A Nation of Enemies

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

The imprudence of Valens and his ministers, Edward Gibbon explains, introduced a nation of enemies into the heart of the Roman empire:

[Emperor Valens] was informed, that the North was agitated by a furious tempest; that the irruption of the Huns, an unknown and monstrous race of savages, had subverted the power of the Goths; and that the suppliant multitudes of that warlike nation, whose pride was now humbled in the dust, covered a space of many miles along the banks of the river.

With outstretched arms, and pathetic lamentations, they loudly deplored their past misfortunes and their present danger; acknowledged that their only hope of safety was in the clemency of the Roman government; and most solemnly protested, that if the gracious liberality of the emperor would permit them to cultivate the waste lands of Thrace, they should ever hold themselves bound, by the strongest obligations of duty and gratitude, to obey the laws, and to guard the limits, of the republic.


An undisciplined and unsettled nation of Barbarians required the firmest temper, and the most dexterous management. The daily subsistence of near a million of extraordinary subjects could be supplied only by constant and skilful diligence, and might continually be interrupted by mistake or accident. The insolence, or the indignation, of the Goths, if they conceived themselves to be the objects either of fear or of contempt, might urge them to the most desperate extremities

… a spirit of discontent insensibly arose in the camp of the Barbarians, who pleaded, without success, the merit of their patient and dutiful behavior; and loudly complained of the inhospitable treatment which they had received from their new allies. They beheld around them the wealth and plenty of a fertile province, in the midst of which they suffered the intolerable hardships of artificial famine. But the means of relief, and even of revenge, were in their hands; since the rapaciousness of their tyrants had left to an injured people the possession and the use of arms.

The migrants went on to kill Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople.

Why Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment Isn’t in Peter Gray’s Textbook

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Peter Gray explains why Zimbardo’s prison experiment isn’t in his textbook:

Twenty-one boys (OK, young men) are asked to play a game of prisoners and guards. It’s 1971. There have recently been many news reports about prison riots and the brutality of guards. So, in this game, what are these young men supposed to do? Are they supposed to sit around talking pleasantly with one another about sports, girlfriends, movies, and such? No, of course not. This is a study of prisoners and guards, so their job clearly is to act like prisoners and guards—or, more accurately, to act out their stereotyped views of what prisoners and guards do. Surely, Professor Zimbardo, who is right there watching them (as the Prison Superintendent) would be disappointed if, instead, they had just sat around chatting pleasantly and having tea. Much research has shown that participants in psychological experiments are highly motivated to do what they believe the researchers want them to do. Any characteristics of an experiment that let research participants guess how the experimenters expect or want them to behave are referred to as demand characteristics. In any valid experiment it is essential to eliminate or at least minimize demand characteristics. In this experiment, the demands were everywhere.

In order to assess the degree to which participants in the experiment could guess what Zimbardo expected to happen, Banuazizi and Mohavedi presented some of the details of the experimental procedure to a large sample of college students who had not heard of the experiment and asked them to write down what they thought the researchers wanted to prove and to describe how the guards and prisoners were likely to behave. The great majority guessed the results. In various words, they said that the purpose of the experiment was to prove that normal people placed into the position of prisoner or guard would act like real prisoners and guards, and they predicted that the guards would act in hostile, domineering ways and the prisoners would react in either passive or defiant ways or both.

Subsequent revelations about the experiment—published since the first edition of my textbook—reveal that the guards didn’t even have to guess how they were supposed to behave; they were largely told how by Zimbardo and his associates.

Boys with Sticks

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Simcha Fisher tells a tale of boys with sticks:

Several years ago, a nice family came over our house. It was partly for a social call, and partly to see if our family would do well as a daycare for their two kids when the mom went back to work. The girl was about four, and the boy was about six.

As we adults chatted, the kids explored the house. At the far end of the living room were the toys, including a tidy bucket full of weapons belonging to our sons and daughters. There were bows and arrows, swords of all kinds, scimitars, light sabers, pistols, slingshots, rifles, daggers, and machine guns. I watched a little nervously, because I knew this mom leaned progressive, and was raising her kids to be non-violent.

Her little girl immediately found a baby doll, sat down, and put the doll to bed. The little boy scuttled over to the weapons, and before I could say more than, “Um–” he had grabbed two swords and swung them, with a natural expertise, in a gleeful arc over his head.

“HAHH!” he shouted, and held that pose for a moment, swords raised. Eyes on fire, happiest boy in the world.

I slewed my eyes over to his parents, not sure what I would see. Horror? Disgust? Outrage? Dismay?

They both looked . . .  immensely relieved. “Well, there goes that,” said the dad, apparently referring to the no-weapons policy they’d followed strictly for the last six years. I tried to apologize, but they both said, “No, no, it’s fine.” And it was fine. There was no tension in the room. Their son had hands made to hold weapons, and now he had some.

I wasn’t surprised to see the boy taking so naturally to swordplay, but I was fascinated to see his parents taking so naturally to the rules of our house, which were so different from the rules in their own home.  Once their son’s unsullied hands first made contact with the weapons of war, the whole family relaxed into that reality immediately.

There’s a larger point:

It doesn’t make violence go away when we always tell boys, “Put that stick down.” Instead, it’s making a world where people, boys and girls alike, have no idea what to do about unjust violence.


Boys who are never allowed to be wild are boys who never learn how to control that wildness.


Don’t banish fighting; banish cruelty.

In the issue of violent play, as with so many other issues, we’re forgetting there’s such a thing as balance and middle ground. Parents believe that there are only two choices: we can raise our sons to be quiet, passive, nurturing empaths who could easily slide into a princess dress without making a ripple — or we can raise them to be swaggering, slavering beasts who exist only to give orders and mow down anything in their path.

There is, of course, an in-between. There are men who are strong and tough and in control of their strength, and these men were once boys who grew up with both weapons and rules.


Violence doesn’t take over when boys are allowed to have sticks. Violence takes over when no one tells boys what sticks are for.

Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Some 400 Marines, including about 100 women, signed up to be test subjects in the Marine Corps’ Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force experiment:

Cpl. Janee’ Sheffield knew she was done when she kept rolling the same ankle on daily hikes, leaving her in constant pain. She dropped on request from the provisional rifle platoon — made up of Marines who had not attended ITB — six days before the unit completed its round of assessments at Twentynine Palms and traveled to nearby Bridgeport for mountain warfare exercises.

Like the other rifle platoons, the provisional platoon was on a repetitive cycle that alternated between two assessment days: a movement-to-contact exercise in which Marines would charge 1,000 yards up a hill with weapons and 30-pound packs, scramble over an 8-foot shipping container and maneuver together toward simulated enemy fire while shooting at pop-up targets; and a hike day involving a roughly 4.5-mile march followed by two arduous hours digging fighting holes.

Before opting out of the task force, Sheffield, 23, had decided the infantry wasn’t for her.

“It sucked; it really sucked,” she said. “I wouldn’t do this experiment again.”


While videos and photographs released by the Marine Corps show women excelling at combat tasks, Bradshaw said they omitted the moments of failure. He watched a four-woman team struggling for more than seven minutes to move a 200-pound dummy, without success, he said. Another time, he said, female Marines failed to clamber over the top of the shipping container during movement-to-contact assessments.

One lance corporal who entered the experiment “believing that women should get a shot at service in the infantry as long as they could meet existing standards” changed his mind after he saw what happened in the light armored vehicle platoon — where the physical demands weren’t extreme:

Over time, he said, discipline broke down because some noncommissioned officers were hesitant to hurt the feelings of more junior female Marines with orders or correction. Romantic relationships and friendships between male and female unit members also became a distraction, he said.

“The female variable in this social experiment has wrought a fundamental change in the way male NCOs think, act and lead,” Augello wrote in the 13-page paper he presented to Marine leaders, which he shared with Marine Corps Times. “A change that is sadly for the worse, not the better.”

Physically, both the men and women in Augello’s platoon fared well. No one was dropped due to injury over the course of the experiment, unit members said. But the lance corporal said he became frustrated during group assessments, such as an exercise in which platoon members had to work together to haul a dummy weighing nearly 200 pounds out of the vehicle turret and to a designated recovery spot dozens of yards away. When partnered with the platoon’s female Marines, he said he frequently had to compensate for their smaller frames and lack of upper body strength by hauling more of the load.

“I told myself, ‘I don’t know how much longer my back will have after doing this,’” he recalled.

During one assessment, Augello said he found himself paired with the smallest male Marine in the platoon — one who was physically shorter and slighter than a number of the unit’s female Marines. But the Marine’s build and musculature made a significant difference, he said.

“I didn’t feel a lot of stress on my back because he was able to actually help me,” he said. “His upper body strength made the difference at the end of the day.”

The Marine Corps’ data findings included the following:

  • All-male squads and teams outperformed those that included women on 69 percent of the 134 ground combat tasks evaluated.
  • All-male teams were outperformed by mixed-gender teams on two tasks: accuracy in firing the 50-caliber machine gun in traditional rifleman units and the same skill in provisional units. Researchers did not know why gender-mixed teams did better on these skills, but said the advantage did not persist when the teams continued on to movement-under-load exercises.
  • All-male squads in every infantry job were faster than mixed-gender squads in each tactical movement evaluated. The differences between the teams were most pronounced in crew-served weapons teams. Those teams had to carry weapons and ammunition in addition to their individual combat loads.
  • Male-only rifleman squads were more accurate than gender-integrated counterparts on each individual weapons system, including the M4 carbine, the M27 infantry automatic rifle and the M203 grenade launcher.
  • Male Marines with no formal infantry training outperformed infantry-trained women on each weapons system, at levels ranging from 11 to 16 percentage points.

Female Marines often struggled with routine tasks:

In scaling an 8-foot wall obstacle, researchers wrote, male Marines would throw their packs to the top of the wall, while female Marines “required regular assistance” to do the same. During simulated casualty evacuations involving a 200-pound dummy, mixed-gender groups were notably slower at the task, except in cases when a single Marine would move the dummy using a fireman’s carry. And in those cases, “it was most often a male Marine who ‘evacuated’ the casualty,” according to the findings analysis.

Some of the biological data surprised me:

  • The average male Marine volunteer was 178 pounds with 20 percent body fat; the average female volunteer weighed 142 pounds with 24 percent body fat.
  • In anaerobic power and capacity, female Marines averaged 15 percent lower levels than their male counterparts. In anaerobic power performance, the top 25 percent of female performers and the bottom 25 percent of male performers overlapped.
  • In aerobic capacity, female Marines demonstrated levels 10 percent lower on average than male Marines.
  • Over the course of the assessment, musculoskeletal injury rates totaled 40.5 percent for women, more than double the 18.8 percent rate for men.
  • In all, female Marines sustained 21 “time-loss” injuries which took them away from task force duties for a day or more. Nineteen of the women’s injuries were lower extremity injuries and 16 percent took place during a task that required movement while carrying a load. Officials said they could not immediately provide the comparable injury rates for men but said lower extremity injuries were the most common among male Marines as well.

I wouldn’t expect young male Marines to carry 20 percent body-fat.

The real problem is injury rates:

High injury rates among women were also a problem at the Infantry Training Battalion, the Marines’ basic infantry training school for enlisted troops that temporarily opened to women between 2013 and 2015. Researchers found that female ITB participants were injured at more than six times the rate of male participants, and nearly one-third of their injuries occurred during movement-under-load tasks, while just 13 percent of male injuries did.

Overall, women graduated ITB with a 36 percent success rate during the evaluation period. Male Marines had a 99 percent graduation rate during that same window.

Money And School Performance

Monday, September 14th, 2015

In 1985 a federal district judge took partial control over the troubled Kansas City, Missouri, School District (KCMSD) on the grounds that it was an unconstitutionally segregated district with dilapidated facilities and students who performed poorly:

For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, “You can’t solve educational problems by throwing money at them.” The education establishment and its supporters have replied, “No one’s ever tried.” In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.

Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil–more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

The Kansas City experiment suggests that, indeed, educational problems can’t be solved by throwing money at them, that the structural problems of our current educational system are far more important than a lack of material resources, and that the focus on desegregation diverted attention from the real problem, low achievement.

Learning to Fight and Win from a Book

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

You’re not going to learn to fight and win from a book, but Mountain Guerrilla nonetheless suggests some professional reading to serve as a useful reference for developing a training program, as well as keeping your mind in the game.

He starts with SH21-75 The Ranger Handbook, the bible of small-unit tactics, and FM 7-8 The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, the non-Ranger bible of small-unit tactics, before moving on to some insurgency and counter-insurgency classics, Nagl’s Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife and Mao Tse-Tung’s On Guerrilla Warfare.

I loved his mini-review of Paul Howe’s Training for the Fight and The Tactical Trainer:

MSG Howe was a SFOD-D gunslinger. He’s a horrendous writer, God bless him, and needs a seriously talented editor. That having been said, despite my background, and having attended many of the same schools, I managed to learn quite a bit from both of these books. There is now a second edition of Training For the Fight available, that combines both titles into one volume and is readily available through mainstream booksellers like Barnes and Nobles.

Glen Keane Steps into the Page

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Disney legend Glen Keane, son of Family Circus-creator Bil Keane, puts on a virtual-reality headset and steps into the page to sketch some of his creations in 3D:

A Career, Not an Adventure

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

The Pentagon’s elite forces lack diversity, unlike the military as a whole:

African Americans made up 17% of the 1.3 million-member armed forces in 2013, according to a recent Pentagon report. Whites made up slightly more than 69%.


For the SEALs, the problem extends beyond the officer corps into the enlisted ranks. Of its enlisted men, 45 SEALs are black, or about 2% of the 2,242 members of its elite force. There are more SEALs — 99, or 4% of the enlisted force — who are Native Americans or Alaska natives.

Steve Sailer suggests that blacks tend to see the military as a career, not an adventure:

And that’s fine. To a lot of blacks of respectable families, the military is not a place to play Rambo for four years before going to college like it is for a lot of white enlistees, it’s a place to have an orderly life for 20+ years doing something involving logistics or the like and then getting a similar white collar job involving paperwork in a corporation or government agency and collect two checks. It’s a good way to get away from the chaos of much of African-American life into a huge institution staffed solely by people who can pass tests and follow rules.

The Fall of the Meritocracy

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Toby Young discusses the fall of the meritocracy:

In 1958, my father, Michael Young, published a short book called The Rise of the Meritocracy, 1870–2023: An Essay on Education and Equality. It purported to be a paper written by a sociologist in 2034 about the transformation of Britain from a feudal society in which people’s social position and level of income were largely determined by the socio-economic status of their parents into a modern Shangri-La in which status is based solely on merit. He invented the word meritocracy to describe this principle for allocating wealth and prestige and the new society it gave rise to.

The essay begins with the introduction of open examinations for entry into the civil service in the 1870s — hailed as “the beginning of the modern era” — and continues to discuss real events up until the late 1950s, at which point it veers off into fantasy, describing the emergence of a fully-fledged meritocracy in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. In spite of being semi-fictional, the book is clearly intended to be prophetic — or, rather, a warning. Like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), The Rise of the Meritocracy is a dystopian satire that identifies various aspects of the contemporary world and describes a future they might lead to if left unchallenged. Michael was particularly concerned about the introduction of the 11+ by Britain’s wartime coalition government in 1944, an intelligence test that was used to determine which children should go to grammar schools (the top 15 per cent) and which to secondary moderns and technical schools (the remaining 85 per cent). It wasn’t just the sorting of children into sheep and goats at the age of eleven that my father objected to. As a socialist, he disapproved of equality of opportunity on the grounds that it gave the appearance of fairness to the massive inequalities created by capitalism. He feared that the meritocratic principle would help to legitimise the pyramid-like structure of British society.

In the short term, the book achieved its political aim. It was widely read by Michael’s colleagues in the Labour Party (he ran the party’s research department from 1945 to 1951) and helped persuade his friend Anthony Crosland, who became Labour Education Secretary in 1965, that the 11+ should be phased out and the different types of school created by the 1944 Education Act should be replaced by non-selective, one-size-fits-all comprehensives. Crosland famously declared: “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every f***ing grammar school in England. And Wales and Northern Ireland.” Today, there are only 164 grammar schools in England and sixty-eight in Northern Ireland. There are none in Wales.


Suppose we do manage to create the meritocratic education system referred to above. It would produce a good deal of upward and downward social mobility to begin with, but over the long term, as the link between status and merit grows stronger, you’d expect to see less and less inter-generational movement. Why? Because the children of the meritocratic elite would, in all likelihood, inherit the natural gifts enjoyed by their parents. In time, a meritocratic society would become as rigid and class-bound as a feudal society. Let’s call this the ossification problem.

This is precisely what happens in the dystopian future described in my father’s book. The sociologist narrator writes:

By 1990 or thereabouts, all adults with IQs of more than 125 belonged to the meritocracy. A high proportion of the children with IQs over 125 were the children of these same adults. The top of today are breeding the top of tomorrow to a greater extent than at any time in the past. The elite is on the way to becoming hereditary; the principles of heredity and merit are coming together. The vital transformation which has taken more than two centuries to accomplish is almost complete.

Most people think of this as a wholly theoretical danger that won’t arise until some distant point in the future, if then. The conventional wisdom among social commentators in Britain and America is that their societies can’t possibly be meritocratic because of the low levels of social mobility. But a lack of movement between classes is only evidence of this if you assume that natural abilities are distributed more or less randomly across society. What if that’s not true? It could be that two things have been happening in the advanced societies of the West that have been obscured by the intense focus among policy-makers on the impact of environmental factors on children’s life chances. First, our societies could be more meritocratic than they’re generally given credit for; and, second, the “vital transformation” described by my father, whereby the meritocratic elite is becoming a hereditary elite, could already be under way.

I was honestly surprised that he went on to cite The Bell Curve.

The Same Repetition of Treason and Murder

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Charles Murray called this article on Gibbon so captivating that he’s now listening to Decline & Fall — all 120 hours of it:

A pudgy man with a big head, double chin, and pursing mouth, under five feet tall, foppishly overdressed, stilted in conversation, Edward Gibbon was easily the greatest English historian and quite possibly the greatest historian the world has known. How did this preposterous little man — a snob with often ludicrous opinions who was known as he grew older and fatter as Monsieur Pomme de Terre — produce The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a panoramic work of roughly a million and a half words with some 8,000 footnotes, covering 1,300 years of history? More than two centuries after Gibbon wrote it, the entertainment value of his history is as great as it was when it appeared in three volumes between 1776 and 1788, its standing as literature as firmly fixed.

Psychotic tyrants, savvy eunuchs, cunning courtesans; brutal barbarian tribal chiefs; battlefields bedewed with blood and strewn with the white bones of human corpses; Byzantine luxuriance; Saracen leaders “never seen to smile except on a day of battle”; ragtag Roman crusaders no less fanatical than the forces they were recruited to fight; Russians, Hungarians, Persians, Moors all engaging in tortures of a rare exquisivity — cutting off noses, ears, tongues, hands; putting out eyes with needles; poisoning husbands; the rope, the rack, the axe all finding full employment — in Gibbon’s pages it all goes whirring by, leaving one in a state of nearly perpetual dazzlement.

Through it all there are the emperors, the central figures of the history — and what a rogue’s gallery they are! Caracalla “was the common enemy of mankind,” a “monster whose life disgraced human nature”; Elagabalus was no “rational voluptuary,” also a transvestite; Maximin, “though a stranger to real wisdom…was not devoid of a selfish cunning”; the reigns of Valerian and his son Gallienus, provided a 15-year period that “was one uninterrupted series of confusion and calamity”; Maxentius was “a tyrant as contemptible as he was odious”; Valens “was rude without vigor, and feeble without mildness”; Theophilus was “a bold, bad man…whose hands were alternately polluted with gold, and blood.” Gibbon writes: “Such was the unhappy condition of the Roman emperor…almost every reign is closed by the same repetition of treason and murder.”

The Politics of Star Trek

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Star Trek’s moral and political tone traces the evolution of American liberalism since the Kennedy era:

Roddenberry and his colleagues were World War II veterans, whose country was now fighting the Cold War against a Communist aggressor they regarded with horror. They considered the Western democracies the only force holding back worldwide totalitarian dictatorship. The best expression of their spirit was John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, with its proud promise to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

This could have been declaimed by Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner), of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, who, as literature professor Paul Cantor observes in his essay “Shakespeare in the Original Klingon,” is “a Cold Warrior very much on the model of JFK.” In episodes like “The Omega Glory,” in which Kirk rapturously quotes the preamble to the Constitution, or “Friday’s Child,” where he struggles to outwit the Klingons (stand-ins for the Soviet menace) in negotiations over the resources of a planet modeled on Middle Eastern petroleum states, Kirk stands fixedly, even obstinately, for the principles of universal freedom and against collectivism, ignorance, and passivity. In “Errand of Mercy,” the episode that first introduces the show’s most infamous villains, he cannot comprehend why the placid Organians are willing to let themselves be enslaved by the Klingon Empire. Their pacifism disgusts him. Kirk loves peace, but he recognizes that peace without freedom is not truly peace.

This was not just a political point; it rested on a deeper philosophical commitment. In Star Trek’s humanist vision, totalitarianism was only one manifestation of the dehumanizing forces that deprive mankind (and aliens) of the opportunities and challenges in which their existence finds meaning. In “Return of the Archons,” for example, Kirk and company infiltrate a theocratic world monitored and dominated by the god Landru. The natives are placid, but theirs is the mindless placidity of cattle. In the past, one explains, “there was war. Convulsions. The world was destroying itself. Landru…took us back, back to a simple time.” The people now live in ignorant, stagnant bliss. Landru has removed conflict by depriving them of responsibility, and with it their right to govern themselves. When Kirk discovers that Landru is actually an ancient computer left behind by an extinct race, he challenges it to justify its enslavement of the people. “The good,” it answers, is “harmonious continuation…peace, tranquility.” Kirk retorts: “What have you done to do justice to the full potential of every individual? Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity. Without creativity, there is no life.” He persuades Landru that coddling the people has stifled the souls it purported to defend, and the god-machine self-destructs.

This theme is made more explicit in “The Apple,” perhaps the quintessential episode of the original Star Trek. Here Kirk unashamedly violates the “Prime Directive” — the rule forbidding starship captains from interfering with the cultures they contact — by ordering the Enterprise to destroy Vaal, another computer tyrant ruling over an idyllic planet. Like Landru, Vaal is an omniscient totalitarian, and he demands sacrifices. The natives, known only as “people of Vaal,” have no culture, no freedom, no science — they do not even know how to farm — and no children, as Vaal has forbidden sex along with all other individualistic impulses. This sets Kirk’s teeth on edge. There are objective goods and evils, and slavery is evil because it deprives life forms of their right to self-government and self-development.

What differentiates “The Apple” from “Archons” is Spock’s reaction. In the earlier episode, he joined Kirk in condemning Landru; now the half human/half Vulcan is reluctant to interfere with what he calls “a splendid example of reciprocity.” When chief medical officer Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) protests, Spock accuses him of “applying human standards to non-human cultures.” To this cool relativism, McCoy replies, “There are certain absolutes, Mr. Spock, and one of them is the right of humanoids to a free and unchained environment, the right to have conditions which permit growth.”

Kirk agrees with McCoy. Spock — who in later episodes invokes the Vulcan slogan celebrating “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” — is comfortable observing Vaal’s servants nonjudgmentally, like specimens behind glass. But Kirk believes there must be deeper, universal principles underlying and limiting diversity, to prevent its degeneration into relativism and nihilism.

Surviving Like an 11th-Century Farmer

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Keith Ferrell, once editor-in-chief of Omni magazine, found himself out of work, living on what used to be his rural retreat, farming with simple tools — and without a lifetime of experience:

My peas tasted no less sweet for the disarray of their rows. Potatoes dug from soil roughly worked with spade, shovel and mattock were firm and well-shaped, tasty and nourishing. I never used synthetic fertilisers. Whatever I produced was nurtured, instead, with compost, manure (during the years we had a horse), chopped leaves and hay cut with a scythe. I ate plenty of blackberries from the canes that sprouted across once-mown fields, and appreciated the animals – hawks, fox, even bear – whose population increased along with the spread of habitat. The deer and rabbits and groundhogs didn’t care how straight my rows were as they dined upon them – and in any true apocalypse, they could feed us, too.

But time exerted its effects. Planting a large crop of anything by hand took so much time that plans for other large plantings went unfulfilled. This season or phase of the moon for planting this crop; this temperature means it’s too late or too early to plant that one. Eleventh-century farming was a pre-sunup to post-sundown endeavour, or nearly. Yet even my reduced livelihood required that far more hours be spent at my desk (and not the one by the creek) than in my fields. For everything I accomplished outside, far more tasks and chores – not to mention plans – languished undone.

Auden, Sartre, Graham Greene, Ayn Rand, and Amphetamines

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

Mason Currey looks at the daily rituals of successful writers and what Auden, Sartre, Graham Greene, and Ayn Rand had in common — amphetamines:

Coffee has such a beneficial effect on creative activity that it should be no surprise that many artists have turned to stronger stimulants in search of bigger and more prolonged boosts. Indeed, amphetamines have their own semidistinguished artistic heritage, particularly among a swath of 20th-century writers.

The poet W.H. Auden is probably the most famous example. He took a dose of Benzedrine (a brand name of amphetamine introduced in the United States in 1933) each morning the way many people take a daily multivitamin. At night, he used Seconal or another sedative to get to sleep. He continued this routine — “the chemical life,” he called it — for 20 years, until the efficacy of the pills finally wore off. Auden regarded amphetamines as one of the “labor-saving devices” in the “mental kitchen,” alongside alcohol, coffee, and tobacco — although he was well aware that “these mechanisms are very crude, liable to injure the cook, and constantly breaking down.”

Graham Greene had a similarly pragmatic approach to amphetamines. In 1939, while laboring on what he was certain would be his greatest novel, The Power and the Glory, Greene decided to also write one of his “entertainments” — melodramatic thrillers that lacked artistry but that he knew would make money. He worked on both books simultaneously, devoting his mornings to the thriller The Confidential Agent and his afternoons to The Power and the Glory. To keep it up, he took Benzedrine tablets twice daily, one upon waking and the other at midday. As a result he was able to write 2,000 words in the mornings alone, as opposed to his usual 500. After only six weeks, The Confidential Agent was completed and on its way to being published. (The Power and the Glory took four more months.)

Greene soon stopped taking the drug; not all writers had such self-control. In 1942 Ayn Rand took up Benzedrine to help her finish her novel, The Fountainhead. She had spent years planning and composing the first third of the novel; over the next 12 months, thanks to the new pills, she averaged a chapter a week. But the drug quickly became a crutch. Rand would continue to use amphetamines for the next three decades, even as her overuse led to mood swings, irritability, emotional outbursts, and paranoia — traits Rand was susceptible to even without drugs.

Jean-Paul Sartre was similarly dependent. In the 1950s, already exhausted from too much work on too little sleep — plus too much wine and cigarettes — the philosopher turned to Corydrane, a mix of amphetamine and aspirin then fashionable among Parisian students, intellectuals, and artists. The prescribed dose was one or two tablets in the morning and at noon. Sartre took 20 a day, beginning with his morning coffee, and slowly chewed one pill after another as he worked. For each tablet, he could produce a page or two of his second major philosophical work, The Critique of Dialectical Reason.

But perhaps the most notable case of amphetamine-fueled intellectual activity is Paul Erdös, one of the most brilliant and prolific mathematicians of the 20th century. As Paul Hoffman documents in The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, Erdös was a fanatic workaholic who routinely put in 19-hour days, sleeping only a few hours a night. He owed his phenomenal stamina to espresso shots, caffeine tablets, and amphetamines — he took 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin daily. Worried about his drug use, a friend once bet Erdös that he wouldn’t be able to give up amphetamines for a month. Erdös took the bet, and succeeded in going cold turkey for 30 days. When he came to collect his money, he told his friend, “You’ve showed me I’m not an addict. But I didn’t get any work done. I’d get up in the morning and stare at a blank piece of paper. I’d have no ideas, just like an ordinary person. You’ve set mathematics back a month.” After the bet, Erdös promptly resumed his amphetamine habit.

A Delicate Art

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

By late summer 2003, “Orange” operatives and other JSOC personnel were infiltrating Syria to locate foreign-fighter safe houses and get proof that the networks infiltrating Iraq were operating in Syria:

They were often led to a particular safe house by a suspect’s IP router address that U.S. intelligence had already obtained. Because the United States wanted to keep this ability secret, while still proving to the Syrian regime that it knew what was going on at a particular location, the operatives’ mission was to gather more tangible evidence, often by photographing safe houses, hotels, mosques, and bus stops used by foreign fighters.

These missions combined high technology with classic espionage tradecraft: cover identities and counter-surveillance practices that included ducking into public bathrooms to change disguises — including wigs — to throw off any tail. “I go in a public restroom, do a quick [disguise swap] and I come out as a seventy-year-old man because I’ve got the bald head,” said a special mission unit veteran. In theory, anyone tailing the hirsute man who entered the bathroom would ignore the bald guy coming out. Meanwhile, “you’re off and onto public transportation, going to do an operational act.”

Sometimes that act was even more dangerous than secretly photographing jihadists in public. On occasion, operatives would pick the locks of al Qaeda safe houses, filming and photographing what was inside, and presumably copying the contents of any digital devices they found. “They had guys on the ground basically breaking into the people’s apartment and getting information,” said a special ops source familiar with the missions. “If they would have been caught, they were done.”

But American commanders felt the missions were worth the risk, in large part because the United States used intelligence that JSOC obtained in Syria as leverage with President Bashar al-the Assad’s regime, presenting it to Damascus in demarches in an effort to pressure Assad to crack down on the foreign fighter networks. Sometimes this was done indirectly via Jordanian government intermediaries and at other times by the U.S. government itself, including, on at least one occasion, by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

But not wanting to reveal to the Syrians that American troops had been spying in their country, the U.S. government told Damascus that the material had been seized in raids on foreign fighter safe houses in Iraq. Disguising and altering the material to conform to that cover story represented a “delicate art,” a special mission unit veteran said. JSOC and the CIA went to great lengths to figure out whether to actually change the documents and photos, or to keep them as they were and tell the Syrians, “This was pulled off this guy’s Nokia 3200 cell phone in Baghdad — this is the guy’s name, here’s his bus ticket; he laid this all out on who was assisting him. Here’s all the evidence. Do something about it. We know they’re coming through here.” Sometimes this required technological wizardry. For instance, if the cover story for a photograph taken by an operative in Aleppo was that it was pulled off a foreign fighter’s iPhone in Baghdad, it might need to be digitized so that it looked like an iPhone photograph. The Assad regime remained completely ignorant that the intelligence being presented to them was obtained by undercover U.S. troops in Syria.

How Things Have Changed In National Defense

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Weapons Man shares this picture of the President with his advisors at Cape Canaveral and wryly notes that everybody’s there — JFK, LBJ, MacNamara, Strangelove.

JFK at Cape Canaveral

This leads him to discuss how things have changed In national defense:

It’s bunch of middle-aged white guys; the time when all the power brokers would be carefully selected for race and sex balance was far in the future. Then they wanted a war cabinet to lead America; now they want one that Looks Like America, college prospectus version.

Most of these people got there because they had a reputation for competence, even if in some cases (MacNamara, for one) the reputation might have been a mistake. They came from diverse backgrounds. Now, it would be all Lawyers, Lobbyists and Leading Fundraisers who Look Like America.

All of the men were veterans of some kind. Mac served as a statistician in the Air Corps. JFK’s combat record is well known; LBJ’s combat record is well known to be a fraud, but he did put himself in uniform, in the theater of operations. (He’s a lot like John F. Kerry that way). Now, a veteran in a war room meeting is rare.

You could still be a general or a senator without a college degree in 1962, if you’d excelled in leadership. But most of JFK’s civilians came from Harvard, and took a dim view of anyone with a “lesser” education. LBJ had a degree from a state teacher’s college, and the Harvard men never let him forget it.

It’s not a lavish place. Today, every White House function has the style and decadence of the court of Caligula, but look at the chairs these nabobs are resting their bones in: GI steel armchairs with vinyl upholstery. Look at the linoleum floor. Look at the utilitarian, Formica-topped drop-leaf tables with the water glasses on them — and note that they’re only in front of the President and VP.

Nowadays there would be five times as many people, most of them useless people who got where they are by sucking up or being born on third base. The President’s advisers are those who brought him the money it took to make him who he is. Those filling the room all have a life of “achievement” that began with admission to the “right” school based on family legacy or SAT scores. They are surrounded by trappings of luxury that Caligula could envy, and by a small army of staffers, aides, assistants and interns whose servility and devotion Caligula’s chattel slaves could not equal.