What percent of fights end up on the ground?

September 29th, 2019

What percent of fights end up on the ground? A not-quite-scientific look at YouTube “street fight” videos suggests about a third. Lessons learned:

  1. Most fights start with someone who’s unprepared getting punched in the face… even though there‘s lots of indicators it’s about to happen
  2. The aggressor then gains the initiative with a flurry of punches… and often wins within seconds
  3. Most losses were a result of not having a basic boxing protective stance or guard… and getting hit in the face by an unskilled opponent
  4. Less than 1/3 of fights end up on the ground in a way that grappling would be useful
  5. When used, takedowns were one of the most effective street fighting techniques because they either end the fight or put you in a dominant position
  6. Grappling styles like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are very effective in street fights… especially for gaining and maintaining a dominant position
  7. Multiple attackers are more likely to be an issue if you are in a striking-only fight and get knocked down

The CIA paid $240,000 to buy the world’s entire supply of LSD

September 28th, 2019

The director of the CIA’s infamous MK-ULTRA program, Sidney Gottlieb, was the unwitting godfather of the entire LSD counterculture:

In the early 1950s, he arranged for the CIA to pay $240,000 to buy the world’s entire supply of LSD. He brought this to the United States, and he began spreading it around to hospitals, clinics, prisons and other institutions, asking them, through bogus foundations, to carry out research projects and find out what LSD was, how people reacted to it and how it might be able to be used as a tool for mind control.

Now, the people who volunteered for these experiments and began taking LSD, in many cases, found it very pleasurable. They told their friends about it. Who were those people? Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, got his LSD in an experiment sponsored by the CIA by MK-ULTRA, by Sidney Gottlieb. So did Robert Hunter, the lyricist for the Grateful Dead, which went on to become a great purveyor of LSD culture. Allen Ginsberg, the poet who preached the value of the great personal adventure of using LSD, got his first LSD from Sidney Gottlieb. Although, of course, he never knew that name.

Nobody needs more than seven rounds for self defense

September 27th, 2019

The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 restricted the sale of normal-capacity magazines; it only allowed seven rounds of capacity. Older magazines were “grandfathered” in, but you weren’t supposed to load them with more than seven rounds.

Chris Hernandez noted at the time that nobody needs more than seven rounds for self defense:

After all, when you shoot someone even once, they fly through the air and drop dead, just like in the movies.

I arrived on a robbery call one night. A robber had shot a man through the sternum with a 9mm hollow point. He looked dead. I got on the radio and notified dispatch that we had a murder. Thirty seconds later, the victim started moaning and squirming. Less than a minute later he was fully conscious and complained, “This is the fifth time I’ve been shot.”

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. One round is usually fatal. And nobody could possibly still be a threat after being shot more than once.

The same robbers shot another victim that night. One round in the ankle, one in the face and one in the forehead. 9mm hollow points. This victim turned and ran about 500 yards through an apartment complex, pounded on a door to beg for help, and passed out. Last I heard, years after the shooting, he’s still alive.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. When you shoot someone, they fall to their knees, pledge their soul to Jesus, gasp dramatically and die.

I answered a disturbance call one night. A teenage girl calmly told me that she had gotten into a fight with her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. Several minutes into the story she informed me she had been shot through the thigh. I looked down and saw a bullet wound through her leg. She was completely unconcerned about it.

I responded to a burglary in progress. A teenager on PCP picked a random house and started kicking the sun room door in. The homeowner stood by the door with his 9mm pistol, called 911 and warned the teenager he was armed. The teenager kicked the door in. The homeowner shot him in the leg, then retreated into the house. The teenager forced his way into the kitchen. The homeowner shot him in the stomach. When we arrived, we had to wrestle the teenager into handcuffs. Had the teenager been armed, he still could have fired a weapon.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. Seven rounds are more than enough to stop any criminal threatening you. When a criminal gets shot, their body’s entire blood supply sprays onto all the walls and they die within milliseconds.

I answered a call about a man with a gun. When I knocked on an apartment door, a drunk inside pointed a gun at me through a window. I jumped out of the way, drew my weapon and screamed at the drunk to drop the gun. He kept moving the gun, trying to get me in his sights. Another officer in a different spot shot him.

When we got inside the apartment, we found the suspect wide awake, flailing around on the floor. Fortunately a family member had disarmed him. He could still have shot us. The officer had hit him under the left arm. The round went all the way through his upper body and stopped just under the skin below his right arm. Last I heard, years after the shooting, the drunk was still alive.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. When someone is trying to kill you, all you have to do is fire slowly and carefully to make sure you don’t run out. You can even count your rounds as you shoot. It’s easy.

When investigators asked the officer who saved my life how many rounds he fired, he said, “Two or three, I think.” But when they counted rounds in his magazine, it turned out he had fired eight. He had been a cop for over twenty years, and was a survivor of several shootings. Under stress, he lost count of his rounds. Because that’s what happens when you’re shooting to save your life, or to save someone else’s life.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. You can just shoot the bad guy in the head. It’s easy to make a head shot under stress, right? And they’re immediately fatal.

I answered a stabbing call at a nightclub. When I arrived I found two women standing at the open door of a truck, telling the driver, “You’ll be okay.” When I shined my flashlight on the driver, I was stunned; he hadn’t been stabbed, he had been shot in the head with a .38 from close range. About a third of his skull was blown away. And he wasn’t just alive, he was awake. He nodded to the women, wiped his face, did his best to stay calm. When paramedics arrived, the man got out of the truck with minimal assistance. He died hours later.

I arrived on a shooting/riot outside a club. One man was dead in the street, another had been taken to the hospital by private car. As we tried to control the crowd, a severely beaten young man walked up to me and slurred, “Hey man, we need an ambulance.” I answered, “Yeah, we have one on the way.” As I spoke, I noticed a bloody dent on the side of the young man’s head. I thought, Is that a bullet hole? The man collapsed at my feet. A 9mm Black Talon hollow point had bounced off his skull. The wound didn’t put the man down until several minutes after he was shot. He survived.

I assisted on a rollover accident. The driver was an older woman who lost control of her truck. At the emergency room, a CAT scan revealed a bullet in her head. The woman died. Her husband was unconscious. Days later, when the husband awakened, investigators asked who shot his wife. The man answered, “Oh yeah, that. She told me she got shot in the head about ten years ago, before we got married. She never went to the doctor or nothing, though.” An autopsy showed it was an old wound. This woman got shot in the head, and never even bothered to get medical attention.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. If little bullets don’t work, get a pistol that fires bigger bullets. Nobody could still be a threat after being hit by a big round.

In one of our firefights in Afghanistan, three French Marines were hit by gunfire. One died from a head wound. The other two were hit in the upper body and badly wounded. Those two Marines got back to their feet, kept their weapons ready and made it to safety with help. And they were hit by either 7.62×39 AK-47 rounds or 7.62x54R PKM machine gun rounds. Those are far more powerful than what any typical pistol fires.

These stories are all from my personal experience. Secondhand, I know of a man who was shot in the forehead, sneezed and blew the round out his nose. I know of a gang member who had half his head blown off by an AK round, then told the first responding officer, “They shot me, dog.” I know of a robber who ran into a restaurant with an Uzi and was immediately shot twice by an off-duty officer, then ran to a payphone and called 911 to report he had been shot.

Historically speaking, I know of the suspect in the Miami FBI shootout who sustained a non-survivable wound in the first few seconds of the fight, but still managed to kill two FBI agents and wound several others. I know of a drunk suspect who shot an Arkansas deputy twice, then took seventeen 9mm rounds in the torso without effect before the deputy finally shot him twice in the face. I know of the young Georgia mother who shot a burglar five times in the head and neck. He asked her to stop shooting, cried, and drove away. I know of many Soldiers and Marines who sustained horrible wounds and stayed in the fight.

CR is unpleasant to most humans

September 26th, 2019

Rapamycin is an immunosuppressant for transplant patients, but it’s also been found to increase lifespan in lab animals. Dr. Alan Green, who prescribes rapamycin for anti-aging purposes, recommends Blagosklonny’s paper, Disease or not, aging is easily treatable:

Is aging a disease? It does not matter because aging is already treated using a combination of several clinically-available drugs, including rapamycin. Whether aging is a disease depends on arbitrary definitions of both disease and aging. For treatment purposes, aging is a deadly disease (or more generally, pre-disease), despite being a normal continuation of normal organismal growth. It must and, importantly, can be successfully treated, thereby delaying classic age-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and neurodegeneration.

[...]

As the simplest example, calorie restriction (CR) slows aging in diverse organisms, including primates [43-50]. Similarly, intermittent fasting (IF) and ketogenic diet (severe carbohydrate restriction) extend life span in mammals [48, 51-54]. CR (as well as carbohydrate restriction and IF fasting) improves health in humans [45, 48, 53, 55-62]. However, CR is unpleasant to most humans and its life-extending capacity is limited. Nutrients activate the mTOR (molecular Target of Rapamycin) nutrient-sensing pathway [63-65] and, as we will discuss mTOR drives aging, inhabitable by rapamycin. Rapamycin-based anti-aging therapies have been recently implemented by Dr. Alan Green (https://rapamycintherapy.com).

There’s a bit of circularity there.

Creativity is not an accident

September 25th, 2019

Creativity is not an accident, Scott Berkun argues — while listing a number of serendipitous accidents:

Microwave oven: In 1945 Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, discovered a candy bar that melted in his pocket near radar equipment. He chose to do a series of experiments to isolate why this happened and discovered microwaves. It would take ~20 years before the technology developed sufficiently to reach consumers.

Safety Glass: In 1903 scientist Edouard Benedictus, while in his lab, did drop a flask by accident, and to his surprise it did not break. He discovered the flask held residual cellulose nitrate, creating a protective coating. It would be more than a decade before it was used commercially in gas masks.

Artificial Sweeteners: Constantine Fahlberg, a German scientist, discovered Saccharin, the first artificial sweetener, in 1879. After working in his lab he didn’t wash his hands, and at dinner discovered an exceptionally sweet taste. He returned to his lab, tasting his various experiments, until rediscovering the right one (literally risking his life in an attempt to understand his accident).

Smoke Detector: Walter Jaeger was trying to build a sensor to detect poison gas. It didn’t work, and as the story goes, he lit a cigarette and the sensor went off. It could detect smoke particles, but not gas. It took the work of other inventors to build on his discovery to make commercial smoke detectors.

X-Rays: Wilhelm Roentgen was already working on the effects of cathode rays during 1895, before he actually discovered X-rays. was a scientist working on cathode rays. On November 8, 1895, during an experiment, he noticed crystals glowing unexpectedly. On investigation he isolated a new type of light ray.

[...]

The Myths of Innovation (the actual myths) will always be popular, which means for any inspiring story of a breakthrough, we must ask:

  1. How much work did the creator do before the accident/breakthrough happened?
  2. How much work did they do after the accident/breakthrough to understand it?
  3. What did they sacrifice (time/money/reputation) to convince others of the value of the discovery?

It’s answering these 3 questions about any creativity story in the news, however accidental or deliberate, that reveals habits to emulate if we want to follow in their footsteps.

The College Board has been criticized for this so-called excellence gap

September 24th, 2019

Learning in the Fast Lane is both a history and a defense of the Advanced Placement program:

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President George W. Bush nearly 20 years ago, and the Race to the Top initiative, championed by President Obama, weren’t overly concerned with students who occupied the loftiest parts of the achievement spectrum. Schools were rewarded “for helping struggling kids meet proficiency standards but not for dealing with those already well beyond proficiency,” Mr. Finn said. Education policy makers respond to incentives like everyone else.

One bright spot is the Advanced Placement program, which got its start during the Eisenhower administration. Spooked by Sputnik, the government worried about the intellectual rigor of our schools. The country was trying to win a Cold War against communism, and the thinking was that a better-educated public would help ensure victory. After World War II, states made high school mandatory, and the GI Bill gave returning soldiers access to college. The goal was to locate and then nurture the nation’s best and brightest.

The AP program initially was funded by the Ford Foundation but today is run by the College Board, the same nonprofit entity that administers the SAT. Early on, fewer than a dozen AP courses existed, mainly in private schools or affluent suburban districts. By 2018, nearly 40 subjects were available to some 2.8 million students enrolled in more than 22,000 high schools. Students who complete the courses take a final exam, which is graded on a 5-point scale. Those who score 3 or higher are often eligible for college credit.

The downside of this expansion is that many low-income and minority students who complete the courses don’t score well enough on the exams to receive college credit. The College Board has been criticized for this so-called excellence gap, but Mr. Finn hopes that the outreach continues.

He said the proper response to underwhelming test scores is better preparation for disadvantaged students who enroll, and he commends the AP program for maintaining high standards.

Adding tea to milk is not the same as adding milk to tea

September 23rd, 2019

Ronald Fisher was working at an agricultural research station north of London in the 1920s, when he fixed a cup of tea for an algae biologist named Muriel Bristol:

He knew she took milk with tea, so he poured some milk into a cup and added the tea to it.

That’s when the trouble started. Bristol refused the cup. “I won’t drink that,” she declared.

Fisher was taken aback. “Why?”

“Because you poured the milk into the cup first,” she said. She explained that she never drank tea unless the milk went in second.

[...]

“Surely,” Fisher reasoned with Bristol, “the order doesn’t matter.”

“It does,” she insisted. She even claimed she could taste the difference between tea brewed each way.

Fisher scoffed. “That’s impossible.”

[...]

“Let’s run a test,” [chemist William Roach] said. “We’ll make some tea each way and see if she can taste which cup is which.”

Bristol declared she was game. Fisher was also enthusiastic. But given his background designing experiments he wanted the test to be precise. He proposed making eight cups of tea, four milk-first and four tea-first. They’d present them to Bristol in random order and let her guess.

[...]

By the eighth cup Fisher was goggle-eyed behind his spectacles. Bristol had gotten every single one correct.

It turns out adding tea to milk is not the same as adding milk to tea, for chemical reasons. No one knew it at the time, but the fats and proteins in milk—which are hydrophobic, or water hating—can curl up and form little globules when milk mixes with water. In particular, when you pour milk into boiling hot tea, the first drops of milk that splash down get divided and isolated.

Surrounded by hot liquid, these isolated globules get scalded, and the whey proteins inside them—which unravel at around 160ºF—change shape and acquire a burnt-caramel flavor. (Ultra-high-temperature pasteurized milk, which is common in Europe, tastes funny to many Americans for a similar reason.) In contrast, pouring tea into milk prevents the isolation of globules, which minimizes scalding and the production of off-flavors.

[...]

Perhaps a little petulant, Fisher wondered whether Bristol had simply gotten lucky and guessed correctly all eight times. He worked out the math for this possibility and realized the odds were 1 in 70. So she probably could taste the difference.

But even then, he couldn’t stop thinking about the experiment. What if she’d made a mistake at some point? What if she’d switched two cups around, incorrectly identifying a tea-first cup as a milk-first cup and vice versa? He reran the numbers and found the odds of her guessing correctly in that case dropped from 1 in 70 to around 1 in 4. In other words, accurately identifying six of eight cups meant she could probably taste the difference, but he’d be much less confident in her ability—and he could quantify exactly how much less confident.

Furthermore, that lack of confidence told Fisher something: the sample size was too small. So he began running more numbers and found that 12 cups of tea, with 6 poured each way, would have been a better trial. An individual cup would carry less weight, so one data point wouldn’t skew things so much. Other variations of the experiment occurred to him as well (for example, using random numbers of tea-first and milk-first cups), and he explored these possibilities over the next few months.

[...]

Fisher published the fruit of his research in two seminal books, Statistical Methods for Research Workers and The Design of Experiments. The latter introduced several fundamental ideas, including the null hypothesis and statistical significance, that scientists worldwide still use today.

Not a sonic attack, but a poisoning

September 22nd, 2019

The mysterious ailments experienced by Canadian and U.S. diplomats and their families in Cuba may not have come from sonic attacks, but from poison — or, rather, pesticide:

A number of Canadians and Americans living in Havana fell victim to an unexplained illness starting in late 2016, complaining of concussion-like symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, nausea and difficulty concentrating. Some described hearing a buzzing or high-pitched sounds before falling sick.

[...]

The symptoms experienced by the diplomats and their families, rather, are consistent with low-dose exposure, leading researchers to examine the effects of cholinesterase (ChE) blockers in commercial products.

ChE is one of the key enzymes required for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Certain classes of pesticides work by inhibiting ChE.

Cuba, like other tropical countries, regularly sprays pesticides to kill insects that carry infectious diseases.

The researchers found that since 2016, Cuba launched an aggressive campaign against mosquitoes to stop the spread of the Zika virus.

The embassies actively sprayed in offices, as well as inside and outside diplomatic residences — sometimes five times more frequently than usual. Many times, spraying operations were carried out every two weeks, according to embassy records.

Toxicological analysis of the Canadian victims confirmed the presence of pyrethroid and organophosphate — two compounds found in fumigation products.

There was also a correlation between the individuals most affected by the symptoms and the number of fumigations that were performed at their residence.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian Guest.)

Superior recon trumps hypersonic missiles

September 21st, 2019

If U.S. and Chinese aircraft carriers were to clash, the U.S. Navy would win — according to a Russian expert:

Konstantin Sivkov, a member of the Russian Academy of Rocket and Artillery Sciences, argues that superior U.S. reconnaissance capabilities would trump China’s advantages in hypersonic missiles.

Sivkov lays out a sort of wargame for an America vs. China carrier clash that seems based on the World War II carrier battles between America and Japan, particularly the Battle of Midway. Those battles tended to be nail-biting, knife-edge affairs where victory or defeat rested on which side first spotted the other side’s carriers, and then dispatched an airstrike against the vulnerable flattops.

“The key role that determines the course and outcome of hostilities at sea in modern conditions is played not so much by the power and quantity of strike weapons, but by the capabilities of the reconnaissance system on an ocean theater of operations,” Sivkov writes in the Russian defense publication Military-Industrial Courier. “Surpassing the enemy in this respect, the U.S. Navy is able to significantly level the superiority of the Chinese in hypersonic anti-ship missiles.”

[...]

The smaller Chinese carriers, about half the size of their U.S. counterparts and carrying about half the aircraft, would depend on submarines, land-based H-6K patrol aircraft and satellite surveillance to locate the American carrier force. In contrast, the U.S. carriers would have their own onboard E-2 Hawkeye airborne radar aircraft and EA-18 electronic warfare planes, as well as AWACS land-based radar aircraft. Sivkov believes that U.S. carrier group defenses would neutralize Chinese submarines and patrol planes, keeping them from fixing the task force’s location, while Chinese satellites would pass overhead too swiftly to maintain continuous contact. Meanwhile, U.S. aircraft and submarines, would find the Chinese force, while the American subs would attrit the Chinese fleet with anti-ship missiles.

[...]

Now comes the crux of the battle. In this scenario, Sivkov estimates that Chinese carrier could only attack with perhaps a half-dozen aircraft, while the rest are retained for defensive combat air patrol. These strike planes will launch anti-ship missiles that might disable or sink a couple of U.S. destroyers on the carrier group’s outer screen. But the U.S. carrier can muster a strike force of 30-plus aircraft, which will destroy some Chinese escorts. To destroy the Chinese carrier, the American flattop would need to launch as second strike.

Meanwhile, four or five Chinese destroyers will try to advance into missile range of the American task force, with each ship firing 16 YJ-18 missiles each, a 6-plus missile salvo that destroy the U.S. carrier. The U.S. will try to advance the carrier escorts to head this off, and use the carrier’s air wing to try and destroy the Chinese surface ship threat.

“Modeling the situation at this stage shows that the Chinese group has a good chance to reach the line of attack with a loss of up to 40 to 50 percent of its potential,” writes Sivkov. “A missile salvo of 30 to 40 YJ-18 anti-ship missiles, taking into account the possible weakening of the American defenses after the previous hostilities, will put the American aircraft carrier out of action with a probability of 20 to 30 percent. The effectiveness of the second strike by U.S. carrier-based fighter jets (about 24 aircraft) against a Chinese aircraft carrier is estimated at 40 to 50 percent.”

Sivkov assumes that at this stage, the Chinese force will withdraw, while the American force will pursue and try to mount one last air strike. “Bottom line: the Chinese aircraft carrier will be severely damaged and disabled, or even sunk, along with four to five guard ships, one or two submarines and more than half of the carrier-based aircraft,” Sivkov concludes. The U.S. carrier group will lose “two to three warships and 17 to 20 percent of the carrier-based aircraft. The American aircraft carrier will receive relatively little damage or none at all. In other words, the PLAN carrier group will be defeated and lose the ability to continue fighting. The U.S. carrier group will emerge from the collision only slightly weakened.”

A weird combination of pretty and grotesque

September 20th, 2019

Great 19th Century novelists seemed to think that physiognomy is real, and Steve Sailer suggests they had a point:

For example, the Movie Star vs. Rock Star polarity can be illustrated with famous actors. Tom Cruise’s square-jawed conventional handsomeness makes him an obvious prototype of movie star looks. And Cruise’s impressive competence at repeatedly delivering pretty good movies over an enormous span of time suggests that he really is as competent at his job (starring in movies that make at least $100 million) as he looks. I presume that Cruise is more or less the CEO of Tom Cruise movies, and he tends to deliver like a good CEO delivering another year of increased earnings per share.

In contrast, Johnny Depp, of the high cheekbones and delicate jaw, came to Hollywood in 1979 to be a rock star, a not unreasonable ambition due to how much he looked like numerous 1970s rock stars.

Rock stars tend to start as delicate, artistic, high-cheekboned, not terribly masculine heterosexuals who drive young girls wild. (How many burly rock singers have their been? The singer in Smashmouth, and probably some country rockers. But the classic rock band frontman is wiry.)

The youngest girls tend to go for the boy band practice boyfriend types like The Beatles in 1964, while the slightly older ones tend to go for the leering, concupiscent Rolling Stones in 1965 types. Tom Wolfe wrote in the mid-1960s about a Rolling Stone concert:

The five Rolling Stones, from England …, are modeled after The Beatles, only more lower class deformed. … The girls have Their Experience. They stand up on their seats. They begin to ululate, even between songs. The look on their faces! Rapturous agony! There, right up there, under the sulphur lights, that is them. God, they’re right there! Mick Jagger takes the microphone with his tabescent [emaciated] hands and puts his huge head against it, opens his giblet lips and begins to sing … with the voice of a bull Negro.

The classic rock star look is often a weird combination of pretty and grotesque, like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

But to be/stay a huge star, you need male fans. The young girl audience isn’t loyal. There is always somebody new. So rock stars often butch up their acts: Springsteen as working man, Petty as redneck, Strummer as Kiplingesque soldier of fortune.

The balls sink in and slowly decelerate

September 19th, 2019

The Castillo de San Marcos is Florida’s cannonball-eating Spanish fort:

The fort guarded the Spanish empire’s trade routes as well as the surrounding city of St. Augustine, and the English wanted to run this politically and economically important outpost for themselves. Led by Carolina’s governor James Moore, the English boats dropped their anchors and laid siege.

But even after nearly two months of being shelled with cannonballs and gunfire, the fort’s walls wouldn’t give. In fact, they appeared to be “swallowing” the British cannonballs, which then became embedded within the stone. Precisely how the walls did this remained a mystery for the next three centuries.

Cannonball hole and bullet holes in Castillo de San Marcos

Built from coquina — sedimentary rock formed from compressed shells of dead marine organisms — the walls suffered little damage from the British onslaught. As one Englishman described it, the rock “will not splinter but will give way to cannon ball as though you would stick a knife into cheese.”

[...]

Jannotti and the Sanika Subhash bought a few small coquina samples from the gift shop at Castillo de San Marcos, and shot small steel balls at them with speeds of 110 to 160 miles per hour. The idea was to mimic the collision conditions of a cannon firing, albeit in miniature. The researchers also used a high-speed camera that took 200,000 images per second to visualize how the coquina samples reacted to those impacts. They ran similar tests on other materials, namely sandstone and structural foam, in order to compare their properties with those of coquina.

[...]

On the contrary, coquina had a rare ability to absorb mechanical stress, which stemmed from its loosely connected inner structure. Although the little shell pieces that make up coquina are piled and pressed into each other for thousands of years, they aren’t cemented together, so they can shuffle around a bit.

So when a cannonball slammed into the coquina walls of Castillo de San Marcos, it crushed the shells it directly hit, but the surrounding particles simply reshuffled to make space for the ball. “Coquina is very porous and its shells are weakly bonded together,” Jannotti says. “It acts almost as natural foam — the balls sink in, and slowly decelerate.”

It sounded alluring and conspiratorial

September 18th, 2019

I haven’t read any of Brad Meltzer‘s thrillers (yet), but he name-dropped the CIA’s Red Cell program in an interview, and I was as intrigued as I was supposed to be:

Around midnight on Sept. 12, 2001, then-Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet summoned his chief of staff, John Moseman, and the CIA’s deputy director of intelligence, Jami Miscik, to his seventh-floor office in the Original Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia. In the aftermath of the previous day’s unprecedented terrorist attacks, senior White House officials were confident that there were additional plots against the U.S. homeland — and that the CIA needed to better anticipate the range of threats that officials should be prepared for. Tenet decided to form a group of contrarian thinkers to challenge conventional wisdom in the intelligence community and mitigate the threat of additional surprises through “alternative analysis.” On that evening, his instructions were simple: “Tell me things others don’t and make [senior officials] feel uncomfortable.”

The following morning, Miscik and two senior analysts formed the CIA’s Red Cell, which has been a semi-independent unit within the agency ever since. It is devoted to “alternative analysis,” which includes techniques like “what ifs,” Team A/Team B exercises, and premortem analysis, all of which are used to identify holes in a plan, model an adversary to understand their weaknesses, or consider all of the conceivable ways a plan can fail beforehand. The term “Red Cell” was chosen by Tenet personally; he believed it sounded alluring and conspiratorial. Previous comparable units had received limited time and freedom to truly think outside the box. As the recently declassified June 2005 CIA Office of Inspector General’s review of pre-9/11 analysis determined, there was only one example of alternative analysis produced by the Counterterrorism Center’s Assessments and Information Group, and its analysts “recall utilizing no alternative analysis, and ‘did not have the luxury to do so.’”

Analysts lack this luxury because they are absorbed in conducting “mainline” or authoritative analysis, which is intended to chronicle and interpret reality for policymakers. This includes “setting the scene” of the political dynamics in a foreign country before elections, estimating the likelihood of an event occurring, or warning about longer-term strategic trends. As Robert Gates, former deputy director of central intelligence and then director, proclaimed: “[Authoritative analysis] is the bread and butter of intelligence…. Policymakers value, depend upon, and have grown so accustomed to it that this must always be our focus.” However, Gates continued, policymakers become drawn to speculative and unorthodox views, “because when presented with the ‘school solution,’ they know the world isn’t that simple, and they mistrust people who tell them there’s only one outcome.”

Miscik recalled that the initial goal of the Red Cell was to get fresh sets of eyes to reconsider the range of terror threats: “We wanted creative people who could take the existing reporting and put it back together in different ways.” Or, as Paul Frandano, who co-directed the Red Cell during its first four years, put it more directly, “Tenet charged us to piss off senior analysts. If we weren’t doing that, we weren’t doing our job.” By design, the initial Red Cell did not include any terrorism experts and only had one Middle East specialist. Members were individually selected for their analytical capabilities, creativity, and unique mindsets. They were a mix of junior analysts, one mid-level federal employee, as well as senior CIA analysts, a National Security Agency analyst, and a CIA case officer.

Some senior analysts were, indeed, pissed off that nonexperts were questioning their work, while others later acknowledged they were simply jealous of the freedoms enjoyed by the Red Cell — producing three-page memos bearing titles such as “How Usama Might Try to Sink the US Economy” and “The View from Usama’s Cave,” in which analysts speculated on what might be going through Osama bin Laden’s mind. One senior CIA analyst, Carmen Medina, thought that the Red Cell was “way too masculine and way too white in its early days,” which “means they were certainly missing out on some developing world perspectives.” Meanwhile, others never saw the point. As Philip Mudd, the deputy director for analysis in the Counterterrorist Center at the time, recalled, “I didn’t object to what they wrote, but I would always ask, ‘So what exactly do you want me to do with this?’”

See obstacles as opportunities

September 17th, 2019

The PK Silver program sounds ludicrous at first, but parkour for seniors makes perfect sense, if your goal is to train up balance to prevent falls:

Mejia helps break down traditional Parkour moves into versions that are safe and manageable for the older crowd, and also challenge their balance, strength, and flexibility.

Nancy Lorentz, 56, who can effortlessly swing off a tree branch and go right into a somersault, created the program, called PK Silver, in 2016, hoping to share her love of Parkour while helping other people over 50 stay safe.

“We’re a fitness-and-falls prevention program that is Parkour-based,” she said, noting that 27,000 people die from falls every year and that using modified Parkour moves could help address that problem. Plus, she likes the Parkour philosophy.

“You just see obstacles as being opportunities,” she said. “Yes, there is an element of risk in it, but you can’t improve someone’s balance by keeping them on the couch all the time.”

Watch the video.

A chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day

September 16th, 2019

Chess is physically demanding:

The 1984 World Chess Championship was called off after five months and 48 games because defending champion Anatoly Karpov had lost 22 pounds. “He looked like death,” grandmaster and commentator Maurice Ashley recalls.

In 2004, winner Rustam Kasimdzhanov walked away from the six-game world championship having lost 17 pounds. In October 2018, Polar, a U.S.-based company that tracks heart rates, monitored chess players during a tournament and found that 21-year-old Russian grandmaster Mikhail Antipov had burned 560 calories in two hours of sitting and playing chess — or roughly what Roger Federer would burn in an hour of singles tennis.

Robert Sapolsky, who studies stress in primates at Stanford University, says a chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day while playing in a tournament, three times what an average person consumes in a day. Based on breathing rates (which triple during competition), blood pressure (which elevates) and muscle contractions before, during and after major tournaments, Sapolsky suggests that grandmasters’ stress responses to chess are on par with what elite athletes experience.

“Grandmasters sustain elevated blood pressure for hours in the range found in competitive marathon runners,” Sapolsky says.

It all combines to produce an average weight loss of 2 pounds a day, or about 10-12 pounds over the course of a 10-day tournament in which each grandmaster might play five or six times.

Her creepy imaginary friend is called Captain Howdy

September 15th, 2019

In Primal Screams Mary Eberstadt cites former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, social scientist James Q. Wilson, and Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, to document how the Sexual Revolution created Identity Politics:

A writer she doesn’t mention, however, is William Peter Blatty, author of the blockbuster 1971 horror novel The Exorcist. Those who have never read the novel, or are familiar only with its 1973 cinematic incarnation, probably believe the book to be a potboiler about demonic possession. But it is also an allegorical warning about the importance of the traditional family unit and the devastation wrought when it breaks down. Curiously, this aspect of the novel went largely unnoticed by the book’s earliest reviewers.

Back in 1971, the advent of no-fault divorce laws in the United States was seen in liberal circles as an unalloyed benefit for society. Thus, the book critics for most of the mainstream publications that bothered to review The ExorcistTime, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, etc. — treated the book as either a modern day pastiche of Poe and Mary Shelley, or else as a traditional story of the battle between Good and Evil. What’s odd about this is that Blatty made no effort to hide his social conservatism. You don’t have to be a postmodern literary detective to find it in the subtext. Blatty was not a subtle writer, and he set his message out on the page for all to see, although very few have ever remarked upon it.

The Exorcist tells the story of Chris MacNeil, a recently divorced American movie star, and her 12-year-old daughter Regan Teresa MacNeil, whom Chris calls “Rags.” The story takes place in Washington, D.C., where Chris has rented a home a few blocks from the campus of Georgetown University. She is the star of a movie about unrest on campus that is being filmed at Georgetown. Neither Chris nor her daughter have yet recovered from the divorce. And Regan has begun to demonstrate troubling behavior (using obscenities, operating a Ouija board with a creepy imaginary friend, lashing out at the adults around her) that leads Chris to seek help and advice, first from psychiatric professionals.

Every few pages, the reader is reminded about the absence of Regan’s father. Early in the book, as Chris is hanging up a dress in Regan’s closet, she thinks: Nice clothes. Yeah, Rags, look here, not there at the daddy who never writes. Regan appears to be in search of a substitute for the father she has lost, and television seems to be one of the places she has been looking. Her creepy imaginary friend is called Captain Howdy, clearly a reference to two TV characters popular with children of the Baby Boom, Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody.

I was shocked years ago, when I learned from watching the DVD extras, that The Exorcist was written as a piece of pro-Catholic propaganda.