Inaccurate shots could still plunge into areas where people were huddled

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

The New York Times managed to get someone experienced with guns and combat — former Marine infantry officer C.J. Chivers — to explain how the gunman’s vantage point and preparations opened the way for mass slaughter:

The possibility that Mr. Paddock used tripods, which two law enforcement officials said were in the room, indicates that he understood how to overcome some of the difficulties of his plan. Special mounts designed to fit the underside of a rifle and sit atop camera tripods allow the gunman to fire more accurately while standing. Military snipers use tripods in urban spaces, often setting themselves back from a window so neither they nor their weapons can be seen from the streets below.

These preparations, along with the downward angle of Mr. Paddock’s gunfire and the density of concertgoers, would make the shooting more lethal than it might otherwise have been, and more difficult to counter or escape.

When the gunshots started, videos showed, those in front of the stage dropped to their stomachs — often an adequate first measure when under fire. But on Sunday night, the decision potentially put them at greater risk.

Mr. Paddock’s position overhead gave him a vantage point over objects and obstacles that would typically protect people from bullets flying from a gunman at ground level. It also meant that inaccurate shots — the sort common to rapid or hurried fire, which typically sail high or strike the ground short — could still plunge into areas where people were huddled.

[...]

Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of Clark County, Nev., said that at least 16 rifles, ranging from .308 to .223 caliber, and a handgun were retrieved from Mr. Paddock’s hotel room. A federal law enforcement official said that AR-15-style rifles were among them. The authorities did not detail all of the guns, or which weapons Mr. Paddock fired.

Several pounds of a nonflammable exploding target used for practice were recovered from Mr. Paddock’s home in Mesquite, about an hour outside Las Vegas, Sheriff Lombardo said. Ammonium nitrate was found in Mr. Paddock’s car in Las Vegas, the sheriff said, but he did not say how much was recovered.

[...]

The duration of the bursts, as recorded, suggest that Mr. Paddock cared little about the military’s prescriptions for automatic fire. Sustained rapid fire is difficult to control and causes many weapons, especially light weapons, to overheat quickly.

I wouldn’t think to use a light camera tripod for full-auto fire.

No training variable meaningfully predicted injury risk

Monday, September 11th, 2017

A recent survey of 1,900 powerlifters looked at injury rates:

Men were much more likely to have sustained an acute injury than women; roughly two-thirds of men had sustained at least one acute injury in their training career, whereas only about one-half of women had sustained at least one acute injury.  This held true even when controlling for training age and competitive success.

Unsurprisingly, people who’d been training longer were more likely to have sustained an acute injury than newer lifters.

Lifters who had sustained at least one acute injury were relatively stronger (assessed via allometric scaling), competed more frequently, and were more likely to have previously dealt with a chronic injury than lifters who had never sustained an acute injury.  All of those factors were also (unsurprisingly) associated with time spent training, but were still independently predictive of having experienced an acute injury, meaning stronger lifters and lifters who competed more often were more likely to have experienced an injury regardless of training experience.

The most surprising finding of this analysis was that no training variable meaningfully predicted injury risk, including weekly training volume, per-lift training frequency, or proportion of training with loads in excess of 85% of 1RM.

There are two kinds of popularity, and we are choosing the wrong one

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

There are two kinds of popularity, and we are choosing the wrong one:

Some people are popular because they are likable — their peers like them, trust them, and want to be with them. Others are popular because they somehow gain a certain status, and use that power to wield influence over others (ie, high school).

Which kind of popularity you pursue matters, says Mitch Prinstein, a professor and director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina. He recently published Popular: The Power of Likability In A Status-Obsessed World.

Prinstein delves into reams of research about what popularity is, and what effects it has on us. He shows that people who seek to be likable tend to end up healthier, in better relationships, with more fulfilling work, and even live longer. Status-seekers, on the other hand, often end up anxious, depressed, and with addiction problems.

In the age of Instagram, it’s no shock that most of us are gravitating to the wrong kind.

[...]

“The world has become a perpetual high school,” Prinstein says. “We can live in that adolescent mindset for the rest of our lives if we are not careful.”

[...]

For boys, there is some correlation between likability and status; it is possible to be high-status and liked. For girls, there is no correlation. Thus, the high-status girl in high school who is socially shrewd, beautiful, and effortlessly popular — ie, the stereotypical “mean girl” — becomes the paragon of what popularity looks like. Girls use “relational aggression” to maintain their power over others. Building status is not about developing relationships but dominating others, which ultimately makes many popular but unlikeable.

Slipper bread goes way, way back

Friday, July 14th, 2017

After reading about David Brooks’ beleaguered friend “with only a high school degree” who had to confront “ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette” at the gourmet sandwich shop, I thought of my own privileged progeny growing up with ciabatta, which I did not remember from my own childhood — for a very good reason:

Ciabatta (literally slipper bread) is an Italian white bread made from wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast, created in 1982 by a baker in Verona, Veneto, Italy, in response to the popularity of French baguettes.

Brexit 1776

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Once again, I wish you a happy Secession Day!

Brexit 1776

I’ve discussed the colonies’ secession from the motherland more than once over the years:

The nine strategic consequences of Chinese racism

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

A rather unusual report evaluates the nine strategic consequences of Chinese racism:

First, virulent racism and eugenics heavily inform Chinese perceptions of the world. United States decision-makers must recognize that China is a racist state, much closer to Nazi Germany than to the values upheld in the West. Most often, the Chinese do not even recognize their racism as a problem. They believe that racism is a Western phenomenon and that Westerners are obsessed with race. This obsession is seen by the Chinese to be a strategic vulnerability of the West, whereas China is not affected by racism.

Second, racism informs their view of the United States. From the Chinese perspective, the United States used to be a strong society that the Chinese respected when it was unicultural, defined by the centrality of Anglo-Protestant culture at the core of American national identity aligned with the political ideology of liberalism, the rule of law, and free market capitalism. The Chinese see multiculturalism as a sickness that has overtaken the United States, and a component of U.S. decline.

Third, racism informs their view of international politics in three ways. First, states are stable, and thus good for the Chinese, to the degree that they are unicultural. Second, Chinese ethnocentrism and racism drive their outlook to the rest of the world. Their expectation is of a tribute system where barbarians know that the Chinese are superior. Third, there is a strong, implicit, racialist view of international politics that is alien and anathema to Western policy-makers and analysts. The Chinese are comfortable using race to explain events and appealing to racist stereotypes to advance their interests. Most insidious is the Chinese belief that Africans in particular need Chinese leadership.

Fourth, the Chinese will make appeals to Third World states based on “racial solidarity,” that is, the need of non-white peoples to unite against Western imperialism and racism. Racial solidarity claims are easy for Chinese to accomplish since the Chinese can make strategic racist claims. For example, they can frame international politics in terms of a “racial balance of power,” and cast appeals to the Third World along the line of: now is the time for non-whites to dominate international politics.

Fifth, Chinese racism retards their relations with the Third World. Chinese racism makes it difficult for China to advance a positive message in the Third World, especially Africa, but also in Latin America and the Middle East. The Chinese have a hierarchical representation of looking at other groups, darker skin is lower class, and race matters. In this sense, the racial stereotypes of the Africans commonly found within Chinese society suggest that this population is backward and dirty, and prone to crime, particularly violent crime. These beliefs surface regularly in China’s relations with the Third World and these beliefs, coupled with clannish and ruthless Chinese business practices, generate enormous resentment in the Third World.

Sixth, Chinese racism, and the degree to which the Chinese permit their view of the United States to be informed by racism, has the potential to hinder China in its competition with the United States because it contributes to their overconfidence. This overconfidence is a result of ethnocentrism and a sense of superiority rooted in racism. The Chinese commonly believe that they are cleverer than others, and so may shape events in an oblique manner or through shi, the strategic manipulation of events. This conceit among the Chinese that they can manipulate others is supremely dangerous for Asian stability. At the same time, it is a great advantage for the United States to play upon that overconfidence. An overconfident China will continue to make the mistakes it is presently in the South China or East China Sea disputes. That is, making threats, issuing demands, heavy-handed shows of force, are generated by China’s overconfidence.

Seventh, as lamentable as it is, Chinese racism helps to make the Chinese a formidable adversary. There are three critical consequences that result from this. The first is the sense of unity the Chinese possess. Second, it allows the Chinese to have a strong sense of identity, which in turn permits them to weather adversity, and to be focused and secure confidence that the rest of the nation is with them. Third, China is not plagued by self-doubt or guilt about its past.

Eight, the Chinese are never going to go through a civil rights movement like the United States. This is because, first, they have no freedom of the press, freedom to petition their government, freedom to assemble, all of which are necessary to support a civil rights movement. Second, there is no political drive or consciousness for equality in Chinese thought. Equality is associated with Maoism and rejected in today’s China, where inequality is accepted and celebrated. In addition, there is no notion of civil rights in Chinese political thought or, practically, in jurisprudence.

Ninth, China’s treatment of Christians and ethnic minorities is poor. The government recognizes that religion is able to do many positive acts in a society, and they do see the need for people to have a moral, religious grounding provided by religion since a moral framework may be lost in the demands of a market economy. The current debate is an echo of the one they had in the 1800s, how do they preserve the essence of what is Chinese in an era dominated by Western ideas. Yet, the government is fearful of religion in the sense that uncontrolled religion may be a threat; a challenge to Beijing’s authority. Not surprisingly, the treatment of ethnic minorities is equally bad.

The degree that runs Britain

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite:

More than any other course at any other university, more than any revered or resented private school, and in a manner probably unmatched in any other democracy, Oxford PPE pervades British political life. From the right to the left, from the centre ground to the fringes, from analysts to protagonists, consensus-seekers to revolutionary activists, environmentalists to ultra-capitalists, statists to libertarians, elitists to populists, bureaucrats to spin doctors, bullies to charmers, successive networks of PPEists have been at work at all levels of British politics — sometimes prominently, sometimes more quietly — since the degree was established 97 years ago.

[...]

But Oxford PPE is more than a factory for politicians and the people who judge them for a living. It also gives many of these public figures a shared outlook: confident, internationalist, intellectually flexible, and above all sure that small groups of supposedly well-educated, rational people, such as themselves, can and should improve Britain and the wider world. The course has also been taken by many foreign leaders-in-the-making, among them Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Australian prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke. An Oxford PPE degree has become a global status symbol of academic achievement and worldly potential.

The Labour peer and thinker Maurice Glasman, who studied modern history at Cambridge, says: “PPE combines the status of an elite university degree — PPE is the ultimate form of being good at school — with the stamp of a vocational course. It is perfect training for cabinet membership, and it gives you a view of life. It is a very profound cultural form.”

Yet in the new age of populism, of revolts against elites and “professional politicians”, Oxford PPE no longer fits into public life as smoothly as it once did. With corporate capitalism misfiring, mainstream politicians blundering, and much of the traditional media seemingly bewildered by the upheavals, PPE, the supplier of supposedly highly trained talent to all three fields, has lost its unquestioned authority. More than that, it has become easier to doubt whether a single university course, and its graduates, should have such influence in the first place. To its proliferating critics, PPE is not a solution to Britain’s problems; it is a cause of them.

There’s much more.

The Politics of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Apparently Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology sparked a mini-controversy last fall:

In less than three days, Gaiman’s Facebook post attracted more than 20,000 shares, 50,000 likes, and more than 3,200 comments. Reactions were polarized: On one side, throngs of fans were eager for the author’s recreation of these tales; on the other, a smaller, but no less vocal, group of self-proclaimed pagans seemed to dread his inevitable misunderstanding of their religious beliefs. At the time, none of these commenters had read Gaiman’s book.

Lisa L. Hannett notes that “the stories recognized today as pagan Norse myths were written down — and possibly reinvented — in more extended prose form by outsiders and Christians”:

Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote about Germanic peoples and their rituals centuries before they migrated to the British Isles. Ibn Fadlan, an Arab diplomat traveling the Volga trade route in the 10th century, described the funeral practices (ship burial and slave sacrifice among them) of the Rus, a group of people believed to be Swedish Vikings angling to control eastern trade routes. Saxo Grammaticus, a Dane writing in Latin in the late 11th century, brought the Norse gods down to earth, downplaying their divine qualities and also situating their kingdom in Byzantium instead of in heavenly Asgard. Adam of Bremen, a German monk writing around the same time, shared stories about pagan worship at the temple in Uppsala, Sweden, one of early medieval Scandinavia’s most sacred sites. (Told second-hand based on an informant’s account, Adam’s frequently referenced work includes vague details about the blot ceremony held there every ninth year, at which nine specimens of every creature — including humans — were said to have been sacrificed to the gods.)

The vast majority of what is now known about Norse mythology, however, survives thanks to Snorri Sturluson, an ambitious and powerful chieftain, lawyer, politician, poet, and saga writer who lived in Iceland from 1179 to 1241. These dates are significant: They tell us that Snorri was recording these narratives roughly 200 years after the Christian conversion in Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. They also, significantly, tell us that “original” and definitively pagan narratives about the Norse pantheon do not actually exist.

This claim needs a bit of qualifying. Scholars mostly agree that the myths Gaiman has retold — the same ones found in Snorri’s Prose Edda — were inspired by earlier pagan narratives. In fact, several stanzas of pre-Christian poems are preserved in Snorri’s work. Other snippets of pagan poetry also appear in 13th and 14th century Icelandic sagas, truly novelistic accounts like Grettis saga and Egils saga (the latter also possibly written by Snorri). Yet by the time Snorri was composing his versions of the Norse myths, his worldview was solidly a Christian one.

I was considering getting the audiobook.

Real potential benefits without being a panacea

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

The empiricists’ anti-charter arguments that were trotted out against Betsy DeVos weren’t particularly empirical, Ross Douthat notes:

There’s no evidence that DeVos-backed charters actually visited disaster on Detroit’s students. Instead, the very studies that get cited to critique her efforts actually show the city’s charters modestly outperforming public schools.

That “modestly” is important, because it tracks with much of what we know about school choice in general — that it offers real potential benefits without being a panacea. Decades of experiments suggest that choice can save money, improve outcomes for very poor kids whose public options are disastrous, and increase parental satisfaction. (The last is no small thing!) But the available evidence also suggests that choice alone won’t revolutionize schools or turn slow learners into geniuses, that the clearest success stories are hard to replicate, and some experiments in privatization (like Louisiana’s recent voucher push) can badly disappoint.

So in DeVos, we have an education secretary who perhaps errs a little too much on the side of choice-as-panacea, overseeing (with limited powers) an American education bureaucracy that pretty obviously errs the other way. And wherever you come down on striking the right balance, it’s hard to see this situation as empirically deserving the level of political controversy that’s attached to it.

Popular Posts of 2016

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

I just took a look back at my numbers for 2016. Here are the most popular posts during that calendar year, none of which are new, all of which are older:

  1. Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics
  2. Myostatin, Belgian Blue, and Flex Wheeler
  3. Polar Bear Turns Purple After Medication
  4. Longbow vs. Armor
  5. He-Man Opening Monologue
  6. Observations from Actual Shootings
  7. Fast Friends Protocol
  8. Foux Da Fa Fa
  9. Subversion
  10. What A Good Job Looks Like

Here are the most popular posts actually from 2016 and not from an earlier year:

  1. We Are Not Smart
  2. Made to Want Evil
  3. Waiting Will Get You Killed
  4. We Don’t Care About Experts Anymore
  5. Stop Wasting Money Teaching Millions of Students Content They Already Know
  6. An Idle Class That Can Only Dream
  7. Culturally Tone Deaf
  8. Brutality Can Terminate Riots Promptly
  9. Born and Bred on the Other Side of the European Frontiers
  10. Scott Adams is Insane

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

Also, I should thank some of my top referrers: Reaction Times, Free NorthernerPJ MediaOutside In, Z Man (new to the list!)Mapping The Dark Enlightenment, and Borepatch.

Happy Newtonmas!

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

I’ve discussed Christmas a number of times over the years:

Learning From Trump in Retrospect

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Mike Konczal is learning from Trump in retrospect, as a demoralized progressive:

Watching Trump with fresh eyes shows that we need to think clearer about how our policy forces people to concede to changing social norms, how to convey the rich as the problem, how to have clear messaging, how to deal with trade, and how to deal with wages and power.

Trump talked about jobs:

All the time. This gets lost in the coverage, which focused on the inflammatory scandals. [...] It’s the first and most consistent thing he discusses. It’s implied it is a specific kind of job, a white, male, bread-winning manufacturing job. He doesn’t discuss “the economy” and how it could work for all, he doesn’t talk about inequality, he doesn’t talk about automation and service work; he makes it clear you will have a high-paying manufacturing job when he is President.

Trump never blames the rich for people’s problems:

He doesn’t mention corporations, or anything relating to class struggle. His economic enemies are Washington elites, media, other countries, and immigrants. Even when financial elites and corporations do something, they are a combination of pawns and partners of DC elites.

Trump is unapologetically against trade that harms American workers:

The brilliant economist David Card gave me a useful point here during an interview: the divide among economists on trade is driven by the fact that labor economists study the real effects of unemployment on real people, where trade and macroeconomists treat people as just another commodity.

I’d phrase it this way: are people just like a barrel of oil? In the abstract models of trade economists, commodities like oil will always get sold at some price, they will get to where they need to get to do so, and they’re largely indifferent on the process. Even when commodity markets are off, oil can sit in tankers floating in the ocean waiting out price moves, and it makes no difference to the oil.

Oil doesn’t experience unemployment as the most traumatic thing that can happen to it. Oil moves magically to new opportunities, unlike people who don’t often move at all. A barrel of oil doesn’t beat their kids, abuse drugs, commit suicide, or experiencing declining life expectancy from being battered around in the global marketplace. But people do, and they have, the consequences persist and last, and now they’ve made their voices heard. It’s the the dark side of Polanyi’s warning against viewing human being as commodities.

Trump also never mentions poverty:

And while he talks a lot about reducing taxes, he never talks about increasing transfers, redistribution, or access to core goods. He talks about wages, full stop. He also talks about places. Dying towns that need revitalizing.

The Financial Times has lunch with Marc Andreessen

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

The Financial Times has lunch with Marc Andreessen:

Andreessen continues on the theme of how mundane his social life is for a plutocrat. “We eat at home almost every night. We watch an unbelievable amount of TV or movies.” He gossips about The Honourable Woman series, and attributes the creative renaissance of television to its expanding internet audience. “Today, you’re also selling to Netflix and Amazon and Microsoft and Sony and Yahoo.”

He likes television, he says, because it puts the writer in charge, and compares it to the best tech companies which are also built when you put founders in charge for long periods. “By the way, writers are often crazy; they’re unpredictable, they don’t necessarily operate on a budget or timetable you might want. They argue a lot. Which is the same thing we deal with, with founders. But you get the magic.”

Andreessen turns to public stock markets:

“There are so many people paid to make the problem worse: paid to regulate, to short-sell; to activists, to the governance experts, to the analysts. The pressure that comes to bear when you’re a public company is just astonishing and it comes at you from a dozen dimensions and you’re, “I can’t believe all these people are out there getting paid to attack me like this.”

Despite the touch of paranoia in his answer, Andreessen has thought deeply about finance. Stock markets are now too risk-averse and snarled by regulation, he says, which means public investors “won’t get the returns”. Besides, tech groups have access to multimillions of private capital to fund growth, so have less need for public markets. Any gains, therefore, accrue to a narrow group of wealthy private investors, such as Andreessen, rather than pension funds.

“Microsoft went public in 1986, valued at $300m. It went to $300bn. Public shareholders got a thousand-time rise. When Google went public in 2004, it had about a $30bn valuation and went to about $300bn. Investors got about a 10-time rise. Facebook went public at about $100bn. It’s now $200bn, so public investors have had a two-time rise.” I suggest he seems content living with risky investments. He agrees. “But I’m weird. I’m different. I’m unusual. Most people want to live in a world where there’s no risk. Most people want to invest their money and not have it fall.”

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Pearl Harbor comes up surprisingly often here:

A horrifying look into the mind of 9/11’s mastermind

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

In Enhanced Interrogation, James E. Mitchell takes a horrifying look into the mind of 9/11’s mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed:

“KSM then launched into a gory and detailed description of how he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl,” Mitchell writes. Up to that moment, the CIA did not know KSM had personally carried out the murder. When asked whether it was “hard to do” (meaning emotionally difficult), KSM misunderstood the question. “Oh, no, no problem,” KSM said, “I had very sharp knives. Just like slaughtering sheep.” To confirm his story, the CIA had KSM reenact the beheading so that it could compare the features of his hands and forearms to those in the video of Pearl’s murder. “Throughout the reenactment, KSM smiled and mugged for the cameras. Sometimes he preened,” Mitchell writes. When informed that the CIA had confirmed that he was telling the truth, KSM smiled. “See, I told you,” KSM said. “I cut Daniel’s throat with these blessed hands.”

After enhanced interrogations ended, the terrorists began cooperating:

Once their resistance had been broken, enhanced interrogation techniques stopped and KSM and other detainees became what Mitchell calls a “Terrorist Think Tank,” identifying voices in phone calls, deciphering encrypted messages and providing valuable information that led the CIA to other terrorists. Mitchell devotes an entire chapter to the critical role KSM and other detainees played in finding Osama bin Laden. KSM held classes where he lectured CIA officials on jihadist ideology, terrorist recruiting and attack planning. He was so cooperative, Mitchell writes, KSM “told me I should be on the FBI’s Most Wanted List because I am now a ‘known associate’ of KSM and a ‘graduate’ of his training camp.”

Supposedly al-Qaeda wanted to draw us into a quagmire in Afghanistan:

KSM said this is dead wrong. Far from trying to draw us in, KSM said that al-Qaeda expected the United States to respond to 9/11 as we had the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut — when, KSM told Mitchell, the United States “turned tail and ran.”