Science Fiction Classic: Speaker for the Dead

This is OS Card’s best story.  Enders Game, the prequel, is easily his most popular so I’ll explain:

O.S. Card’s principal themes are power, community and sacrifice. Enders game is at heart a fantasy of power (I crush my enemies-always).  It is much more than that and a classic because it illustrates truths about power: loneliness, responsibility/guilt, leadership lessons and group dynamics.  But it is popular because of the easy immersion into the fantasy.

Speaker on the other hand focuses on the community/sacrifice from many different angles: The piggies life cycle, Novinha’s choices, Ender’s‘calling’, the monastic life, Ender shutting out Jane among others. It talks about power too, not with the giddy first taste of Enders game but with the more mature view where you live with your adversaries (usually) instead of wiping them off the map.  What ties these two stories together is the idea of true alieness and its mutual incomprehension.  Speaker explores this more than Game.

When I read this as an older teen, I identified with Ender.  This timeI identified with Marcao.  Not the abuser, but the ignored outcast, doing his share, who desperately wants in.  I just could not identify with the genius Ender this time.  Marcao’s speaking was very moving.

Speaker for the Dead got a little preachy at times – for example directly explaining why Miro and Ouanda were not sexually active.   This point is made in the story itself, and fitted into aphilosophical conversation so this was clunky overkill.

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The Heavy Grenade Launcher or The Grenade Launcher in the Anti Material Rifle Role

This post from Isegoria that got me thinking about this. The heavy grenade launcher could fire a full size 40 mm grenade out to 1500 meters using the same ammo as automatic grenade launchers. This has more recoil than the M32 which would be handled the same way an anti material rifle does – fire from a bipod and have a heavy muzzle brake.

I figure that since an automatic GL and a heavy machine gun both fire from a tripod and weigh about the same that a single shot HGL would require similar measures to an anti-materiel rifle. This gives the platoon long range firepower where its current grenade launchers can’t shoot further than its assualt rifles.

In the anti material role, it would use shaped charge ammuntion to give it a armor penetration superior to the 50 cal in most cases.

The heavy grenade launcher would have a similar weight to an anti material rifle (approx 30 pounds). This is because its high-low pressure system allows it to have a thinner barrel. Its ammunition would weigh about twice as much as a 50 cal cartridge.  In 25 mm with fire control to compensate for blast, the weight would be correspondingly less.

Update:  This website says that this is made by a philippinean company.  22 pounds.

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Scouts Out! by John H McGrath

He presents an exhaustive history of reconnaissance units focused on their TO&E, their doctrine and their actual use with a few examples.  His conclusion is that dedicated recon units are not needed as other formations can do this mission adequately.  When reconnaissance units were light, commanders would not use them for fear of casualties, and regular mobile units would perform reconnaissance.
If recon units were made heavy then they would be used more often for missions such as defense or mobile reserve.  Dedicated recon units, he says, are a legacy of cavalry.  Cavalry made sense for recon because they moved faster but had less combat power than infantry.  But mechanized combined arms formations do not give up combat power in exchange for their increased mobility; rather they pack a greater punch. 

This reminds me of Archer Jones Art of War in the Western World.  He divides all pre gunpowder units into four classes: foot or cavalry, and melee (heavy) or missiles (light) oriented.  These categories collapsed with gunpowder, with all cavalry becoming light cavalry, good for recon.  The motorized successor to light cavalry, he says, is not armored cars or light APCs but aircraft.  This book seems to mostly confirm that loose analogy as aircraft do recon since WWI and ‘lighter’ versions of mechanized combined arms teams seem to be able to do what the heavy ones can just not as well. 

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Stuka Pilot by Hans Rudel


This book was about him, a military flier, not about combat aviation.  He doesn’t give advice about combat but I gather it would be this–stick to the basics, this is safety and hope your number doesn’t come up. 

He drank milk instead of alcohol and had trouble fitting in because of that and his obsession with solo sports.  He also seems to be a slow learner.  I gather he is something of a pariah until he gets a commander who also loves sports.

When he gets his chance he flies more than anyone.  When he becomes a leader he insists on commanding from the front.  One paragraph has blood spattering from his stump from being rubbed by a hook that allows him to work the foot pedals.  He notes that the mechanics had to wipe the blood off the machinery between sorties.  This made me think of Darth Vader.

He’s generally respectful of his Nazi leaders but refused to obey their orders that would ground him for publicity or command reasons.  He does comment on Göring playing dress-up.

In interviews as a prisoner he derides American focus on speed.  He cites his success in the Stuka flying low and slow up till the end of the war.  This is the insight that made the A-10 so successful.  The other tactical point I got is don’t ‘dodge’ flak.  Get in and get out. 

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Point shooting more effective at pistol range?

Hattip to Isegoria

A Force Science article analyzes where officers eyes were focused in a tense scenario.

In a recent study, Bill Lewinski and Joan Vickers examined how elite and rookie police officers reacted — and where they were looking — during a simulated conflict:

“In short, an officer’s performance can be impaired or enhanced by where his eyes and attention are focused in the midst of a deadly encounter.”

The researchers found that just before firing in an armed confrontation rookies tended to look away from their target and search for their sights for reassurance of their aim, thereby, in Lewinski’s words, “pulling themselves out of the gunfight at a critical moment and negatively affecting their accuracy, their speed of response, and their awareness of what the suspect was doing.”

Most of the highly experienced officers in the study, in contrast, concentrated their visual focus on the target/suspect, catching only a fast glimpse of their sights in their peripheral vision and relying primarily on “an unconscious kinesthetic sense to know that their gun is up and positioned properly.”
end quote

In order to maintain their gaze the officers relied on the peripheral vision, interestingly, they relied on peripheral vision to look at their sights – opposite of conventional training for pistol shooting.  The goal of training should be the following:

“Through innumerable repetitions they have developed a highly accurate feel—a strong kinesthetic sense—for raising their gun to a proper alignment without consciously thinking about it or making a pronounced visual or attentional shift to it. If you ran a laser beam from their eye to the target, it would shine right through their sights.

“Careful sight alignment was an important step in starting them toward that point of excellence. Experience and intensive training are ultimately what brought them there. Over a long time, they were able to transition from one emphasis to another. Yet even at their exceptional performance level, referencing the sights in some manner, however fleetingly or peripherally, was still part of their response in the type of rapidly unfolding encounter designed for this study.”

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World War I Library

My World War I collection is currently composed of the following books:

Barbara Tuchman The Guns of August

Bruce I. Gudmundsson Stormtroop Tactics

Enst Jünger The Storm of Steel

The Guns of August covers the roots of the war up to the stalemate on the western front. It takes a more neutral tone towards Germany and doesn’t paint them as evil war-mongers who plotted the war – their role was a bit more ambiguous. Interesting Factoids: Germany didn’t have any war aims until after the outbreak of hostilities; the general staff didn’t think they had enough nitrates to fight a war for more than six months – then they pulled the needed nitrates out of thin air after the war started! This makes the w/if of defense in the west, invade Russia and win an attritive war look silly.

Stormtroop Tactics describes how Germany developed the tactics that rolled over the British/French trenches in Operation Michael. Because of this book I am a follower of the school of thought that artillery, not machine guns, were the dominant weapon of world war I and artillery with its reliance on rails were the reason for the stalemate. Also small unit infantry tactics were developed in World War I and used with some changes throughout World War 2 (with weapons, such as lighter machine guns, made to fit the newer tactics.) Modern small unit infantry tactics are an evolution of these. That is to say infantry tactics changed more from 1914 to 1919 than from 1919 to today.

The Storm of Steel is an excellent memoir of a German soldier on the western front confronting the horrors of war. It’s like All Quiet on the Western Front except instead of going from war is horrible to a sort of pacifistic nihilism this goes from war is horrible to an admiration of those who do their duty nevertheless. Das Boot has the pacifistic nihilism moral of All Quiet albeit more overtly.

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A Farewell to Alms: Malthus revisited.

I’m about a third of the way through A Farewell to Alms.

So far the author has reviewed the malthusian hypothesis and brought a lot of supporting data in support of it being an accurate description of life before 1800s.

The Hypothesis is that any difference in death and birth rate is a transitory and not a steady state.

Related is this:
1. An increase in productivity leads to greater wealth (standard of living).
2. Greater wealth leads to a decrease in the death rate.
3. This leads to an increased population.
4. This decreases productivity as an increase in labor without an increase in land or capital has a diminishing marginal return.
5. Death rate increases back to norm.

Therefore improvements in technology and good goverment only temporarily increase wealth.
Furthermore things like alms, cleanliness and such will, in the long run, only increase population and that population will be poorer.  Things like war and disease on the other hand will raise the standard of living.

As an example of disease raising the standard of living and cleanliness reducing it, he compares wages in unsanitary pre 1800 england with sanitary pre 1800 japan.  The english are much wealthier.  He gives the example of third world countries where people are poorer than any people in history.  This is possible he says because cheap antibiotics means that they can live and not die on a lot less.

My reaction is: life is good.  I’m not sure that these third world peoples have made the wrong choice.  Is wealth better than family?

My deeper thoughts are that a country with more people will have a higher GNP even if the other outputs are constant as the marginal productivity decreases but does not reach zero.  Therefore they will win.

He hasn’t gotten to why the post 1800 advanced world is different.  I’m assuming he’ll mention that productivy increase outsripped population increase.  I.E. technology won.  I’m thinking that for that to happen you need a lot of people, some of whom will have enough money, brains, and intelligence to discover new things (or places).  Income is distributed according to a power law so more people means more wealthy and the most wealthy will have a higher absolute wealth.  I’m sure the exact power distribution probably has a big effect.

Another random though is that since animals are in a malthusian state, your local hunter makes life better for animals in general :).

It is interesting thus far.  we’ll see what he has to say next.

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