America’s Retreat from Victory

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

The official story of what happened at the end of World War II doesn’t make any sense, Foseti notes. According to the official story, the war was fought to defend free peoples from tyranny, but if we’d just left Hitler alone to take over Europe, a lot less of the world would have found itself under tyranny, and a lot fewer people would have died.

This led him to Joseph McCarthy’s “lunatic” explanation, laid out in America’s Retreat from Victory:

Let’s start with US strategy in Asia. According to McCarthy, the overwhelming aim of US military policy in Asia should have been to keep the Soviets out of the actual fighting with Japan. Among other things, McCarthy digs up various intelligence reports (given to Marshall) that stated that if the Soviets joined the war in Asia, “China will certainly lose her independence, to become the Poland of Asia; Korea, the Asiatic Rumania; Manchuria, the Soviet Bulgaria.” He also finds a statement from Admiral Leahy (pre-dating Yalta) noting:

MacArthur and Nimitz were now in agreement that the Philippines should be recovered with ground and air power then available in the western Pacific and that Japan could be forced to accept our terms of surrender by the use of sea and air power without an invasion of the Japanese homeland.

In other words, a non-retarded US strategy would have been to keep the Soviets out of the war with Japan.

The early key to Asia was Manchuria, according to McCarthy. The US officially recognized Manchuria as belonging to the Republic of China. Yet at Yalta, Stalin asked for it and FDR obliged, in exchange for Russia agreeing to enter the war against Japan (which Stalin had already indicated he intended to do, which made sense given Stalin’s position, and which was probably detrimental to US interests anyway). McCarthy notes (apparently without humor) that Roosevelt was simultaneously enabling Soviet expansion while haranguing Churchill for the British empire’s control of India, etc.

Marshall next took interest in the Chinese Civil War between the forces of Chiang and Mao which was going on during China’s war with Japan. The US was allied with China and was arming China in its struggle against the Japanese. Here Marshall insisted that aid would only go to China if it suspended its civil war (Mao was delighted, as I’ve noted elsewhere).

Marshall then insisted that Chiang accept Communists into his government (again delighting Mao). He later vetoed the appointment of General Wedemeyer as ambassador to China because Zhou En-Lai (who was in rebellion against the actual government of China!) objected. Leighton Stuart (Zhou’s former teacher) was later appointed. The tide eventually turned and Mao eventually won. As Wikipedia elegantly puts it: “Marshall seems to have disagreed with strong opinions in The Pentagon and State department that Chiang’s success was vital to American interests.” I guess we might as well give the whole country to the Soviets then. Or, as Marshall put it:

As Chief of Staff I armed 39 [Chinese] anti-Communist divisions, now with a stroke of a pen [preventing the Nationalists from buying ammunition] I disarm them.

McCarthy sums up the results of Marshall’s Asia policy:

Suppose… we had not implored Russia to enter the war in the Far East, had not equipped her army [when the Communists eventually took China, they did so with US equipment via Russia], had not given her the right to take Manchuria — where would the sudden collapse of Japan on the 10th of August, 1945, have found the Russians? … Had we followed the advice of Admiral Leahy, instead of Marshall, the war with Japan would no doubt have come to its abrupt end with the Kremlin dickering with us for a bribe which they obtained with such miraculous ease at Yalta. The situation in the Far East — then and today — would have in that case looked something like this:

The surrender of the Japanese Kwantung army in Manchuria would have been made to the Americans and Chinese. The Americans would have held Manchuria — and all Korea for the Koreans . . . “

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that MacArthur almost screwed up the Soviet plans in Asia. Coincidentally, he was fired by Marshall and Truman.

Finally, it’s not like the correct policy in Asia was hard to discern. Wedemeyer had already spelled it out:

The result was the Wedemeyer Report, in which Wedemeyer stressed the need for intensive U.S. training of and assistance to the Nationalist armies.

Fearful the Nationalists may rise to challenge US hegemony in the Far East [but not fearful the Soviets would do so?], President Truman not only rejected the recommendations in the report, but imposed an arms embargo against the Nationalist government, thereby intensifying the bitter political debate over the role of the United States in the Chinese civil war. While Secretary of State George C. Marshall had hoped that Wedemeyer could convince Chiang Kai-shek to institute those military, economic, and political reforms necessary to defeat the Communists, he accepted Truman’s views, and suppressed publication of Wedemeyer’s report, further provoking resentment by pro-Nationalist and/or anti-communist advocates both inside and outside the U.S. government and the armed forces.

After the fall of China to Communist forces, General Wedemeyer would testify before Congress that while the loss of morale was indeed a cause of the defeat of the Nationalist Chinese forces, the Truman administration’s 1947 decision to discontinue further training and modernizing of Nationalist forces, the U.S.-imposed arms embargo [i.e. Marshall's policies], and constant anti-Nationalist sentiment expressed by Western journalists and policymakers were primary causes of that loss of morale. In particular, Wedemeyer stressed that if the U.S. had insisted on experienced American military advisers attached at the lower battalion and regimental levels of Nationalist armies [rejected by Marshall] (as it had done with Greek army forces during the Greek Civil War), that aid could have more efficiently been utilized, and that the immediate tactical assistance would have resulted in Nationalist armies performing far better in combat against the Communist Chinese. Vice-Admiral Oscar C. Badger, General Claire Chennault, and Brigadier General Francis Brink also testified that the arms embargo was a significant factor in the loss of China.

I recently read Barbara Tuchman’s Stilwell and the American Experience in Chinea, 1911-45, which adds to the picture.

“Vinegar Joe” Stilwell earned his nickname by dishing out caustic criticism to soldiers who didn’t live up to his high standards. Because of his reputation as a brilliant tactician, he was initially selected to plan and command the Allied invasion of North Africa — but, because he spoke fluent Chinese, he was sent instead to China, to serve as a liaison to Chiang Kai-Shek.

The Americans wanted to keep China in the war in order to tie up Japanese troops — and seemed perplexed that Chiang Kai-Shek didn’t get around to sending his troops into combat against the Japanese, despite all the aid they were giving him.

Chiang Kai-Shek, of course, had other priorities. He was saving up his forces for the coming civil war against Mao and the Communists — whom FDR and others tended to call “so-called” Communists. Even Stilwell, a Republican anti-Communist, respected the Reds, because they actually fought the Japanese on occasion, and because they treated the common people decently, unlike Chiang’s utterly corrupt government.

In trying to reform the Chinese Army, Stilwell seemed oblivious to the political implications of removing officers who were vital to keeping Chiang Kai-Shek in power. He also seemed surprised that the Chinese generals took orders from Chiang, even when he was put nominally in command.

What Chiang wanted far more than American ground troops and advisers was American air power. He vastly preferred General Claire Lee Chennault and his “Flying Tigers” — who promised to more or less fight the war for him, without risking any of Chiang’s hoarded materiel.

In 1944, with China’s position crumbling, Stilwell convinced Marshall to have Roosevelt send Chiang an ultimatum threatening to end all aid unless Stilwell was placed in charge of all Chinese forces. That didn’t go over well. Stilwell was recalled and replaced by General Albert C. Wedemeyer.

To the American people, who had been fed constant propaganda about how Stilwell had been leading the brave Chinese soldiers in their fight against the Japanese, none of this made much sense, and Chiang found his regime painted in an unfavorable light compared to the brave Communists:

Right before Stilwell’s departure, New York Times drama critic-turned-war correspondent Brooks Atkinson interviewed him in Chungking and wrote, “The decision to relieve General Stilwell represents the political triumph of a moribund, anti-democratic regime that is more concerned with maintaining its political supremacy than in driving the Japanese out of China. The Chinese Communists… have good armies that they are claiming to be fighting guerrilla warfare against the Japanese in North China — actually they are covertly or even overtly building themselves up to fight Generalissimo’s government forces… The Generalissimo naturally regards these armies as the chief threat to the country and his supremacy… has seen no need to make sincere attempt to arrange at least a truce with them for the duration of the war… No diplomatic genius could have overcome the Generalissimo’s basic unwillingness to risk his armies in battle with the Japanese.”

Atkinson, who had visited Mao in Yenan, saw the Communist Chinese forces as a democratic movement (after Atkinson visited Mao, his article on his visit was titled Yenan: A Chinese Wonderland City), and the Nationalists in turn as hopelessly reactionary and corrupt; this view was shared by many of the U.S. press corps in China at the time.

The negative image of the Kuomintang in America played a significant factor in Harry Truman’s decision to end all U.S. aid to Chiang at the height of the Chinese civil war, a war that resulted in the communist revolution in China and Chiang’s retreat to Taiwan.

New Wave of Deft Robots Is Changing Global Industry

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

new wave of deft robots is changing global industry:

Inside a spartan garage in an industrial neighborhood in Palo Alto, Calif., a robot armed with electronic “eyes” and a small scoop and suction cups repeatedly picks up boxes and drops them onto a conveyor belt.

It is doing what low-wage workers do every day around the world.

Older robots cannot do such work because computer vision systems were costly and limited to carefully controlled environments where the lighting was just right. But thanks to an inexpensive stereo camera and software that lets the system see shapes with the same ease as humans, this robot can quickly discern the irregular dimensions of randomly placed objects.

The robot uses a technology pioneered in Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensing system for its Xbox video game system.

Such robots will put automation within range of companies like Federal Express and United Parcel Service that now employ tens of thousands of workers doing such tasks.

The start-up behind the robot, Industrial Perception Inc., is the first spinoff of Willow Garage, an ambitious robotics research firm based in Menlo Park, Calif. The first customer is likely to be a company that now employs thousands of workers to load and unload its trucks. The workers can move one box every six seconds on average. But each box can weigh more than 130 pounds, so the workers tire easily and sometimes hurt their backs.

Industrial Perception will win its contract if its machine can reliably move one box every four seconds. The engineers are confident that the robot will soon do much better than that, picking up and setting down one box per second.

“We’re on the cusp of completely changing manufacturing and distribution,” said Gary Bradski, a machine-vision scientist who is a founder of Industrial Perception. “I think it’s not as singular an event, but it will ultimately have as big an impact as the Internet.”

Deliberate practice is necessary, but not sufficient

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Deliberate practice is necessary, but not sufficient — at least for chess expertise:

First, not only were there several non-masters who dedicated more than 20,000 hours to chess, but there was also huge variability in the total number of hours of practice to achieve master level (Gobet & Campitelli, 2007): individual practice (min = 730 hr; max = 16,000 hr), group practice (min = 1,600 hr; max = 14,200 hr), and total practice (min = 3,000 hr; max = 23,600 hr). Second, we (Campitelli & Gobet, 2008) showed that, although titled masters and untitled international players (players with international rating but without title) did not differ in the amount of hours of practice in the first 3 years of serious dedication to chess, differences in their ratings were already apparent. This result suggests that the former benefited more from the same amount of practice than the latter.

Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren

Monday, August 20th, 2012

We are suffering just now from a bad attack of economic pessimism, John Meynard Keynes said in 1930, but he foresaw amazing economic possibilities for that generation’s grandchildren, based on the past couple hundred years’ growth:

In spite of an enormous growth in the population of the world, which it has been necessary to equip with houses and machines, the average standard of life in Europe and the United States has been raised, I
think, about fourfold. The growth of capital has been on a scale which is far beyond a hundredfold of what any previous age had known. And from now on we need not expect so great an increase of population.

If capital increases, say, 2 per cent per annum, the capital equipment of the world will have increased by a half in twenty years, and seven and a half times in a hundred years. Think of this in terms of material things — houses, transport, and the like.

At the same time technical improvements in manufacture and transport have been proceeding at a greater rate in the last ten years than ever before in history. In the United States factory output per head was 40 per cent greater in 1925 than in 1919. In Europe we are held back by temporary obstacles, but even so it is safe to say that technical efficiency is increasing by more than 1 per cent per annum compound.

There is evidence that the revolutionary technical changes, which have so far chiefly affected industry, may soon be attacking agriculture. We may be on the eve of improvements in the efficiency of food production as great as those which have already taken place in mining, manufacture, and transport. In quite a few years — in our own lifetimes I mean — we may be able to perform all the operations of agriculture, mining, and manufacture with a quarter of the human effort to which we have been accustomed.

For the moment the very rapidity of these changes is hurting us and bringing difficult problems to solve. Those countries are suffering relatively which are not in the vanguard of progress. We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come–namely, technological unemployment.

This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.

But this is only a temporary phase of maladjustment. All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem. I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day. There would be nothing surprising in this even in the light of our present knowledge. It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of afar greater progress still.

Let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that a hundred years hence we are all of us, on the average, eight times better off in the economic sense than we are to-day. Assuredly there need be nothing here to surprise us.

Now it is true that the needs of human beings may seem to be insatiable. But they fall into two classes — those needs which are absolute in the sense that we feel them whatever the situation of our fellow human beings may be, and those which are relative in the sense that we feel them only if their satisfaction lifts us above, makes us feel superior to, our fellows. Needs of the second class,
those which satisfy the desire for superiority, may indeed be insatiable; for the higher the general level, the higher still are they. But this is not so true of the absolute needs — a point may soon be reached, much sooner perhaps than we are all of us aware of, when these needs are satisfied in the sense that we prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes.

Perhaps Gene Roddenberry was inspired by Keynes?

In How Much Is Enough?, Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky revisit the idea of using increased productivity to increase leisure, but Richard Posner notes how much more consumption ordinary people crave:

In recent years, England has become much more like the United States, but I well remember as recently as the 1980s how shabby England was, how terrible the plumbing, how shoddy the housing materials, how treacherously uneven the floors and sidewalks, how inadequate the heating and poor the food — and how tolerant the English were of discomfort. I recall breakfast at Hertford College, Oxford, in an imposing hall with a large broken window — apparently broken for some time — and the dons huddled sheeplike in overcoats; and in a freezing, squalid bar in the basement of the college a don in an overcoat expressing relief at being home after a year teaching in Virginia, which he had found terrifying because of America’s high crime rate, though he had not been touched by it. I remember being a guest of Brasenose College — Oxford’s wealthiest — and being envied because I had been invited to stay in the master’s guest quarters, only to find that stepping into the guest quarters was like stepping into a Surrealist painting, because the floor sloped in one direction and the two narrow beds in two other directions. I recall the English (now American) economist Ronald Coase telling me that until he visited the United States he did not know it was possible to be warm.

The Skidelskys are correct that because goods and services can be produced with much less labor than in 1930, we could live now as we did then while working many fewer hours. We want to live better than that.

Posner also notes how unenlightened ordinary people’s leisure tastes can be:

The Skidelskys have an exalted conception of leisure. They say that the true sense of the word is “activity without extrinsic end”: “The sculptor engrossed in cutting marble, the teacher intent on imparting a difficult idea, the musician struggling with a score, a scientist exploring the mysteries of space and time — such people have no other aim than to do what they are doing well.” That isn’t true. Most of these people are ambitious achievers who seek recognition. And it is ridiculous to think that if people worked just 15 or 20 hours a week, they would use their leisure to cut marble or struggle with a musical score. If they lacked consumer products and services to fill up their time they would brawl, steal, overeat, drink and sleep late. English aristocrats in their heyday didn’t work, but neither did they cut marble or explore the mysteries of space and time. Hunting, gambling and seduction were their preferred leisure activities.

Americans value leisure, but it is expensive leisure, and so they have to work hard in order to pay for it. As a result they have less leisure time than if their preferred form of leisure were lying in a hammock, but on balance they obtain more pleasure.

Keynes saw two classes of human needs — and likely underestimated the importance of the second:

Now it is true that the needs of human beings may seem to be insatiable. But they fall into two classes — those needs which are absolute in the sense that we feel them whatever the situation of our fellow human beings may be, and those which are relative in the sense that we feel them only if their satisfaction lifts us above, makes us feel superior to, our fellows. Needs of the second class, those which satisfy the desire for superiority, may indeed be insatiable; for the higher the general level, the higher still are they. But this is not so true of the absolute needs — a point may soon be reached, much sooner perhaps than we are all of us aware of, when these needs are satisfied in the sense that we prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes.

Too cool for school?

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Too cool for school? explains signalling and countersignalling:

Contrary to this standard implication, high types sometimes avoid the signals that should separate them from lower types, while intermediate types often appear the most anxious to send the “right” signals. The nouveau riche flaunt their wealth, but the old rich scorn such gauche displays. Minor officials prove their status with petty displays of authority, while the truly powerful show their strength through gestures of magnanimity. People of average education show off the studied regularity of their script, but the well educated often scribble illegibly. Mediocre students answer a teacher’s easy questions, but the best students are embarrassed to prove their knowledge of trivial points. Acquaintances show their good intentions by politely ignoring one’s flaws, while close friends show intimacy by teasingly highlighting them. People of moderate ability seek formal credentials to impress employers and society, but the talented often downplay their credentials even if they have bothered to obtain them. A person of average reputation defensively refutes accusations against his character, while a highly respected person finds it demeaning to dignify accusations with a response.

How can high types be so understated in their signals without diminishing their perceived quality? Most signalling models assume that the only information available on types is the signal, implying that high types will be confused with lower types if they do not signal. But in many cases other information is also available. For instance, wealth is inferred not just from conspicuous consumption, but also from information about occupation and family background. This extra information is likely to be noisy in that the sender cannot be sure what the receiver has learned, implying that medium-quality types may still feel compelled to signal to separate themselves from low types. But even noisy information will often be sufficient to adequately separate high types from low types, leaving high types more concerned with separating themselves from medium types. Since medium types are signalling to differentiate themselves from low types, high types may choose to not signal, or “countersignal,” to differentiate themselves from medium types.

(Hat tip to Pax Dickinson.)

Does Religion Really Poison Everything?

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Does religion really poison everything, as Christopher Hitchens suggested?

When a moth flies at night, it uses the moon and the stars to steer a straight path. Those light sources are fixed and distant, so the rays always strike the moth’s multilensed eyes at the same angle, making them reliable for nocturnal navigation. But introduce something else bright — a candle, say, or a campfire — and there will be trouble. The light radiates outward, confusing the moth and causing it to spiral ever closer to the blaze until the insect meets a fiery end.

For years Richard Dawkins has used the self-immolation of moths to explain religion. The example can be found in his 2006 best seller, The God Delusion, and it’s been repeated in speeches and debates, interviews and blog posts. Moths didn’t evolve to commit suicide; that’s an unfortunate byproduct of other adaptations. In much the same way, the thinking goes, human beings embrace religion for unrelated cognitive reasons. We evolved to search for patterns in nature, so perhaps that’s why we imagine patterns in religious texts. Instead of being guided by the light, we fly into the flames.

The implication — that religion is basically malevolent, that it “poisons everything,” in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens — is a standard assertion of the New Atheists. Their argument isn’t just that there probably is no God, or that intelligent design is laughable bunk, or that the Bible is far from inerrant. It’s that religion is obviously bad for human beings, condemning them to ignorance, subservience, and endless conflict, and we would be better off without it.


Maybe we should stop asking whether God exists and start asking whether it’s useful to believe that he does.

Let’s say someone gives you $10. Not a king’s ransom, but enough for lunch. You’re then told that you can share your modest wealth with a stranger, if you like, or keep it. You’re assured that your identity will be protected, so there’s no need to worry about being thought miserly. How much would you give?

If you’re like most people who play the so-called dictator game, which has been used in numerous experiments, you will keep most of the money. In a recent study from a paper with the ominous title “God Is Watching You,” the average subject gave $1.84. Meanwhile, another group of subjects was presented with the same choice but was first asked to unscramble a sentence that contained words like “divine,” “spirit,” and “sacred.”

The second group of subjects gave an average of $4.22, with a solid majority (64 percent) giving more than five bucks. A heavenly reminder seemed to make subjects significantly more magnanimous. In another study, researchers found that prompting subjects with the same vocabulary made some more likely to volunteer for community projects. Intriguingly, not all of them: Only those who had a specific dopamine receptor variant volunteered more, raising the possibility that religion doesn’t work for everybody.

A similar experiment was conducted on two Israeli kibbutzes. The scenario was more complicated: Subjects were shown an envelope containing 100 shekels (currently about $25). They were told that they could choose to keep as much of the money as they wished, but that another member of the kibbutz was being given the identical option. If the total requested by the participants (who were kept separated) exceeded 100 shekels, they walked away with nothing. If the total was less than or equal to 100, they were given the money plus a bonus based on what was left over.

The kicker is that one of the kibbutzes was secular and one was religious. Turns out, the more-devout members of the religious kibbutz, as measured by synagogue attendance, requested significantly fewer shekels and expected others to do the same. The researchers, Richard Sosis and Bradley Ruffle, ventured that “collective ritual has a significant impact on cooperative decisions.”

See also a study that found that religious people were, in some instances, more likely to treat strangers fairly. Or the multiple studies suggesting that people who were prompted to think about an all-seeing supernatural agent were less likely to cheat. Or the study of 300 young adults in Belgium that found that those who were religious were considered more empathetic by their friends.

The results of other studies are less straightforward. A Harvard Business School researcher discovered that religious people were more likely to give to charity, but only on the days they worshiped, a phenomenon he dubbed the “Sunday Effect.” Then there’s the survey of how belief in the afterlife affected crime rates in 67 countries. Researchers determined that countries with high rates of belief in hell had less crime, while in those where the belief in hell was low and the belief in heaven high, there was more crime. A vengeful deity is better for public safety than a merciful one.

None of that research settles the value of belief, and much of it is based on assuming that certain correlations are meaningful or that particular techniques (like the one used in the dictator-game study) actually prime what researchers think they prime. And questions remain: How effective is religious belief, really, if it needs to be prompted with certain words? And is the only thing stopping you from robbing a liquor store really the prospect of eternal hellfire?

Still, a growing body of research suggests that religion or religious ideas, in certain circumstances, in some people, can elicit the kind of behavior that is generally good for society: fairness, generosity, honesty. At the very least, when you read the literature, it becomes difficult to confidently assert that religion, despite the undeniable evil it has sometimes inspired, is entirely toxic.

The First Action

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Howard Kippenberger describes his Kiwi troops’ first action, in Greece, when the Germans finally attacked:

Next day, 11 April, the war at last reached us and we had our first casualties. Through the Castle gap we saw German planes bombing and machine-gunning transport in Kozani, some miles to the north. Then the stream of refugees thickened and began to include Greek and Yugoslav soldiers, including a dignified General and a beautifully equipped Yugoslav heavy anti-aircraft battery, which settled in unpleasantly close to my headquarters.

German planes came over us, bombed Servia, and some tackled Upham’s platoon and wounded two men. A nice little red-headed boy named Kelly was killed by a bomb — our first killed in action.

A New Zealand machine-gunner arrived at Upham’s platoon. He said he was the sole survivor of the Machine-gun Company which we had forward with the British light armour. I assured Upham that he was a runaway, and sure enough the machine-gunners came back later, in good order and with some astonishing stories of the Adolf Hitler storm-troops that they had slain. At that time it was not always realized that troops who disappear when fired at have not necessarily been hit.

In the late afternoon we could see, also through the gap, German transport in the far distance and a burning village.

LSD-Enhanced Creativity

Friday, August 17th, 2012

In the summer of 1966, the FDA ordered all research into the effects of LSD stopped:

Over the course of the preceding year, IFAS researchers had dosed a total of 22 other men for the creativity study, including a theoretical mathematician, an electronics engineer, a furniture designer, and a commercial artist. By including only those whose jobs involved the hard sciences (the lack of a single female participant says much about mid-century career options for women), they sought to examine the effects of LSD on both visionary and analytical thinking. Such a group offered an additional bonus: Anything they produced during the study would be subsequently scrutinized by departmental chairs, zoning boards, review panels, corporate clients, and the like, thus providing a real-world, unbiased yardstick for their results.

In surveys administered shortly after their LSD-enhanced creativity sessions, the study volunteers, some of the best and brightest in their fields, sounded like tripped-out neopagans at a backwoods gathering. Their minds, they said, had blossomed and contracted with the universe. They’d beheld irregular but clean geometrical patterns glistening into infinity, felt a rightness before solutions manifested, and even shapeshifted into relevant formulas, concepts, and raw materials.

But here’s the clincher. After their 5HT2A neural receptors simmered down, they remained firm: LSD absolutely had helped them solve their complex, seemingly intractable problems. And the establishment agreed. The 26 men unleashed a slew of widely embraced innovations shortly after their LSD experiences, including a mathematical theorem for NOR gate circuits, a conceptual model of a photon, a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device, a new design for the vibratory microtome, a technical improvement of the magnetic tape recorder, blueprints for a private residency and an arts-and-crafts shopping plaza, and a space probe experiment designed to measure solar properties. Fadiman and his colleagues published these jaw-dropping results and closed shop.


Thursday, August 16th, 2012

In 1859, a sickly Easterner went out West and created an icon:

On a hunting expedition in Colorado in the 1860s, Stetson decided his small-brimmed city hat provided paltry protection against the harsh winds and oppressive sun. So he took a hatchet and pocketknife, made a felt out of some beaver and rabbit fur, and fashioned it into a high-crowned, wide-brimmed chapeau. Not only did it protect Stetson from the elements — it was also pretty darn stylish.

The hat, eventually dubbed “The Boss of the Plains,” would make Stetson a multimillionaire and become an American icon. [...] Stetson’s original Boss of the Plains bears little resemblance to the hat worn by Gary Cooper in “High Noon” — or by Matthew McConaughey in “Magic Mike,” for that matter.

Human beings have worn hats since antiquity, both for protection and for decoration. The ancient Greeks even created the first brimmed hat, called the petasos, but it wasn’t until the 1200s that a broad-brimmed, high-crowned hat would show up in Europe, courtesy of the Mongols. Indeed, the Spaniards were so taken with the invading Mongolians’ headgear that they adopted it. They then, in turn, brought their flat-crowned, flat-brimmed toppers to the American territories — most notably Mexico — where the hats morphed into the exaggerated sombrero. The sombrero protected outdoorsmen from the sun and rain, and proved popular among the vaqueros who worked for the region’s booming cattle industry. The cowboy hat, thus, came to the present-day U.S. through California, where it grew immense (to go with the locals’ flashy silver-buckled belts and tight trousers), and Texas, where — believe it or not — it was more subdued.

By the time Stetson set foot in the West, cowboys were already wearing something that resembled the modern-day cowboy hat. And while the weather certainly nudged Stetson to chuck his ineffectual, urbane bowler, no doubt the cool swagger of his fellow cowboys in their sombreros also had something to do with it.

But Stetson’s creation improved upon its predecessors. Its brim shielded its wearer from the sun and wind without collecting excess rainwater. A cowboy could use his Boss of the Plains to fan a fire, hide his money (in the sweatband) and sleep on (it proved a fairly comfortable pillow). According to lore, Stetson’s hat proved such a smash that he began making them ad hoc on the trail to sell to admiring cowboys for $5 each (about $100 in today’s money). When he finally returned to Philadelphia, in 1865, Stetson began manufacturing the Boss of the Plains on a large scale. The mass-produced hats sold for between $10 and $30 a pop. Despite this exorbitant price, Stetson’s factory was producing more than 4 million cowboy hats a year by the time of his death in 1906.

The cowboy hat had already, however, undergone another transformation: It got character. Sure, the earliest Boss of the Plains design was functional and attractive, but it was, like Stetson himself, rather refined. Its crown was smooth and lacked any dents, and its brim was flat instead of bent upward. Because the hats were so expensive, cowboys would buy one and wear it for decades, so that it came to bear the authenticating marks of wind, weather and hard use. When Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley performed in their Wild West shows, their fans didn’t want the pristine chapeaus sold by Stetson and other manufacturers — they wanted hats like the ones their heroes wore. Stetson responded by selling pre-creased cowboy hats. Their popularity soared.

The Last Hurdle in Sports

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The Olympics have always had problems figuring out who should be eligible for women’s events, Steve Sailer says, because men invented most sports as tests of manliness:

The basis of women’s sports is segregation by sex, a Plessy v. Ferguson-style separate-but-equal system. Therefore, women 800-meter runners argue that Semenya cheats them out of their rightful rewards. For example, Semenya’s participation in the Olympics cost third-place finisher Ekaterina Poistogova of Russia a silver medal and denied fourth-place finisher Pamela Jelimo of Kenya any medal.

But who cares about majority rights? Even women’s rights are a fairly old-shoe cause compared to the ascendant LGBTQIA crusade. Elite global opinion has thus rallied to Semenya’s right to the privileges of womanhood on the newfound principle that the world must accept the claim of anybody to be any sex.

What if the heavyweight boxing champion Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, tire of fighting men and decide to enter women’s boxing in the 2016 Olympics? Should they be allowed to pummel women merely by declaring themselves the Klitschko sisters?

The Klitschko brothers would no doubt consider that unmanly and dishonorable. If you suggested it to them, they might hit you, and that could hurt.

Progressive moral preening is made plausible only by the survival of the majority’s old-fashioned morals.

Indeed, the Semenya cause is hardly about establishing principles. Instead, it’s the latest way to assert one’s sophistication over the unenlightened. It’s all part of the war on homophobia… or stereotypes… or maybe apartheid.

The elite rationalizations aren’t logical, but the mood music is irresistible: Minoritarianism has been a winning hand for so long that everybody knows you won’t get in trouble pushing even this reductio ad absurdum.

In this century, who has ever gotten ahead by demanding fair play for the majority?

Fooled by Inferior Technology

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Weapons developers keep forgetting that you have to develop weapons for use against a foreign enemy, not other Americans:

For example, during the 1980s, the CIA got a largely intact Russian anti-missile flare system from a Russian warplane that had crashed in Afghanistan. This was given to American aircraft technology experts for examination. The flare system was actually put back into service and tested. Then it was discovered that the Russian flares were of uneven quality and this turned out to be a big deal. When tested against the latest American heat seeking air-to-air missile, which was designed to avoid these flares and go for the aircraft, the Russian flares fooled the American “flare detector”. That was because the “flare detector” had been tested using American flares which were manufactured to more uniform standards than their Russian counterparts. If a flare did not match what the flare detector had been programmed to recognize as a flare, the missile went for the Russian flare, thinking it was an aircraft.

Poor manufacturing standards by the enemy again embarrassed the Americans during the 1991 Gulf War. The U.S. Army sent Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems that had been modified to knock down Russian designed SCUD ballistic missiles, to defend Saudi Arabia. Iraq had hundreds of SCUDS and fired some of them into Saudi Arabia. The Patriot anti-missile capability worked, sort of. The Patriot was designed to detect and destroy an incoming SCUD. But the Iraqis had modified their SCUDs (by lengthening the missile to carry more fuel and have a longer range). This was done in a crude fashion, and when the SCUD came down it often came apart so that the intact warhead was often accompanied by other parts of the missile (the engine and lengthened fuel tanks). This, in effect, provided decoys as the Patriot radar could not tell the difference between the SCUD warhead and other missile parts. Sometimes the Patriot missile shot down an empty fuel tank instead of the warhead. The Patriot anti-missile system developers had not paid attention to this problem and lives were lost as a result.

Address on Colonization

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

On August 14, 1862, President Lincoln met with a group of recently freed “colored” men and presented this Address on Colonization:

You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated. You here are freemen I suppose.

A Voice: Yes, sir.

The President – Perhaps you have long been free, or all your lives. Your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. You are cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoy. The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours. Go where you are treated the best, and the ban is still upon you.

I do not propose to discuss this, but to present it as a fact with which we have to deal. I cannot alter it if I would. It is a fact, about which we all think and feel alike, I and you. We look to our condition, owing to the existence of the two races on this continent. I need not recount to you the effects upon white men, growing out of the institution of Slavery. I believe in its general evil effects on the white race. See our present condition — the country engaged in war! — our white men cutting one another’s throats, none knowing how far it will extend; and then consider what we know to be the truth. But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of Slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence.

It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated. I know that there are free men among you, who even if they could better their condition are not as much inclined to go out of the country as those, who being slaves could obtain their freedom on this condition. I suppose one of the principal difficulties in the way of colonization is that the free colored man cannot see that his comfort would be advanced by it. You may believe you can live in Washington or elsewhere in the United States the remainder of your life, perhaps more so than you can in any foreign country, and hence you may come to the conclusion that you have nothing to do with the idea of going to a foreign country. This is (I speak in no unkind sense) an extremely selfish view of the case.

But you ought to do something to help those who are not so fortunate as yourselves. There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain with us. Now, if you could give a start to white people, you would open a wide door for many to be made free. If we deal with those who are not free at the beginning, and whose intellects are clouded by Slavery, we have very poor materials to start with. If intelligent colored men, such as are before me, would move in this matter, much might be accomplished. It is exceedingly important that we have men at the beginning capable of thinking as white men, and not those who have been systematically oppressed.

There is much to encourage you. For the sake of your race you should sacrifice something of your present comfort for the purpose of being as grand in that respect as the white people. It is a cheering thought throughout life that something can be done to ameliorate the condition of those who have been subject to the hard usage of the world. It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels he is worthy of himself, and claims kindred to the great God who made him. In the American Revolutionary war sacrifices were made by men engaged in it; but they were cheered by the future. Gen. Washington himself endured greater physical hardships than if he had remained a British subject. Yet he was a happy man, because he was engaged in benefiting his race — something for the children of his neighbors, having none of his own.

The colony of Liberia has been in existence a long time. In a certain sense it is a success. The old President of Liberia, Roberts, has just been with me — the first time I ever saw him. He says they have within the bounds of that colony between 300,000 and 400,000 people, or more than in some of our old States, such as Rhode Island or Delaware, or in some of our newer States, and less than in some of our larger ones. They are not all American colonists, or their descendants. Something less than 12,000 have been sent thither from this country. Many of the original settlers have died, yet, like people elsewhere, their offspring outnumber those deceased.

It continues.

Deadly Shrapnel

Monday, August 13th, 2012

World War I armies couldn’t afford to arm all their artillery shells with deadly shrapnel:

Later came a startling revelation. In the 1930s a group of American technicians were setting up some shrapnel shells for a test and one shell exploded prematurely, peppering some of the people with the “lethal” metal balls. They all survived. Further investigation revealed that human skin, muscle and bone were far more resistant to the metal balls than wood boards. World War I combat surgeons, when questioned, remembered that they had never seen a penetration wound caused by shrapnel balls. There has never been much official note made of this very humane weapon during, or after war.

No Exit

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Huis clos is the French equivalent of the legal term in camera and the name of the Jean Paul Sartre play that brought us the line, l’enfer, c’est les autreshell is the others, or hell is other people.

What’s sounds like a straightforward declaration of misanthropy is, in the context of the play, something else entirely, for the premise of the play is that damned souls find themselves locked in a room together — with no devils to torture them, because they’ll do that job themselves.

This is what I thought of as I read Christopher Glazek’s truly bizarre piece, Raise the Crime Rate:

Crime has not fallen in the United States — it’s been shifted. Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells. The statistics touting the country’s crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie — but as the single most shameful lie in American life.

From 1980 to 2007, the number of prisoners held in the United States quadrupled to 2.3 million, with an additional 5 million on probation or parole. What Ayn Rand once called the “freest, noblest country in the history of the world” is now the most incarcerated, and the second-most incarcerated country in history, just barely edged out by Stalin’s Soviet Union. We’re used to hearing about the widening chasm between the haves and have-nots; we’re less accustomed to contemplating a more fundamental gap: the abyss that separates the fortunate majority, who control their own bodies, from the luckless minority, whose bodies are controlled, and defiled, by the state.

Glazek argues that it’s unjust for us to subject criminals to the predations of other criminals, because we should accept our fair share of the risk.

What was that about the high-IQ lacking common sense?

AnomalyUK cites another puzzling passage:

Certain breeds of urban dwellers benefit, too. In gentrifying sections of Brooklyn, for example, steep drops in crime, combined with the virtual depopulation of entire city blocks, has underwritten a real estate boom. In neighborhoods like Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, wealthy people with children have reaped the benefits of climbing land values from apartments they never would have bought had it not been for the removal of tens of thousands of locals from adjacent areas.

Yes, reducing crime does benefit the law-abiding citizens of a city. This is morally suspect?

Foreign Language Requirements Are a Waste of Time and Money

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Foreign language requirements are a waste of time and money, Bryan Caplan notes:

In 2000 and 2006, the GSS asked over 4000 respondents the following three questions*:

  1. Can you speak a language other than English?  [Responses: Yes/No]  (OTHLANG)
  2. How well do you speak that language?  [Responses: Very well/well/Not well/Poorly or Hardly at All]  (SPKLANG)
  3. Is that a language you first learned as a child at home, in school, or is it one that you learned elsewhere?  [Responses: Childhood home/School/Elsewhere] (GETLANG)

The results showed an even smaller effect of foreign language instruction on foreign language fluency than I expected.

25.7% of respondents speak a language other than English.  Within this sample, 41.5% claim to speak the other language “very well.”  Within this sub-sub-sample, just 7.0% say they learned to speak this foreign language in school.  If you multiple out these three percentages, you get 0.7%.  The marginal product of two years of pain and suffering per high school graduate: less than one student in a hundred acquires fluency.  (And that’s self-assessed fluency, which people almost surely exaggerate).

If you lower the bar from “very well” to “well” the picture remains grim: merely 2.5% of GSS respondents claimed to reach this level of foreign language competence in school.

My first thought:

Perhaps we should perform a similar analysis for all the other requirements. How well do most Americans comprehend literature, perform algebra and geometry, remember history, etc.?

Steve Sailer found some numbers suggesting that our schools are much better at teaching advanced math than foreign languages:

For more data on subject, you can look at the College Board’s website on Advanced Placement test scores. For example, last year only 1,075 students (out of a cohort of about 4 million) scored a 5 on the AP French test (excluding students who learned French in French-speaking countries or homes).

In contrast, 40,500 students earned a 5 on the tough Calculus BC Advanced Placement exam.

Looking at the AP scores for Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese, it appears that about 8,000 students annually learn to speak a foreign language in high school (as opposed to in a foreign country) well enough to get an A on college level course. In contrast, five times as many students reach that level on the tougher of the two Calculus APs.