Warriors with akiger scars are highly regarded by both men and women

Monday, May 31st, 2021

Did PTSD and combat stress evolve as a universal human response to danger?

Or are they culturally specific? We addressed this question by interviewing 218 warriors from the Turkana, a non-Western small-scale society, who engage in high-risk lethal cattle raids. We found that symptoms that may have evolved to protect against danger, like flashbacks and startle response, were high in the Turkana and best predicted by combat exposure. However, symptoms that are similar to depression were lower in the Turkana compared to American service members and were better predicted by moral violations. These findings suggest different evolutionary roots for different symptoms which may lead to better diagnosis and treatment.


Turkana warriors are venerated and there is widespread support from their community for going on raids and defending the Turkana from raids. They do not expect to face moral disapproval for participating in combat (although they do face moral disapproval for cowardice and can be blamed for the death of comrades). In fact, those who have killed in combat are often celebrated in Turkana society with many warriors undergoing akiger, a ritual that scars the warrior’s body to mark him as someone who has killed. Warriors with akiger scars are highly regarded by both men and women. Additionally, raid participation is high among Turkana men, so warriors are almost always in the company of other warriors with similar combat experiences. Many women and children too have experienced raids by other groups. As such, combat experiences are a commonly shared and a frequent topic of discussion in Turkana society. There is little to no stigma associated with sharing the details of combat.

By contrast, in the United States and other industrialized nation states, support for war and those who participate in war is often far from universal, and killing, even in combat, is rarely celebrated. American soldiers fight in foreign countries away from the civilian population and, upon returning, they may perceive disapproval of their experiences and actions from friends and family. Additionally, most Americans cannot relate to the experiences of those who have participated in combat. Consequently, warfare presents a moral conflict because what is considered a soldier’s duty in combat can violate prevailing moral norms within the soldier’s society. American soldiers may therefore have a heightened awareness of potential social repercussions especially as they integrate back into civilian life. Veterans’ support groups and group therapy replicate some aspects of Turkana society by allowing veterans to share their experiences with each other, but Turkana warriors receive stronger signals of social support and understanding from all members of their communities.

The California pepper tree isn’t from California

Sunday, May 30th, 2021

Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerThe Big Sleep repeatedly mentions pepper trees, and the annotations in my copy explain why:

This is the second mention of a tree that was once as emblematic of Los Angeles as the palm. Like the palm, the eucalyptus, and most other trees in LA, it is not a native. First planted by the Spanish padres to shade the missions, pepper trees were enthusiastically adopted by Anglo Angelenos, who lined the boulevards with the graceful shade trees. Many of these were later replaced by palms when it was found that pepper trees hosted black scale, a pest fatal to citrus crops.

Pepper trees were some of the first arrivals in the young city of Hollywood: in 1896 Harvey Henderson Wilcox, the founder of Hollywood, planted them along a freshly laid road — today’s Hollywood Boulevard — and began selling lots to the brand-new subdivision. The trees were removed in the 1920s because they blocked store signs on the commercial strip, despite a storm of protests to save them, including a campaign led by the actress Mary Pickford.

The trees became known as California pepper trees:

The California pepper tree (Schinus molle) is a fast-growing, hardy evergreen. With an established root system, the pepper tree requires very little rainfall and is considered to be the largest of all Schinus species, growing up to five stories tall. Its wide canopy and drooping branches give it an appearance that closely resembles a willow tree, making the two species visually similar.

However, crushed leaves from the pepper tree release a distinct aroma close to that of commercial black pepper and easily sets the pepper tree apart from the willow. The leaves are narrow and cone-shaped, appearing feather-like from a distance.

Bright red and pink berries decorate the branches, hanging together in grape-like bunches. As the tree ages, its outer grey bark peels to reveal its deep-red inner wood.

The California pepper tree received its colloquial name from its high abundance, cultivation, and long history in California. However, contrary to its nickname as the “California” pepper tree, Schinus molle originates from the arid regions of northern South America and the Peruvian Andes.

California Pepper Tree

It has made its way across the globe and can be found in mild to warm climates. In certain regions, it is considered to be an invasive species. In South Africa and Australia, the pepper tree has encroached onto grasslands and dry areas. It often out-grows native plant species, gradually increasing in abundance and changing the local ecosystem.

In the United States, it is found in southern to south-western states and tends to crowd out native vegetation. Interestingly, it is not officially an invasive species in California given its long-term presence, common planting, and relatively low risk in comparison to other invasive plants.

The top ten men are about 11 percent faster than the top ten women

Saturday, May 29th, 2021

In running, from the 100-meters to the 10,000-meters, David Epstein explains (in The Sports Gene), the top ten men are about 11 percent faster than the top ten women:

The women’s 100-meters world record would have been too slow by a quarter-second to qualify for entry into the men’s field at the 2012 Olympics.

In the 10,000-meters, the women’s world record performance would be lapped by a man who made the minimum Olympic qualifying standard.

In the long jump, women are 19 percent behind men.

The smallest gap occurs in distance swimming races. In the 800-meter freestyle, top women are within 6 percent of top men.

I’m sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that

Friday, May 28th, 2021

Starship Troopers by Robert HeinleinCommenter Kirk recently suggested that I address Heinlein’s Starship Troopers — or certain parts of it, which address an article he shared:

If Isegoria wanted to treat the bits and pieces of the referenced work (Starship Troopers, R.A. Heinlein) that don’t address his hypothetical “future government by veterans” in a manner similar to how he has done Fehrenbach’s seminal work, I think it would be a good idea.

Starship Troopers has aspects that tend to distract people reading it from the ground truths that were contained therein, some of which the linked article mentions. The overall trend towards “de-civilization” that Heinlein outlines as the backstory/justification for the world he creates in the book is something you can observe going on all around you, in the general insanity prevailing the day.

I have my doubts about the prescription he came up with, but the bastard damn sure got the diagnosis right…

Long-time readers — and new-but-astute readers — might realize that I’ve discussed Heinlein here many, many times.

Heinlein’s Starship Troopers presents many ideas through the character of Mr. Dubois:

I thought about it during the last session of our class in History and Moral Philosophy. H. & M. P. was different from other courses in that everybody had to take it but nobody had to pass it — and Mr. Dubois never seemed to care whether he got through to us or not. He would just point at you with the stump of his left arm (he never bothered with names) and snap a question. Then the argument would start.

But on the last day he seemed to be trying to find out what we had learned. One girl told him bluntly: “My mother says that violence never settles anything.”

“So?” Mr. Dubois looked at her bleakly. “I’m sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Why doesn’t your mother tell them so? Or why don’t you?”

They had tangled before — since you couldn’t flunk the course, it wasn’t necessary to keep Mr. Dubois buttered up. She said shrilly, “You’re making fun of me! Everybody knows that Carthage was destroyed!”

“You seemed to be unaware of it,” he said grimly. “Since you do know it, wouldn’t you say that violence had settled their destinies rather thoroughly? However, I was not making fun of you personally; I was heaping scorn on an inexcusably silly idea — a practice I shall always follow. Anyone who clings to the historically untrue — and thoroughly immoral — doctrine that `violence never settles anything’ I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms.”

He sighed. “Another year, another class — and, for me, another failure. One can lead a child to knowledge but one cannot make him think.”

You can quickly see why Heinlein’s Starship Troopers would get labelled fascistit mocks communism:

He had been droning along about “value,” comparing the Marxist theory with the orthodox “use” theory. Mr. Dubois had said, “Of course, the Marxian definition of value is ridiculous. All the work one cares to add will not turn a mud pie into an apple tart; it remains a mud pie, value zero. By corollary, unskillful work can easily subtract value; an untalented cook can turn wholesome dough and fresh green apples, valuable already, into an inedible mess, value zero. Conversely, a great chef can fashion of those same materials a confection of greater value than a commonplace apple tart, with no more effort than an ordinary cook uses to prepare an ordinary sweet.

“These kitchen illustrations demolish the Marxian theory of value — the fallacy from which the entire magnificent fraud of communism derives — and to illustrate the truth of the common-sense definition as measured in terms of use.”

Dubois had waved his stump at us. “Nevertheless — wake up, back there! — nevertheless the disheveled old mystic of Das Kapital, turgid, tortured, confused, and neurotic, unscientific, illogical, this pompous fraud Karl Marx, nevertheless had a glimmering of a very important truth. If he had possessed an analytical mind, he might have formulated the first adequate definition of value… and this planet might have been saved endless grief.

“Or might not,” he added. “You!”

I had sat up with a jerk.

“If you can’t listen, perhaps you can tell the class whether ‘value’ is a relative, or an absolute?”

I had been listening; I just didn’t see any reason not to listen with eyes closed and spine relaxed. But his question caught me out; I hadn’t read that day’s assignment. “An absolute,” I answered, guessing.

“Wrong,” he said coldly. ” ‘Value’ has no meaning other than in relation to living beings. The value of a thing is always relative to a particular person, is completely personal and different in quantity for each living human — ‘market value’ is a fiction, merely a rough guess at the average of personal values, all of which must be quantitatively different or trade would be impossible.” (I had wondered what Father would have said if he had heard “market value” called a “fiction” — snort in disgust, probably.)

“This very personal relationship, ‘value,’ has two factors for a human being: first, what he can do with a thing, its use to him… and second, what he must do to get it, its cost to him. There is an old song which asserts that ‘the best things in life are free.’ Not true! Utterly false! This was the tragic fallacy which brought on the decadence and collapse of the democracies of the twentieth century; those noble experiments failed because the people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted… and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears.

“Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain.” He had been still looking at me and added, “If you boys and girls had to sweat for your toys the way a newly born baby has to struggle to live you would be happier… and much richer. As it is, with some of you, I pity the poverty of your wealth. You! I’ve just awarded you the prize for the hundred-meter dash. Does it make you happy?”

“Uh, I suppose it would.”

“No dodging, please. You have the prize — here, I’ll write it out: ‘Grand prize for the championship, one hundred-meter sprint.’ ” He had actually come back to my seat and pinned it on my chest. “There! Are you happy? You value it — or don’t you?”

I was sore. First that dirty crack about rich kids — a typical sneer of those who haven’t got it — and now this farce. I ripped it off and chucked it at him.

Mr. Dubois had looked surprised. “It doesn’t make you happy?”

“You know darn well I placed fourth!”

“Exactly! The prize for first place is worthless to you… because you haven’t earned it. But you enjoy a modest satisfaction in placing fourth; you earned it. I trust that some of the somnambulists here understood this little morality play. I fancy that the poet who wrote that song meant to imply that the best things in life must be purchased other than with money — which is true — just as the literal meaning of his words is false. The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony and sweat and devotion… and the price demanded for the most precious of all things in life is life itself — ultimate cost for perfect value.”

This passage most directly addresses Kirk’s point about our societal decline:

I found myself mulling over a discussion in our class in History and Moral Philosophy. Mr. Dubois was talking about the disorders that preceded the breakup of the North American republic, back in the XXth century.

According to him, there was a time just before they went down the drain when such crimes as Dillinger’s were as common as dogfights. The Terror had not been just in North America — Russia and the British Isles had it, too, as well as other places. But it reached its peak in North America shortly before things went to pieces.

“Law-abiding people,” Dubois had told us, “hardly dared go into a public park at night. To do so was to risk attack by wolf packs of children, armed with chains, knives, homemade guns, bludgeons… to be hurt at least, robbed most certainly, injured for life probably — or even killed.

This went on for years, right up to the war between the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance and the Chinese Hegemony. Murder, drug addiction, larceny, assault, and vandalism were commonplace. Nor were parks the only places — these things happened also on the streets in daylight, on school grounds, even inside school buildings. But parks were so notoriously unsafe that honest people stayed clear of them after dark.”

I had tried to imagine such things happening in our schools. I simply couldn’t. Nor in our parks. A park was a place for fun, not for getting hurt. As for getting killed in one — “Mr. Dubois, didn’t they have police? Or courts?”

“They had many more police than we have. And more courts. All overworked.”

“I guess I don’t get it.” If a boy in our city had done anything half that bad… well, he and his father would have been flogged side by side.

But such things just didn’t happen.

Mr. Dubois then demanded of me, “Define a ‘juvenile delinquent.’ ”

“Uh, one of those kids — the ones who used to beat up people.”


“Huh? But the book said — ”

“My apologies. Your textbook does so state. But calling a tail a leg does not make the name fit ‘Juvenile delinquent’ is a contradiction in terms, one which gives a clue to their problem and their failure to solve it. Have you ever raised a puppy?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you housebreak him?”

“Err… yes, sir. Eventually.” It was my slowness in this that caused my mother to rule that dogs must stay out of the house.

“Ah, yes. When your puppy made mistakes, were you angry?”

“What? Why, he didn’t know any better; he was just a puppy.

“What did you do?”

“Why, I scolded him and rubbed his nose in it and paddled him.”

“Surely he could not understand your words?”

“No, but he could tell I was sore at him!”

“But you just said that you were not angry.”

Mr. Dubois had an infuriating way of getting a person mixed up. “No, but I had to make him think I was. He had to learn, didn’t he?”

“Conceded. But, having made it clear to him that you disapproved, how could you be so cruel as to spank him as well? You said the poor beastie didn’t know that he was doing wrong. Yet you indicted pain. Justify yourself! Or are you a sadist?”

I didn’t then know what a sadist was — but I knew pups. “Mr. Dubois, you have to! You scold him so that he knows he’s in trouble, you rub his nose in it so that he will know what trouble you mean, you paddle him so that he darn well won’t do it again — and you have to do it right away! It doesn’t do a bit of good to punish him later; you’ll just confuse him. Even so, he won’t learn from one lesson, so you watch and catch him again and paddle him still harder. Pretty soon he learns. But it’s a waste of breath just to scold him.” Then I added, “I guess you’ve never raised pups.”

“Many. I’m raising a dachshund now — by your methods. Let’s get back to those juvenile criminals. The most vicious averaged somewhat younger than you here in this class… and they often started their lawless careers much younger. Let us never forget that puppy. These children were often caught; police arrested batches each day. Were they scolded? Yes, often scathingly. Were their noses rubbed in it? Rarely. News organs and officials usually kept their names secret — in many places the law so required for criminals under eighteen. Were they spanked? Indeed not! Many had never been spanked even as small children; there was a widespread belief that spanking, or any punishment involving pain, did a child permanent psychic damage.”

(I had reflected that my father must never have heard of that theory.)

“Corporal punishment in schools was forbidden by law,” he had gone on.

“Flogging was lawful as sentence of court only in one small province, Delaware, and there only for a few crimes and was rarely invoked; it was regarded as ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ ” Dubois had mused aloud, “I do not understand objections to ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. While a judge should be benevolent in purpose, his awards should cause the criminal to suffer, else there is no punishment — and pain is the basic mechanism built into us by millions of years of evolution which safeguards us by warning when something threatens our survival. Why should society refuse to use such a highly perfected survival mechanism? However, that period was loaded with pre-scientific pseudo-psychological nonsense.

“As for ‘unusual,’ punishment must be unusual or it serves no purpose.” He then pointed his stump at another boy. “What would happen if a puppy were spanked every hour?”

“Uh… probably drive him crazy!”

“Probably. It certainly will not teach him anything. How long has it been since the principal of this school last had to switch a pupil?”

“Uh, I’m not sure. About two years. The kid that swiped — ”

“Never mind. Long enough. It means that such punishment is so unusual as to be significant, to deter, to instruct. Back to these young criminals — They probably were not spanked as babies; they certainly were not flogged for their crimes. The usual sequence was: for a first offense, a warning — a scolding, often without trial. After several offenses a sentence of confinement but with sentence suspended and the youngster placed on probation. A boy might be arrested many times and convicted several times before he was punished — and then it would be merely confinement, with others like him from whom he learned still more criminal habits. If he kept out of major trouble while confined, he could usually evade most of even that mild punishment, be given probation — ‘paroled’ in the jargon of the times.

“This incredible sequence could go on for years while his crimes increased in frequency and viciousness, with no punishment whatever save rare dull-but-comfortable confinements. Then suddenly, usually by law on his eighteenth birthday, this so-called ‘juvenile delinquent’ becomes an adult criminal — and sometimes wound up in only weeks or months in a death cell awaiting execution for murder. You — ”

He had singled me out again. “Suppose you merely scolded your puppy, never punished him, let him go on making messes in the house… and occasionally locked him up in an outbuilding but soon let him back into the house with a warning not to do it again. Then one day you notice that he is now a grown dog and still not housebroken — whereupon you whip out a gun and shoot him dead. Comment, please?”

“Why… that’s the craziest way to raise a dog I ever heard of!”

“I agree. Or a child. Whose fault would it be?”

“Uh… why, mine, I guess.”

“Again I agree. But I’m not guessing.”

“Mr. Dubois,” a girl blurted out, “but why? Why didn’t they spank little kids when they needed it and use a good dose of the strap on any older ones who deserved it — the sort of lesson they wouldn’t forget! I mean ones who did things really bad. Why not?”

“I don’t know,” he had answered grimly, “except that the time-tested method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the young did not appeal to a pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves ‘social workers’ or sometimes ‘child psychologists.’ It was too simple for them, apparently, since anybody could do it, using only the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy. I have sometimes wondered if they cherished a vested interest in disorder — but that is unlikely; adults almost always act from conscious ‘highest motives’ no matter what their behavior.”

“But — good heavens!” the girl answered. “I didn’t like being spanked any more than any kid does, but when I needed it, my mama delivered. The only time I ever got a switching in school I got another one when I got home and that was years and years ago. I don’t ever expect to be hauled up in front of a judge and sentenced to a flogging; you behave yourself and such things don’t happen. I don’t see anything wrong with our system; it’s a lot better than not being able to walk outdoors for fear of your life — why, that’s horrible!”

“I agree. Young lady, the tragic wrongness of what those well-meaning people did, contrasted with what they thought they were doing, goes very deep. They had no scientific theory of morals. They did have a theory of morals and they tried to live by it (I should not have sneered at their motives) but their theory was wrong — half of it fuzzy-headed wishful thinking, half of it rationalized charlatanry. The more earnest they were, the farther it led them astray. You see, they assumed that Man has a moral instinct.”

“Sir? But I thought — But he does! I have.”

“No, my dear, you have a cultivated conscience, a most carefully trained one. Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense. You were not born with it, I was not — and a puppy has none. We acquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind.

These unfortunate juvenile criminals were born with none, even as you and I, and they had no chance to acquire any; their experiences did not permit it. What is ‘moral sense’? It is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. The instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it. Anything that conflicts with the survival instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails to show up in future generations. This truth is mathematically demonstrable, everywhere verifiable; it is the single eternal imperative controlling everything we do.”

“But the instinct to survive,” he had gone on, “can be cultivated into motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of the individual to stay alive. Young lady, what you miscalled your ‘moral instinct’ was the instilling in you by your elders of the truth that survival can have stronger imperatives than that of your own personal survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children, when you have them. Of your nation, if you struggle that high up the scale. And so on up. A scientifically verifiable theory of morals must be rooted in the individual’s instinct to survive — and nowhere else! — and must correctly describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and resolve all conflicts.”

“We have such a theory now; we can solve any moral problem, on any level. Self-interest, love of family, duty to country, responsibility toward the human race — we are even developing an exact ethic for extra-human relations. But all moral problems can be illustrated by one misquotation: ‘Greater love hath no man than a mother cat dying to defend her kittens.’ Once you understand the problem facing that cat and how she solved it, you will then be ready to examine yourself and learn how high up the moral ladder you are capable of climbing.

“These juvenile criminals hit a low level. Born with only the instinct for survival, the highest morality they achieved was a shaky loyalty to a peer group, a street gang. But the do-gooders attempted to ‘appeal to their better natures,’ to ‘reach them,’ to ‘spark their moral sense.’ Tosh! They had no ‘better natures’; experience taught them that what they were doing was the way to survive. The puppy never got his spanking; therefore what he did with pleasure and success must be ‘moral.’

“The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. Nobody preached duty to these kids in a way they could understand — that is, with a spanking. But the society they were in told them endlessly about their ‘rights.’ ”

“The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no natural rights of any nature.”

Mr. Dubois had paused. Somebody took the bait. “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’?”

“Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed that great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called ‘natural human rights’ that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.

“The third ‘right’? — the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.”

Mr. Dubois then turned to me. “I told you that ‘juvenile delinquent’ is a contradiction in terms. ‘Delinquent’ means ‘failing in duty.’ But duty is an adult virtue — indeed a juvenile becomes an adult when, and only when, he acquires a knowledge of duty and embraces it as dearer than the self-love he was born with. There never was, there cannot be a ‘juvenile delinquent.’ But for every juvenile criminal there are always one or more adult delinquents — people of mature years who either do not know their duty, or who, knowing it, fail.”

“And that was the soft spot which destroyed what was in many ways an admirable culture. The junior hoodlums who roamed their streets were symptoms of a greater sickness; their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.”

Steve Sailer calls Heinlein the Moses of the Nerds and notes that Heinlein was not an ideologue, but rather an artist whose medium was ideas, an intellectual provocateur.

The first two works that Tom Clancy published were a letter to the editor of Proceedings and this plan

Thursday, May 27th, 2021

The first two works that Tom Clancy published were a letter to the editor of Proceedings and this plan for using hovercraft to deploy MX missiles:

A successful MX deployment system must meet a number of tests:

  • Insensitivity to first strike: The deployment scheme must allow a large proportion of its missiles to survive a strike and retaliate in force. The MX is more likely to deter a war rather than fight one if this criterion is met.
  • Reconstitution of forces: The insensitivity to attack must continue for an indefinite period of time. This will allow NCA to determine how many missiles have survived, choose an appropriate response, and to redirect the missiles to still-valuable targets.
  • Continuous launch capability: The system should be able to launch under the widest range of circumstances, including disablement of the missile carrier itself.
  • Separate vulnerabilities: The distinct nature of this leg of the strategic Triad should be retained, forcing an opponent to contemplate the most difficult range of tasks.
  • Communications security: The most attractive aspect of the land leg of the Triad is the availability of secure two-way communications at all times.
  • Environmental impact: As was demonstrated by the MPS deployment mode; any system which has a negative impact on local populations or environments will generate significant legal and political resistance.
  • Operational safety: Since any deployment system will touch upon civilian areas, its routine operation must not be perceived as a possible danger by the populace.
  • Cost: Ideally, the system should be as inexpensive as possible to initiate, operate, and maintain. To this end, a system that does not operate continuously has long-term advantages.

A number of deployment systems have been examined, and each fails on one or more of these criteria. The MX has been described as “a Rolls Royce without a garage.” But a vehicle exists to deploy the MX that meets the above preconditions: the U. S. Navy’s air cushion landing craft (LCAC).

LCAC with MX Missile

The LCAC has a standard payload capacity of 60 tons, and an overload capacity of 75 tons. This is less than the weight of the MX (85 tons) , but well in excess of that for any other American strategic system except the obsolete Titan II. The LCAC has a speed of 50 knots, and a range of 200 nautical miles. It can cross land or water, and does minimal damage to the terrain.

Were the MX missiles to be deployed on vehicles of similar performance, they would represent exceptionally elusive targets. Once deployed, the LCAC(M)s would scatter like quail before am incoming strike

I’m not sure I’d consider a hovercraft the most stable platform for a 72-foot missile. Clancy’s concept bears little resemblance to the G.E.V.s of Steve Jackson’s futuristic wargame;

GEV Cover

Tom Clancy’s third published work, by the way, was The Hunt for Red October, which I enjoyed in audiobook format not too long ago.

A bungalow court is a style of multi-family housing which features several small houses arranged around a central garden

Wednesday, May 26th, 2021

Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerIn The Big Sleep, Marlowe follows someone down a street with three bungalow courts:

A bungalow court is a style of multi-family housing which features several small houses arranged around a central garden. The bungalow court was created in Pasadena, California in 1909 and was the predominant form of multi-family housing in Southern California from the 1910s through the 1930s. Homes in bungalow courts were generally small, low-rise houses in the spirit of bungalow design; however, the homes were designed in a variety of architectural styles, including Swiss chalet and Spanish Colonial Revival. Bungalow courts also integrated their courtyards with the homes, providing green space to homeowners.

Bungalow courts were generally marketed at people who wanted the amenities of a single-family home without its high cost. While each family in a bungalow court had its own house and garden, upkeep and land were shared among the residents.

Bungalow Court

Bungalow courts were especially popular in Pasadena, the city of their origin. The courts’ design prompted the Pasadena City Council to pass regulations requiring all multi-family housing in the city to be centered on a landscaped courtyard. In addition, of the 112 surviving bungalow courts in Pasadena, 43 have a historic designation such as a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The city is attempting to list the remaining eligible courts due to the design’s role in Pasadena history.

They’ve largely been zoned out of existence.

The difference in throwing velocity between men and women is three standard deviations

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021

Of all the sex differences that have ever been documented in scientific experiments, David Epstein explains (in The Sports Gene), throwing is consistently one of the largest:

The difference in average throwing velocity between men and women, in statistical terms, is three standard deviations. That’s about twice as large as the male/female disparity in height. That means that if you pulled a thousand men off the street, 998 of them would be able to throw a ball harder than the average woman.


Boys, while still in the womb, start to develop the longer forearm that will make for a more forceful whip when throwing. And while the pronounced differences in throwing prowess are less between boys and girls than between men and women, they are already apparent in two-year-old children.

In an effort to determine how much of the throwing gap among children is cultural, a team of scientists from the University of North Texas and the University of Western Australia collaborated to test both American and Aboriginal Australian children for throwing skill. The Aboriginal Australians had not developed agriculture, instead remaining hunter-gatherers. The Aboriginal Australian girls, like the boys, were taught to throw projectiles for both combat and hunting. Indeed, the study found that throwing differences were much less pronounced between Australian Aboriginal boys and girls than between American boys and girls. But the boys still threw far harder than the girls, despite the fact that the girls were taller and heavier by virtue of their earlier maturation.

Not only are boys generally superior at throwing, but they also tend to be much more skilled at visually tracking and intercepting flying objects; 87 percent of boys outperform the average girl in tests of targeting skills.


Male Olympic throwers heave the javelin about 30 percent farther than female Olympians, even though the women’s javelin is lighter.

And the Guinness World Record for the fastest baseball pitch by a woman is 65 mph, a speed routinely topped by decent high school boys. Some professional men can throw over 100 mph.

Throwing like a girl has come up here before.

The corporation doesn’t go to the money farm to harvest some more cash

Monday, May 24th, 2021

The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal calls raising the top tax rate on capital gains to 43.4% the dumbest tax increase:

First, under current tax rules, all gains from investments are fully taxed, but all losses are not fully deductible. Losses can offset gains in any given year, but losses that exceed gains can only be offset against personal income up to $3,000. The preferential rate compensates for this asymmetry.

Second, gains in asset values aren’t adjusted for inflation, so investors who hold assets for an extended period pay taxes on increases that are partly illusory. Other parts of the tax code, including the income-tax brackets, are indexed for inflation, but not capital gains that arguably need it the most since assets are often held for decades.

Third, a capital-gains tax is a second tax on corporate income. A neutral revenue code would tax all income only once. But the U.S. also taxes business profits when they are earned, and President Biden wants to raise that tax rate by a third (to 28% from 21%). When a business distributes after-tax income in dividends, or an investor sells the shares that have risen in value due to higher earnings, the income is taxed a second time.


The Congressional Budget Office says the revenue-maximizing rate for capital gains is about 28%. Other economists say it’s lower, and many think the ideal rate is zero. No one outside the fever swamps thinks it is more than 40%, much less the 55% or more that would apply in high-tax states if the Biden proposal becomes law.

Back when she was writing as Jane Galt, Megan McArdle noted that you can’t tax a corporation; you can only tax that corporation’s employees, shareholders, or customers:

When you say you’re going to “tax a corporation”, the corporation doesn’t go to the money farm to harvest some more cash to give to the government so we can expand job training for unwed mothers — some real person is going to pay that tax. When you put a tax on wages, such as social security or the unemployment tax, the employer doesn’t say, “oh, well, profits dropped 15% this year; better tell Merrill Lynch to issue a ‘sell’ rating” — they pay their employees less, both to lower the tax burden and to recover the lost profits. They hire fewer employees, because each employee is now more expensive. This costs real people money. When you up the corporate tax, either the employees pay, because the firm can’t afford as many of them; the customers pay, because the firms have to raise their prices to cover the taxes; or the shareholders pay because dividends are lower and the company is worth less. And before you liberal types start rubbing your hands in glee at the thought of those pained shareholders, keep in mind that the largest shareholders in companies are insurance companies, which invest in stocks in order to make the money they need to pay off when your house burns down; and pension funds, making the money to take picketing US Steelworkers off the streets and put them into good homes. The other big holders are mutual funds, which is what most of us have our 401(k)’s in. So when you say “I want to tax corporate profits”, try silently saying to yourself “so that Mom can sell the condo in Florida and move in with me.”

If the goal is “to redistribute money from the company’s richer owners, customers, and managers to its poorer employees,” then we already have a way to do that: “It’s a little thing I like to call the progressive income tax.”

An aristocratic family in decline, an ancestral mansion teeming with secrets, an atmosphere of illness and unease, and a creepy butler

Sunday, May 23rd, 2021

Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerChandler’s hard-boiled Marlowe novels resemble another genre, my annotated The Big Sleep explains, updated to 1940s LA:

An aristocratic family in decline, an ancestral mansion teeming with secrets, an atmosphere of illness and unease, and a creepy butler: Chandler transplants elements of the Gothic novel and the classic English mystery into the Southern California landscape. Critic Edward Margolies has called it “Los Angeles Gothic.”


A decade earlier, Dashiell Hammett had experimented with combining elements of the Gothic and hard-boiled genres in The Dain Curse (1929), set in San Francisco and starring the Continental Op in a mystery involving a family curse, a religious cult, and a troubled young heiress, Gabrielle Dain Leggett.

The Castle of Otranto is arguably the first gothic novel, and it is inarguably terrible.

Why change Science Dog to Séance Dog?

Saturday, May 22nd, 2021

When I saw the teaser trailer for Amazon’s new Invincible series, I was mildly amused by Omni-Man and his son playing catch the long way — around the Earth:

But I couldn’t help but think of what speed would be required to orbit the earth near the surface — and it’s roughly 8 km/s, or 18,000 mph, or Mach 23.

So it would take an hour to orbit the earth, and it wouldn’t be preceded by any noise. And, of course the ball would burn up and lose speed long before finishing the trip. It wouldn’t travel predictably, either.

The original Invincible comic came out in 2003, right before its creator Robert Kirkman went on to produce his Walking Dead comic, which of course landed its own hit show. Another one of his creations shows up in the Invincible comic, as something his teenage protagonist reads, but it shows up in the show in a slightly different form:

I always like to open up the hardest hitting question right off the bat. So: why change Science Dog to Séance Dog?

Robert Kirkman: [Laughs] Yeah, look. I think that the nuts and bolts answer… I’m trying to come up with something creative and fun, but the nuts and bolts answers is that Science Dog is a separate comic book that Cory Walker and I created that just happened to appear [in Invincible]. It’s possible that we may do a movie or TV show or something at some point. Instead of putting that down in our deal with Amazon, on Invincible, we decided to strip it out and put in something new so that we would have the ability to do that.

I haven’t watched The Boys or read the original comic, but I was immediately reminded of it:

I don’t know how much you necessarily can speak to this, but how instrumental if at all, was the success of The Boys in selling the show to Amazon?

Internally, I don’t know. I mean, The Boys had not launched yet when this got greenlit. So the success of The Boys wasn’t the only reason this got picked up. But I think that they knew they had something special in The Boys from the get go. Internally, I can’t help but think that Amazon had to be like, The Boys is going to work and maybe Invincible will work too, let’s give it a shot. So I’m very appreciative Garth [Ennis] and Darick [Robertson] were able to create the comics. Everybody’s been able to accomplish so much with the show, I think it really paved the way for what we’re going to be able to do with Invincible.

Ice Novice to Winter Olympian in 14 Months

Friday, May 21st, 2021

In August 2004, the Australian Institute for Sport, David Epstein explains (in The Sports Gene), had a year and a half to try to qualify a woman for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, in the sport of skeleton:

The Aussie scientists had never even seen the sport, but they had learned that the beginning sprint accounts for about half of the variation in total race time. So they announced a nationwide call for women who could fit snugly on a tiny sled and who could sprint.


The women came from track, gymnastics, water skiing, and surf lifesaving, a popular sport in Australia that mixes open-water rowing and kayaking, surf paddling, swimming, and footraces in the sand. Not one woman had heard of skeleton, much less tried it.

Five of the ten spots were filled solely based on the 30-meter sprint, the other five by consensus of the scientists and AIS coaches, based on how well the athletes did in a dry land test during which they had to jump on a sled fitted with wheels.


Within three slides, the newbies were recording the fastest runs in Australian history, faster than the previous national record holder, who had had years of training. “That first week on the track, it was all over,” says Gulbin. “The writing was on the wall.”


Ten weeks after she first set foot on ice, Melissa Hoar bested about half the field at the world under-twenty-three skeleton championships. (She won the title in her next try.) And beach sprinter Michelle Steele made it all the way to the Winter Olympics in Italy.

The AIS titled their paper on the project “Ice Novice to Winter Olympian in 14 Months.”

Australia, a world sports powerhouse, has thrived off talent identification and “talent transfer,” the switching of athletes between sports. In 1994, as part of the run-up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the country launched its National Talent Search program. Children ages fourteen to sixteen were examined in school for body size and tested for general athleticism. Australia, home to 19.1 million people at the time, won 58 medals in Sydney. That’s 3.03 medals for every million citizens, nearly ten times the relative haul of the United States, which took home 0.33 medals per million Americans.

Friendship cues triggered a habit to please the questioner

Thursday, May 20th, 2021

A psychologist at the University of Western Ontario took a different approach, Charles Duhigg explains (in The Power of Habit), to studying the question of why some eyewitnesses of crimes misremember what they see, while other recall events accurately:

She wondered if researchers were making a mistake by focusing on what questioners and witnesses had said, rather than how they were saying it.


She saw that witnesses who misremembered facts usually were questioned by cops who used a gentle, friendly tone. When witnesses smiled more, or sat closer to the person asking the questions, they were more likely to misremember.

In other words, when environmental cues said “we are friends” — a gentle tone, a smiling face — the witnesses were more likely to misremember what had occurred. Perhaps it was because, subconsciously, those friendship cues triggered a habit to please the questioner.

But the importance of this experiment is that those same tapes had been watched by dozens of other researchers. Lots of smart people had seen the same patterns, but no one had recognized them before. Because there was too much information in each tape to see a subtle cue.

Once the psychologist decided to focus on only three categories of behavior, however, and eliminate the extraneous information, the patterns leapt out.

It was going to rain hard

Wednesday, May 19th, 2021

Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerChandler’s Marlowe novels are associated with trench coats and fedoras — and rain. But they take place in Los Angeles. It turns out that The Big Sleep came out at a peculiar time:

In fact, heavy rains and flooding covered the LA area in February and March 1938. The Red Cross called it the fifth-largest flood in history, and the Los Angeles Times reported a death toll of more than thirty.

In fact, the previous two years (1936-1937 and 1937-1938) were exceptionally rainy.

A near miss means you still lose

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

In 2010, a cognitive neuroscientist named Reza Habib asked twenty-two people to lie inside an MRI, Charles Duhigg explains (in The Power of Habit), and watch a slot machine spin around and around. The pathological gamblers got more excited about winning:

“But what was really interesting were the near misses. To pathological gamblers, near misses looked like wins. Their brains reacted almost the same way. But to a nonpathological gambler, a near miss was like a loss. People without a gambling problem were better at recognizing that a near miss means you still lose.”

In the late 1990s, one of the largest slot machine manufacturers hired a former video game executive to help them design new slot machines:

That executive’s insight was to program machines to deliver more near wins. Now, almost every slot contains numerous twists — such as free spins and sounds that erupt when icons almost align — as well as small payouts that make players feel like they are winning when, in truth, they are putting in more money than they are getting back. “No other form of gambling manipulates the human mind as beautifully as these machines,” an addictive-disorder researcher at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine told a New York Times reporter in 2004.

Graf was at the top of every single test

Monday, May 17th, 2021

Psychologist Wolfgang Schneider had no idea in 1978, David Epstein explains (in The Sports Gene), that he was being handed the study sample of a lifetime when the German Tennis Federation helped him recruit 106 of the top eight-to-twelve-year-old tennis players in the country:

Of 106 kids, 98 ultimately made it to the professional level, 10 rose to the top 100 players in the world, and a few climbed all the way to the top 10.


When the researchers eventually fit their data to the actual rankings of the players later on, the children’s tennis-specific skill scores predicted 60 to 70 percent of the variance in their eventual adult tennis ranking.


The tests of general athleticism — for example, a thirty-meter sprint and start-and-stop agility drills — influenced which children would acquire the tennis-specific skills most rapidly.


“We called Steffi Graf the perfect tennis talent,” Schneider says. “She outperformed the others in tennis-specific skills and basic motor skills, and we also predicted from her lung capacity that she could have ended up as the European champion in the 1500-meters.”

Graf was at the top of every single test, from measures of her competitive desire to her ability to sustain concentration to her running speed. Years later, when Graf was the best tennis player in the world, she would train for endurance alongside Germany’s Olympic track runners.


The future pros not only tend to practice more, but they take responsibility for practicing better.


“What we see in the shuttle sprints,” Elferink-Gemser says, “is that the ones signing a professional contract later are the ones that are on average 0.2 seconds faster when they are younger, at the age of twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. They are always on a group average about 0.2 seconds faster than the ones who end up on the amateur level. That really gives some indication that it is important to be fast. You need a minimum speed. If you’re really slow, then you cannot catch up, and speed is really hard for them to train.”


“We’ve tested over ten thousand boys,” he says, “and I’ve never seen a boy who was slow become fast.”