Hybrid Thermal Airship

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Everyone is familiar with hot-air balloons, and most people are familiar with helium-filled blimps, like the Goodyear Blimp, if not with hydrogen-filled zeppelins, like the Hindenburg.

I found it a bit jarring when I first read about hot-airships, but the concept makes sense.

Once you have motors mounted on a balloon that needs hot air, it’s only natural to harness the waste heat from the motors to heat the air, rather than relying on burners. (Or you could laser-power it, I suppose.)  Turbines are light and give off a bit more heat than other engines of the same power; so they might make a good choice.

One of the key advantages of hot-air over helium is that you can afford to vent hot air, if you have too much lift, and you can make more, through heating, when you need more lift.  Helium is extremely expensive in airship-sized volumes, and you can’t get it back once you let it go.  (Hydrogen’s not so different from hot-air, in that it’s cheap enough to vent off, and you can generate more, from the right raw materials, when you need it, but the public is terrified of it.)

If you puzzle over this a while, you may decide that the best course involves a static volume of helium, providing just enough lift for the vessel itself, combined with hot-air to make up the difference needed to carry any cargo — a thermal hybrid airship, like this concept from Boeing, which they did not end up pursuing:

(Hat tip à mon père.)

Operation Albion

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

The German Gallipoli, Operation Albion, played out quite differently from the British one:

In Operation Albion, which was carried out in early October, 1917 — our staff ride duplicated its timing — Germany took three large Baltic islands, now Estonian, from the Russians. In effect, it was Germany’s Gallipoli, though with very different results.

As a case study, Albion offers lessons on many levels. Two are of special importance. First, Albion illustrates a marriage of amphibious operations with the new German stormtroop tactics of late World War I, tactics that when combined with Panzer divisions created the Blitzkrieg. Instead of doing what the U. S. Marine Corps still does and send in landing waves that take a beachhead, then stop and build up combat power for a further advance — the Somme from the sea — the Germans landed multiple thrusts which immediately advanced as far and as fast as they could, without regard for open flanks. Speed was their main weapon, speed made possible because part of the force was equipped with bicycles.

Operation Albion was genuine Operational Maneuver from the Sea, a term U. S. Marines use but seldom understand. While the American model for amphibious operations remains Second Generation, Albion, carried out almost 100 years ago, was Third Generation.

Second, Operation Albion illustrates a Third Generation military’s ability to adapt to new situations quickly. The Imperial German Army and Navy put Albion together in a few weeks. They did so despite having no amphibious doctrine, no amphibious experience and no amphibious Marine Corps (Imperial German Marines were primarily colonial troops). How did they do it? Through the lateral communication and strong spirit of cooperation that characterize Third Generation forces.

A Nazi Perspective

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

We want to know the Nazi mind, Mencius Moldbug says, because nothing human is foreign to us, but going to the writings of, say, Albert Speer, doesn’t reveal the Nazi mind so much as the former-Nazi mind.

If you want to get a Nazi perspective, you have to look harder.

Moldbug recommends Hans Fritzsche‘s Sword in the Scales and shares its entire thirteenth chapter, “Can Such Things Be?”

Fritzsche also points to the testimony of SS Judge Georg Konrad Morgen, who went on to practice law in West Germany. A few highlights:

Q. How many cases did you investigate? How many sentences were passed? How many death sentences?

A. I investigated about 800 cases, or rather, about 800 documents, and one document would affect several cases. About 200 were tried during my activity. Five concentration camp commandants were arrested by me personally. Two were shot after being tried.

Q. You caused them to be shot?

A. Yes. Apart from the commandants, there were numerous other death sentences against Fuehrers and Unterfuehrers.

Q. Did you have any opportunity of visiting and seeing for yourself the conditions inside concentration camps?

A. Yes, because I had authority to visit concentration camps myself. Only a very few persons had this permission. Before beginning an investigation, I examined the concentration camp in question in all its details, seeing especially those arrangements which seemed particularly important to me. I visited them repeatedly and thoroughly. I paid surprise visits. I was working mostly in Buchenwald itself for eight months. I lived there. I was in Dachau for one or two months.

Q. As so many visitors to concentration camps say they were deceived, do you consider it possible that you, too, were a victim of such deception?

A. As I have already pointed out, I was not a mere visitor to a concentration camp. I had settled down there for a long residence, I might almost say I established myself there. It is really impossible to be deceived for such a long time. In addition, the commissions from the Reich Department of Criminal Police worked under my instructions, and I placed them directly in the concentration camps themselves. I do not mean to say that, in spite of these very intensive efforts, I was able to learn of all the crimes, but I believe that there was no deception in regard to what I did learn.

Q. Did you gain the impression, and at what time, that the concentration camps were places for the extermination of human beings?

A. I did not gain this impression. A concentration camp is not a place for the extermination of human beings. I must say that my first visit to a concentration camp, namely Weimar-Buchenwald, was a great surprise to me. The camp was on wooded heights, with a wonderful view. The installations were clean and freshly painted. There were grass and flowers. The prisoners were healthy, normally fed, sun-tanned, working -

THE PRESIDENT: When are you speaking of? When are you speaking of?

A. I am speaking of the beginning of my investigations in July, 1943.

Q. What crimes — you may continue — please, be more brief.

A. The installations of the camp were in good order, especially the hospital. The camp authorities, under the Commandant Diester, aimed at providing the prisoners with an existence worthy: of human beings. They had regular mail service. They had a large camp library, even with foreign books. They had variety shows, motion pictures, sporting events. They even had a brothel. Nearly all the other concentration camps were similar to Buchenwald.

THE PRESIDENT: What was it they even had?

A. A brothel.

Q. What crimes did you learn about?

A. As I said before, the investigations were based on a suspicion of corrupt practices. In time, however, I was obliged to come to the conclusion that besides those crimes, killings had also occurred.

Q. How did you reach the suspicion that killings had occurred?

A. I learned that the starting-point was the assignment of Jews to the camps after “Action 38.” I had to learn all possible facts about this action, and in doing so I was obliged to notice that the majority of prisoners of whom it could be assumed that they might know something about these cases, had died.

This peculiar frequency of killings was noticeable — I noticed it — because other prisoners who were not in any key positions remained in Buchenwald for years in the best of health, and were still there, so that it was rather remarkable that it was just certain prisoners who could have been witnesses who had died. I thereupon examined the files concerning these deceased prisoners.
Q. How did you come on to the track of mass killings? You have just spoken of individual killings.

A. I found traces of mass killings also by accident. At the end of 1943, I discovered two trails at the same time, one leading to Lublin and the other to Auschwitz.

Q. Please describe the Lublin trail first.

A. One day I received a report from the Commandant of the Security Police in Lublin. He reported that in a Jewish labour camp in his district a Jewish wedding had taken place. There had been 1,100 invited guests at this wedding.

As I said, 1,100 guests participated in this Jewish wedding. What followed was described as quite extraordinary owing to the gluttonous consumption of food and alcoholic drinks. With these Jews were members of the camp guard, that is to say some SS men or other, who took part in this function. This report only came into my hands in a roundabout way, some months later, as the Commandant of the Security Police suspected that the circumstances indicated that some criminal acts had occurred.

This was my impression as well, and I thought that this report would give me an indication of another big case of criminal corruption. With this intention, I went to Lublin and I went to the Security Police there, but all they would tell me was that the events were supposed to have happened at a camp of the “Deutsche Ausrustungswerke.” But nothing was known there. I was told it might possibly be a rather peculiar and “opaque” (this was the actual term used) camp in the vicinity of Lublin. I found out the camp and the commandant, who was Kriminalkommissar Wirth.

I asked Wirth whether this report was true and what it meant. To my great astonishment, Wirth admitted it. I asked him why he permitted members of his command to do such things and Wirth then revealed to me that on the Fuehrer’s order he had to carry out the extermination of Jews.

Q. Please go on, witness, with what you did.

A. I asked Wirth what this had to do with the Jewish wedding. Then, Wirth described the method by which he carried out the extermination of Jews and he said something like this: “One has to fight the Jews with their own weapons, and one has to cheat them.”

Wirth built up an enormous deceptive manoeuvre. He first selected Jews who would, he thought, serve as column leaders, then these Jews brought along other Jews, who worked under them. With those smaller or medium-sized detachments of Jews, he began to build up the extermination camps. He extended this staff, and with them, Wirth himself carried out the extermination.

Wirth said that he had four extermination camps, and that about 5,000 Jews were working at the extermination of Jews and the seizure of Jewish property. In order to win Jews for this business of extermination and plundering of their brethren of race and creed, Wirth gave them every freedom and, so to speak, gave them a financial interest in the spoliation of the dead victims. As a result of this attitude, this extraordinary Jewish wedding had come about.

Then I asked Wirth how he killed Jews with these Jewish agents of his. Wirth described the whole procedure that went off like a film every time. The extermination camps were in the East of the Government General, in big forests or uninhabited waste lands. They were built up like a Potemkin village. The people arriving there had the impression of entering a city or a township. The train drove into what looked like a railroad station. The escorts and the train personnel then left the area. Then the cars were opened and the Jews got out.

They were surrounded by these Jewish labour detachments, and Kriminalkommissar Wirth or one of his representatives made a speech. He said: “Jews, you were brought here to be resettled, but before we organize this future Jewish State, you must of course learn how to work. You must learn a new occupation. You will be taught that here. Our routine here is, first, everyone must take off his clothes so that your clothing can be disinfected and you can have a bath so that no epidemics will be brought into the camp.”

After he had found such calming words for his victims, they started on the road to death. Men and women were separated. At the first place, one had to give his hat; at the next one, his coat, collar, shirt, down to his shoes and socks. These places were set up like check-rooms, and the person was given a check at each one so that the people believed that they would get their things back. The other Jews had to receive the things and hurry up the new arrivals so that they would not have time to think. The whole thing was like an assembly line. At the last stop they reached a big room, and were told that this was the bath. When the last one was in, the doors were shut and the gas was let into the room.

As soon as death taken place in, the ventilators were started. When the air could be breathed again, the doors were opened, and the Jewish workers removed the bodies. By means of a special process which Wirth had invented, they were burned in the open air without the use of fuel.

Q. Was Wirth a member of the SS?

A. No, he was a Kriminalkommissar in Stuttgart.

Q. Did you ask Wirth how he arrived at this devilish system?

A. When Wirth took over the extermination of the Jews, he was already specialist in mass destruction of human beings. He had previously carried out the task of getting rid of the incurably insane. On behalf of the Fuehrer himself, whose order was transmitted through the Chancellery of the Fuehrer, he had, at the beginning of the war, set up a detachment for this purpose, probably composed of a few officials of his, I believe, the remainder being agents and spies of the criminal police.

Wirth very vividly described how he went about carrying out this assignment. He received no aid, no instructions, but had to do it all by himself. He was only given an old, empty institution in Brandenburg. There he undertook his first experiments. After much consideration and many individual experiments, he evolved his later system, and then this system was used on a large scale to exterminate the insane.

A commission of doctors previously investigated the files, and those insane who were considered to be incurable were put on a separate list. Then the institution one day was told to send these patients to another institution. From this institution the patient was transferred again, often more than once. Finally he came to Wirth’s institution. There he was killed by gas and cremated.

This system which deceived the institutions and made them unknowing accomplices, this system which enabled him with very few assistants to exterminate large numbers of people, this system Wirth now employed with a few alterations and improvements for the extermination of Jews. He was also given the assignment by the Fuehrer’s Chancellery to exterminate the Jews.

Q. The statements which Wirth made to you must have surpassed human imagination. Did you immediately believe Wirth?

A. At first Wirth’s description seemed completely fantastic to me, but in Lublin I saw one of his camps. It was a camp which collected the property or part of the property of his victims. From the quantity — there were an enormous number of watches piled up — I had to realize that something frightful was going on here. I was shown the valuables. I can say that I never saw so much money at one time, especially foreign money — all kinds of coins, from all over the world. In addition, there were a gold-smelting furnace and really prodigious bars of gold.

I also saw that the headquarters from which Wirth directed his operations was very small and inconspicuous. He had only three or four people working there for him. I spoke to them too.

I saw and watched his couriers arrive. They actually came from Berlin, Tiergarten Strasse, the Fuehrer’s Chancellery, and went back there. I investigated Wirth’s mail, and I found in it confirmation of all this.

Of course, I could not do or see all this on this first visit. I was there frequently. I pursued Wirth up to his death…

California schools scrambling to add lessons on LGBT Americans

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Even Teresa Watanabe, of the Los Angeles Times, seems bemused that California schools are scrambling to add lessons on “LGBT Americans” to the curriculum.

For you squares in the audience, LGBT Americans are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Apparently it’s still important that they be American:

The transition should be easier in L.A. Unified, which has been a pioneer in LGBT education.

The Los Angeles school board passed a resolution directing students and school staff to refrain from slurs about sexual orientation as far back as 1988. Then, in 2003, allegations of adult school staff members bullying LGBT students prompted the district to step up its educational efforts, according to Judy Chiasson, coordinator for human relations, diversity and equity.

I’m pretty sure students and school staff were expected to refrain from slurs about sexual orientation as far back as, well, long before 1988. Or, rather, everyone expected students to make those slurs, and everyone expected teachers to punish them for it.


Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

At the height of the Cold War, William S. Lind tells us, a U.S. Army Corps commander in Europe asked for information on his Soviet opposite, the commander of the corps facing him across the inter-German border:

All the U.S. intelligence agencies, working with classified material, came up with very little.  He then took his question to Chris Donnelly, who had a small Soviet military research institute at Sandhurst.  That institute worked solely from open source, i.e. unclassified material.  It sent the American general a stack of reports six inches high, with articles by his Soviet counterpart, articles about him, descriptions of exercises he had played in, etc.

Close Parenthesis

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

“Uncle John” McCarthy has passed away at the age of 84. He coined the term artificial intelligence in 1955 and went on to develop the iconic AI language Lisp over the next few years.

His Stanford home page includes a list of his sayings, which do not restrict themselves to technical subjects:

As the Chinese say, 1001 words is worth more than a picture. — JMC

During the second millenium, the Earthmen complained a lot. — JMC

When there’s a will to fail, obstacles can be found. — JMC 1983 March

There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.
— Victor Hugo
Yes, even if it’s a bad idea.

Everyone needs computer programming. It will be the way we speak to the servants.
— JMC, 1966. Alas, it didn’t come to pass.

Personal dishonesty is not needed to produce a dishonest business plan or research proposal. Wishful thinking suffices. — JMC 1986

People prefer dealing with machinery to dealing with bureaucracies. — JMC 1986

Your denial of the importance of objectivity amounts to announcing your intention to lie to us. No-one should believe anything you say. — JMC 1986

You are eager to defend rationality against the creationists. Fine. Are you also willing to defend it against the environmentalists? — JMC 1989

Cynicism is a cheap substitute for sophistication. You don’t actually have to learn anything. — JMC 1989

We can’t afford to waste money on crossing the ocean, Mr. Columbus, when Spanish society has so many unsolved problems. Why, most of those Jews and Moors we have converted aren’t really sincere Catholics, and a lack of money to hire more inquisitors has put their questionings so far behind that many have died of natural causes before the Holy Inquisition ever got around to them. — JMC 1993

Silver Treasure

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

An undersea expedition recently identified the wreck of the Mantola, which steamed out of London on her last voyage in 1917 — with 20 tons of silver aboard:

In this case, Odyssey is to get 80 percent of the silver’s value and the British government 20 percent. It plans to attempt the recovery in the spring, along with that of its previous find.

Last month, Odyssey announced its discovery of the British steamship Gairsoppa off Ireland and estimated its cargo at up to 240 tons of silver — a trove worth more than $200 million. The Gairsoppa was torpedoed in 1941.

Both ships had been owned by the British Indian Steam Navigation Company, and both were found by Odyssey during expeditions in the past few months. Odyssey said that the Mantola’s sinking in 1917 had prompted the British government to pay out an insurance claim on about 600,000 troy ounces of silver, or more than 20 tons.

Mr. Stemm said the Mantola’s silver should make “a great target for testing some new technology” of deep-sea retrieval.

The Mantola was less than a year old when, on Feb. 4, 1917, she steamed out of London on her last voyage, bound for Calcutta. According to Odyssey, the ship carried 18 passengers, 165 crew members and diverse cargo. The captain was David James Chivas, the great-nephew of the Chivas Brothers, known for their Chivas Regal brand of Scotch whiskey.

Four days out of port, a German submarine fired a torpedo, and the ship sank with minimal loss of life.

In an expedition last month, Odyssey lowered a tethered robot that positively identified the wreck. The evidence included the ship’s dimensions, its layout and a display of painted letters on the stern that fit the words “Mantola” and “Glasgow,” the ship’s home port.

I suppose the Brits had to ship out tons of silver to make war-time purchases.

Although even the larger, WWII-era sinking came before the Manhattan Project started, it does raise an interesting point made by Viktor Suvorov in Inside Soviet Military Intelligence:

During the Second World War a section of the tenth directorate [GRU] (economics and strategic resources) was studying the trends in the exchange of precious metals in the United States. The specialist were surprised that an unexpectedly large amount of silver was allocated ‘for scientific research’. Never before, either in America or in any other country, had such a large amount of silver been spent for the needs of research. There was a war going on and the specialists reasonably supposed that the research was military. The GRU information analysed all the fields of military research known to it, but not one of them required the expenditure of so much silver. The second reasonable assumption by the GRU was that it was some new field of research concerning the creation of a new type of weapon. Every information unit was brought to bear on the study of this strange phenomenon.

Further analysis showed that all publications dealing with atomic physics had been suppressed in the United States and that all atomic scientists, fugitives from occupied Europe, had at the same time disappeared without trace from the scientific horizon. A week later the GRU presented to Stalin a detailed report which had been compiled on the basis of one unconfirmed fact, but its contents left no room for doubt about the correctness of the deductions it made. Stalin was delighted with the report: the rest is well known.

The Manhattan Project was using silver wiring in electro-magnets to separate weapons-grade uranium:

A total of 940 magnets were constructed with coils fabricated from about 28 million pounds of silver in the Phelps-Dodge Copper Products Company located in Bayway, New Jersey and another 268,000 pounds of silver was shipped to Oak Ridge to be fabricated into busbar pieces.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian Guest.)

Lost Purposes

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Eliezer Yudkowsky discusses lost purposes:

It was in either kindergarten or first grade that I was first asked to pray, given a transliteration of a Hebrew prayer. I asked what the words meant. I was told that so long as I prayed in Hebrew, I didn’t need to know what the words meant, it would work anyway.

That was the beginning of my break with Judaism.

As you read this, some young man or woman is sitting at a desk in a university, earnestly studying material they have no intention of ever using, and no interest in knowing for its own sake. They want a high-paying job, and the high-paying job requires a piece of paper, and the piece of paper requires a previous master’s degree, and the master’s degree requires a bachelor’s degree, and the university that grants the bachelor’s degree requires you to take a class in 12th-century knitting patterns to graduate. So they diligently study, intending to forget it all the moment the final exam is administered, but still seriously working away, because they want that piece of paper.

Maybe you realized it was all madness, but I bet you did it anyway. You didn’t have a choice, right?

A recent study here in the Bay Area showed that 80% of teachers in K-5 reported spending less than one hour per week on science, and 16% said they spend no time on science. Why? I’m given to understand the proximate cause is the No Child Left Behind Act and similar legislation. Virtually all classroom time is now spent on preparing for tests mandated at the state or federal level. I seem to recall (though I can’t find the source) that just taking mandatory tests was 40% of classroom time in one school.

The old Soviet bureaucracy was famous for being more interested in appearances than reality. One shoe factory overfulfilled its quota by producing lots of tiny shoes. Another shoe factory reported cut but unassembled leather as a “shoe”. The superior bureaucrats weren’t interested in looking too hard, because they also wanted to report quota overfulfillments. All this was a great help to the comrades freezing their feet off.

It is now being suggested in several sources that an actual majority of published findings in medicine, though “statistically significant with p<0.05″, are untrue. But so long as p<0.05 remains the threshold for publication, why should anyone hold themselves to higher standards, when that requires bigger research grants for larger experimental groups, and decreases the likelihood of getting a publication? Everyone knows that the whole point of science is to publish lots of papers, just as the whole point of a university is to print certain pieces of parchment, and the whole point of a school is to pass the mandatory tests that guarantee the annual budget. You don’t get to set the rules of the game, and if you try to play by different rules, you’ll just lose.

(Hat tip to Gwern, who recently mentioned it in a comment.)

A Barometer of Order

Monday, October 24th, 2011

William S. Lind sees piracy as a barometer of order:

What is comic about the piracy off Somalia is the inability of the maritime powers, most of whom now have warships on station in the region, to do anything about it.  Their governments wring their hands and say, “Oh, my, whatever shall we do.  Our laws don’t seem to cover piracy, so it seems we must do nothing.”  The warships are left to steam in circles, scream and shout.  The British Foreign Office produced a formal legal opinion warning Royal Navy ships not to capture pirates, on the grounds that the pirates might claim asylum in Britain!  The Foreign Office, it seems, has become an asylum.

On no question is international law more clear or more ancient than on piracy.  Law has recognized pirates as “enemies of all mankind” since the Roman Empire.  They are outlaws whom anyone may kill on sight.  Common law, which used to count for something in Britain, makes hunting down and killing pirates the duty of all maritime powers.  The Royal Navy used to be pretty good at it.  Has it perhaps run out of rope?

Cleaning up Somali piracy should take ten days, two weeks at most.  It’s not hard.  International ships and aircraft hunt down and sink the pirates’ vessels at sea.  (As in the 17th and 18th centuries, there are very few pirate “ships;” most pirates operate from open boats, now as then.)  Any ship taken by pirates is immediately re-taken by some state’s navy or Marines.  Captured pirates are hanged from the nearest yardarm, without trial, as common law allows.  Ports out of which pirates frequently sail, such as Eyl, are bombarded, and any likely pirate craft are destroyed.  This is a script any admiral from the age of sail would know by heart.

Why hasn’t it happened?  Here is where the subject becomes serious.  Piracy is a barometer of two related qualities in the world of states:  the state’s belief in itself and the state system, and international order.  The failure of states to follow ancient law and precedent in dealing with Somali pirates says nothing about the pirates.  But it speaks volumes concerning the weakness of the state, in its own eyes.  So little do the international elites who now rule all but a handful of states – the administrators of Brave New World – believe in the state that they cannot even hang pirates.  They have the souls, not of leaders or governors, but of petty functionaries.  When not even states’ elites believe in the state anymore, why should anyone else?  Piracy not suppressed represents history lifting its leg on the whole state system.

Similarly, piracy is a barometer of order.  It has been so since Roman times.  When order weakens, pirates flourish.  When order returns, pirates are hunted down and hanged.  The piracy barometer tells us order is vanishing fast.

Penalty Calls

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Adam Gopnik discusses penalty calls in football:

Has anyone stopped to think, though, that the pass-interference call in our football represents a kind of hole in the rules, a trait shared with only one other circumstance in sports that I can think of: the penalty (or, rather, the awarding of a penalty) in the game that the rest of the world calls football? In both cases, the reward — the ball moved to the spot of the foul in pass interference, or even to the one-yard line, if the interference is in the end zone; the offended soccer team getting a near-can’t-miss shot at goal — can be an almost certain score, yet the illegality itself is, nine times out of ten, extremely subtle and difficult to discriminate from all the occasions when it didn’t happen, or at least when the referees didn’t choose to call it. The difference, in soccer, between normal contact in the box and the real illegal push — like that between the normal hand chucking and bouncing in American football and true pass interference — is delicate and always arguable, or at least always argued. (Recall Don Meredith’s first appearance on “Monday Night Football,” and his now classic comment to Howard Cosell on pass interference: “I don’t really know what it is, Howard, but it’s a no-no.”)

The logical thing to do would be to reduce the scale of the reward — to give merely a free kick in soccer, or fifteen yards in football — but, and this is the “hole,” doing that instantly makes tackling the potential scorer the optimal defensive strategy. This actually happens in college football games where the penalty is fifteen yards: you just knock down the receiver blowing by, and take the penalty. The obvious injustice can’t be fixed without opening the door to an even bigger one: sounds like life.

As a consequence, pass-interference calls may look so disputable because the referees don’t voice, openly, the real criterion by which they make them. I suspect that the referees don’t evaluate the rights and wrongs of a specific push so much as mentally calculate the alternative outcome: if the man had a reasonable shot at catching the ball, or scoring the goal, they throw the flag, or point to the spot. One thing our game-playing minds seem to be very, very good at is anticipating outcomes: seeing the whole from the part and the upcoming pattern from the partial view. Studies show that good athletes — and referees, too, I think — often do not see the ball, or the goal, better than you or I would, but they anticipate the coming pattern — see where the defender is going to be before he gets there, or figure out if the receiver really had a chance against Revis in the first place. No one wants to say this, but basically the referees are calling not the play in front of their eyes but the play that would have been there a few moments later. The unfair advantage the superior athlete gets isn’t simply favoritism, or based on past credit in the bank — or, rather, it is, but it’s fully rational, and essentially fair. Revis didn’t exactly get a break on the play; he earned a kind of wrinkle in time by his play in the past. There’s something oddly cheering about this. Cameras and computers can analyze the immediate past, but only minds anticipate the future.

9 Essential Geek Books You Must Read Right Now

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Marty Cortinas kicks off Wired‘s list of the 9 essential geek books you must read right now with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide — and continues on with eight more books I have of course read.

Well, I can’t say I finished Gödel, Escher, Bach — but I doubt that’s unusual.

And Snow Crash really rubbed me the wrong way. I keep wanting to like Stephenson, based on the material he covers, but his style makes my skin crawl.

Nothing Happens

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

No matter how much money you give them, William S. Lind says, our State Department can’t produce:

Over the years, I have heard one ambassador after another say, “I had to turn to the military because they are the only people who can get anything done.” If you give the U.S. military an order, something usually happens. It may happen late, clumsily, and expensively, but still, something happens.

In contrast, with State and other agencies, most of the time nothing happens. That is true even when budgets are ample. Why? Because the internal culture of our civilian agencies is so rigid, bureaucratic, risk-averse and rule-bound that they cannot act.

Often, the people at the working level are quite talented. They want to do the assigned job. But the internal focus of their agency is so strong they cannot, at least without risking their careers. A single broken rule or bent regulation, undotted i or uncrossed t, and they quickly learn to follow the regs and forget about the product. So nothing happens.

Stroll on Tatooine

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Of all the sci-fi fantasy mash-up art on the list, Stroll on Tatooine stands out for its Moebius-meets-Where’s Waldo level of detail:

Look for every sci-fi character you can think of — the Terminator, Doctor Who, Captain Kirk, etc.

The Culture of War

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

William S. Lind describes Martin van Creveld’s The Culture of War as another big book — not literally, but figuratively, because “it targets, hits and obliterates Clausewitz’s assertion that war is merely the continuation of politics by other means”:

War exists not to serve the interests of states, it argues, or anything else. Rather, it is a fundamental part of human nature and culture. No human culture is imaginable that excludes war. At the same time, war and those who fight it develop their own cultures, cultures which shape how war is carried on far more powerfully than do rational calculations of military effectiveness.

Lind shares two anecdotes:

After the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, the Prussian army routinized itself to the point where complex and largely useless drills came to be everything. Creveld writes,

Many were especially devised for the king’s benefit; the most spectacular, if not the most useful, movement of all was turning a battalion on its own axis, like a top…

However, the extent to which the culture of war had taken over from war itself is nicely illustrated by two contemporary stories. One had (General) von Saldern earnestly debating the pros and cons of increasing the regulation marching speed of seventy-five paces a minute to seventy-six; according to the other, when he went to heaven and explained his system of maneuvers to Gustavus Adolphus, the king answered that he was not aware that in the years since his death the earth had been made flat. Briefly, a thousand details — “pedantries” as Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher was to call them later — that had originally served a useful purpose now became detached from reality, so to speak. They continued to float about solely as parts of a highly developed culture, one that no longer made sense in any terms except its own.

The result was an army so brittle that, when faced in 1806 with Napoleon, it shattered.

Creveld’s second example is today’s German military, the Bundeswehr. Germany’s politicians have demanded the Bundeswehr be stripped of all German military traditions, not just those of the Nazi period. Creveld notes that

At first, only the years 1933-1945 were exorcised. From 1968 on, however, there was a growing tendency to extend the shadows until they covered previous periods. Not only the Panzer leader Heinz Guderian, not only the desert fox Erwin Rommel, but Hans von Seekt, Paul von Hindenburg, Erich Ludendorff, Alfred von Schieffen, and Helmut von Moltke disappeared. From heroes who had served their country, they were turned into “militarist,” “reactionary,” and “imperialist” villains; in today’s casernes, it is in vain that one looks for their names or their portraits…

In comparison with similar institutions in other countries, German military academies, staff colleges, and other educational institutions have an empty, bare, functional, and soulless appearance. The relics of the “wars of liberation” apart, almost the only items on display pertain to the Bundeswehr’s own history. However, since the Bundeswehr has never gone to war, the ability of those items to excite and inspire is limited…

Given the terrible historical background, all this is perfectly understandable. On the other hand, it is indisputable that an armed force, if its members are to fight and die for their country, must have a culture of war…

One does not have to be a “militarist” or a right-wing extremist to note the peculiar smell that prevails throughout the Bundeswehr. That smell is made up of impersonal bureaucratic procedures, political correctness, and the obsequiousness that results when people worry lest speaking up will lead to bad consequences.

Both of these extremes hold lessons for today’s U.S. military. The inward-focused culture of the Second Generation that dominates the American armed forces has generated an ever-widening disconnect with the nature of the modern battlefield. That contradiction lies at the heart of the American failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, like the Bundeswehr, the U.S. armed forces are under political assault by forces that care nothing for preserving the necessary culture of war.

Google honors Mary Blair

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Google honors Mary Blair, the Imagineer behind It’s a Small World, with a doodle celebrating what would have been her 100th birthday.