We don’t need a Marine Corps with tanks

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

General David Berger became commandant of the Marine Corps on July 11, 2019 and immediately published his Commandant’s Planning Guidance, which laid out his vision for where the Marine Corps needed to go:

Central to Berger’s vision is the ability to operate within an adversary’s (read China’s) bubble of air, missile, and naval power (which the Marine Corps calls the weapons engagement zone, or WEZ). The concept is that the Marine Corps will be a “stand-in force” that will operate within this WEZ, not a stand-off force that must start outside and fight its way in. As the guidance states: “Stand-in forces [are] optimized to operate in close and confined seas in defiance of adversary long-range precision ‘stand-off capabilities.’”

One requirement to implement this concept is developing “low signature, affordable, and risk worthy platforms” because existing ships and aircraft are the opposite—highly capable but expensive, few, and highly visible.

Another element of the concept is “distributed operations,” the ability of relatively small groups to operate independently rather than as part of a large force, as in previous wars. “We recognize that we must distribute our forces ashore given the growth of adversary precision strike capabilities.” Thus, small Marine forces would deploy around the islands of the first island chain and the South China Sea, each element having the ability to contest the surrounding air and naval space using anti-air and antiship missiles. Collectively, these forces would hem in Chinese forces, prevent them from moving outward, and ultimately, as part of a joint campaign, squeeze them back to the Chinese homeland.

A third element was institutional: the Marine Corps would leave sustained ground combat to the Army and focus on the littorals. Ground wars in the Middle East, North Korea, and Europe would be Army responsibilities.

The final element was political: General Berger judged that defense budgets are likely to be flat for the foreseeable future. “My assumption is flat or declining [budgets], not rising…. If [an increase] happens, great, but this is all built based on flat or declining [budgets].” Thus, unlike in the previous five years, when rising budgets allowed new investment and stable force levels, trade-offs would now be necessary. If the Marine Corps wanted to invest in new capabilities, it had to cut some existing units.

[...]

Maintaining small and vulnerable units deep inside an adversary’s weapons engagement zone will be challenging. Even small units need a continuous resupply with fuel and munitions. If that is not possible, or if the Chinese figure out a way to hunt these units down, the concept collapses.

The Wall Street Journal gives its own summary:

The 10-year plan to revamp the Corps, scheduled to be unveiled this week, follows years of classified U.S. wargames that revealed China’s missile and naval forces to be eroding American military advantages in the region.

“China, in terms of military capability, is the pacing threat,” Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, said in an interview. “If we did nothing, we would be passed.”

To reinvent themselves as a naval expeditionary force within budget limits, the Marines plan to get rid of all of their tanks, cut back on their aircraft and shrink in total numbers from 189,000 to as few as 170,000, Gen. Berger said.

[...]

Among an array of new high-tech programs, the Air Force is developing a hypersonic missile that would travel five times the speed of sound, and has been experimenting with the “loyal wingman,” an unmanned aircraft that would carry bombs and fly in formations with piloted planes.

The Army, which has established a Futures Command to oversee its transformation, tested a cannon at the Yuma Proving Ground earlier this month that fired shells about 40 miles—roughly twice the range of current systems. The Navy, for its part, has been developing tactics to disperse aircraft carrier battle groups to make them a less inviting target for Chinese medium-range missiles, and it is pursuing the development of unmanned submarines and ships.

[...]

The Pentagon’s $705 billion spending request for the 2021 fiscal year includes the largest research-and-development budget in 70 years: nearly $107 billion.

[...]

If war broke out, U.S. officials concluded, China could fire hundreds of missiles at U.S. and allies’ air bases, ports and command centers throughout the Pacific, jam the U.S. military’s GPS, attack American satellite systems and use its air defenses to keep U.S. warplanes at bay.

Russia similarly would use the surface-to-surface missiles, air defenses and antiship missiles deployed in Kaliningrad and on the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

The [Marines’ Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va.] has run classified wargames such as “Pacific Surprise” and “Ghost Fleet,” which looked at how the Marines might counter the Chinese threat in the decade ahead.

For the Marines, the new Pentagon strategy raised questions about whether it should adapt for a toe-to-toe fight against China or should concentrate on lesser but still challenging dangers.

“The wargames do show that, absent significant change, the Marine Corps will not be in a position to be relevant” in a clash with a “peer competitor,” said Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, who succeeded Gen. Berger as the head of that command.

Gen. Berger’s answer was to reconfigure the Corps to focus on a China threat. The Marines would fight within reach of Chinese missiles, planes and naval forces to blunt any aggression. While other services might lob missiles from long range, the Marines, in military parlance, would operate inside “the weapons engagement zone.”

[...]

At the heart of Gen. Berger’s plan is the establishment of new naval expeditionary units—what the Marines call “littoral regiments”—whose mission would be to take on the Chinese navy.

If a military confrontation loomed, the regiments would disperse small teams of Marines, who would rush in sleek landing craft to the tiny islands that dot the South and East China Seas, according to Gen. Berger and other senior Marine officers. Armed with sensor-laden drones that operate in the air, on the sea and underwater, the Marines would target Chinese warships before they ventured into the wider Pacific Ocean. The Marine teams, which could have 50 to 100 personnel, would fire antiship missiles at the Chinese fleet. Targeting data also would be passed to Air Force or Navy units farther away, which would fire longer-range missiles.

To elude retaliatory blows, the Marines would hop from island to island every 48 or 72 hours, relying on a new generation of amphibious ships, which could be piloted remotely. Other Marine teams would operate from U.S. warships with decoy vessels nearby.

Gen. Berger said the wargames showed that the new Marine capabilities and tactics would create “a ton of problems” for the Chinese forces. “It is very difficult for them to counter a distributed naval expeditionary force that is small, that is mobile, but has the capability to reach out and touch you,” he said.

To carry out the strategy, the Marines would deploy new missile batteries, armed drone units and amphibious ships. A major push is being made to ease the logistical burden, such as exploring the use of 3-D printing on the battlefield to make spare parts. The strategy requires deeper integration with the Navy, and Marine teams might perform other missions like refueling submarines or sub-hunting planes. While most of the effort to transform the Corps is focused on the Pacific, the Marines would retain other forces to respond to crises world-wide, including floating 2,200-strong Marine expeditionary units

To fund the new capabilities, the Marines will dispense with all of its tanks over the next few years, eliminate its bridge-laying companies and cut back on aviation and howitzers. “We need an Army with lots of tanks,” Gen. Berger said. “We don’t need a Marine Corps with tanks.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will transform the character of war.

Ghost Fleet is a reference to the book of the same name, which I’ve discussed a few times.

Sergeants tied halberds together to form makeshift whipping posts

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

I recently started listening to the audiobook version of Sharpe’s Tiger, the first novel of the series that inspired the show starring Sean Bean (Boromir), and it’s so comically grim and cynical that I sought out its TV tropes page — which hardly emphasizes what stood out so much to me. 

This first story takes place in India, at the siege of Seringapatam, in 1799, and I was surprised to learn that British sergeants carried halberds regularly until 1792:

Fading as a battlefield weapon, the halberd stayed in military usage as a symbol of a sergeant’s rank. Gervase Markham wrote in 1625 that in England “halberds doe properly belong to the serjeants of companies.” For two centuries, halberds were closely associated with sergeants in European armies. Havildars, the equivalents of sergeants in the Indian companies of the army of the British East India Company, also carried them. Expressions such as “to get a halberd” meant receiving promotion to sergeant. By the late 17th century, if an English sergeant was demoted his dishonor was intensified by the confiscation of his halberd in front of the assembled company or garrison.

Sergeants straightened their formations, set distances between the ranks, or prodded men into line with the halberd. François-Apolline de Guibert wrote of the Prussian Army in 1778, “The sergeants’ halberds are sixteen feet long …. The divisions are closed at the right and left by sergeants; who, when there is occasion, hook their halberds together, and by this means enclose their platoons, so that the soldier cannot make his escape, but is obliged to fight.”

Because they could serve as measuring rods, halberds were useful for surveying the layout of a new camp. In a more macabre function, halberds were used to drag the dead from the ranks during a battle.

British Sergeant with Halberd

Some armies allowed sergeants to strike soldiers with the staffs of their halberds. For more formal punishment, sergeants tied halberds together to form makeshift whipping posts. Often, three were placed together as a tripod, while the prisoner was lashed to the staff of a fourth halberd tied horizontally across two of the other ones. In the British Army in the 18th century, to be “brought to the halberds” meant to get a flogging.

Sergeants of British grenadier and light infantry companies carried fusils instead of halberds. But, in battalion companies, sergeants carried halberds until 1792. In that year, sergeants took up pikes or spontoons.

The learning of this people is very defective, consisting only in morality, history, poetry, and mathematics

Friday, March 20th, 2020

After failing to impress the king of Brob­­ding­­nag, Gulliver tries another tack:

In hopes to ingratiate myself further into his majesty’s favour, I told him of “an invention, discovered between three and four hundred years ago, to make a certain powder, into a heap of which, the smallest spark of fire falling, would kindle the whole in a moment, although it were as big as a mountain, and make it all fly up in the air together, with a noise and agitation greater than thunder. That a proper quantity of this powder rammed into a hollow tube of brass or iron, according to its bigness, would drive a ball of iron or lead, with such violence and speed, as nothing was able to sustain its force. That the largest balls thus discharged, would not only destroy whole ranks of an army at once, but batter the strongest walls to the ground, sink down ships, with a thousand men in each, to the bottom of the sea, and when linked together by a chain, would cut through masts and rigging, divide hundreds of bodies in the middle, and lay all waste before them. That we often put this powder into large hollow balls of iron, and discharged them by an engine into some city we were besieging, which would rip up the pavements, tear the houses to pieces, burst and throw splinters on every side, dashing out the brains of all who came near. That I knew the ingredients very well, which were cheap and common; I understood the manner of compounding them, and could direct his workmen how to make those tubes, of a size proportionable to all other things in his majesty’s kingdom, and the largest need not be above a hundred feet long; twenty or thirty of which tubes, charged with the proper quantity of powder and balls, would batter down the walls of the strongest town in his dominions in a few hours, or destroy the whole metropolis, if ever it should pretend to dispute his absolute commands.” This I humbly offered to his majesty, as a small tribute of acknowledgment, in turn for so many marks that I had received, of his royal favour and protection.

The king was struck with horror at the description I had given of those terrible engines, and the proposal I had made. “He was amazed, how so impotent and grovelling an insect as I” (these were his expressions) “could entertain such inhuman ideas, and in so familiar a manner, as to appear wholly unmoved at all the scenes of blood and desolation which I had painted as the common effects of those destructive machines; whereof,” he said, “some evil genius, enemy to mankind, must have been the first contriver. As for himself, he protested, that although few things delighted him so much as new discoveries in art or in nature, yet he would rather lose half his kingdom, than be privy to such a secret; which he commanded me, as I valued any life, never to mention any more.”

A strange effect of narrow principles and views! that a prince possessed of every quality which procures veneration, love, and esteem; of strong parts, great wisdom, and profound learning, endowed with admirable talents, and almost adored by his subjects, should, from a nice, unnecessary scruple, whereof in Europe we can have no conception, let slip an opportunity put into his hands that would have made him absolute master of the lives, the liberties, and the fortunes of his people! Neither do I say this, with the least intention to detract from the many virtues of that excellent king, whose character, I am sensible, will, on this account, be very much lessened in the opinion of an English reader: but I take this defect among them to have risen from their ignorance, by not having hitherto reduced politics into a science, as the more acute wits of Europe have done. For, I remember very well, in a discourse one day with the king, when I happened to say, “there were several thousand books among us written upon the art of government,” it gave him (directly contrary to my intention) a very mean opinion of our understandings. He professed both to abominate and despise all mystery, refinement, and intrigue, either in a prince or a minister. He could not tell what I meant by secrets of state, where an enemy, or some rival nation, were not in the case. He confined the knowledge of governing within very narrow bounds, to common sense and reason, to justice and lenity, to the speedy determination of civil and criminal causes; with some other obvious topics, which are not worth considering. And he gave it for his opinion, “that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”

The learning of this people is very defective, consisting only in morality, history, poetry, and mathematics, wherein they must be allowed to excel. But the last of these is wholly applied to what may be useful in life, to the improvement of agriculture, and all mechanical arts; so that among us, it would be little esteemed. And as to ideas, entities, abstractions, and transcendentals, I could never drive the least conception into their heads.

No law in that country must exceed in words the number of letters in their alphabet, which consists only of two and twenty. But indeed few of them extend even to that length. They are expressed in the most plain and simple terms, wherein those people are not mercurial enough to discover above one interpretation: and to write a comment upon any law, is a capital crime. As to the decision of civil causes, or proceedings against criminals, their precedents are so few, that they have little reason to boast of any extraordinary skill in either.

They have had the art of printing, as well as the Chinese, time out of mind: but their libraries are not very large; for that of the king, which is reckoned the largest, does not amount to above a thousand volumes, placed in a gallery of twelve hundred feet long, whence I had liberty to borrow what books I pleased. The queen’s joiner had contrived in one of Glumdalclitch’s rooms, a kind of wooden machine five-and-twenty feet high, formed like a standing ladder; the steps were each fifty feet long. It was indeed a moveable pair of stairs, the lowest end placed at ten feet distance from the wall of the chamber. The book I had a mind to read, was put up leaning against the wall: I first mounted to the upper step of the ladder, and turning my face towards the book, began at the top of the page, and so walking to the right and left about eight or ten paces, according to the length of the lines, till I had gotten a little below the level of mine eyes, and then descending gradually till I came to the bottom: after which I mounted again, and began the other page in the same manner, and so turned over the leaf, which I could easily do with both my hands, for it was as thick and stiff as a pasteboard, and in the largest folios not above eighteen or twenty feet long.

Their style is clear, masculine, and smooth, but not florid; for they avoid nothing more than multiplying unnecessary words, or using various expressions. I have perused many of their books, especially those in history and morality. Among the rest, I was much diverted with a little old treatise, which always lay in Glumdalclitch’s bed chamber, and belonged to her governess, a grave elderly gentlewoman, who dealt in writings of morality and devotion. The book treats of the weakness of human kind, and is in little esteem, except among the women and the vulgar. However, I was curious to see what an author of that country could say upon such a subject. This writer went through all the usual topics of European moralists, showing “how diminutive, contemptible, and helpless an animal was man in his own nature; how unable to defend himself from inclemencies of the air, or the fury of wild beasts: how much he was excelled by one creature in strength, by another in speed, by a third in foresight, by a fourth in industry.” He added, “that nature was degenerated in these latter declining ages of the world, and could now produce only small abortive births, in comparison of those in ancient times.” He said “it was very reasonable to think, not only that the species of men were originally much larger, but also that there must have been giants in former ages; which, as it is asserted by history and tradition, so it has been confirmed by huge bones and skulls, casually dug up in several parts of the kingdom, far exceeding the common dwindled race of men in our days.” He argued, “that the very laws of nature absolutely required we should have been made, in the beginning of a size more large and robust; not so liable to destruction from every little accident, of a tile falling from a house, or a stone cast from the hand of a boy, or being drowned in a little brook.” From this way of reasoning, the author drew several moral applications, useful in the conduct of life, but needless here to repeat. For my own part, I could not avoid reflecting how universally this talent was spread, of drawing lectures in morality, or indeed rather matter of discontent and repining, from the quarrels we raise with nature. And I believe, upon a strict inquiry, those quarrels might be shown as ill-grounded among us as they are among that people.

As to their military affairs, they boast that the king’s army consists of a hundred and seventy-six thousand foot, and thirty-two thousand horse: if that may be called an army, which is made up of tradesmen in the several cities, and farmers in the country, whose commanders are only the nobility and gentry, without pay or reward. They are indeed perfect enough in their exercises, and under very good discipline, wherein I saw no great merit; for how should it be otherwise, where every farmer is under the command of his own landlord, and every citizen under that of the principal men in his own city, chosen after the manner of Venice, by ballot?

I have often seen the militia of Lorbrulgrud drawn out to exercise, in a great field near the city of twenty miles square. They were in all not above twenty-five thousand foot, and six thousand horse; but it was impossible for me to compute their number, considering the space of ground they took up. A cavalier, mounted on a large steed, might be about ninety feet high. I have seen this whole body of horse, upon a word of command, draw their swords at once, and brandish them in the air. Imagination can figure nothing so grand, so surprising, and so astonishing! it looked as if ten thousand flashes of lightning were darting at the same time from every quarter of the sky.

I was curious to know how this prince, to whose dominions there is no access from any other country, came to think of armies, or to teach his people the practice of military discipline. But I was soon informed, both by conversation and reading their histories; for, in the course of many ages, they have been troubled with the same disease to which the whole race of mankind is subject; the nobility often contending for power, the people for liberty, and the king for absolute dominion. All which, however happily tempered by the laws of that kingdom, have been sometimes violated by each of the three parties, and have more than once occasioned civil wars; the last whereof was happily put an end to by this prince’s grand-father, in a general composition; and the militia, then settled with common consent, has been ever since kept in the strictest duty.

A lot of those attacks should be considered “workplace violence”

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

The US Department of Justice recently released an 18-page summary of active shooter statistics for every attack that met the FBI definition between the years 2000 and 2018, and Greg Ellifritz provides highlights, which I edit down further:

The majority of casualties occurred in “Open Areas.” Cops use large buildings like schools, churches, and vacant offices in which to conduct their training. Very few cops get training on how to cross open ground under fire to approach an outdoor active killer site. That needs to change.

The average active killer event results in two people injured for every one person killed. This has been true for as long as people have been keeping statistics about the topic. The statistics remain the same for this subset of killings. Lots of cops embrace the role of being the guy who hunts down and slays the killer. Fewer cops embrace a role where they are helping the injured.

Out of 277 total incidents, only four involved multiple suspects. Most events were perpetrated by a single killer who was arrested on scene by responding cops. Police agencies who amass large groups of officers before entering are wasting time. The chance of needing 360 degree coverage for multiple threats is almost non-existent.

Most active killers used handguns. Although many of the killings with a high body count were perpetrated with semi-auto rifles, 2/3 of attackers used handguns, not AR-15s.

Thirty-five percent of the killers carried more than one weapon. Responders should not drop their guard if the killer appears to be disarmed of his primary weapon.

Most of the active killer attacks took place in commercial businesses. We hear a lot about shootings at concerts, schools, and churches. Those are comparatively rare. Most of the attacks in the study were in businesses open to the public. A lot of those attacks are perpetrated by employees and should better be considered “workplace violence” incidents rather than active killer events.

Being able to quick draw is probably the number-one skill in this sport

Sunday, March 15th, 2020

John Jackson is credited with founding the sport of archery dodgeball in 2011:

Also known as combat archery and archery tag, it’s grown to more than 1,300 locations throughout the U.S.

Rules differ state to state, but essentially when a referee blows a whistle, teams rush to a central dividing line, grab as many arrows as possible and attempt to hit their opponents while simultaneously dodging incoming fire. Unlike dodgeball, players can shield themselves behind inflatable obstacles. If players are hit, they’re eliminated and move to their team’s sideline. If they catch an arrow, the shooter is out and a sidelined teammate can return.

“At a distance, you can catch or dodge an arrow, but at close range you’re getting hit,” Mr. Reckner says. “The speed and force is comparable to a dodgeball thrown by an adult who is pretty good at dodgeball.”

The arrows are foam tipped:

Games consist of seven rounds, each of which may have different rules. For example, each team may have a target resembling a domino, with foam circles as dots. If a player shoots a foam circle out of the opposing target, an eliminated player on the shooter’s team can return to play. The round ends when one team has all players eliminated.

“It’s easy to think the most accurate shot wins, but really the game is more about being quick on your feet, being fast with the bow and having solid cardio conditioning,” Mr. Reckner says. The Cincy Aimbots have won a round in as little as 30 seconds, but Mr. Reckner says some last over five minutes. “Getting gassed in the middle of a round makes you an easy target,” he says.

Mr. Reckner started watching YouTube videos of Danish archer Lars Andersen:

To build speed, he lines up five arrows on the ground and attempts to pick up, load and fire all five within 10 seconds. “Being able to quick draw is probably the number-one skill in this sport,” he says. He repeats the drill 10 to 20 times. To build muscle memory, he loads an arrow on the bowstring and draws it back 25 to 50 times as quickly as possible.

Mr. Reckner says being able to hold an extra arrow is very useful—you become vulnerable when you attempt to grab an arrow from the gym floor. To build grip strength, he practices shooting while holding an extra arrow or two in his left hand. He also keeps three grip trainers of varying resistances in his living room. While watching TV, he’ll do three sets of 10 reps with each grip trainer. “I don’t have the biggest hands, so a strong grip helps me hold a bow and extra arrows,” he says.

He rides his Peloton bike four to five days a week, simulating hill climbs to build leg strength. “There is a lot of squatting during the matches, to either hide behind a low barrier or to pick up an arrow from the arena floor,” he says. He isn’t as committed to his strength routine and says he only uses his home gym one to two days a week, performing dead lifts, squats, bench presses and overhead presses.

Three authentic historical WWI infantry combat helmets were acquired for blast testing

Saturday, March 14th, 2020

Helmets on Hybrid III Head in Test SetupAt the start of the Great War, helmets were not standard equipment for any of the Allied or Central Powers, but they were quickly adopted once it become clear that over fifty per cent of fatalities occurred due to shrapnel or artillery shell fragments, often striking the head:

In 1915, France was the first nation in WWI to equip soldiers with steel helmets, utilizing the M15 Adrian helmet, named after the design by General Adrian. Inventor John L. Brodie addressed the British need for head protection in late 1915 with a helmet design aimed at shrapnel protection while focusing on ease of manufactur­ing. Other nations also used the Brodie helmet, including the United States when they joined the war in late 1917. After extensive testing of Allied helmets, the Stahlhelm (translation: steel helmet) was rolled out to German soldiers at the start of 1916.

These helmets were designed to protect against fragments, not the primary blast of the high explosive:

Three authentic historical WWI infantry combat helmets including the original lining, were acquired for blast testing: an M15 (1915 model) Adrian Helmet used by the French Army (denoted FRC), an M1916 Stahlhelm used by the Imperial German Army (denoted GER), and an M1917 Brodie Helmet used by the U.S. Army (based on the M1915 British design and denoted AMR). The M1917 Brodie Helmet was manufactured by the Columbian Enameling and Stamping Company (Terre Haute, IN, USA). The Advanced Combat Helmet, the current combat helmet used by the U.S. Army, was included (size large, denoted ACH) for comparison to current combat helmets. A ‘no helmet’ bare head case was used as a control (denoted BAR).

[...]

The dummy head was faced downwards, and the center of the head was aligned with the open end of a cylindrical blast tube (schematic in Fig 3). This orientation and blast exposure simulate an overhead blast scenario, as would have been common in trench warfare due to artillery shells exploding above trenches.

[...]

An interesting result from these experiments is the blast protective effect provided by the French Adrian helmet, which had a lower crown pressure than all other helmets, despite being manufactured using similar materials as the Stahlhelm and Brodie Helmet, with a thinner helmet wall (Table 1). This result might stem from the deflector crest along the midline of the helmet (Fig 1a). Specifically added with overhead shrapnel in mind, this feature of the helmet could deflect the shock wave off to the side of the head, rather than allow shockwave impingement onto a more planar surface seen in the other helmets. The crest also provides an added first layer for shock wave reflection before reflecting a second time off the helmet itself. The crown pressure sensor used in the measurements was located under the deflector crest and may have experienced a decreased peak pressure because of this. Further studies are needed to see if surface geometry manipulation or helmet attachments may augment the protective capabilities of helmets against blast exposure.

Peak pressures measured in locations other than the crown of the head were much lower because of measurement at an orientation incident to the blast wave and being partly or completely covered by the helmets. In these locations, the Adrian helmet did not provide the same protective advantage seen at the crown. Pressure attenuation was seemingly determined by the width of the brim and/or coverage of the helmet (Fig 2). At the ear, the small brim and limited coverage of the Adrian helmet resulted in higher pressures than the other helmets (Fig 11d), with a corresponding increased risk in eardrum damage (Fig 12). The ACH, without a brim as seen in the historical helmets, had increased pressures at the eye (Fig 11c) but provided similar protection at the other measurement locations.

While ballistic protection provided by helmets has increased significantly since WWI and saved many lives, the results found here suggest that the ACH did not perform quantitatively or qualitatively better than the historical helmets, and performed worse than the Adrian helmet for overhead primary blast at the crown of the head. On the other hand, while ballistic protection has been an active focus in combat helmets design, protection from primary blast has not been an important design element, and the level of protection from primary blast from all of the helmets tested is large compared with the bare head.

Patriot Games was notable for subverting the moral ambiguity of the antagonists

Saturday, March 7th, 2020

I somehow managed to go this whole time without reading a single Tom Clancy novel — or watching a single movie adaptation, except for The Hunt for Red October — and only just now listened to the audiobook version of Patriot Games, which was originally published in 1987.

I didn’t remember the character of Jack Ryan, from The Hunt for Red October, so I was a bit surprised to find that he was not a Bond- or Bourne-like super-spy, but a history professor with a wife and daughter — and I was a bit concerned for his family’s safety, in those first few pages, since their deaths could explain and justify a book full of righteous vengeance, but they merely witness the inciting incident of the novel, where our former-Marine hero tackles one Irish terrorist, takes his pistol, and kills another. That seemed…out of character for a professor — even a young one who was briefly a Marine lieutenant — and there really isn’t any further explanation.

The book is a product of its time, and it features the first foreign terrorist attack on American soil. These foreign terrorists are vengeful Irish extremists, and they side with local Marxist revolutionaries belonging to The Movement, a Black Panther-like group. The novel is conspicuously progressive on issues of race and sex. Our hero’s best buddy is a top-notch black fighter pilot — pardon, naval aviator — and the evil Irish terrorists disrespect their more-competent black partners, before turning on them.

The technology is mid-1980s, too, with the “newer” spy satellites using CCDs, which give real-time intel, rather than film, which has to be used up and then dropped back down and recovered for processing. Our hero is oddly rattled by seeing low-res video of a special operations assault on a terrorist training camp.

The coolest gun in the world in the 1980s is the Uzi, which makes an appearance. The pistols offered to our hero include a Colt .45 automatic, a Browning Hi-Power, and a .22 target pistol. The Beretta M9, which was adopted in 1985, doesn’t appear. The grizzled Marine Sergeant Major, Breckenridge, teaches our hero to shoot one-handed, purely for accuracy, before introducing him to the two-handed Weaver stance and “rapid fire” shooting, one shot per second. This is all rather quaint to a modern practical shooter.

When I looked the book up on Wikipedia, it raised a point about it that never occurred to me:

Patriot Games was notable for subverting the moral ambiguity of the antagonists in espionage novels by John le Carré, Len Deighton, and Robert Ludlum. According to Marc Cerasini’s essay on the novel, “Clancy’s sensible revulsion toward the terrorists is so strident and intense…that it verges on the physical.” He added that “the author’s understandable disgust toward his villains is ‘bourgeois’, for there is not a shred of sympathy for these Irish ‘patriots’.”

Yes, terribly bourgeois.

Fear of the inchoate other was so great

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

At Prepper Camp, Lauren Groff found, “fear of the inchoate other was so great that the survivalists felt justified in being prepared to kill other humans to protect their material goods”:

But scientists and historians who study catastrophes for a living have long known that there is, in fact, very little antisocial behavior that takes place after disasters. Rebecca Solnit’s extraordinary book A Paradise Built in Hell describes in great detail the collective sense of “immersion in the moment and solidarity with others” that follows large-scale calamities. The common person rises to the situation to help other people, and there can be a profound experience of well-being, inventiveness, and flexibility. In fact, the worst effects in the aftermath of disasters come when institutions try to impose top-down organization, as the military might. The presumption of mass chaos, looting, murders, rapes — this comes from something disaster scientists call “elite panic,” when people in positions of power fear the loss of their power and so overreact in violent ways.

[...]

Elite panic on behalf of white conservatives led to a vast increase in prepping during Barack Obama’s presidency; there was a downtick in interest after Donald Trump entered the White House — ironic, given the comparative risks of a catastrophic event then and now. Trump has made the Environmental Protection Agency into an auctioneer of public lands, which has in turn rapidly undone commonsense regulation. Not to mention that with his deregulation and outright looting of the environment in the interest of privatizing public wealth, he has pushed the Doomsday Clock much closer to midnight. But survivalism, as it exists now in America, is not rational. It is emotional. It is the twisting of hypermasculine fear into a semblance of preparedness and rationality.

I lay in my hotel bed in Greenville, finally clean, and began to feel a strange and terrible sadness for the people I had left on the mountain. The majority of them had military backgrounds. I thought of how they had learned in the service to be powerful, effective, competent with weapons; I thought of their leaving the military and returning to a world where those virtues were far less valuable, even sometimes scorned. How strange it must be to go from the battlefield, always on high alert, capable of killing a fellow human, back to society, where people walked around nakedly vulnerable. Our support for veterans has never been strong, and it’s worsening rapidly. It must be alienating to feel devalued, to have to struggle to retain the kind of self-worth the military had built up in you, after you have given a great deal to your country. You start to believe that institutions have failed you. And so you begin to obsess over the end of society. You stock up on guns because you’ve been trained to believe that guns can protect you, and while you’re at it, you stock up on food and water and other things. You’ve become a prepper. You begin to imagine the end of society — which you see replicated so often in zombie films, television shows, disaster flicks, and dystopian literature that you can imagine it vividly — and perhaps you start to long for the apocalypse. It would solve so much of what makes you uncomfortable about the contemporary world.

Perhaps this class was a way of hiding in plain sight

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

Lauren Groff’s last class of the day at Prepper Camp was “Psychological Warfare”:

The instructor was a super-fit black man named Hakim Isler, whose movie-star charisma made sense when I learned that he had been on Naked and Afraid and other survivalist television shows; he calls himself the Black MacGyver. He, too, was former military, from the SERE — or Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion — school, a combat veteran, and a fourth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do, which had led him to write a book called Ninja Survival.

Isler took us through the idea behind psychological operations, or psyops, which he learned when he was in MISO, or military information support operations. He spoke of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the five tenets of survival (there’s always an agenda, know what makes you tick, psyops is a two-way street, take notes, be flexible and open to change), and the four strategies of the field (fortify, align, divide, and overcome).

I began to think that perhaps Isler was himself here to engage in psyops — to discover what makes preppers tick, to track their psychology, to understand the needs and weaknesses of this community, with the ultimate aim of somehow using that knowledge. Perhaps this class was a way of hiding in plain sight, being so brazen about his presence that nobody would ever suspect him of having an agenda. I thrilled to the idea; I felt, for the first time since the disillusionment of the day before, that there might be someone in this place who wasn’t a libertarian. Perhaps I wasn’t as lonely in my politics as I had felt. Or perhaps I was losing my mind.

Freeman Dyson appeared for more esoteric topics

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Freeman Dyson just passed away at the age of 96. He was known for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering — but he appeared here for more esoteric topics, like the Serbian crisis of 1914, Littlewood’s Law of Miracles, religion and public education, global warming, his time in the Operational Research Section (ORS) of the British Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, firestorms, ripping out gun turrets, drums that talk, the other telegraph, heat death, Project Orion, the illusion of validity, building the H Bomb, the most wanted man in China, starship research, aircraft survivability, the origin of Blue Origin, and Gwern’s proposal for an archive revisiter.

Pepper spray isn’t cool

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Pepper spray has many advantages over a gun, Greg Ellifritz notes — permissibility, versatility, accessibility, (reduced) legal and civil jeopardy, (reduced) expense — but its social acceptability may be its greatest strength — and weakness:

One of the reasons for pepper spray’s lack of popularity (in my opinion) is also one of its big benefits. The lack of popularity (at least among gun guys) is that pepper spray isn’t cool. Pepper spray always “feels” like a second-best, cop-out option for chicks that won’t carry guns. And I’ll be honest: pepper spray isn’t cool. It doesn’t look sexy on Instagram, you can’t order a custom one, there are no photos of SOF guys pepper spraying terrorists. Pepper spray just doesn’t have that cool-guy cachet.

But that’s also a huge benefit. Pepper spray flies completely under the radar. Pepper spray is acceptable af. Your mom probably carries some in a leatherette case on her keys. They literally sell pepper spray (Sabre Red, decent spray in cheesy form-factor) in the checkout line at Lowe’s. There’s no license, no waiting period, usually not even a glass counter between you and a can of pepper spray. No one looks at you askance when you say you have some.

Remember I mentioned carrying O.C. spray on the campus where I’m attending my EMT class? There’s a chick in the class with a can on her key chain that is always laid out, openly displayed on her desk. Do you think I have any qualms whatsoever about having a can in my pocket? Do you think anyone would think twice if they actually noticed it?

If you need an even more discrete option that doesn’t look like pepper spray, there are some good ones out there. My buddy Rich Brown really likes the ASP Palm Defender. It’s a cylindrical aluminum key-chain attachment that takes replaceable pepper spray canisters. It just looks like a Kubaton-style key chain attachment. If you didn’t know better you’d never know it was pepper spray. My only beef with this tool is the very limited spray range of about 3?.

Foreign propaganda interference done right

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

Apparently Russian trolls posting memes have “helped” Bernie Sanders, prompting Steve Sailer to point out some foreign propaganda interference done right, the 1941 Hollywood movie That Hamilton Woman, starring Vivien Leigh as Emma Hamilton and Laurence Olivier as Admiral Horatio Nelson, which Wikipedia describes:

The film was a critical and financial success, and while on the surface the plot is both a war story and a romance set in Napoleonic times, it was also intended to function as a deliberately pro-British film that would portray Britain positively within the context of World War II which was being fought at that time. At the time the film was released France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Denmark had all surrendered to the Nazis and the Soviet Union was still officially allied to them, correspondingly the British were fighting against the Nazis alone and felt the need to produce films that would both boost their own morale, and also portray them sympathetically to the foreign world, and in particular, to the United States. …

Shot in the United States during September and October 1940,[10] That Hamilton Woman defines Britain’s struggle against Napoleon in terms of resistance to a dictator who seeks to dominate the world.[11] The film was intended to parallel the current situation in Europe and was intended as propaganda at a time before the attack on Pearl Harbor when the United States was still formally neutral. … Stars Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were newlyweds at the time of filming and were considered a “dream couple.” …

While That Hamilton Woman was marketed as historical romance, its subtext falls into the “war propaganda” category.[16] In July 1941, the isolationist group America First Committee (AFC) targeted That Hamilton Woman and three other major Hollywood feature films (The Great Dictator, Chaplin/United Artists, 1940; Foreign Correspondent, Wanger/United Artists, 1940; The Mortal Storm, MGM, 1940) as productions that “seemed to be preparing Americans for war.” …

Critical sources usually point out that That Hamilton Woman was Winston Churchill’s favorite film.[19][Note 1] In her research on the subject, film historian Professor Stacey Olster reveals that at the time the film was made, Alexander Korda’s New York offices were “supplying cover to MI-5 agents gathering intelligence on both German activities in the United States and isolationist sentiments among makers of American foreign policy.”[20] According to Anthony Holden, Olivier’s biographer, That Hamilton Woman “became Exhibit A in a case brought against Korda by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Committee had accused him of operating an espionage and propaganda center for Britain in the United States—a charge Korda only escaped by virtue of the fact that his scheduled appearance before the committee on December 12, 1941 was preempted by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor five days earlier”.

The New York Times review is mixed, but this stood out:

Nelson is made to appear the great and important man that he was, with some especially timely opinions about dictators who would desire to invade England and “tear down that which other men have built up.”

It was completely besmeared with blood, which trickled down over their ears, for they had been sacrificing that very day

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

I was recently reminded of Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s first-hand account of the discovery and conquest of Mexico. I read a paperback copy years ago, soon after reading about it in Guns, Germs, and Steel, but I was able to relocate one memorable passage in seconds by searching the e-text for “matted” (which stuck with me):

The hair of their heads was long and matted together, so that it would have been an impossibility to have put it in any shape or order without cutting it off: besides this, it was completely besmeared with blood, which trickled down over their ears, for they had been sacrificing that very day. The nails of their fingers were uncommonly long, and they held down their heads on approaching us, in token of humility. It was told us that these men were greatly revered for their religion.

Searching for “blood” is oddly rewarding:

I have myself heard the very pious Franciscan brother Toribio Motelmea say that it would certainly have been better if we could have avoided spilling so much blood, and the Indians had not given us the cause to do so; but it had this good effect, that all the inhabitants of New Spain became convinced that their idols were nothing but deceitful demons, and they experienced how much happier they were when they discontinued to worship them or sacrifice to them; and it is a fact, that the inhabitants of Cholulla, from that moment, cared very little about their idols: they took down the large one from the principal cu, and either hid it somewhere or destroyed it altogether: we, at least, never saw that one again, and they placed another there in its stead.

[...]

Before we mounted the steps of the great temple, Motecusuma, who was sacrificing on the top to his idols, sent six papas and two of his principal officers to conduct Cortes up the steps. There were 114 steps to the summit, and, as they feared that Cortes would experience the same fatigue in mounting as Motecusuma had, they were going to assist him by taking hold of his arms. Cortes, however, would not accept of their proffered aid. When we had reached the summit of the temple, we walked across a platform where many large stones were lying, on which those who were doomed for sacrifice were stretched out. Near these stood a large idol, in the shape of a dragon, surrounded by various other abominable figures, with a quantity of fresh blood lying in front of it. Motecusuma himself stepped out of a chapel, in which his cursed gods were standing, accompanied by two papas, and received Cortes and the whole of us very courteously. “Ascending this temple, Malinche,” said he to our commander, “must certainly have fatigued you!” Cortes, however, assured him, through our interpreters, that it was not possible for anything to tire us. Upon this the monarch took hold of his hand and invited him to look down and view his vast metropolis, with the towns which were built in the lake, and the other towns which surrounded the city. Motecusuma also observed, that from this place we should have a better view of the great market.

Indeed, this infernal temple, from its great height, commanded a view of the whole surrounding neighbourhood. From this place we could likewise see the three causeways which led into Mexico,—that from Iztapalapan, by which we had entered the city four days ago; that from Tlacupa, along which we took our flight eight months after, when we were beaten out of the city by the new monarch Cuitlahuatzin; the third was that of Tepeaquilla. We also observed the aqueduct which ran from Chapultepec, and provided the whole town with sweet water. We could also distinctly see the bridges across the openings, by which these causeways were intersected, and through which the waters of the lake ebbed and flowed. The lake itself was crowded with canoes, which were bringing provisions, manufactures, and other merchandise to the city. From here we also discovered that the only communication of the houses in this city, and of all the other towns built in the lake, was by means of drawbridges or canoes. In all these towns the beautiful white plastered temples rose above the smaller ones, like so many towers and castles in our Spanish towns, and this, it may be imagined, was a splendid sight.

[...]

Cortes then turned to Motecusuma, and said to him, by means of our interpretress, Doña Marina: “Your majesty is, indeed, a great monarch, and you merit to be still greater! It has been a real delight to us to view all your cities. I have now one favour to beg of you, that you would allow us to see your gods and teules.”

To which Motecusuma answered, that he must first consult his chief papas, to whom he then addressed a few words. Upon this, we were led into a kind of small tower, with one room, in which we saw two basements resembling altars, decked with coverings of extreme beauty. On each of these basements stood a gigantic, fat-looking figure, of which the one on the right hand represented the god of war Huitzilopochtli. This idol had a very broad face, with distorted and furious-looking eyes, and was covered all over with jewels, gold, and pearls, which were stuck to it by means of a species of paste, which, in this country, is prepared from a certain root. Large serpents, likewise, covered with gold and precious stones, wound round the body of this monster, which held in one hand a bow, and in the other a bunch of arrows. Another small idol which stood by its side, representing its page, carried this monster’s short spear, and its golden shield studded with precious stones. Around Huitzilopochtli’s neck were figures representing human faces and hearts made of gold and silver, and decorated with blue stones. In front of him stood several perfuming pans with copal, the incense of the country; also the hearts of three Indians, who had that day been slaughtered, were now consuming before him as a burnt-offering. Every wall of this chapel and the whole floor had become almost black with human blood, and the stench was abominable.

On the left hand stood another figure of the same size as Huitzilopochtli. Its face was very much like that of a bear, its shining eyes were made of tetzcat, the looking-glass of the country. This idol, like its brother Huitzilopochtli, was completely covered with precious stones, and was called Tetzcatlipuca. This was the god of hell, and the souls of the dead Mexicans stood under him. A circle of figures wound round its body, resembling diminutive devils with serpents’ tails. The walls and floor around this idol were also besmeared with blood, and the stench was worse than in a Spanish slaughter-house. Five human hearts had that day been sacrificed to him. On the very top of this temple stood another chapel, the woodwork of which was uncommonly well finished, and richly carved. In this chapel there was also another idol, half man and half lizard, completely covered with precious stones; half of this figure was hidden from view. We were told that the hidden half was covered with the seeds of every plant of this earth, for this was the god of the seeds and fruits: I have, however, forgotten its name, but note that here also everything was besmeared with blood, and the stench so offensive that we could not have staid there much longer. In this place was kept a drum of enormous dimensions, the tone of which, when struck, was so deep and melancholy that it has very justly been denominated the drum of hell. The drum-skin was made out of that of an enormous serpent; its sound could be heard at a distance of more than eight miles. This platform was altogether covered with a variety of hellish objects,—large and small trumpets, huge slaughtering knives, and burnt hearts of Indians who had been sacrificed: everything clotted with coagulated blood, cursed to the sight, and creating horror in the mind. Besides all this, the stench was everywhere so abominable that we scarcely knew how soon to get away from this spot of horrors. Our commander here said, smilingly, to Motecusuma: “I cannot imagine that such a powerful and wise monarch as you are, should not have yourself discovered by this time that these idols are not divinities, but evil spirits, called devils. In order that you may be convinced of this, and that your papas may satisfy themselves of this truth, allow me to erect a cross on the summit of this temple; and, in the chapel, where stand your Huitzilopochtli and Tetzcatlipuca, give us a small space that I may place there the image of the holy Virgin; then you will see what terror will seize these idols by which you have been so long deluded.”

Motecusuma knew what the image of the Virgin Mary was, yet he was very much displeased with Cortes’ offer, and replied, in presence of two papas, whose anger was not less conspicuous, “Malinche, could I have conjectured that you would have used such reviling language as you have just done, I would certainly not have shown you my gods. In our eyes these are good divinities: they preserve our lives, give us nourishment, water, and good harvests, healthy and growing weather, and victory whenever we pray to them for it. Therefore we offer up our prayers to them, and make them sacrifices. I earnestly beg of you not to say another word to insult the profound veneration in which we hold these gods.”

As soon as Cortes heard these words and perceived the great excitement under which they were pronounced, he said nothing in return, but merely remarked to the monarch with a cheerful smile: “It is time for us both to depart hence.” To which Motecusuma answered, that he would not detain him any longer, but he himself was now obliged to stay some time to atone to his gods by prayer and sacrifice for having committed gratlatlacol, by allowing us to ascend the great temple, and thereby occasioning the affronts which we had offered them.

“If that is the case,” returned Cortes, “I beg your pardon, great monarch.” Upon this we descended the 114 steps, which very much distressed many of our soldiers, who were suffering from swellings in their groins. The following is all I can communicate with respect to the size or circumference of this temple; but previously reckon upon the reader’s kind indulgence, if I should make any misstatement; for at the time when all these things were going on, I was thinking of anything but writing a book, but rather how best to fulfil my duty as a soldier, and to act up to the commands of our general Cortes. However, if I remember rightly, this temple occupied a space of ground on which we should erect six of the largest buildings, as they are commonly found in our country. The whole building ran up in rather a pyramidical form, on the summit of which was the small tower with the idols. From the middle of the temple up to the platform there were five landings, after the manner of barbacans, but without any breastworks. A perfect idea of the form of this temple may be gained from the pictures which are in the possession of several of the Conquistadores, (I have one myself,) which every one must have seen by this time. The following is what I learnt respecting the building of this temple. Every inhabitant had contributed his mite of gold, silver, pearls and precious stones thereto. These gifts were then buried in the foundations, and the ground sprinkled with the blood of a number of prisoners of war, and strewed with the seeds of every plant growing in the country. This was done in order that the gods might grant the country conquest, riches, and abundant harvests. The reader will here naturally ask the question: how we got to know that its foundations were thus filled with gold, pearls, silver, precious stones, seeds, and sprinkled with human blood, as this building had stood there for the space of one thousand years? To this I answer, that subsequent to the conquest of this large and strongly fortified city, we found it to be a positive fact; for when new buildings were being erected on the place where this temple stood, a great part of the space was fixed upon for the new church dedicated to our patron Saint Santiago, and the workmen, on digging up the old foundations to give more stability to the new ones, found a quantity of gold, silver, pearls, chalchihuis stones, and other valuable things. A similar discovery was made by a citizen of Mexico, to whom also a portion of this space had been allotted for building-ground, but the treasure was claimed for his majesty; and parties went so far as to commence a lawsuit about it, I cannot however now recollect how it terminated. Besides all this, the accounts of the caziques and grandees of Mexico, and even of Quauhtemoctzin himself, who was alive at that time, all correspond with my statement. Lastly, it is also mentioned in the books and paintings which contain the history of the country.

With respect to the extensive and splendid courtyards belonging to this temple I have said sufficient above. I cannot, however, pass by in silence a kind of small tower standing in its immediate vicinity, likewise containing idols. I should term it a temple of hell; for at one of its doors stood an open-mouthed dragon armed with huge teeth, resembling a dragon of the infernal regions, the devourer of souls. There also stood near this same door other figures resembling devils and serpents, and not far from this an altar encrusted with blood grown black, and some that had recently been spilt. In a building adjoining this we perceived a quantity of dishes and basins, of various shapes. These were filled with water and served to cook the flesh in of the unfortunate beings who had been sacrificed; which flesh was eaten by the papas. Near to the altar were lying several daggers, and wooden blocks similar to those used by our butchers for hacking meat on. At a pretty good distance from this house of horrors were piles of wood, and a large reservoir of water, which was filled and emptied at stated times, and received its supply through pipes underground from the aqueduct of Chapultepec. I could find no better name for this dwelling than the house of satan!

I will now introduce my reader into another temple, in which the grandees of Mexico were buried. The doors of which were of a different form, and the idols were of a totally different nature, but the blood and stench were the same.

Next to this temple was another in which human skulls and bones were piled up, though both apart; their numbers were endless. This place had also its appropriate idols; and in all these temples, we found priests clad in long black mantles, with hoods shaped like those worn by the Dominican friars and choristers; their ears were pierced and the hair of their head was long and stuck together with coagulated blood. Lastly, I have to mention another temple at no great distance from this place of skulls, containing another species of idol, who were said to be the protectors of the marriage rights of the men, to whom likewise those abominable human sacrifices were made. Round about this large courtyard stood a great number of small houses in which the papas dwelt, who were appointed over the ceremonies of the idol-worship. Near to the chief temple we also saw an exceedingly large basin or pond, filled with the purest water, which was solely adapted for the worship of Huitzilopochtli and Tetzcatlipuca, being also supplied by pipes underground from the aqueduct of Chapultepec. There were also other large buildings in this neighbourhood, after the manner of cloisters, in which great numbers of the young women of Mexico lived secluded, like nuns, until they were married. These had also two appropriate idols in the shape of females, who protected the marriage rights of the women, and to whom they prayed and sacrificed in order to obtain from them good husbands.

Although this temple on the Tlatelulco, of which I have given such a lengthened description, was the largest in Mexico, yet it was by no means the only one; for there were numbers of other splendid temples in this city, all of which I am unable to describe. I have to remark, however, that the chief temple at Cholulla was higher than that of Mexico, and was ascended by 120 steps: also the idol at Cholulla stood in greater repute; for pilgrimages were made to it from all parts of New Spain, to obtain forgiveness of sins. The architecture of this building was also different, but with respect to the yards and double walls they were alike. The temple of the town of Tetzcuco was also of considerable height, being ascended by 117 steps, and had broad and beautiful courtyards, equal to those of the two last mentioned, but differently constructed. It seems indeed quite laughable that each province and every town should have its own peculiar idols, which, however, never interfered with each other, and the inhabitants severally sacrificed to them.

Cortes, and the whole of us at last grew tired at the sight of so many idols and implements used for these sacrifices, and we returned to our quarters accompanied by a great number of chief personages and caziques, whom Motecusuma had sent for that purpose.

While discussing books that have influenced me, I noted that this real history is less like textbook history and more like a swords-and-sorcery novel: evil priests, hair matted with blood, commit human sacrifices atop pyramids amidst a city built on a lake inside a volcanic crater; frenzied fighting ensues.

The Aztecs’ floating gardens, or chinampas, are fascinating, but it’s hard to ignore stories of conquistadors sacrificed and eaten.

Bernal Diaz Del Castillo mentions smallpox specifically five separate times, but the main germs portion of the Guns, Germs, and Steel might have been salmonella.

One last thing, the iconic Spanish conquistador helmet wasn’t worn by Cortez or Pizarro. The morion helmet came later.

What percentage of murder arrestees in New York City are young minority males?

Monday, February 17th, 2020

Benjamin Dixon, host of “the dopest political podcast in the game,” recently shared audio of Mike Bloomberg’s 2015 Aspen Institute speech, where he says, “Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murdered victims — fit one MO. You can just take the description, xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, sixteen to twenty-five. That’s true in New York; that’s true in virtually every city.”

This is, of course, terribly racist.

That ninety-five percent figure is ludicrously high. What’s the real number? Let’s look at Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea’s 2019 report on Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City:

Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter in NYC by Race

So, ninety-seven percent of suspects and arrestees are minorities, not ninety-five. We don’t have numbers for age and sex though.

You don’t want your first exposure to be on the street

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

In New Jersey recently a shoplifter pepper-sprayed two store security guards who confronted her after she stole some merchandise. Greg Ellifritz has been exposed to pepper spray over 50 times in training and on the street and offers his advice:

I think the first step to consider is retreating. Most small cans of chemical irritant have a very limited range. The small keychain type sprays only shoot about five feet. The larger canisters that cops carry shoot a stream that is 10-15 feet. Excepting the large fire extinguisher-style cans, you would be out of range of any commonly carried chemical spray if you could get at least 20 feet away.

If escape isn’t an option, shielding can work. If the spray doesn’t get in your eyes, you will likely still be able to function at almost full capacity. You might cough a bit, but you won’t be disabled. Cover your eyes with a hand. Alternately you can go into a “horizontal elbow shield” position and tuck your face inside the crook of your elbow for protection. Even holding something like a briefcase or notepad over your face will stop the majority of the spray from getting into your eyes.

If you can’t escape or shield, recognize that you are going to be sprayed. Know in advance how you will react. You can usually continue fighting, but some people panic when they are hit with the spray for the first time. Their panic leads to a freezing response that makes them unlikely to be able to defend themselves. The spray painful. It makes you cough and your eyes burn. But most of you can fight through the pain as long as you know what to expect.

You don’t want your first exposure to be on the street while you are fighting a criminal. It would be a great idea if you had someone spray you in a controlled situation first so that you aren’t shocked by the effects when you have to fight it on the street. If you don’t want to take a full spray to the face, spray some OC onto a gauze pad and wipe the corner of your eye with it. You’ll get a good taste of what the spray feels like and still be able to decontaminate relatively quickly.