The Collapse of Nationalist China

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

As someone who was in Tientsin as a Vice Consul at the time it was taken by the Communists, Gordon Tullock can explain the collapse of Nationalist China:

The Nationalists led by Chiang Kai Shek and with much Russian aid drove north from Canton and took the lower Yangtse Valley. It should be emphasized that not only was the Nationalist army given much aid by Russians, but also it was then allied with the Chinese Communist Party. Further, much of the territory nominally under control from Nanking was actually ruled by local warlords, some of whom rejoiced in formal commissions as local governors.

At this point, Stalin revealed his normal paranoia. He ordered the Communists in China to overthrow the then national government and take formal power. This was very badly timed and planned with the result that the Chinese Communists were literally beheaded on the mud flats outside Shanghai. There were a few high-ranking Communists who were safe in Moscow, and some lesser Communists holding small areas in south central China. Among these later was Mao Tse Tung.

The Communists in south central China made their way to the poor, lightly populated area around Yenan, near the Russian border:

The Communists stayed in Yenan, and the Japanese, who talked about anti-Communism, made no real effort to eliminate them. Presumably they knew that the sensible thing to do when your enemies quarrel is to help the weaker side.

The Japanese left many large pockets of China, between the railroads and the rivers, to the Chinese:

These areas remained under Chinese control and the Communists seized some of them. Incidentally, the western press referred to the Communists as guerillas and either did not mention the other Chinese forces in the other unoccupied areas or called them bandits.

The Communists and the “bandits” mainly left each other alone. Both types of Chinese, after December 7, thought that the United States would win the war for them and hence did little fighting with the Japanese.

As Japan collapsed, the Communists moved into Manchuria, where the Russians supplied them with Japanese arms:

The Nationalists then moved north and invaded Manchuria. The Communists tried to stop them and at Su Ping Kai the Nationalists won a major victory. The United States quickly slammed an arms embargo on the Nationalists. What led General Marshall to do this has never been explained. Its ostensible objective was to force the Nationalists to form a coalition government with the Communists. At this time, preventing such coalitions in France and Italy was a major objective of American foreign policy.

Since they opposed the “corrupt” regime, the Communists were obviously all right.

IOC Drops Females

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

The Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course has ended its two-and-a-half-year experiment in gender integration without a single female graduate:

IOC, held quarterly at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, began accepting female officers fresh out of training in September 2012 as part of a larger research effort into the feasibility of opening ground combat jobs to women. [...] By July 2014, only 20 female officers had attempted the course. Only one made it through the Combat Endurance Test, and none made it to the end.

In an effort to achieve their goal of 100 female volunteers cycling through IOC, the Marine Corps opened the course to female company-grade officers in October 2014, making hundreds more Marines eligible for the course. The Corps also began requiring that volunteers get a first-class score on the male version of the service’s Physical Fitness Test in an effort to better prepare them for the rigors of IOC.

The effort was a mixed success. In the October iteration of IOC, three of the seven female volunteers made it through the Combat Endurance Test, bringing the total number of women to pass the test to four.

Surprise Torpedo Attack

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Gordon Tullock opens his Open Secrets of American Foreign Policy with a shockingly clear discussion of Pearl Harbor:

In order to understand Pearl Harbor, it is necessary to go back to 1904. In that year, the Japanese started their war with Russia with a surprise torpedo attack on the Russian Far Eastern fleet at Port Arthur. Their accuracy was not very good, but they did cripple the fleet so that it was not able to interfere with the movement of Japanese troops in to Manchuria. These troops were able to take Port Arthur by land assault, thus making the Russian attempts to repair their ships nugatory.

The Russian undertook the very difficult task of moving their Baltic fleet to the Pacific. It arrived after the fall of Port Arthur and was destroyed at Tsushima while attempting to reach Vladivostok. The Japanese success resulted from two factors, one of which, of course, was their achievement of surprise. The other was the fact that although the Russian fleet was markedly bigger than the Japanese, it was divided, and the Japanese fleet was capable of beating each half. If the Russians had concentrated both fleets in Port Arthur, it is very doubtful that the Japanese would have dared attack. As the great naval theorist Mahan pointed out, however, if they had been concentrated in the Baltic, it would have been also very dangerous for the Japanese to attack. They would have had temporary command of Far Eastern waters, but would have faced almost certain defeat when the combined Russian fleets arrived.

The American navy knew this history and their war plans took it into account. The bulk of the fleet was concentrated in the Pacific, with only three elderly battleships, a carrier, which was new, but had a serious design defect, and some minor ships in the Atlantic. This Pacific fleet was markedly superior to the Imperial Navy. On receipt of a war warning, in order to minimize the chances of surprise, the war plans called for the Pacific fleet going to sea and taking a course intended to make it hard for the Japanese to find them. With both fleets looking for the other, and the American bigger, it was more likely that they would first miss, which would mean no surprise, or the American fleet would locate the Japanese before the Japanese located it, or each locate the other, which would also mean no surprise. If, by chance, the Japanese located the American fleet before it located the Japanese fleet, the Americans would be on the alert and well able to defend themselves.

All of this was changed by a decision to move one battleship division and half of the scouting forces to the Atlantic.

Storm of SEAL

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Jocko Podcast 14 opens with some excerpts from Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel, which is considered one of the best war books ever written. I’d always heard Storm described as the rare pro-war take on World War I, but that hardly describes it. It simply isn’t as unremittingly negative as other takes.

Near the end of his podcast (1:54:59) Jocko answers my question:

Is BUDS the right filter for the kind of people you want in the SEAL teams? Does it filter out good people? Let in bad?

Short answer: It does a decent job.

Intensely Territorial

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Humans and chimpanzees are intensely territorial, E.O. Wilson reminds us:

That is the apparent population control hardwired into their social systems. What the events were that occurred in the origin of the chimpanzee and human lines — before the chimpanzee-human split of 6 million years ago — can only be speculated. I believe that the evidence best fits the following sequence. The original limiting factor, which intensified with the introduction of group hunting for animal protein, was food. Territorial behavior evolved as a device to sequester the food supply. Expansive wars and annexation resulted in enlarged territories and favored genes that prescribe group cohesion, networking, and the formation of alliances.

For hundreds of millennia, the territorial imperative gave stability to the small, scattered communities of Homo sapiens, just as they do today in the small, scattered populations of surviving hunter-gatherers. During this long period, randomly spaced extremes in the environment alternately increased and decreased the population size so that it could be contained within territories. These demographic shocks led to forced emigration or aggressive expansion of territory size by conquest, or both together. They also raised the value of forming alliances outside of kin-based networks in order to subdue other neighboring groups.

Ten thousand years ago, at the dawn of the Neolithic era, the agricultural revolution began to yield vastly larger amounts of food from cultivated crops and livestock, allowing rapid growth in human populations. But that advance did not change human nature. People simply increased their numbers as fast as the rich new resources allowed. As food again inevitably became the limiting factor, they obeyed the territorial imperative. Their descendants have never changed. At the present time, we are still fundamentally the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, but with more food and larger territories. Region by region, recent studies show, the populations have approached a limit set by the supply of food and water. And so it has always been for every tribe, except for the brief periods after new lands were discovered and their indigenous inhabitants displaced or killed.

Remedying Weaknesses and Handling Errors

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice? Anders Ericsson would say, deliberate practice, deliberate practice, deliberate practice.

Gary Marcus’s Guitar Zero runs with this notion of doing practice right:

“Hundreds of thousands of people took music lessons when they were young and remember little or nothing,” he points out, giving lie to the notion that learning an instrument is easiest when you’re a kid. The important thing is not just practice but deliberate practice, “a constant sense of self-evaluation, of focusing on one’s weaknesses, rather than simply fooling around and playing to one’s strengths. Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect.”


In an article titled “It’s Not How Much; It’s How,” published in the Journal of Research in Music Education in 2009, University of Texas-Austin professor Robert Duke and his colleagues videotaped advanced piano students as they practiced a difficult passage from a Shostakovich concerto, then ranked the participants by the quality of their ultimate performance. The researchers found no relationship between excellence of performance and how many times the students had practiced the piece or how long they spent practicing. Rather, “the most notable differences between the practice sessions of the top-ranked pianists and the remaining participants,” Duke and his coauthors wrote, “are related to their handling of errors.”

The best pianists, they determined, addressed their mistakes immediately. They identified the precise location and source of each error, then rehearsed that part again and again until it was corrected. Only then would the best students proceed to the rest of the piece. “It was not the case that the top-ranked pianists made fewer errors at the beginning of their practice sessions than did the other pianists,” Duke notes. “But, when errors occurred, the top-ranked pianists seemed much better able to correct them in ways that precluded their recurrence.”

Questioning the Socratic Method

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

What happens when researchers question the Socratic method?

In a study published in the December 2011 issue of the journal Mind, Brain, and Education, four cognitive scientists from Argentina describe what happened when they asked contemporary high school and college students a series of questions identical to those posed by Socrates. In one of his most famous lessons, Socrates showed a young slave boy a square, then led him through a series of 50 questions intended to teach the boy how to draw a second square with an area twice as large as the first. Students in the 2011 experiment, led by researcher Andrea Goldin, gave answers astonishingly similar to those offered by Socrates’ pupil, even making the same mistakes he made. “Our results show that the Socratic dialogue is built on a strong intuition of human knowledge and reasoning which persists more than twenty-four centuries after its conception,” the researchers write. Their findings, Goldin and his co-authors add, demonstrate the existence of “human cognitive universals traversing time and cultures.”

But these “universals” come with a significant caveat. By the end of Socrates’ lesson, the Greek boy had figured out how to do the task. More than half of the contemporary subjects, on the other hand, failed to grasp the import of the philosopher’s 50 questions.

The Secret Strategies of Skilled Listeners

Friday, March 18th, 2016

Annie Murphy Paul explains the secret strategies of skilled listeners:

Studies of skilled language learners have identified specific listening strategies that lead to superior comprehension. What’s more, research has shown that learners who deliberately adopt these strategies become better listeners. Last year, for example, University of Ottawa researcher Larry Vandergrift published his study of 106 undergraduates who were learning French as a second language. Half of the students were taught in a conventional fashion, listening to and practicing texts spoken aloud. The other half, possessing the same initial skill level and taught by the same teacher, were given explicit instruction on how to listen. In the journal Language Learning, Vandergrift reported the results: The second group “significantly outperformed” the first one on a test of comprehension. The improvement was especially pronounced among the less-fluent French speakers in the group.

So what are these listening strategies? Skilled learners go into a listening session with a sense of what they want to get out of it. They set a goal for their listening, and they generate predictions about what the speaker will say. Before the talking begins, they mentally review what they already know about the subject, and form an intention to “listen out for” what’s important or relevant. Once they begin listening, these learners maintain their focus; if their attention wanders, they bring it back to the words being spoken. They don’t allow themselves to be thrown off by confusing or unfamiliar details. Instead, they take note of what they don’t understand and make inferences about what those things might mean, based on other clues available to them: their previous knowledge of the subject, the context of the talk, the identity of the speaker, and so on. They’re “listening for gist,” and not getting caught up in fine-grained analysis. All the while, skilled learners are evaluating what they’re hearing and their own understanding of it. They’re checking their inferences to see if they’re correct, and identifying the questions they still have so they can pursue the answers later.

Such strategies are all about metacognition, or thinking about thinking, and they yield a variety of benefits. Research indicates that learners who engage in metacogition are better at processing and storing new information, better at finding the best ways to practice and better at reinforcing what they have learned. In a 2006 study by researchers from Singapore, Chinese speakers who were learning English as a second language reported increased motivation and confidence after they were taught metacognitive strategies.

Cognitive Apprenticeship

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

It used to be that everyone learned on the job, through formal or informal apprenticeships, but modern knowledge work goes on inside the the master’s head, where it’s invisible to the apprentice. A cognitive apprenticeship requires some special effort:

“Applying apprenticeship methods to largely cognitive skills requires the externalization of processes that are usually carried out internally.” That means that the modern-day master and apprentice must be continuously communicating as they work side by side.

Collins prescribes two specific types of talk: in the first, the master and the neophyte take turns explaining what they’re doing as they do it. This alternation allows apprentices “to use the details of expert performance as the basis for incremental adjustments to their own performance,” Collins writes.

The second approach Collins calls “abstracted replay”: that is, after a task has been performed, the master offers a detailed commentary on what just happened (sometimes augmented by the actual replay of video taken during the task). During the recap, the more experienced member of the pair recounts what would have been his or her internal dialogue so that the less-experienced participant can hear it — and, in time, draw that dialogue inward as well.

Is Shooting a Martial Art?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

“Do you consider shooting a martial art?” I asked Jocko (@jockowillink). “How has your firearms training been like or unlike martial arts training?” He answered, and it went something like this:

Shooting is absolutely a martial art, maybe not the way people picture martial arts nowadays, because we picture a guy in a gi doing karate, that’s the generic picture. But for me that’s not martial arts actually. For me martial art is the art of war, the individual warrior skills which it takes, and firearms are absolutely a martial art. Because it’s something that you train, something that you get good at, something you need to maintain your skill at. To me it’s another piece of the puzzle, another thing that you need to know how to do, just like tactics that go along with shooting are an important part of being a warrior, you need to know how to shoot.

The training is very similar in my mind to martial arts training, in that it takes repetition, you have to know what the basics are, you have to repeat those basics, then you get more advanced.

It’s about movement and getting efficient with your movement, you want to train very similar to the way you train mixed martial arts. And once you get all those mechanical skills down, then you want to train your mind around this skill, so that your mind knows how to utilize it when things are unexpected and when there’s chaos and mayhem going on.

(Thanks to our Slovenian guest for transcribing that.)

From there, Jocko tells a fun story about Nerf “lazer” tag and the importance of good tactical training.

Sam Harris Interviews Jocko Willink

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

Sam Harris interviews Jocko Willink — who’s largely incredulous that people make some of the arguments Harris describes:

That’s very strange to me, you know? I guess in the SEAL community, you get used to people having at least somewhat of the same, similar viewpoint, maybe on different ends within some kind of spectrum.

You take a little girl in danger and some person that knows where she is, and we can save her from his knowledge, that guy would definitely give information, and smacking him around would just be getting warmed up, in my opinion.

That’s in response to Harris’s slightly misremembered real-life example from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, justifying (mild) torture:

Height of the antipodean summer, Mercury at the century-mark; the noonday sun softened the bitumen beneath the tyres of her little Hyundai sedan to the consistency of putty. Her three year old son, quiet at last, snuffled in his sleep on the back seat. He had a summer cold and wailed like a banshee in the supermarket, forcing her to cut short her shopping. Her car needed petrol. Her tot was asleep on the back seat. She poured twenty litres into the tank; thumbing notes from her purse, harried and distracted, her keys dangled from the ignition.

Whilst she was in the service station a man drove off in her car. Police wound back the service station’s closed-circuit TV camera, saw what appeared to be a heavy set Pacific Islander with a blonde-streaked Afro entering her car. “Don’t panic”, a police constable advised the mother, “as soon as he sees your little boy in the back he will abandon the car.” He did; police arrived at the railway station before the car thief did and arrested him after a struggle when he vaulted over the station barrier.

In the police truck on the way to the police station: “Where did you leave the Hyundai?” Denial instead of dissimulation: “It wasn’t me.” It was—property stolen from the car was found in his pockets. In the detectives’ office: “It’s been twenty minutes since you took the car—little tin box like that car—It will heat up like an oven under this sun. Another twenty minutes and the child’s dead or brain damaged. Where did you dump the car?” Again: “It wasn’t me.”

Appeals to decency, to reason, to self-interest: “It’s not too late; tell us where you left the car and you will only be charged with Take-and-Use. That’s just a six month extension of your recognizance.” Threats: “If the child dies I will charge you with Manslaughter!” Sneering, defiant and belligerent; he made no secret of his contempt for the police. Part-way through his umpteenth, “It wasn’t me”, a questioner clipped him across the ear as if he were a child, an insult calculated to bring the Islander to his feet to fight, there a body-punch elicited a roar of pain, but he fought back until he lapsed into semi-consciousness under a rain of blows. He quite enjoyed handing out a bit of biffo, but now, kneeling on hands and knees in his own urine, in pain he had never known, he finally realised the beating would go on until he told the police where he had abandoned the child and the car.

The police officers’ statements in the prosecution brief made no mention of the beating; the location of the stolen vehicle and the infant inside it was portrayed as having been volunteered by the defendant. The defendant’s counsel availed himself of this falsehood in his plea in mitigation. When found, the stolen child was dehydrated, too weak to cry; there were ice packs and dehydration in the casualty ward but no long-time prognosis on brain damage.

(Case Study provided by John Blackler, a former New South Wales police officer.)

Selective Public Schools

Monday, March 14th, 2016

New York City’s selective public schools — where students take a test to get in — have an appalling diversity problem — as do selective public schools everywhere else:

Of the schools that “test in,” black and Latino students will likely make up no more than 4 and 6 percent, respectively, of the student populations next year. Yet across the city, those two groups make up 70 percent of the public school population.


At Thomas Jefferson, a magnet school in Alexandria, Virginia, for instance, there’s a notable gulf when it comes to Asian students. Nearly 60 percent of the school’s population was Asian during the 2014–15 school year, compared to 20 percent of the wider public school system.


An Economist’s Rational Road to Christianity

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

Eric Falkenstein (@egfalken) takes his contrarianism to the next level, as he describes his rational road to Christianity:

  • Something created us
  • Created things have a purpose
  • The New Testament’s consistency with economics and psychology work as if our creator wrote it
  • ‘As if’ assumptions are often true

He links to a PDF of his Rational Argument for Christianity.

UIC Pavilion

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

What’s the story behind the Trump fan flashing a Nazi salute? Michael Joseph Garza claims this:

my friend Sean Kavanagh and I are walking out of the UIC Pavilion filled with some of the most palpable joy I’ve ever experienced. We did it. We fought for the truth and for a moment, a brief day, WON.

As we are leaving Trump protestors form small sections, small channels where Trump supporters can pass through to exit (a kindness which isn’t quite afforded in the inverse when ya know, people get sucker punched being forced out of Trump rallies).

As people are walking out we’re saying things like “Bye racists”, “You lost. Please just go home now.” bc many are leaving with shoves and shoulder checks, begrudgingly, but most with pent up fury.

The woman pictured with me and what looks to be her husband we’re stragglers in the pack, and started responding to people’s jeers. Some guy ripped a sign out of the man’s hands and another man leapt out of nowhere, encouraging everyone around to respect them and let them leave (again, sometimes America is amazing).

This woman is a human being and although I don’t share her views, I start yelling “I will respect my elders. Please. Leave.” and a few other great folks and I start to clear the path. I walk right up to her and say “Ma’am we have listened to you. We understand this is all a little wild but we have cleared a path for you to leave *my right hand was constantly swinging in motion, showing her the path out we made for her, as shown in the photo*”

She goes, and I quote “Go? Back in my day, you know what we did-”

Bam. Hail’s Hitler.

I go “Ma’am you are endagering your life doing this. LEAVE. TAKE YOUR HUSBAND AND LEAVE.” (I mean, anyone who knows me knows I get loud, so you know, sorry about that.)

And she won’t. She won’t budge. A young woman comes up to me and says “She wants this. Leave her be.” looks to her and goes “God bless you. I hope you make it home safe.” and I walk away from her astounded.

I have never experienced anything like tonight. To see America rise up for a man who hates so much of it, then for him to get checked so wonderfully by a city I love so much, and then for his followers to scream and cackle to the bitter end.

So many fights were stopped. So many people protected others instead of encouraging mayhem. Don’t believe the hype : protestors only stoked a fire in these people that was born long before they had Trump to personify it.
Hate is real my friends. Vicious, hurt you if you aren’t watching, worse if they can get away with it indignance was in so many eyes there.

I say that bc know this : hope is real too. Hope that when we stand up against hate from time to time, and collectively, we can defeat it. Or at least silence that beast, for one damn night.

We are at a point in America where those people, Trump supporters, make me sad. But the ones who make me angry? The incredibly intelligent, brightest minds I know, who sit on their hands and do nothing, don’t vote, don’t volunteer, and pretend as though their knowledge abdicates them from action.

The world is broken, I learned that best from Christianity. But I don’t believe even one thing on this Earth is beyond repair, and I learned that from Christianity too.

You don’t have to share my belief in Christianity, but I am asking you to stand up against hate. Or this woman’s slanted arm never bears a greater weight than her own ignorance. She may never get the shot to understand love, living in the world where that symbol actually rules again.

Don’t let that happen. Do something. Please, for the sake of everyone, do something.

The woman photographed told her own story:

She and her husband, Don, had attended the rally to check out the candidate in person. “The Republican Party needs to be broken up, and I believe Donald Trump is the one to do it,” Ms. Peterson said.

After the rally was canceled, the Petersons found themselves in the middle of a group of protesters, some of whom they described as “rude.” One was holding a poster with a picture of Adolf Hitler on it.

Ms. Peterson, who was born in West Berlin in 1946 and became an American citizen in 1982, said she took offense to the comparison of Mr. Trump to Hitler.

“They said Trump is a second Hitler,” Ms. Peterson said. “I said do you know what that sign stands for? Do you know who Hitler really was?”

“I make the point that they are demonstrating something they had no knowledge about,” she said. “If you want to do it right, you do it right. You don’t know what you are doing.”

That is when she made the Nazi salute — a gesture that is banned in Germany — as a form of counterprotest. But that is all it was, she said.

“Absolutely I’m not a Nazi, no,” she said. “I’m not one of those.”

Martin Krpan in English

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

“You like axe-wielding heroes?” our Slovenian guest asked. Clearly a rhetorical question. From his neck of the woods comes Martin Krpan the Strong of the Peak:

A Slovenian subject of the Habsburg Empire and one of the strongest men in it, Martin Krpan hails from a fictional village in Inner Carniola. A smuggler by profession, he makes a living by illegally transporting English salt. With the help of his loyal, diminutive mare (a female horse), he carries the salt from the Adriatic Sea coast to the Slovenian Lands and elsewhere in Inner Austria. On one of his travels, Krpan meets the imperial carriage on a snowbound road, and makes way for it by picking up his laden horse and moving it aside. His extraordinary strength is noted by Emperor John. Several years later, the Emperor summons Krpan to Vienna in order to fight as the Empire’s last hope against Brdaus, a brutal warrior who has set up camp outside the imperial capital and challenged all comers, and has already slain most of the city’s knights, including the Crown Prince. Reluctantly, Krpan accepts the challenge, scandalizing the court with his uncouthness, honesty and homespun manner, before defeating the brute in a duel by using both his strength and his ingenuity. In gratitude, the Emperor gives him a special permit to legally traffic in English salt, as well as a pouch of gold pieces.

Martin Krpan 1

Martin Krpan 2

Martin Krpan 3