Keeping up with the Jocko Podcast

Friday, March 11th, 2016

Having trouble keeping up with the Jocko podcast? “Good,” Jocko (@jockowillink) would say.

Jocko Podcast 11 is really the Jocko and Leif Podcast, where they share stories about the old days in the SEAL teams — including their memories of Chris Kyle and the other SEALs portrayed in American Sniper.

To be honest, I found the movie oddly uncompelling, but I’ve heard that the book is better (of course).

I found Lone Survivor, both the book and the movie, compelling — not good, but compelling.

Jocko Podcast 12 opens with a hard-to-take talk about the real story behind The Bridge on the River Kwai, as told by Alistair Urquhart in The Forgotten Highlander. “It was time to weed out the casual fans,” I concluded.

Jocko Podcast 13 is where things really get going — especially two hours in, when he starts answering my questions:

2:01:40 – Jocko’s thoughts on MARSOC

2:05:55 – Is Shooting a martial art?

Why Do People See Ghosts?

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Why do people see ghosts?

Psychologists refer to it as the “sensed presence.”

The sensed presence usually happens to individuals who have become isolated in an extreme or unusual environment, often when high levels of stress are involved. These individuals report a perception or feeling that another person is there to help them cope with a hazardous situation. The vividness of the presence can range from a vague feeling of being watched to a clearly perceived, seemingly flesh-and-blood entity such as Clooney’s character in Gravity. This entity might be a god, a spirit, an ancestor, or someone personally known to the observer. Sensed presences usually appear in environments with little variation in physical and social stimulation; low temperature is also a common ingredient.

Possible explanations for a sensed presence include the motion of boats, atmospheric or geomagnetic activity, and altered sensations and states of consciousness induced by changes in brain chemistry triggered by stress, lack of oxygen, monotonous stimulation, or a buildup of hormones. There is in fact exciting new evidence from a research group led by Olaf Blanke demonstrating that it is the precise stimulation of specific brain regions that tricks people into feeling the “presence” of a ghostly apparition.

Environmental psychologist Peter Suedfeld also thinks that what we do cognitively changes under these circumstances and may play a role.

Suedfeld proposed that we normally spend most of our time attending to and processing external, ambient stimuli from the physical world surrounding us. However, persistent exposure to stimuli that we are evolutionarily unprepared to process, or a lack of change in our surroundings, may cause us to focus more within ourselves, which most of us are much less experienced at doing.

Seeing ghosts may also be triggered by the “agency-detection mechanisms” proposed by evolutionary psychologists. These mechanisms evolved to protect us from harm at the hands of predators and enemies. If you are walking down a dark city street and hear the sound of something moving in a dark alley, you will respond with a heightened level of arousal and sharply focused attention and behave as if there is a willful “agent” present who is about to do you harm. If it turns out to be just a gust of wind or a stray cat, you lose little by overreacting, but if you fail to activate the alarm response and a true threat is present, the cost of your miscalculation could be high. Thus, we evolved to err on the side of detecting threats in such ambiguous situations. A recent study by Kirsten Barnes & Nicholas Gibson (2013) explored the differences between individuals who have never had a paranormal experience and those who have. They confirmed that experiences of supernatural phenomena are most likely to occur in threatening or ambiguous environments, and they also found that those who had paranormal experiences scored higher on scales measuring empathy and a tendency to become deeply absorbed in one’s own subjective experience.

Most likely, the experience of the sensed presence is the result of many of these factors interacting at once.

The Pulp Magazine Archive

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

I had no idea that the Internet Archive included a Pulp Magazine Archive, until Boing Boing noted that the full run of If Magazine had been uploaded:

Included in the collection are all of the issues edited by Frederik Pohl from 1966-68, three years that netted him three consecutive Best Editor Hugo awards. If‘s Pohl run included significant stories by Larry Niven, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delany, Alexei Panshin and Gene Wolfe; it was the serialized home of such Heinlein novels as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, as well as Laumer’s Retief stories and Saberhagen’s Berserker stories.

If Magazine in Internet Archive

The Rhetoric and Reality of Gap Closing

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Shockingly, measures aimed at narrowing the gap between “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” students only narrow the gap when they’re denied to the “advantaged” students.

OK, maybe you’re not so shocked, but Cornell researchers Stephen J. Ceci and Paul B. Papierno were:

It turns out, however, that when these gap-narrowing interventions are universalized —  given not only to the group of children who most need assistance but also to the more advantaged group (regardless of whether the latter is identified as White, rich, high ability, etc.), a surprising and unanticipated consequence sometimes occurs: The preintervention gap between the disadvantaged group and the advantaged group is actually widened as a consequence of making the intervention universally available. This is because, as we will show, although the disadvantaged children who most need the intervention do usually gain significantly from it, the higher functioning or more advantaged children occasionally benefit even more from the intervention. The result is increased disparity and a widening of the gap that existed prior to universalizing the intervention. This has led a prominent intervention researcher to bemoan the major drawback of universalization that “makes nice children even nicer but has a negligible effect on those children at greatest risk” (Offord, 1996, p. 338).

Intensity and Weight of Fire

Monday, March 7th, 2016

With the rise of trench warfare, the German army conducted a number of attacks with limited objectives, which all relied on the effect of artillery — particularly heavy artillery:

For several reasons, the Germans put more emphasis on the physiological effect of artillery and less on its destructive effect, than did the French or British armies at this stage in the war. In part, this was a consequence of the types of artillery each army had available in the war to date. The German army went to war in 1914 with very considerable numbers of modern heavy artillery, importantly, modern heavy howitzers and mortars. These heavy howitzers were capable of firing very heavy shells at high angles, which made them effective against entrenched enemies and against fortifications. Indeed, drawing on lessons from the Russo-Japanese War and the Balkan Wars, the pre-war German army had developed and deployed more high-angle of fire weapons than any other European army, including super-heavy howitzers capable of fire shells weighing 820 kilograms.

In 1914, the Germans used this heavy artillery to good effect to capture first Belgian and then French fortresses and fortifications. However, contrary to pre-war expectations, it was not the destruction wrought by heavy artillery that brought about the surrender of enemy fortifications, but rather its psychological impact. The fortresses of Liege, Namur, Antwerp, and Maubeuge all fell to much smaller forces, which generally attacked after short, concentrated bombardments by German heavy artillery. (Indeed, in the case of Liege, the infantry attacked before heavy artillery preparation.) With a couple spectacular exceptions, their defensive works had remained largely intact, but the morale of their garrisons collapsed under the weight of German heavy artillery fire, leading to their surrender.

The experience of field fortifications on the Western Front reinforced the growing belief amongst German artillerists that it was not the duration of artillery preparation and not the destruction caused by a bombardment that was important, but rather the intensity and weight of fire during a preparatory bombardment. This was expressed clearly as early as December 1914 by Ludwig Lauter, the General of Heavy Artillery in the German High Command, who wrote: ‘Days’ long careful fire causes high casualties among the enemy, but it is not enough to break his combat power before the moment of attack. A short one- or two-hour heavy bombardment, with its moral and physical effect, fulfils this goal much better.’

Cookie Monster on the Colbert Report

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

I find it hard to believe that Cookie Monster appeared on The Colbert Report almost eight years ago:

A Short Film By Spike Jonze

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

Stephen Colbert opened a recent episode of The Late Show with A Short Film By Spike Jonze:

Through A Glass, Darkly

Friday, March 4th, 2016

George S. Patton‘s “Through A Glass, Darkly” reads like Robert E. Howard’s poetry:

Through the travail of the ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.

In the form of many people
In all panoplies of time
Have I seen the luring vision
Of the Victory Maid, sublime.

I have sinned and I have suffered,
Played the hero and the knave;
Fought for belly, shame, or country,
And for each have found a grave.

I cannot name my battles
For the visions are not clear,
Yet, I see the twisted faces
And I feel the rending spear.

I have fought with gun and cutlass
On the red and slippery deck
With all Hell aflame within me
And a rope around my neck.

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o’er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.

Born and Bred on the Other Side of the European Frontiers

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

In Panzer Battles, von Mellenthin describes the psychology of the Russian soldier with an emphasis on its Asiatic foreignness:

No one belonging to the cultural circle of the West is ever likely to fathom the character and soul of these Asiatics, born and bred on the other side of the European frontiers.

(I am of course aware that the Slavs migrated into Russia from the west, and were originally a European people. But the Mongol invasion of 1241, and the two centuries of domination which followed, gave an Asiatic twist in the Russian outlook and character, a development accentuated by the policy of the Tsars.)

Yet the Russian character must contain the key to an understanding of their soldierly qualities, their achievements, and their way of fighting. The human heart, and the psychology of the individual fighting man, have always been the ruling factors in warfare, transcending the importance of numbers and equipment. This old maxim held good during World War II, and I think it will always to so.

The Russian soldier is unpredictable, von Mellenthin felt — and American General George S. Patton felt the same way, as he’s quoted in General Patton: A Soldier’s Life:

The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asiatic, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinaman or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them, except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other Asiatic characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and is an all out son of bitch, barbarian, and chronic drunk.

He definitely did not see the Russians as true allies:

We promised the Europeans freedom. It would be worse than dishonorable not to see they have it. This might mean war with the Russians, but what of it? They have no Air Force anymore, their gasoline and ammunition supplies are low. I’ve seen their miserable supply trains; mostly wagons draw by beaten up old hoses or oxen. I’ll say this; the Third Army alone with very little help and with damned few casualties, could lick what is left of the Russians in six weeks. You mark my words. Don’t ever forget them… Someday we will have to fight them and it will take six years and cost us six million lives.

The Gunslinger

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

I haven’t read Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, but I know that their hero, Roland Deschain, is a Clint Eastwood-style gunslinger descended from (his reality’s) King Arthur — and described as a weathered western hero:

Some of his hair is gray or white, but some remains black. His facial features are described as rough (although Susannah once compared them to that of a tired poet; Eddie frequently refers to him as “old long tall and ugly”), and he has light blue eyes, often referred to by characters and Stephen King as “bombardier’s eyes.” Roland lost his right big toe and his right index and middle fingers, which is problematic as he is right-handed in everything other than shooting. He is a strong and disciplined man, capable of working through injuries and illnesses that would have killed or incapacitated another man. Roland is also unusually tall; at 14, he stood taller than the 16-year-old Susan, and, as an adult, his height exceeds that of his father. In The Dark Tower he is described as having reached an adult height of roughly 6’3″.

They did not get Eastwood to play the role in the upcoming film adaptation.

Edward Byers’ Medal of Honor Story

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

The door-kickers of SEAL Team 6 actually use grappling skills in combat, as Edward Byers‘ experience attests:

As the team got within 25 meters of the compound, a sentry at the door was alerted to their presence. The first member of the team, Petty Officer First Class Nicolas Checque, shot at the guard and ran towards the door of the compound. He fell wounded by an AK-47 round to the head as he charged into the building.

Byers was the second man inside the building, sprinting in on Checque’s heels.

“There were some blankets hanging up; it wasn’t like a typical door, so you couldn’t just open the door and walk in,” Byers recalled. “When I finally [made my way through the blankets], down my area of responsibility there was an enemy that I engaged with and then I saw another person that was moving across the floor. I didn’t know whether or not that person was [the hostage] or if it was just an enemy coming to and trying to get some weapons, so by the time I got to him, I was able to get on top of him, straddle him, pin him down with my legs.”

Locked in hand-to-hand combat with the unknown man underneath him, Byers managed to subdue him with one hand and use the other to adjust the focus of his night-vision goggles. Having done so, he saw that the man was one of the captors and engaged him with his weapon.

“At the same time, we’re calling out, trying to find the location of the American hostage,” Byers said.

Joseph called out, alerting the SEALs to his presence, three to five feet away from where Byers had grappled with the guard. Byers immediately tackled the captive American, using his own body and body armor to shield him from the fighting.

From this position, Byers noticed another man close by.

“It ended up being an enemy who had grenades and a weapon on him within arms’ reach,” Byers said. “And I was able to pin him to the wall by his throat until our team was able to come in and take care of that threat.”

The entire raid was over in a matter of minutes.

Byers is the first living sailor to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

Two other SEALs have received the medal posthumously since Sept. 11, 2001: Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, for heroic actions in Iraq in 2006; and Lt. Michael Murphy, for valor during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in 2005.