How much does poverty drive crime?

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

How much does poverty drive crime? Not so much. Actually, not at all:

In Sweden the age of criminal responsibility is 15, so Mr Sariaslan tracked his subjects from the dates of their 15th birthdays onwards, for an average of three-and-a-half years. He found, to no one’s surprise, that teenagers who had grown up in families whose earnings were among the bottom fifth were seven times more likely to be convicted of violent crimes, and twice as likely to be convicted of drug offences, as those whose family incomes were in the top fifth.

What did surprise him was that when he looked at families which had started poor and got richer, the younger children — those born into relative affluence — were just as likely to misbehave when they were teenagers as their elder siblings had been. Family income was not, per se, the determining factor.

That suggests two, not mutually exclusive, possibilities. One is that a family’s culture, once established, is “sticky”—that you can, to put it crudely, take the kid out of the neighbourhood, but not the neighbourhood out of the kid. Given, for example, children’s propensity to emulate elder siblings whom they admire, that sounds perfectly plausible. The other possibility is that genes which predispose to criminal behaviour (several studies suggest such genes exist) are more common at the bottom of society than at the top, perhaps because the lack of impulse-control they engender also tends to reduce someone’s earning capacity.

Soldiers’ Kit from 1066 to 2014

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

The Telegraph has compiled photos of British soldiers’ kit from 1066 to 2014:

Soldier Kit 13

Soldier Kit 12

Soldier Kit 11

Soldier Kit 10

Soldier Kit 09

Soldier Kit 08

Soldier Kit 07

Soldier Kit 06

Soldier Kit 05

Soldier Kit 04

Soldier Kit 03

Soldier Kit 02

Soldier Kit 01

Modeling Combat Reserves As Liquidity

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Sebastial Marshall studies “a lot of history and a moderate amount of finance” and suggests modeling combat reserves as liquidity:

In the rare instance that a nation has well-trained soldiers, good unit cohesion, good morale, good cooperation among society, experienced officers, individual large-scale and individual advantages in combat — and a large logistics/supply advantage — it’s basically undefeatable in any one-off combat.

Rome was frequently in such a position in the early Imperial period. The technology, tradition, unit cohesion, officer corps, economy, and logistics were so vastly superior to anyone else nearby. Thus, they could enforce their agenda anywhere from Spain to Britannia to Germany to Africa to the Near East, or further…

…but not all at the same time.

Whenever an Emperor or Consul pulled legions off the Rhine or away from the Near East, they put themselves into a weakened position where there’d be opportunities for usurpation, unrest, killing and looting the local Romans, driving off cultural ambassadors and traders, and otherwise setting back the Roman agenda.

Thus, Rome had immense military power — but only when it was liquid.

As soon as the forces were committed to long engagements and tied down, their logistical and supply ability fell dramatically. They would have to abandon a campaign to re-deploy soldiers if a larger problem emerged, which would leave behind a rallied, inspired, battle-hardened enemy. Or, they leave their troops tied down as new problems emerge. Horns of the dilemma, etc.

We saw effectively the end of the British Empire when Europe was overrun by the Nazis simultaneously with their Asian colonies being overrun by the Japanese. While Britain might have been able to outlast, counter, and endure the Nazi threat — maybe — by relying on its overseas colonies for economy, Imperial Japan overrunning all of Britain’s Asian colonies in rapid succession from 1941-1942 is what most likely spelled the end of the British Empire.

From this perspective, it starts to make more sense why the British turned to appeasement at first with Hitler. They had basically two options that would not put them at serious risk: stay out of war with Hitler, or crush Hitler rapidly so that troops and economy are not tied down into a long and hard fight.

You can certainly argue that an Anglo-French-Czech resistance in 1938 might have been the right time to put Hitler to bed once and for all — the Czech had a modern and well-trained soldier’s corps, but not enough to stand up to the Nazis without backing. That was an option they perhaps should have taken and did not.

But once they didn’t, trying to engage in diplomacy to get Hitler to cease expansionism doesn’t look insane — when you realize that if British forces became tied down in a long and hard war, the nation was incredibly vulnerable.

And that’s precisely what happened. With a peaceful Europe, reinforcing and repelling the Japanese Empire would have been trivial for Britain. The British Navy and British naval tradition were stronger than the Imperial Japanese; British troops were better-equipped and more experienced.

But, they were illiquid in a sense — British troops were committed to protecting the British Isles and liberating Europe, due to previously failing to stop Hitler either diplomatically or militarily. Thus tied down, the Japanese easily overran British positions in Asia, destroying morale, confidence, and collaboration between Britain and its soon-to-be-lost colonies. The sight of British regulars fleeing across India, burning crops and machinery so the Japanese could not seize them, was particularly terrible for British-Indian relations, and a major contribution to the end of the Empire.

But if we take a step back, a difficult step to take back, we can perhaps start to understand the first moves to appeasement. Committing forces to a long-term engagement makes all other engagements precarious.

When Sulla left eastwards to fight Mithradates, the Marian faction re-started civil war, conquered Rome, and executed Sulla’s friends and allies. When British forces became tied down in Western Europe, the Japanese overran Asia.

And the flipside, when Abraham Lincoln was fighting to preserve the Union, he saw the European powers ready to intervene — and used diplomacy and moral authority to not allow a new aspect of the war to open, when the Union was stretched to the brink of breaking. Afterwards — reconciliation and consolidation, and a period of relative peace.

It’s not a new conclusion, but once a nation has committed to a protracted war, it becomes more vulnerable across the board, everywhere, to all threats. This is informative as to why history plays out the way it does.

Public Health Benefits of Culture

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

The Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) provide a dramatic case study of the “public health” benefits resulting from involvement in a particular culture:

The Mormons have created a distinctive culture with remarkable health and welfare benefits. Utah, where 70% of the population are Mormon, has the lowest, or near the lowest, rates of smoking, lung cancer, heart disease, alcohol consumption, abortions, out-of-wedlock births, work-days missed due to illness, and the lowest child poverty rate in the country. Utah ranks highest in the nation in number of AP tests taken, number of AP tests passed, scientists produced per capita, percentage of households with personal computers, and proportion of income given to charity.

Utah is often ranked among the best places to live and the best places to raise children. Provo, more than 90% Mormon, was ranked by Self magazine as the healthiest city for women in the country, because it had the lowest incidence of cancer, violence, depression, etc.

Within Utah, it is clear that Mormons are disproportionately represented within these positive statistics, and Mormon populations outside Utah share similar phenomenally positive statistics. Indeed, although no academic researcher would dare to propose such a thing, one could conclude that a mass conversion to Mormonism would reduce social problems more effectively than all welfare spending, academic research, and public health initiatives in the last fifty years.

Practical Guidance for Prudent Students

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Bryan Caplan offers practical guidance for prudent students deciding how much schooling to pursue:

  • Go to high school unless you’re a terrible student.
  • Go to college only if you’re a strong student or special case.
  • Don’t get a master degree unless the stars align.

Fort Hood 2014 Shooting Findings

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Weapons Man looks at the Fort Hood shooting of April, 2014:

An insane nut job, pumped full of God knows what drugs by the military medical community (some stories suggest that he was on at least three psychoactive medications, although early media reports on these shootings are usually crap) and unhappy with his unit’s application of the Army’s rigid personnel-management policies, began shooting people. Then he drove around shooting more people. This decison of his was fortuitous; most people can’t hit much from a moving car, and this jerk was no exception.

The Fort Hood victims were even more disarmed by a redoubled effort at victim disarmament by the post command and Provost Marshal’s office in response to the 2009 shooting. There appears to have been the same laggard, or at least too-late-to-save-lives, police response this time.

When the assailant was confronted by an armed MP, he killed himself.

While the press has suggested that he was suffering from combat trauma (they love that Ticking Time Bomb Vet Narrative™), this assclown never heard a shot fired during a brief Iraq tour. We’ve known a few guys who were so eager to get into fights that dull tours traumatized ‘em, but we don’t think this guy was like that.

Lessons learned:

  • An armed assailant in a pool of forcibly disarmed victims has been given an edge by the authorities.
  • In this case, the assailant exploited his edge poorly, unlike Hasan.
  • The incident ended, and we’re not tired of saying this yet, as soon as force was applied against the shooter.
  • This was a predictable consequence of the poor response of the Fort Hood command to the last (2009) shooting incident. Instead of empowering victims, they chose to empower the criminals, relying on wishful, magical thinking instead of the power of logic. If they double down again on their anti-gun policies, the consequences are again predictable.

Gun Free Victim Disarmament Zone body count: 3 Wound count: 16.

Terminating Interest in Leading a Riot

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Col. Jeff Cooper suggested a system that “would make sure, first, that a riot would stop; and second, that only the leaders would feel the weight of social disapproval.”

Of course, since this is Col. Jeff Cooper we’re talking about, his recommended system was a weapon system, a suppressed .22:

This weapon, properly sighted and equipped with a noise suppressor, may be used with surgical delicacy to neutralize mob leaders without risk to other members of the group, without noise and with scant danger of death to the subject. A low-velocity 22 bullet in the lung will not knock a man down, and in these days of modern antisepsis it will almost never kill him if he can get to a hospital in a reasonable time. It will, however, absolutely terminate his interest in leading a riot.

The Israelis took his advice.

Slum-Free Hanoi

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Across the developing world, people move from the country to the outskirts of the city, where they build slums:

Their homes are built illegally, so there is no state provision of services — no electricity, running water, waste or sewerage provision. And shack by shack, the slum is born.

Hanoi has faced the same population pressures as other Asian cities. But thanks to vague and informal conventions, the state has been able to avoid extreme levels of disservice, even to the most impoverished new urban areas. And the construction of homes themselves has remained at least loosely connected to the regulations of the more formal suburbs. Together these factors have prevented the formation of slums as they are typically defined. But how has this come about?

By some estimates, 90% of the buildings in Hanoi have been built without official permission — the land untitled and never surveyed — the effects evident from even a cursory view of the city. Skinny buildings abut each other on narrow plots of land, and from the motorbike-choked thoroughfares, narrow alleys splinter off into neighbourhoods. The unplanned developments have been carried out by the quasi-legal construction industry.


Under socialist decree, all citizens were entitled to homes. Private property and construction was heavily restricted. Instead, housing was provided in state-run Soviet-style collective flats. But as growth increased, the new government struggled to maintain existing facilities and keep pace with demand. Occupants began building their own additions, often circumventing the arduous permit process. Other residents built illegally on public land.

Caught in a bind, having forbidden private construction but unable to house everyone, the government caved in and allowed private construction but with minimum standards. “Effectively, anyone could build a house on a minimum plot of about 20 square metres,” says Michael DiGregorio of the Asia Foundation. But oversight was limited, and a culture of partially and completely illegal construction began to flourish.

As the 1990s progressed, increased wealth fuelled demand, and illegal construction grew sharply. In 1995, there were about 1,000 illegal projects in the city — and those were just the reported cases. The city also began to spread out, progressively consuming villages and rice paddies to keep pace with demand for homes. Urban planners call this “spontaneous urban development”. Most of the world calls it “slums”. But in Hanoi, with the unusual mixture of basic regulation and control, a strange thing happened. “The negative side of this development was substandard infrastructure,” says DiGregorio, “but there was also a positive.” That positive came from the enlightened regulatory attitude of authorities.

In the culture of semi-legal construction, if someone built a structure that adhered to minimum standards, it became legal — and for the most part was provided with basic services such as electricity and sanitation. In most developing cities, those flooding from the countryside end up living in sprawling squatter encampments, lacking basic sanitation and vulnerable to eviction. But in Hanoi, the new arrivals could build houses that didn’t have official permission but often received basic services anyway. Because the buildings were legal, residents had incentive to improve and rebuild with stronger materials when their finances allowed. As well as these new homes, there was a similarly positive trend in the existing overcrowded and under-serviced public housing blocks, with an incentive for residents to improve the buildings.

Read Them the Riot Act

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Reading someone the Riot Act used to have a literal meaning that seems apropos:

The Riot Act (1714) (1 Geo.1 St.2 c.5) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain that authorised local authorities to declare any group of twelve or more people to be unlawfully assembled, and thus have to disperse or face punitive action. The Act, whose long title was “An act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters”, came into force on 1 August 1715, and remained on the statute books until 1973.

Punitive action?

If the group failed to disperse within one hour, then anyone remaining gathered was guilty of a felony without benefit of clergy, punishable by death.

Benefit of clergy?

In English law, the benefit of clergy (Law Latin Privilegium clericale) was originally a provision by which clergymen could claim that they were outside the jurisdiction of the secular courts and be tried instead in an ecclesiastical court under canon law. Eventually, the course of history transformed it into a mechanism by which first-time offenders could receive a more lenient sentence for some lesser crimes.

Training in Passivity

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Michael Strong cites John Taylor Gatto’s description of conventional K-12 education as thirteen years’ training in passivity and dependence, meaninglessness and incoherence:

The method is the only real lesson learned by the students. Existing K-12 education largely consists of experiential indoctrination in the lesson that learning is boring, humiliating, and meaningless and that therefore the only rewards in life come from intense stimulations. Appetites for community, spirituality, art, and nature are systematically stunted in our young people in the first 18 years of their lives. As adult consumers, they then go on to create the society in which we live.

As traditional cultures erode in the face of the media mass cultures, as addictive behaviors and substances degrade the lives of increasing millions, those of us who care about human well-being have one opportunity to new cultures which are more humane while also being suitably adapted to 21st century global society. Innovative enculturating K-12 education is the only means of raising new generations with the coherence and structure of a culture in the face of the avalanche of commercial stimulation that has become inescapable and will become as addictive as any drug.

The impact of traditional cultures around the world is decreasing. Tribal cultures in Africa, Indonesia, and South America are vanishing. Ethnic subcultures in the urban U.S. are gradually disappearing. A few mass media monocultures are taking over the world: a Muslim mass culture, a Hispanic mass culture, a Chinese mass culture, and an Anglo mass culture. The traditional idiosyncrasies, practices, prejudices, and virtues of those cultures in which mankind evolved are rapidly vanishing. Insofar as traditional cultures are being replaced by new idiosyncratic cultures, for the most part the new cultures are being formed by electronic media rather than by human beings.

Around the world, life with human beings in a common culture is being replaced by daily experiences of flashy, stimulating, electronic sounds and images. Electronic stimulation is becoming increasingly potent and seductive. Technology will continue to develop ever more compelling television and video, computer and video games, musical stimulation, and virtual reality. As a teen I read a science fiction novel in which most people no longer wanted to live life; they prefer to “experience” their virtual realities, complete with electrodes to stimulate the brain so at to simulate physical experiences and mental states. “Life” consists of the virtual experience of having sex with the most attractive partners, reliving the most transcendent religious experiences of saints and martyrs, or triumphantly fighting as a gladiator engaged in orgies of violence, all “achieved” while lying down in a lounger and not moving a muscle.

Each year advances in entertainment technology bring us closer to this world. The gaming world is now a bigger industry, by revenues, than the motion picture industry. These massive revenue streams will result in ever-larger investments in ever-more sophisticated virtual experiences. Role playing games and virtual reality technologies are rapidly becoming more intensely stimulating and more intensely real.

Norfolk Navy Yard Shooting Findings

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Weapons Man looks at the Norfolk Navy Yard shooting of March, 2014:

A career violent criminal who’d ostensibly gone straight as a truck driver, bluffed his way through at least two Navy checkpoints onto a pier where USS Mahan was berthed. The criminal may not have been armed, but the petty officer of the guard was. She was easily disarmed by the criminal, who was in the process of shooting her when a shipmate, MA2 Michael Mayo, intervened. Mayo was shot dead. Another Mahan watchstander shot the intruder dead, and that was the end of whatever it was he had planned.

While most of the Navy base is subject to the usual DOD Victim Disarmment Zone rules, ships have armed guards.

Lessons learned:

  • Having armed defenders at the point of initial attack made all the difference.
  • The incident ended, as usual, when force was applied against the shooter.
  • This incident might have ended with no loss of life (or loss of only the criminal’s life, and who cares about that?), were it not for the failure of the PO of the guard.
  • Relying on weak people for life-and-death positions has consequences. Most women are weak compared to most men — as this one was compared to her assailant.

Armed Victim Zone body count: 1. Wound count: 0.

Marine Raiders

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

The awkwardly named MARSOC is bringing back an old name — Marine Raiders:

Two battalions of Marine Raiders were raised in World War II, with a view to doing the sort of Commando operations the British were conducting against the German-occupied shores of Europe. There was some resistance to the formation of these units, but they had considerable political support: President Roosevelt’s son James served in one of the battalions, and their commanders, Edson Merritt and Evans Carlson, wrote their names in Marine history (Carlson also wrote the term Gung Ho into Marine slang). By 1944, the brass, always especially suspicious of Carlson (whose ideas of military operations had been forever altered by an observation tour with Mao’s 8th Route Army in China) and generally suspicious of elitism, disbanded the Raiders, after analyzing their missions and concluding that any Marine infantry unit, given some specific pre-mission training, could have done as well. One of the battalions was used to reform the 4th Marines, which had been annihilated in the Philippines.

The MARSOC leaders initially asked for the Raider name when the unit was stood up in 2004, but the same Marine resistance to “elitism” within the Marine ranks torpedoed that idea. Still, unofficial Raider paraphernalia proliferated throughout MARSOC, to the irritation of certain officers and sergeants major (and to the delight of others). Here’s one such Raider patch in Afghanistan:

Marine Raider Patch Unofficially in Afghanistan

Adolescence in America

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Adolescence in America is largely a disaster, Michael Strong says:

Bill McKibben, the environmentalist writer and advocate of natural living, is as harsh as any fundamentalist parent: “If one had set out to create a culture purposefully damaging to children, you couldn’t do much better than America at the end of the 20th century.” Patricia Hersch, in a book titled A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence, states: “All parents feel an ominous sense — like distant rumbles of thunder moving closer and closer — that even their child could be caught in the deluge of adolescent dysfunction sweeping the nation.” According to a USA Today poll, although 75% of American parents say they have taken steps to shield their children from outside influences deemed undesirable, 73% concede that limiting children’s exposure to popular culture is “nearly impossible.”

WWF wrestling is the most popular television show among adolescent males. Mary Pipher’s well-known book Reviving Ophelia makes the case that contemporary teen culture amounts to an assault on teen girls: “America today is a girl-destroying place.” Students across America acknowledge that the viciousness of high school cliques and hierarchies could lead to another Columbine massacre anywhere.

The obvious power of teen culture to shape human lives has only recently been re-recognized. We were much wiser in the 19th century. Emerson summed up the perspective well: “I pay the schoolmaster, but it is the schoolboys that educate my son.” More recently, Judith Rich Harris, in The Nurture Assumption, has shown that the majority of evidence of psychological research suggests that peers have a greater influence over young people than do parents: “In the long run it isn’t the home environment that makes the difference. It is the environment shared by children. It is the culture created by these children.”

Washington Navy Yard Shooting Findings

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Weapons Man examines the Washington Navy Yard shooting of September 2013:

A man who was mentally ill and an intermittent user of the preescription serotonin inhibitor Trazodone went on a shooting rampage in Building 157 197 of the Navy Yard. He shot 12 civilian Navy employees dead with a shotgun, critically wounded two more, and wounded a police officer. (Seven to ten other injuries were from causes other than the assailant’s gunfire, like leaping out windows to get away from him). He was ultimately killed by the police after several gunfights, but he killed no one more once the police engaged him.

Lessons learned:

  • A violent shooter can cause considerable trouble before police can arrive and stop him. Hey, didn’t we learn that already? Apparently not.
  • The incident ended, as usual, abruptly. This occurred when force was applied against the shooter.
  • Even soldiers, if unarmed, have trouble dealing with a violent and armed terrorist.
  • If you’re wounded, the Army will have your back unless it threatens diversity mythmaking. In that case, KMAGYOYO.
  • When we sacrificed privacy to get security through FBI/NSA domestic spying, the privacy went but the security never came.

Gun Free Victim Disarmament Zone body count: 12. Wound count: 3.

How to Bring Powerful Foreigners into a Tributary Relationship

Monday, August 18th, 2014

What is peculiar to China’s political culture, and of very great contemporary relevance, Edward Luttwak notes, is its doctrine on how to bring powerful foreigners into a tributary relationship:

Formidable mounted archers and capable of sustained campaigning (a primary objective of the Steppe State), the Xiongnú ravaged and savaged and extorted tribute from the perpetually less martial, and certainly cavalry-poor Han until the latter finally felt able to resist again. Even then, 147 years of intermittent warfare ensued until Huhanye, the paramount Chanyu (Qagan, Khan) of the Xiongnú, personally and formally submitted to the emperor Han Xuandi in 51 BCE, undertaking to pay homage, to leave a son at court as a hostage, and to deliver tribute, as befitted a vassal. That was a very great downfall from the familial status of earlier Chanyus of the epoch of Xiongnú predominance, who were themselves recognized as emperors, whose sons and heirs could have imperial daughters in marriage, and who from 200 BCE had received tribute from the Han, instead of the other way around.

It is this successful transformation of a once superior power first into an equal (signified by imperial marriages) and then into a subservient client-state that seems to have left an indelible residue in China’s tradition of statecraft. It was achieved with a specific “barbarian-handling” tool box first described by its early practitioner, the scholar and imperial advisor Lou Jing 199 BCE. His method was first applied when the Xiongnú were still very strong and the Han were not only tactically inferior (their chariots were totally obsolete for fighting mounted archers) but also beset by political divisions, so much so that a 198 BCE treaty required the payment of an annual tribute in kind (silk, grain, etc.), and the formal attestation of equality for the Chanyu embodied in a marriage alliance, formalized by imperial letters that make the equality fully explicit.

The first barbarian-handling tool is normally translated as “corruption” in English translations, but perhaps “addiction,” or more fully “induced economic dependence” are more accurate: the originally self-sufficient Xiongnú were to be made economically dependent on Han-produced goods, starting with silk and woolen cloths instead of their own rude furs and felt. At first supplied free as unrequited tribute, these goods could still be supplied later on when the Han were stronger, but only in exchange for services rendered.

The second tool of barbarian handling, is normally translated as “indoctrination”: the Xiongnú were to be persuaded to accept the authoritarian Confucian value system and the collectivistic behavioral norms of the Han, as opposed to the steppe value system, based on voluntary allegiance to a heroic (and successful in looting) fighting and migration leader. One immediate benefit was that once the Chanyu’s son and heir married an imperial daughter, he would be ethically subordinated to the emperor as his father-in-law — remaining so when he became Chanyu in turn.

The much larger, longer-term benefit of the second tool was to undermine the entire political culture of the Xiongnú, and make them psychologically well as economically dependent on the imperial radiance, which was willingly extended in brotherly fashion when the Han were weak, and then contemptuously withdrawn when the Xiongnú were reduced to vassalage. What happened between the Han and the Xiongnú from the equal treaty of 198 BCE to the vassalage treaty of 51 BCE, remained thereafter, and still remains today the most hopeful precedent for Han dealings with powerful and violent states — evidently the assigned role of the United States in the present Beijing world-view.

The method forms a logical sequence:

Stage One: start by conceding all that must be conceded to the superior power including tribute, in order to avoid damage and obtain whatever forbearance is offered. But this in itself entangles the ruling class of the still-superior power in webs of material dependence that reduce its independent vitality and strength.

Stage Two: offer equality in a privileged bipolarity that excludes all lesser powers, or “G-2” in current parlance. That neutralizes the still powerful Other party, and isolates the manipulated soon-to-be former equal from all its potential allies, preventing from balancing China with a coalition.

Stage Three: finally, when the formerly superior power has been weakened enough, withdraw all tokens of equality and impose subordination.