March 11, 2012

“[S]ince Vietnam, improved body armor has reduced casualties by more than half”

Filed under: Health, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:19

Strategy Page on the benefits and drawbacks of current body armour options for US troops in Afghanistan and other combat deployments:

The U.S. Army has been trying to reduce the load infantrymen carry into combat. This has proved difficult, no, make that extremely difficult. The problem began with the appearance of, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, of new body armor that offered better protection. The new “protective vest” was heavier and bulkier, thus inducing fatigue and hindering mobility. This often led to battlefield situations where a less tired, and more agile, infantryman could have avoided injury. Military and political leaders usually do not appreciate this angle. But the troops do, as it is a matter of life and death for them.

[. . .]

Until the 1980s, you could strip down (for actual fighting) to your helmet, weapon (assault rifle and knife), ammo (hanging from webbing on your chest, along with grenades), canteen and first aid kit (on your belt) and your combat uniform. Total load was 13-14 kg (about 30 pounds). You could move freely, and quickly, like this, and you quickly found that speed and agility was a lifesaver in combat. But now the minimum load carried is twice as much (27 kg), and, worse yet, more restrictive.

While troops complained about the new protective vests, they valued it in combat. The current generation of vests will stop rifle bullets, a first in the history of warfare. And this was after nearly a century of trying to develop protective vests that were worth the hassle of wearing. It wasn’t until the 1980s that it was possible to make truly bullet proof vests using metallic inserts. But the inserts were heavy and so were the vests (about 11.3 kg/25 pounds). Great for SWAT teams, but not much use for the infantry. But in the 1990s, additional research produced lighter, bullet proof, ceramic materials. By 1999 the U.S. Army began distributing a 7.3 kg (16 pound) “Interceptor” vest that provided fragment and bullet protection. This, plus the 1.5 kg (3.3 pound) Kevlar helmet (available since the 1980s), gives the infantry the best combination of protection and mobility. And just in time.

[. . .] The bullet proof vest eliminates most of the damage done by the 30 percent of wounds that occur in the trunk (of which about 40 percent tend to be fatal without a vest). The Kevlar helmet is also virtually bulletproof, but it doesn’t cover all of the head (the face and part of the neck is still exposed). Even so, the reduction in deaths is significant. Some 15-20 percent of all wounds are in the head, and about 45 percent of them are fatal without a helmet. The Kevlar helmet reduces the deaths by at least half, and reduces many wounds to the status of bumps, sprains and headaches. Half the wounds occur in the arms and legs, but only 5-10 percent of these are fatal and that won’t change any time soon. Thus since Vietnam, improved body armor has reduced casualties by more than half. The protective vests used in Vietnam and late in the Korean war reduced casualties by about 25 percent since World War II, so the risk of getting killed or wounded has been cut in half since World War II because of improved body armor.

Tim Worstall on “Protestant” and “Catholic” laws

Filed under: History, Law, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:41

No, not the differing flavours of Christianity themselves, but more their different approaches to understanding and interpreting the law:

The Protestant revolution was, in part (it never does to strain these analogy/simile things too much) that the Bible, when in the vernacular, as clear an outline of God’s will as any should need. Intervention was not needed, a man could commune directly with the Word and the Will of God.

On the matter of the law I am a Protestant. As rigid and unyielding as any Puritan, Lutheran or Calvinist. With a twist of course: the law must be written so that it can be understood directly, without that intervention of the priestly caste of lawyers, accountants, diversity advisors or bureaucrat’s helplines.

If you cannot write a law with the clarity of “thou shalt not kill” then go away and think through what it is that you’re trying to enact, the language that you are using to do so until you can, with clarity, tell us what it is that we must not do at fear of time in pokey.

That modern society is complex is no excuse. If you cannot write simple and simply understood laws then better that we have fewer laws.

That the Puritans went gargantuanly off the rails by using their new found revelations of God’s Will to tell everyone else what to do is true. But I do find it interesting that our new would be ruling class, the nomenklatura, are adopting such a Catholic view of the law. We’ll make it all so complex that no individual can understand it and thus there is the necessity of that nomenklatura to tell people what to do in detail by “interpreting” it.

Music control freaks? The Nazis got there well before you

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:27

J.J. Gould in The Atlantic a couple of months ago, but brought to my attention by the folks at BoingBoing:

Skvorecky left no shortage of legacies to remember him by, but one of the more notable themes in his nonfiction writing is an emphasis on, as Welch puts it, “the oftentime minute similarities between applied fascism and communism.” And some of Skvorecky’s more notable variations on that theme in turn are found in his recollections and insights on the common totalitarian hatred of, among all things, jazz.

[. . .]

Anyone who finds this proposition fascinating won’t, I promise, be disappointed to read the rest of this book, or for that matter all of Talkin’ Moscow Blues: Essays About Literature, Politics, Movies, and Jazz. But maybe the single most remarkable example of 20th-century totalitarian invective against jazz that Skvorecky ever relayed was here in the intro to The Bass Saxophone, where he recalls — faithfully, he assures us (“they had engraved themselves deeply on my mind”) — a set of regulations, issued by a Gauleiter — a regional official for the Reich — as binding on all local dance orchestras during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Get this:

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
  2. in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
  3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
  4. so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
  5. strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
  6. also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
  7. the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
  8. plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
  9. musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
  10. all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

Conflicting reviews of John Carter

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:14

First up, Tim O’Reilly (of O’Reilly Books), who wasn’t impressed with the new movie:

Well, I was disappointed. Here are a few reasons:

1. The character of John Carter was all wrong — brutish and stupid, far from the chivalrous Virginia gentleman of the books. They abandoned the unabashed romanticism of Burroughs in favor of a modern anti-hero whose tortured path to falling in love with Dejah Thoris, a Princess of Mars, was completely unconvincing.

I wonder at this failure to grasp the simplicity of emotion that suffused the golden age of science-fiction. George Lucas nailed it perfectly in the first Star Wars trilogy. Nobility of purpose, idealism, the pure romance of a boy (or girl) who hasn’t yet experienced the complications of the real thing, adventure and the chance to make a big difference against impossible odds: these are the motivations of the genre.

2. Too much spectacle, not enough attention to character and story. And what spectacle there was was undistinguished. There was a certain steampunk grandiosity to the way they did the flying ships of Barsoom that I liked, and there were some stretches of Lake Powell as the River Iss that I found visually compelling.

On the other hand, ESR went in expecting to be disappointed and instead quite enjoyed the movie:

I’ve read all of the Barsoom novels the movie was based on, but they’re not important in the furniture of my imagination in the way that (say) Robert Heinlein’s books are. They’re very primitive pulp fiction which I sought out mainly because of their historical importance as precursors of later and more interesting work. Still, they are not without a certain rude, innocent charm. The heroes are heroic, the villains villainous, the women are beautiful, dying Mars is a backdrop suffused with barbaric splendor, and the prose is muscular and vigorous.

This translation to movie form retains those virtues quite a bit more faithfully than one might have expected. In doing so it reminded me very much of the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Junior (see my review, A no-shit Sherlock). I didn’t get the powerful sense Sherlock Holmes gave me of the lead actors caring passionately about the source material, but the writers of John Carter certainly cared as much. A surprising amount of Burrough’s Barsoomian mythology and language made it into the movie. The barbarian Green Martians are rendered with gratifying unsentimentality, and the sense of Barsoom as an ancient planet with time-deep history and ancient mysteries is well conveyed.

If you’re me, reading the Barsoom novels is also an entertaining exercise in in origin-spotting tropes that would recur in later planetary romances and space operas clear down to the present day. The designers and writers of John Carter are alive to this; there are a number of points at which the movie visually quotes the Star Wars franchise in a funny, underlined way that reminds us that Barsoom was actually the ur-source for many of the cliches that Star Wars mined so successfully.

The creativity switch

Filed under: Media, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:08

As a life-long non-creative person, I found this article to be of interest:

Creativity can seem like magic. We look at people like Steve Jobs and Bob Dylan, and we conclude that they must possess supernatural powers denied to mere mortals like us, gifts that allow them to imagine what has never existed before. They’re “creative types.” We’re not.

But creativity is not magic, and there’s no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It’s a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it. New research is shedding light on what allows people to develop world-changing products and to solve the toughest problems. A surprisingly concrete set of lessons has emerged about what creativity is and how to spark it in ourselves and our work.

The science of creativity is relatively new. Until the Enlightenment, acts of imagination were always equated with higher powers. Being creative meant channeling the muses, giving voice to the gods. (“Inspiration” literally means “breathed upon.”) Even in modern times, scientists have paid little attention to the sources of creativity.

But over the past decade, that has begun to change. Imagination was once thought to be a single thing, separate from other kinds of cognition. The latest research suggests that this assumption is false. It turns out that we use “creativity” as a catchall term for a variety of cognitive tools, each of which applies to particular sorts of problems and is coaxed to action in a particular way.

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