Elon Musk at MIT’s AeroAstro Centennial Symposium

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

At the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department’s Centennial Symposium, Elon Musk spoke.

He considers The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein’s best novel, and he wonders why rocket engines are always mounted on gimbals, and airplane engines never are.


Sunday, October 26th, 2014

A transom is a horizontal beam separating a door from a window above it.

The phrase “over the transom” refers to works submitted without being solicited. Imagine a writer tossing a manuscript through the open window over the door of the publisher’s office.

Classic Elegance

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Will the American fashion industry ever tolerate another de la Renta?, Virginia Postrel wonders:

His brand will continue, but the classic elegance for which he was known is as old-fashioned as it is beloved. It defies the prestige accorded to innovators who “move fashion forward” rather than simply creating fresh collections. Michelle Obama wouldn’t have won all those plaudits as a fashion leader if she’d worn his dresses and followed his rules. She would have merely been another tastefully attired Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush.

In addition, de la Renta’s work was out of step with the relentless march of informality. “I don’t really know how to do casual clothes,” the designer admitted in 2005. Nor did he seem to value them. In 2009, he criticized the first lady for wearing a J. Crew cardigan during a visit to Queen Elizabeth. A cardigan might be a staple of contemporary office dress (no longer called “business casual”), but in de la Renta’s eyes serious affairs demanded something structured.

“Whatever the fashion of the moment, his garments were always constructed, shaping the female body into something more perfect and swan-like than its natural shape allowed,” observed Fashionista editor-in-chief Lauren Indvik in her memorial. That artifice is why his clothes could project power despite his fondness for flowers and frills.

His clothes were pretty, but they were also disciplined. They embodied the ideal contained in the word often used to describe them: ladylike. “If you don’t dress well every day, you lose the habit,” he told the Telegraph’s Lisa Armstrong in a long 2013 interview. Americans, male and female, mostly have.

Once liberating, the drive toward informal attire, exemplified by hoodies in Silicon Valley, flip flops in Los Angeles, and sweaters on state visits, has become a new form of oppressive conformity. Dressing down is de rigueur.

De la Renta stood against that trend. Now that he’s gone, perhaps there’s an opportunity for a transgressive young designer to do something really daring: Get us to dress up again.

New from TrackingPoint

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

TrackingPoint recently introduced the Shotglass:

The Shotglass can be used to aim and fire the weapon from complete concealment cover. It can record video. It’s most likely use in the real world, though, is as a way for the spotter to direct the sniper on target. We expect we will see more of these used with TrackingPoint’s long-range bolt action rifles than with its ARs, but time will tell.

Tracking Point Shotglass

The company now offers three ARs, including a .300 WinMag model:

Tracking Point AR in 300 WinMag

Kid-Sized Spaces

Friday, October 24th, 2014

What is it like for kids to play sports in adult-sized spaces?

Lone Survivor

Friday, October 24th, 2014

When the Lone Survivor movie came out, I read up on Operation Red Wings, but I only just got around to watching the movie.

The original plan kicked off with a six-man team of Marine Scout Snipers walking in under cover of darkness, but, because SOF air elements were going to be involved in later stages, that turned into a four-man team of SEALs inserting by helicopter — something the original planners thought would compromise the mission by revealing coalition presence in this area.

The movie depicts all the SEALs as fully kitted out and visibly encumbered, but they’re not wearing helmets, and it’s not clear that they’re wearing body armor, either. Two are armed with suppressed sniper rifles, while the other two have carbines with grenade launchers.

They make their way to a decent vantage point from which they can spot and indentify their (surveillance) target, Ahmad Shah, and his surprisingly large “army” of fighters.

They’re just out of rifle range and aren’t on a mission to take out Shah themselves. One of the spotters asks, “You make that shot?” and the sniper replies, “Negative. Wouldn’t have authority anyway.”

(I couldn’t help but wonder, what could four designated marksmen, all armed with higher-caliber semi-auto rifles, do to a few dozen insurgents caught in the open like that, before they could respond?)

In the mountainous, wooded terrain, the SEALs have “comms” problems and can’t report back their findings, call in support, or request an extraction — but they came expecting comms problems, so they don’t panic. On the other hand, they don’t seem to have a solid plan for handling the local situation without support.

In particular, they don’t seem to have a solid plan for handling a few locals stumbling upon their position. No one on the team speaks the local language, and no one has a plan for dealing with semi-hostile locals. When you don’t have a plan, you don’t make good decisions. I’m not sure what a good decision would have been, but both shooting the locals and letting them go have obvious downsides. I suppose they didn’t bring zip-ties? Paracord? A few extra hours could have made a big difference. Letting the enemy know you’re there, and that there are only four of you, seems like something you should put off as long as possible.

By the time the pursuers catch up to them, the SEALs are deep in rough, wooded terrain — where they do not have clear lines of sight for long-range shots.

One thing the movie drives home is just how physical modern combat can be. The SEALs take a beating from scrambling through the rocky, wooded terrain, take some terrible falls, and then, on top of that, get cut to pieces by fragments from RPGs, mortar bombs, ricochets, etc. And then they actually get shot. The through-and-through shots to the arms and legs don’t seem to slow them down much, but it all adds up.

If the film starts to feel more “Hollywood” by the end, that’s because it diverges from the book — and reality.

If you “enjoyed” Black Hawk Down, you should see Lone Survivor, too.

Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers receives standing ovation

Friday, October 24th, 2014

I was watching Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers receive a standing ovation, thinking, you could not create a more fitting conservative hero — silver-haired sergeant, in traditional costume, doing his duty — when I heard the announcer mention that Vickers “found his weapon in his office” before gunning down the Muslim-extremist attacking Parliament. Might I suggest having the Sergeant-at-Arms armed — with more than a mace?

Get There First

Friday, October 24th, 2014

It took five or six Shermans to take out a single Tiger tank — or did it?

Examining 98 engagements in the Ardennes, Army researchers discovered something rather interesting.

The study concluded that the single most important factor in tank-versus-tank fighting was which side spotted the enemy first, engaged first and hit first. This gave the defender a distinct advantage, since the defending tanks were typically stationary in a well-chosen ambush position. …

The side that saw first and hit first usually had the advantage in the first critical minute … the overall record suggests that the Sherman was 3.6 times more effective than the Panther … popular myths that that Panthers enjoyed a 5-to-1 kill ratio against Shermans or that it took five Shermans to knock out a Panther have no basis in historical records. The outcome of tank-versus-tank fighting was more often determined by the tactical situation than the technical situation.

Since the Shermans were more numerous and mechanically reliable, they typically got to the key terrain first. They kept going whereas the Panthers and Tigers could only road march short distances from their transporters and railheads. Thus, in most engagements the Shermans could get set up because there were so many of them and they tended to run reliably.

If there was a hill to be grabbed, a road to be blocked, the Shermans would get there first. By contrast, the German tanks were mechanically fragile. For all their power they were on average, late to the party. Therefore, on a fluid battlefield the Shermans would almost always arrive first on the key terrain and bushwhack the panzers.

None of the experts are experts

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

There are whole fields in which none of the experts are experts, Gregory Cochran notes:

At the high point of Freudian psychoanalysis in the US,  I figure that a puppy had a significantly positive effect on your mental health, while the typical psychiatrist of the time did not.  We (the US) listened to psychologists telling us how to deal with combat fatigue: the Nazis and Soviets didn’t, and had far less trouble with it than we did.

Fidel Castro, a jerk,  was better at preventive epidemiology (with AIDS) than the people running the CDC.

In the 1840s, highly educated doctors knew that diseases were not spread by contagion, but old ladies in the Faeroe Islands (along with many other people) knew that some were.

In 2003, the ‘experts’ (politicians, journalists, pundits, spies) knew that Saddam had a nuclear program, but the small number of people that actually knew anything about nuclear weapons development and something about Iraq (at the World Almanac level, say) knew that wasn’t so.

The educationists know that heredity isn’t a factor in student achievement, and they dominate policy — but they’re wrong.  Some behavioral geneticists and psychometricians know better.

In many universities, people were and are taught that really are no cognitive or behavioral differences between the sexes — in part because of ‘experts’ like John Money.  Anyone with children tends to learn better.

Infected by Politics

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

The public-health establishment has been infected by politics, Heather Mac Donald explains:

The public-health establishment has unanimously opposed a travel and visa moratorium from Ebola-plagued West African countries to protect the U.S. population. To evaluate whether this opposition rests on purely scientific grounds, it helps to understand the political character of the public-health field. For the last several decades, the profession has been awash in social-justice ideology. Many of its members view racism, sexism, and economic inequality, rather than individual behavior, as the primary drivers of differential health outcomes in the U.S. According to mainstream public-health thinking, publicizing the behavioral choices behind bad health—promiscuous sex, drug use, overeating, or lack of exercise—blames the victim.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Communities Program, for example, focuses on “unfair health differences closely linked with social, economic or environmental disadvantages that adversely affect groups of people.” CDC’s Healthy People 2020 project recognizes that “health inequities are tied to economics, exclusion, and discrimination that prevent groups from accessing resources to live healthy lives,” according to Harvard public-health professor Nancy Krieger. Krieger is herself a magnet for federal funding, which she uses to spread the message about America’s unjust treatment of women, minorities, and the poor. To study the genetic components of health is tantamount to “scientific racism,” in Krieger’s view, since doing so overlooks the “impact of discrimination” on health. And of course the idea of any genetic racial differences is anathema to Krieger and her left-wing colleagues.

Super-Intelligent Humans Are Coming

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Super-intelligent humans are coming, Stephen Hsu argues:

The Social Science Genome Association Consortium, an international collaboration involving dozens of university labs, has identified a handful of regions of human DNA that affect cognitive ability. They have shown that a handful of single-nucleotide polymorphisms in human DNA are statistically correlated with intelligence, even after correction for multiple testing of 1 million independent DNA regions, in a sample of over 100,000 individuals.

If only a small number of genes controlled cognition, then each of the gene variants should have altered IQ by a large chunk—about 15 points of variation between two individuals. But the largest effect size researchers have been able to detect thus far is less than a single point of IQ. Larger effect sizes would have been much easier to detect, but have not been seen.

This means that there must be at least thousands of IQ alleles to account for the actual variation seen in the general population. A more sophisticated analysis (with large error bars) yields an estimate of perhaps 10,000 in total.1

Each genetic variant slightly increases or decreases cognitive ability. Because it is determined by many small additive effects, cognitive ability is normally distributed, following the familiar bell-shaped curve, with more people in the middle than in the tails. A person with more than the average number of positive (IQ-increasing) variants will be above average in ability. The number of positive alleles above the population average required to raise the trait value by a standard deviation—that is, 15 points—is proportional to the square root of the number of variants, or about 100. In a nutshell, 100 or so additional positive variants could raise IQ by 15 points.

Given that there are many thousands of potential positive variants, the implication is clear: If a human being could be engineered to have the positive version of each causal variant, they might exhibit cognitive ability which is roughly 100 standard deviations above average. This corresponds to more than 1,000 IQ points.

Inside Gamergate’s (successful) attack on the media

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post looks inside Gamergate’s (successful) attack on the media:

It’s about fighting what they see as a massive, progressive conspiracy among female game developers, feminists and sympathetic, left-leaning media outlets, all of whom are purportedly bent on the destruction of the traditional “gamer” lifestyle.


The attack strategy is two-part: first, boycott the sites in question; second, pressure their advertisers to do the same.

The “operation,” as organizers have dubbed it, is called Disrespectful Nod, and it’s steadily picked up steam since it launched quietly in early September. According to the group’s records, half a dozen advertisers — including significant international companies, such as Unilever and Scottrade — have been persuaded to drop major media buys within the past six weeks.


But the incident still demonstrates a worrying new trend among the Gamergate crowd: curbing the speech of reporters they don’t like by threatening their advertisers. For a media empire, such as Gawker, of course, one advertiser won’t necessarily make or break operations. But for targeted sites like Gamasutra, a smaller, gaming industry news site, or Gameranx, a five-person operation, targeting advertisers isn’t just a form of protest: It’s a threat to their very existence.

Now, where have we seen these tactics used before?

It’s Impossible to Build on Failure

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

It’s impossible to build on failure, Tony Robbins says:

You build only on success. I turned around the United States Army pistol shooting program. I made certain that the first time someone shot a pistol, instead of shooting the .45 caliber pistol from 50 feet away — which is what they were starting these guys out at — I brought the target literally five feet in front of the students. I wouldn’t let them fire the gun until they had rehearsed over and over again the exact perfect shooting form for two hours. By the time they held the gun, they had every technique perfected, so when they fired, they succeeded. BAM!

At first the Army thought it was stupid, but it put ignition into the students’ brain — “WOW! I’ve succeeded!” — versus shooting bullets into the ceiling or floor the first few times. It created an initial sense of certainty.

I believe in setting people up to win. Many instructors believe in setting them up to fail so they stay humble and they are more motivated. I disagree radically. There is a time for that but not in the beginning. People’s actions are very limited when they think they have limited potential. If you have limited belief, you are going to use limited potential, and you are going to take limited action.


Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

I am shocked — shocked! — to find cheating going on at UNC!

A blistering report into an academic fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina released Wednesday found that for nearly two decades two employees in the African and Afro-American Studies department ran a “shadow curriculum” of hundreds of fake classes that never met but for which students, many of them Tar Heels athletes, routinely received A’s and B’s.

Nearly half the students in the classes were athletes, the report found, often deliberately steered there by academic counselors to bolster their worrisomely low grade-point averages and to allow them to continue playing on North Carolina’s teams.

I’m so glad we’ve ferreted out this one isolated program, and America’s student-athletes can continue their long tradition of academic excellence.

The Greatness of George Orwell

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Bruce Charlton discusses the greatness of George Orwell — and his fatal flaw:

My generation was fed Orwell at school from our mid teens — some of the essays such as Shooting an Elephant and Boys’ Weeklies; excerpts from the documentary books such as Down and Out.. and …Wigan Pier; and the two late political novels Animal Farm and 1984.

That Orwell was mostly correct about things was not really argued, but assumed; on the basis that he seemed obviously correct to almost everybody; so far as the English were concerned, Orwell was simply expressing the national character better than we ourselves could have done.

Orwell was claimed both by the Left — on the basis that he was explicitly a socialist through most of his life; and he was claimed by the Right — on the basis that his two best known novels are anti-communist warnings against totalitarianism.

In sum: Orwell’s influence was much as any writer reasonably could have hoped for. And his warnings about the dangers of Leftism and the operations of totalitarianism were as lucid, as explicit, and as forceful as any writer could have made them.

And yet Britain today is an ‘Orwellian’ society to a degree which would have seemed incredible even 25 years ago. The same applies to the USA, where Orwell was also revered.

In particular, the exact types of abuses, manipulations and distortions of language which Orwell spelled-out in fiery capital letters 100 feet high have come to pass; have become routine and unremarked — and they are wholly-successful, barely-noticed, stoutly-defended — and to point them out is regarded either as trivial nitpicking or evasive rhetoric.

The current manifestations of the sexual revolution, deploying the most crudely Orwellian appropriations and taboos of terminology, go further than even Orwell envisaged. The notion that sexual differences could so easily be subverted, and their evaluations so swiftly reversed; apparently at will and without any apparent limit would — I think — have gone beyond the possibilities Orwell could have realistically imagined.

(Indeed, it is characteristic of the Kafka-esque absurdity of modern Western life that a plain description of everyday reality — say in a state bureaucracy, the mass media or university — is simply disbelieved, it ‘does not compute’ and is rejected by the mind. And by this, nihilistic absurdity is safeguarded.)

I think Orwell would never have believed that people would accept, en masse, and so readily go along with (willingly embrace and enforce, indeed), the negative relabelling of normal biological reality, and he substitution of arbitrary and rapidly changing inverted norms: for Orwell, The Proles were sexually normal, like animals, and would continue so. The elites, whatever their personal preferences and practices, left them alone in this — presumably because sexuality was seen as a kind of bedrock.

And this leads to Orwell’s fatal flaw — which was exactly sexuality.