaeda now” simply does not compute, and you don’t hear it. But nor do you need to.

An arbitrary level of antimilitarism can be achieved simply by converging military tactics with judicial and police procedure. Suppose, for example, Britain was invaded by the Bolivian army, in a stunning seaborne coup. Who would win? Probably not the Bolivians, which is why they don’t try it.

But suppose that the Bolivian soldiers have the full protection of British law. The only way to detain them is to arrest them, and they must be charged with an actual crime on reasonable suspicion of having committed it. Being a Bolivian in Britain is not a crime. You cannot, of course, shoot them, at least not without a trial and a full appeal process. Any sort of indiscriminate massacre, as via artillery, airstrikes, etc, is of course out of the question. Etc.

So Britain becomes a province of Bolivia. War is always uncertain, but the Bolivians certainly ought to give it a shot. What do they have to lose? A few soldiers, who might have to spend a little time in a British jail. Not exactly the Black Hole of Calcutta. So why not?

And this is how antimilitarism produces war. War is horrible, and no one is willing to fight in it unless they have a chance of winning. Antimilitarism gives the insurgents that chance. And this is the other half of the feedback loop.

Be-bop Galula

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

In Be-bop Galula, Wretchard cites an article by Caroline Glick at the Jerusalem Post, which explains how Hezbollah prefers to work through a form of control without governance where it is possible to remain both in power and in opposition:

It only took Hizbullah a week to bring the government of Lebanon to its knees. The Saniora government’s decision Wednesday to cancel its decisions to ban Hizbullah’s independent communications system and sack Hizbullah’s agent from his position as chief of security at Beirut Airport constituted its effective acceptance of Hizbullah’s preeminent role in Lebanon.

What is interesting about Hizbullah’s successful overthrow of the elected government in Lebanon is that after his forces defeated their foes, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah ordered his men to retreat to their customary shadows. Why didn’t Hizbullah just overthrow the government? Understanding why Hizbullah refused to take over Lebanon is key not only for understanding Hizbullah but also for understanding Hamas, Fatah and the insurgency in Iraq.

A compelling answer to this question is found in David Galula’s classic work, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice…. As Galula explained, one of the main advantages that insurgents have over the governments they seek to overthrow is their lack of responsibility for governance. Far from seeking to govern the local population, the goal of insurgents is simply to demonstrate through sabotage, terror and guerrilla operations that the government is incapable of keeping order. And it is far easier and cheaper to sow disorder and chaos than to maintain order and secure public safety.

In Hizbullah’s case, Nasrallah and his Iranian bosses have no interest in taking on responsibility for Lebanon. They don’t want to collect taxes. They don’t want to pick up the garbage or build schools and universities.

Wretchard explains that “the goal of seeking power without responsibility isn’t confined to insurgents and Galula’s theory might just as well have been a critique of the modern media as much as Hezbollah”:

A generation of public intellectuals found it was possible to have both a decisive influence over policy yet remain exempt from accountability for its effects. The next time someone asks how it is possible to simultaneously be a rebel and celebrity, a critic of Global Warming and owner of an executive jet, or become a successful hate-America pastor living in a multimillion dollar mansion, refer him to Galula.

But Glick asks whether there is any way to to spoil this game; to keep the puppet master from retreating into the shadows after he has pulled his strings. One obvious method is the shockingly simple expedient of making information warfare a part of operations. To patiently label every roadside bomb; every massacre as the work of the hidden hand. The success of the Surge is in large measure due not only to kinetic action but information action. It is not enough to arrest terrorists, it is equally important to connect them to their acts. AQI failed in the Sunni Triangle where Hezbollah continues to succeed in Lebanon partly because MNF-I, like a waiter who refuses to let a patron walk out without paying his bill, simply refused to let them escape with a free lunch.

But the task wasn’t easy because at every step of the way AQI’s cheering squad yelled “foul”. Power without responsibility has been a time honored tradition of the professional critic for so long it’s almost a constitutional right.

Commenter Tamquam Leo Rugiens references a Robert Kaplan piece from a few years back, The Media and Medievalism, which makes a similar point:

[Late Nobel laureate Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power (1960)] discerned six ingredients necessary for oppression: secrecy, physical brutality, swift reaction, the right to question and to demand answers, the right to judge and condemn, and the right to pardon and show mercy.
As this is an age in which we are bombarded by messages that tell us what to buy and what to think, when one dissects the real elements of power — who has it and, more important during a time of rapid change, who increasingly has it — one is left to conclude bleakly: Ours is not an age of democracy, or an age of terrorism, but an age of mass media, without which the current strain of terrorism would be toothless in any case.

Like the priests of ancient Egypt, the rhetoricians of ancient Greece and Rome, and the theologians of medieval Europe, the media represent a class of bright and ambitious people whose social and economic stature gives them the influence to undermine political authority. Like those prior groups, the media have authentic political power — terrifically magnified by technology — without the bureaucratic accountability that often accompanies it, so that they are never culpable for what they advocate. If, for example, what a particular commentator has recommended turns out badly, the permanent megaphone he wields over the crowd allows him to explain away his position — if not in one article or television appearance, then over several — before changing the subject amid the roaring onrush of new events. Presidents, even if voters ignore their blunders, are at least responsible to history; journalists rarely are. This freedom is key to their irresponsible power.
The medieval age was tyrannized by a demand for spiritual perfectionism, making it hard to accomplish anything practical. Truth, Erasmus cautioned, had to be concealed under a cloak of piety; Machiavelli wondered whether any government could remain useful if it actually practiced the morality it preached. Today the global media make demands on generals and civilian policymakers that require a category of perfectionism with which medieval authorities would have been familiar. Investigative journalists may often perform laudatory service, but they have also become the grand inquisitors of the age, shattering reputations built up over a lifetime with the exposure of just a few sordid details.

Read Kaplan’s whole piece.

Indiana Jones and the Magnetic Skull

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I just watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and I’m baffled. Early in the movie — yes, there are spoilers ahead, but nothing major — Indy is held captive in an Air Force hanger in Area 51, and his captors demand his help in finding a particular crate — not the one with the Ark, by the way.

Indy declares that the crate they’re looking for has highly magnetic contents and demands a compass to help find it. The soldiers holding him captive have no compasses. So he demands… gunpowder?

There’s nothing ferrous about gunpowder — the nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin in modern smokeless powder have no iron, and neither does old-fashioned blackpowder, which is charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter — so I assume Indy is setting up some kind of ruse. I’m just upset that his captors are being played for fools. He throws the powder in the air, and it starts floating in a trail through the warehouse. What is it really?, I’m thinking.

Then he demands a shotgun shell and some pliers. I’m a bit surprised that his captors have a shotgun — they’re soldiers, not hunters — and that they’re still playing along, but OK. Then he breaks open a shell, and the lead pellets — shotgun pellets are normally lead, which is not ferrous, in case you were wondering — race toward one of the crates.

His captors then open the crate, and various ferrous things — lamps hanging from the ceiling, the villain’s sword, etc. — finally start getting pulled toward the highly magnetic contents. But the soldiers’ assault rifles aren’t generally affected.


Later in the film they find a similar relic, which attracts gold — inconsistently — and they seem to recognize that as not quite magnetism.

And those were some of the less implausible elements of the story. You can tell the screenplay passed through a number of hands before getting produced.

True History of the American Revolution

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Mencius Moldbug slowly works his way toward explaining the shortest way to world peace. Along the way, he shares some revisionist thoughts from Sydney George Fisher’s True History of the American Revolution, written 100 years ago:

Here are some questions about the American Revolution for which you may find you have no good answer:

One: why do the American loyalists share a nickname with a British political party? Is this just a coincidence, or does it imply some kind of weird alliance? And what is on the other side of said alliance? If the loyalists are called Tories, why does no one call the Patriots Whigs?

Two: what on earth is the British strategy? Why do the redcoats seem to be spending so much time just hanging around in New York or Philadelphia? Valley Forge is literally twenty miles from Philly. Okay, I realize, it’s winter. But come on, it’s twenty miles. General Washington is starving in the snow out there. His troops are deserting by the score. And Lord Howe can’t send a couple of guys with muskets to go bring him in? Heck, it sounds like a well-phrased dinner invitation would probably have done the trick.

Three: if the Stamp Act was such an intolerable abuse, how did the British Empire have all these other colonies — Canada, Australia, yadda yadda — where everyone was so meek? Surely we can understand the idea that taxation without representation was the first step toward tyranny. So where is the tyranny? Where are Her Majesty’s concentration camps? Okay, there was the Boer War, I guess. But more generally, why is the history of America so different from that of the other colonies?

Four: why does no one outside America seem to resent these unfortunate events at all? I mean, the Revolution was a war. People got pretty violent on both sides. In some parts of the world, when people lose a war, they don’t feel that it was just God’s will. They feel that God would be much more satisfied if there was some payback. And they tend to transmit this belief to their offspring. In the American unpleasantness, a lot of people — loyalists — got kicked out of their homes. They had to leave with only a small travel bag. When this sort of thing happens in the Middle East, it’s remembered for the life of the known universe.

Those are some good questions. “One of the many neat things about Fisher’s history is that it was written when the British Empire was actually a going concern, not a shadowy boogeyman from the past,” Mencius notes, as he cites this passage:

The British government, only too glad to be rid of rebellious Puritans, Quakers, and Roman Catholics, willingly gave them liberal charters. This explains that freedom in many of the old charters which has surprised so many students of our colonial history. Some of these liberal instruments were granted by the Stuart kings, with the approval of their officials and courtiers, all of whom showed by almost every other act of their lives that they were the determined enemies of free parliaments and free representation of the people.

Connecticut, for example, obtained in 1662 from Charles II a charter which made the colony almost independent; and to-day there is no colony of the British empire that has so much freedom as Connecticut and Rhode Island always had, or as Massachusetts had down to 1685. Connecticut and Rhode Island elected their own legislatures and governors, and did not even have to send their laws to England for approval. No modern British colony elects its own governor; and, if it has a legislature elected by its people, the acts of that legislature can be vetoed by the home government. A community electing its own governor and enacting whatever laws it pleases is not a colony in the modern English meaning of the word. Connecticut and Rhode Island could not make treaties with foreign nations, but in other respects they were, as we would now say, semi-independent commonwealths under the protectorate or suzerainty of England.

England and America happily ignored this odd situation as long as France loomed as a major threat, but once France was kicked out of North America, the English sought to “remodel” the American colonies, and the American colonies sought to wriggle free entirely.

But the heart of the problem is that not all Americans are Whigs, and not all Englishmen are Tories. From Fisher:

The ablest men of the country were pitted against each other in continual debates, and colonial taxation was the leading topic of conversation among all classes. There were two main questions: Was the Stamp Act constitutional? and, If constitutional, was it expedient? It was the innings of a radical section of the Whigs, and, being favorable to liberalism and the colonies, they decided that the Stamp Act was not expedient. They accordingly repealed it within a year after its passage. But they felt quite sure, as did also the vast majority of Englishmen, that Parliament had a constitutional right to tax the colonies as it pleased, and so they passed what became known as the Declaratory Act, asserting the constitutional right of Parliament to bind the colonies “in all cases whatsoever;” and this is still the law of England.

The rejoicing over the repeal of the Stamp Act was displayed, we are told, in a most extraordinary manner, even in England. The ships in the Thames hoisted their colors and houses were illuminated. The colonists had apparently been able to hit a hard blow by the stoppage of trade. The rejoicing, however, as subsequent events showed, was not universal. It was the rejoicing of Whigs or of the particular ship-owners, merchants, and workingmen who expected relief from the restoration of the American trade. It was noisy and conspicuous. There must have been some exaggeration in the account of the sufferings from loss of trade. It is not improbable that Parliament had been stampeded by a worked-up excitement in its lobbies; for very soon it appeared that the great mass of Englishmen were unchanged in their opinion of proper colonial policy; and, as was discovered in later years, the stoppage of the American trade did not seriously injure the business or commercial interests of England.

But in America the rejoicing was, of course, universal. There were letters and addresses, thanksgivings in churches, the boycotting associations were instantly dissolved, trade resumed, homespun given to the poor, and the people felt proud of themselves and more independent than ever because they could compel England to repeal laws.

The colonists were certainly lucky in having chanced upon a Whig administration for their great appeal against taxation. It has often been said that both the Declaratory Act and the repeal of the Stamp Act were a combination of sound constitutional law and sound policy, and that if this same Whig line of conduct had been afterwards consistently followed, England would not have lost her American colonies. No doubt if such a Whig policy had been continued the colonies would have been retained in nominal dependence a few years longer. But such a policy would have left the colonies in their semi-independent condition without further remodelling or reform, with British sovereignty unestablished in them, and with a powerful party of the colonists elated by their victory over England. They would have gone on demanding more independence until they snapped the last string.

In fact, the Whig repeal of the Stamp Act advanced the colonies far on their road to independence. They had learned their power, learned what they could do by united action, and had beaten the British government in its chosen game. It was an impressive lesson. Consciously or unconsciously the rebel party among them was moved a step forward in that feeling for a distinct nationality which a naturally separated people can scarcely avoid.

Such a repeal, such a going backward and yielding to the rioting, threats, and compulsion of the colonists, was certainly not that “firm and consistent policy” which both then and now has been recommended as the true course in dealing with dependencies. The Tories condemned the repeal on this account, and in the course of the next ten or fifteen years ascribed to it the increasing coil of colonial entanglement.

As Mencius points out, “this is the very nub of the issue”:

What’s fascinating here is that we have two practical theories of how to deal with dependencies. One says that the most effective way to retain a dependency is to redress its grievances, tolerate its errors, and understand its complaints. The other says that the “true course” is a “firm and consistent policy.”

This is not a moral disagreement. This is a case of “is,” not of “ought.” Both parties in England agree — or, at least, appear to agree — on the goal: American colonies that acknowledge the authority of Parliament. The Whigs think the most effective means to this end is to persuade America that England is really their friend, by making concessions when concessions are demanded. The Tories think the most effective means to this end is to use firm and consistent force, to show the Americans that they have no alternative.

After the war, the Whig theory became generally accepted in Britain. This answers question four: why the British have no hard feelings. They have no hard feelings because they believe the war resulted from a British mistake.

Here’s “the funny thing”:

There’s a natural alliance between the American patriot party and the British Whigs. They are both, after all, Whigs. You’d expect some solidarity. Why don’t the British Whigs just endorse the American rebels?

Because it’s not 2008, is why. In the 21st century, encouraging an enemy in arms against your own government is normal politics. The word treason is almost funny. In the 18th, it was a different matter:

The doctrine, exclusively American in its origin, that rebels were merely men in arms fighting for an idea, mistaken or otherwise, who, when once subdued, were to be allowed to go their way like paroled prisoners of war, had not yet gained ground. Rebellion was at that time a more serious thing than it has since become under the American doctrine of the right of revolution. Most of the colonists could remember the slaughter and beheading inflicted in England on the rebels under the Pretender of 1745. The frightful hanging, torturing, and transportation of men, women, and even children, for such rebellions as that of Monmouth, were by no means yet forgotten. There was not a colonist who had not heard descriptions of London after a rebellion, with the bloody arms and hindquarters of rebels hung about like butchers’ meat, the ghastly heads rotting and stinking for months on the poles at Temple Bar and on London Bridge, with the hair gradually falling off the grinning skulls, as the people passed them day by day.

If the Whigs in Parliament had openly sided with the rebels, dreams of the Shortest-Way would have danced in the eyes of the Tories. The pro-American stance taken by the likes of Burke (who later redeemed himself with the Reflections, but was always a Whig) was in fact the most effective way for a British politician to support the rebels: not on the grounds that they deserve independence, but on the grounds that conciliation is the most effective way to prevent it, as military coercion cannot possibly work. (Does this sound at all familiar?)

We see here also why the American patriots never described themselves as Whigs, and nor did their friends in Britain. If we think of the revolutionaries as Whigs, we are tempted to ask who is in the driver’s seat — the ragtag armies and mobs in America, or the British intellectuals who encouraged their rebellion. We are tempted to see the revolution as a continuation of British politics by other means — much as our Republicans and Democrats of today might find themselves backing opposing armies in some insignificant country halfway around the world. (Obviously, this could never happen, but it would be very disturbing.)
I am neither a specialist in the period, nor a historian at all. So I will simply point out one undisputed fact in the matter, which is that two of the leading British generals, Howe and Cornwallis, were Whigs — in fact, Whig MPs.

And no one seems to care.

The odds are stacked against us

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Cory Doctorow reiterates that the odds are stacked against us because of our dangerous statistical ignorance:

The rare – and the lurid – loom large in our imagination, and it’s to our great detriment when it comes to our safety and security. As a new father, I’m understandably worried about the idea of my child falling victim to some nefarious predator Out There, waiting to break in and take my child away. There’s a part of me who understands the panicked parent who rings 999 when he sees some street photographer aiming a lens at a kids’ playground.

But the fact is that attacks by strangers are so rare as to be practically nonexistent. If your child is assaulted, the perpetrator is almost certainly a relative (most likely a parent). If not a relative, then a close family friend. If not a close family friend, then a trusted authority figure.

And yet we continue to focus our attention on the meteor-strike-rare paedophile attack instead of protecting our children from the real, everyday dangers they face from the familiar. This has the twin effects of making our children less safe, and of making adults less free, because we are all subjected to scrutiny on the grounds that we may be hunting children.

This is the same calculus that allows the fear of terrorism to take away our liberty: the statistically super-rare terrorist attacks present, on average, a much lower risk to our health, safety and person than, say, depriving us of our liquid medications, or of requiring us to leave our bags unlocked in flight so that sticky-fingered handlers can make off with our laptops and financial data and valuables.

The everyday threat of having our goods stolen, our ability to travel and earn our livings curtailed, and our personal information harvested by every junior terrorist fighter who wants to see your ID before letting you do anything is overshadowed by the one-in-a-billion confluence of someone with terrorist goals, the means to accomplish them, and the intelligence to bring them off (hint: you can’t really blow up an airplane with hair-gel and iPods).

The Paradox of the False Positive is old news around here, of course:

Here’s how that works: imagine that you’ve got a disease that strikes one in a million people, and a test for the disease that’s 99% accurate. You administer the test to a million people, and it will be positive for around 10,000 of them – because for every hundred people, it will be wrong once (that’s what 99% accurate means). Yet, statistically, we know that there’s only one infected person in the entire sample. That means that your “99% accurate” test is wrong 9,999 times out of 10,000!

Terrorism is a lot less common than one in a million and automated “tests” for terrorism – data-mined conclusions drawn from transactions, Oyster cards, bank transfers, travel schedules, etc – are a lot less accurate than 99%. That means practically every person who is branded a terrorist by our data-mining efforts is innocent.

In other words, in the effort to find the terrorist needles in our haystacks, we’re just making much bigger haystacks.

Meet Hiroyuki Nishimura, the Bad Boy of the Japanese Internet

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

In Meet Hiroyuki Nishimura, the Bad Boy of the Japanese Internet, Lisa Katayama of Wired describes the successful slacker-hacker and his notorious, retro BBS, 2channel:

Nishimura downplays the importance of 2channel. He created the simple bulletin board system nine years ago as an exchange student at the University of Central Arkansas. “I was bored,” he says. “I made it to kill time.” There’s nothing remarkable about the technology — the site is similar to BBS setups that were common in the US at the time. And indeed, navigating it is like time-traveling back to the Mosaic era: It’s just pages of blue hypertext links and text punctuated by banner ads and a brick background pattern.

What was innovative about 2channel was its openness. Nishimura read the air and realized that what Japan needed was an outlet for unfettered expression. On 2channel, anyone can start a thread and anyone can post — there’s no need to register or log in and no Web handles. There are no censors, no filters, no age verification, no voting systems that boost one thread or comment over another. “I created a free space, and what people did with it was up to them,” he says. “No major corporations were offering anything like that, so I had to.”

The people of Japan who pass each other wordlessly on the way to work each day suddenly realized they had a lot to talk about. They could argue, berate, complain, insult, opine, free-associate, joke around, and revel in their ability to entertain one other as a completely anonymous collective.
But 2channel isn’t just for geeks. Yes, there are threads where programmers discuss PHP and Ruby on Rails, and threads where otaku debate the latest manga and anime. But there are also threads on sex, politics, sports, and motorcycles. Bored housewives gossip about celebrities. Students and teachers discuss their peers in school-specific threads.

The commenters have developed their own jargon and shorthand. There’s that put-down kuki yomenai, a dismissal of the clueless who can’t read the air. And there’s the catchphrase omae mona, a comeback that translates roughly as “I know you are, but what am I?” Omae Mona is also the name given to a catlike character that commenters frequently append to posts:

Though 2channel is text-only, users have circumvented that restriction by raising ASCII imagery to an art form, typing out elaborate illustrations that are often closer to editorial cartoons than emoticons.

So omae mona are Japanese lolcats? You learn something every day…

Getting "Served" at the India-Pakistan Border

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

When I visited India a few years ago, I did not visit Pakistan, so I did not cross the India-Pakistan border, where this ceremony occurs each evening:

It’s one part The Man Who Would Be King, one part Ministry of Silly Walks — even without Michael Palin’s narration — and one part You Got Served.

It’s also a reminder that combat is often more about posturing than killing.

(Hat tip à mon père.)

Three Types of Civilized Societies

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Mencius Moldbug divides civilized societies into three types.

Type 3 is Karl Popper’s open society, where thoughts and ideas compete on the basis of their resemblance to reality. It’s the society we want to live in.

Type 1 is the opposite of type 3. It’s the loyal society, where thoughts are coordinated by the government, because public opinion is a matter of state security:

In other words, the information organs of a type 1 society are synoptic. They see the world through one eye, one set of doctrines, one official story. Call it the synopsis.

How does a type 1 state maintain the coherence of its synopsis? One easy way is to have a single leader, who exercises unified executive supervision. Ideally the same leader manages both physical and intellectual security. If the type 1 state doesn’t have a single leader, it should at least have a single authoritative institution. Since security depends on synoptic coherence, any divergence can quite literally lead to civil war.

There is no mystery around the historical identity of type 1 societies. This is an unambiguously right-wing pattern. It is also the default structure of human government: the god-king. The Greeks called it “oriental despotism.” In Christian history it is known as caesaropapism. In Anglo-American history, it is the throne-and-altar state, as represented by the high-church Anglican or Catholic tradition. When Americans express an affection for separation of Church and State, they are expressing an antipathy to the type 1 design.

And, of course, in 20th-century history we see the type 1 state most clearly in National Socialism and Italian Fascism. The fascisms discarded most of the trappings of Christian theism, but reused the basic caesaropapist design. Under Hitler’s supervision, of course, Goebbels was more or less the pope of Nazi Germany. His executive authority over all intellectual content in the Third Reich, from films to schools to universities, was easily the equal of any medieval pontiff’s. (I highly recommend this movie.)

The Nazi term Gleichschaltung, generally translated as “coordination,” is more or less the modern epitome of the type 1 design. The Nazis also used the word Aufklärung, meaning “enlightenment” or literally “clearing-up,” for the inculcation of useful thoughts in the German people. I think of this term every time I see a “public service message.”

We also see the type 1 pattern, if not quite as distinctly, in the Communist states. It tends to be more institutional and less personal. It is easy to identify Communist Hitlers, but there is no clear Communist equivalent of Goebbels. Communist states over time experienced a decay of personal authority, which passed instead to institutions. But the Party in a modern one-party state is more or less equivalent to the Church in the old Christian dispensation, and an established church is an established church whether governed by pope or synod.

The type 1 state is certainly the most common form in history. It is not the end of the world. China today is a type 1 society. It also has the world’s most successful economy, and not such a bad place to live at all. Elizabethan England, which experienced perhaps the greatest artistic explosion in human history, was a type 1 society, with secret police galore. On the other hand, North Korea is a type 1 society, and it’s awful in almost every possible way. I can say generally that I would rather live in a type 3 society than in a type 1 society, but the details matter.

Here’s where it gets interesting though:

In a type 3 society, for example, we should see intellectual inhomogeneities between competing institutions. Harvard and Yale should mostly agree, because reality is one thing. So should the New York Times and the Washington Post. But there will always be sclerosis, stagnation, drift. Competition, not just among ideas but among institutions, is essential to the Popperian ideal. We should see these institutions drift away from reality. And we should see the marketplace of ideas punish them when they do, and reward those which do not.

Do you see this? Because I sure don’t. What I see is a synopsis.

From my perspective, not just Harvard and Yale, but in fact all major American universities in the Western world, offer exactly the same intellectual product. Which institution is more to the left, for example? Harvard, or Yale? You can pick any two mainstream universities, and you will not be able to answer this question. It’s a sort of intellectual peloton.

And it’s not that we don’t see drift. There is plenty of drift. If you ask which is more to the left, Harvard today or Harvard in 1958, the answer is easy. Yet somehow, the entire peloton is drifting in the same direction at the same speed. Does this scream “type 3″ to you? And yet, if there is some Goebbels telling Harvard and Yale professors what to profess, the secret is awfully well-kept.

The same is true of newspapers. The so-called “mainstream media” is certainly a synopsis. Just as there is a bright line between mainstream and non-mainstream universities, there is a bright line between mainstream and non-mainstream media. The latter may be all over the map. The former constitute a synopsis. And the journalistic and academic synopses are clearly identical — mainstream journalists do not, as a rule, challenge mainstream academic authority.

These “mainstream” institutions look very, very like the set of information organs that we’d expect to see in a type 1 society. And their product is clearly a synopsis. Yet they are clearly not subject to any kind of central coordination.

I think the post-1945 mainstream synopsis is important enough to be a proper noun. Let’s call it the Synopsis. Let’s also give the set of institutions that produce and propagate the Synopsis — mainstream academia, journalism and education — a name. Let’s call them the Cathedral. What explains these phenomena?

What explains these phenomena is that we live in a type 2 society. Type 2 is the consensus society:

The type 2 society is the consensus society. Its hallmark is the phenomenon of spontaneous coordination. You might call it Gleichschaltung without Goebbels. Spontaneous coordination can produce an official information system which in all other respects resembles that of a type 1 society, but which is not responsible to any central authority or institution.

Basically, a type 1 society is a government in which the State controls the press and the universities. A type 2 society is one in which the press and the universities control the State. It is easy to tell the two forms apart, but the customer experience is pretty much the same.
What happens in a type 1 society when the center fails? When censorship no longer operates, journalists no longer take orders, heretics are no longer burned at the stake, professors are no longer hired or fired for their political beliefs? You might think that the natural outcome would be a type 3 society, a marketplace of ideas in which only freedom rules and thoughts compete on their value alone.

But the connection between public opinion and political power still holds. Therefore, the information organs are still acting as power centers. If their views diverge, as without type 1 supervision they will, they can compete in two ways: on the basis of intellectual righteousness, or on the basis of political power. If they choose the former and abjure the latter, they will be at a disadvantage against those to whom all weapons are friends. Moreover, since political power is a deadlier weapon, successful competitors are likely to resolve any tradeoffs between power and righteousness in favor of the former.

We can describe the type 1 pathology as coercive power distortion. Political power distorts the landscape of ideas, rendering the playing field non-flat. Ideas that the State favors are artificially popularized. Ideas that it disfavors are artificially discouraged.

The type 2 equivalent is attractive power distortion. The coercive State does not exist, or at least does not coerce. But the connection between power and public opinion remains. Ideas, therefore, are selectively favored on the basis of their capacity to serve as standards around which to organize coalitions, which can struggle for power by whatever means are effective.
For example, in many ways nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth. Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army. We saw this effect earlier in the cohesive type 1 state, but it works just as well for competing type 2 factions.

This does not explain, however, how the chaotic post-type-1 society congeals into the mature, spontaneously coordinated type 2 society. Why do we have one Synopsis and one Cathedral, rather than a whole host of competing synopses and cathedrals?

The answer, I think, is that even the type 2 society has only one government. It is impossible for two competing information system to capture a single government. And capturing a government gives an information system a considerable advantage over any competitors. It can subsidize itself. It can penalize its competitors. It can indulge in the entire sordid range of type 1 pathologies.

Without acquiring a central coordinator, the Cathedral can capture the resources and powers of the State. It can devise theories of government which it can incorporate into the Synopsis, and which the State must follow. These theories naturally involve lavish support for the Cathedral, which becomes responsible for the production of “public policy,” ie, government decisions. Ie, real power is held by the professors and journalists, ie the Cathedral, not through their purity and righteousness but through their self-sustaining control of public opinion. Lenin’s great question, “Who? Whom?”, is answered.

But why does the Cathedral not break into factions? What keeps Harvard aligned with Yale? Why doesn’t one of the two realize that there is no need for a thousand synoptic progressive universities, and a vast unfilled demand for a single top-notch conservative university? Why, in short, is the Synopsis stable?

I think the answer is that the Synopsis includes only political propositions whose adoption tends to strengthen the Cathedral, and weaken its enemies. It rejects and opposes all other propositions. Inasmuch as these sets shift over time, the Synopsis will shift as well. It follows a sort of hill-climbing strategy — not in the landscape of truth, but that of power. Thus, by definition, it cannot be opposed from within.

To be progressive is simply to support the Cathedral and the Synopsis. Today’s Synopsis is the lineal descendant of the first type 2 movement in modern history, the Reformation. Through the Reformation we reach the Enlightenment, whose link to the Synopsis is obvious. The post-1945 Western regime, whose victory over all pre-Reformation or anti-Enlightenment forces appears final and irreversible, is the Whig millennium.

This is where things get near and dear to libertarians’ hearts:

Libertarians often call themselves “classical liberals,” and indeed the word “libertarian” today means about what John Stuart Mill meant when he called himself a “liberal.” In fact, in Europe today, “liberal” still means more or less “libertarian.”

Why (in the US) did the term stay the same, and the meaning change? Because, in fact, the real meaning has not changed. In 1858 as in 2008, a “liberal” is a supporter of the Cathedral: ie, a Whig, a progressive, a Radical, etc. It is the Synopsis that shifted, and it is today’s libertarians who are not with the program.

19th-century liberal Whigs and Radicals supported economic freedom because economic freedom meant the destruction of Tory privileges, such as the Corn Laws (whose beneficiaries were landed aristocrats), which harmed their supporters and benefited their enemies. This position may have been explained on the basis of principle. But if it had not been politically advantageous, spontaneous coordination would have produced other principles. Either Mill would have embraced these other principles, in which case you still would know his name, or he would have been genuinely committed to economic freedom, in which case you wouldn’t.

By the start of the 20th century, the old British aristocracy was in full flight, only scraps remained of the Throne-and-Altar system, and by the standard of a half-century earlier, basically everyone was a Radical. Therefore, the progressive movement could become socialist, and stand for economic centralization and official charity. These aims were not attainable in the era of Mill, because the Radicals were too weak and the Tories too strong. These tactical changes did not emerge from any secret cabal — spontaneous coordination is entirely to blame.

Libertarianism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has gained little political traction. Why? One, it opposes the Cathedral, which controls most real power and does not deal kindly with its enemies. Two, by definition it has no mechanism for using any power it does gain to create jobs for its followers, because it does not believe in the expansion of government. Three, it either appeals to the anti-Cathedral Townies or “conservatives,” making itself unfashionable, thus unpopular, and thus ineffective as an opposition, or it tries to ingratiate itself with the Cathedral, making itself thus ineffective as an opposition. It has nowhere to go. It cannot recreate the world of John Stuart Mill, with its target-rich environment of Tory landlordism.

Comfort Food, for Monkeys

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

John Tierney looks at Comfort Food, for Monkeys:

In fact, the dominant females ordinarily eat a little more than the subordinates. The lower status monkeys can get as much food as they want but seem to have less of a desire to eat, perhaps because of the higher level of stress hormones in their brain. The anxiety of constantly toadying to their social superiors seems to curb their appetite, researchers suspect, at least when their regular high-fiber, low-fat chow is on the menu.

But suppose you tempted them with the equivalent of chocolate and potato chips and ice cream? Mark Wilson, a neuroscientist at Emory University, and a team tried that experiment at Yerkes by installing feeders with a constant supply of banana-flavored pellets — not exactly Dove bars, but they had enough sugar and fat to appeal even to human palates. (In the interest of science, I sampled a few pellets.)

Once these foods were available, the low-status monkeys promptly developed an appetite. They began eating significantly more calories than their social superiors. While the dominant monkeys dabbled in the sweet, fatty pellets just during the daytime, the subordinate monkeys kept scarfing them down after dark.

You Can’t Soak the Rich

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

You Can’t Soak the Rich, David Ranson notes, because of Hauser’s LawNo matter what the tax rates have been, in postwar America tax revenues have remained at about 19.5% of GDP:

The federal tax “yield” (revenues divided by GDP) has remained close to 19.5%, even as the top tax bracket was brought down from 91% to the present 35%. This is what scientists call an “independence theorem,” and it cuts the Gordian Knot of tax policy debate.

The data show that the tax yield has been independent of marginal tax rates over this period, but tax revenue is directly proportional to GDP. So if we want to increase tax revenue, we need to increase GDP.

What happens if we instead raise tax rates? Economists of all persuasions accept that a tax rate hike will reduce GDP, in which case Hauser’s Law says it will also lower tax revenue. That’s a highly inconvenient truth for redistributive tax policy, and it flies in the face of deeply felt beliefs about social justice. It would surely be unpopular today with those presidential candidates who plan to raise tax rates on the rich – if they knew about it.

Destroying the Old Order

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

In discussing his Jacobite history of the world, Mencius Moldbug finally gets around to explaining the allure of progressisim:

Rather, when you look at what progressives, Whigs, republicans, and other anti-reactionaries actually believe in — whether they are supporters of Obama, Lafayette, Herzen, or any other paladin of the people’s cause — it is rarely (although not never) the simple, nihilistic liquidation of the present order. It is always the construction of some new order, which is at least intended as an improvement on the present one.

However, in order to construct this new order, two things need to happen. One: the builders of the new order need to gain power. Two: they need to destroy the old order, which by its insistence on continuing to exist obstructs the birth of the new.

In the progressive mind, these indispensable tasks are not objectives. They are methods. They may even be conceived as unpleasant, if necessary, duties.

One fascinating fact about the presidential campaign of 2008 is that both Democratic candidates are, or at least at one point were, disciples of Saul Alinsky. Clinton actually studied and corresponded with Alinsky. Obama was an Alinskyist “community organizer.” Next year, we may well have our first Alinskyist president.

Last year, the New Republic — not a reactionary publication — published an excellent article on Obama’s Alinskyist roots. I’m afraid this piece is required reading for all progressives.

Alinsky is the author of Rules for Radicals and a proponent of “agitation” — making someone angry enough about the rotten state of his life that he agrees to take action to change it; or, as Alinsky himself described the job, to “rub raw the sores of discontent.” As the New Republic article notes, he was a champion of political theater, like threatening a “fart-in” at the Rochester opera house to bring embarrass Kodak into hiring blacks.

Alinsky also dismissed his students’ selfless bromides about wanting to help others with this response: “You want to organize for power!”

What made Alinsky so effective was that he dispensed with the romantic euphemisms. He just described the thing as what it is. You have to admire him for that, I feel. A Lafayette, a Herzen, or almost any 19th-century republican outside the Marxist department, would have been absolutely appalled by Alinsky. But the fact is that they were basically in the same business.

So the progressive is, indeed, the polar opposite of the reactionary. Just as order and stability are essential to reaction, disorder and destruction are essential to progressivism.

The progressive never sees it this way. His goal is never to produce disorder and destruction. Unless he is Alinsky himself, he is very unlikely to think directly in terms of seizing power and smashing his enemies. Usually there is some end which is unequivocally desirable — often even from the reactionary perspective.

But if you could somehow design a progressive movement that could achieve its goal without seizing power or smashing its enemies, it would have little energy and find few supporters. What makes these movements so popular is the opportunity for action and the prospect of victory. To defeat them, ensure that they have no chance of success. No one loves a loser.

This theory also explains why progressive movements can produce results which are good. One: their goals have to be good, at least from their followers’ perspective. Since these are not evil people we’re talking about, their definition of good is often the same as yours or mine. And two: if progressivism is an essentially destructive force, some things still do need destroying.

Progressivism is obviously entropic:

Obviously, its enemy is order. Progressives instinctively despise formality, authority, and hierarchy. Reactionary political theorists such as Hobbes liked to conceive the state in terms of an ordered system, a sort of clockwork. Progressivism is sand in the gears of the clock.

More subtly, however, the real entropic effect is in the progressive method of capturing power not by seizing the entire state, but by biting off little chunks of it wherever it sticks out. The effect is a steady increase in the complexity of the state’s decision-making process. And complexity, of course, is the same thing as entropy.

The age of educational romanticism

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Charles Murray urges us to pass through our current age of educational romanticism and to put to rest our many cherished myths about education:

Differences among schools do not have much effect on test scores in reading and mathematics. This finding is not well known by the general public (parents could spend less time fretting over their children’s school if it were), and needs some explanation.

When Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it included a mandate for a nationwide study to assess the effects of inequality of educational opportunity on student achievement. The study, led by the sociologist James Coleman, was one of the most ambitious in the history of social science. The sample consisted of 645,000 students. Data were collected not only about the students’ personal school histories, but also about their parents’ socioeconomic backgrounds, their neighborhoods, the curricula and facilities of their schools, and the qualifications of the teachers within those schools.

Before Coleman’s team set to work, everybody expected that the study would document a relationship between the quality of schools and the academic achievement of the students in those schools. To everyone’s shock, the Coleman Report instead found that the quality of schools explains almost nothing about differences in academic achievement. Family background was by far the most important factor in determining student achievement. The Coleman Report came under intense fire, but re- analyses of the Coleman data and the collection of new data in the decades since it appeared support its finding that the quality of public schools doesn’t make much difference in student achievement.

We tend to see educational standards as dropping over time, but we ignore why this might be:

The first strand in explaining educational romanticism is a mythic image of the good old days when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three R’s. You have probably run across tokens of it in occasional editorials that quote examination questions once asked of public schools students. Here is an example that The Wall Street Journal gave from the admissions test to Jersey City High School in 1885: “Write a sentence containing a noun as an attribute, a verb in the perfect tense potential mood, and a proper adjective.” Or consider the McGuffey Readers that were standard textbooks in the nineteenth century, filled with literary selections far more difficult than the ones given to today’s students at equivalent ages. That’s the kind of material all children routinely learned, right?

Wrong. American schools have never been able to teach everyone how to read, write, and do arithmetic. The myth that they could has arisen because schools a hundred years ago did not have to educate the least able. When the twentieth century began, about a quarter of all adults had not reached fifth grade and half had not reached eighth grade. The relationship between school dropout and intellectual ability was not perfect, but it was strong. Today’s elementary and middle schools are dealing with 99 percent of all children in the eligible age groups. Let today’s schools not report the test results for the children that schools in 1900 did not have to teach, and NAEP scores would go through the roof.

Modern Americans tend to forget that ordinary folks did not graduate from high school and go on to college 100 years ago.

Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

The Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain — if not a more focused brain:

Some brains do deteriorate with age. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, strikes 13 percent of Americans 65 and older. But for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful.

“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”

For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it.

When both groups were later asked questions for which the out-of-place words might be answers, the older adults responded much better than the students.

“For the young people, it’s as if the distraction never happened,” said an author of the review, Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute. “But for older adults, because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers. They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another.”

The Killer Angel

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Wretchard looks back at The Killer Angel, which most of us know as the proximity fuze created by Vannevar Bush and the Crosley Corporation:

What the fuze does is simple. It detects the proximity, or nearness of a target and then detonates the main charge — in most cases a shell. Before the proximity shell gunners had to guesstimate settings for a time fuze, a piece of clockwork or chemical train, so that shells would go off near their target. Since the five inch shell of the period had a lethal range of 70 yards, a region which a high speed shell would traverse in hundredths of a second, the guesstimate had to be correct to within this value. Not surprisingly the guesstimes were mostly wrong; and the Germans, who were the most methodical and precise of people, estimated it took over 3,300 88 mm shells to sucessfully shoot down a bomber flying straight and level over a city in Germany.

The USN did rather better. Using analog computers, which can be compared to an adjustable mechanical model which simulates a physical system, they could, by adjusting the settings so that the target aircraft’s observed position coincided with the position predicted by the mechanical simulation, fire at wildly maneuvering targets like Kamikazes with much better precision than the Germans. But the fact that it took “only” a third of the number of 88s (it took 1,000 5″/38s to down a single suicider) was cold comfort. There wasn’t time to fire that many shells at plunging aircraft. But the introduction of the proximity fuze meant a shell didn’t have to hit directly, just pass near enough to damage an enemy plane, and that increased the lethality of gunnery once again, this time by a factor of five. It took 200 proximity fuzed 5″/38s to down a single Kamikaze.

Fire control and superior ordnance meant that USN ships effectively carried fifteen times the lethality per gun of their counterparts in Germany. The fire control and smart sensor revolution continues to this day. GPS, laser guidance, UAVs — all the soft systems — contribute far more to the “bang” than the bang itself. And since intelligence is to operations as fire control is to flak, the philosophically inclined will readily appreciate the importance of information systems in locating and directing a response toward the modern Kamikaze — the radical Islamic terrorist.

And while it is tempting to attribute the superiority of the US Navy’s anti-aircraft defenses (which were an order of magnitude better than anyone else’s) to superior science, in reality the Navy advantages were due entirely to the superior application of science. People who have lived in the digital electronic age would be astounded to learn how in the 1930s and 40s people built near real-time computing devices with gears, cams and levers. They could stabilize an input, add them, multiply them, perform nonlinear functions and even do integration with objects that were reproducible in principle by a 19th century precision machine shop. There were no new principles involved, just new ways of use. In today’s terminology, the USN’s fire control advantage would be entirely due to business process innovations. (And BTW, the reader who has been following the links on this page will have possibly come to realize the solution to one of the great what-might-have-beens of World War 2. If an Iowa class met a Yamato class battleship in normal conditions the Iowa would have sent the Yamato to Davy Jones’s locker in short order. Not simply because the 16″/50 had almost as good a pentration as the Yamato’s 18.1″ guns but because it’s fire control systems were immeasurably better. — W.)