Hitler’s strategy through mid-1940 was almost flawless

July 30th, 2021

Hitler’s war against Soviet Russia and perpetration of the Final Solution led straight to his destruction, Bevin Alexander argues, in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II:

Hitler’s strategy through mid-1940 was almost flawless. He isolated and absorbed state after state in Europe, gained the Soviet Union as a willing ally, destroyed France’s military power, threw the British off the Continent, and was left with only weak and vulnerable obstacles to an empire covering most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. This empire not only would have been unassailable from the outside, but would have put him into the position, in time, to conquer the world.

This did not happen. Hitler’s paranoias overwhelmed his political sense. He abandoned the successful indirect strategy of attacking weakness, which he had followed up to the summer of 1940, and tried to grab Lebensraum directly and by main strength. He was unable to see that he could achieve these goals far more easily and with absolute certainty by indirection — by striking not what was strong but what was weak.

Even after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, he might have gained a partial victory if he had not possessed two more lethal defects — insistence on offensive solutions to military problems when his strength was inadequate, and attempting to keep all the territory he had seized when retreat would have preserved his forces. These failings led to disastrous offensives — Stalingrad, Tunisia, Kursk, the Bulge — and “no retreat” orders that destroyed huge portions of his army.

The way to victory was not through a frontal attack on the Soviet Union but an indirect approach through North Africa. This route was so obvious that all the British leaders saw it, as did a number of the German leaders, including Alfred Jodl, chief of operations of the armed forces; Erich Raeder, commander of the German Navy, and Erwin Rommel, destined to gain fame in North Africa as the Desert Fox.

After the destruction of France’s military power in 1940, Britain was left with only a single armored division to protect Egypt and the Suez Canal. Germany had twenty armored divisions, none being used. If the Axis — Germany and its ally Italy — had used only four of these divisions to seize the Suez Canal, the British Royal Navy would have been compelled to abandon the Mediterranean Sea, turning it into an Axis lake. French North Africa — Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia — could have been occupied, and German forces could have seized Dakar in Senegal on the west coast of Africa, from which submarines and aircraft could have dominated the main South Atlantic sea routes.

With no hope of aid, Yugoslavia and Greece would have been forced to come to terms. Since Hitler gained the support of Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, Germany would have achieved control of all southeastern Europe without committing a single German soldier.

Once the Suez Canal was taken, the way would have been open to German armored columns to overrun Palestine, Transjordan, the Arabian peninsula, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. This would have given Germany unlimited supplies of the single commodity it needed most: oil.

As important as oil was for the conduct of modern war, the greatest advantages of German occupation of the Arab lands and Iran would have been to isolate Turkey, threaten British control of India, and place German tanks and guns within striking distance of Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus and along the shores of the Caspian Sea. Turkey would have been forced to become an ally or grant transit rights to German forces, Britain would have had to exert all its strength to protect India, and the Soviet Union would have gone to any lengths to preserve peace with Germany because of its perilous position.

Germany need not have launched a U-boat or air war against British shipping and cities, because British participation in the war would have become increasingly irrelevant. Britain could never have built enough military power to invade the Continent alone.

Unless the strength of the Soviet Union were added, the United States could not have projected sufficient military force across the Atlantic Ocean, even over a period of years, to reconquer Europe by amphibious invasion in the face of an untouched German war machine. Since the United States was increasingly preoccupied with the threat of Japan, it almost certainly would not have challenged Germany.

Thus, Germany would have been left with a virtually invincible empire and the leisure to develop defenses and resources that, in time, would permit it to match the strength of the United States. Though Britain might have refused to make peace, a de facto cease-fire would have ensued. The United States would have concentrated on defense of the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific. Even if the United States had proceeded with development of the atomic bomb, it would have hesitated to unleash it against Germany.

Cadets with lower grades improved academically if they socialized with cadets with high GPAs

July 29th, 2021

Economists Scott Carrell and James West had noticed a pattern, a particular peer effect, at the Air Force Academy, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains:

Cadets with lower grades improved academically if they socialized with, and spent more time around, cadet friends with high GPAs. The high-performers rubbed off on the low-performers, dragging them upward. Having friends whose SAT scores were 100 points higher than yours led to a half-grade improvement in GPA.

[...]

Carrell and West started by identifying which of the 1,314 incoming cadets had lower SAT scores and GPAs. These were the students most at risk of dropping out. They were assigned to special squadrons with a makeup of extra numbers of high-achievers. Compared with normal squadrons, these socially engineered squadrons had a few more low-performers, many more high-performers, and — to make room — fewer middle-performers.

[...]

More of the at-risk cadets were crumbling, not fewer.

[...]

Within a test squadron, the low-performers were self-segregating into cliques, to insulate themselves from the endless ranking and comparison.

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Remember those squadrons comprised of leftover middle-performers? It turned out that their academic performance dramatically surpassed expectations.

[...]

When the field is too large, and the chance to be near the top is slim, people don’t try as hard.

Hyperactivity and impulsivity may have had advantages in the ancestral state of man in nature

July 28th, 2021

In The Sports Gene David Epstein reports on a “controversial” hypothesis about ADHD — or “hyperactivity”:

A set of scientists have proposed the controversial idea that hyperactivity and impulsivity may have had advantages in the ancestral state of man in nature, leading to the preservation of genes that increase ADHD risk. Interestingly, the 7R variant of the DRD4 gene is more common in populations that have migrated long distances, as well as those that are nomadic, compared with settled populations.

In 2008, a team of anthropologists genetically tested Ariaal tribesmen in northern Kenya, some of whom are nomadic and some recently settled. In the nomadic group — and only in the nomadic group — those with the 7R version of the DRD4 gene were less likely to be undernourished.

Centenarians had an “iAge” 40 years lower than their actual age

July 27th, 2021

The inflammatory ageing clock (iAge) is based on the idea that as a person ages, their body experiences chronic, systemic inflammation because their cells become damaged and emit inflammation-causing molecules;

To develop iAge, a team including systems biologist David Furman and vascular specialist Nazish Sayed at Stanford University in California analysed blood samples from 1,001 people aged 8–96 who are part of the 1000 Immunomes Project, which aims to investigate how signatures of chronic, systemic inflammation change as people age. The researchers used the participants’ chronological ages and health information, combined with a machine-learning algorithm, to identify the protein markers in blood that most clearly signal systemic inflammation. In particular, they pinpointed the immune-signalling protein, or cytokine, CXCL9 as a top contributor; it is mainly produced by the inner lining of blood vessels and has been associated with the development of heart disease.

[…]

After developing it, the researchers tested iAge by collecting the blood of 19 people who had lived to at least 99 years old, and using the tool to calculate their biological age. On average, the centenarians had an iAge 40 years lower than their actual age, according to a press release — aligning with the idea that people with healthier immune systems tend to live longer.

[…]

When examining CXCL9 as a biomarker of systemic inflammation, Furman and his colleagues grew human endothelial cells, which make up the walls of blood vessels, in a dish and artificially aged them by letting them divide repeatedly. The researchers saw that high levels of the protein drove the cells into a dysfunctional state. When the team silenced expression of the gene that encodes CXCL9, the cells regained some function, suggesting that the protein’s harmful effects might be reversible.

The travelling whale that reached the Pacific

July 26th, 2021

An ancient four-legged whale with hooves has been discovered:

The giant 42.6m-year-old fossil, discovered in marine sediments along the coast of Peru, appears to have been adapted for a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Its hoofed feet and the shape of its legs suggest it would have been capable of bearing the weight of its bulky four metre long body and walking on land. Other anatomical features, including a powerful tail and webbed feet similar to an otter suggest it was also a strong swimmer.

[…]

Previously, far older whale ancestors dating to about 53m years ago have been discovered in India and Pakistan. Until now scientists have disputed when and how whales first dispersed to the Americas and beyond.

The Peruvian fossil suggests the first whales would have crossed the South Atlantic, helped by westward surface currents and the fact that, at the time, the distance between the two continents was half what it is today.

The last few tail vertebrae are missing and so it is not clear if the creature’s tail would have featured the large paddle, known as a fluke, that allows some modern whales to power themselves along at speeds of more than 30mph (48 km/h). But it must have been an accomplished swimmer to have survived for days or even weeks at sea.

The fossil was excavated in 2011 by an international team, including members from Peru, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It has since been named Peregocetus pacificus, meaning “the travelling whale that reached the Pacific”.

Competition facilitates improvement

July 25th, 2021

A recurring note in Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing is that there are two kinds of people: those who need to avoid stress to do well, and those who actually need stress to perform their best:

If you go back to the first published research ever done in the field of social psychology, the year was 1898, and the author was a 37-year-old high school teacher named Norman Triplett, who had returned to Indiana University to pursue his master’s degree.

[...]

He concluded that competition against other cyclists took off five seconds per mile compared to racing alone against the clock.

[...]

He found a 50%/25%/25% split [when he tested children on his "competition machine"] — half the kids benefitted a lot from being made to compete. Another quarter of the kids were largely unaffected, barely lowering their times over the three competitive trials. The last quarter of the kids did not handle the competition trials well at all.

[...]

Competition facilitates improvement. But the tradeoff is that competition doesn’t benefit everyone.

Access to a health club had a comparatively puny influence

July 24th, 2021

All sixteen human studies conducted as of the writing of The Sports Gene had found a large contribution of heredity to the amount of voluntary physical activity that people undertake, David Epstein reports:

A 2006 Swedish study of 13,000 pairs of fraternal and identical twins — fraternal twins share half their genes on average, while identical twins essentially share them all — reported that the physical activity levels of identical twins were twice as likely to be similar as those of fraternal twins.

[...]

But another, smaller study of twin pairs that used accelerometers to measure physical activity directly found the same difference between fraternal and identical twin pairs.

The largest study, of 37,051 twin pairs from six European countries and Australia, concluded that about half to three quarters of the variation in the amount of exercise people undertook was attributable to their genetic inheritance, while unique environmental factors, like access to a health club, had a comparatively puny influence.

It is entirely clear that the dopamine system responds to physical activity. This is one reason that exercise can be used as part of treatment for depression and as a method to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, an illness that involves the destruction of brain cells that make dopamine. And there is evidence that the reverse is true as well, that physical activity levels respond to the dopamine system.

If you can control your fear, then you can control your biology

July 21st, 2021

When people say that the difference between an elite competitor and an intermediate competitor is all mental, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains, that’s accurate:

Becoming a better competitor is about controlling your psychological state, which in turn alters your underlying physiology. Most simply put, if you can control your fear, then you can control your biology, too.

Yet it’s a myth that remaining calm is the answer for everyone. Only some people need to remain calm; others conquer anxiety by going to the other end of the spectrum — by being highly aroused, animated, and even angry.

A recurring note in this book is that there are two kinds of people: those who need to avoid stress to do well, and those who actually need stress to perform their best. Being told to chill out, relax, and think positively is fundamentally counterproductive for some people.

I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Normal mice run three to four miles each night

July 20th, 2021

Scientists who bred rodents for their desire to run have proven that work ethic is genetically influenced, David Epstein explains (in The Sports Gene):

Normal mice run three to four miles each night.

[...]

Garland took a group of average mice and separated them into two subgroups: those that chose to run less than average each night, and those that chose to run more than average. Garland then bred “high runners” with other high runners, and “low runners” with other low runners. After just one generation of breeding, the progeny of the high runners were, of their own accord, running even farther on average than their parents. By the sixteenth generation of breeding, the high runners were voluntarily cranking out seven miles each night.

[...]

When mice are bred for endurance capacity — not voluntary running, but when they are forced to run as long as they physically can — successive generations have more symmetrical bones, lower body fat, and larger hearts.

In his voluntary-runner breeding program, Garland saw body changes, “but at the same time,” he says, “clearly the brains are very different.” Like their hearts, the brains of the high runners were larger than those of average mice. “Presumably,” Garland says, “the centers of the brain that deal with motivation and reward have gotten larger.”

[...]

Whatever Ritalin does in the brains of normal mice is already occurring in the brains of the high-running mice.

A sea blockade can be implemented using satellite imaging and missiles

July 19th, 2021

ICEYE‘s network of synthetic aperture radar satellites promises information about every square meter on earth, updated every single hour, which leads Steve Hsu to mock aircraft carriers:

Duh… Let’s spend ~$10B each for new aircraft carriers that can be easily monitored from space and attacked using hypersonic missiles.

He has pointed out before that aircraft carriers will have to operate 1,000 miles offshore in a peer-to-peer conflict — because that’s the range of China’s PRC DF21 anti-ship ballistic missile — and that will require a new class of (perhaps unmanned) aircraft with greater range.

Chinese Missile Ranges

In this era a sea blockade can be implemented using satellite imaging and missiles or drones:

Japan imports ~60% of its food calories and essentially all of its oil. The situation is similar for S. Korea and Taiwan. It is important to note that blocking sea transport to Taiwan and Japan does not require PLAN blue water dominance. ASBM and cruise missiles which threaten aircraft carriers can also hold oil tankers and global shipping at risk from launch sites which are on or near the Asian mainland. Missile + drone + AI/ML technology completely alters the nature of sea blockade, but most strategic planners do not yet realize this.

Culture wars are long wars

July 18th, 2021

We are told that conservatives lost the culture war, T. Greer says, but he dissents:

American conservatives never waged a culture war. Conservatives certainly fought, there is no denying that. They fought with every bit of obstruction and scandal their operatives could muster. But this was not a culture war. Rather, America’s conservatives fought a political war over culture. Republicans used cultural issues to gain—or to try to gain—political power. Their brightest minds and greatest efforts went into securing control of judiciary, developing a judicial philosophy for their appointees, securing control of the Capitol, and developing laws that could be implemented in multiple state houses across the nation. No actual attempt to change the culture was attempted.

This was not thought necessary. Conservatives had the people. One decade they were called a “silent” majority; as the culture war heated up, that majority transitioned from “silent” to “moral,” but a majority they remained. In these circumstances it was sufficient to quarantine the cultural dissidents and keep them from using minority maneuvers (“legislating from the bench”) to impose their cultural priorities on the rest of us. Political containment was the name of our game. Republicans played it well. They still play it well, even when the majority of yesterday has melted away.

The left played for different stakes. They fought for American culture as the right fought over it. Their insurgency succeeded as Hemingway’s businessman failed: gradually, then suddenly.

This is the normal pattern of things. The woke campaign to remake American society is only one of a dozen that have reshaped the American republic. The creation of a distinct American national identity between 1750 and 1780, the 2nd Great Awakening’s moral crusade (culminating in widespread anti-slavery sentiment) that transformed the North between 1820 and 1860, the South’s embrace of pro-slavery politics between 1830 and 1860, and the advance of the Progressive Movement between 1880 and 1920 are all examples of this pattern. More recent social and political movements we tend to associate with narrower dates: the ‘neoliberal revolution,’ with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Civil Rights movement with the victories of 1954–1968, and so forth. But here too there was a gradually and a suddenly; behind almost all of these sudden revolutions were a decade or two of less glamorous institution and idea building. We don’t see the Moral Majority of the ‘80s without Oral Roberts tramping about Tulsa in 1947; there is no Ms. without The Second Sex or the Kinsey reports three decades earlier.

Cultures can be changed; movements can be built. But as these examples all suggest, this is not a quick task. Culture wars are long wars. Instilling new ideas and overthrowing existing orthodoxies takes time — usually two to three generations of time. It is a 35–50 year process.

Patients have stayed at home for a year and suffered dramatically fewer asthma attacks

July 17th, 2021

Doctors have spent the pandemic wondering why their patients with asthma were suddenly doing so well:

Asthma attacks have plummeted. Pediatric ICUs have sat strangely empty. “We braced ourselves for significant problems for the millions of people living with asthma,” says David Stukus, Scarlett’s doctor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “It was the complete opposite. It’s amazing.” (Fears about people with asthma getting more severe COVID-19 infections haven’t been borne out either.) Studies in other countries, including England, Scotland, and South Korea, also found big drops in hospital and doctor’s-office visits for asthma attacks.

The massive global experiment that is the pandemic is now leading doctors to rethink some long-held assumptions about the disease. Asthma is a chronic condition that occasionally flares up, leading to 3,500 deaths and 1.6 million emergency-room visits a year in the United States. These acute attacks can be triggered by a number of environmental factors: viruses, pollen, mold, dust mites, rodents, cockroaches, pet dander, smoke, air pollution, etc. Doctors have often scrutinized allergens that patients can control at home, such as pests and secondhand smoke. But patients have stayed at home for a year and suffered dramatically fewer asthma attacks — suggesting bigger roles for other triggers, especially routine cold and flu viruses, which nearly vanished this year with social distancing and masks.

Where are the runners from Nepal?

July 16th, 2021

Kenya’s long-distance runners live at altitude, David Epstein notes (in The Sports Gene), but some people ask, “If it’s just the altitude, where are the runners from Nepal?”:

The “Nepali runners” question, though, is actually irrelevant to the Kenyan and Ethiopian running phenomena, and not only because the Himalayan climate does not foster a narrow body type. One clear point of science is that the genetic means by which people in different altitudinous regions of the world have adapted to life at low oxygen are completely distinct. In each of the planet’s three major civilizations that have resided at high altitude for thousands of years, the same problem of survival is met with different biological solutions.

[...]

By the late nineteenth century, scientists figured they understood altitude adaptation. They had studied native Bolivians, living in the Andes at higher than thirteen thousand feet. At that altitude, there are only around 60 percent as many oxygen molecules in each breath of air as at sea level. In order to compensate for the scarce oxygen, Andeans have profuse portions of red blood cells and, within them, oxygen-carrying hemoglobin.

[...]

Andeans have so much hemoglobin that their blood can become viscous and unable to circulate well, and some Andeans develop chronic mountain sickness.

Nineteenth-century scientists also saw that Europeans who traveled from sea level to altitude responded the same way, by producing more hemoglobin.

[...]

Cynthia Beall, an anthropology professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, started visiting to study Tibetans and Nepalese Sherpas who can live as high as eighteen thousand feet. To her surprise, Beall found that Tibetans had normal, sea-level hemoglobin values, and low oxygen saturation, lower than people at sea level.

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Most Tibetans have a special version of a gene, EPAS1, that acts as a gauge, sensing the available oxygen and regulating the production of red blood cells so that the blood does not become dangerously thick. But it also means Tibetans don’t have the increase in oxygen-carrying hemoglobin that Andeans do.

[...]

Eventually, Beall determined that Tibetans survive by having extremely high levels of nitric oxide in their blood. Nitric oxide cues blood vessels in the lungs to relax and widen for blood flow. “The Tibetans have 240 times as much nitric oxide in the blood as we do,” Beall says. “That’s more than in people at sea level who have sepsis,” a life-threatening medical condition. So Tibetans adapted by having very high blood flow in their lungs, and they also breathe deeper and faster than native lowlanders, as if they’re in a constant state of hyperventilation.

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In 1995, Beall and a team moved on to the remaining population in the world that has lived at high altitude for thousands of years: Ethiopians, and specifically the Amhara ethnic group living at 11,600 feet along the Rift Valley. Yet again, she found an altitude biology unique in the world. The Amhara people had normal, sea-level allotments of hemoglobin and normal, sea-level oxygen saturation.

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But Beall has preliminary data on Amhara Ethiopians that shows they move oxygen unusually rapidly from the tiny air sacs in their lungs into their blood.

Relying on military rapid response units to save diplomats is a forlorn hope

July 15th, 2021

RAND examined 33 successful seizures of Western embassies between 1979 and 201 and found that groups that successfully seized Western embassies typically accomplished this in two hours or less:

The majority of attacks were accomplished in two hours or less, while 90% were finished in six hours or less.

The study strongly suggests that relying on military rapid response units to save diplomats is a forlorn hope. “In none of the cases that we examined did planned response forces, particularly In Extremis Response forces (such as a Commander’s In Extremis Force, Crisis Response Force, Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team platoon, or other U.S.-based Special Operations Forces) arrive before the attack culmination,” the study noted.

In contrast, security forces already on the scene did offer some protection. “Marine Security Guards (MSGs), Bureau of Diplomatic Security personnel, other routine security augmentation forces, and local security forces did play significant roles in defending against many of the attacks we analyzed,” said the study.

Embassy seizures were usually preceded by warning signs. Nearly 60% of attacks generated risk indicators two or more days in advance. “We also found very few cases in which there was advance warning of more than 30 days — only five times out of all the cases studied, or exactly once per decade,” RAND noted. In only 12.5 % of cases did an attack occur without prior warning.

And as embassy defenses improve, attacks are taking longer to succeed. “In the past decade, the median attack duration was four hours, and the average was 4.8 hours,” RAND said. “The lengthening of this duration could offer wider windows of opportunity to intervene.

The concept reduces drag by an enormous 69 percent

July 14th, 2021

British company White Motorcycle Concepts (WMC) says its WMC250EV should be capable of more than 250 mph (402 km/h) thanks to a massive 69 percent reduction in drag — from being designed around a giant hole:

Going super fast ends up being much more about aerodynamics than horsepower; the air becomes a ferocious adversary as you move past two or three times highway speed. Motorcycles are aerodynamically ugly without big, streamlined fairings, chiefly because of the big, funny-shaped human on the back.

[…]

WMC has tested this bike, Rob included, at the Horiba MIRA facility near Hinckley, and says the concept reduces drag by an enormous 69 percent compared against “the world leading motorcycle,” with a drag coefficient of just 0.118. That’s absolutely nuts. Even the mighty SSC Tuatara, currently the world’s fastest production car at 282.9 mph (455.3 km/h), can only manage a drag coefficient of 0.279.

BEB37C9A-1ADA-433D-B5E0-64257670EBE6

In order to run that big hole through the middle, WMC has had to jam all the guts of the bike into the space under the tunnel. That’s not just the electric drivetrain and battery packs, either; the tunnel cuts right through where your steering head and forks would normally be.

So the design uses a double-swingarm suspension system. The rear wheel is chain-driven by a pair of 30 kW electric motors integrated into the swingarm, according to Top Gear.

The front wheel is hub-steered using a hydraulic system that completely replaces the mechanical linkages you’ll normally find between the handlebars and front axle on a hub-steered bike.