Three Problems with Modern American Society

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

James Lafond was trying to pay for something at the grocery store when a teenage boy with a bike came up behind him and said he needed to get by.

“When I’m done here, I’ll move,” he said, but the cashier lady just stared in horror.

This episode points out three problems with modern American society, he says:

  1. That teenage boys [naturally] feel the need and the right to bully adults
  2. That most adults — particularly women — live in fear of teenage boys, a fear that, rather than admit to, they cloak through an overweening desire to appease the little monsters and an insistence that men do likewise
  3. That these two factors have resulted in a barbaric teenage substrata of our society that lives outside of the acceptable rules of behavior traditionally adhered to in all previous human societies, which has cultivated a sense of entitlement and empowerment among teens which makes attacks on adults and isolated teens highly likely

Managing Violence

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Managing violence from a position of “authority” — even if that position is just a shift-manager position at a retail store — means you rarely have to resort to violence, James LaFond says:

In four years as a retail food manager I logged 2,908 incidents on my calendar, usually with just two letters to indicate an event: PH for panhandler, etc. The criminals I dealt with included from most to least frequent: drunks [usually attempting late access after closing time before a holiday or on the weekend]; panhandlers; shoplifters; gangs of youths; organized thieves; blitz shoplifters; drug-dealers; bootleg DVD vendors; perverts attempting to molest my female staff; terminated employees; strong-arm robbers working the parking lot and approaches [seven of my male clerks were attacked leaving work]; counterfeit bill rings; purse-snatchers; slip & fall con artists; and even two police officers who threatened me for not opening up the store for their personal use after hours.

As a clerk in this business for 25 years, I knew going in that there would be little or no backup from whoever I hired to do security work. Security personnel who work retail [including uniformed and off-duty police] are generally only concerned with one thing: socializing with your female staff. That is my experience working 34 retail outlets in Baltimore City and Baltimore County from 1981 thru 2011. I hate to label a profession but this is my experience and I will argue it with anyone. I’m sure this is not always the case, but this fact was one of the parameters that I was aware of going in. Local law-enforcement has always provided me with adequate backup in each of the three municipalities I worked. However, as effective as this backup might be, it is ten minutes away. I was essentially alone, and developed methods within that parameter.

Of the 2,908 incidents that I was personally involved in only three became physical: I wrestled with a knife-wielding shoplifter, recovering his coat, both of his knives, and all 72 bars of my soap he had stuffed in the lining of his coat; I was struck by a clerk I terminated [Thank you for winning the unemployment case for me sir.]; and I was grappled by, and head-butted a mentally disturbed panhandler. That is it; solid proof that people in positions of authority can manage violence and do not have to get physical often.

This type of situation, when you are stuck in a high volume location that attracts criminals like hyenas to a watering hole, is a type of Convergence Predation. Adopting a siege mentality will result in the erosion of your position, such as it is. You must be proactive in an appropriate sense. That means calming down the young lady and the old drunk who are fighting over their place in the express lane as the blizzard rolls up the East Coast and everyone else in the building is panicking over the End of Time and the sold out slot in the DVD vending machine!

It also means dropping your box cutter and leaping over that display you are building without taking the time to apologize to the customer who is discussing the football game with you so that you can make it to that sore-covered dope fiend on the parking lot that is trying to get to the old lady with the walker while your security guard sleeps at the video monitoring station.


The key to my success was how I used my position. Every person I dealt with—even the two cops, who were out of their municipality—knew that the cops who responded would believe the guy wearing the tie and the name badge. So they opted for the negotiated solution I offered. If you find yourself in such a position, managing violence, either as a security person, or as a manager, here is a quick checklist of does and don’ts:

  1. Never raise your voice.
  2. Address the criminal with respect [especially if he is a cop], as ‘sir’, or if a boy, as ‘man’
  3. Never embarrass the criminal. Try to approach him when he is alone, so that you can avoid putting him under pressure to appear strong in front of others. He wants to be weak. He wants you to be his daddy or his big brother. Befriending criminals that frequent your establishment is good policy. If you help this guy by delivering groceries to his crippled father while he’s in prison, and give him tips on how to speak to the cops—who are, after all, on the way—then you have taken the moral high ground and he will tend do what you ask him to do. He can also be cultivated as an intelligence asset.
  4. Do not use confrontational body language. Stand obliquely and do not hide your right hand or place your hands between him and you, and never, ever point. Yes, you are placing yourself in danger. You are there to protect others—even this scumbag—not protect yourself. You will not sue yourself. Every employee, customer and criminal will sue you and your employer if injured on premises. What I actually practiced was self-defense against lawyers, not criminals. The criminal is just going to break your glasses, not your bank account.
  5. Never touch anybody unless you really have to prevent a crime. I have even been able to retrieve steaks from shoplifters by only touching their clothes. If you have to touch try clothing first. Do everything you can to avoid hurting the criminal. Remember the deranged guy that I could not handle in the clinch? I head-butted him in the forehead, intentionally avoiding his nose, which could have exploded. But I was still not pleased with this resolution. The fact that it went physical at all meant that I had failed to manage the situation.
  6. To protect someone, like the old lady who is trying to run the gauntlet of screaming, drug-addicted, sore-covered panhandlers so that she can buy the jumbo eggs you put on sale for a dollar, all you have to do is get in the way. You do not have to be big or intimidating or even armed. You just have to escort people to protect them from common criminals. You are a meat shield in slacks and tie; Miss Ann’s very own Secret Service Agent, bad haircut and all.
  7. Never, ever show anger or use bad language. You must always be calm, cool and polite to derive the maximum benefit from your position, which is one of respect. You are the calm, cooling hand. Stay cool, even when you are burning up inside. This last, is the health hazard of the job. I, for one, could only tolerate four consecutive years as the benign stepfather to a hundred employees [who are prone to various antisocial behaviors] and the sheepdog to a flock of customers who are hunted by the wolves of society.


Let the cops beat them down. Remember, your ultimate duty is to provide your obese clients with the most efficient delivery systems for sodium, caffeine and simple carbohydrates at affordable prices, in a safe and congenial environment. That’s best accomplished with your shirt tucked in.

Frog Juice

Friday, June 29th, 2012

The latest performance-enhancing drug for horses has been dubbed frog juice. It’s a painkiller that existing drug tests missed:

Then a lab in the Denver area tweaked its testing procedure, and in recent days more than 30 horses from four states have tentatively tested positive for the substance, dermorphin, which is suspected of helping horses run faster.

Why frog juice? It’s synthesized now, but it was originally extracted from South American frogs.

The Option of Flight

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Women should not put themselves in peril by living as pedestrians, James LaFond says:

For all of the carjackers and drunk drivers out there it is still far more dangerous for a woman to be alone on foot, or on foot at all, than it is to drive. To the extent that driving places women on the menu of the many violent criminals that stalk them, the trend is for the lady to be attacked while stopped, while getting in and out of her vehicle, and while walking to and from her vehicle. While I respect no man who makes the claim without having the balls to walk the streets of his town, I do not think any woman should walk alone.

The dilemma that the women I have interviewed expound on consistently is not so much that men are larger and stronger, but that they are faster. This is a huge issue. The foot speed disparity between ordinary men and women is even greater than that between male and female athletes. In contrast a man on the street will be bigger than some assailants, smaller and faster than others, and enjoy a rough parity with others. Possibly the best self-defense for women is to have them play ball and run track & field as children and teens, so that they at least have the option of flight.

The Virus that Inspired the Whole Zombie Genre

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

The virus that inspired the whole zombie genre is, of course, rabies:

It’s a bullet shaped virus that can be transmitted through bodily fluids like saliva. Once in the body, it heads for the brain, causing swelling and a zombie-movie set of symptoms.

Actually, there are two kinds of rabies: dumb rabies and furious rabies. Dumb rabies is tougher to diagnose, since it comes on through slurred speech, loss of function, paralysis, coma, and death. Furious rabies, which comprises fifty percent of animal cases and two thirds of human cases, is where the horror movie stereotypes come from.

After an incubation period that could last anywhere from a week to several years, people with rabiees suddenly become antsy and hyperactive. They start becoming disoriented and lose lucidity. Eventually, they develop more aggressive symptoms. The mildest of these symptoms is simple irritability. People, metaphorically, snap at those around them. Because they’re hyperactive and restless, they tend to get annoyed with many people very quickly. As the disease progresses, though, they become more physically violent. A man in Mumbai became so violent that hospital personnel evacuated his room and eventually had to call the police and the fire brigade to pacify him enough for a sedative.


Patients become afraid of bright lights and moving air, so they try to hide in dark and confined places. They fall silent, in part because they become so afraid of the sound of their own voice, it’s impossible for them to speak. Most notoriously, patients with “furious rabies” develop strange appetites. Animals with rabies, although they can barely swallow water, have been seen to eat sticks and rocks. They also seem to undergo a compulsive need to bite. Scientists think that this is the disease trying, evolutionarily speaking, to strike out and get transmitted to a new host. This is the crux of the zombie mythology. A bite means a death of the self — loss of speech, coherence, lucidity, and ability to control aggressive impulses — and a rebirth as a silent, unresting zombie, endlessly driven to look for new people to bite.

The Fall of the Creative Class

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

­Frank Bures describes the Fall of the Creative Class:

Jamie Peck is a geog­ra­phy pro­fes­sor who has been one of the fore­most crit­ics of Richard Florida’s Cre­ative Class the­ory. He now teaches at the Uni­ver­sity of British Colum­bia in Van­cou­ver, but at the time Florida’s book was pub­lished in 2002, he was also liv­ing in Madi­son. “The rea­son I wrote about this,” Peck told me on the phone, “is because Madison’s mayor started to embrace it. I lived on the east side of town, prob­a­bly as near to this lifestyle as pos­si­ble, and it was bull­shit that this was actu­ally what was dri­ving Madison’s econ­omy. What was dri­ving Madi­son was pub­lic sec­tor spend­ing through the uni­ver­sity, not the dynamic Florida was describing.”

In his ini­tial cri­tique, Peck said The Rise of the Cre­ative Class was filled with “self-indulgent forms of ama­teur microso­ci­ol­ogy and crass cel­e­bra­tions of hip­ster embour­geoise­ment.” That’s another way of say­ing that Florida was just describ­ing the “hip­ster­i­za­tion” of wealthy cities and con­clud­ing that this was what was caus­ing those cities to be wealthy. As some crit­ics have pointed out, that’s a lit­tle like say­ing that the high num­ber of hot dog ven­dors in New York City is what’s caus­ing the pres­ence of so many invest­ment bankers. So if you want bank­ing, just sell hot dogs. “You can manip­u­late your argu­ments about cor­re­la­tion when things hap­pen in the same place,” says Peck.

What was miss­ing, how­ever, was any actual proof that the pres­ence of artists, gays and les­bians or immi­grants was caus­ing eco­nomic growth, rather than eco­nomic growth caus­ing the pres­ence of artists, gays and les­bians or immi­grants. Some more recent work has tried to get to the bot­tom of these ques­tions, and the find­ings don’t bode well for Florida’s the­ory. In a four-year, $6 mil­lion study of thir­teen cities across Europe called “Accom­mo­dat­ing Cre­ative Knowl­edge,” that was pub­lished in 2011, researchers found one of Florida’s cen­tral ideas — the migra­tion of cre­ative work­ers to places that are tol­er­ant, open and diverse — was sim­ply not happening.

“They move to places where they can find jobs,” wrote author Sako Mus­terd, “and if they can­not find a job there, the only rea­son to move is for study or for per­sonal social net­work rea­sons, such as the pres­ence of friends, fam­ily, part­ners, or because they return to the place where they have been born or have grown up.” But even if they had been pour­ing into places because of “soft” fac­tors like cof­fee shops and art gal­leries, accord­ing to Ste­fan Krätke, author of a 2010 Ger­man study, it prob­a­bly wouldn’t have made any dif­fer­ence, eco­nom­i­cally. Krätke broke Florida’s Cre­ative Class (which includes accoun­tants, real­tors, bankers and politi­cians) into five sep­a­rate groups and found that only the “sci­en­tif­i­cally and tech­no­log­i­cally cre­ative” work­ers had an impact on regional GDP. Krätke wrote “that Florida’s con­cep­tion does not match the state of find­ings of regional inno­va­tion research and that his way of relat­ing tal­ent and tech­nol­ogy might be regarded as a remark­able exer­cise in simplification.”

Per­haps one of the most damn­ing stud­ies was in some ways the sim­plest. In 2009 Michele Hoy­man and Chris Far­icy pub­lished a study using Florida’s own data from 1990 to 2004, in which they tried to find a link between the pres­ence of the cre­ative class work­ers and any kind of eco­nomic growth. “The results were pretty strik­ing,” said Far­icy, who now teaches polit­i­cal sci­ence at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­sity. “The mea­sure­ment of the cre­ative class that Florida uses in his book does not cor­re­late with any known mea­sure of eco­nomic growth and devel­op­ment. Basi­cally, we were able to show that the emperor has no clothes.” Their study also ques­tioned whether the migra­tion of the cre­ative class was hap­pen­ing. “Florida said that cre­ative class presence — bohemians, gays, artists — will draw what we used to call yup­pies in,” says Hoy­man. “We did not find that.”

The Gorilla Wall

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

James Lafond tells a tale of Paul, a janitor at a Baltimore supermarket, who was cleaning up out back behind the gorilla wall:

No fooling, that’s what they call them. They were developed for D.C. area supermarkets where gangbangers were shooting receivers and drivers offloading PM deliveries. I do not know if these very high offset walls were named for the Gorilla Family gang or after the big wall the natives built to keep King Kong out of their village in the movies. The wall protects the clerks who unload the trucks at night from being shot by the local gangbangers. Paul is a small black guy, and was detailed to sweep the area during ‘safe’ daylight hours. Just as the white guy above had been socially isolated, Paul was physically isolated, being alone behind the store. The Sun God would look uncaringly down on poor Paul as cruel Fate wrote him into her remorseless story.

Two black men and two black women, who had been ejected from the store by the uniformed police officer on duty for aggressive behavior, saw Paul as they were leaving and took out their rage on him. Paul was beaten far worse than the white guy at the Aquarium, and didn’t even think it was a big deal, because black people in Baltimore do this to each other all of the time! In fact, I could make the case that the white man attacked at the Aquarium is now an honorary African American, thanks to the liberally inclusive actions of his compassionate attackers. One of his attackers even called him ‘nigger’!

Another factor that is overlooked here is the fact these attacks were not nearly as serious as they could have been. Paul and Saint Patrick [we have to call him something shorter than 'the drunk white tourist at the Aquarium'] were downed on concrete and could have easily been stomped to death in a minute or two. These attacks are done for thrills and to build group cohesion. This is first and foremost a bonding experience for the attackers.

CEOs who served in the military

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

CEOs who served in the military are more honest and do better in bad times:

Back in the 1980s, when many war veterans were about the right age to be running companies, nearly 60 percent of CEOs had military experience. Nowadays, with veterans of these wars entering their golden years, only 8 percent of CEOs have served. So whatever characterizes military leadership, it’s increasingly rare in the corner office.

This may be cause for concern. Business leaders with military experience seem to have in common a far greater level of honesty than CEOs who never wore the uniform. The researchers matched their CEO database to records of 132 cases of corporate fraud that took place during 1994-2004 to see who was in charge when accounting deceptions occurred. Military CEOs were about 60 percent less likely than nonmilitary leaders to preside over Enron-style cooking of the books—the rate of “fraud years” was under 1 percent for military CEOs, as compared to more than 2 percent on average for their civilian counterparts. Furthermore, military CEOs were less likely to doctor earnings numbers when the pressure is greatest, during periods of low industry profitability. In these low profit years, the average rate of fraud rises to just over 1 percent for military CEOs, as compared to nearly 5 percent for civilian ones.

Indeed, companies run by military CEOs seem to cope differently with hard times in general. Looking at a wider set of companies, and across the entire span of 1980-2006, Benmelech and Frydman find that firms run by ex-military CEOs perform much better under harsh economic conditions relative to the companies’ performance in good times. One interpretation is that once you’ve spent time managing a platoon (possibly under enemy fire), the stress of managing a company in a downturn is modest by comparison.

The data, though, suggest that while military CEOs do relatively well during bad times, their companies underperform during industry booms—well below the levels of their civilian-led counterparts. Once you account for both effects, shareholder value is a bit lower overall under military leadership.

The Most Important War You Probably Know Nothing About

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

James Traub calls it the most important war you probably know nothing about — the War of 1812:

One of the buried facts of our collective past is that the United States came very close to dissolving long before slavery sundered the union. America was in almost perpetual peril during the quarter century from the French Revolution to the Treaty of Ghent, which concluded the war with Britain in 1814. Throughout this period, the two great world powers of the time, France and England, sought to destroy each other; each tried to bribe, seduce, subvert, or intimidate the neutral states in order to tip the balance in their favor. In this great and cynical game, the United States, which at the time constituted what we would now call “an emerging nation,” was one of the most valuable prizes.

American politics consisted of, in effect, an “English” party and a “French” party. This was scarcely unusual at the time: Both republican Holland and autocratic Russia, among others, tilted back and forth between partisans of the two. In America, however, the Founding Fathers recognized that this contest for supremacy posed a mortal threat to the nation. In his brief farewell address, George Washington ardently defended the policy of neutrality to which he had consistently hewed. The president warned his fellow citizens that “excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other.”

Alexander Hamilton largely wrote Washington’s farewell address; and Hamilton, an Anglophile, was using the president’s immense prestige to warn of the susceptibility of Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party to France and the doctrines of the French Revolution. Federalists like Hamilton derisively referred to the Jeffersonians as “Jacobins” — revolutionary camp-followers. France, for its part, sought to use the U.S. Republicans as an extra-territorial arm of the revolution. In 1792, France sent an ambassador to the United States with the express goal of enlisting Americans in its war with England. The minister, Edmond-Charles Genet, outfitted privateers in the pro-French South with the goal of preventing New England merchants from trading with England and encouraged the creation of “democratic-republican societies” to fight against alleged “aristocratic” tendencies in America — until an outraged President Washington demanded that he desist.

France was the chief provocateur during this period. Like Russia after 1917, France saw itself as the standard-bearer of a global revolution; a levée en masse produced a standing army of 800,000 prepared to overwhelm the reactionary forces of Europe. A combination of diplomatic insults and attacks on American shipping drove President John Adams to the very edge of declaring war against France in 1798 (as I described here). Later, Napoleon channeled those revolutionary energies into the more traditional French goal of dominating neighbors and bringing England to its knees. Napoleon even dreamed of sending a force from Haiti up the Mississippi in order to seize the western territory of the United States. The plan came to grief when his army was decimated by yellow fever and Haitian guerillas. The emperor reacted to his failure with a magnificent gesture of disgust: He sold Louisiana to President Jefferson in 1803.

Although it was the greatest windfall in the nation’s history, the Louisiana Purchase also came very close to dividing America in half. Federalists now feared — rightly, as it turned out — that the new citizens of the south and west would identify with the democratic Jeffersonians rather than with a party that looked back nostalgically to a pre-revolutionary European order. In late 1803 and early 1804, most of the leading Federalists plotted to secede from the union and seek an alliance with England. The conspiracy appears to have collapsed when Aaron Burr killed Hamilton in a duel (though Hamilton had not supported the secessionists).

France continued to intrigue against the United States, but even the most ardent American Jacobins lost faith in the revolutionary project once Napoleon placed the imperial crown on his own head. Washington’s warning now applied far more to the partisans of England than of France. British ships patrolled the waters of the Atlantic hunting for U.S. merchant vessels carrying goods from the French West Indies and regularly boarded American ships searching for English sailors who had fled the abysmal pay and dreadful conditions of His Majesty’s Navy. And while most Americans were outraged by these incursions on national sovereignty, leading Federalists sided with Britain and publicly excused their offenses. The party split between, in effect, a pro-British and pro-American faction, and the extremists, known as the Essex Junto, degenerated into precisely the kind of fifth column they had earlier accused the Republicans of being. At the Hartford Convention of 1810, the Junto once again sought to turn New England into a separate nation.

Both Jefferson and Madison went to great lengths to overlook British provocations, especially the impressment of American sailors into the British navy. Both understood, as Washington had also observed in his farewell address, that owing to America’s “detached and distant situation,” “the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance”– so long as the country could steer clear of European broils. They recoiled in horror from the pointless bloodshed of the Napoleonic wars, and worried that the United States would become a Europe of its own, divided into eternally warring states. Both men hoped that diplomacy would make war unnecessary; indeed, the U.S. had cause enough to go to war in 1807, when English depredations against American shipping began in earnest, though it would have been even more woefully unprepared than it proved to be in 1812.

The war itself was basically a draw: American land forces were humiliated in Canada, but sailors like Commodore Perry achieved stunning victories over the greatest navy the world had ever seen. The Treaty of Ghent merely restored the status quo ante. But the war had put a decisive end to the Federalists, who had barely been able to celebrate American victories. Even more important, the world war between France and England had ended with the ruin of the former. England no longer needed to block American shipping or to shanghai U.S. sailors to fill out a wartime navy. For the next century, Europe would basically leave America alone.

A Local Chamber of Commerce Rally

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Long-time Baltimore night-shift worker James Lafond discusses the recent Saint Patrick’s Day mugging:

The criticisms of this crime victim range from: ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time’; ‘deserving the Darwin award for being in that neighborhood’; and for ‘wandering into a black neighborhood’. These statements are not accurate. The attack happened at the Aquarium, the premier tourist attraction in Baltimore’s non-residential Inner Harbor. He was in no one’s neighborhood. So, even for those inclined to believe that any one wandering into a neighborhood inhabited by people of another race deserves to be beaten, robbed and humiliated, this man was not in any such clearly defined and sanctioned predation zone.

Numerous racially motivated pack attacks on white males and females have been perpetrated by black youths at the Inner Harbor and I have documented and even witnessed some of them. These, however, have been covered up by Law Enforcement, as the Mayor’s Office does not want bad publicity about the Inner Harbor keeping tourists away. I have interviewed business owners and crime victims who cannot even convince police officers to fill out reports for black-on-white violence. It is also a hard sell to the State’s Attorney to prosecute a black for a crime against a white in Baltimore. This has to do with the jury selection process.

For this reason I believe the Baltimore City Police Department has intentionally understaffed tourist locations to give the appearance of tranquility. Believe me, someone on the BPD decided not to have a presence at the Aquarium on Saint Patrick’s Day night. So, if you are a young black person and you want to experience the thrill of ganging up on a witless and fairly affluent white person, why would you go to South Baltimore and risk running into some hardcore White Trashian who has fist fights with his three toothless brothers for fun? Or why risk hunting in Canton where you might be stabbed by twenty Mexican construction workers? I would recommend you hunt soft out-of-town white bread while the City Cops enjoy the peep shows at the Big Top three blocks away.


Make no mistake this was not a ‘black thing’. This was a ‘human thing’. The drunken tourist was attacked because he was socially isolated, not because he was white. Now, he was socially isolated because he was white. But this does not reflect hatred. It reflects the risk-limiting decision making of those who preyed upon him. In the video, at least one of the attackers called the white man a ‘n—–’ without a slanderous tone, and no one berated him for being white. They attacked him because they could.

One attacker said, ‘Yo, only in Boldimore yo!’ This reflects a common theme among black thrill attackers and gangsters in Baltimore; pride in the fearful reputation of their hometown. If you are from Baltimore and you venture outside of it via the highways or the internet your claim to fame is that you live where Homicide and The Wire were filmed. In this light the Saint Patrick’s Day Mugging begins looking like a ghetto version of a local Chamber of Commerce rally.

Boom, Headshot!

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Video games make excellent training tools, and a recent study shows that shooting games improve shooting skill:

After completing the surveys, participants were randomly assigned to play either a violent shooting game with realistic humanoid targets (Resident Evil 4), a nonviolent shooting game with bull’s-eye targets (the target practice game in Wii Play), or a nonviolent, nonshooting game (Super Mario Galaxy) for 20 min on a Nintendo Wii attached to a 19-in (48.3-cm) computer monitor. The video games were pretested and selected to be equal in terms of how entertaining and engaging they were but different in terms how violent they were and how much shooting was involved (see Table 1).

For the two shooting video games, participants were also randomly assigned to play with either a standard controller (in which the participant used a joystick to control the aim and pressed buttons to fire) or with a pistol-shaped controller (in which participants pointed at the screen to aim and pulled a trigger to fire). The same controllers were used for both the violent and the nonviolent shooting video games. The gameplay dynamics of the two shooting video games were equivalent: Players aimed at the target onscreen and fired, mimicking aiming and firing in the “real world.”

For both of the shooting video games, sections of the games that featured nonstop shooting gameplay were selected. All participants were monitored to ensure that they did in fact fire continuously during the 20 min of gameplay. Pretesting revealed that approximately 300 shots were fired in 20 min of gameplay in both the violent and the nonviolent games. Therefore, all participants fired approximately 300 shots at either bull’s-eye or humanoid targets during the 20-min video game “training” period.

After playing the video game, all participants fired a total of 16 “bullets” at a 6-ft (1.8-m) tall male-shaped mannequin target covered in hard Velcro that was located at the end of a narrow hall, 20 ft (6.1 m) away. The gun was a black airsoft training pistol that had the same weight, texture, and firing recoil of a real 9-mm semiautomatic pistol. The pistol can fire accurately up to a range of 50 to 70 ft (15.2-21.3 m) and is powered by a 12-g carbon
dioxide cylinder (pressurized air). We chose a 20-ft (6.1-m) firing distance so participants could more accurately hit whatever portion of the mannequin’s body they aimed at. The “bullets” were .43 caliber rubber training rounds covered in soft Velcro. Participants fired all 16 rounds at the mannequin target. Airsoft pistols are typically used for professional firing training (such as with law enforcement and military personnel). Participants were instructed in the use of the pistol and wore safety goggles while shooting. A post-test-only design was employed to eliminate pistol-firing practice effects. A debriefing followed.

As can be seen in Figure 1, participants who played a violent shooting game using a pistol-shaped controller had 99% more headshots than did other participants. Post hoc tests showed that participants who played a violent shooting game using a pistol-shaped controller had the most headshots, whereas participants who played a nonviolent nonshooting game had the fewest headshots. The other participants were between these two extremes and
did not differ from each other. Participants who played a violent shooting game with a pistol controller also had 33% more other shots than did other participants, but they did not differ from participants who played a violent game with a standard controller (see Figure 1). Both groups had more other shots than participants who played a nonviolent shooting game. Participants who played a nonviolent nonshooting game had the fewest other shots.

The researchers clearly aren’t shooters:

An airsoft training pistol was used in this experiment instead of a real firearm. Though the training pistol accurately imitated a 9-mm pistol in many ways, some aspects of firing a real gun–such as the fire and smoke–could not be replicated.

Fire and smoke? Seriously? How about noise and recoil?

Also, they make no mention of the fact that video games don’t ask you to rely on your sights; they place red cross-hairs on the screen. That’s a huge difference — if you’re not point-shooting at close range.

Austerity with Growth

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Europe’s leaders say they want austerity with growth, Nathan Lewis notes:

Governments find that they bounce back and forth between these “austerity” and “stimulus” strategies, discovering that they are both unsuccessful.

What tends to happen is that “stimulus” means more government spending. Soon, people discover that this “stimulus” spending tends to be directed to abject waste and crony capitalists, and the government’s debt burden explodes. Thus, the political system careens back toward “austerity.”

“Austerity” usually means less spending and higher taxes. The higher taxes are implemented, but it is soon discovered that nobody wants to reduce spending, especially when the economy is crumbling due to the higher taxes. What small reductions in spending there are tend to be directed toward genuinely beneficial services, while the waste, graft and crony capitalist payoffs continue unabated. The sagging economy leads to shortfalls in tax revenues, and the deficit may even expand.

The public soon complains that important services are being cut, while the excessive bureaucrat headcount and absurd benefits continue unchanged.  And the crony capitalists – today the banking and defense industries in particular – still receive a river of unearned largesse. Taxes, already too high to begin with, head higher – as if the problem was insufficient taxation! The economy crumbles, and the public begins to complain. The government immediately spins this into a story: “see, we can’t reduce spending one little bit!” And we lunge back into a cycle of “stimulus.”

The end result is: higher spending (from “stimulus”), and higher taxes (from “austerity”). This eventually leads to a moribund economy and sovereign default, as we have seen so clearly.

Lewis recommends lower taxes and less spending:

There’s nothing new about this strategy. It’s the same as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher tried to implement (with varying degrees of success) in the 1980s.

It’s the same strategy the Japanese leaders used soon after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. A tax code containing 1500 taxes was discarded and replaced with a minimalist system that derived almost all revenue from a simple property tax. Most of the remaining revenue was raised by a tax on alcoholic beverages.

The new Japanese leaders then eliminated their unneeded government bureaucrats in one mass purge.

The Japanese leaders also introduced a new, uniform national currency, the yen, which was linked to gold and originally worth the same as the U.S. dollar (1/20.67 of an ounce of gold.)

The result? The first great era of industrial expansion in Japan. Even today, almost 150 years later, Japan remains the only ethnically non-European country to be fully and completely considered a “developed economy.”

Warrior Excellence

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Every ancient Greek boy became involved in combat sports in order to develop and display Warrior Excellence, James LaFond explains:

Whether he was destined to be a potter, citizen soldier, mercenary captain or philosopher, every ancient Greek-speaker aspired to these warrior qualities as a prerequisite for manhood, and citizenship. This mind-set inspired the ruling class and officer corps of the Greco-Roman world from 776 B.C. until 400 A.D.

The naked exercises took place at the "naked-training-center" or gymnasium.

The naked exercises were broken down into two broad categories. The supporting aspect was "contest-preparation" (agonistics) from which the English term agony is derived. The more public aspect was "prize-seeking", the ancient Greek word for which was athletics, and has been retained in modern English to designate any physical contest, from golf to MMA. To be an ancient athlete was to be a "prize-seeker".

All naked exercises were to be conducted naked, in an effort to toughen the young men, and humiliate those with poor physiques into improving their physical conditioning. This was also done to clearly differentiate sporting arts from war arts, which were conducted in clothing and armor.

Required equipment consisted of olive oil to protect the skin and make a wrestler hard to hold onto, a string to tie the foreskin of the penis over the head, and a scrapper to clean off with. The actual sports were limited to track and field events: running, jumping, stone throwing and javelin throwing; and the three combat sports described below.

There were no team sports, and no ball sports. There were recreational games that groups of people played with balls. These were sometimes co-ed affairs, and were never regarded as competitive undertakings. Competition was for the individual. Ball games were used to teach cooperation and for enjoyment, much like modern pool and beach activities. This is a huge factor in understanding the popularity of fighters: there was no equivalent of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, etc. There was also no events equivalent to tennis, golf, extreme sports, soccer, rugby, etc. The only athletes were fighters! Horse and chariot racing was popular. But the contestants were the rich owners sitting on the sideline. The jockey or driver was just a possession like the horse or chariot.

Within, next to, or simply associated with, the gymnasium, was a large square building. This facility, with an open courtyard, surrounded by a covered track, which was in turn surrounded by various club rooms, dressing rooms, supply rooms and training chambers, was named after the goddess of wrestling Palaestra. This was also the shrine to her father Hermes, god of contests, travelers—most athletes were travelers—and escort of souls. This was a combination: martial-arts-school; church; militia training center; men’s club, and boy’s club.

The perimeter rooms included rooms for punching apparatus, and even a place for young men to bring dogs and cats to fight for wagers on leashes. The courtyard itself included a distinctive feature: "the sands" or "raked-earth", were the standup arts were practiced. The facility also had a shallow pit filled with a mixture of mud and oil, in which the most serious MMA fighters would hone their ground-fighting skills.

Competitions were usually held on a raked portion of a race track. This would be similar to fighting at second base on a baseball diamond. Horse manure was raked off along with the sharper stones. The bottom of a fighter’s feet had to be extremely tough to tolerate this. Modern fighters who have experimented with this have sometimes tapped to stone-bruises on their feet. There were three age/weight classes: boy/bantam; youth/ feather; man/light thru super-heavyweight. Large youths and small men were required to fight in the open men’s class. All contests were randomly drawn single-elimination tournaments with byes.

Wrestling was the first art a boy learned, at between 5 and 10 years old, depending on his home town tradition. This was the distinctive ancient form of Greco-Roman wrestling, which was only distantly related to the modern version. Two wrestlers would lock-up in a clinch, and then attempt to score a clean throw on the other. A clean throw was scored when both shoulders hit the ground without either contestant going to a knee, or the thrower losing his footing. Three clean throws would win the bout. One could also win via standing submission. Finger-breaking was allowed, although biting, striking and gouging were not.

The hand-struggle was the foundation art of ancient MMA and also of the heavy infantryman, who fought in closely packed ranks, and for whom falling in battle was sure death. This art was about staying on your feet. Some famous wrestlers and MMA fighters were credited with winning battles just by their presence in the front rank. Imagine facing Brock Lesnar with a 20 pound bronze shield strapped to his arm!

Boxing was the second fighting art a boy learned. This would begin at about 12-years-old. Training consisted mostly of sparring with leather wraps or (after 50 B.C.) gloves. Competition hand gear was either the leather hand-strap or (after 350 B.C.) a complex leather gauntlet. In gladiatorial events (30 B.C. to 250 A.D.), there was some use of more deadly hand-gear, but not at the "sacred contests" sanctioned by the priests of Hermes.

Bouts consisted of a single un-timed round. The bout ended when one fighter retreated out of the un-roped circle, was incapacitated, or when he raised his index finger in submission. There were no ropes to lay on, and no corner to put your man in.

There were four fouls: kicking, clinching (zero tolerance, see officiating below), biting and gouging. A fighter was allowed to stand over his opponent and rain down blows. He was also permitted to spear the eyes with his finger tips and could punch freely to the unprotected groin. It may be that the foreskin string did more than keep sand from entering the urethra. It would encourage the penis to hang down in front of the more sensitive testicles, and also discourage a potentially catastrophic erection.

MMA was for older youths and men. It was called the all-power-thing, and was a pure submission art; which meant it could be won like a sumo match, by forcing a man to step out. Imagine not having a cage or robes to work up against: no army of little Japanese refs to keep you in the ring; nothing but your will to keep you on the raked earth. The body oil would certainly affect the submission game. There were only two fouls: biting and gouging. Of course the Spartans permitted these, but they never fielded a decent team of all-power-fighters.

Human-Powered Helicopter Hovers for Nearly a Minute

Monday, June 25th, 2012

A team from the University of Maryland flew its human-powered helicopter for 50 seconds — almost long enough to win the $250,000 Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition prize:

In order to claim the prize a human powered helicopter must lift off the ground, hover for at least 60 seconds, reach an altitude of 3 meters during the flight and stay within a 10-square-meter area.

The Gamera II hardly resembles its namesake:

Like its fixed wing, human powered cousins, the delicate helicopter is a rather large, yet extremely lightweight aircraft. The entire craft has a width of 105 feet and each of the four rotors has a span of just over 42 feet, 7 inches. But despite the size of the Gamera II, it weighs just 71 pounds. That’s more than 30 pounds lighter than the original Gamera that flew last year, thanks largely to redesigned rotors and an improved truss design.

MMA Gloves and Boxing

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

So, why did old-timey boxers box in that old-timey way? James LaFond explains, while looking at MMA gloves and boxing:

Anyone who has studied film, photos and illustrations of old-time boxers and bare-knuckle boxers realizes that these fighters punched differently than modern boxers. This has been explained as evidence of the evolution of punching mechanics, finally resulting in a more skilled modern boxer. So, when an MMA fighter looks to develop punching skills he looks to the latest in boxing techniques.

The problem with this very reasonable assumption is that it ignores the primary influence upon the evolution of boxing techniques: the development of the boxing glove. The result has been a high frequency of hand injuries (particularly to the unprotected thumb) among MMA fighters. (See Ultimate MMA, September 2010, pages 92, 123).


Before we continue let us establish the terminology.

  1. A fist that lands with the palm and thumb down is pronated.
  2. A fist that lands with the thumb up is vertical.
  3. A fist that lands with the palm and thumb up (like an uppercut) is supinated.

Applications must be worked out with your trainer, and will often feature a trade off. For example, bare-knuckle boxers did not hook or uppercut to the body because of the danger posed to the thumb by the defender’s elbows.

Straight punches to the body tend to leave the puncher open for a counter to the head. This was not a problem in the London Prize Ring, because fighters were more than willing to take a counterpunch to the skull that might break their opponent’s bare hand. However, as an MMA fighter, your opponent may very well punch you in the head with his tapped hands and 4 ounce gloves and not suffer a broken hand.

There are also kicking and grappling concerns to consider, and these are areas I am not qualified to comment on. One note: the first bare-knuckle boxing champion, James Figg, won one of his bouts via a standing arm bar. It has been postulated that this was a counter to one of his opponent’s supinated jabs to the face.

Without a glove, the jab is a totally different punch:

The vertical jab was the overwhelmingly dominant punch for 4,000 years of boxing. It is not as powerful, and does not have quite the reach of the pronated jab. Its advantages are that it gets through the opponents hands more easily, with minimal risk of thumb injury. It was used primarily for striking up the middle to the nose and mouth (Bare-knuckle punches to the mouth that are pronanted or supinated can result in teeth entering the fingers or knuckles.) Modern coaches who teach this punch sometimes call it the sneaky jab.

The supinated jab was used primarily for punching over the guard while stepping to the outside. It offers total protection to the thumb. It was called the “special punch”, a maiming blow intended to strike the eye-ball directly as the two large knuckles slide into the socket from below. With MMA gloves this can be used to crack the orbital bone or cut the eye-lid. Those few modern coaches who teach this punch sometimes call this an up-jab.

Before boxing gloves pronated jabs were used primarily to strike the body, allowing the thumb to hang safely beneath the hand, away from the descending elbow. Other applications included striking the jaw of an opponent with a low guard, or the forehead of a shorter fighter.