Congolese Soldiers Explain

Monday, April 30th, 2012

You don’t have to know much about war to know that the violence goes far beyond simple killing of the enemy — but watching these Congolese soldiers explain why they rape is still seriously disturbing:

(Hat tip to Kalim Kassam.)

Targeting Makes Us Human

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Targeting may have contributed to larger brains in humans.

The ability to locate a target with the gaze and perform an aiming movement that places an object consistently on or near that target may be uniquely human. This is the thesis of William Calvin (1983), who states that humans throughout time have exhibited a fascination with targeting that is not found to the same degree in primates. Although primates may display some rudimentary targeting abilities — for example, they use rocks to open nuts or other sources of food — they never spend countless hours throwing at a far target just for the fun of it. Aiming at targets is a pursuit of many humans around the world, young and old, male and female, high and low skilled. Children will throw rocks at targets for hours, and adults continue to engage in targeting activities throughout their lifetime. Indeed, many adults make this their profession, as is the case with professional athletes in basketball, golf, ice hockey, and soccer, to name but a few sports where hitting targets with a high degree of accuracy is important.

Calvin states that aiming to hit targets led to the development of the bigger human brain. He explains that our ancestors first discovered how to hit food targets with rocks and passed this knowledge down from generation to generation. A hunter throwing at a distance is a lot safer than one close in, so special targeting implements were developed. Targeting implements evolved from those held in the hand (stones, knives), to those thrown (spears), to those propelled over great distances using bows and arrows, to rifles and missiles. A small human can fell a very large animal if the right target is hit (the heart or another vital organ) with the right implement.

As advances in targeting occurred, Calvin states that the temporal and frontal lobes developed to levels not seen in primates or other species. Of course, modern humans do not have to hunt for food, so targeting in this sense is no longer required. Instead, we have developed complex sport and computer games that stimulate and challenge the human mind to be accurate and consistent.

Humans have evolved all manner of targeting pursuits that require the placing of objects in or on specific locations, most often under difficult conditions. As mentioned, sport is one of the main arenas where this occurs. Think of the targets in golf, basketball, darts, bowling, sky diving, ski racing, kayaking through gates, hitting a receiver, playing the piano, and video games. These activities all contain targets of some kind. It often takes many years of practice to be good at a targeting activity. Furthermore, in order for a targeting skill to find a place in a sport, it has to be challenging for most humans to perform. The best field shooters in basketball hit only 50% of their field shots (or chance), the best shooters in ice hockey or soccer rarely score more than once each game, and the best golfers still take 1.8 putts each hole.

America’s Most Unlikely Business Guru

Monday, April 30th, 2012

The 1972 Chouinard catalog shaped the sport of climbing and changed the business of selling climbing equipment. Yvon Chouinard had taught himself how to blacksmith, and his pitons were the best in the business — until he decided that pitons were destroying the rock faces he loved, and he issued his “clean climbing” manifesto, which launched a whole new product line.

He and his wife own the entirety of his company, Patagonia, which brought in $414 million in sales last year — very little of it from climbing equipment:

The evolution of Patagonia into a clothing company began in the 1970s, when Chouinard — then a world-class mountain climber and a designer of mountaineering equipment — started importing durable rugby shirts and corduroy knickers for his climber pals to wear. Soon enough, Patagonia was designing its own line of clothes. Soon after that, sales of the clothes far outstripped sales of the climbing gear. This is how Yvon Chouinard became an accidental apparel mogul. This truly hit home when fashion models in New York City started wearing Patagonia fleece vests. He had no idea why, and didn’t really care. But he realized his life had changed.

Most corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives may do good, but few play to a company’s strengths:

Chouinard got his books in order. He vowed to run the company debt-free, which he now does. Then he looked at everything Patagonia made, shipped or processed, and resolved to do it all more responsibly. He changed materials, switching in 1996 from conventional to organic cotton — despite the fact that it initially tripled his supply costs — because it was less harmful to the environment. He created fleece jackets made entirely from recycled soda bottles. He vowed to create products durable enough and timeless enough that people could replace them less often, reducing waste. He put “The Footprint Chronicles” up on Patagonia’s website, exhaustively cataloging the environmental damage done by his own company. He now takes responsibility for every item Patagonia has ever made — promising either to replace it if the customer is dissatisfied, repair it (for a reasonable fee), help resell it (Patagonia facilitates exchanges of used clothes on its website), or recycle it when at last it’s no longer wearable.

To be sure, these initiatives also serve as effective branding. Part of Patagonia’s appeal stems from its commitment to the environment. Consider the clever reverse psychology of its recent advertising. Last November, on Black Friday — the unofficial American holiday of consumer gluttony — Patagonia took out a full-page ad in the “New York Times” with the bold-face headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” Below a picture of the fleece jacket in question, the ad copy listed, in grueling detail, how much water was wasted and carbon emitted in the course of its construction.

“I’ve never seen a company tell customers to buy less of its product,” marvels Harvard Business School professor Forest Reinhardt. “It’s a fascinating initiative. Yvon has the confidence to pull it off.” In fact, Chouinard says the ad boosted Patagonia sales — though he argues it didn’t drive more overall consumption, but rather stole existing customers from his competitors.

Reinhardt co-authored a Harvard Business School case study of Patagonia in 2010. Like many of the other business-school professors I spoke with about Patagonia, he seemed genuinely impressed by Chouinard. Which is logical: In one sense, Patagonia’s current success stems from classic business-school principles. The brand has maximized what B-school types refer to as WTP, or willingness to pay. Patagonia’s perceived quality and do-gooder aura convince customers that its goods are worth a higher price.

It’s not just the marketplace Chouinard is affecting — it’s the workplace. His flex-time policies allow workers to come and go whenever they want — say, when waves are high at the nearby surf point — as long as deadlines are met. There’s a yoga room available any time of day (I walked in on the head menswear designer meditating there at around 11 a.m. on a Tuesday.) At the prodding of Chouinard’s wife, Malinda, Patagonia was one of the first companies in California to provide on-site, subsidized day care. Even the chief bean counter, COO and CFO Rose Marcario, seems spiritually fulfilled. In previous jobs at other companies, she says, “I might have looked for ways to defer taxes in the Cayman Islands. Here, we are proud to pay our fair share of taxes. It’s a different philosophy. My life is more integrated with my work because I’m trying to stay true to the same values in both.”

Skeptics argue that this kind of feel-good stuff could never work at a giant, publicly listed corporation, or at one that doesn’t charge eye-popping prices for its gourmet gear. But when Chouinard counseled Walmart on sustainability, the retail behemoth found it actually saved money through environmental initiatives, like reducing its packaging and water consumption. “We are very focused on lowering prices for our customers,” says Fox. “There were some investments we needed to make at the beginning, but the returns were quick enough that it came back in a reasonable time frame.”

Similarly, Levi Strauss — with more than 10 times the annual revenue of Patagonia — has embraced Chouinard’s efforts to set data-driven benchmarks for improving apparel makers’ environmental practices. Levi’s has spent the past 18 months redesigning processes to save 45 million gallons of water, along with the energy that would have heated that water. This is not simply altruism. While the company won’t share specific numbers, “the business savings costs are real,” says Michael Kobori, Levi’s V.P. of social and environmental sustainability.

It says something about the way that people and organizations think that bottom-line oriented firms won’t make money-saving “green” changes in order to save money but only as a side-effect of being “forced” to examine their environmental impact.

10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Charles Wheelan’s first job out of college was writing speeches for the governor of Maine. Now he shares 10 lessons he wishes someone had told his Class of 1988:

  1. Your time in fraternity basements was well spent.
  2. Some of your worst days lie ahead.
  3. Don’t make the world worse.
  4. Marry someone smarter than you are.
  5. Help stop the Little League arms race.
  6. Read obituaries.
  7. Your parents don’t want what is best for you.
  8. Don’t model your life after a circus animal.
  9. It’s all borrowed time.
  10. Don’t try to be great.

Tommy John surgery doesn’t fix everything

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

The so-called Tommy John surgery keeps pitchers in the game, but it doesn’t address the underlying biomechanical flaw in their technique:

Thirty-seven baseball seasons have passed since orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe performed the first UCL reconstruction on Dodgers southpaw Tommy John, whose name would become synonymous with the procedure. [...] Jobe’s procedure soon proved so successful that it became the norm. Today, about 50 active major league pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery — around one in seven.

Despite the inevitable yearlong stint on the DL that rehab from the surgery requires, teams and pitchers seem to barely flinch at the diagnosis of a compromised UCL. “It’s become an accepted side effect of the job,” says George Paletta, the Cardinals’ head team physician and orthopedic surgeon. That’s because the surgery works; 92 percent of elite pitchers with reconstructed UCLs return to their prior level of competition for at least a year.


Problems usually begin below the waist. The most telling moment in a pitcher’s delivery, for instance, is the foot strike. When the foot makes contact with the mound, the pitching arm must be up and ready to throw. A righthanded pitcher should be showing the baseball to the shortstop, a lefty to the second baseman. (Among active hurlers, Cliff Lee is a good example.) But if a pitcher’s elbows come higher than his wrists and shoulders, with the ball pointing down, he’s demonstrating an “inverted W” — a sign that his sequence is off and he’s fighting his own body. Such poor timing leads to arm lag, evident when the throwing elbow trails the shoulder once the shoulders square to home plate. Strasburg exhibits both problems, forcing him and others like him to rely more on the arm’s relatively small muscles instead of the more massive ones in the legs and torso. Throw after throw, the shoulder and elbow are under extra stress. The higher the pitch’s velocity and the worse the flaw, the more the arm suffers. And the more a pitcher throws, the worse it gets.

Arm lag and improper sequencing were likely to blame for Strasburg’s UCL tear, as well as for those of almost everyone else knocked out by the injury. “The timing is subtle,” says the American Sports Medicine Institute’s Glenn Fleisig, who has analyzed more than 2,000 pitchers and is one of the world’s foremost authorities on pitching biomechanics. “It’s the difference between good and great and healthy and injury-waiting-to-happen.”

The difference between firing at other airplanes and shooting at targets on the ground

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

A former Marine Harrier pilot explains the difference between firing at other airplanes and shooting at targets on the ground:

There aren’t many things more fun than strafing targets on the ground, and for tactical jet pilots, there are few activities more dangerous (or in the case of a F-22 Raptor, more stupid). The 20mm six-barreled Gatling gun on the F-22 is mounted for an air-to-air knife fight (inside a half mile). The M61A2 features high rates of fire and a tremendous muzzle velocity, but there are only 480 rounds of ammunition, just over four one-second bursts). This ammunition was not designed for ground targets, it was specially designed to blow up other aircraft. The Raptor also lacks the armor and the price tag required for fecklessly dueling Grunts who own automatic weapons and hate pilots who make more money and look better than they do.

What most non-tactical jet pilots don’t know is that air-to-air and air-to-ground cannon are mounted differently. An aircraft with an air-to-mud cannon is at a gunsight depression disadvantage in a dogfight, and the opposite is true for fighter pilots who wish they were heroic attack pilots. Consider for a moment. If your primary mission is to make earthmen miserable, the axis of your cannon will be depressed from the longitudinal axis (fuselage) of your aircraft. This allows pilots to enjoy a more shallow dive and therefore leisurely opportunities to perforate the rabble and break their toys. Fighter pilots, conversely, have cannon that are biased above the longitudinal axis, because most of our enemies don’t like to get shot and are pulling as many G’s as they can to keep from getting their jump wings. If your gun is pointing up a few degrees, you don’t have to pull your nose all the way to the bogey’s jet before your glowing “death dot” is resting on the back of his helmet. This also means that F-16 and F-22 pilots have to strafe in a steeper dive and shoot quicker to keep from suffering cement poisoning.

Even if there aren’t any inconvenient Grunts with automatic weapons and shoulder-fired missiles in the target area, strafing is flat dangerous. In a shallow dive at 550 knots, Harrier pilots need to take a 5-G divergent “jink” (left or right) from the delivery azimuth after a one-second burst to prevent a fateful rendezvous with their own depleted uranium ricochets. And it’s worse when your targets are exploding (not least because it is tempting to admire one’s work). Certainly strafing is viable with a purpose-built system like the A-10, which was optimized for this kind of fun (and couldn’t catch-up with its own bullets on its best day). The application of an F-22 20mm cannon against ground targets isn’t going to do much beyond getting some Raptor pilot 20 percent closer to enemy ace status.

There’s No Tomorrow

Friday, April 27th, 2012

There’s No Tomorrow is a modern anti-capitalist propaganda cartoon done in the style of the pro-capitalist cartoons of the 1940s and ’50s — Going Places (1948), Meet King Joe (1949), Why Play Leapfrog (1949), What Makes Us Tick (1952), It’s Everybodys Business (1954) and Destination Earth (1956):

The available prints of the early propaganda cartoons were too badly weathered to be used, so each shot to be re-used had to be completely recreated as vector art in Flash. It’s hard to explain this process, but here’s a good example of the process:

Here is the original shot:

And here is the re-animated version:

Having the original scene as visual reference was a fantastic asset — however, even with that asset, the re-animated shot still took just over a week to create — so it’s not exactly a free lunch. Note that the original footage is scratched, low-resolution (the best copies you’ll find for these are between 320 and 640 pixels wide), isn’t stable, and is on 12 frames per second. The re-created animation below is playing from a computer, is vector-based (and can be rendered at any resolution without loss of quality), and plays at 24 frames per second.

It was only possible to use a fraction of the old footage in the new film.

Approximately 10% to 15% of the scenes in There’s No Tomorrow are culled from them. The remainder are original, designed to integrate with the older scenes as seamlessly as possible.

In many cases it was possible to do things that would have been too expensive or difficult for the original animators, such as splitting the scenes onto layers and adding parallax and depth to the shots — a process used famously by Walt Disney on Pinnochio, with his “Multi-Plane” camera.

Here’s the full half-hour “film”:

10 Untranslatable Words

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Esther Inglis-Arkell shares 10 untranslatable words:

Aware (Japanese)

Aware is a word, quite well-known, for the bittersweetness of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty. It’s that “last burst of summer” feel, or the transience of early spring.

Maya (Sanskrit)

This word is one that could be applied to a lot of protest movements and many political speeches. It refers to belief — the often unfortunate belief — that the symbol of a thing is the same as the thing itself. It’s the, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” of the literary world.

Wei-wu-wei (Chinese)

Wei-wu-wei is conscious nonaction. It’s a deliberate, and principled, decision to do nothing whatsoever, and to do it for a particular reason.

Bricoleur (French)

A bricoleur is someone who starts building something with no clear plan, adding bits here and there, cobbling together a whole while flying by the seat of their pants.

Schlimmbesserung (German)

A schlimmbesserung is a supposed improvement that makes things worse. There are actually a lot of words for this in a lot of languages, and that makes me think that English needs to get on the ball and coin a native word for this concept. Everyone needs it.

Orenda (Huron)

Orenda is the invocation of the power of human will to change the world around us. It is set up to be the opposing force to fate or destiny. If powerful forces beyond your control are trying to force you one way, orenda is a kind of voiced summoning of personal strength to change fate.

Gachis (French)

This one means ‘a wasted opportunity.’ Specifically it means an opportunity that was wasted by ineptness being hurled at it from all directions.

Weltschmerz (German)

It could be termed world-weariness or ennui, but this particular has the quirk of almost only being applied to privileged young people.

Kalpa (Sanskrit)

Time passing on a cosmic scale

Razbliuto (Russian)

This word, pronounced ros-blee-OO-toe, describes the feeling that a person (generally meant to be a man) has for the person who he once loved, but now no longer loves.

Because the piece is for io9, each word’s definition is accompanied by a work from science-fiction or fantasy that could be described using that word.

Killer NGOs

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Maybe the way to go after al Qaeda, Col. Gary Anderson (USMC, Ret.) suggests, is by using Killer NGOs:

If al Qaeda is an NGO, it is a malignant one. But it is like other NGOs that primarily pursue peaceful change in two ways. First, Al Qaeda doesn’t answer to any government. Second, it survives on donations. Unlike political parties, it doesn’t seek to dominate the people it infects; it desires merely to use them for international ends. The best way to fight an NGO might be with another NGO.

What would an anti-al Qaeda “Killer NGO” look like?

First, it would have to consist of natives of the region where it operates; its message would be to reject the outside influence of foreign Islamist extremists.

Second, it would need a competent military component. Militias are a dime a dozen and usually they are predatory. A small cadre of skilled fighters with cohesion and a cause can easily defeat the kind of rabble that al Qaeda pays to act as its muscle in areas that it infests. This is not a mercenary organization such as Blackwater. Mercenaries don’t fight for a cause; they fight for money.

Third, a killer NGO needs a development arm. In a failed or failing state without a social safety net, a local NGO capable of supplying rudimentary medical, educational, and nutritional support is a welcome addition in places where hope is a scarce commodity

Finally, a killer NGO needs a media arm that will get out its story and discredit that of Al Qaeda and its affiliates. A strong message of local self-reliance and rejection of exploitive foreigners is always a powerful one in the Third World. It has been used against us when we have been a visible presence. The difference here is that we are not a presence in the places most at risk of al Qaeda infestation; nor is it in our interest to be. We are present, and will continue to be in places where we have vital economic or geopolitical interests. Yemen, Somalia, and the southern Philippines don’t generally make that list, and that is why they become attractive to al Qaeda and its affiliates.

What happens if a killer NGO goes bad? We stop funding it. Unlike unpopular governmental regimes that do bad things, we are under no treaty obligation to support a NGO that goes bad. There are thousands of NGOs around the world. They are born and die every day. There is no loss of national prestige in withdrawing support to a rogue private entity.

The opposite is always possible. Some of these organizations might succeed wildly and become legitimate political parties with interests aligned to ours and democratic aspirations. We always have the option of reinforcing success.

We should of course retain the alternative of chasing al Qaeda across the world in a lethal game of “Where’s Waldo” with Special Forces and drone aircraft, and that option should never be taken off the table.

Why there are so few dunks in women’s basketball

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

It says something about our society that Slate‘s “explainer” has to explain why there are so few dunks in women’s basketball:

Leaping ability. The average WNBA player, at just under 6 feet, is about 7 inches shorter than her male counterpart. (Average data for all collegiate female players isn’t available.) Height is only part of the problem, though — plenty of 6-foot male players can dunk. The gender gap in vertical leaping ability is also substantial. The average female college basketball player has a vertical leap of approximately 19 inches, compared with more than 28 inches for the average male player. Since you have to get your fingers about 6 inches above the rim to have a chance at dunking, a female player of average leaping ability would have to be around 6-foot-6 with a standing reach of 8-foot-11”—the approximate measurements for Michael Jordan. (His Airness reportedly had a 48-inch vertical leap.) Few female players are that tall, and none of those giants is an exceptional leaper.

Still, the paucity of dunks during women’s games gives a slightly false impression of female dunking ability. Dunking in practice is somewhat more common, but many coaches advise against attempting a rim-rattler when it counts because of the risk of injury or throwing away an easy deuce. The late Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke, for example, forbade forward Toni Young from dunking after she broke her arm in three places while completing one during practice in 2011.

The gender gap in leaping ability is wide at every level of competition. According to a 2004 study of medical students and their spouses, the average male in his 20s can out-jump 95 percent of females in the same age group. And men seem to have a peculiar advantage in jumping compared with other athletic pursuits. According to a study of world records for track and field events as of 2004, men had a 15 to 16 percent advantage (PDF) in high jump, long jump, and triple jump. The gender gap in running events was only 10 to 13 percent. (Pole vault featured the biggest difference at 23 percent, but that’s likely because women have participated in that sport at the Olympic level only since 2000.) The difference between men and women has been relatively stable since 1983.

Keep In Memory

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

In the most recent episode of Top ShotHave Machine Gun Will Travel, the host describes Kim’s game as an old Marine exercise and explains that KIM stands for Keep In Memory — which, of course, isn’t true. The name comes from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim:

Kim, a teenager being trained in secret as a spy, spends a month in Simla, India at the home of Mr. Lurgan, who ostensibly runs a jewel shop but in truth is engaged in espionage for the British against the Russians. Lurgan brings out a copper tray and tosses a handful of jewels onto it; his boy servant explains to Kim:

Look on them as long as thou wilt, stranger. Count and, if need be, handle. One look is enough for me. When thou hast counted and handled and art sure that thou canst remember them all, I cover them with this paper, and thou must tell over the tally to Lurgan Sahib. I will write mine.

They contest the game many times, sometimes with jewels, sometimes with odd objects, and sometimes with photographs of people. It is considered a vital part of training in observation; Lurgan says:

[Do] it many times over till it is done perfectly — for it is worth doing.

In his book Scouting Games, Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, names the exercise Kim’s Game and describes it as follows:

The Scoutmaster should collect on a tray a number of articles — knives, spoons, pencil, pen, stones, book and so on — not more than about fifteen for the first few games, and cover the whole over with a cloth. He then makes the others sit round, where they can see the tray, and uncovers it for one minute. Then each of them must make a list on a piece of paper of all the articles he can remember… The one who remembers most wins the game.

In the Top Shot elimination challenge, they must memorize and then only shoot the target objects that appeared in their box of targets.

Virtual Shaping Operations

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Jim Gourley describes an intriguing war game concept, the idea behind Stavka-Okh:

The player takes on the role of either Hitler’s or Stalin’s chief of staff and influences the overall strategy of either side for the duration of WWII. The concept was to inject a sense of self-interest in the player beyond simply winning the war for their “team” and creating an environment of internal political tension between their dictator and subordinate staff. The player could only choose from war plans developed by the staff, but was also made aware of the likelihood of the dictator either actually endorsing the plan or overruling the decision. Based on these factors, and the choice to “support the party” in its respective campaigns of genocide, the player accumulated “glory points” that would influence their army’s success and their own reputation. Between the two sets of conflicting values, one could either end the game as a victorious but unpopular tactician or escape the war crimes tribunal in defeat.

The game fails, because it tries to do too much, Gourley argues — but other, massively multiplayer games achieve the original goal by being massively multiplayer. He particularly recommends EVE Online, a game of interstellar armadas:

The twist to the game is that these fleets serve no emperor nor press for geographic control. Everyone works for an interstellar conglomerate and the name of the game is economics. Negotiating a favorable deal on the sale of a mineral-rich moon or the acquisition of a new merchant vessel is just as important a skill as your aim with photon torpedoes. It’s become no trifling matter. The game’s universe has a government — the Council of Stellar Management — and each year since 2008 they’ve beamed down to Reykjavik to discuss everything from exchange rates to crash issues with Windows Vista.

The game’s economy, and how it foments armed conflict, shouldn’t be taken for granted as a subject of study. The developers themselves recently admitted they were in over their heads and actually hired a professor of economics to help them understand what was going on in their own game. In one of his first interviews since taking the job, Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson explained the EVE universe as filled with resources and fraught with conflict, with multiple large powers vying to collect them. It’s possibly an analogy for Africa with the economics of an arms race thrown in.

The key point for researchers and military simulations specialists, though, is that all of the aforementioned complexity came not as a result of ingenious programming or oversight, but evolved in a truly organic way. Given that such primacy has been placed on the “shaping operations” of counter-insurgency in modern conflicts, we should reconsider how we approach the digital simulation frontier.

This promotional video explains EVE Online’s “sandbox”:

Another commenter strongly recommends Arma 2, which is now free:

Who was the tougher World War II enemy?

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Who was the tougher World War II enemy, the Germans or the Japanese? Gen. J. Lawton “Lighning Joe” Collins fought in both theaters and offered these thoughts:

They were radically different. The German was far more skilled than the Japanese. Most of the Japanese that we fought were not skilled men. Not skilled leaders. The German had a professional army…. The Japanese army was very much like ours in a sense. They had a small corps of officers who were professionals. But the bulk of their people were not professionals in the sense of knowing their business and so on. They didn’t have the equipment that we had. They didn’t know how to handle combined arms — the artillery and the support of the infantry — to the same extent we did. They were gallant soldiers, though. They fought to the end and you had to knock them off — that was all there was to it. And we had to do that right on Guadalcanal…. The Japanese were very gallant men. They fought very, very hard, but they were not nearly as skillful as the Germans. But the German didn’t have the tenacity of the Japanese.”

Running for Combat Effectiveness

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

A vet was talking with a Marine from the 1960′s about their combat philosophy back in the day:

He told me that they ran in formation in full combat gear! BUT, they switched to a march at the half-mile to regain cohesion and then began to run again. They ran very long distances. They were doing a variation of the fartlek while using it to regroup and keep together.

The mission was to get to the end with every Marine — NO ONE WAS LEFT BEHIND. (Essentially, the Marine Corps mantra.) So, if a Marine was starting to flag, another Marine took his rifle. If that wasn’t enough, another Marine took his pack. If he was still in trouble, two Marines would get on either side of him, grab his belt, and propel him to the finish. If necessary, I think that they would have carried him. No fall-outs!

Of course, it was not acceptable for this to happen to the same man repeatedly, “but anyone can have a bad day.” This is a very different type of long unit run. This is a completely different philosophy. This was a combat philosophy.

They were told that they had to arrive with maximum combat power. They needed that rifleman. That’s the way it should be. How could they have been so smart?

They wore the wrong shoes and carried a lot of weight, but they did the run as intelligently as possible. How do we forget these things?

Things have changed:

In my time in the Marines (2001-09), it was strictly forbidden to help anyone who was having trouble on humps. Seems the idea there was to teach the “weak ones” a lesson about individual fitness. Also, the modern Corps is very paranoid about heat injuries; usually, when a guy starts to drop, he’ll be ordered to the safety vehicle for medical attention rather than encouraged to keep going, with or without help.

In individual-effort runs, we were always competing against each other, so no group mentality existed. On formation runs, by default we ran at the pace of the slowest runners (never less than 9 min/mile, and usually more like 12), which was of course an outrageous annoyance to those of us who could actually run. This had a doubly insidious effect: the slow ones were never sufficiently challenged, because they got to set the pace; and anyone who was even mildly in-shape was severely under-challenged, because the guy setting the pace was 40 pounds overweight and needed a gun to his head to get him to run at all.

I took great pride in being fit; my guess is that if I’d ever been asked to take on extra weight to help some near-fall-out, I would have resented it very much. After all, he’s carrying the same weight I am. This harks back to the discussion about entry standards, the question being whether it’s better to be shorthanded but all fully qualified or fully staffed with subpar people.

Furthermore, if a Marine gets so exhausted in transit that he can’t even carry his own rifle, how well would you expect him to perform in combat when he arrives? Imagine a force of 30 Marines, one of which is totally exhausted and five of whose pals are more tired than necessary from helping him. Is that group of 24 full-strength guys going to be more effective than the group of 29 that saved their strength by dropping their dead weight?

Clear, Simple, and Wrong

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

“For every complex problem,” H.L. Mencken wrote, “there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” The problem of drug abuse has two, Kleiman, Caulkins, and Hawken argue — prohibition and wholesale legalization:

Legalizing possession and production would eliminate many of the problems related to drug dealing, but it would certainly worsen the problem of drug abuse. We could abolish the illicit market in cocaine, as we abolished the illicit market in alcohol, but does anyone consider our current alcohol policies a success?

Does anyone consider our current alcohol policies a success? Um, yes? Almost everyone, really. They certainly don’t solve the problem of alcohol abuse though:

In the U.S., alcohol kills more people than all of the illicit drugs combined (85,000 deaths versus 17,000 in 2000, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association). Alcohol also has far more addicted users.

They recommend practical measures for managing alcohol better — and then extending that model to other drugs:

Inflation has eroded the federal alcohol tax down to about a fifth of its Korean War level in constant-dollar terms. Analysis by Philip Cook of Duke University suggests that tripling the tax — from about a dime to about 30 cents a drink — would prevent at least 1,000 homicides and 2,000 motor-vehicle fatalities a year, all without enriching any criminals, putting anyone behind bars or having a SWAT team crash through anyone’s door.

Raising alcohol taxes would have a big effect on adolescents and heavy drinkers, but many problem users of alcohol would have enough money to keep guzzling. Some of them like to drink and drive, or drink and beat up other people. Telling them not to misbehave does not do much good, because being drunk makes them less responsive to the threat of criminal penalties. So we need to find ways of preventing drinking among the relatively small group of people who behave very badly when they drink.

Larry Long, a district court judge in South Dakota, developed one promising approach, called 24/7 Sobriety. Started in 2005, it requires people who commit alcohol-related crimes — originally just repeat offenders for drunken driving but now other offenders — to show up twice a day, every day, for a breathalyzer test as a condition of staying out of jail. If they fail to appear, or if the test shows they have been drinking, they go straight to jail for a day.

More than 99% of the time, they show up as ordered, sober. They can go to alcohol treatment, or not, as they choose; what they can’t choose is to keep drinking. According to the state attorney general’s office, some 20,000 South Dakotans have participated in 24/7 Sobriety (a large number for state with just 825,000 residents), and the program has made a big dent in rearrests for DUI.

By distinguishing sharply between people who use alcohol badly and the larger population of non-problem users, 24/7 Sobriety moves past the simple dichotomy of either banning a drug entirely or making it legal in unlimited quantities for all adults.

An alternative means to the same end would require everyone buying a drink to show identification. A state could then make someone convicted of drunken driving or drunken assault ineligible to buy a drink just by marking his driver’s license. That is a pretty minimal intrusion on the liberty of people convicted of crimes and on the privacy of those who don’t now get “carded.”

The same principle of denying drugs to problem users could work for the currently forbidden drugs. Current laws already make it illegal to possess or use cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, but the risk of arrest is too low to be much of a deterrent. However, once someone has been convicted of a crime, the rules change. Abstinence can be required as a condition of pretrial release, probation or parole, and that condition can be enforced with chemical testing.

Drug testing is already widespread for probation and parole, but these systems lack any sort of swift, moderate penalty for detected drug use. Given the alternatives currently available — issuing a warning to the relapsed drug user or sending him back to serve out his full sentence — most judges and parole officers choose the warning. Probationers quickly learn that a warning is mostly a bluff, and they keep on using drugs and committing crimes.

Steven Alm, a circuit judge in Honolulu, and Leighton Iles, the probation chief for Tarrant County, Texas (Fort Worth and Arlington), have demonstrated that swift and certain sanctions make all the difference. In a carefully studied yearlong trial involving hundreds of probationers, Judge Alm’s program, called HOPE, reduced drug use by more than 80% and days behind bars by more than 50%, according to figures from the National Institute of Justice. Offenders quickly learned that drug use was no longer something they could get away with, and even most long-term users were able to quit. The program freed them from the cycle of use, crime and incarceration.

Having to call in every day to find out whether it is your day to be tested turns out to be powerful help in staying clean.

Other measures focus on taming crime:

David Kennedy of John Jay College in New York City has pioneered two related programs designed to go after the most violent dealers and organizations and to shut down the most violent market areas. His Drug Market Intervention program, first used in High Point, N.C., in 2004 and replicated many times in places such as Hempstead, N.Y., and Memphis, Tenn., focuses on areas where crack houses and flagrant street-corner dealing generate crime and disorder.

The first step, once the police negotiate community support, is to identify all the dealers and make cases against them. Then comes the surprising part: Instead of being arrested, the nonviolent dealers are called in for a meeting. (The handful of violent ones go to jail.) They are presented with the evidence against them — perhaps video of them making a sale — and confronted by angry neighbors, clergy and relatives. Each one is then offered a choice: Stop dealing and get help to turn your life around, or tell it to the judge.

The point is not to eliminate the drug supply but to force dealing into a less flagrant and socially damaging form: sales in bars or home delivery instead of street-corner transactions. The results have been spectacular, with long-established markets disappearing overnight.

Prof. Kennedy’s other innovation was the Boston Ceasefire program. In 1996, violent youth gangs engaged in drug dealing and other crimes were brought in by the authorities and given a simple message: “If anyone in your gang shoots somebody, we will come down on every member of the gang for all of his illegal activity.” Suddenly gang members had a strong reason to enforce nonviolence on one another, and pressure from peers turned out to be more effective than pressure from police officers. Youth homicides dropped from two a month before the program started to none in the following two years.