Sleep-Away Camp for Postmodern Cowboys

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Katsotc Warrior Competition ChineseThe New York Times describes the fifth-annual Warrior Competition at Katsotc — which rhymes with “aquatic” and stands for the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center — as sleep-away camp for postmodern cowboys — which sounds simultaneously insulting and inviting:

Organizers have referred to it as “the Olympics of counterterrorism”: over the next four days, the teams would raid buildings, storm hijacked jets, rescue hostages and shoot targets with live ammunition, all while being scored for speed and accuracy. It was a stage-managed showcase for the 21st-century soldier — not the humble G.I., but the post-9/11 warrior, the superman in the shadows, keeping the world safe from murky threats.

The descriptions of the teams are full of colorful stereotypes:

The Swiss team, the Skorpions of the Zürich Stadtpolizei, looked like off-duty ski instructors in their matching black jackets and mirrored sunglasses. The Lebanese Black Panthers, the SWAT team for Lebanon’s Internal Security Force, strutted in black hoodies and combat boots. The Jordanian special ops team stood straight-backed in their red berets, quietly confident in their home-field advantage. And the Russians, a bunch of ex-Spetsnaz and K.G.B. members who now worked for a private bodyguard service based in London and owned by an Iranian, showed off Chechen bullet wounds and waved the flag of the Russian Airborne. Its motto: “Nobody but Us.”

Everyone agreed that the Canadians would be tough. They were from Canada’s Special Operations Regiment. Recently back from a tour in Afghanistan, they sported combat beards, intimidating tattoos (Revelation 6:8, “And behold, a pale horse: and its rider’s name was Death”) and the kind of burly frames that come from carrying big guns over tall mountains for weeks at a time. “They look like the dudes from ‘300,’ ” a member of one of four U.S. teams said. Another said, “They look like werewolf lumberjacks.”

But most eyes were on the Chinese. China had two teams, both from the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force. The Snow Leopards were the favorite: formerly the Snow Wolf Commando unit, they were a counterterrorism squad established ahead of the Beijing Olympics. There was a rumor going around that they had been to eight more-specialized competitions and never finished lower than second. (The Chinese maintained this was their first competition.) They marched to the mess hall in formation and did push-ups for fun. By comparison, the American teams — three Army and one Marine Corps, who were at that moment posing for team pictures and smoking cigars — looked like high-school kids on a field trip.


The next morning, the Chinese jumped out to an early lead, winning the first three events. They were well on their way to winning the overall trophy. Watching them conquer an event called Method of Entry — breaking down three doors, scaling the side of a building, shooting a series of steel targets and sprinting back to the start — was simultaneously impressive and terrifying. Team America, who spent the previous night in their barracks drinking contraband rum, had trouble getting inside: they wasted five minutes trying to open the door the wrong way and finished near the middle of the pack.

The description of the Chinese reminds me of the Japanese team from the original Rollerball.

How Google Rediscovered the 19th Century

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Stanford history professor Paula Findlen has discovered what the neo-reactionaries have discovered: Google Books has made 19th-Century works widely available.

Reynolds’ Law

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Philo of Alexandria dubs it Reynolds’ Law:

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

Full moon may mean less sleep

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

A full moon deprives people of sleep — even in a windowless lab:

People snoozed less deeply within four nights of a full moon than during other parts of the lunar cycle, researchers report July 25 in Current Biology. The authors suggest that humans may have internal clocks that track the lunar cycle, much like circadian clocks that sync up with the rise and fall of the sun.

Christian Cajochen of the University of Basel in Switzerland and his colleagues reanalyzed sleep data they had collected over several years from 33 people who had each spent several days half-reclining in bed under constant dim light. Looking at only the second night of each participant’s stay, the researchers found that around the full moon, participants took about five extra minutes to nod off, slept for about 20 minutes less each night and slept less deeply.

Chevy Impala Beats European, Asian Rivals

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

The redesigned 2014 Chevy Impala scored 95 out of 100 points in Consumer Reports. The previous model scored 63 out of 100. Wow.

The Nearly Effortless Flight of the Albatross

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

The wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) travels long distances over open water with no thermal updrafts through a process of dynamic soaring:

Just watch an albatross, and you can easily discriminate its four phases of flight: There’s a windward climb, then a curve from windward to leeward at peak altitude, then a leeward descent, and finally a reverse turn close to the sea surface that leads seamlessly into the next cycle of flight.

Albatross Dynamic Soaring

Students of the albatross’s flight understood early on that the bottommost layer of wind blowing above any surface, including that of water, will incur friction and thus slow down. This layer itself then becomes an obstacle that slows the layer just above it (though not by much), in a process that continues upward. The result is a 10- to 20-meter-high region known as a boundary layer or shear wind field, through which the wind speed increases smoothly and dramatically the higher you go in the field. Dynamic soaring maneuvers extract energy from that field, enabling the albatross to fly in any direction, even against the wind, with hardly any effort.

(Hat tip to Jonathan Jeckell.)

How to Talk to Children

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Researchers have studied how to talk to children — for forensic interviews:

Forensic interviews are interviews where the goal is to get a child to tell you, truthfully, everything he or she saw or happened to them. Most of the time, it’s done when a child is the witness to a crime or the victim of one. For obvious reasons, these interviewers are always looking to minimize the chance that their questions will bias the answers children give, and are always trying to get children to do as much of the talking as possible.


Open-ended questions are questions that can’t be answered by “yes” or “no” or a single word. In adult conversations, we use closed questions all the time without really knowing that they’re closed. For example, most adults hear “Is that your dog?” as an invitation to tell you all about their dog. Kids only see a yes/no question, and will stop talking after giving an answer.

What you want are open-ended invitations that get narrative answers from children. Invitations sound like like “Tell me everything about X” or “You said X. Tell me everything about that.” A 2007 study, looked at the interviews of 52 youths who were victims of sexual abuse. The details given by the children were more likely to be confirmed by another source when they were given in response to invitations.

Making sure the invitations are open ended is equally important. In a 1997 study, Sternberg et al. found that children 9 and older, produced around 50 details when given yes-no prompts and 140 details when narrative practice was used. Open-ended questions mean that children will tell you more. Yet another study not only found that “free-recall” (i.e. open-ended) questions produced the most response from children, but that closed-ended questions produced more details only as children get older.

When the children are older, they’ve learned not to take close-ended questions as literally as younger children do. They are closer to adults, who understand close-ended questions as invitations to tell a narrative. But for most children, close-ended questions will elicit the shortest answer possible. More than that, close-ended questions may even get a child to tell you things they know aren’t true. They feel pressured to answer close-ended questions.

Comparing Vickies with Thetes

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Dave Ramsey shares 20 habits of the rich, including this one:

63% of wealthy parents make their children read 2 or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% for poor.

Fifteen years ago, when Arnold Kling had a relocation web site, they acquired data on neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics, and the consumer purchase that most correlated with affluence was hardbound books.

By the way, Vickies are the neo-Victorians of Neal Stephenson’s near-future science-fiction novel, Diamond Age, and Thetes are the neo-Jersey Shore types.

How Do Good Ideas Spread?

Monday, July 29th, 2013

How do good ideas spread? Anesthesia spread rapidly, but, Atul Gawande notes, antisepsis did not:

In the eighteen-sixties, the Edinburgh surgeon Joseph Lister read a paper by Louis Pasteur laying out his evidence that spoiling and fermentation were the consequence of microorganisms. Lister became convinced that the same process accounted for wound sepsis. Pasteur had observed that, besides filtration and the application of heat, exposure to certain chemicals could eliminate germs. Lister had read about the city of Carlisle’s success in using a small amount of carbolic acid to eliminate the odor of sewage, and reasoned that it was destroying germs. Maybe it could do the same in surgery.

During the next few years, he perfected ways to use carbolic acid for cleansing hands and wounds and destroying any germs that might enter the operating field. The result was strikingly lower rates of sepsis and death. You would have thought that, when he published his observations in a groundbreaking series of reports in The Lancet, in 1867, his antiseptic method would have spread as rapidly as anesthesia.

Far from it. The surgeon J. M. T. Finney recalled that, when he was a trainee at Massachusetts General Hospital two decades later, hand washing was still perfunctory. Surgeons soaked their instruments in carbolic acid, but they continued to operate in black frock coats stiffened with the blood and viscera of previous operations — the badge of a busy practice. Instead of using fresh gauze as sponges, they reused sea sponges without sterilizing them. It was a generation before Lister’s recommendations became routine and the next steps were taken toward the modern standard of asepsis — that is, entirely excluding germs from the surgical field, using heat-sterilized instruments and surgical teams clad in sterile gowns and gloves.

So what were the key differences?

First, one combated a visible and immediate problem (pain); the other combated an invisible problem (germs) whose effects wouldn’t be manifest until well after the operation. Second, although both made life better for patients, only one made life better for doctors. Anesthesia changed surgery from a brutal, time-pressured assault on a shrieking patient to a quiet, considered procedure. Listerism, by contrast, required the operator to work in a shower of carbolic acid. Even low dilutions burned the surgeons’ hands. You can imagine why Lister’s crusade might have been a tough sell.

American Slave Narratives

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Tempe Herndon DurhamFrom 1936 to 1938 the Works Progress Administration paid writers and journalists to interview former slaves, like 103-year-old Tempe Herndon Durham:

I was thirty-one years ole when de surrender come. Dat makes me sho nuff ole. Near bout a hundred an’ three years done passed over dis here white head of mine. I’se been here, I mean I’se been here. ‘Spects I’se de oldest n—– in Durham. I’se been here so long dat I done forgot near ’bout as much as dese here new generation knows or ever gwine know.

My white fo’ks lived in Chatham County. Dey was Marse George an’ Mis’ Betsy Herndon. Mis Betsy was a Snipes befo’ she married Marse George. Dey had a big plantation an’ raised cawn, wheat, cotton an’ ‘bacca. I don’t know how many field n—–s Marse George had, but he had a mess of dem, an’ he had hosses too, an’ cows, hogs an’ sheeps. He raised sheeps an’ sold de wool, an’ dey used de wool at de big house too. Dey was a big weavin’ room whare de blankets was wove, an’ dey wove de cloth for de winter clothes too. Linda Hernton an’ Milla Edwards was de head weavers, dey looked after de weavin’ of da fancy blankets. Mis’ Betsy was a good weaver too. She weave de same as de n—–s. She say she love de clackin’ soun’ of de loom an’ de way de shuttles run in an’ out carryin’ a long tail of bright colored thread. Some days she set at de loom all de mawnin’ peddlin’ wid her feets an’ her white han’s flittin’ over de bobbins.

Read the whole short narrative, but her conclusion stands out:

Freedom is all right, but de n—–s was better off befo’ surrender, kaze den dey was looked after an’ dey didn’ get in no trouble fightin’ an’ killin’ like dey do dese days. If a n—– cut up an’ got sassy in slavery times, his Ole Marse give him a good whippin’ an’ he went way back an’ set down an’ ‘haved hese’f. If he was sick, Marse an’ Mistis looked after him, an’ if he needed store medicine, it was bought an’ give to him; he didn’ have to pay nothin’. Dey didn’ even have to think ’bout clothes nor nothin’ like dat, dey was wove an’ made an’ give to dem. Maybe everybody’s Marse and Mistis wuzn’ good as Marse George and Mis’ Betsy, but dey was de same as a mammy an’ pappy to us n—–s.”

Return to Black Hawk Down

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Speaking of Somalia, this Return to Black Hawk Down is powerful:

That Ranger’s faith reminded me of Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure and its emphasis on accepting and being prepared for death:

We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaining one’s aim is a dog’s death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he pains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.

(Hat tip to gun-nut Caleb.)

Height through the millennia

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

In looking at height through the millennia, Jason Collins came across Robert Fogel’s work on American slaves:

Historians had long insisted that slavery was not only inhuman; it was bad business — hungry, brutalized workers made the poorest of farmers. Fogel and Engerman found nearly the opposite to be true: Southern plantations were almost thirty-five per cent more efficient than Northern farms, their analysis showed. Slavery was a cruel and inhuman system, but more so psychologically than physically: to get the most work from their slaves, planters fed and housed them nearly as well as free Northern farmers could feed and house themselves. …

Steckel decided to verify his mentor’s claims by looking at the slaves’ body measurements. He went through more than ten thousand slave manifests — shipboard records kept by traders in the colonies — until he had the heights of some fifty thousand slaves; then he averaged them out by age and sex. The results were startling: adult slaves, Steckel found, were nearly as tall as free whites, and three to five inches taller than the average Africans of the time.

The height study both redeemed and rebuked “Time on the Cross.” Although the adult slaves were clearly well fed, the children were extremely small and malnourished. (To eat, apparently, they had to be old enough to work.) But Fogel was more than willing to stand corrected.

Dance in a Year

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Karen Cheng taught herself to dance in a year:

Here’s my secret: I practiced everywhere. At bus stops. In line at the grocery store. At work — Using the mouse with my right hand and practicing drills with my left hand. You don’t have to train hardcore for years to become a dancer. But you must be willing to practice and you better be hungry.

The Benefits of Monarchy

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Libertarian ex-Brit Matthew Feeney describes the benefits of monarchy:

The idea of monarchy is understandably abhorrent to many Americans. The policies of King George III of the House of Hanover were the source of the complaints outlined in the Declaration of Independence, and his intransigence led to the Revolutionary War. But it’s also true that a constitutional monarchy can provide a better check on political power than constitutional democracy. Before you accuse me of being anti-American, old fashioned, or some sort of red coat interloper, let me explain.

After winning the Revolutionary War the Founding Fathers created a system of government based on the principles of limited government. Their best intentions aside, the U.S. is no better than the despot against which it fought when it comes to inherited power, nepotism, abuse of political power, or extravagant tradition.

While it might initially seem that the men and women who sit in the House of Commons and the House of Lords act as a check on the powers of the British monarchy the reality is that the British monarch actually provides more of a check on the U.K’s elected and unelected legislators. In the last hundred years many European nations have experienced fascism, communism, and military dictatorships. However, countries with constitutional monarchies have managed for the most part to avoid extreme politics in part because monarchies provide a check on the wills of populist politicians. European monarchies–such as the Danish, Belgian, Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian, and British–have ruled over countries that are among the most stable, prosperous, and free in the world. Constitutional monarchs make it difficult for dramatic political changes to occur, oftentimes by representing traditions and customs that politicians cannot replace and few citizens would like to see overthrown.

Something else that can be said in favor of a constitutional monarchy is that it allows for the head of the state to not be a political figure. Whether Democrat or Republican, the American president represents the country as the head of state, meaning that regrettably American culture, traditions, or interests are never represented by anyone other than a politician. British interests have been represented for decades by the same person who embodies the non-political customs and traditions of the U.K. In the U.S., every four years America could be represented by someone who has a different sense of what it means to be an American than whoever previously lived in the White House.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tolkien’s thoughts on Anarcho-Monarchism in the Shire.

Tim Ferriss Interviews Neil Strauss

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Tim Ferriss interviews Neil Strauss — who’s a seven-time New York Times bestseller — on the creative process: