November 10, 2017 in 3,924 words

M-16: A Bureaucratic Horror Story
Why the rifles jammed


Between 1965 and 1969, more than a million American soldiers served in combat in Vietnam. One can argue that they should never have been sent there, but no one would argue that, once committed to battle, they should have been given inferior equipment. Yet that is what happened. During those years, in which more than 40,000 American soldiers were killed by hostile fire and more than 250,000 wounded, American troops in Vietnam were equipped with a rifle that their superiors knew would fail when put to the test.

The rifle was known as the M-16; it was a replacement for the M-14, a heavier weapon, which was the previous standard. The M-16, was a brilliant technical success in its early models, but was perverted by bureaucratic pressures into a weapon that betrayed its users in Vietnam. By the middle of 1967, when the M-16 had been in combat for about a year and a half, a sufficient number of soldiers had written to their parents about their unreliable equipment and a sufficient number of parents had sent those letters to their congressmen to attract the attention of the House Armed Services Committee, which formed an investigating subcommittee. The subcommittee, headed by Representative Ichord, a Democrat from Missouri, conducted a lengthy inquiry into the origins of the M-16 problem. Much of the credit for the hearings belongs to the committee’s counsel, Earl J. Morgan. The hearing record, nearly 600 pages long, is a forgotten document, which received modest press attention at the time and calls up only dim recollections now. Yet it is a pure portrayal of the banality of evil.

Nearly a century before American troops were ordered into Vietnam, weapons designers had made a discovery in the science of “wound ballistics.” The discovery was that a small, fast-traveling bullet often did a great deal more damage than a larger round when fired into human or (for the experiments) animal flesh. A large artillery round might pass straight through a human body, but a small bullet could act like a gouge. During the early stages of the congressional hearing, Ichord asked Eugene Stoner, the designer of the original version of the M-16, to explain the apparent paradox of a small bullet’s destructive power. The answer emerged in the following grisly exchange.


ICHORD: One army boy told me that he had shot a Vietcong near the eye with an M-14 [which uses a substantially heavier bullet] and the bullet did not make too large a hole on exit, but he shot a Vietcong under similar circumstances in the same place with an M-16 and his whole head was reduced to pulp. This would not appear to make sense. You have greater velocity but the bullet is lighter.

STONER: There is the advantage that a small or light bullet has over a heavy one when it comes to wound ballistics. … What it amounts to is the fact that bullets are stabilized to fly through the air, and not through water, or a body, which is approximately the same density as the water. And they are stable as long as they are in the air. When they hit something, they immediately go unstable. … If you are talking about .30-caliber [like a bullet used in the M-14], this might remain stable through a human body. … While a little bullet, being it has a low mass, it senses an instability situation faster and reacts much faster. … this is what makes a little bullet pay off so much in wound ballistics.

The farsighted Willard G. Wyman, the commanding general of the Continental Army Command, had asked Stoner to design a rifle precisely to take advantage of the “payoff” of smaller bullets. The AR-15, the precursor of the M-16, used .22-calliber bullets instead of the .30-caliber that had long been standard for the Army. As early as 1928, an Army “Caliber Board” had conducted firing experiments in Aberdeen, Maryland, and had then recommended a move toward smaller ammunition, perhaps of the .27-caliber range; but the Army, for reasons that were partly technical but largely traditional, refused then and for the next thirty-five yea

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; long-form journalism from 1981.

Why the AR-15 Is So Lethal

“The little bullet pays off in wound ballistics.”


AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania.

Americans who know nothing else about firearms are all too familiar with the name AR-15. It’s the semi-automatic weapon that murderers have used in many of the most notorious and highest-casualty gun killings of recent years: Aurora, Colorado. Newtown, Connecticut. Orlando, Florida. San Bernardino, California. Now, with modified versions, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Sutherland Springs, Texas.

What is this gun? Why is it the weapon that people who want to kill a lot of other people, in a hurry, mainly choose? Tim Dickinson offered a useful history of the AR-15’s emergence as the main implement of mass murder last year in Rolling Stone (“All-American Killer: How the AR-15 Became Mass Shooters’ Weapon of Choice”), and Meghan O’Dea in Fortune and Aaron Smith for CNN also had valuable reports.

But there’s another angle of the AR-15 saga that has slightly slipped from view. It is why this particular weapon is so unusually effective in killing things—even when compared with other firearms.

As it happens, I did an Atlantic article on exactly this subject, back in a very different era of American politics. In 1981, I published a book called National Defense, which was popular at the time and was excerpted in three installments in the magazine. One of the installments was called “The M-16: A Bureaucratic Horror Story,” and it included the origin story of the AR-15. That article was not previously available online, but my colleague Annika Neklason has just digitized it from the archives, and it’s now available.

* * *

The AR-15 was newsworthy in those days mainly as the original civilian version of what became the U.S. military’s standard M-16 combat rifle. The problem with the M-16, from the perspective of many of the Americans who had been using it during the 1960s and 1970s in Vietnam, is that it too often failed at the fundamental task of combat weaponry: killing troops on the other side.

The anatomy of mass shootings: a legacy of failure

Since 1966, mass shootings have occurred regularly in the US. Attackers are linked by frequent mental health problems – and access to guns.


‘Nearly 30% of all mass shootings that have resulted in multiple deaths have occurred in workplaces.’

While nearly anything, including human hands, may be used to kill, the gun is created for the specific purpose of killing a living creature.

Gun-love can be akin to non-chemical addictions like gambling or hoarding, either of which can have devastating effects, mainly economic, but murder, suicide, accidental death, and mass shootings result only from guns.

The definition of “mass shootings” varies, but is generally defined by four or more deaths in one location by a lone gunman or in a few cases, such as Columbine and San Bernardino, two.

Although each of these mass killings is idiosyncratic, they often share many features, including but not limited to the most obvious, which bears repeating – their use of guns.

here were 127 mass shootings with 874 victims in the United States between 1966 and 2016, an average of seven deaths in each. Nearly all of them were carried out by white men.

Only three of the 130 shooters were women. If domestic shootings are included – meaning a man shooting his partner, often including their children and other relatives – the number of mass shootings rises dramatically.

Why aren’t the streets full of protest about the Paradise Papers?

In striking contrast to the bombshell release of the Panama Papers, the response this time has been muted. But that’s not reason for despair.


‘The world was different—arguably better—18 months ago.

The street-level response to the Paradise Papers, the mighty follow-up punch to last year’s Panama Papers, has been curiously tepid. This is probably not what many activists, and the 100 media organizations involved in the leak, expected to happen.

In striking contrast to the bombshell release of the Panama Papers in mid-2016 that immediately triggered a 10,000-person-strong protest in Iceland leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the Paradise Papers have thus far made many headlines but no uprisings.

The world was different – arguably better – 18 months ago when commentators widely believed, as Rana Foroohar put it at the time in Time magazine: “the Panama Papers could lead to capitalism’s greatest crisis.”

Many activists justifiably, and optimistically, anticipated that the largest leak in human history would provide the evidence necessary to spark an ongoing series of protests worldwide that would yield concrete, lasting change.

Then Brexit happened, alt-right nationalism surged and Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. In other words, the Panama Papers protests, and leftist activism more generally, were quickly overshadowed by a dramatic string of victories for the criminally rich who now figure prominently in the Paradise Papers.

That is why I want you to entertain the possibility that this time around the absence of predictably reactive street protests that dissipate as spontaneously as they erupt – and quite frankly, have not yielded systemic change in recent years – is a positive sign.

Accusations against Roy Moore just added fuel to the LGBT community’s fire


Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a rally, in Fairhope, Alabaa.

There may be no more bigger critic of Senate candidate Roy Moore and his beliefs than the LGBT community.

And the feeling is reciprocated. The former Alabama Supreme Court judge thinks homosexuality should be illegal, comparing it to bestiality and calling it a “crime against nature.”

Alabama’s gay community has been speaking out against Moore and his politics for years, prior to his attempt to go to Washington. His Senate run has given the community even more reason to be vocal.

In September, Eva Kendrick, Alabama state director for the Human Rights Campaign, said Moore has no place trying to represent the state’s citizens in the nation’s capital:


“Given Roy Moore’s track record of flouting laws and attacking the civil rights of LGBTQ people across our state, we already know he won’t stand up for all Alabamians when it matters most. In the run-up to December 12, we urge every fair-minded person across Alabama to say #NoMoore and reject the politics of bigotry and hate.”

Beijing is playing Trump “like a fiddle,” an ex-ambassador to China says

Give Him Two Scoops


So happy together.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s recent hosting of Donald Trump was a masterclass in how to make the US president comfortable—feed him familiar food, take him on his favorite outing, golf, and tell him how much you like him.

But Chinese president Xi Jinping added a creamy layer of pomp and circumstance to the mix when the White House delegation reached Beijing. Trump has been feted with everything from an unprecedented private dinner in the Forbidden City to a red carpet welcome across from Tiananmen Square, the Beijing landmark where hundreds of students were killed by the Chinese military in 1989.

Trump has responded in kind, calling Xi a “very special man” with whom he has “great chemistry.” While US businessmen had high hopes that Trump and his back-to-the-1980s China advisors would wring concessions from Xi to cut the $350 billion trade deficit, the only concrete result has been a mish-mash of previously announced deals and non-binding agreements that probably aren’t worth the $250 billion both governments claim.

How did the news go ‘fake’? When the media went social

In all the fuss over misinformation, one crucial aspect is ignored: the way people now perform their relationship with news in order to win the approval of others.


‘The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves.’ Computer screens display fake tweets generated on a Chinese website.

The Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2017 is, disappointingly, “fake news”. We say disappointingly, because the ubiquity of that phrase among journalists, academics and policymakers is partly why the debate around this issue is so simplistic. The phrase is grossly inadequate to explain the nature and scale of the problem. (Were those Russian ads displayed at the congressional hearings last week news, for example?) But what’s more troubling, and the reason that we simply cannot use the phrase any more, is that it is being used by politicians around the world as a weapon against the fourth estate and an excuse to censor free speech.

Definitions matter. Take, for example, the question of why this type of content is created in the first place. There are four distinct motivations for why people do this: political, financial, psychological (for personal satisfaction) and social (to reinforce our belonging to communities or “tribes”). If we’re serious about tackling mis- and disinformation, we need to address these motivations separately. And we think it’s time to give much more serious consideration to the social element.

Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual.

6 Ordinary Things (That Reveal Your Deepest Darkest Secrets)

We’ve discussed before how our everyday habits can be indicators of psychological issues or portents of future catastrophes. But some of those behaviors might be hiding something even worse … for those who have to put up with you. You see, science says that a bunch of seemingly innocuous things we do on a regular basis secretly mark us as grade-A assholes. Hey, we didn’t make this shit up. There are actual studies out there that illustrate how …

6. People Who Eat Organic Food Tend To Be Selfish And Judgmental


There’s a stereotype for the type of person who spends the entirety of their weekly grocery allotment on highfalutin pesticide/hormone/neutrino-freer-than-thou foodstuffs, and it’s not exactly flattering. Even before Whole Foods employees started making Amazon logos out of meat, making a big deal out of eating organic foods has seemed to correlate closely with inflated levels of unchecked knobbery. Could it be that the rest of us are simply jealous of those with the mental fortitude to shun delicious junk? Nope! Here’s some hard science to back you up the next time you feel like calling them out on their insufferable jerkitude.

A study published in the journal Social Psychological And Personality Science posited that folks who eat organic foods on the regular have an increased likelihood of being judgy toward others (while also displaying a lack of altruism).

Or in non-scientific terms, of being chodes.

As an assistant professor at Loyola University and the study’s lead author explains: “People may feel like they’ve done their good deed. That they have permission, or license, to act unethically later on. It’s like when you go to the gym and run a few miles and you feel good about yourself, so you eat a candy bar.” If we’re reading that right, all you need is a bottle of “veganic kombucha” to feel like you can get away with stabbing someone.

Are Face Scans Resurrecting the False Science of Physiognomy?

Many researchers fear the consequences of training computers to identify a person’s sexual orientation and criminality based solely on physical appearance.


A volunteer from the British Passport Office has his eyes scanned for a biometrics enrollment card.

On the first day of school, a child looks into a digital camera linked to the school’s computer. Upon a quick scan, the machine reports that the child’s facial contours indicate a likelihood toward aggression, and she is tagged for extra supervision. Not far away, another artificial-intelligence screening system scans a man’s face. It deduces from his brow shape that he is likely to be introverted, and he is rejected for a sales job. Plastic surgeons, meanwhile, find themselves overwhelmed with requests for a “perfect” face that doesn’t show any “bad” traits.

This dystopian nightmare might not be that far-fetched, some academics warn, given the rise of big data, advances in machine learning, and—most worryingly—the current rise in studies that bear a troubling resemblance to the long-abandoned pseudoscience of physiognomy, which held that the shape of the human head and face revealed character traits. Modern computers are much better at scanning minute details in human physiology, modern advocates of such research say, and thus the inferences they draw are more reliable. Critics, on the other hand, dismiss this as bunkum. There is little evidence linking outward physical characteristics and anything like predictable behavior, they note. And in any case, machines only learn what we teach them, and humans—rife with biases and prejudicial thinking, from the overt to the subtle and unacknowledged—are terrible teachers.

Still, the research continues.

The simple change you can make to stop wasting food

Lower Your Foodprint


Not all food waste is created equal.

Our global food system is drowning in waste. About one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted every year, and the US alone wastes as much as 40% of its food. More food ends up in American landfills and incinerators than any other single material.

Many people have undertaken well-meaning efforts to fight food waste, from eating ugly produce to upcycling waste into meals. These are good ideas. But in order to effectively deal with the problem, we have to grapple with a critical piece of information about our food system: Not all food waste is created equal.

Most conversations about food waste use weight as a rudder to steer toward possible solutions, citing statistics about the pounds of food that go to the dump every year. But weight doesn’t take into account of any of the negative inputs or outputs from the lifecycle of food production. It treats one pound of broccoli the same as one pound of red meat.

In fact, meat uses up far more energy and resources. Consider water. It takes about 34 gallons of water to grow one pound of broccoli, whereas it takes 1,847 gallons of water to grow one pound of beef. That’s about 54 times more water for the same one pound of food. It turns out that all of the different costs of food waste, whether measured in terms of water, the economy, the environment, or animal welfare, vary greatly by the type of food that is being tossed in the trash.

One region is growing older a lot faster than anywhere else in the world

Grow Up


Golden years.

As recently as 1975, the median person in East Asia was younger than the world as a whole. Now, the world’s median age is 30 and the median person in East Asia is 38, according to the latest data from the United Nations.

In other words, if the world is a millennial then East Asians belong to Generation X.

The rapid aging of East Asia—which includes China, Hong Kong, Japan, North and South Korea, Mongolia, Macao, and Taiwan—is one of the most important demographic trends of the past half-century. While just about every region in the world, outside of Africa, is also growing older, the shift in East Asia has been far faster than anywhere else.

From 1975 to 2015, the median age in East Asian grew from 21 to 38 years old, and from 1990 to 2017, the proportion of the population over 40 grew from 28% to 48%.

SKEPTICISM OF ASTROLOGY ISN’T PARTICULARLY SMART

What’s Your Sign?


Humans have been thinking about the cosmos for millennia.

Two types of people are incredibly passionate about astrology: Those who love it, and those who love to hate it.

Astrology skeptics scathingly dismiss the field as false and facile, and those who buy into it as stupid. Certainly it’s easy to mock the notion that the entire universe is aligning itself to tell you what kind of romance you should seek, or whether today is a good day to start that diet. Bill Nye the Science Guy does so aptly in the video below:

But it seems rash to think that astrology, which has been practiced by humans for millennia, is complete bunk. Personally, some of my friends who enjoy astrology that are among the most intelligent people I know. Perhaps they’re seeing something that the eye-rolling skeptics have missed?

There’s one thing that both skeptics and (most) fans agree on: The science behind astrology is wrong.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Despite Donald Trump’s tough talk on China in the past, the president changes his tune after the country rolls out the red carpet for his visit.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Seth takes a closer look at how Republicans are forging ahead with a “Hail Mary” tax cut plan that’s widely unpopular in polls and would actually increase taxes on many middle-class families.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.

Complaining about Congress practically another national sport here in the U.S. of A, which is really fun and all, but we’re gonna step off the sidelines for a bit to offer a few solutions. Weird, right?

Ben Sansum is 35. But he lives in 1946. His clothes, his house, the music he listens to – all come from an era before he was even born. BBC News went to meet Ben at home in Cambridgeshire.

Dom and Adrian have opened a restaurant that’s being hailed as “Portland’s most exclusive, groundbreaking and innovative dining experience”… It’s called ‘Food For Thought’.

Here is a few short clips of Max. Just a few things we go through every day.

FINALLY . . .

Greg Campbell’s tribute to a fallen friend becomes award-winning documentary


Photojournalists seldom become the subject of the story. The expectation is that they will be objective observers, remaining hidden behind the camera, bearing witness to what’s happening around them, whether at home or the far reaches of the world.

Until his death in Libya in 2011, photojournalist Chris Hondros was true to his craft. The Pulitzer-Prize finalist, Getty Images photographer had spent more than a decade capturing the world’s conflicts in photos, illuminating lives torn apart by war and the horrific moments too often lost in a morass of statistics and geopolitics.

But this weekend, filmgoers attending the Denver Film Festival can see the life of Chris Hondros play out in front of the camera. Thanks to Greg Campbell — Hondros’ best friend and former editor at Boulder Weekly — there is now an award winning documentary on the life and lasting influence of Hondros.

“We shook the bushes to find any footage of him,” says Campbell, journalist, author and director of the new documentary Hondros. “I considered doing a book about Chris’ life, but because he was a photographer it just made obvious sense that I would do a film.”

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?