Serial killing was something of a social contagion

Thursday, May 26th, 2022

With mass-killing shootings in the news, Steve Sailer wanted to point out that not all bad things are destined to increase forever:

For instance, according to the Radford University Database of known serial killers, the number of serial killers soared during what Robert Heinlein predicted c. 1940 would be known as the Crazy Years (1960s-1970s) before declining more recently.

Rise and Fall of Serial Killers

It appears that the idea of serial killing was something of a social contagion that spread first among whites, then among nonwhites. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hitchcock’s hugely influential 1960 movie Psycho, often thought as the founder of the “slasher pic” genre, played a role in this real life phenomenon, although how to measure that is beyond me.

It’s also hard to say what caused the decline over the last generation. It could be that serial killing became less appealing to the handful of sickos attracted to doing it.

Or it could be fear of being caught increased. According to Bill James, cops were long particularly bad at catching serial killers because they’d been trained not to fall for the idea that somebody was murdered by a random stranger: instead, it had to be somebody who knew the victim, an ex-boyfriend or the like. So if they had five dead women on their hands, they tended to look for five separate killers. This had been a fairly productive prejudice, since it kept them from going down the wrong path most of the time. But the huge publicity attendant to Ted Bundy c. 1980 forced cops to get serious about the serial killer phenomenon.

When fed plasmalogens, aged mice perform more like young mice

Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

Researchers from Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Stanford University, Shanghai Jiao tong University, and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences report that plasmologens (found in sea squirts) reverse some signs of aging — in mice:

The effects of the plasmalogen supplement on learning and memory were tested by training mice to use a Morris water maze — a pool of water that contains a platform that serves as a resting area. Generally, mice do not like to swim, so over five days of training, they remember where the platform is and swim directly to it as soon as they are in the pool. However, older mice take longer to find the platform after the same amount of training.

Astonishingly, when fed with plasmalogens, aged mice perform more like young mice, finding the platform much quicker than the control group of aged mice that have not been given the supplement.

To find the reason for the improvement shown by plasmalogen-fed mice, the researchers took a closer look at changes happening within the brain. They found that mice that were fed the plasmalogen supplement had a higher number and quality of synapses—the connections between neurons—than the aged mice not given the supplements.

Electric vehicles can generate electricity while carrying loads downhill

Tuesday, May 24th, 2022

Under the right conditions — going far enough downhill at enough of an angle with a heavy load — electric vehicles can generate a useful amount of energy:

Miauton’s company manufactures the eDumper, a 65-ton dump truck that’s said to be the world’s largest electric vehicle. Its diesel engine and fuel tank have been replaced with electric motors, batteries and cooling machinery, and it’s now working at a quarry near Biel in Switzerland, hauling 70-ton loads of lime and rocks down a mountainside.

Thanks to the expense of the high-tech systems, an eDumper costs about twice as much as a diesel-powered truck. But it never needs any fuel — a savings of between 11,000 and 22,000 gallons of diesel a year, along with its carbon emissions — and it almost never needs recharging. Test drives show it generates about as much electricity going down as it uses going up. Miauton said the company is now making three more eDumpers for mines in Germany, and it has plans for even larger electric dump trucks.

The concept of making electricity on a downhill run will soon get an even bigger boost. The Australian mining company Fortescue, a major producer of iron ore, announced in March that it will build “Infinity Trains” to generate electricity while carrying loads of ore from mines in the Outback.

The company currently runs 16 trains in Western Australia driven by 54 locomotives that use a total of around 20 million gallons of diesel fuel every year. Each train has up to 244 cars. They can be almost two miles long and carry more than 37,000 tons of ore.

Fortescue chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said four routes from mines in the inland Pilbara region are sufficiently uphill of their final destination — Port Hedland on the northern coast — that they’re suitable for Infinity Trains. The company plans to have them working on all four routes before 2030 by developing the dynamic braking feature many locomotives already have to convert gravity into electricity, she said in an email. Some routes will generate even more energy than they need for the return trip, and the company will use the extra electricity elsewhere in its operations.

The most innovative proposal for making electricity from gravity may be electric truck hydropower. According to a study published in March, a fleet of electric trucks filled with water high in the mountains can generate electricity as they travel downhill on regular roads. The empty trucks can then drive back for more water, or be used elsewhere.

Study lead author Julian Hunt, a Brazil-based researcher with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, said the system is about as cost-effective for generating electricity as wind, solar and regular hydropower.

She is one of the handful of books that Tolkien explicitly acknowledges as an influence

Sunday, May 22nd, 2022

It is worth remembering that Tolkien was not simply channelling Beowulf, the Eddas, and the Kalevala in his creative work, a Phuulish fellow notes, but that he was also interacting with more recent material, like H. Rider Haggard’s adventure novels:

By good fortune, She is one of the handful of books that Tolkien explicitly acknowledges as an influence. In a 1966 interview with Henry Resnick, Tolkien remarked:

I suppose as a boy She interested me as much as anything — like the Greek shard of Amyntas [Amenartas], which was the kind of machine by which everything got moving.

The shard of Amenartas is a purported ancient text, included by Rider Haggard as a means of providing some exposition to the story. Well and good. It is the incident that incites the start of the adventure. But the shard is no ordinary ancient text, at least in terms of presentation. Rider Haggard gives facsimiles of the fragment, in actual Greek.

[…]

Don’t worry. Rider Haggard helpfully transcribes and translates the text. But the sheer effort the author went to, in terms of making the artefact look real and believable is noteworthy. It rather recalls the One Ring inscription, and the inscription on Balin’s Tomb, not to mention in-universe Tolkienian texts like The Book of Mazarbul and Thror’s Map. In terms of actual historical exposition, there is also a decent comparison between Rider Haggard’s protagonists puzzling out the Shard, and Gandalf learning about the Ring via the forgotten Scroll of Isildur in the archives of Minas Tirith.

(Yes, I am aware that Rider Haggard did not invent this trope. Jules Verne provides a runic manuscript in A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1871). But Tolkien cites Rider Haggard, not Verne).

Perhaps the single cheekiest Tolkienian shout-out to Rider Haggard is the city of Kôr. In She, the city of Kôr is an ancient ruined city, so ancient that it was already long abandoned when Ayesha turned up, thousands of years before the narrative begins. Kôr predates the Egyptians, in terms of antiquity, and it adds some glorious atmosphere to the setting.

It may therefore interest you to know that Kôr was the original name of the great Noldorin city, Tirion upon Túna. The home of Finwë, Fëanor, et al. Moreover, in Tolkien’s initial conception – found in The Book of Lost Tales – the city ends up abandoned. An early Tolkienian poem, titled Kôr: In a City Lost and Dead, describes the scene, after the Elves have left it.

Sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home

Saturday, May 21st, 2022

In 1866, long before he famously stated that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Action, an English Catholic, wrote to Robert E. Lee, the former Confederate General:

Without presuming to decide the purely legal question, on which it seems evident to me from Madison’s and Hamilton’s papers that the Fathers of the Constitution were not agreed, I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.

Lee’s response includes his own defense of States’ Rights:

I am conscious the compliment conveyed in your request for my opinion as to the light in which American politics should be viewed, and had I the ability, I have not the time to enter upon a discussion, which was commenced by the founders of the constitution and has been continued to the present day. I can only say that while I have considered the preservation of the constitutional power of the General Government to be the foundation of our peace and safety at home and abroad, I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it. I need not refer one so well acquainted as you are with American history, to the State papers of Washington and Jefferson, the representatives of the federal and democratic parties, denouncing consolidation and centralization of power, as tending to the subversion of State Governments, and to despotism.

The New England states, whose citizens are the fiercest opponents of the Southern states, did not always avow the opinions they now advocate. Upon the purchase of Louisiana by Mr. Jefferson, they virtually asserted the right of secession through their prominent men; and in the convention which assembled at Hartford in 1814, they threatened the disruption of the Union unless the war should be discontinued. The assertion of this right has been repeatedly made by their politicians when their party was weak, and Massachusetts, the leading state in hostility to the South, declares in the preamble to her constitution, that the people of that commonwealth “have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves as a free sovereign and independent state, and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not, or may hereafter be by them expressly delegated to the United States of America in congress assembled.”

Such has been in substance the language of other State governments, and such the doctrine advocated by the leading men of the country for the last seventy years. Judge Chase, the present Chief Justice of the U.S., as late as 1850, is reported to have stated in the Senate, of which he was a member, that he “knew of no remedy in case of the refusal of a state to perform its stipulations,” thereby acknowledging the sovereignty and independence of state action. But I will not weary you with this unprofitable discussion.

There has been a marked shift in public interest from the collective to the individual, and from rationality toward emotion

Friday, May 20th, 2022

The surge of post-truth political argumentation suggests that we are living in a special historical period, Marten Scheffer et al. suggest, when it comes to the balance between emotion and reasoning:

To explore if this is indeed the case, we analyze language in millions of books covering the period from 1850 to 2019 represented in Google nGram data. We show that the use of words associated with rationality, such as “determine” and “conclusion,” rose systematically after 1850, while words related to human experience such as “feel” and “believe” declined. This pattern reversed over the past decades, paralleled by a shift from a collectivistic to an individualistic focus as reflected, among other things, by the ratio of singular to plural pronouns such as “I”/”we” and “he”/”they.” Interpreting this synchronous sea change in book language remains challenging. However, as we show, the nature of this reversal occurs in fiction as well as nonfiction. Moreover, the pattern of change in the ratio between sentiment and rationality flag words since 1850 also occurs in New York Times articles, suggesting that it is not an artifact of the book corpora we analyzed. Finally, we show that word trends in books parallel trends in corresponding Google search terms, supporting the idea that changes in book language do in part reflect changes in interest. All in all, our results suggest that over the past decades, there has been a marked shift in public interest from the collective to the individual, and from rationality toward emotion.

The authors blame the change on the failure of “neo-liberalism” which seems dubious and without plausible mechanism to Alex Tabarrok:

A more plausible explanation is more female writers and the closely related feminization of culture.

Spengler was not so humble

Thursday, May 19th, 2022

It is easy to pick out the most significant figures of ancient history — say, Socrates or the Buddha — and pronounce that these were comparable figures of similar historical weight, T. Greer suggests, but how do you pick out which of your contemporaries deserve that honor?

One day a few men of your generation may be vindicated by history. But that history has not happened yet. Humility demands that we decline to declare what only time can prove.

Spengler was not so humble. He repeatedly describes Tolstoy (d. 1910), Ibsen (d. 1906), Nietzsche (d. 1900), Hertz (d. 1894), Dostoevsky (d. 1881), Marx (d. 1883), and Maxwell (1879) as figures of defining “world-historical” importance: in other words, as working on the same plane as Plato, Archimedes, Ovid, Shakespeare, and Newton. He does not argue their merits; to him it is obvious that these are the men who deserve to be thought of as “world-historical” figures, and it is clear from the way he makes his arguments that he expects that his own readers already agree with him.

Ponder that! Spengler began writing Decline of the West in 1914. Tolstoy was only four years dead when Spengler started his book; Marx was only 30 years deceased. But Spengler could state, with the full expectation that his audience would not question him, that these men belonged in global pantheon of humanity’s greatest figures. But Spengler was hardly alone in this sort of judgement. Ten years later John Erskine would teach his course on the great works of the Western tradition—which was the granddaddy of the Columbia Common Core, the St. John’s curriculum, and the Great Books of the Western World series—and it included all of the names mentioned above as well. To this Erskine would add the names William James, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Hardy, and Charles Darwin.[2]

Now Erskine’s list is not perfect; it has not perfectly weathered the centuries. The fame of William James has sunk with time; today we usually think of Joseph Conrad, not Thomas Hardy, as the supreme English novelist of that era. But the broader point holds: only a decade or two after these men’s deaths intellectuals confidently spoke of them in the same breath as Shakespeare and Plato. And not just subjectively, in the sense we might today (“I think Urusala LeGuin is as good as Shakespeare” or “I think Hayek is better than Plato”) but with full knowledge that the broader public already knew that these people and their works belonged on the list. It was obvious to even those who disliked Nietzche that he was a seminal figure in Western thought; it was obvious even to those who disagreed with Ibsen that he claimed a similar place in Western literature, and so forth. Their ideas might be argued against, but their genius and their influence was undeniable.

Is there anyone who died in the last decade you could make that sort of claim for?

How about for the last two decades?

The last three?

Or is there anyone at all who is still living today that might be described this way?

In the realm of science, perhaps. But in the world of social, historical, ethical, and political thought, no one comes to mind. Most “great books” curricula stop right around World War II and its immediate aftermath. St. John’s recently added Wittgenstein and de Beauvoir to their curricula, but their works are almost 70 years old. Michel Foucault is the next obvious candidate, and he died 37 years ago.

They took their own accent, the California accent, and ramped it up

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

Pop-punk was created in the late 1980s and early 1990s at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, an all-ages venue normally referred to as “Gilman”:

This is where Bay Area bands like Rancid, Operation Ivy, the Mr. T Experience, and, especially, Green Day all started to get attention. Bay Area pop-punk is a kinder, gentler variety than either the nihilist Londoners or the hardcore California bands like the Circle Jerks and the Dead Kennedys that preceded them. The Gilman bands obviously worshipped the Clash, whose songs showed more craft, hooky melodies, and subtlety than, say, the Sex Pistols. Some of the bands, like Rancid, were responsible for amping up the Clash’s combination of punk and reggae into what’s now called the Third Wave of ska music.

The Bay Area community was goofier, sillier, more suburban, and more inclined to make happy, poppy music than any punk community that came before it. As an ode to the Clash, a lot of their singers adopted a sort of faux-British accent. “I’m an American guy faking an English accent faking an American accent,” Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong told Rolling Stone in 1994. Tim Armstrong, the (unrelated) lead singer of fellow Bay Area band Rancid, sings with an accent that varies song by song; sometimes it’s nearly featureless, other times it’s a Strummer-esque Brit inflection, other times it sounds nearly New York.

The pop-punk accent really became smooth and polished a little bit later, in the mid-1990s, with bands like Blink-182 and the Offspring, both hailing from Southern California. Their singers (Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge from Blink-182, Dexter Holland from the Offspring) totally abandoned any pretenses of Britishness. Instead they took their own accent, the California accent, and ramped it up, pushed it to new extremes. It was almost exactly what happened in London. Pop-punk singers became more Californian than the Californians.

Penelope Eckert, a linguistics professor at Stanford, is one of the foremost scholars examining what’s known as the “California Shift.” The California Shift is a linguistic theory covering the particular changes in dialect that affect the Pacific coast of the United States. Eckert was nice enough to humor me and listen several times to a song I chose based on its particularly egregious “pop-punk voice,” Blink-182’s “First Date.” I love the song, but am aware others may find it horribly annoying. “It really does sound like someone’s messing around,” she told me.

A key change in the California Shift is what’s called the cot/caught merger. Northeasterners and Midwesterners pronounce those words differently, giving the former an “ah” sound and the latter an “aw” sound. “Californians do not,” says Eckert, who is originally from New York. “They have no idea. That vowel is almost completely merged. Think ‘mawwm’ instead of ‘mom.’”

Vowel sounds work like those sliding puzzle games where you have to unscramble a picture by sliding one piece of it at a time. As soon as you move one piece, you’re left with an empty space behind you, which has to be filled by something else. Californians dropped the “cot” vowel sound, pronouncing it like “caught” instead. So something had to fill that space. “The California Shift is this kind of combined change in the pronunciation of short vowels,” says Kennedy. The easiest way to think about it? Look at the words kit, dress, and trap. In the California Shift, “kit” becomes “ket”, “dress” becomes “drass”, and “trap” becomes “trop”.

Linguists talk about this shift in terms of directions; to talk with a California accent is sometimes called “trap-backing,” or “trop-bocking.” Your mouth functions like a resonating chamber. You can alter the frequencies of the sounds you make by changing the size of the chamber and by moving your tongue around. Your tongue’s placement is a major factor in dialects; it can be raised, lowered, moved to the front, or moved to the back. Californians move their tongues back, hence “trop-bocking.”

But there are some more complex things going on in the pop-punk voice. Eckert walked me through the Blink-182 song word by word, pointing out places where DeLonge was playing around with accent. “When they say ‘to pick you up on our very first date,’ the interesting thing about ‘date’ is that he renders it as a monophthong ‘dehhht’ instead of ‘date,’ says Eckert. “In most American English it’s a diphthong.” A diphthong is a vowel sound with two simpler sounds in it; for most Americans, “date” is a kind of compound vowel made up of the “eh” sound and the “ee” sound. Not so much for Tom DeLonge, who eliminates all but the “eh,” making it a single sound, or a monophthong.

The monophthong “date” surprised Eckert, as she says it’s not part of the California Shift. Except! “I’ve heard that some in Chicano English, but not so much in Anglo English,” she says. Chicano English is spoken by native English speakers of Mexican descent—it’s not a Mexican accent, because Chicano English speakers are native English speakers, but sort of their own English dialect. And that goes along with one of DeLonge’s most obvious vocal tics: changing short “ih” sounds as in the work “think” to a long “ee” sound, turning it into something like “theenk.” “Chicano English raises the vowel I to ‘ee’ before nasal consonants,” says Eckert. “So ‘theenk’ is very Chicano. And you have a lot of Anglo wannabes saying that too.”

Another very distinctive element of the California accent that’s extremely present in DeLonge’s vocals is the long “oo” sound in words like “room,” which DeLonge pronounces as something more like “rehm.” That’s almost an efficiency move; the particular combination of shapes your lips have to make to move from the first consonant, R, to the last consonant, M, plus the moves your tongue has to make to form the “oo” sound, are pretty difficult. If you move your tongue closer to your front teeth, it’s a lot less work, but you’ll change the pronunciation of “room” to “rehm.” It’s called “oo-fronting.”

There are plenty more things Eckert taught me about DeLonge’s delicious accent, but one last example would be the way Californians pronounce the letter R in certain words. In a word where the stress falls on a vowel one syllable before a word ending in R, like “whatever” or “over,” most of the country, but most noticeably those in the New York/New Jersey area, stress the consonant in the second-to-last syllable extra hard. But Californians lengthen the R. So a New Yorker will say “whatevah,” but a Californian will say “whateverrrr.” “We talk about New York/New Jersey accents as being ‘R-less’ and California accents as being ‘R-ful,’” laughed Eckert. (Linguistics jokes are pretty good.)

DeLonge does some weird, non-Californian stuff, though. His pronunciation of words like “light” and “spider” come out somewhere between the vowel sound from “rye” and “roy.” “His pronunciation of it is striking, and different from Californians generally,” says Kennedy. “It may be another attempt at projecting British punk vocals, but if I recall correctly he does this in speech as well, and so it might actually be a skate/surf/punk subculture linguistic feature.”

When your smoke alarm goes off you don’t have time to look around

Tuesday, May 17th, 2022

Research shows that 30 years ago, you had about 17 minutes to escape a house fire:

Today it’s down to three or four minutes. The reason: Newer homes and the furniture inside them actually burn faster. A lot faster.

[…]

“The backing of your carpet is synthetic, your drapes are synthetic, the couch, the pillows are synthetic,” explained John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL. “They burn hotter and faster than natural materials do.”

A similar fire set to the sofa pillow in the room simulating an older home burned for several minutes without even catching the rest of the sofa. At 15 minutes the room was still intact; it wound up taking 30 minutes for the room to burn.

[…]

“When your smoke alarm goes off you don’t have time to look around, get your wedding pictures,” Drengenberg said. “You get out as quickly as you can.”

Core management practices can’t be taken for granted

Monday, May 16th, 2022

In MBA programs, students are taught that companies can’t expect to compete on the basis of internal managerial competencies because they’re just too easy to copy:

If you look at the data, it becomes clear that core management practices can’t be taken for granted. There are vast differences in how well companies execute basic tasks like setting targets and grooming talent, and those differences matter: Firms with strong managerial processes perform significantly better on high-level metrics such as productivity, profitability, growth, and longevity. In addition, the differences in the quality of those processes—and in performance—persist over time, suggesting that competent management is not easy to replicate.

[…]

To date the team has interviewed managers from more than 12,000 companies about their practices. On the basis of the information gathered, we rate every organization on each management practice, using a 1 to 5 scale in which higher scores indicate greater adoption. Those ratings are then averaged to produce an overall management score for each company.

That data has led us to two main findings: First, achieving operational excellence is still a massive challenge for many organizations. Even well-informed and well-structured companies often struggle with it. This is true across countries and industries—and in spite of the fact that many of the managerial processes we studied are well known.

The dispersion of management scores across firms was wide. Big differences across countries were evident, but a major fraction of the variation (approximately 60%) was actually within countries. The discrepancies were substantial even within rich countries like the United States.

In our entire sample we found that 11% of firms had an average score of 2 or less, which corresponds to very weak monitoring, little effort to identify and fix problems within the organization, almost no targets for employees, and promotions and rewards based on tenure or family connections. At the other end of the spectrum we identified clear management superstars across all the countries surveyed: Six percent of the firms in our sample had an average score of 4 or greater. In other words they had rigorous performance monitoring, systems geared to optimize the flow of information across and within functions, continuous improvement programs that supported short- and long-term targets, and performance systems that rewarded and advanced great employees and helped underperformers turn around or move on.

[…]

As we’ve noted, our data shows that better-managed firms are more profitable, grow faster, and are less likely to die. Indeed, moving a firm from the worst 10% to the best 10% of management practices is associated with a $15 million increase in profits, 25% faster annual growth, and 75% higher productivity. Better-managed firms also spend 10 times as much on R&D and increase their patenting by a factor of 10 as well—which suggests that they’re not sacrificing innovation to efficiency. They also attract more talented employees and foster better worker well-being. These patterns were evident in all countries and industries.

[…]

Furthermore, we found zero correlation between perceived management quality and actual quality (as indicated by both their firms’ management scores and their firms’ performance), suggesting that self-assessments are a long way from reality.

These ideas depend on unusual people

Sunday, May 15th, 2022

The biggest problem for governments with new technologies is that the limiting factor on applying new technologies is not the technology but management and operational ideas which are extremely hard to change fast, Dominic Cummings says:

Project Maven shows recurring lessons from history. Speed and adaptability are crucial to success in conflict and can be helped by new technologies. So is the capacity for new operational ideas about using new technologies. These ideas depend on unusual people. Bureaucracies naturally slow things down (for some good but mostly bad reasons), crush new ideas, and exclude unusual people in order to defend established interests. The limiting factor for the Pentagon in deploying advanced technology to conflict in a useful time period was not new technical ideas — overcoming its own bureaucracy was harder than overcoming enemy action. This is absolutely normal in conflict (e.g it was true of the 2016 referendum where dealing with internal problems was at least an order of magnitude harder and more costly than dealing with Cameron).

As Colonel Boyd used to shout to military audiences, ‘People, ideas, machines — in that order!’

The Project Maven experience is similar to the famous example of the tank. Everybody could see tanks were possible from the end of World War I but over 20 years Britain and France were hampered by their own bureaucracies in thinking about the operational implications and how to use them most effectively. Some in Britain and France did point out the possibilities but the possibilities were not absorbed into official planning. Powerful bureaucratic interests reinforced the normal sort of blindness to new possibilities. Innovative thinking flourished, relatively, in Germany where people like Guderian and von Manstein could see the possibilities for a very big increase in speed turning into a huge nonlinear advantage — possibilities applied to the ‘von Manstein plan’ that shocked the world in 1940. This was partly because the destruction of German forces after 1918 meant everything had to be built from scratch and this connects to another lesson about successful innovation: in the military, as in business, it is more likely if a new entity is given the job, as with the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons. The consequences were devastating for the world in 1940 but, lucky for us, the nature of the Nazi regime meant that it made very similar errors itself, e.g regarding the importance of air power in general and long range bombers in particular. (This history is obviously very complex but this crude summary is roughly right about the main point)

There was a similar story with the technological developments mainly sparked by DARPA in the 1970s including stealth (developed in a classified program by the legendary ‘Skunk Works’, tested at ‘Area 51’), global positioning system (GPS), ‘precision strike’ long-range conventional weapons, drones, advanced wide-area sensors, computerised command and control (C2), and new intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities (ISR). The hope was that together these capabilities could automate the location and destruction of long-range targets and greatly improve simultaneously the precision, destructiveness, and speed of operations.

The approach became known in America as ‘deep-strike architectures’ (DSA) and in the Soviet Union as ‘reconnaissance-strike complexes’ (RUK). The Soviet Marshal Ogarkov realised that these developments, based on America’s superior ability to develop micro-electronics and computers, constituted what he called a ‘Military-Technical Revolution’ (MTR) and was an existential threat to the Soviet Union. He wrote about them from the late 1970s. (The KGB successfully stole much of the technology but the Soviet system still could not compete.) His writings were analysed in America particularly by Andy Marshall at the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA) and others. ONA’s analyses of what they started calling the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in turn affected Pentagon decisions. In 1991 the Gulf War demonstrated some of these technologies just as the Soviet Union was imploding. In 1992 the ONA wrote a very influential report (The Military-Technical Revolution) which, unusually, they made public (almost all ONA documents remain classified).

In many ways Marshal Ogarkov thought more deeply about how to develop the Pentagon’s own technologies than the Pentagon did, hampered by the normal problems that the operationalising of new ideas threatened established bureaucratic interests, including the Pentagon’s procurement system. These problems have continued. It is hard to overstate the scale of waste and corruption in the Pentagon’s horrific procurement system (see below).

China has studied this episode intensely. It has integrated lessons into their ‘anti-access / area denial’ (A2/AD) efforts to limit American power projection in East Asia. America’s response to A2/AD is the ‘Air-Sea Battle’ concept. As Marshal Ogarkov predicted in the 1970s the ‘revolution’ has evolved into opposing ‘reconnaissance-strike complexes’ facing each other with each side striving to deploy near-nuclear force using extremely precise conventional weapons from far away, all increasingly complicated by possibilities for cyberwar to destroy the infrastructure on which all this depends and information operations to alter the enemy population’s perception (very Sun Tzu!).

Many modern productions try to make Lysistrata a drama

Saturday, May 14th, 2022

Ben Espen recently cited a Twitter thread by Aristophanes’ Skinner Box on Lysistrata as a Comedy, and Aristophanes’ Skinner Box has since been banned:

One of the commenters down thread pointed out that many modern productions try to make Lysistrata a drama, when it is in fact a comedy. You are supposed to laugh, but a comedy is about more than that.

The art he included in his post reminded me of Willy Pogany’s work, but it was made by Norman Lindsay — who sounds like quite a character:

Norman Alfred William Lindsay (22 February 1879 – 21 November 1969) was an Australian artist, etcher, sculptor, writer, art critic, novelist, cartoonist and amateur boxer.[1] One of the most prolific and popular Australian artists of his generation, Lindsay attracted both acclaim and controversy for his works, many of which infused the Australian landscape with erotic pagan elements and were deemed by his critics to be “anti-Christian, anti-social and degenerate”.[2] A vocal nationalist, he became a regular artist for The Bulletin at the height of its cultural influence, and advanced staunchly anti-modernist views as a leading writer on Australian art. When friend and literary critic Bertram Stevens argued that children like to read about fairies rather than food, Lindsay wrote and illustrated The Magic Pudding (1918), now considered a classic work of Australian children’s literature.

Apart from his creative output, Lindsay was known for his larrikin attitudes and personal libertine philosophy, as well as his battles with what he termed “wowserism“. One such battle is portrayed in the 1994 film Sirens, starring Sam Neill and filmed on location at Lindsay’s home in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. It is now known as the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum and is maintained by the National Trust of Australia.

[…]

In 1895, Lindsay moved to Melbourne to work on a local magazine with his older brother Lionel. His Melbourne experiences are described in Rooms and Houses.

In 1901, he and Lionel joined the staff of the Sydney Bulletin, a weekly newspaper, magazine and review. His association there would last fifty years.

Lindsay travelled to Europe in 1909, Rose followed later. In Naples he began 100 pen-and-ink illustrations for Petronius’ Satyricon. Visits to the then South Kensington Museum where he made sketches of model ships in the Museum’s collection stimulated a lifelong interest in ship models. The Lindsays returned to Australia in 1911.

Lindsay wrote the children’s classic The Magic Pudding which was published in 1918.

Many of his novels have a frankness and vitality that matches his art. In 1930 he created a scandal when his novel Redheap (supposedly based on his hometown, Creswick) was banned due to censorship laws.

In 1938, Lindsay published Age of Consent, which described the experience of a middle-aged painter on a trip to a rural area, who meets an adolescent girl who serves as his model, and then lover. The book, published in Britain, was banned in Australia until 1962.

Lindsay also worked as an editorial cartoonist, notable for often illustrating the racist and right-wing political leanings that dominated The Bulletin at that time; the “Red Menace” and “Yellow Peril” were popular themes in his cartoons. These attitudes occasionally spilled over into his other work, and modern editions of The Magic Pudding often omit one couplet in which “you unmitigated Jew” is used as an insult.

Lindsay was associated with a number of poets, such as Kenneth Slessor, Francis Webb and Hugh McCrae, influencing them in part through a philosophical system outlined in his book Creative Effort. He also illustrated the cover for the seminal Henry Lawson book, While the Billy Boils. Lindsay’s son, Jack Lindsay, emigrated to England, where he set up Fanfrolico Press, which issued works illustrated by Lindsay.

Lindsay influenced numerous artists, notably the illustrators Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta; he was also good friends with Ernest Moffitt.

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Indonesia could end up with a semi-stealthy aircraft

Friday, May 13th, 2022

The U.S. State Department has approved an Indonesian request to buy F-15EX Fighters:

Critics claim the F-15EX is based on an old design and can’t survive against advanced defenses. Yet with a large bombload that could include hypersonic missiles, conformal fuel tanks to smooth out its shape and confer some degree of stealth against radar, as well as 21st Century avionics and radar, the F-15EX appears to be a formidable platform. Indonesia could end up with a semi-stealthy aircraft based on a proven design that may avoid the cost and reliability problems that have plagued the F-35 and F-22.

Almost any other evacuation location would be preferable to a parking lot

Thursday, May 12th, 2022

Don’t evacuate into a parking lot after a terrorist attack, Greg Ellifritz warns:

A common tactic for bombers is to place one bomb and then detonate it. They place a second bomb at the site to which victims may be evacuating or where first responders might be staging. The secondary explosive often does more damage than the primary.

One of the best examples of terrorists using secondary devices is this bombing attack on a tourist hotel in Tripoli. Up to five gunman armed with rifles, grenades, and body armor entered the front lobby of the hotel and began shooting guests and staff at random. As people fled from the attackers out the back doors of the hotel, they gathered in the rear parking lot. The terrorists then detonated a pre-placed bomb loaded into one of the cars parked nearby. Nine people total were killed in the attack. The guns and grenades were the primary attack and the car bomb served very effectively as the secondary device.

[…]

The problem is that there is no way to ensure that one of the cars in the parking lot doesn’t contain a large bomb or even an additional team of terrorist gunmen. It’s relatively difficult to kill large numbers of people with a bomb inside a building. It’s almost impossible to bring a large bomb inside a building without being noticed. The maximal realistic payload is a backpack or duffel bag bomb weighing 20-40 lbs. That will certainly kill some folks, but it is nothing like the impact of 500 lbs of explosives in the trunk of a car. Additionally, walls and furniture inside a building soak up a lot of the blast and shrapnel, further limiting casualties.

It’s much easier and more efficient for the terrorists to place a bomb in a parking lot evacuation site and then drive victims outside by using either gunfire or a small bomb inside. It’s a tactic that has been used successfully for years.

[…]

Almost any other evacuation location would be preferable to a parking lot. Look for an open area with no cars, areas of disturbed soil, or trash receptacles. Ideally there should be some hard cover available nearby.

Some of you are likely thinking “This isn’t Tripoli. I don’t have to worry about car bombs and secondary devices here in America.” You are wrong. You might have forgotten about the bomb placed in a car in Times Square a couple years ago. Or how about the secondary device explosion that detonated after one of Eric Rudolph’s abortion clinic bombings? Terrorists use bombs here too.

One does not simply walk away from religious beliefs

Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

No, the Revolution isn’t over, N.S. Lyons warns:

One does not simply walk away from religious beliefs. What is called “Wokeness” — or the “Successor Ideology,” or the “New Faith,” or what have you (note the foe hasn’t even been successfully named yet, let alone routed) — rests on a series of what are ultimately metaphysical beliefs. The fact that their holders would laugh at the suggestion they have anything called metaphysical beliefs is irrelevant — they hold them nonetheless. Such as:

The world is divided into a dualistic struggle between oppressed and oppressors (good and evil); language fundamentally defines reality; therefore language (and more broadly “the word” — thought, logic, logos) is raw power, and is used by oppressors to control the oppressed; this has created power hierarchies enforced by the creation of false boundaries and authorities; no oppression existed in the mythic past, the utopian pre-hierarchical State of Nature, in which all were free and equal; the stain of injustice only entered the world through the original sin of (Western) civilizational hierarchy; all disparities visible today are de facto proof of the influence of hierarchical oppression (discrimination); to redeem the world from sin, i.e. to end oppression and achieve Social Justice (to return to the kingdom of heaven on earth), all false authorities and boundaries must be torn down (deconstructed), and power redistributed from the oppressors to the oppressed; all injustice anywhere is interlinked (intersectional), so the battle against injustice is necessarily total; ultimate victory is cosmically ordained by history, though the arc of progress may be long; moral virtue and true right to rule is determined by collective status within the oppression-oppressed dialectic; morally neutral political liberalism is a lie constructed by the powerful to maintain status quo structures of oppression; the first step to liberation can be achieved through acquisition of the hidden knowledge of the truth of this dialectic; a select awoken vanguard must therefore guide a revolution in popular consciousness; all imposed limits on the individual can ultimately be transcended by virtue of a will to power…