The Fire and Fury book

I’ve quickly read Fire and Fury, the book that at least the media is talking about.

The author is clairvoyant in that he can see inside the heads of other people. He writes with 100 percent confidence that Donald Trump wanted to lose the 2016 election and was upset that he won. The author, an American man, is able to get inside the head of a Slovenian woman:

He admired her looks—often, awkwardly for her, in the presence of others. She was, he told people proudly and without irony, a “trophy wife.” And while he may not have quite shared his life with her, he gladly shared the spoils of it. “A happy wife is a happy life,” he said, echoing a popular rich-man truism.

How does he know what was awkward for Melania if he is not clairvoyant? Separately, a Google search for “happy wife happy life” reveals no association with income level.

Trump is accused of a lot of bad behavior, but nearly always without any source cited. This information also comes from clairvoyance?

The author doesn’t seem to have done a lot of research. He writes that “no president before Trump and few politicians ever have come out of the real estate business”. Yet George Washington made his money in real estate (see previous blog post and (“Most of this wealth can be traced to Washington’s success as a land speculator, an enterprise that grew out of his early career as land surveyor.”)).

The author expresses confidence that “Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election” because unnamed “friends” of Trump supposedly believed this.

One source of a lot of stuff in the book is Steve Bannon, but there don’t seem to be any quotes, e.g., “Bannon described Trump as a simple machine. The On switch was full of flattery, the Off switch full of calumny.” What did Bannon actually say?

The author seldom explains where he was and how he got access to the few actual quotes. For example:

“What a fucking idiot,” said Murdoch, shrugging, as he got off the phone.

Was the author sitting with Donald Trump on a speaker phone? Sitting with Rupert Murdoch?

Since there aren’t really enough quotes to fill up a book-length manuscript, the author resorts to quoting hearsay:

“Mr. Trump said he’s never once listened to a whole Obama speech,” said one of the young people authoritatively.
“They’re so boring,” said another.

What have we learned from this? Trump actually said that he never listened to a full Barack Obama speech? The unnamed young staffer quoted thought that Trump might have said it? What?

Continuing the theme of the author’s ability to see inside others’ heads… “Jared Kushner at thirty-six prided himself on his ability to get along with older men. … Trump did not enjoy his own inauguration. … Trump found the White House, an old building with only sporadic upkeep and piecemeal renovations—as well as a famous roach and rodent problem—to be vexing and even a little scary. … [after nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court] Trump would shortly not remember when he had ever wanted anyone but Gorsuch.”

How does this guy know what another person does and does not remember?

The author goes back in time to judge Fred Trump:

Jews and Israel were a curious Trump subtext. Trump’s brutish father was an often vocal anti-Semite. In the split in New York real estate between the Jews and non-Jews, the Trumps were clearly on the lesser side. The Jews were white shoe, and Donald Trump, even more than his father, was perceived as a vulgarian

If Fred Trump was a brute, why didn’t his wife sue him under New York family law and live comfortably and brute-free on at least half of the assets Fred Trump had accumulated? In the age of on-demand unilateral and profitable divorce, why would a rational woman remain married to a “brute” from 1936 until the brute’s death in 1999? The author and the publisher (Macmillan) don’t seem able to check facts with Wikipedia, which describes a white-shoe firm as one that excludes Jews.

Donald Trump is a bad husband:

An absentee father for his first four children, Trump was even more absent for his fifth, Barron, his son with Melania. … He was a notorious womanizer, and during the campaign became possibly the world’s most famous masher. While nobody would ever say Trump was sensitive when it came to women, he had many views about how to get along with them, including a theory he discussed with friends about how the more years between an older man and a younger woman, the less the younger woman took an older man’s cheating personally.

Notorious among whom? Which friends? If Donald Trump is so bad, why doesn’t Melania go down to the New York divorce courthouse and cash in? The author says that she doesn’t enjoy the publicity and attention of being First Lady. So if Donald Trump is a bad husband and being First Lady has no value, why wouldn’t an intelligent person such as Melania avail herself of our country’s no-fault divorce laws and become rich and “independent” (cashing checks every month from Donald would be the source of the “independence,” of course!)? These apparent logical contradictions are never addressed.

The author also doesn’t explain how a multi-billionaire who is purportedly a “notorious womanizer” has kept everything so quiet. Trump has been worth an average of roughly $ 3 billion for the past 10 years. If he is able to spend 4 percent of his wealth annually, that’s $ 120 million per year or $ 328,767 per day. Are there women who could be persuaded to have sex in exchange for something that $ 328,767 would buy? If not in New York then somewhere reachable by personal Boeing 757? Before the Hollywood Cleansing made the news, we had data such as “20 women slept with me to get promotion” (The Sun) from a supermarket assistant manager. That’s in one supermarket and he was only the assistant manager. The Trump Organization is listed by Wikipedia as having 22,450 employees, roughly half of whom are presumably women, and Trump was the top manager and final decision-maker. If Trump’s priority were womanizing, as the author suggests, why have we not heard about a sex-for-promotion situation (e.g., from a disgruntled employee who was passed over) within the Trump Organization? A billionaire “notorious womanizer” in the cameraphone era has left no evidence of his fun times? Why wasn’t compromising content being generated on a daily basis for the past 16 years since the Sanyo SCP-5300 was introduced?

There is virtually nothing in the book about the substantive work of the President. If you want to know why the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare was unsuccessful while the corporate tax rate cut did go through, this book won’t be helpful.

Bottom line: The book is spectacularly dull unless perhaps you know these Washington insiders personally and want to know what has been anonymously said about some of them. My opinion of Macmillan was diminished by the readily apparent sloppiness of the work.


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Pussycats book by an Israeli sourpuss

In the comments to “The President of MIT emailed me“, Natalia suggested the book Pussycats: Why The Rest Keeps Beating The West, And What Can Be Done About It. The author, Martin van Creveld, is a 71-year-old Dutch-Israeli military historian.

This review is mostly a response to Natalia (and thanks for being a loyal reader!), but perhaps others will be interested. Note that nearly all of the excerpts below contain references to journal articles supporting the author’s assertions. I’ve removed these for brevity/clarity. But keep in mind that when he says “Americans are likely to do X” it is something for which he has cited a social psychology paper or military report.

My thoughts after reading 10 percent: So far he has anecdotally come to the same conclusion as the academic psychologist who wrote iGen: young Westerners are taking much longer to grow up than previous generations did. Thus an American, European, or Israeli 18-year-old today is like a 14-year-old back when I was a kid (i.e., before cities were electrified, etc.). This is bad news for Western militaries because they are essentially sending 14-year-olds into battle where they lose to grown-ups who are barely armed and equipped.

The author is good at describing the military problem:

The outcome [of the West’s feebleness] was the Vietnam War. Judging by the amount of ordnance expended or dropped, and the number of people killed, no colonial war in the whole of history had ever been waged with greater ferocity. All to subdue an opponent whose leader looked like a poor relation of Santa Klaus, wore black pajamas and sandals made of old tires, subsisted on the proverbial handful of rice, and operated an electric grid so small that even destroying eighty-seven percent of it made no difference. A quarter-century later the Americans, encouraged by the aforementioned victory over Saddam (as well as the much smaller one over poor little Serbia in Kosovo), compounded their error by invading first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Neither country was in any condition to fight back. The former, indeed, hardly deserved to be called a country at all. Both were overrun quickly and at very low cost. Yet the wars in question, far from producing quick and easy victories as President George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and their advisers had confidently expected, became protracted. Before they were over they produced tens of thousands of casualties, and while most Western troops have been withdrawn an end may not be in sight. The financial cost, including that of looking after wounded veterans and replenishing the depleted forces, is said to have been anything between 4 to 6 trillion dollars. So heavy is the burden that it is most unlikely ever to be fully paid. All for no gains anyone could discover.

The roots of the “lifelong childhoold” problem?

Never in the whole of history has the age in which such people started counting as adults been as high as it is today. The origins of the change are to be found during the 1820s. According to that invaluable research tool, Google Ngram, this was the time when writers suddenly started using the term “childhood” much more often than before. Sixty years later, the term “adolescence,” which two anthropologists define as a period during which young people are “kept in the natal home under the authority of parents, attending school, and bedeviled by a bewildering array of occupational choices,” followed suit.

Why did we do this?

After centuries and centuries during which their main function had been to levy taxes, bureaucrats were flexing their muscles in quest for greater power. Doing so, they found childhood and education fertile fields in and on which to operate. This was carried to the point where, in all modern countries, child welfare and education have been turned into some of the largest and costliest fields of state activity. Others represented organized labor trying to keep wages as high as they could. Or else they spoke for large corporations seeking to force smaller, often family-based, competitors—who were better able to employ youngsters for low wages—out of business. In time, almost everybody got involved in the act. Government passed all kinds of legal restrictions, and set up special agencies to ensure they were observed.

Next came business, which in the US alone makes hundreds of billions a year by helping create and perpetuate a separate “youth culture.” They were joined by international organizations, both state-run and others, many of which seem to consider any kind of work children may do harmful and exploitative. … Regardless of what their motives were, all these people and organizations developed a vested interest in controlling young people. The latter had to be made to spend as large a part of their lives as possible in a state where they would be unable to work, take responsibility, and look after themselves.

[Interesting but not relevant to the main theme is that keeping kids from working may be the root of their problems:

The same applies to the Amish people. As long as most of them were still engaged in agriculture, they made their children work. Children who helped with the family finances felt needed. Feeling needed, they suffered from few of the problems afflicting other American youngsters, such as delinquency, drugs, and teenage pregnancy[ 36]—so much so that a Google Scholar search combining “Amish” with “youth delinquency” yielded hardly any hits. To this day there is no proof whatsoever that children in “developing” countries, many of whom do work, are less happy than those in “developed” ones where the law prohibits them from doing so. Judging by the percentage who are referred to psychological treatment or filled with drugs, the opposite may well be the case.

Conversely, to prevent young people from engaging in [work] is cruel and can be dangerous. Insofar as it excludes them from what is normally the most important adult activity of all, it also goes a long way to prevent them from growing up. Nor are the restrictions limited to child work only. In all “advanced” countries, probably not a day passes without some new law or regulation specifically aimed at the young being enacted. Ostensibly the goal is to help the people in question. In fact, they often hamper them in all kinds of ways. Anything to prevent them from doing as their elders do as a matter of course. And anything to prevent them from competing with those elders and, by doing so, taking over some of the latter’s resources and increasing their own independence. No wonder that, apart from gangs, they seldom organize and engage in activities of their own.

The same can be said of adults. Folks who don’t have full-time jobs seem to be the ones most likely to consume psychotherapy, get diagnosed, and take pills. Imagine how many people would love to be mentally ill, but are too busy making widgets or dealing with customers!]

The Baby Boomer author is not impressed with today’s brats:

Coming together, the two kinds of pressure produce the kind of child who, at the age of ten, is convinced of his self-importance and genius and will suffer a mental crisis each time he is criticized, but who still cannot wash himself and depends on his parents to give him a bath. They are like hot-air balloons that need to be constantly re-inflated. Yet they do not succeed in taking off. And how can they? Superficially the two parenting styles—the one concerned with overprotecting children, and the other with smoothing over any problems and pushing them forward at almost any cost—appear contradictory. In fact, they go hand in hand. Both originate in the idea that, whatever “it” may mean, young people cannot handle “it.” That in turn obliges parents to put in almost superhuman effort, foresight, supervision, and moralizing. In the US, the same role is later played by the colleges. They act, and are expected to act, in loco parentis. The objective is to make the world that young people inhabit predictable, safe, and secure against sadness, pain and, perhaps most important of all, failure.

Young snowflakes who are upset by the above will need to chill out with their legal recreational marijuana and/or medical marijuana and wait for this old guy to die!

The author, presumably fluent in at least three languages, loves to look how people use words and what that says about them:

From 1840 to 1920 males enrolled in institutes of higher learning were known as “college men.” The interwar period saw the emergence of “college kids,” a term which refers to people of both sexes. Rising steeply, by 2000 it had overtaken “college men” and “college women,” both of which seem to be heading towards obsolescence. There even is something called “college child.” … “trauma,” from the Greek “wound,” used to mean a physical injury. Only after 1945 did it extend into the field of psychology as well. There was a time when “oppression” used to mean “unjust or cruel exercise of authority of power” and was almost always backed up by violence. But now we also have verbal oppression, emotional oppression, psychological oppression, and cultural oppression.

Conversely, anybody who is “offended” and is “upset” immediately becomes a “victim.” The implication is that he, and even more so she, is helpless in front or either bad luck or bad people and cannot defend himself or herself. That in turn has given to three new terms, “victimization,” “victimology” and “victimhood.” The first two took off during the 1960s; the third followed in the 1980s. Since then, it has embarked on an even more spectacular career than its older relatives did. Other words that have moved in the same direction are “abuse” and “survivor.” Combining the two, there is even a book about “verbal abuse survivors” who dare to speak out.

He’s particularly sad about how “courage” has been stretched to cover conduct that entails no physical risk and that is engaged in to benefit oneself.

Stepping back from this, consider that Black Elk was 13 years old when he killed (and scalped) at least one U.S. Army soldier at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He later described how good he felt about this accomplishment, not about suffering PTSD (he was later greatly saddened by his tribe’s defeats, though). Compare to today when parents of teenage boys sue school districts for millions of dollars in cash compensation, claiming that their sons have been irreparably damaged by having sex with a teacher in her 20s or 30s (somewhat lurid example; a more conventional example).

Pussycats was published in mid-2016 and therefore presumably written at least two years ago. Nonetheless, as Natalia noted, it is in sync with the Zeitgeist:

As of 2014 the US military was said to have had more sexual assault response coordinators (SARCs) than it had recruiters. … between 2005 and 2013, almost one third of all officers fired lost their jobs because of sex-related offenses such as adultery and “improper” relationships. … many servicemen are more afraid of being falsely accused of harassment than of the enemy. And with good reason; the number of cases reported each year is incomparably larger than that of troops killed in action.

This is consistent with my experience visiting a local Air Force base at least weekly (our flight school helicopters live in a hangar on the military side of Hanscom Field). Every building has at least a few posters about sexual assault, but I’ve never seen a poster advocating for aggression against the enemy (or even for any kind of success against an enemy).

Why can’t Americans work together or have sex without needing to lawyer up and sue?

As political scientist Francis Fukuyama pointed out, the breakdown of trust is one of the outstanding characteristics of many if not most modern societies. As so often, the US heads the list. Many causes contribute to the phenomenon. First, there is the kind of suburbanization that has vastly increased the average distance between houses.

Coming next, there is geographical mobility. About one in six Americans move home each year. That is two times the British figure, four times the German one, and almost five times the Chinese one. What is more, the average distance to which they move is increasing, causing whatever social ties existed to be cut. Turnover at work is also much higher. People are constantly coming and going without bonding or even trying to do so. Such is the breakdown of trust that a would-be Good Samaritan is much more likely to be sued for providing the wrong kind of assistance than to be rewarded for his or her efforts.

Where trust is in short supply, lawyers are needed. At the turn of the millennium the number of lawyers in America was estimated at 750,000. That works out to one for every 373 members of the population,

The military has become even more litigious than the rest of the U.S.:

In Afghanistan and other places, surely shooters are in greater demand than pen-pushers. Nevertheless, back in 1998 the US Army had 4,438 active-duty lawyers. During the same year the number of men and women wearing the green uniform stood at 440,000. Even when we subtract the one quarter of the general population who are under eighteen and presumably not in need of legal assistance, proportionally the Army had almost three times as many lawyers per person as civilian society does.

The author charts with dismay the rise of women in the military:

As manpower shortages developed during World War I, first the British and then the Americans allowed women to volunteer for the forces. To prevent what, at that time, was known as “moral corruption” and is now known as “sexual harassment,” they served in their own separate corps. They could neither be sent abroad against their will nor serve in combat.

The situation in World War II was broadly similar. In both Britain and the US, the range of MOS (military occupation specialties) open to women grew.

Up to the late 1960s women only formed 1.2 percent of the Forces. … What started changing the situation was the War in Vietnam. Hard-pressed to fill their insatiable demand for manpower without mobilizing the reserves, in 1967 the Forces decided to turn to women as a partial solution to their problems. The two-percent cap was removed and the first female general officer got her star. Between 1973 and 1976 alone, women’s share in the Forces more than doubled from three to seven percent.

The second factor behind the process was the growth of feminism, especially the kind known as “liberal” or “equity” feminism, from the mid-1960s on; the third, the growing shift, all over the West, away from conscription toward all-volunteer forces.

In 1978 the position of commander, women’s corps, was abolished. Women were incorporated into the normal military chain of command … Women’s separate bases were also closed and women’s living quarters integrated with those of men. As a result, instead of being largely segregated, members of the two sexes now often occupied separate floors in the same building.

in both the US and Britain servicewomen seem to enjoy easier access to commissioned rank. … proportionally more of them are found in various rear-services, especially such as require an academic education, special training, or special skills. … The final outcome is that combat troops, aka “grunts,” do not form a privileged group as they deserve to be and as, in any military worth its salt, they have always been. To the contrary: They are discriminated against in favor of better-educated personnel, especially women.

Much of a military woman’s experience is the result of litigation:

Cushman v. Crawford (1976) enabled pregnant women to remain in the service and return to it after giving birth—a privilege, incidentally, neither required by American labor law nor by any means granted by all of America’s civilian employers. Next, Owens v. Brown (1978) forced the Navy to open additional ships to women.

Creveld states that women, on average, are not as big and strong as men (he would surely have been fired from Google for saying this! (which reminds me… what is the Google Heretic doing now? He has been pushed out of the news by the Hollywood Cleansing and that is kind of sad)):

women are less well adapted to war. Thinner skulls, lighter bone ridges, and weaker jawbones provide them with less protection against blows. Shorter arms make it harder for women to draw weapons from their scabbards, stab with them, and throw them. Women’s legs are shorter and set at a different angle from those of men. The outcome is to make them less suitable both for sprinting and for running long distances. … The only relevant physical advantages women possess is that they are apparently less subject to altitude sickness. Since they have proportionally more body fat, they also endure cold better.

At West Point during the early eighties, women suffered ten times as many stress fractures as did men. One study found that women were more than twice as likely to suffer leg injuries and nearly five times as likely to suffer fractures as men. Injury also caused women to sustain five times as many days of limited duty as did men. Women at the Air Force Academy visited doctors’ clinics four times as often as men did. They suffered nine times as many shin splints, five times as many stress fractures, and more than five times as many cases of tendonitis.

This is consistent with my personal knowledge. A friend who attended West Point was essentially forced to play softball at a near-professional level (every cadet has to do something intense with sports). She required shoulder surgery within a year or two.

But on the other hand… so what? If war is flying an Apache helicopter with two fingers, why can’t a woman do that just as well as any man? The Soviet “Night Witches” seem to have been as competent as male pilots. In modern times, see Patty Wagstaff, for example, for a female pilot whose stick-and-rudder skills far exceed 99 percent of male pilots. If the next war is flying a swarm of drones from a desk, why does a soldier need a thick skull?

On the other hand, the actual way that women are incorporated into Western militaries is not obviously consistent with the equality feminism that was popular back in my youth:

During World War II, in all countries that allowed women to volunteer for the military, those who became pregnant were discharged. Later, when women’s roles in the services started expanding during the 1970s, the authorities took a similar line without, apparently, spending too much thought on the matter. That, for example, was what the British Forces did between 1978 and 1990, only to discover that discharging pregnant personnel was against European Law. The upshot was that 4,100 women, some retired, some still serving, went to the courts and demanded compensation. Some 2,400 women got their way and received sums that ranged as high as $ 600,000.

During one six-year period when the Army was deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq some two hundred pregnant British servicewomen had to be evacuated.

In the US things were no different. Partly because they recognized the medical implications of pregnancy, partly because they found it impossible to stand up to feminist pressure, and partly because of the usual fear of liability, the Forces have granted pregnant servicewomen a whole series of privileges. … they may not be deployed overseas or aboard ship. They have the right to be separated from the Services … exemption from the physical readiness program both during pregnancy itself and for six months following delivery; … In some cases, it has been claimed, women got pregnant in order to be sent home. It is, indeed, quite possible that servicewomen’s wishes to avoid deployment to undesirable places such as Afghanistan and Iraq is at least partly responsible for the rise in the number of (allegedly) accidental pregnancies—notwithstanding the issue of free contraceptives, and notwithstanding that the women surveyed said that they were easy to obtain. As of 2008 the number of such pregnancies was proportionally twice as high as in the civilian world.

Even when women don’t bail out via pregnancy, Creveld says that they are mostly exempt from combat as a practical matter (sometimes women can volunteer for combat assignments). And if they break the rules they won’t be disciplined as harshly as a man would be.

As a practical matter, how does an American military woman get out of deployment via pregnancy? What if she isn’t married? Creveld explains that the U.S. has a Uniform Code of Military Justice, which categorizes a married service member having sex with someone other than his or her spouse as “adultery” and “inappropriate conduct”. However, an unmarried military woman who has sex with a local already-married dentist won’t be violating any rules (and, depending on the state, may harvest child support well in excess of any military pay!). As of 2013, the U.S. military had thus accumulated 156,000 “single parents” (“the great majority of whom are women”) and “Military women are much more likely to be divorced than civilian women.” Creveld suspects that the single parents are not actually willing or able to be deployed and therefore are very likely to become “unintentionally” pregnant, but that the military stopped collecting data on these phenomena in 2008 (too embarrassing!).

Creveld says that women in the U.S. military generate an epic quantity of litigation and administrative complaints:

As one female American pilot put it to me some years ago: “Sexual harassment is what I decide to report to my superiors.” In other words, any advance except those that are welcomed and taken up.

the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first of their kind in which women were deployed in any numbers. Not accidentally, they also generated a hitherto unknown kind of casualty among the troops. Meet the newest disease: MST (military-sexual trauma). Spreading like wildfire, practically all the victims are female.

So unable to look after themselves were many servicewomen in Afghanistan and Iraq that, according to one source, seventy-one percent were sexually assaulted, and thirty percent raped. At night they even had to be escorted to the toilets—by men

Creveld seems to want to go back to a time when war was a manly activity, soldiers were manly, and women had their own barracks. Part of the book implies that if only we could get women out of the military and therefore stop spending 80 percent of our military energy on adjudicating sexual assault allegations we would have a fierce fighting machine that would strike fear into the hearts of our enemies. Yet this is inconsistent with a long section on how a large percentage of men leaving the U.S. military are being diagnosed with PTSD. The men-children of modern day American are permanently damaged by even the slightest brush with war. He approvingly cites General James Mattis, now Secretary of Defense:

While victimhood in America is exalted I don’t think our veterans should join those ranks. There is also something called post traumatic growth where you come out of a situation like that and you actually feel kinder toward your fellow man and fellow woman. We are going to have to have young people in our country who are willing to go toe to toe with this because two irreconcilable wills exist. There is no room for military people, including our veterans, to see themselves as victims even if so many of our countrymen are prone to relish that role.

Statistically it seems that there actually is quite a bit of room for veterans without physical injuries to be considered victims. “Is PTSD Contagious?” (Mother Jones) discusses the extent to which spouses and children of PTSD-disabled veterans can themselves be considered disabled by PTSD (and get on the federal payroll).

As with most American journalists, Creveld isn’t careful with the economics of PTSD and disability and therefore sometimes compares statistics from years where different rules and payouts were used.

“More vets could get PTSD compensation under rule change” (Stripes, 2010):

Veterans could find an easier path to receiving disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder under new rules expected to take effect as early as next week. … Under current rules, troops who served in combat roles and later suffered post-traumatic stress disorder were assumed to have a service-related illness. But those who didn’t serve on the front lines needed documentation and witness testimony to prove their illness was connected to their service. … Under the new rule, claims adjusters will be instructed to accept any valid PTSD diagnosis as combat related if the veteran can prove they served in a war zone and provide basic evidence of their role there. The change would also apply to past wars, meaning Vietnam veterans could benefit from the change. The VA has seen a dramatic rise in PTSD disability claims over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; from fiscal 1999 to fiscal 2008, the number increased from 120,000 to 345,520.

VA officials have planned a press conference to detail the new rules on Monday, when the changes become official. They’ve also planned a public push to explain to veterans how to apply for the additional compensation.

“Triple-Dipping: Thousands of Veterans Receive More than $ 100,000 in Benefits Every Year” (Heritage Foundation, 2014):

Until 2003, military retirees were prohibited from collecting full Defense Department retirement and VA disability benefits simultaneously. … Policy changes in 2004 allowed Defense Department retirees to collect benefits from both programs simultaneously. … Since enactment of the concurrent-receipt policy, the share of military retirees who also receive VA disability benefits rose from 33 percent in 2005 to 47 percent in 2013. Eligible veterans who receive military retirement pay and VA disability compensation may further supplement their income with Social Security disability benefits.

Census data show that each generation of veterans is more disabled than the previous one (report), but given that the cash incentives for becoming disabled keep changing, I don’t think it makes sense to compare the generations as Creveld sometimes does. He’s right that an American soldier circa 2018 is more likely to become “disabled” by working at a desk at a supply base than was his counterpart in 1918 being shelled in a trench. But how can we be sure that this indicates a change in national character as Creveld implies? Maybe American men in 1918 would have delighted to cash disability checks then go home to play Xbox.

So… getting back to Natalia’s question. I’m a child of the Equality Feminism era. So it is tough to sell me on the idea that an organization can be improved by kicking out the women, as Creveld seems to suggest. Also, I don’t think it is fair to blame women for the fact that American military men are keen to join the “Check of the Month club” (what an Air Force officer told me was the main motivation for fighter pilots going to work every day; he is now commanding a squadron of  F-15s) and perhaps to collect all three checks that the government is willing to hand out for anyone who can qualify as a victim of PTSD.

Instead of telling Americans that at least some subset of them need to “man up” and/or that a government function will be “reformed,” I think it is more sensible to budget for the trends of the past 100 years continuing. Just assume that every person recruited into the military is going to quality for disability benefits (like 97 percent of Long Island Railroad workers). That’s the real cost of recruiting a soldier in 21st century America. Once we know the real cost we can decide how large a military we want to fund.

More: read Pussycats: Why The Rest Keeps Beating The West, And What Can Be Done About It.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Book of the Year

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a laudatory post about I book I was halfway done reading called The Patterning Instinct. Now that I’ve finished reading the entire book, I want to say once again that not only is it terrific, but it’s got to be one of the best books I’ve ever […]
Slope of Hope

Review of Ellen Pao’s book

“The Self-Styled Martyr of Silicon Valley: The odd tale of Ellen Pao” (Commentary) is a review of Ellen Pao’s Reset book (see Ellen Pao writes something kind of interesting). The review summarizes the facts:

Pao is a former corporate attorney and Silicon Valley entrepreneur who went to work for the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins and then, in 2012, filed a $ 16 million gender-discrimination lawsuit against it. She alleged workplace retaliation by a partner at the firm with whom she had a brief affair. Then she alleged that she was fired in retaliation for the lawsuit. Potential damages could have run as high as $ 144 million.

Is it true that she was an “entrepreneur”? Wikipedia says that she worked for a couple of established companies, such as BEA Systems, prior to joining Kleiner Perkins. Is any non-government job in the U.S. now considered “entrepreneurship”? [And remember that she could have made a lot more than $ 144 million without risking an unfavorable jury verdict; see Litigious Minds Think Alike: Divorce litigators react to the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins lawsuit]

Apparently Pao is working her kid pretty hard for the book, having the sad little nine-year-old wonder about the gender balance of a “coding camp.” (Did this happen organically? I’ve seen a lot of gender-unbalanced groups of children and never heard one comment on the gender balance.)

We learn that Pao is a good example of The Son Also Rises and also regression to the mean. Her parents both have engineering PhDs; Pao earned a bachelor’s in engineering and then a law degree.

Based on my experience as a software expert witness, Pao’s description of big law firm life isn’t recognizable:

Pao goes to work for Cravath, Swaine & Moore, … one male partner would always lose his copy of the documents they were working on and would have to look over the shoulder of one of his female underlings. She saw him one day staring down the shirt of one of her female colleagues …. In another instance, “a senior partner would… plant himself just outside the doorway of my colleague’s office, licking an ice cream cone while staring at her.”

Perhaps due to the fact that law firms bill by the hour, I’ve never seen one lawyer simply stand in a hallway for any reason.

The reviewer is as skeptical as the jury regarding Pao’s stated reasons for her failure to make senior partner at Kleiner:

This is all perfectly believable [including the senior partner putting on a display of idleness for everyone else at Cravath to see?], but the problem is that things went downhill for Pao when she started sleeping with one of the other partners—one Ajit Nazre, who was married and had children. … how old do you have to be before you recognize yourself as a walking cliché? Sleeping with a married guy at the office who promises to leave his wife for you?

Apparently estimating the probability of your married sex partner suing his or her spouse is not a subject taught at Princeton or Harvard!

Pao’s conversion (as seen in Bruno) of Buddy Fletcher from homosexual to heterosexual is touched on only lightly in the review: “Fletcher had relationships with men before he married Pao.” This review is the first place that I’ve seen a description of Mr. Fletcher blazing a trail recently followed by some Hollywood celebrities:

It’s no surprise that Pao’s book doesn’t get into the fact that Fletcher himself has been accused of sexual harassment and discrimination by employees. In 2003, Fletcher was sued by a man he’d hired to manage his home in Connecticut. The man alleged that Fletcher made sexual advances toward him. A few years later, Fletcher was sued by another property manager, who claimed he had been fired after refusing Fletcher’s sexual advances. Both men reached confidential settlements with Fletcher.

Who else loves Ellen Pao as much as I do? “The case did make Pao a feminist talking point for a time. She notes that she earned praise from Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg for her brave stance.”

In some ways the most interesting part of the review is that proof by repetition succeeds. The author of the review is Naomi Schaefer Riley. Her Wikipedia page indicates no technical training and no experience ever working for a tech firm or even living in a part of the country with a significant tech industry presence. But she feels comfortable talking about the bad stuff that happens in Silicon Valley:

For all her faults, Pao is not wrong about the “brogrammer” atmosphere at these companies. … At many Silicon Valley firms, men really do act like they are in a college dorm. Their conversations and behavior are completely inappropriate for work,

How does Ms. Riley know that the 35-year-old programmers vesting-in-peace at Google are partying like fraternity brothers? What is the evidence that the typical Silicon Valley firm includes “conversations and behavior” that are more “inappropriate” than what might occur in a car dealership or an airline crew lounge?


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Hollywood book idea: I went to this married guy’s hotel room and then…

As with the stories told by plaintiffs suing Bill Cosby, it seems that a lot of the stories about Harvey Weinstein begin with a consensual trip to the at-the-time-powerful mogul’s hotel room.

For example, “‘I had to defend myself’: the night Harvey Weinstein jumped on me” (by Léa Seydoux in the Guardian):

When I first met Harvey Weinstein, it didn’t take me long to figure him out. We were at a fashion show. He was charming, funny, smart – but very domineering. He wanted to meet me for drinks and insisted we had to make an appointment that very night. This was never going to be about work. He had other intentions – I could see that very clearly.

He invited me to come to his hotel room for a drink. We went up together. It was hard to say no because he’s so powerful.

How about this for the title of a book with collected stories about Hollywood: I went to this married guy’s hotel room and then…

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Get Your Copy of the Big Book of Pro Trading Strategies Today

I’m excited to announce that I contributed an in-depth chapter to the new “Big Book of Professional Trading Strategies” which was just released.

You can grab your own personal copy free!

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I discuss the “TCZ Trend Confirmation Trading” Strategy for you as my contribution.

You’ll also learn tactics, trade set-ups, information, and ideas from 17 other professional traders as we share our favorite trades with you.

Don’t miss out!  This strategy guide is free for now.  Download your copy here.

I’m honored to contribute to this strategy guide and hope you pick up a few new actionable trading ideas from it!





Afraid to Blog

Never Call Me a Hero book on dive bombing at Midway

I listened to Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway (Jack “Dusty” Kleiss) on Audible.

Kleiss graduates from the Naval Academy in 1938 and, at a salary of about $ 24,000 per year in today’s dollars, serves on destroyers doing “neutral” patrols in the Atlantic after World War II had started, but before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Sailings are delayed for months by union workers trying to get paid more (going so far as to run off with critical components of the ship that have to be retrieved by armed Marines) and incompetence in ship handling leading to damaged turbines and running aground. Once out in the water, the test-firing of a destroyer’s 4-inch guns goes awry when it is discovered that nobody remembered to clean out the cosmoline. Peacetime duty had some hazards, e.g., commercial boat captains in the New York area would seek to smash into Navy vessels in such a way that a lawsuit could claim that it was the Navy ship’s fault. A year of litigation would ensue with at least some damages ultimately paid.

Kleiss served on the carrier Enterprise and flew the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. A bomb run required opening a window to help with air pressure equalization, taking a dose of ephedrine via the nose (same purpose), and then nosing over to 240 knots for the dive at more than 10,000 feet-per-minute. Pulling out of the dive imposed 6-8Gs on the pilot and rear-seat gunner.

Kleiss’s most serious injuries occur prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His squadron is helping to make a Hollywood film. The senior officer, to simulate being hit by the enemy, is supposed to roll and dive out of the formation and then release hydrofluoric acid to create the appearance of flames and smoke coming out of the plane. Instead the pilot of the lead plane released the acid first, right into Kleiss’s plane and face, and rolls/dives second. Kleiss barely managed to get the plane back on the ground and then spent nine days in the hospital for burn treatment.

Kleiss chronicles a tremendous number of takeoff and landing accidents, consistent with the Air Force statistics cited in Unbroken: “In World War II, 35,933 AAF planes were lost in combat and accidents. The surprise of the attrition rate is that only a fraction of the ill-fated planes were lost in combat. In 1943 in the Pacific Ocean Areas theater in which Phil’s crew served, for every plane lost in combat, some six planes were lost in accidents. Over time, combat took a greater toll, but combat losses never overtook noncombat losses.”

Kleiss is humble about his own role in the Battle of Midway. He says that, as one of the lead dive bombers, he was able to target a Japanese carrier before it was engulfed in smoke and flames from previous bomb hits. Also, as one of the lead planes he used less fuel keeping up in the formation and therefore was able to make it back to the carrier with a few gallons of gasoline in the tanks (1 percent of the total fuel available!), unlike squadron-mates who had to ditch.

Kleiss attributes much of the U.S. success in the Battle of Midway to code-breaking. We knew roughly where and when to expect the Japanese fleet. He attributes most of the losses to incompetence. Kleiss says that everyone in the Navy knew that the Mark 13 torpedo was useless, unable to hit even static ships in a harbor. His best friend dies as part of the “40 out of 44 torpedo bombers were lost at the Battle of Midway without scoring a single hit” (Wikipedia) and he has never gotten over this squandering of human life. Most of the dive bombers and crews that were lost were similarly due to incompetence/disorganization. The Enterprise planes were ordered to circle after takeoff to form up with dive bombers from another carrier. This wasted 40 minutes of fuel to achieve something that Kleiss said had no practical value (it was easier to attack in smaller groups). In any case, nothing was achieved because the other planes never showed up. Thus did the dive bombers head out to the extreme edge of their range minus 40 minutes of fuel and a lot of them ditched within about 30 minutes of the carrier.

As with Stefan Cavallo, World War II test pilot, who said “By our mid-20s nearly all of us were in what would turn out to be lifelong marriages and we already had kids,” (see What does the Greatest Generation think of us?) Kleiss married his first sweetheart, had five kids with her (two of whom were born during World War II), and the marriage ended with her death from cancer.

Kleiss served for roughly six months in combat and then worked stateside training Navy pilots before enrolling in a Navy-run engineering school. He says that the Navy tended to promote pilots based on bureaucratic accomplishments, such as hours flown, rather than actual proficiency. This was one of the things that led him to abandon flight operations in favor of engineering. Kleiss was enthusiastic about some of the top admirals, however, particular Bill Halsey, whom he describes as being able to remember personal details about all 2,000+ crewmembers of a carrier. Kleiss describes Halsey confronting officers who appeared in their dress white uniforms and saying “Go back to your cabin and change into khakis. This is a working ship.”

The book is interesting because it reminds us of how rapidly military technology becomes obsolete. We couldn’t put any autonomous guidance into the bombs so we risked smart humans to drop dumb bombs accurately. Wikipedia says that the great age of dive bombing lasted only a few years, mostly replaced by rockets. The bombs that were sufficient to sink the Japanese carriers were mostly 500 lb. and 100 lb., easily delivered today by a drone (see the Tomahawk, for example, which can carry 1,000 lbs.). Given that it takes 20+ years to develop a new military aircraft it is tough to imagine that a human-piloted airplane developed today could ever have military value.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Helicopters Explained for Curious Children (Kindle book)


Helicopters Explained for Curious Children is now available as a Kindle book (paperback eventually). If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber can you please download and give some feedback (technical or content-related).

If you’re not a Kindle Unlimited subscriber and buy it and don’t love it I’ll be happy to personally refund your $ 1.99 via PayPal!

Thanks in advance for any comments.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Code Warriors (book about the NSA)

Code Warriors: NSA’s Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union (Budiansky 2016) is an interesting book despite the challenge of getting information about the NSA. It is timely because of the recent Wikileaks release regarding the CIA’s efforts to get hold of messages on smartphones before they are encrypted.

I had no idea that Edward Snowden relied on a social attack to get information:

In May 2013, a twenty-nine-year-old computer security expert who had worked for three months as a $ 200,000-a-year contractor for the National Security Agency in Hawaii told his employer he needed to take a leave of absence for “a couple of weeks” to receive treatment for the epileptic condition he had recently been diagnosed with. On May 20, Edward J. Snowden boarded a flight to Hong Kong, carrying with him computer drives to which he had surreptitiously copied thousands of classified intelligence documents.

It was a move he had been secretly preparing for some time, having secured the job with the specific aim of gaining access to classified NSA material. (He was ultimately able to do so only by duping more than twenty coworkers into giving him their computer passwords, which he said he needed for his duties as a systems administrator; most of the colleagues whom he betrayed were subsequently fired.)

Can it really be as easy to get a password from an NSA employee with a top-secret clearance as it is to get one from a 93-year-old AOL user? Apparently the answer is “yes”!

Since “women doing jobs involving numbers” is newsworthy today…

More than 70 percent of the staff at Arlington Hall were civilians, and by the war’s end more than 90 percent of those were women. A similar balance of the sexes quickly took hold at the Navy’s signals intelligence headquarters, across the Potomac River. The Navy had a deep tradition of never permitting a situation to arise where an officer might have to take orders from a civilian, and insisted on putting all of its new hires in uniform. But with its establishment in summer 1942 of the WAVES—Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, which allowed women to serve in the Navy as officers and enlisted personnel—the service was also able to freely recruit women for codebreaking duty, and some 80 percent of its cryptanalysts by the war’s end were female.

It is doubtful that Uber will be resurrecting one particular NSA tradition:

A photograph in NSA’s historical files from this period showed the finalists in the annual Miss NSA beauty pageant, the contestants in evening gowns and each wearing a sash bearing the number of the section they worked in.

Contrary to Hollywood portrayals, the smartest people may also be the nicest…

Von Neumann had been an intellectual prodigy as a child, able to divide eight-digit numbers in his head at age six. Throughout his life he could effortlessly recite entire books verbatim after a single reading, and equally effortlessly provide a running translation in any number of languages. Years later, after he got to know him well, Goldstine tried to test von Neumann by asking him how Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities begins. He was still going fifteen minutes later, without pause, when Goldstine finally stopped him. As a scientist, von Neumann had made seminal contributions to a bewildering array of fields, including game theory, quantum mechanics, economics, topology, and the theory of shock waves.

That day on the train platform the younger man, with some temerity, approached his world-famous colleague and introduced himself: Fortunately for me von Neumann was a warm, friendly person who did his best to make people feel relaxed in his presence.

The exciting age of code-breaking turns out to have mostly ended during World War II. The NSA funded a lot of powerful computers, but combinatorics worked against them.

The IBM 701, which IBM originally called the “Defense Calculator,” was much more of a number-cruncher designed to meet the needs of Los Alamos’s nuclear weapons designers, meteorologists at the U.S. Weather Bureau, and ballistics engineers at the Army’s ordnance labs. The new IBM machine that the company was now proposing was turning into the same bait and switch. In the summer of 1955, NSA agreed to provide IBM the $ 800,000 in funding it needed to develop the high-speed core memory that was to be the heart of the new “Stretch” computer. But meanwhile IBM also negotiated a deal with the Atomic Energy Commission to supply Los Alamos with a Stretch computer, too, for a fixed price of $ 4.3 million; then the company’s top management began to insist that whatever the final design, it had to be marketable to commercial users as well. “As usual the agency has a firm hold on the IBM leash and is being dragged down the street,” an NSA engineer assigned to keep tabs on the company’s work reported as the project progressed.

By the time the first machine was delivered to NSA in 1962, the price of the project had ballooned to $ 19 million, which did not include $ 1 million for supplies such as magnetic tapes and cartridges; $ 4.2 million for training, additional personnel, and software development; $ 196,045 for “installation”; and $ 765,000 a year in rental fees. IBM had resolved the problem of building a computer that could simultaneously serve scientific, cryptanalytic, and commercial customers by designing a flexible central processor, a high-speed arithmetic add-on unit for the AEC, and an add-on streaming unit for NSA, modeled on Abner’s “Swish” function. The special NSA add-on was called “Harvest,” which eventually became the name of the whole system; its official designation was the IBM 7950.

“There is not nearly enough energy in the universe to power the computer” that could test every setting of such a rotor machine, which had an effective cryptanalytic keyspace on the order of 1044. Even the “more modest undertaking” of recovering the setting of an individual message enciphered on such a machine whose internal configuration has already been recovered, which would involve testing about 1016 possibilities, would cost $ 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 per message for the electricity required to power any known or projected computing devices.55 (In 1998 a $ 250,000 machine built with 1,856 custom-made chips successfully carried out an exhaustive key search on the 56-bit key DES encryption system—a keyspace slightly greater than 1016—in two days. But a 128-bit key, with a keyspace of the order 1038, can be shown to resist an exhaustive search even by the most theoretically energy-efficient computer that the laws of physics permit.)

With the exception of a short-lived and still-classified 1979 breakthrough using Cray-1 supercomputers against Soviet codes, the modern age is all about sifting through massive volumes of plain-language communications, planting bugs to get plaintext prior to encryption, and recruiting spies.

For decades, standard histories of the air war in Korea attributed the sudden improvement in mid-1951 in the kill ratio achieved by American fighter pilots against Chinese MiG-15 jets to the arrival of the new and more capable American F-86. During the final year of the war U.S. fighters shot down 345 MiGs in air battles with a loss of only 18 F-86s, a kill ratio of 19 to 1. In fact, the real breakthrough had come from pulling together all of the signals intelligence sources in one center so that they could be rapidly correlated and passed on to fighters in the air. “The present top-heavy success of the F-86 against MiG-15s dates almost from the day of the inception of the new integrated [signals intelligence] service,” reported an officer involved in the operation. On one day, a visiting ASA colonel observed the system in action as 15 MiGs were shot down without a single loss by U.S. F-86s. With more enthusiasm than originality, the colonel said it was “just like shooting ducks in a rain barrel,” but it was an unmistakable demonstration of the incredible force multiplier that the signal interception and reporting system had provided: not a single one of the MiGs was tracked on U.S. radar during the course of the battle; all of the information passed to U.S. pilots had come from listening, in real time, to the communications of the enemy controllers and planes.39 An analysis of ground control traffic in June 1952 concluded that more than 90 percent of MiGs engaged in air operations over Korea were being flown by Russians.

The most famous penetration of the U.S. embassy was the Great Seal bug, also discovered during Kennan’s ambassadorship. Having requested a thorough sweep of his residence and the embassy, Kennan was sent a security team from Washington. To check for any voice-activated bugs, one of the technicians asked the ambassador to sit at his desk at Spaso House after hours and go through the motions of dictating a letter to his secretary. Kennan, with a certain touch of humor, chose to read from his 1936 cable in which he did nothing but recycle his predecessor’s dispatches from czarist Russia to show that nothing had changed under the Communist regime. Suddenly detecting a UHF signal coming from behind Kennan’s desk, the technician began hacking at the wall behind a wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States that hung there. He then turned his hammer to the seal itself and pulled from behind the carved eagle’s beak a three-quarter-inch-diameter diaphragm-covered cylinder, attached to a short rod antenna.10 The seal had been presented as a gift from Russian schoolchildren to Ambassador Averell Harriman in 1945 and had hung there ever since. The American engineers who discovered it dubbed it “the Thing.” Its principle of operation was ingenious. The Thing was entirely passive, requiring no power supply and giving off no signal itself until it was illuminated by a microwave radio beam aimed from an adjoining building. As the diaphragm vibrated in and out in response to sound waves coming from the room, it minutely changed the shape, and thus the resonant frequency, of the cavity formed by the small cylinder. That slight distuning of a resonant frequency around 1800 MHz caused the strength of one of the harmonics of the incoming illuminating signal to fluctuate, producing a modulated radio signal of the same kind generated by an AM radio transmitter. The resulting signal could be picked up from a nearby location outside the building.

How did Americans find Soviet spies in their midst? “The science was settled” on the polygraph:

“The Director has repeatedly emphasized his firm conviction that the polygraph is more reliable and more protective of security than the background investigation,” his deputy for administration wrote in a 1956 memorandum that argued for periodically polygraphing existing civilian employees as well, to probe for “membership in subversive organizations,” “association with known or suspected subversives,” and unauthorized disclosure of classified information. …  The trouble, aside from the abuse of privacy and due process inherent in the whole business, was that conscientious but perfectly innocent people tended to show a “deceptive” response in the standard polygraph examination, while pathological liars sailed through. In their zeal to clear the initial backlog of pending clearances, NSA scoured police departments and private detective agencies around the country to hire supposed polygraph experts to administer the tests, which took place in hastily erected soundproof rooms at the U Street building.

How well did it work?

Staff Sergeant Jack E. Dunlap was the holder of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for “coolness under fire and sincere devotion to duty” in the Korean War. On July 22, 1963, he was found sitting dead in his car at his home near NSA headquarters, a length of radiator hose from the exhaust pipe running through the right front window and the engine idling. A month later his widow turned over to Army investigators a pile of classified documents from the attic of their home. She said her husband had told her that since mid-1960 he had been meeting a member of the Soviet embassy staff at rendezvous around Washington; in exchange for $ 40,000 he had supplied documents and hundreds of rolls of film containing pictures he had taken of classified material.

Dunlap’s motive was money pure and simple. He had walked into the Soviet embassy to offer his services, and the air attaché, Mikhail N. Kostyuk, had been all too happy to make the deal on behalf of the GRU.

Three months before his suicide, after applying for conversion to civilian employment at NSA, Dunlap admitted on a polygraph examination to having had “immoral sexual relations” with women and was moved to a “nonsensitive” position.

On an Army sergeant’s salary of $ 100 a week, he owned two Cadillacs, a baby-blue Jaguar sports car, a thirty-foot cabin cruiser, and a world-class racing hydroplane; he told coworkers a series of contradictory and patently fantastic stories to account for his sudden wealth, including that his father owned a large plantation in Louisiana, that he had made a successful investment in filling stations, that he owned land containing a valuable mineral used to make cosmetics, and that he had won the money as prizes in boat races. Nor did it exactly require a polygraph examination to uncover the fact that a married NSA employee who had begun dating an NSA secretary was possibly engaging in “immoral sexual relations.”

It seems to be tough to keep secrets in a country where people will do anything for cash. One of the big sellouts was “Ronald Pelton, an NSA cryptanalyst and Russian linguist who had worked on the agency’s most sensitive collection projects. … In exchange for $ 35,000 (he had asked for $ 400,000), he had arranged to meet with KGB officials at the Soviet embassy in Vienna on two occasions, submitting to lengthy interrogations. He told them about A Group’s success in breaking Soviet cipher machines, U.S. SIGINT satellites that targeted microwave telephone links throughout the Soviet Union, the U.S. embassy listening post, and an extremely secret Navy-NSA project that had deployed a submarine to install a tap on an undersea cable used by the Soviet Pacific Fleet’s headquarters in Vladivostok for its operational communications. The Soviets responded in 1981 by making an across-the-board change in their military encryption systems, bombarding the U.S. embassy with microwave jamming signals, and dispatching a salvage vessel to retrieve the cable tap from the floor of the Sea of Okhotsk.” Even after adjusting for CPI, that’s still only $ 93,502 in today’s mini-dollars, less than a tenth of what a Massachusetts child support plaintiff could get after having sex with someone earning $ 250,000 per year.

The author blames our entry into the Vietnam War, to some extent, on misinterpretation of signals intelligence:

Lyndon Johnson was fascinated by signals intelligence. Like no world leader since Winston Churchill, Johnson constantly demanded to see the actual translations of individual intercepted messages.

The South Vietnamese government was led by a corrupt regime that refused to hold elections and was made up largely of refugees from the North who had fled Ho’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam; nearly all were Catholics and former soldiers or police officers of the French colonial government, and to many of the indigenous and primarily Buddhist South Vietnamese, they represented nothing more than a continuation of the hated colonial rule.

Then, on the night of August 4, [1964] eighteen hours after the initial skirmish—“the darkest night I’d ever seen at sea,” in the words of one of the Maddox’s radar operators, in rough seas with a heavy chop, with a low overcast sky—the Maddox and a second destroyer, the Turner Joy, fired hundreds of rounds in a wild, four-hour-long zigzagging encounter in which their crews claimed to have seen gun flashes, searchlights, torpedo wakes, and radar and sonar contacts indicating attacks by multiple enemy boats that fired twenty-six torpedoes. A welter of confusing and contradictory evidence in the ensuing few hours cast doubt on the whole incident. For one thing, the entire known North Vietnamese force of twelve torpedo boats could have fired at most twenty-four torpedoes. The Turner Joy’s far more experienced sonarman had detected no torpedo contacts. Neither ship had suffered any visible damage. The radar contacts had appeared and disappeared at all points of the compass; not a single continuous track was followed. The white streaks in the water that some crewmen reported, Herrick quickly determined, had been nothing but the churning created by the American ships’ own wild evasive maneuvers, dodging nonexistent torpedoes. Air patrols reported they had not seen any enemy vessels or wakes.

It was at that moment, with orders for the retaliatory airstrikes pending, that McNamara decided to become his own intelligence analyst in earnest, seizing on two signals intelligence reports that had just come in: one was a Critic from Phu Bai issued the night of August 4 reporting POSS DRV NAVAL OPERATION PLANNED AGAINST THE DESOTO PATROL TONITE 04 AUG. The second, which arrived at the White House just two hours after Herrick’s message casting doubt on the whole business, appeared to be an after-action report from an unidentified North Vietnamese naval authority: SHOT DOWN TWO PLANES IN THE BATTLE AREA. WE HAD SACRIFICED TWO SHIPS AND ALL THE REST ARE OKAY. THE ENEMY SHIP COULD ALSO HAVE BEEN DAMAGED.

The information NSA provided on the August 2 attack had shown the agency at its nimble best: it had decoded messages in virtual real time, flashed an alert to the commander on the scene in time to give him tactical warning, and had sent the White House within hours crucial additional evidence that the attack might have been an unauthorized adventure by an overly aggressive North Vietnamese patrol. Its reporting on the August 4 phantom attack that precipitated America’s large-scale military intervention in Vietnam was another matter. McNamara undeniably seized and ran with the evidence he wanted to believe, but NSA’s inexperience in intelligence analysis and frantic efforts to supply the White House with information in the heat of crisis was what allowed him to do so. “Everybody was demanding the SIGINT; they wanted it quick, they didn’t want anybody to take any time to analyze it,” said Ray Cline, the CIA deputy director at the time.14 In fact, it had been a leap of complete guesswork on the part of the analyst at Phu Bai who issued the Critic on August 4 that a new attack on the Desoto patrol was about to take place: the actual intercepted North Vietnamese message, which McNamara did not see, referred only to unspecified “operations” by patrol boats that night. And as for the second message, the seemingly even more decisive after-action report, analysts at the NSA watch center later acknowledged that there had been a difference of opinion whether this referred to the earlier August 2 attack or a new incident.

NSA’s subsequent efforts to cover up its mistake turned its sin from venal to mortal; what began as an innocent lapse became an act of deliberate falsification as the agency systematically concealed the truth, issuing a series of summary reports over the following days that backed with obedient certainty the administration’s position even as the evidence pointed completely the other way. Within days NSA analysts were privately convinced that no second attack had occurred. The evidence was overwhelming: unlike on August 2, there had been no tracking reports transmitted by any of the North Vietnamese coastal radar stations on the night of August 4. At the very time the August 4 “attack” message was intercepted, other messages from North Vietnamese boats repeated orders to steer clear of the Desoto patrol altogether and left little doubt that the only “operation” taking place that night was a salvage operation to recover two boats damaged in the August 2 skirmish.

A classified, searingly honest accounting by NSA historian Robert J. Hanyok in 2001 found that in bolstering the administration’s version of events, NSA summary reports made use of only 15 of the relevant intercepts in its files, suppressing 122 others that all flatly contradicted the now “official” version of the August 4 events. Translations were altered; in one case two unrelated messages were combined to make them appear to have been from the same message; one of the NSA summary reports that did include a mention of signals relating to a North Vietnamese salvage operation obfuscated the timing to hide the fact that one of the recovered boats was being taken under tow at the very instant it was supposedly attacking the Maddox and Turner Joy

The book also chronicles our failures during the Vietnam War to anticipate enemy actions such as the Tet Offensive. The Vietnamese were good at intercepting our own signals:

[warnings based on intercepted American radio traffic] had been sent ahead of 90 percent of Rolling Thunder strikes that targeted the northeast quadrant of the country. The warnings were giving North Vietnamese MiG pilots time to scramble and be waiting—and add to the toll of more than nine hundred U.S. aircraft shot down during the three years of Rolling Thunder.

My summary: We can use unbreakable codes, but it is probably better not to try to do anything secret because eventually a spy will rat us out by revealing the plaintext.

More: Read Code Warriors: NSA’s Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

The next book: Tyler Cowen’s sour screed

Atlantic Magazine (“Have Americans Given Up?”) has convinced me that the next book should be The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream by Tyler Cowen.

Readers: Maybe you all can order a copy too and then we can have a virtual book group discussion? We don’t want to be like those Middlebury students or New York Times journalists and complain about a book that we haven’t actually read!

Lending some support to the Atlantic summary of Cowen’s thesis, here are a couple of new products, one from a U.S.-founded company and one from a Korean company (exercise for the reader: guess the current gender identifications of the household members who purchased the respective items).



Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

ePub nerds: Test-fly a Kindle book for us?

Folks who are experts on ePub and .mobi format…  would you mind test-flying an eBook version of Real World Divorce? The web version is derived in semi-real-time from Google Docs (with multiple simultaneous co-authors a convenient collaboration environment was important). It turns out that Google Docs turns out some crazily complex HTML. We strip out some of that for the web version and try to strip more of it with a Perl script for the ePub.

So far it seems to be readable with Calibre and Kindle for PC.

Here are links to the current versions of the files:

Any feedback/corrections/etc. welcomed.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

What did the people in the book Hidden Figures do?

The movie Hidden Figures is out in theaters. We’re planning on going to the theater as soon as our presence is not required in the house every single evening, i.e., in 2033. I looked at the book on which the movie is based last night. This title is Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. I.e., it contains the word “mathematicians.”

I majored in math in college due to a mistaken belief that I was intelligent. So I was eager to see some equations. Yet the book is solid prose. The only numbers are page numbers, basically. Certainly there are no equations. Instead of the festival of LaTeX that I expected, the book could have been authored via text message.

So… what did the NASA employees chronicled in this book actually do?

[Note that I was myself a NASA employee in 1978(!), developing a database management system for Pioneer Venus Orbiter data to support physicists writing analysis code. The PDP-11/70 that I used has disappeared because hardware engineers have made so many advances since the mid-1970s. The computer language that we used, however, which was developed by John Backus in 1957, is alive and well today. What does the survival of Fortran tell us about progress in computer software and computer science?]


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

The latest book: Dreamland

Latest book that I’m reading: Dreamland by Sam Quinones.

The book is about the rise of prescription opiates, such as OxyContin (1996), based on a flawed interpretation of the literature:

One day twenty years earlier, in 1979, a doctor at Boston University School of Medicine named Hershel Jick sat in his office pondering the question of how often patients in a hospital, given narcotic painkillers, grew addicted to these drugs. … Hershel Jick was in a better position than most to gather findings on the topic. At Boston University, he had built a database of records of hospitalized patients. The database charted the effects of drugs of all kinds on these patients while they were in the hospital. … Of almost twelve thousand patients treated with opiates while in a hospital before 1979, and whose records were in the Boston database, only four had grown addicted. There was no data about how often, how long, or at what dose these patients were given opiates, nor the ailments the drugs treated. The paragraph simply cited the numbers and made no claim beyond that. … A graduate student named Jane Porter helped with his calculations in some way that Dr. Jick could not remember years later. As is the practice in medical research papers, she received top byline, though Dr. Jick said he wrote the thing. The secretary put the letter in an envelope and sent it off to the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, which, in due course, in its edition of January 10, 1980, published Dr. Jick’s paragraph on page 123 alongside myriad letters from researchers and physicians from around the country. It bore the title “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated with Narcotics.”

People couldn’t get opiates easily after they left the hospital back in those days so of course only about 1 percent became addicted. These data were cited in support of the idea that you could send Americans home with pills and no supervision and they wouldn’t get addicted to opiates.

The book is also about the genius of an American marketeer and friend to the lover of Asian art:

In 1951, an adman named Arthur Sackler from a little-known marketing firm met with the sales director of a small hundred-year-old chemical concern named Charles Pfizer and Company in New York City. Arthur Mitchell Sackler was thirty-nine and already had a career of achievement as a psychiatrist behind him. … Sackler became a psychiatrist at Creedmoor, a New York mental hospital. There, he wrote more than 150 papers on psychiatry and experimental medicine, and identified some of the chemical causes in schizophrenia and manic depression. He was an antismoking crusader long before it was popular, and prohibited smoking at the companies he would later own.

He switched careers in the 1940s and hired on at William Douglas McAdams, a small, rather staid medical advertising firm. Before long one of his clients was Charles Pfizer and Company, then the world’s largest manufacturer of vitamin C. The company’s newly formed pharmaceutical research department had developed a synthetic antibiotic, first derived from soil bacteria, that it called Terramycin and that had proven effective on more than fifty diseases, including pneumonia. The company was moving from chemical manufacturing to pharmaceuticals. Instead of licensing it to a drug company, Pfizer wanted to sell the antibiotic itself. In the office that day, Sackler told the company’s sales director, Thomas Winn, that with a large enough advertising budget for Terramycin, he could turn Charles Pfizer and Company into a household name among doctors.

Meanwhile, Sackler’s ad writers in New York wrote thousands of postcards meant to appear as if they were from Egypt, Australia, Malta, and elsewhere. They mailed these cards, addressed individually to thousands of U.S. family doctors, pediatricians, and surgeons, describing how Terramycin was combating diseases in these exotic locales—“milk fever” in Malta, “Q fever” in Australia. The cards were signed “Sincerely, Pfizer.” Doctors already known to prescribe a lot of drugs got extra direct mail.

All that combined with the drug’s efficacy to make Terramycin a blockbuster—with forty-five million dollars in sales in 1952. Based on its Terramycin success, Charles Pfizer and Company expanded to thirteen countries, and eventually changed its name to Pfizer.

Sackler’s campaign marked the emergence of modern pharmaceutical advertising, a field that up to then, in the words of one executive, “existed but it didn’t.” Seeing the future, Sackler bought the firm he worked for, William Douglas McAdams. As an aside, he and his brothers also purchased an unknown drug company: Purdue Frederick, formed in the 1890s, during the days of patent medicines, by John Purdue Gray and George Frederick Bingham. The company had limped along since then, and until our story begins to unfold in the 1980s, it was still known mainly for selling antiseptics, a laxative, and an earwax remover. Arthur Sackler, meanwhile, continued to transform drug marketing. In 1963, he licensed from Hoffman-La Roche the right to import and sell a new tranquilizer called Valium. Sackler again emphasized direct doctor contact to promote the drug. “Detail men”—salesmen—frequently visited doctors’ offices bearing free samples of Valium.

Part of the campaign aimed to convince doctors to prescribe Valium, which the public saw as dangerous. Ads urged doctors to view a patient’s physical pain as connected to stress—with Valium the destresser. If a child was sick, maybe her mother was tense. Valium was marketed above all to women, pitched as way of bearing the stress of lives as wives and mothers. Before the feminist movement, women were presumed to need that kind of help for the rest of their lives, thus there was no worry then about its addictiveness.

Years later, Purdue would put those strategies to use marketing its new opiate painkiller OxyContin.

The book is topical because it covers black tar heroin sold by illegal immigrants from a forgotten corner of Mexico:

The system operates on certain principles, the informant said, and the Nayarit traffickers don’t violate them. The cells compete with each other, but competing drivers know each other from back home, so they’re never violent. They never carry guns. They work hard at blending in. They don’t party where they live. They drive sedans that are several years old. None of the workers use the drug. Drivers spend a few months in a city and then the bosses send them home or to a cell in another town. The cells switch cars about as often as they switch drivers. New drivers are coming up all the time, usually farm boys from Xalisco County. The cell owners like young drivers because they’re less likely to steal from them; the more experienced a driver becomes, the more likely he knows how to steal from the boss.

Cell profits were based on the markup inherent in retail. Their customers were strung-out, desperate junkies who couldn’t afford a half a kilo of heroin. Anyone looking for a large amount of heroin was probably a cop aiming for a case that would land the dealer in prison for years. Ask to buy a large quantity of dope, the informant said, and they’ll shut down their phones. You’ll never hear from them again. That really startled the informant. He knew of no other Mexican trafficking group that preferred to sell tiny quantities

Moreover, the Xalisco cells never deal with African Americans. They don’t sell to black people; nor do they buy from blacks, who they fear will rob them. They sell almost exclusively to whites

The Xalisco traffickers’ innovation was literally a delivery mechanism as well. Guys from Xalisco had figured out that what white people—especially middle-class white kids—want most is service, convenience. They didn’t want to go to skid row or some seedy dope house to buy their drugs. Now they didn’t need to. The guys from Xalisco would deliver it to them.

As I listened to Chavez, it seemed to me that the guys from Xalisco were fired by the impulse that, in fact, moved so many Mexican immigrants. Most Mexican immigrants spent years in the United States not melting in but imagining instead the day when they would go home for good. This was their American Dream: to return to Mexico better off than they had left it and show everyone back home that that’s how it was. They called home and sent money constantly. They were usually far more involved in, say, the digging of a new well in the rancho than in the workings of the school their children attended in the United States. They returned home for the village’s annual fiesta and spent money they couldn’t afford on barbecues, weddings, and quinceañeras. To that end, as they worked the toughest jobs in America, they assiduously built houses in the rancho back home that stood as monuments to their desire to return for good one day. These houses took a decade to finish. Immigrants added to their houses each time they returned. They invariably extended rebar from the top of the houses’ first floors. Rebar was a promise that as soon as he got the money together, the owner was adding a second story. Rods of rebar, standing at attention, became part of the skyline of literally thousands of Mexican immigrant villages and ranchos.

The finished houses of migrant Mexico often had wrought-iron gates, modern plumbing, and marble floors. These towns slowly improved as they emptied of people whose dream was to build their houses, too. Over the years, the towns became dreamlands, as empty as movie sets, where immigrants went briefly to relax at Christmas or during the annual fiesta, and imagine their lives as wealthy retirees back home again one day. The great irony was that work, mortgages, and U.S.-born children kept most migrants from ever returning to Mexico to live permanently in those houses they built with such sacrifice.

But the Xalisco heroin traffickers did it all the time. Their story was about immigration and what moves a poor Mexican to migrate as much as it was a tale of drug trafficking. Those Xalisco traffickers who didn’t end up in prison went back to live in those houses. They put down no roots in this country; they spent as little money in America as they could, in fact. Jamaicans, Russians, Italians, even other Mexican traffickers, all bought property and broadcasted their wealth in the United States. The Xalisco traffickers were the only immigrant narcotics mafia Chavez knew of that aimed to just go home, and with nary a shot fired.

I’m partway through, but it is fascinating material. It sounds pretty easy to become addicted.


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Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

The Book of Mormon

I’m not especially interested in waxing poetic about a market which has gone up over 1,000 points in just the past week, so I’ll share this with you instead: someone sneaked in a camera into the original Book of Mormon (which I was fortunate enough to see in NYC with the original cast). Naturally the […]
Slope of Hope