Altered Soldiers - an interesting article at Anticipatory Retaliation:
While y'all might wonder about why it is that such a big fuss is being made over better drugs, consider that battle fatigue and its closely related cousin good old-fashioned fatigue can account for the majority of combat ineffective men in a unit that has been continuously engaged in combat for more than a few weeks. In addition to this, if you can get a reliable 24 hours per day out of each soldier, you're getting at least one-third more of combat-effective man-hours per soldier. That means you get 1/3 more out of each meal, each training course and each what ever other support a soldier needs. The equivalent effect in getting rid of the sleep problem and the night-fighting problem is that you go from perhaps 12 combat hours per man per day to 24.
More productivity is a big deal for two classes of soldiers: those with the most extensive/expensive training, and those facing other soldiers. The pilots and the grunts, in other words. It's also nice for other soldiers, but they don't benefit relatively as much - you can just hire more of them to get burst capacity.

Ant doesn't talk about why wakey-drugs will be such a big deal for combat soldier, at least not directly. To understand this more clearly, let's detour into golf for a minute. Remember the recent Sorenstam brouhaha? At the time I linked up Steve Sailor, who used geek methods to predict her performance - perfectly, as it happened. He made the point at the time that golf is not like many sports in that you are not playing the other competitors - you are playing the field. Competitors are then ranked according to how they each do against the field, not each other. So it is relatively easy to analyze courses and players' historical performances on them, and predict how they will do in the future (which is how he predicted Sorenstam's performance). On the other hand, it is much more difficult to predict directly competitive sports. A small increase in ability doesn't necessarily result in a small increase in performance: it may make all the difference. A boxer who gets 2% better doesn't end up winning 2% more rounds and then maybe winning the match because of that. Instead he wins almost all the rounds, or even KOs his opponent early.

With soldiers who are performing abstract missions like flying airplanes unopposed, the right analogy is to golf, track, etc. - you're playing the field. Getting 30% more performance is just that. With combat missions, though, things are different. Being alert on day 2, when your enemy is not, doesn't just mean you take 30% fewer casualties and the enemy 30% more. It means you sneak up on him while he drowses, and you get a slightly bruised hand while he gets his throat cut.
Hulk - saw it. Odd movie. Parts worked, a lot of it didn't really. What was great about it was the special effects, and a lot of the development of the Hulk according to comic-book canon. (Jim Henley has the canon angle covered, so go read that.) Regarding the special effects, not that much can be said beyond "wow!". You have to see them to believe them, and they are thrilling. Watch as the Hulk takes apart tanks and helicopter gunships. Hulk smash!! Bound with the Hulk into near-flight. Wow, that's fun.

What's not fun is all the establishing. Look, my idea of a superhero movie is Spider-man. Bit by a super-spider, bang - superpowers! How is it possible? Who CARES? If you aren't willing to buy the origin, don't see the movie. Or just ignore that and move on. But please - don't waste my valuable movie minutes trying to make plausible what isn't. In the case of Hulk, I feel like an hour was spent with David Banner, then with Bruce, tediously setting up the ridiculous and unbelievable explanation for Bruce's hulkness. Yawn. It would have been no worse, as an explanation, in 5 minutes, and it would save time.

What I do want a movie to do in that first hour is establish the characters. OK, Betty is a babe - fine I'll accept that I should pull for her. But Bruce? Why should I care about him? Is he smart? Nice? Is he courteous? Kind and forgiving? Thoughtful and friendly each day? Warm? Human? What? Don't tell me - show me. Hulk doesn't show me. Hulk doesn't even tell me. So you are left without any real reason to pull for Bruce; clearly he's the protagonist, so you identify a bit anyway. But you want a strong reason, not just the default "I've got to care about someone else why I am here? Might as well do him since he's on screen so much."

The Hulk, when he appears, you can identify with. Everyone would like the freedom and power to SMASH! Puny humans! But here there's a different problem. The Hulk has problems of his own, only imposed ones (mainly the army). Nor is he smart enough to be a full character on his own. He's fun to watch and bounce around with, yes. And that can take a movie a long way. But plotwise he can only serve as a problem for those we really care about - Bruce and Betty. Since Betty's bonifides are basically beauty, you can identify with her. But Bruce is banal. Being the Hulk should be a problem for Bruce, and that's what the movie should be about: his attempts to come to grips with it. First the discovery that the rampages he reads about (and maybe vaguely recalls) are real. Then the discovery of what is causing them (lost temper), and the attempt to control it. Finally the coming to terms with the dangerous alter-ego, and perhaps even use of it. Throughout this process, Bruce should be active, actively looking for information, actively hiding his identity, actively seeking means to control his temper. The antagonists - the army, Dad, even Betty to a degree - should be directly and indirectly limiting his plans, making things hard.

Instead we get Bruce as passive captive for most of the movie. Instead of an action/investigation type plot, we get a mind-numbingly boring psychological plot, where it is gradually, chinese-water-torturingly slowly revealed to us, that, oh no, Bruce had a terrible childhood experience! Well, that was worth two hours of movie. Not. Please: more tank-smashing.

Superheroes need problems; otherwise what's the point? Superman is boring. Spider-man had a myriad of problems: being a teenager; hiding his identity; acting responsibly; the Green Goblin. These all interrelate and make his movie work on more than one level at once. Bruce Banner, in Hulk, has essentially no problem that he had any control over. He is a passive recipient of plot, just having things happen to him until he Hulks out (at which point the movie gets interesting). Eventually he de-hulks and we're back to insipid passivity.

The classic superhero-problem is a supervillian. Well, Hulk has one, sort of. But it just doesn't work; you don't really buy the origin of the villian, and his superpowers are even less believable than the Hulk's. And their final fight seems like an afterthought, though, I suppose it relates to the psychological plot already waded through. Nonetheless it was confusing: who's doing what here, to whom? And so the movie just sort of ends; there's no real climax. You leave feeling vaguely unsatisfied. (The final scene was great, though.)

One more thing. In a movie, I am paying for immersion. I don't want to look at a screen and see a movie on it. I want be in a movie and not know I am looking at a screen. Hulk is full of arty-type screen divisions that are meant, I think, as a nod to the comic-book format of the original. These failed completely for me, each time jarring me out of my media-trance back into the movie theater, looking at a screen. Nice concept, but it just doesn't work.
Owning Little People - outrage:
A legal battle over two home-schooled children exploded into a seven-hour standoff yesterday, when they refused to take a standardized test ordered by the Department of Social Services.

George Nicholas Bryant, 15, and Nyssa Bryant, 13, stood behind their parents, Kim and George, as police and DSS workers attempted to collect the children at 7:45 a.m. DSS demanded that the two complete a test to determine their educational level.

After a court order was issued by Framingham Juvenile Court around 1 p.m., the children were driven by their parents to a Waltham hotel.

Again, they refused to take the test.

"The court order said that the children must be here. It said nothing about taking the test," said George Bryant.

The second refusal came after an emotion-filled morning for the family, when DSS workers sternly demanded the Bryants comply with their orders.

"We have legal custody of the children and we will do with them as we see fit," DSS worker Susan Etscovitz told the Bryants in their Gale Street home. "They are minors and they do what we tell them to do."
Refusing to take a government test is child abuse. Democracy run amuck.
Let's Call the Whole Thing Off - Charles Freund didn't read "Hillary's" book, but
so what?
I've got no time to read the book. Does that matter? I don't see why it should. Hillary didn't actually write her own book, so why should I read it before joining the public chorus about it? Think of me as a ghost-reader.
Human Nature - from the New Scientist:
Take the classic "ultimatum" game. Player 1 is given 10, part of which he has to share with Player 2. He can offer to hand over as much or as little as he likes, and Player 2 can accept what is offered or not. But if Player 2 turns the sum down, neither player gets anything. They play only once, and have no opportunity to get to know one another.

In this situation, Player 2 loses out by turning down any offer, no matter how small. Yet in reality, Player 2 frequently does reject "unfair" offers - on average anything less that 2.59 is rejected and both lose out.

These and a host of similar laboratory games suggest that humans have a strong sense of fairness. They will, for example, punish cheats in more extended games even if doing so leaves them out of pocket. An ultimatum game reported this year in Nature (vol 422, p 137) by Ernst Fehr of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics in Zurich shows that a desire for fairness extends further. When one player is given powers to fine the other, unfair use of the fine to enforce cooperation can turn out to damage it. On the other hand, cooperation can be enhanced if a player voluntarily refrains from using the fine.

Robert Frank of Cornell University has provided a broader argument that many human emotions are designed to lead people away from pure "calculative rationality". What better way to keep reciprocity going than for it to be known how angry you get if you are cheated? Rage deters cheats, guilt makes cheaters feel bad, compassion produces compassion and loyalty makes people keep agreements. In essence, emotions may be the brain's way of making us do things - keeping our word, refusing to be cheated, cooperating - that will pay off for individuals long-term and stop us being what the economist Amartya Sen calls "rational fools".

Evidence from individuals with brain damage supports this view. One of neurologist Antonio Damasio 's well-known cases was of a man with damage to the prefrontal cortex who appeared to have lost connection to his emotions. In a specially designed gambling game he would inevitably pursue immediate short-term gain, even though it would lead to ultimate loss. The patient never seemed to be able to develop the "gut feel" that told him to steer away from this strategy, and unlike normal people playing the same game successfully he failed to show the galvanic skin responses that indicate emotional arousal.
People are not, morality-wise, blank slates. We have inborn notions of right and wrong.
Meta - I finally decided to change my template in order to put the content on the left. The point of that is faster loading - it often seems to take an extraordinarily long time (in computer years) to load the site counter and the blogger link. I have the feeling that this way will allow you, my dear reader, to read while those things load, or fail to load.

While I was there, I twiddled and added to the blogroll. "Always" blogs are the ones that publish a lot, and which I read a lot. "Occasional" are either publish-sometimes (like Unruled), or I only read sometimes. But they are places that I do visit from time to time, at least, so I really ought to link 'em.

New links in the blogroll: first, the Corner. NRO is often objectionable, but their blog is one of the more fun and readable ones. They natter at each other. They bleg for information from readers (beg + blog = bleg). And even when they are wrong, it is often at least in an interesting way.

I just discovered Anticipatory Retaliation in Jane Galt's comments. Popping over I found an interesting page; check out his analysis of the development of advanced infantry tech. It's very new, though, so on probation - can he keep up the volume?

I have read all of Bill Whittle's (Eject^3) postings since he has started. He is a great essayist. He's also on the wrong side of war and peace; but he has libertarian instincts within the borders so he may be reachable. Meanwhile the essays are worth reading if only as a study of how to write influence pieces.
The Intel War - Jim Henley commenting on the information coming out now about the pre-war intelligence situation:
the leaks from Anglosphere intelligence officials are coming fast and furious these days, in Britain and here. It's dangerous business for politicians to try to set up intelligence agencies as fall guys. Intelligence agencies know things. And they care more about their own political health than yours. Didn't Watergate start to go sour on Nixon when the White House tried to scapegoat the CIA?
There can be clashing institutional interests within the suborgans of the state. Blame assignment is one time when that happens. Nobody wants to take the fall here; in this case the dynamic works towards openness. But in the state openness is hardly usual. Usually the interests of the state agencies are the same, or at least not in opposition to each other.
A Homeland So Secure We Wouldn't Want to Live There - I love the title of this essayby Joseph Stromberg. He explores the dynamic of the modern security state: more surveillance and more war:
...on the received liberal-centrist-conservative (both meso- and neo-conservative) theory, the power of government becomes infinite in wartime. Happily, we get back all of our liberties, such as they are on this theory, the very second the "emergency" is over.

Exposing this theory to the bright light of day, we find that: 1. It is easy to erode and smudge the difference between war and peace. After all, what was the Cold War? 2. Governments have great leeway for finding potential wars in which to be involved. 3. Now we add the axiom that, governments like to wield power and wish like to increase their power. Thus, the conventional theory comes to this:

An institution that has an incentive to find wars and the capacity to find wars is likely to go around finding wars and expanding its powers. If the "war" could be permanent, the bottomless powers would go on forever and the so-called "rights" would never need to be "returned."
Also, an interesting analysis of the state and surveillance. I tend to forget that lots of people don't even theorize the state as an independent organization with its own ends. This is an obvious thing to a libertarian.
Neocon Bedfellows - One of the criticisms libertarians make of "nation building" is a simple observation: if "we" can build an economy over there, why can't we do it right here?

Different people make different conclusions from that. A libertarian knows that we have tried to do it here - and it didn't work. Central planning doesn't work; thus the Iraq occupation is doomed to failure. At least, it's doomed to the degree which they are relying on being able to manage the economy.

On the other hand, socialists take a different conclusion: we can do it there, thus we can do it here. Here's one example: Barbara Ehrenreich lauds the neoconservative fascination with socialism - in Iraq:
almost no one has noticed an even stranger development within the Bush administration– its sudden, and apparently wholehearted, embrace of socialism.

Echoing sentiments expressed in an earlier era by Eugene V. Debs and Woody Guthrie, Colin Powell declared recently, "Iraq's oil belongs to the Iraqi people." There's been no comment yet from Exxon Mobil on the possible application of this principle to the homeland, but Powell's words seemed sincere – unlike those other feel-good phrases the right is always tossing off, like "compassionate conservatism" and "free elections."

In fact, the conservative press is filled with ideas for how to distribute the wealth to the people and keep it out of the hands of "Iraqi elites."

In addition to spreading the oil wealth around, the Bush administration has committed itself to generous public services – though only, so far, in Iraq. Schools will be repaired, damaged infrastructure rebuilt and education made available even to the poorest. There will be quality health care for all. Imagine: A universal health program, of the kind that has eluded Americans for at least half a century, will be created with a snap of the imperial fingers in Iraq.
The removal of Saddam really was a chance to reform Iraq. But the reform that would work - minimal government, minimal democracy, decentralization, strong property rights - is not likely to happen, coming from a bunch of socialists.
Good News from Iraq - I've read several pieces recently with pretty upbeat takes on the situation in Iraq. (For instance, Salam Pax's new column; Mark Steyn's look at western Iraq; this column by Ken Joseph.) I see no reason to doubt these reports. But just below I claim that the situation will not work. What's up with that?

The answer to that is that currently Iraq is, more or less, anarchy. It is evolving up from mere anarchy (completely ungoverned), and now has some vague semblance of governance. It is still anarchic, though: the only state on the ground - the USA - is not in the position to enforce a monopoly of legitimate force. The population do not see the US troops as legitimate; it is clear they are external impositions, even if they are useful and even desired.

As an anarchy, the people have unrivalled liberty. In fact they currently have much more liberty than we do! Iraq is currently a great place to do business. This is one of the things that jumps strongly out at you from the accounts you can read. It is the free market in action, and it is good.

That said, behind the scenes the men of power are moving. With the encouragement of the USA, they will build a government. Then they will have elections of some sort, and socialists will take control. It has happened in every democracy that has ever existed, without fail. Then laws will begin to be passed, many of which will be good laws: laws to stop random crime of property and person. But democracy does not ever stop at a minarchy; oh no. They'll regulate business. They'll tax - states are impotent without expropriation to run their patronage. They'll begin rent-seeking maneuvers to benefit private interests. They'll pass sharia-inspired regulations of all kinds. They'll make all kinds of victimless actions crimes. The freewheeling anarchic Iraq will disappear. People will look back on the brief interlude of liberty as a sort of wild dream.

Led by demogogues of their own chosing, the Iraqi people will eventually revolt and force out the US. They don't really like us. Then the Shi'ites will vote in full Sharia and a theocracy ala Iran. Alternatively, it is possible that a US-favored strongman will arise and effective shut down the democracy. Either way, the result is authoritarian. Probably better than Saddam, that I'll concede. But not, overall, worth the price from our POV.

I just hope that the Kurds can secede and make it stick. This is possible in the first scenario. It would be best for the Iraqi people if the USA carved up the country right now, into autonomous ethnic nations that might have a chance at surviving democracy. But I hardly think that is likely. Any way it goes, it looks to me like the Kurds had better be stockpiling their weapons. Fortunately for them, they are ahead of the rest of Iraq in terms of developing political institutions.
Lies and Damnation - I take my language seriously. I want to always express myself perfectly, the first time. This is, of course, impossible. But I try anyway. One of my little pet catchphrases, when I am tediously belaboring someone else's incorrect expression: "precision in language!". Often followed by "my dear" or "my good man".

With that in mind, a few comments on political language often used online. My biggest pet peeve: "lies". A lie is the use of falsehood, yes. But it is more than mere falsehood: it is the intentional use of falsehood to deceive. In other words you have to know that what you are saying is untrue. Now, it is easy to find people saying things that are not true. But that does not equate to lying - to prove lying, you have to prove more. You must prove what the alleged liar knew when he or she lied. And that is hard to do, since we have no easy access to the insides of each other's heads.

Second peeve: "privilege". A "privilege" is a private law - a law designed to benefit a specific subset of the population, not everyone. People, especially leftists, use "privilege" when they mean "rich".

Third: the ascription of negative motivations, especially hate, to one's political enemies. No, I do not hate the poor. In fact I am for them - that is one reason that I am a libertarian. But just because my politics, if implemented, would be good for the poor, doesn't mean that socialists "hate" or are "against" the poor, even though they are wrong about how to help them. I take it as given that everyone is good willed, unless very explicitly proven otherwise.

And this leads up to "damnation", which Jim Henley says he's gonna write about more soon.

I think Henley's general analysis of the Iraq situation is the same as mine. Iraq is not going to end up a happy clone of Minnesota, or Chile, or even Israel. Rather it will swirl down into, at best, an authoritarian state ala the Shah's Iran, and at worst, an Islamic republic ala Iran in 1980. There is simply no way to have democracy, liberty, and a population of uneducated impoverished Islamic radicals. Pick two (if that).

That said, the preceding is by no means a popular analysis. It relies heavily on the notion that the mass of the people are powerful; and that states cannot shape events freely. Those are radical notions, not shared by the majority. Given that, it is not surprising that a lot of serious people authentically believe that Iraq will work. They are good willed; they just have shallow understanding.

Is it appropriate to damn people of goodwill but shallow understanding? Well, I think doing so is provocative, and might well get some folks to at least consider the idea that the State is not all-powerful. There is an upside. And as I previously stated, speaking in strong terms definitely positions you. Still, I am of the moderate temperment myself. I won't damn people until the evidence is clear that they are wrong; that they are on the wrong side of reality if they continue to propound policy that is hurting people but based on fantasy. I will, of course, continue to maintain my position.

I am also humble. It may be also be that I am wrong. For the sake of the Iraqi people, I hope so.
The Logic of Socialism - Ownership is about the stewardship of things. He who owns a thing is responsible for maintaining it; but he also benefits from it. This is the case for, i.e., capital goods. But it is also the case when the "things" are our selves. In a capitalist society, each person owns himself, and is responsible for his own upkeep. So if a person wants to smoke, or sky-dive, that's his right. In a socialist society, the state owns everyone, and is, therefore, responsible for their collective upkeep. People no longer have a right to do with themselves as they will, because they no longer bear the expense of the consequences.

The NHS in Britain is clearly an instance of socialism. And now they seem to be following the logic of ownership further towards its conclusion: the coercion of people to stop their self-abusing vices.
Overweight people and heavy smokers would have to sign contracts promising to diet or give up cigarettes in return for treatment, under radical new plans being drawn up by Labour. ...

The move comes amid growing concern about the strain on the health service from avoidable illnesses linked to smoking, alcohol, bad diet and workplace stress. For example, Britain suffers a relatively high incidence of heart disease and lung cancer.
What is avoidable? Clearly being fat and smoking are avoidable, at least for some people. But then so are jumping out of airplanes, skiing, eating red meat, and driving to work. Everything we do carries risks; in socialism the state must decide what is too risky and what is acceptable. That is they must decide everything we are permitted to do. This conclusion is repugnant to any right-thinking person.