Selection, Assessment & Training: the IJN Way

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Weapons Man recommends a series of living history interviews by Dan King — a former diplomat who, rare among Americans, speaks and understands spoken Japanese well — if you want to understand selection, assessment & training: the IJN way — namely A Tomb Called Iwo Jima and The Last Zero Fighter:

Japanese combat leadership was experienced, NCO/PO leadership. Unlike officer-heavy armies of the US, Russia, or the Third World, the Japanese had very few, and very elite, officers. By “elite,” we mean that they were selected for being in the top tail of the ability distribution (cognitively and physically), and they were trained in an extremely demanding academy. But the percentage of officers was always low, and first- and second-line leaders were invariably NCOs, promoted into leadership positions (and trained for those positions) based on ability and proven performance. Mutual respect between the academy officers and the up-from-the-ranks NCOs was the vital glue that produced the remarkable combat cohesion of Japanese units.

An Aviator in the IJN, usually of enlisted rank and even younger than his Allied counterpart, was one of three technical specialties: pilot, navigator/observer (who in multi-crew aircraft, much like in the Luftwaffe, was more likely to be the aircraft commander than the senior pilot was), and radio operator/gunner. This technical division was much like other air arms. But Japan was unique in the degree to which it made its pilots from a raw material of unformed, almost uneducated but able youth — children, by today’s measures.

King reduces it to an aphorism:

While Western powers trained officers to be pilots, Japan primarily turned teenage boys into pilots.


Thursday, July 16th, 2015

In a letter dated Thursday, Sept. 6, 1928, Henry W. Akeley explains to Albert N. Wilmarth of Miskatonic University some once-again-timely facts about the Outer Beings:

Their main immediate abode is a still undiscovered and almost lightless planet at the very edge of our solar system — beyond Neptune, and the ninth in distance from the sun. It is, as we have inferred, the object mystically hinted at as “Yuggoth” in certain ancient and forbidden writings; and it will soon be the scene of a strange focusing of thought upon our world in an effort to facilitate mental rapport. I would not be surprised if astronomers become sufficiently sensitive to these thought-currents to discover Yuggoth when the Outer Ones wish them to do so. But Yuggoth, of course, is only the stepping- stone. The main body of the beings inhabits strangely organized abysses wholly beyond the utmost reach of any human imagination. The space-time globule which we recognize as the totality of all cosmic entity is only an atom in the genuine infinity which is theirs. And as much of this infinity as any human brain can hold is eventually to be opened up to me, as it has been to not more than fifty other men since the human race has existed.

What Book has the Most Page-for-Page Wisdom?

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Shane Parrish (@farnamstreet) asked his Twitter followers, “What is page for page the book with the most wisdom you’ve ever read?”.

Tyler Cowen was not impressed with the resulting list, so he rattled off his own:

Cowen’s commenters love Pinker and both love and hate N.N. Taleb.

The Ecstasy and Agony of Robbie Lawler versus Rory MacDonald

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Jack Slack goes beyond his usual technical analysis to describe the ecstasy and agony of Robbie Lawler versus Rory MacDonald — a brutal bout I’m not sure I really want to see:

Much is made of ‘the art of fighting’, but it’s far from a perfect science. The manly art of self defense isn’t really so much about self preservation as it is about survival and reprisal. A competitor can fight an excellent, strategic fight, win, and come out with a more severe injury than his opponent. This game is one of trying to adapt to and make the best of chaos.

For this reason, some fighters develop this fetish for budo or the ‘way of the warrior’. Often, this leads to brilliant fighters throwing away their careers to prove they’ve got guts. In fact, there are men who have lost or come close to losing fights which have no business causing them trouble just because they let their machismo get the better of them.

But no matter how much we can despair at the silliness of it all, there is something stirred deep in the vast majority of us when we witness a battle of wills for stakes as high as a world championship. One of the reasons that combat sports produce such sincere emotion in fans is that the sacrifices and pain endured by the competitor is that of being physically assaulted. I have seen plenty of men beaten to death, I am outspoken against referees who even come close to letting that happen, and I have no desire to see another ring fatality. And yet… there is something about seeing how willing two men are to lay down their health and livelihood while taking a hellacious beating which appeals to a more basic instinct in me.


As we all rejoiced and said to our companions “What a fight!”, Robbie Lawler went berserk, running around the cage in celebration. The gash in his lip seemed to open as wide as his mouth each time he roared. On one of the most memorable fight cards of the year, this fight had taken the cake. It was the kind of fight you’re lucky to see once every three or four years and even as we joked about it, no-one expected that the main event to follow could live up to this.

And then, amid all of that, there was the reminder of guilt. It went largely missed due to the camera angle, and the tendency to focus on the winner. The same is true when you are live in the arena, the victor grows to become a titan, and the defeated fighter suddenly shrinks down and disappears. But directly behind the champion, as he ran around the ring in jubilation, was MacDonald, collapsing again as he sat up in front of the doctor.

The great tragedy of this story is not that MacDonald performed out of his skin and was unable to take the title, or that imbeciles on the internet are accusing him of quitting because he didn’t fall to the floor unconscious in the manner they were most familiar with, or even that MacDonald has likely done himself some significant long term damage. The real tragedy, and the thing which every fight fan has to try to come to grips with each time he watches a terrific war with a brutal and uncomfortable ending, is that this is exactly the kind of fight we all wish we could watch every weekend.

Political Theory from the Future

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Neal Stephenson may eventually be remembered as the most subversive Sci-Fi author of his generation:

His technological extrapolations are fun, but Stephenson’s most interesting and subversive contributions lie in his sociological and political thinking.


I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the America of Snow Crash referred to in the media as a libertarian dystopia, and I think calling it a dystopia entirely misses Stephenson’s point. After all, a typical dystopian science fiction tale will (or should) unambiguously take whatever ideology it’s trying to address to the mat and demonstrate its horrors through object lessons. Snow Crash doesn’t do that at all. Rather, it depicts a very well functioning world which just happens to seem terrifying to late-20th-century readers.


We move on to The Diamond Age. The world of this story is dominated by the presence of nanotechnology. Every material object is absurdly cheap, bordering on free. Yet there is still an enormous underclass of stateless individuals (“thetes”), including our protagonist Nell. Why? Well, turns out you naturally end up with haves and have-nots even in a post-scarcity world. To hammer home this lesson, Stephenson sets atop the hierarchy of this world a group known as the Neo-Victorians. The Neo-Victorians have lords and knights; ladies are expected to stay home and raise the children; despite the ability to build anything they could want, they choose to wear old-fashioned, handmade dresses and shoes and bowler hats. My favorite Stephenson term of all time is “equity lord,” meaning somebody who has the title of Lord because they are an equity holder in the corporation which constitutes the economic footprint of Neo-Victorian society.

Where Snow Crash seemed at first blush to be an anarcho-libertarian dystopia, The Diamond Age seems almost like some kind of Reactionary dystopia, except where exactly are the dystopian elements? Yes, there’s a huge underclass — there’s an equally huge underclass today, and factory workers in the modern Third World are materially worse off than the poor of The Diamond Age. At least the thetes of the story have their bread and circuses and free housing.


Locked in economic (and eventually military) contest with the Neo-Victorians are the Chinese Confucian phyle. While the Neo-Victorians are largely Anglo-Saxon technologists who embrace a Victorian social and material aesthetic, the Confucians are a largely ethnic Han Chinese group who embrace the principles of Confucian hierarchy as it existed before the British made China a de facto colony, complete with Mandarins and corporal punishment and strict patriarchy. So the two dominant social and economic powerhouses in the story adhere to extremely rigid, patriarchal, Reactionary social codes. The story doesn’t leave us wondering why this is, either — we’re told through the conversations of the characters that when nation-states and traditional economic models fail, people fall back on ethnic homogeneity, conservative and traditional gender roles, and harshly regressive penal codes in order to establish the unity, cohesiveness, and strength needed to compete in a chaotic world.

Okay — so The Diamond Age looks like a Reactionary vision of the future and Snow Crash looks like a Libertarian vision of the future. Neither are particularly dystopian, at least not compared to reality, but nor are they sugar-coated utopian fantasies. They are more like semi-serious extrapolations, evenhanded simulations of what those socio-political systems might turn into.

He goes on to look at Seveneves and Anathem, too.

(I’ve discussed The Diamond Age before.)

Bastille Day

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Jerry Pournelle describes the original Bastille Day:

On July 14, 1789, the Paris mob aided by units of the National Guard stormed the Bastille Fortress which stood in what had been the Royal area of France before the Louvre and Tuilleries took over that function. The Bastille was a bit like the Tower of London, a fortress prison under direct control of the Monarchy. It was used to house unusual prisoners, all aristocrats, in rather comfortable durance. The garrison consisted of soldiers invalided out of service and some older soldiers who didn’t want to retire; it was considered an honor to be posted there, and the garrison took turns acting as valets to the aristocratic prisoners kept there by Royal order (not convicted by any court).

On July 14, 1789, the prisoner population consisted of four forgers, three madmen, and another.  The forgers were aristocrats and were locked away in the Bastille rather than be sentenced by the regular courts. The madmen were kept in the Bastille in preference to the asylums: they were unmanageable at home, and needed to be locked away. The servants/warders were bribed to treat them well. The Bastille was stormed; the garrison was slaughtered to a man, some being stamped to death; their heads were displayed on pikes; and the prisoners were freed. The forgers vanished into the general population. The madmen were sent to the general madhouse.  The last person freed was a young man who had challenged the best swordsman in Paris to a duel, and who had been locked up at his father’s insistence lest he be killed. This worthy joined the mob and took on the name of Citizen Egalité. He was active in revolutionary politics until Robespierre had him beheaded in The Terror.

The national holidays of the US, Mexico, and France all celebrate rather different events…

Water Displacement, 40th formula

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

WD-40 has an interesting history:

WD-40 was developed in 1953 by Norm Larsen, founder of the Rocket Chemical Company, in San Diego, California. WD-40, abbreviated from the phrase “Water Displacement, 40th formula”, was originally designed to repel water and prevent corrosion, and later was found to have numerous household uses.

Larsen was attempting to create a formula to prevent corrosion in nuclear missiles, by displacing the standing water that causes it. He claims he arrived at a successful formula on his 40th attempt. WD-40 is primarily composed of various hydrocarbons.

WD-40 was first used by Convair to protect the outer skin and, more importantly, the paper-thin balloon tanks of the Atlas missile from rust and corrosion. These stainless steel fuel tanks were so thin that, when empty, they had to be kept inflated with nitrogen gas to prevent their collapse.

WD-40 first became commercially available on store shelves in San Diego, California in 1958.

The Density Divide

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Steve Sailer explores the density divide:

Different densities appeal to different personalities. For example, the frontier was always assumed to be where a man could be free from matronly tyranny, a major theme of American letters. Huckleberry Finn sums up that he’s headed for Oklahoma “because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

Americans were long extremely proud of settling the continent. The pioneers’ struggle against nature was an objective accomplishment that enthralled the world: Westerns were one of the most popular genres of movies from 1903 to 1970. American settlers combined independence and cooperation well, especially in contrast to the fractious Native Americans, who constantly stabbed each other in the back with self-destructive rivalries rather than unite to fight the white man.

Old-fashioned science fiction — Heinlein, Star Trek, Interstellar — tended to be about opening up a New Frontier that would allow Americans to once again flourish at what they do best: contend with nature for objective gain rather than with each other for subjective pride of place. Indeed the race to the moon proved a nonviolent way for Americans and Soviets to compete against the physical universe to show off who would win if they went to war against each other.

Different kinds of science evolve best under different conditions. Evolutionary theory is very much a product of the countryside, especially of England’s culture of intellectual country boys. On the other hand, Claude Shannon worked out information theory in Greenwich Village.

In the red-blue debate, both sides view the other as horrifyingly conformist: In the country, you can’t get away from people who know you, while in the city, you can’t get away from people, period.

The kinds of businesses found in lightly populated areas tend to be agriculture, energy, and other forms of resource extraction, and, as population increases, construction and heavy industry. The type of industry found in the highest-density places tends toward finance, law, media, fashion, and marketing.

In my ill-fated venture into the marketing profession, for instance, I had a corner office directly across Wacker Drive from the Sears Tower, then the tallest skyscraper in the world. Granted, it was an inconvenient place from which to attempt to manipulate the habits of the average grocery shopper since it was an expensive cab ride from the nearest supermarket, but the view was amazing.

Silicon Valley started off on the exurban frontier between San Francisco and San Jose because early chipmakers needed open land to build fabrication plants. And the kind of engineers who wanted to work on the problems that firms like Hewlett-Packard and Intel were solving preferred living in their own houses with their own yards and, famously, their own two-car garages.

But as the tech industry has evolved away from wrestling with nature toward becoming a marketing and media juggernaut, businesses such as Twitter have flowed back to San Francisco. Sure, there’s no room for you to work on your hobby in your garage, but today’s tech titans don’t see why their employees should have time for hobbies.

In the Twitter Age, status competitions tend to be played out online in the realm of ideology, with the more implausible your dogmas, the higher your status.

In other words, we’ve managed to combine the worst of village and big-city life: There’s now an unlimited number of people at hand to take offense and remember you for it. And there’s no way to light out for the territory and start over, because now it all goes on your permanent record.

Naval Special Warfare Center Physical Training Guidelines

Monday, July 13th, 2015

The Naval Special Warfare Center presents its Physical Training Guidelines, based on these key points:

  • Keep it simple
  • Use proper technique (get coaching from qualified sources if necessary)
  • Develop the whole body, especially the parts known to be vulnerable to injury

So, what are those parts known to be vulnerable to injury?

Rotator cuff, mid/lower traps, rhomboids, posterior & medial glutes, hamstrings, tibialis anterior, torso rotators

You might consider doing more than just reading the whole thing.

Demand for Schooling, Returns to Schooling, and the Role of Credentials

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Alex Eble and Feng Hu look at demand for schooling, returns to schooling, and the role of credentials:

Wages are positively correlated with years of schooling. This correlation is largely driven by two mechanisms: signaling and skill acquisition. We exploit a policy change in China to evaluate their relative importance. The policy, rolled out from 1980 to 2005, extended primary school by one year. Affected individuals must then complete more schooling to obtain their highest credential, the main signal of interest. If the primary mechanism behind schooling returns is signaling, we would expect little change in the distribution of credentials in the population, but a large increase in schooling. If skill acquisition dominates, we should see no change in length of schooling but a change in credentials. Our results are consistent with the signaling story. Further consistent with such a story, we estimate that the labor market return to another year of schooling is very small, though greater for the less-educated. We estimate that this policy, while redistributive, generates a likely net loss of at least tens of billions of dollars, reallocating nearly one trillion person-hours from the labor market to schooling with meager overall returns.

Treadmills Unplugged

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

The latest gym-machine craze is the manual treadmill:

The treadmills, made by Woodway, based in Waukesha, Wis., have a slightly concave tread surface, like the bottom of a hamster wheel. The front and back of the tread are higher than the middle, a design that uses gravity to help accelerate and brake. The belt speeds up when users move toward the front and slows down when they move back.


Quieter than treadmills with motors, they are especially useful in Manhattan clubs situated above other tenants, says Ed Trainor, TSI’s vice president for fitness, services and product development.


Nonmotorized treadmills are generally smaller than traditional ones and don’t require power strips or outlets. Their digital displays are battery-powered.


The belts speed up and slow down with the runner, making them useful for short-burst workouts. Though the treadmills take some getting used to, some people say they feel safer. “You’re not going to get shot off the back of it,” Ms. Fairchild says. “If you stop, it stops.”

Accidents on treadmills cause about 24,000 injuries annually. In May, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Goldberg, the husband of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, died after falling off a treadmill and hitting his head.


These rugged manual treadmills cost about $6,000, as much as or more than motorized ones.

LED Grow Lights in Space

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

A recent study demonstrated that targeted LEDs could provide efficient lighting for plants grown in space:

Research led by Cary Mitchell, professor of horticulture, and then-master’s student Lucie Poulet found that leaf lettuce thrived under a 95-to-5 ratio of red and blue light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, placed close to the plant canopy. The targeted LED lighting used about 90 percent less electrical power per growing area than traditional lighting and an additional 50 percent less energy than full-coverage LED lighting.

The study suggests that this model could be a valuable component of controlled-environment agriculture and vertical farming systems in space and on Earth, Mitchell said.

I’m reminded of William Gibson‘s aphorism that “the street finds its own uses for things.” LED grow lights have been used here on Earth for not-so-noble purposes for some time, I’d assume.

Isocrates on Democracy

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

During the 2010 financial crisis, Isocrates was quoted as saying this:

Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality, because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress.

Isocrates’ actual quote runs as follows:

Those who directed the state in the time of Solon and Cleisthenes did not establish a polity which… trained the citizens in such fashion that they looked upon insolence as democracy, lawlessness as liberty, impudence of speech as equality, and licence to do what they pleased as happiness, but rather a polity which detested and punished such men and by so doing made all the citizens better and wiser.

Propertiless Humanity of the Lowest Order

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

In the Old West there was a clear demarcation between Dodge and Indian Country, James LaFond says, but there’s no such line in modern Baltimore:

For instance, on the bus I am in Dodge, a policed coach with government recording devices abundant and in plain sight. And, in most cases, as soon as I get off the bus I am in Indian Country, surrounded by propertiless humanity of the lowest order.

The absence of ownership, of being tied to a house, a vehicle, a law suit-friendly portfolio, or a garnish-ready wage, all makes a person more belligerent than they would otherwise be. The liberal slave masters have made of their urban slaves a ready force of aggressors. For they have tasted of abundance beyond the dreams of most working class people for two weeks of every month, and have also been deprived of a regular income, with monthly income distributions insuring times of want through the very lack of disciplined self-sufficiency denied the slave on the dole. Since a person raised on the welfare plantation is put in a position that weakens impulse control, inculcates a sense of entitlement only rivaled by medieval nobility, and at the same time denies property, he is uniquely prone to violent action of both the predatory and social variety.

Therefore, unlike the savage Indian who had excellent impulse control, the savage urbanite is likely to engage in escalated anger-based combat due to perceived insults to his entitled status, making him a dueling or brawling risk on the order of a medieval knight. At the same time, his condition of moral want and social isolation make him a predatory threat due to his purposeful alienation at the hands of his duplicitous slave master. In one person the hoodrat represents the risk of being hunted by an aboriginal savage in his native habitat, and of running afoul of the belligerent medieval dimwit on the road to his drawbridge.

Dune, 50 Years On

Friday, July 10th, 2015

In 1959, Frank Herbert was researching a US Department of Agriculture program to stabilize the shifting sands near Florence, Oregon, by introducing European beach grass:

About to turn 40, Herbert had been a working writer since the age of 19, and his fortunes had always been patchy. After a hard childhood in a small coastal community near Tacoma, Washington, where his pleasures had been fishing and messing about in boats, he’d worked for various regional newspapers in the Pacific northwest and sold short stories to magazines. He’d had a relatively easy war, serving eight months as a naval photographer before receiving a medical discharge. More recently he’d spent a weird interlude in Washington as a speechwriter for a Republican senator. There (his only significant time living on the east coast) he attended the daily Army-McCarthy hearings, watching his distant relative senator Joseph McCarthy root out communism. Herbert was a quintessential product of the libertarian culture of the Pacific coast, self-reliant and distrustful of centralised authority, yet with a mile-wide streak of utopian futurism and a concomitant willingness to experiment. He was also chronically broke. During the period he wrote Dune, his wife Beverly Ann was the main bread-winner, her own writing career sidelined by a job producing advertising copy for department stores.

Soon, Herbert’s research into dunes became research into deserts and desert cultures.

His research into ecology and desert cultures combined with many other influences, too:

This setup owes something to the Mars stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, as well as the tales written by Idaho-born food chemist Elmer Edward “Doc” Smith, creator of the popular Lensman space operas of the 1940s and 50s, in which eugenically bred heroes are initiated into a “galactic patrol” of psychically enhanced supercops. For Smith, altered states of consciousness were mainly tools for the whiteous and righteous to vaporise whole solar systems of subversives, aliens and others with undesirable traits. Herbert, by contrast, was no friend of big government. He had also taken peyote and read Jung. In 1960, a sailing buddy introduced him to the Zen thinker Alan Watts, who was living on a houseboat in Sausalito. Long conversations with Watts, the main conduit by which Zen was permeating the west-coast counterculture, helped turn Herbert’s pacy adventure story into an exploration of temporality, the limits of personal identity and the mind’s relationship to the body.

Herbert didn’t stop writing non-Dune works after the book’s success:

He wrote about education for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and lectured at the University of Washington. In 1972, during the American push to extricate itself from the south-east Asian quagmire, he worked in Vietnam, part of a project called “Land to the Tiller”, aimed at cutting Viet Cong recruitment by enacting land reform. He built a family home on the Olympic peninsula which he thought of as an “ecological demonstration project”. He built his own solar collector, wind plant and methane fuel generator. In a 1981 interview he described himself a “technopeasant”.

Alejandro Jodorowsky failed to bring his vision of Dune to the silver screen, and David Lynch’s didn’t live up to the book’s promise:

Actually, the great Dune film did get made. Its name is Star Wars. In early drafts, this story of a desert planet, an evil emperor, and a boy with a galactic destiny also included warring noble houses and a princess guarding a shipment of something called “aura spice”. All manner of borrowings from Dunelitter the Star Wars universe, from the Bene Gesserit-like mental powers of the Jedi to the mining and “moisture farming” on Tattooine. Herbert knew he’d been ripped off, and thought he saw the ideas of other SF writers in Lucas’s money-spinning franchise. He and a number of colleagues formed a joke organisation called the We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society.

Star Wars borrows from everything.

As I’ve said before, I find Dune oddly compelling, even though it didn’t quite work for me.