The Rise, Fall, & Rebirth of the ‘Emma Gees’

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Back in in 1981, Major K.A. Nette of the Canadian Army wrote about The Rise, Fall, & Rebirth of the ‘Emma Gees’ — machine-gunners — using a Ghost of Combat Yet to Come, a spectral World War I veteran known as the Old One, to explain proper tactics to a modern officer who hasn’t yet faced the “Fantasians” (Soviets):

Suddenly, we were standing in the middle of 1 Platoon’s position, deserted except for the two sentries manning the HMG. The Old One walked over to the edge of the trench and gestured for me to join him. “Don’t worry about them,” he said pointing to the two soldiers. They can neither see nor hear us. Now, tell me exactly why is this gun here?”

[...]

For what seemed an eternity, the old man just stood and looked at me. When he finally spoke, his words cut through me like a knife. “An off the cuff answer like that one might get you through staff college but in a real war it will just get you and your men killed,” he said. “What good is a 180 degree arc to a weapon with only 800 mils on its traversing bar? Why does the gunner have to see for miles when he will only be engaging targets out to about 1000 metres?”

[...]

“What would you do if you were responsible for this gun?” I asked.

“Well,” he began, “the first thing I would do is remind myself of the primary role of the HMG: to destroy enemy APCs. Once I was satisfied that this gun could, in fact, be employed in its primary role, I would then determine a specific target area where enemy APCs were likely to appear. Only then would I look for a place to put the gun. In selecting this site, I would review the six characteristics of machine gun fire and attempt to take maximum advantage of each one. Let’s look at these characteristics in relation to this gun here.”

“First we must consider Range. The HMG is accurate to 1850 metres. It is only effective at this range, however, against soft targets. In computing the maximum distance that this gun can be from its target area we must consider Penetration. Your C44 AP/T ammunition can penetrate the front of most Fantasian APCs out to 550 metres. You notice I said most. There is a problem with the front of the BMP but don’t worry about it for the moment. I will explain how to get around it later. They are all vulnerable from the side out to 725 and maybe a good bit beyond depending where you hit. (See Figure 1A.) To get this penetration you need an angle of attack between 30 and 90 degrees. Just hitting an APC once will not necessarily stop it. To assure a kill you will probably have to hit it several times. That is where VOLUME OF FIRE comes in. TRAJECTORY is another important characteristic. This gun’s trajectory is very flat. So flat that on level ground you can get grazing fire out to 1000 metres.”

Noting the puzzled look on my face, he elaborated. “That just means that at no point from the muzzle to the target will the rounds rise higher than the height of a standing man. You will notice that because this gun is sitting on top of a hill it does not take advantage of this characteristic. There must be at least 300 metres between the muzzle and the target area where an APC could drive underneath the cone of fire of fire without being hit. That cone of fire leads us into the next characteristic. When fired in bursts, all machine guns vibrate; therefore, each bullet follows a slightly different path. These different trajectories lead to different points of impact on the ground in the target area. We call the pattern these rounds make on the ground the BEATEN ZONE. The size and shape of this beaten zone varies with the gun, mount and range. The HMG is famous for it’s long, narrow zone. To take full advantage of it, you have to first anticipate the formation that the enemy will adopt in the target area then site the gun so the beaten zone will catch as many of them as possible.”

New Batman Beyond Short

Friday, April 25th, 2014

DC’s new Batman Beyond short celebrates 75 years of Batman:

What was Aragorn’s tax policy?

Friday, April 25th, 2014

What was Aragorn’s tax policy?, George R.R. Martin asks:

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.

(Hat tip to Alex Tabarrok.)

Genre Fiction

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Genre fiction — in the three genres of Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance — accounts for 70% of the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon and well over half of the top 1,000 bestsellers.

And within those genres ebooks dominate:

Amazon Top 100 Genre Bestsellers by Format

Game of Pawns

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Glenn Shriver was a bright young student who wanted to stay in Shanghai, but it’s an expensive city, and he wasn’t sure how he’d pay for it — until he met some local benefactors:

(Hat tip to Weapons Man.)

The Mystery of Fascism

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

David Ramsay Steele explores the mystery of Fascism, starting with what they told us about Fascism:

In the 1930s, the perception of “fascism” (13) in the English-speaking world morphed from an exotic, even chic, Italian novelty (14) into an all-purpose symbol of evil. Under the influence of leftist writers, a view of fascism was disseminated which has remained dominant among intellectuals until today. It goes as follows:

Fascism is capitalism with the mask off. It’s a tool of Big Business, which rules through democracy until it feels mortally threatened, then unleashes fascism. Mussolini and Hitler were put into power by Big Business, because Big Business was challenged by the revolutionary working class. (15) We naturally have to explain, then, how fascism can be a mass movement, and one that is neither led nor organized by Big Business. The explanation is that Fascism does it by fiendishly clever use of ritual and symbol. Fascism as an intellectual doctrine is empty of serious content, or alternatively, its content is an incoherent hodge-podge. Fascism’s appeal is a matter of emotions rather than ideas. It relies on hymn-singing, flag-waving, and other mummery, which are nothing more than irrational devices employed by the Fascist leaders who have been paid by Big Business to manipulate the masses.

As Marxists used to say, fascism “appeals to the basest instincts,” implying that leftists were at a disadvantage because they could appeal only to noble instincts like envy of the rich. Since it is irrational, fascism is sadistic, nationalist, and racist by nature. Leftist regimes are also invariably sadistic, nationalist, and racist, but that’s because of regrettable mistakes or pressure of difficult circumstances. Leftists want what’s best but keep meeting unexpected setbacks, whereas fascists have chosen to commit evil.

More broadly, fascism may be defined as any totalitarian regime which does not aim at the nationalization of industry but preserves at least nominal private property. The term can even be extended to any dictatorship that has become unfashionable among intellectuals. (16) When the Soviet Union and People’s China had a falling out in the 1960s, they each promptly discovered that the other fraternal socialist country was not merely capitalist but “fascist.” At the most vulgar level, “fascist” is a handy swear-word for such hated figures as Rush Limbaugh or John Ashcroft who, whatever their faults, are as remote from historical Fascism as anyone in public life today.

The consequence of 70 years of indoctrination with a particular leftist view of fascism is that Fascism is now a puzzle. We know how leftists in the 1920s and 1930s thought because we knew people in college whose thinking was almost identical, and because we have read such writers as Sartre, Hemingway, and Orwell.

But what were Fascists thinking?

Steele proclaims five facts about Fascism:

  1. Fascism was a doctrine well elaborated years before it was named.
  2. Fascism changed dramatically between 1919 and 1922, and again changed dramatically after 1922.
  3. Fascism was a movement with its roots primarily in the left.
  4. Fascism was intellectually sophisticated.
  5. Fascists were radical modernizers.

Fascism is an offshoot of Marxism that repudiates most of the tenets of Marxism, in much the same way that Unitarianism is an offshoot of Christianity that repudiates most of the tenets of Christianity:

In power, the actual institutions of Fascism and Communism tended to converge. In practice, the Fascist and National Socialist regimes increasingly tended to conform to what Mises calls “the German pattern of Socialism.” (32) Intellectually, Fascists differed from Communists in that they had to a large extent thought out what they would do, and they then proceeded to do it, whereas Communists were like hypnotic subjects, doing one thing and rationalizing it in terms of a completely different and altogether impossible thing.

Fascists preached the accelerated development of a backward country. Communists continued to employ the Marxist rhetoric of world socialist revolution in the most advanced countries, but this was all a ritual incantation to consecrate their attempt to accelerate the development of a backward country. Fascists deliberately turned to nationalism as a potent myth. Communists defended Russian nationalism and imperialism while protesting that their sacred motherland was an internationalist workers’ state. Fascists proclaimed the end of democracy. Communists abolished democracy and called their dictatorship democracy. Fascists argued that equality was impossible and hierarchy ineluctable. Communists imposed a new hierarchy, shot anyone who advocated actual equality, but never ceased to babble on about the equalitarian future they were “building”. Fascists did with their eyes open what Communists did with their eyes shut. This is the truth concealed in the conventional formula that Communists were well-intentioned and Fascists evil-intentioned.

Fascism failed to reach its own stated goals — even if we ignore the war:

Fascist ideology had two goals: the creation of a heroically moral human being, in a heroically moral social order, and the accelerated development of industry, especially in backward economies like Italy.

The fascist moral ideal, upheld by writers from Sorel to Gentile, is something like an inversion of the caricature of a Benthamite liberal. The fascist ideal man is not cautious but brave, not calculating but resolute, not sentimental but ruthless, not preoccupied with personal advantage but fighting for ideals, not seeking comfort but experiencing life intensely. The early Fascists did not know how they would install the social order which would create this “new man,” but they were convinced that they had to destroy the bourgeois liberal order which had created his opposite.

Even as late as 1922 it was not clear to Fascists that Fascism, the “third way” between liberalism and socialism, would set up a bureaucratic police state, but given the circumstances and fundamental Fascist ideas, nothing else was feasible. Fascism introduced a form of state which was claustrophobic in its oppressiveness. The result was a population of decidedly unheroic mediocrities, sly conformists scared of their own shadows, worlds removed from the kind of dynamic human character the Fascists had hoped would inherit the Earth.

As for Fascism’s economic performance, a purely empirical test of results is inconclusive. In its first few years, the Mussolini government’s economic measures were probably more liberalizing than restrictive. The subsequent turn to intrusive corporatism was swiftly followed by the world slump and then the war. But we do know from numerous other examples that if it is left to run its course, corporatist interventionism will cripple any economy.

Fascism was a dress rehearsal for Third Worldism:

Italy was an exploited proletarian nation, while the richer countries were bloated bourgeois nations. The nation was the myth which could unite the productive classes behind a drive to expand output. These ideas foreshadowed the Third World propaganda of the 1950s and 1960s, in which aspiring elites in economically backward countries represented their own less than scrupulously humane rule as “progressive” because it would accelerate Third World development. From Nkrumah to Castro, Third World dictators would walk in Mussolini’s footsteps.

(Hat tip to Borepatch.)

Sam Harris on Violence

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

There are differences in temperament, Sam Harris has found, across which it may be impossible to communicate about the reality of human violence:

Thinking about violence is not everyone’s cup of tea. Again, I do not consider ignoring the whole business to be necessarily irrational (depending on where one lives, one’s degree of responsibility for the security of others, etc.) It is irrational, however, to imagine that such insouciance can pass for an informed opinion on how best to respond to violence in the event that it occurs. I have now heard from many people who have never held a gun in their lives, and are proud to say that they never would, but who appear entirely confident in declaiming upon the limitations of firearms as defensive weapons. Before proceeding, perhaps there is general rule of cognition we might all agree on: It would be surprising, indeed, if avoiding a topic as a matter of principle were the best way to understand it.

The choice to own a gun, he says, comes down to this:

If I hear a window break in the middle of the night, I want to be armed with more than my idealism.

Self-Regulation

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

“Classroom management” used to be called “discipline” — but discipline has become problematic:

One way to think about classroom management (and discipline in general) is that some tactics are external and others are internal. External tactics work by inflicting an embarrassing or unpleasant experience on the kid. The classic example is a teacher shaming a child by making him write “I will not …” whatever on the blackboard 100 times. My own second-grade teacher threw a rubber chicken at a boy who refused to shut up during silent reading. But such means have become “well, problematic,” says Jonathan Zimmerman, director of the History of Education Program at New York University. In 1975, in Goss v. Lopez, the Supreme Court found schoolchildren to have due process rights. “As a result, students can say to teachers with some authority, ‘If you do that, my mom is going to sue you.’ And that changes the score.”

In Goss’s wake, many educators moved toward what progressive education commentator Alfie Kohn calls the New Disciplines. The philosophy promotes strategies like “shared decision-making,” allowing children to decide between, say, following the teacher’s rules and staying after school for detention. This sounds great to the contemporary ear. The child is less passive and prone to be a victim, more autonomous and in control of his life. But critics of the technique are harsh. It’s “fundamentally dishonest, not to mention manipulative,” Kohn has written. “To the injury of punishment is added the insult of a kind of mind game whereby reality is redefined and children are told, in effect, that they wanted something bad to happen to them.”

A different, utopian approach to classroom management works from the premise that children are natively good and reasonable. If one is misbehaving, he’s trying to tell you that something is wrong. Maybe the curriculum is too easy, too hard, too monotonous. Maybe the child feels disregarded, threatened, or set up to fail. It’s a pretty thought, order through authentic, handcrafted curricula. But it’s nearly impossible to execute in the schools created through the combination of No Child Left Behind and recessionary budget-slashing. And that makes internal discipline very convenient right now.

To train this vital new task, schools have added to reading,’riting, and ’rithmetic a fourth R, for self-regulation. The curricular branch that has emerged to teach it is called social and emotional learning, or SEL.

Apparently there’s no evidence that emotional intelligence matters:

In 2007, Greg Duncan, a professor of education at the University of California at Irvine, did an analysis of the effects of social and emotional problems on a sample of 25,000 elementary school students. He found, he says, “Emotional intelligence in kindergarten was completely unpredictive.” Children who started school socially and emotionally unruly did just as well academically as their more contained peers from first through eighth grades. David Grissmer, at the University of Virginia, reran Duncan’s analysis repeatedly, hoping to prove him wrong. Instead, he confirmed that Duncan was right. A paper from Florida International University also found minimal correlation between emotional intelligence and college students’ GPAs.

Teaching kids to suppress their feelings may have unintended consequences:

The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking judge originality, emotional expressiveness, humor, intellectual vitality, open-mindedness, and ability to synthesize and elaborate on ideas. Since 1984, the scores of America’s schoolchildren have dropped by more than one standard deviation; that is to say, 85 percent of kids scored lower in 2008 than their counterparts did in 1984. Not coincidentally, that decrease happened as schools were becoming obsessed with self-regulation.

As Stanford Professor James Gross, author of Handbook of Emotional Regulation, explains, suppression of feelings is a common regulatory tactic. It’s mentally draining. Deliberate acts of regulation also become automatic over time, meaning this habit is likely to interfere with inspiration, which happens when the mind is loose and emotions are running high. Even Tough acknowledges in a short passage in How Children Succeed that overly controlled people have a hard time making decisions: They’re often “compulsive, anxious, and repressed.”

Kawari Kabuto

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

During Japan’s Warring States period, armorers developed a new, simpler helmet design, which had fewer (incidentally) ornamental features — ribs, ridges, rivets, etc. — and so they purposely developed the new streamlined helmet into the extremely ornate kawari kabuto, or strange helmet:

To offset the plain, utilitarian form of the new helmet, and to provide visibility and presence on the battlefield, armorers began to build fantastic shapes on top of the simple helmets in harikake (papier-mâché mixed with lacquer over a wooden armature), though some were constructed entirely of iron. These shapes mimicked forms from Japanese culture and mythology, including fish, cow horns, the head of the god of longevity, bolts of silk, head scarves, Ichi-no-Tani canyon, and axe heads, among many others. Some forms were realistically rendered, while others took on a very futuristic, modernist feel.

Some of these examples are amazing:

Kawari Kabuto 01

Kawari Kabuto 02

Kawari Kabuto 03

Kawari Kabuto 04

Kawari Kabuto 05

Kawari Kabuto 06

Kawari Kabuto 07

Kawari Kabuto 08

Kawari Kabuto 09

Kawari Kabuto 10

Kawari Kabuto 11

Kawari Kabuto 12

Kawari Kabuto 13

Kawari Kabuto 14

Kawari Kabuto 15

Self-Defense and the Law

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

If you find yourself under attack, and you successfully protect yourself, what is the worst that can happen?

Steven Levine: The worst that can happen is that you go to prison for the rest of your life, especially if you kill somebody. In California, even if you have a valid self-defense claim, the DA’s office will typically still file charges on you. I recently had a client, a 50-year-old nurse, who was in her own home when her ex-boyfriend (for 26 years) came over. He’d moved out 7 months earlier. There was a small history of domestic violence. But in fact, he had recently assaulted their 22-year-old daughter by head-butting her. While they were discussing things downstairs in the living room, he picked up a sledgehammer. She grew worried, told him to leave, and retreated upstairs. He put down the hammer but followed her upstairs and told her he did not have to leave. Once upstairs, he was yelling at her. Finally, she grabbed her gun. She’s a cancer survivor. She’s had a double mastectomy. She’s half his size, and she told him to leave. He went for the gun, and she shot him. The bullet went through his rib cage and he died. She tried to save him by doing CPR.

The jury convicted her of murder despite the fact that she said that she was scared for her life. Again, the general principle is correct as far as the law is concerned: You can defend yourself as long as you’re scared of great bodily injury — and that’s not such a high standard. Great bodily injury could be pretty much anything. I was just at a preliminary hearing the other day where the complaining witness had been hit and received two bruises under the eye. This qualified as great bodily injury. But you have to realize there are standards that apply to the cops and to prosecutors, and there are standards that apply to ordinary defendants.

Most people do not succeed with self-defense claims in California, Levine says — but that’s not the whole story:

Rory Miller: In my experience, most of the people who claimed self-defense had been involved in a mutual fight and were rationalizing it as self-defense. One exception was a man who had shot two notorious dealers who broke into his home. When I got the story from him, he left out the part where he had robbed these guys at gunpoint a few hours earlier.

Some cases are unambiguous though:

Sam Harris: Steve, how do things change if a person is attempting to rob me? I haven’t been assaulted — but the other person is implicitly threatening me with the prospect of violence by saying that if I comply with his instructions, I won’t get hurt.

Steven Levine: If you’re being robbed, you can just kill the other person.

Sam Harris: Are you kidding?

Steven Levine: If you’re being robbed, you can take out your gun and shoot the person dead, and no one will prosecute you.

Sam Harris: There’s no requirement to drop your wallet and run, in the hopes of avoiding violence?

Steven Levine: None at all.

Sam Harris: Huh…

Steven Levine: The difference is, it’s clear: You are the victim of a crime. And people know that robberies often result in death.

Sam Harris: But are you assuming that the other person is armed?

Steven Levine: I don’t care if he’s just got his finger under his shirt.

Sam Harris: That is just… bizarre…. Let’s assume I can safely retreat, but I happen to be worried about other people in the area. Can I defend these people as I would myself?

Steven Levine: The defense of others is basically just an extension of your own right to self-defense, meaning that these people had better be in imminent danger of harm.

Sam Harris: So, I’m in a liquor store, and a man walks in and pulls out a gun and tells everyone to get down on the floor. As it happens, I’m standing near the door and can just run away. But I also have a gun — let’s leave aside the fact that we’re in California, and I shouldn’t have a gun on me in the first place. Can I legally shoot this person in the back of the head?

Steven Levine: Yes. Once somebody is engaged in felonious conduct, you can do whatever you do to stop him.

Sam Harris: I just find this astonishing — given the legal ambiguities that loom everywhere else. Threats of violence, or even an actual assault, seem open to endless caviling, but someone saying “Give me your wallet” magically clarifies everything and opens the door to lethal force.

[...]

Sam Harris: Steve, one final question: I know things get much clearer when we’re talking about home defense—leaving aside the case you mentioned at the beginning of the woman who shot her ex-boyfriend. If you confront a stranger in your home—a person who has no conceivable right to be there—the case for self-defense is much clearer, correct?

Steven Levine: Yes. If a stranger comes into your home, and you think he’s about to commit a felony against you, even if he is unarmed, you can shoot him.

Sam Harris: And that’s every bit as clear as it is for robbery?

Steven Levine: Yes, because it’s your home. Legally speaking, you don’t even have to warn the other person. I should say, however, that guns generally cause more problems than they’re worth. As an attorney, you don’t see that many good cases, and you see lots of bad ones. Kids get their hands on them, or criminals do. There are people who simply shouldn’t own guns. I’m speaking as a defense attorney who was a prosecutor for 13 years.

Sam Harris: No doubt. A person can talk about the Second Amendment all he wants, but keeping a gun in one’s home is a huge responsibility—which millions of people take far too lightly. And many people seem to believe that if you keep a gun for the purpose of home defense, there’s no way to store it safely and still have it available in an emergency. But the truth is that a gun stored in a combination safe or lockbox can be accessed nearly as quickly as one that is sitting unsecured in a drawer. We’re talking about a difference of less than a second. Anyone who buys a gun has a responsibility to get enough training to become truly competent with it. Otherwise, a person shouldn’t own a gun.

Secret Swiss Forts

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

I knew that the Swiss took their civil defense seriously, with blast shelters for 85 percent of their citizens, but they also built plenty of secret forts for their army — as this francophone video explains:

The Invention of the AeroPress

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

What do you do when you just want one cup of coffee? If you’re Alan Adler, you invent the AeroPress:

He’d grown increasingly frustrated with his coffee maker, which yielded 6–8 cups per brew. In typical Adler fashion, he didn’t let the problem bother him long: he set out to invent a better way to brew single cup of coffee.

He started by experimenting with pre-existing brewing methods. Automatic drip makers were the most popular way to make coffee, but “coffee connoisseurs” seemed to prefer the pour-over method — either using a Melitta cone (or other variety), or French Press. Adler quickly found the faults in these devices.

The Melitta cone, a device you place over your cup with a filter and pour water into, has “an average wet time of about 4–5 minutes,” according to Adler. The longer the wet time, the more acidity and bitterness leech out of the grounds into the cup. Adler figured this time could be dramatically reduced, quelling bad-tasting byproducts.

It struck Adler that he could use air pressure to shorten this process. After a few weeks in his garage, he’d already created a prototype: a plastic tube that used plunger-like action to compress the flavors quickly out of the grounds. He brewed his first cup with the invention, and knew he’d made something special. Immediately, he called his business manager Alex Tennant.

Tennant tasted the brew, and stepped back. “Alan,” he said, “I can sell a ton of these.”

A year of “perfecting the design” ensued: Adler tried out different sizes and configurations, and at first “didn’t understand the right way to use [his] own invention.” The final product, which he called the AeroPress, was simple to operate: you place a filter and coffee grounds (2–4 scoops) into a plastic tube, pour hot water into the tube (at an optimal of 165–175 degrees), and stir for ten seconds.

Now comes the fun part: you insert the “plunger” into the tube and slowly press down; the air pressure forces the water through the grounds and into your coffee mug that’s (hopefully) positioned below. This produces “pure coffee” that is close to espresso in strength, and can be diluted with additional water. The process of plunging the tube also self-cleans the device, but Adler says this was simply “serendipitous.” After all, great inventions, he says, “always require a little luck.”

Alan’s new method shortened the typical wet time of other makers from 4–5 minutes to one minute. Not only that, but Adler claims his paper filters (which run $3.50 for 350, and are reusable up to twenty-five times each) reduce lipids that typically incite the body to produce LDL cholesterol (this is debated greatly in the coffee community).

With his plans mapped out, Adler went to Westec Plastics in Livermore, California, ordered $100,000 worth of molds, and put the invention into production. In 2005, Tennant and Adler debuted the product at Seattle’s Coffee Fest, where it was “extremely well accepted by the coffee aficionado community. ” Brewers loved the easily “hackable” design of the AeroPress; it’s list price — $29.99 — didn’t hurt either, especially when gauged against coffee makers ten to fifteen times the cost.

Bullying Followed by Laughter

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

After her daughter started acting up, one mother spent a day watching some of the girl’s favorite Disney shows, from start to finish, looking for answers:

I could not be more horrified.

Parents. Are you watching this garbage?

I certainly had not been. Beyond the quick minute or two, I had never sat and watched an episode of A.N.T Farm with the girls. Because it is Disney. How the hell do you go from Doc McStuffins, a show that SAVED ME countless tears at the pediatrician’s office, to this absolute trash? I so very wrongly figured that a company like Disney would not be promoting cruelty, bullying and sexism in their shows for young, impressionable children. I was completely mortified as I watched.

These shows are laced with terrible social behavior. Like the scene in one, where a “nerdy” boy walks up to a pretty “popular” girl and asks her out… she threw her bowling ball and ran away screaming. *Cue audience laughter*

There were so many examples of rude, mean responses to difficult social situations for kids, followed by the character shrugging it off, recorded laughter, and the characters moving on without showing any realistic emotions. No anger, no hurt feelings. Comedy.

I was disgusted. How in the world will we teach our children to be kind and put a stop to cruel behavior in schools when THE DISNEY CHANNEL is showing these bullying behaviors followed by laughter and no emotional response??? It was clear where my daughter had gotten the impression that these kinds of conceited one liners and arrogant vanity was playful and a harmless way to get a laugh.

[...]

After picking up the kids from school, my girls and I sat and re-watched these shows. I wanted to gouge my eyes out. As we watched, I paused it every single time someone said something cruel, every time the fake audience laughed inappropriately at what in real life would be someone’s serious emotional pain. We talked about what would actually happen if you acted like that with your friends, and how you can’t repair things by declaring “Just KIDDING!”

[...]

As a parent, when the kids are watching t.v., it’s mostly because I need a moment. To make dinner. To help someone else with homework. To gather my sanity. These few examples permanently damaged my trust in the Disney Channel and the trash they are producing for our kids.

Lord Business

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Lord Business — or his not-so-evil twin, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp — took charge of Lego in 2004 and nearly quadrupled revenue in the last 10 years:

Mr. Knudstorp, a former consultant at McKinsey & Co., turned around the 82-year-old toy manufacturer by focusing on its core business. He sold off the Legoland theme parks and reduced the catalog of Lego bricks available to the company’s designers. Licensing the Lego name—as the company did for Warner Bros., which made “The Lego Movie” — accounts for about 1% of revenue.

The strategy paid off. In 2012, Lego passed Hasbro Inc. to become the world’s second-largest toy maker behind Mattel Inc.

Growth has slowed down though, so Lego is looking to new markets:

There’s almost a perfect relation between disposable income in the household and the household’s consumption of Lego. The more affluent [the parents], the more creativity and play is valued, and the more likely the consumer is to buy Lego. In Beijing [and] Shanghai today, you find consumers who are more adamant Lego consumers than their counterparts in Munich and New York.

Can Cognitive Training Make You Smarter?

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Dan Hurley (Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power) discusses cognitive training:

What kind of effect does cognitive training have on the brain?

There is no question that training causes structural and functional improvement in the brain, as seen on MRI. Most of the changes are seen in the frontal areas of the brain, where high-level thinking occurs. Mindfulness meditation, for instance, has been shown to produce increased white-matter connections between the anterior cingulate cortex, an important region for complex decision-making, and the rest of the brain.

What cognitive functions did you find are most trainable?

Working memory is the ability to juggle multiple items of attention, to manipulate and analyze information. If you try to multiple 26 by 37 in your head, the reason it’s so hard is because of the demands it puts on your working memory. Tons of studies, including the latest one by Randy Engle, show that by training on certain kinds of working-memory tasks, you can improve your working memory overall. This is profoundly important for your ability to multi-task and think through complicated problems.

What interventions are the most effective in improving cognitive ability?

Working-memory training has proved really useful, although exactly which kinds of working-memory tasks are most useful remains unclear. Susanne Jaeggi has focused on the N-back task, which anyone can check out online at www.soakyourbrain.com.  Others prefer various other kinds of working-memory tasks. But plenty of research also shows that physical exercise, learning a musical instrument, and mindfulness meditation can all bring significant benefits. One of the coolest parts of my training was learning to play the Renaissance lute.

Teenagers everywhere want to know: are there any cognitive benefits of first-person shooter games?

Absolutely. These games are so good at improving reaction times that they are used by the U.S. military to train pilots and operators of drones. These games can also improve the “useful field of view,” your ability to see and respond to stimuli at the periphery of your vision, which is incredibly important when driving a vehicle. Other computerized games have been shown to improve older people’s ability to distinguish very fine differences in shades of gray. Strangely, this ability has been shown to be one of the single most important markers of longevity. So if you get better at it, will you actually live longer? That’s not yet clear. But improving your ability to see and respond to your environment can be potentially lifesaving.

How important is exercise?

Research has proved beyond doubt that the brain is actually connected to the heart and lungs via something called the “neck.” Physical exercise is perhaps the best-proved method for improving cognitive function in older people. It’s also critical for children and middle-aged sloths. Some researchers believe that cardiovascular exercise is best, while others insist that strength training is more important.

What about vitamins? Which one should take the most of if I want to think more quickly? Or should I just continue to drink lots and lots of caffeine?

I know that many people believe in the benefits of vitamins and dietary supplements. But there are no good studies showing that any of them really help cognitive function. Large studies of fish oil given to pregnant women have even suggested that there might be some risks to the intellectual abilities of their children. Caffeine, on the other hand, has been repeatedly shown to enhance not just attention, but motivation and even, most recently, memory. And if you can believe it, nicotine also helps. Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are of course extremely dangerous and greatly increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and much more. But studies in both humans and animals confirm that nicotine, given through a patch or gum, can be a great cognitive enhancer. I actually started using a 7 mg nicotine patch and found it useful, without any noticeable addictiveness.

Can mindfulness meditation make you smarter? What cognitive functions are most affected by mindfulness meditation?

A series of studies by Michael Posner and Yi-Yuan Tang have shown that mindfulness meditation can enhance all kinds of cognitive abilities. Mind-wandering is not helpful when you’re trying to write an article or take a test. On the other hand, some recent studies have suggested that allowing your mind to wander can also be helpful when you need a breakthrough. Some of the greatest scientific insights have occurred when scientists were spacing out.

How transferable are improvements in specific cognitive functions to intelligence more generally?

It’s easy for psychologists to give you a series of tests, have you practice some exercises, and then run follow-up tests to see if you improve better than people who didn’t do those exercises. But figuring out what the real-world benefits are to those improvements is much, much harder. A recent study of older adults given just ten hours of training found that even ten years later, they still enjoyed significant benefits in daily functioning. A hundred years of studies have proved that IQ tests and other tests of cognitive function are very, very predictive of real-world abilities. They’re not perfect—no test is—but on average, just like blood-pressure tests, they’re pretty good at predicting how you’ll do in the future. Many large corporations, as well as the U.S. military, give these tests not because they love tests, but because they really help pick out people who can be successful from those who just lack the ability to learn and function.