Use the same tactics you would use with a power hungry and controlling supervisor in your place of employment

Friday, May 29th, 2020

How do you safely intervene when cops are mistreating a prisoner?

Violent action won’t help. You will be arrested and likely beaten or killed as well. If you physically attack the cop, it might actually make it worse for the guy you are trying to protect.


You always want to give your opponent a “face saving” way out. You want your opponent to think that your idea is his idea and to embrace that idea rather than to fight it. The best way to deal with these police officers is to use the same tactics you would use with a power hungry and controlling supervisor in your place of employment.


Don’t let your rage make you ineffective. To verbally convince these officers that they are acting in error, you need to provide them with a better solution and make them think that the decision is in their own best interests. You may have to soften your angry tone and think a bit to make that happen.


The best thing to do is to approach another officer on scene who has less ego involvement rather than approaching the officer kneeling on the man’s neck.

Say something like:

“Hey officer, I just want to let you know that the guy on the ground appears to be suffering from a medical condition. I don’t know if the officer controlling him knows he’s kneeling on the dude’s neck. People are videotaping and it doesn’t look good. I just don’t want you guys to get in trouble.”

If someone approached me at a similar scene in that manner, I would most certainly go check things out and ensure that the prisoner is OK.

You don’t care about the officers’ well being. You openly hope that the officer does get in trouble. Remember, to be successful, you want him to think it was his own idea. You want the officer to think “Maybe that doesn’t look very good. I have to stop this before it gets worse.” Play the game.

If there is no one else on scene, I’d approach the officer and focus on the medical issues.

“Officer, let me help you. I’ve had advanced medical training and that guy doesn’t look so good. Let’s move him on to his side and away from the car so that he can breathe better and I’ll check him out for you.”

In that approach, the officer can yield authority to someone who is better qualified without losing face. Most cops know very little about medical treatment protocols. If you seem like you know more than he does, he may yield to your experience.

Another way that might work is:

“Officer, are you OK? I’m a martial arts instructor. Can I help you hold him down so that you don’t have to kneel on his neck? Just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it.”

That might get the officer thinking about the consequences of kneeling on someone’s neck and allow him the safety to “de-escalate” if he feels that you are helping him get a chaotic situation under control.

Heaviside can take advantage of slim and low-drag aerodynamic forms that are just not practical on cars

Thursday, May 28th, 2020

Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft can be surprisingly energy-efficient:

Under the EPA’s standard freeway driving test, a 2020 Nissan Leaf Plus uses about 275 Watt-hours per mile when it averages 50 miles per hour. It can comfortably seat four, but its average occupancy is somewhere around 1.6. Thus, the Leaf’s energy consumption is about 171Wh per passenger mile across all trips.

Our current Heaviside prototype uses about 120Wh per passenger mile, and does so at twice the speed of the Leaf: 100 miles per hour (of course, we can fly much faster, if we choose). We can save another 15% of energy because while roads are not straight, flight paths usually are. All together, Heaviside requires 61% as much energy to go a mile.

Why is Heaviside this efficient — doesn’t it take more energy to go faster? Yes, and it makes the high efficiency we’ve achieved even more dramatic. The answer is that Heaviside can take advantage of slim and low-drag aerodynamic forms that are just not practical on cars.

Detonation is chaotic and much harder to control

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

A type of rocket engine once thought impossible has just been fired up in the lab:

Engineers have built and successfully tested what is known as a rotating detonation engine, which generates thrust via a self-sustaining wave of detonations that travel around a circular channel.

As this engine requires far less fuel than the combustion engines currently used to power rockets, it could eventually mean a more efficient and much lighter means of getting our ships into space.

“The study presents, for the first time, experimental evidence of a safe and functioning hydrogen and oxygen propellant detonation in a rotating detonation rocket engine,” said aerospace engineer Kareem Ahmed of the University of Central Florida.

The idea of the rotating detonation engine goes back to the 1950s. It consists of a ring-shaped — annular — thrust chamber created by two cylinders of different diameters stacked inside one another, creating a gap in between.

Gas fuel and oxidiser are then injected into this chamber through small holes and ignited. This creates the first detonation, which produces a supersonic shockwave that bounces around the chamber. That shockwave ignites the next detonation, which ignites the next, and so forth, producing an ongoing supersonic shockwave to generate thrust.

This should produce more energy for less fuel compared to combustion, which is why the US Military is investigating and funding it; this new research was funded by the US Air Force, and it’s not the only such project the military are looking into.

In practice, however, there’s a reason rockets are generally powered by internal combustion instead, in which the fuel and oxidiser are mixed to produce a slower, controlled reaction to generate thrust.

Detonation is chaotic and much harder to control. In order for the whole thing to not blow up — very literally — in your face, everything needs to be precisely calibrated.

(Hat tip to Hans Schantz.)

Seismic technology to probe the Earth adapted to probe the brain

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

For decades, geologists have used sound waves travelling through the Earth to search for oil, image fault lines and attempt to predict earthquakes:

But in recent years seismology has been supercharged by a computational technique called full waveform inversion (FWI), which uses complex computer algorithms to scavenge ever more information from seismic data, and make much more detailed and accurate 3D maps of the Earth’s crust.

Now scientists at Imperial College London have adapted the same technology into a prototype head-mounted scanner that produced imaging information they say could be used in the future to produce high-resolution 3D images of the brain.


The device uses a helmet fitted with an array of acoustic transducers that act as both sound transmitters and receivers. The system uses low frequency sound waves that are able to penetrate the skull and pass through the brain without harming brain tissue. The sound waves are altered as they pass through different brain structures, then the signals are read and run through the FWI algorithm. In simulations the team got results that make them confident they can produce high-resolution 3D images that may be as good, if not better, than more traditional approaches.

Such a device, because of its simplicity and presumably lower cost, could make brain imaging much more widely available.

If developed into a small, portable version, it could have a powerful impact on the diagnosis of brain injury. For example, doctors in emergency rooms or paramedics would be able to do instant brain scans of accident victims with head injuries, or stroke victims.

Current brain scanning technology is very expensive so its use is effectively rationed, with long wait times for non-emergency appointments. It’s also cumbersome, not very well suited to some emergency situations, and can’t be used on some patients. MRI, for example, can’t be used on patients with metallic medical implants or victims of accidents who might have metallic foreign bodies in them. They’re also huge, loud and confining, which can be a big issue for some patients.

Abu Hureyra had another story to tell

Monday, May 25th, 2020

Before the Taqba Dam impounded the Euphrates River in northern Syria in the 1970s, an archaeological site named Abu Hureyra bore witness to the moment ancient nomadic people first settled down and started cultivating crops — but Abu Hureyra had another story to tell:

A large mound marks the settlement, which now lies under Lake Assad.

But before the lake formed, archaeologists were able to carefully extract and describe much material, including parts of houses, food and tools — an abundance of evidence that allowed them to identify the transition to agriculture nearly 12,800 years ago. It was one of the most significant events in our Earth’s cultural and environmental history.

Abu Hureyra, it turns out, has another story to tell. Found among the cereals and grains and splashed on early building material and animal bones was meltglass, some features of which suggest it was formed at extremely high temperatures — far higher than what humans could achieve at the time — or that could be attributed to fire, lighting or volcanism.

“To help with perspective, such high temperatures would completely melt an automobile in less than a minute,” said James Kennett, a UC Santa Barbara emeritus professor of geology. Such intensity, he added, could only have resulted from an extremely violent, high-energy, high-velocity phenomenon, something on the order of a cosmic impact.

Based on materials collected before the site was flooded, Kennett and his colleagues contend Abu Hureyra is the first site to document the direct effects of a fragmented comet on a human settlement. These fragments are all part of the same comet that likely slammed into Earth and exploded in the atmosphere at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, according to Kennett. This impact contributed to the extinction of most large animals, including mammoths, and American horses and camels; the disappearance of the North American Clovis culture; and to the abrupt onset of the end-glacial Younger Dryas cooling episode.

The team’s findings are highlighted in a paper published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

“Our new discoveries represent much more powerful evidence for very high temperatures that could only be associated with a cosmic impact,” said Kennett, who with his colleagues first reported evidence of such an event in the region in 2012.

Abu Hureyra lies at the easternmost sector of what is known as the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) strewnfield, which encompasses about 30 other sites in the Americas, Europe and parts of the Middle East. These sites hold evidence of massive burning, including a widespread carbon-rich “black mat” layer that contains millions of nanodiamonds, high concentrations of platinum and tiny metallic spherules formed at very high temperatures. The YDB impact hypothesis has gained more traction in recent years because of many new discoveries, including a very young impact crater beneath the Hiawatha Glacier of the Greenland ice sheet, and high-temperature meltglass and other similar evidence at an archaeological site in Pilauco, located in southern Chile.

Rodents rely on restaurants for food

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning that rodents are becoming increasingly aggressive as they scavenge for food:

In an advisory posted to its website, the health agency noted that rodents rely on food and waste generated at commercial establishments such as restaurants. Closures and limits on service have caused rodents to search for new sources of food and to exhibit more erratic behavior.

Passive repetitive reading produces little or no benefit for learning

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

Research dating back a century has shown that retrieval contributes to learning, but the past decade has seen a renewed, intense focus on exploring the benefits of retrieval for learning:

This recent research has established that repeated retrieval enhances learning with a wide range of materials, in a variety of settings and contexts, and with learners ranging from preschool ages into later adulthood (Balota, Duchek, Sergent-Marshall & Roediger, 2006; Fritz, Morris, Nolan & Singleton, 2007).

A word-learning experiment illustrates some key points about retrieval-based learning. In the experiment (Karpicke & Bauernschmidt, 2011), students learned a list of foreign language words (e.g., Swahili vocabulary words like “mashua — boat”) across cycles of study and recall trials. In study trials, the students saw a vocabulary word and its translation on the computer screen, and in recall trials, they saw a vocabulary word and had to recall and type its translation. The students studied a list of vocabulary words, then attempted to retrieve the whole list, studied it again, retrieved it again, and so on across alternating study and retrieval practice blocks.

There were several different conditions in the experiment. In one condition, students simply studied the words once, without trying to recall them at all. In a second condition, students continued studying and recalling the words until they had recalled all of them once. After a word was successfully retrieved once, it was “dropped” from further practice — the students did not see it again in the learning session.

Other conditions in the experiment examined the effects of repeated retrieval practice. Once a word was recalled, the computer program required the students to practice retrieving the items three more times. One repeated retrieval condition had the three recall trials happen immediately, three times in a row. This condition, referred to as massed retrieval practice, is akin to repeating a new piece of information over and over in your head right after you experience it. Finally, in the last condition highlighted here, the students also practiced retrieving the words three times, but the repeated retrievals were spaced throughout the learning session. For instance, once a student correctly recalled the translation for mashua, the program moved on to other vocabulary words, but prompts to practice retrieval of the translation for mashua would pop up later on in the program. In this way, the retrieval opportunities were spaced throughout the learning session.

The key question in this research was, how well would students remember the vocabulary word translations in the long term? Figure 1 shows the proportion of translations that students remembered one week after the initial learning session.


Merely studying the words once without ever recalling them produced extremely poor performance (average recall was 1 percent, barely visible on the figure). Practicing until each translation was recalled once was much better. But what about the effects of repeated retrieval practice? Massed retrieval — repeating the translations three times immediately — produced no additional gain in learning. Repeated retrieval enhanced learning only when the repetitions were spaced, and indeed, the effects of repeated spaced retrieval were very large. In a single experiment, simple changes that incorporated spaced retrieval practice took performance from nearly total forgetting to extremely good retention (about 80 percent correct) one week after an initial learning experience (see also Karpicke & Roediger, 2008; Pyc & Rawson, 2010).


In one survey (Karpicke, Butler & Roediger, 2009), college students were asked to list the strategies they use while studying and to rank-order the strategies. The results, shown in Figure 2, indicate that students’ most frequent study strategy, by far, is repetitive reading of notes or textbooks. Active retrieval practice lagged far behind repetitive reading and other strategies (for a review of several learning strategies, see Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan & Willingham, 2013). A wealth of research has shown that passive repetitive reading produces little or no benefit for learning (Callender & McDaniel, 2009). Yet not only was repetitive reading the most frequently listed strategy, it was also the strategy most often listed as students’ number one choice, by a large margin.

Grunts in the Sky

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

I don’t remember Grunts in the Sky from when it was leaked in 2015 or officially released a couple years after that:

Teachers don’t learn about learning

Friday, May 22nd, 2020

Many things that go on at schools are at odds with the conclusions of rigorous education research:

Teaching kids abstract critical thinking skills is unlikely to help them think critically. The length of lectures often exceeds children’s attention spans. Most anti-bullying programs don’t work.


The results were “sobering,” according to a March 2020 report, “Learning by Scientific Design; Early insights from a network informing teacher preparation.” By my math, teacher candidates scored an average of 57 percent or 31 questions correct on a 54-question test — an F.


Deans for Impact instead reported the results in three separate categories: 49 percent on 14 basic cognitive science principles; 58 percent correct on 32 questions about applying these concepts in the classroom, and 67 percent on eight questions about beliefs about how kids learn.


One common misunderstanding, according to the report, is mistaking student engagement for learning. In one question, student teachers were asked to pick between two classroom activities to teach students the difference between types of newspaper articles. One activity asked students to read the same three articles and answer three questions in small discussion groups. One example: “Make a list of differences between the news article and the opinion pieces. Which of these can be attributed to the authors’ differing purposes?” The second activity had students go on a newspaper scavenger hunt and sort articles into three categories: persuade, inform and entertain.

The question specifically asked teachers to pick the activity that would help students learn the ways that an author’s purpose influences their writing. And for the education researchers who helped create the assessment, it wasn’t a close call. “None of these are gotcha questions,” said Heal, a consultant with Deans for Impact.

But only 22 percent of future teachers picked the first activity, which was the correct answer, because it requires students to make their thinking visible and identify key features of each text. That helps students build a mental model that they can apply again in the future. The second activity doesn’t require much analysis but teacher candidates gravitated toward it. Why? “The first activity is very boring, I didn’t even want to read the questions,” wrote one test taker. “The second activity is more inviting, seems more hands on and is more inquiry learning.”

The test also revealed that many teacher candidates embrace the myth of learning styles, believing that individual students are either visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners. The research consensus is that differentiating instruction this way doesn’t boost learning.


Twenty-two teaching instructors at the six schools volunteered to take the test themselves. They also failed the section on basic cognitive science principles but they passed the section on practical applications in the classroom with an average score of 77 percent correct. Maybe you don’t need to know the details of the science as long as you know how to apply them.

Indochina got the worst of two worlds

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

Bryan Caplan often feels the need to save pacifism from (other) pacifists:

Though the argument for pacifism is surprisingly solid, flesh-and-blood pacifists often make me cringe with their naive and even intellectually dishonest claims. Some even shamefully glide from pacifism to identification with heinous totalitarian regimes.

One striking example: the following panel from historian Howard Zinn‘s non-fiction graphic novel, A People’s History of American Empire.* After a history of the Vietnam War that barely mentions North Vietnam’s record of mass murder and oppression, Zinn claims complete vindication by events.

Zinn People's History of American Empire Vietnam Memorial

Everything that radical critics had predicted”?! Did they predict a mass exodus of desperate boat people? Communist Vietnam’s imprisonment of millions in re-education camps? The untimely deaths of over 100,000 in those camps? The execution of another hundred thousand? The Khmer Rouge’s takeover and murder of 25% of the population of Cambodia? Defenders of the war who claimed that only America’s presence could prevent a bloodbath have a far stronger claim to vindication by the facts than its “radical critics.”

Zinn deserves credit for pointing out the crimes of the American and South Vietnamese governments. But the intellectually honest pacifist should be the first to admit that the North Vietnamese government’s crimes were far worse — and that Indochinese Communists’ post-war intentions were truly macabre.

If these are my views, why on earth would I have opposed the Vietnam War? The same reasons as usual: even the less-evil side engaged in mass murder of civilians and other human rights violations without any strong reason to believe these moral transgressions would lead to sharply better consequences. The American government did great evil in the name of a greater good that never materialized. In the end, Indochina got the worst of two worlds: all the horrors of war plus all the horrors of Communism.

What’s especially tragic is that the U.S. could have peacefully saved many millions of the intended victims of Indochinese Communism. How? By allowing their immigration. During a brief period of open borders between North and South Vietnam, a million intended victims of Communism escaped to the modestly freer, richer South. Imagine how many Indochinese would have gladly emigrated to the far freer, far richer United States if we’d only given them the option.

A crazy idea? Perhaps. But far less crazy than trying to save Vietnam by bombing it into the stone age.

How to create the best at-home videoconferencing setup, for every budget

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

TechCrunch explains how to create the best at-home videoconferencing setup, for every budget:

Level 0
Turn on a light and put it in the right place
Be aware of what’s behind you
Know your system sound settings

Level 1
Get an external webcam (e.g. Logitech C922x)
Get a basic USB mic (e.g. Samson Meteor Mic)
Get some headphones

Level 2
Use a dedicated camera and an HDMI-to-USB interface (e.g. Elgato Cam Link 4K, IOGEAR Video Capture Adapter, Magewell USB 3.0 Capture)
Get a wired lav mic (e.g. Rode’s Lavalier GO)
Get multiple lights and position them effectively

Level 3
Use an interchangeable lens camera and a fast lens
Get a wireless lav mic (e.g. Rode Wireless Go)
Use in-ear monitors (e.g. Shure PSM300 Pro Wireless In-Ear Monitor System, Bang & Olufsen E8)
Use 3-point lighting (e.g. Elgato’s Key Lights)

Level 4
Get an HDMI broadcast switcher deck (e.g. Blackmagic ATEM Mini)
Use a broadcast-quality shotgun mic (e.g. Rode VideoMic NTG)
Add accent lighting (e.g. Hue Play Smart LED Light Bars)

Researchers at Cardiff University have discovered a new type of killer T-cell

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Researchers at Cardiff University have discovered a new type of killer T-cell that offers hope of a “one-size-fits-all” cancer therapy:

T-cell therapies for cancer — where immune cells are removed, modified and returned to the patient’s blood to seek and destroy cancer cells — are the latest paradigm in cancer treatments.

The most widely-used therapy, known as CAR-T, is personalised to each patient but targets only a few types of cancers and has not been successful for solid tumours, which make up the vast majority of cancers.

Cardiff researchers have now discovered T-cells equipped with a new type of T-cell receptor (TCR) which recognises and kills most human cancer types, while ignoring healthy cells.


Conventional T-cells scan the surface of other cells to find anomalies and eliminate cancerous cells — which express abnormal proteins — but ignore cells that contain only “normal” proteins.

The scanning system recognises small parts of cellular proteins that are bound to cell-surface molecules called human leukocyte antigen (HLA), allowing killer T-cells to see what’s occurring inside cells by scanning their surface.

HLA varies widely between individuals, which has previously prevented scientists from creating a single T-cell-based treatment that targets most cancers in all people.

But the Cardiff study, published today in Nature Immunology, describes a unique TCR that can recognise many types of cancer via a single HLA-like molecule called MR1.

Unlike HLA, MR1 does not vary in the human population — meaning it is a hugely attractive new target for immunotherapies.

T-cells equipped with the new TCR were shown, in the lab, to kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer cells, while ignoring healthy cells.

To test the therapeutic potential of these cells in vivo, the researchers injected T-cells able to recognise MR1 into mice bearing human cancer and with a human immune system.

This showed “encouraging” cancer-clearing results which the researchers said was comparable to the now NHS-approved CAR-T therapy in a similar animal model.

The Cardiff group were further able to show that T-cells of melanoma patients modified to express this new TCR could destroy not only the patient’s own cancer cells, but also other patients’ cancer cells in the laboratory, regardless of the patient’s HLA type.

Some innovation is speeding up, but some is slowing down

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic reveals that far from living in an age of incessant technological change, we have been neglecting innovation, Matt Ridley says, in exactly the areas where we most need it:

Faced with a 17th-century plague, we are left to fall back mainly on the 17th-century response of quarantine and closing the theaters.

It is commonplace today to say that innovation is speeding up, but like much conventional wisdom, it is wrong. Some innovation is speeding up, certainly, but some is slowing down. Take speed itself. In my lifetime of more than sixty years, I have seen little or no improvement in the average speed of travel. Congestion on the roads and at airports has in many cases increased the scheduled travel time between two points. A modern airliner, with its high-bypass engines and less-swept wings, is designed to save fuel by going more slowly than a Boeing 707 did in the 1960s. The record for the fastest manned plane, 4,520 miles an hour, was set by the X-15 rocket plane in 1967 and remains unbroken. Boeing 747s are still flying half a century after they were launched. Concorde, the only supersonic passenger plane, is history.

Moreover, recent decades have seen innovation stalled or rejected in a number of technologies. Nuclear power has been unable to roll out plans for new reactor designs. Genetic modification of crops was effectively rejected by Europe. The flow of new pharmaceutical drugs has slowed to a trickle. Ride-sharing apps have been banned in many cities. As the investor Peter Thiel has pointed out, innovation is now largely a digital phenomenon, because bits are lightly regulated and atoms heavily regulated. On all sides we hear arguments that innovation threatens jobs, the environment, privacy and democracy.

Of immediate relevance to the current emergency, the development of vaccines has languished in the 21st century as an orphan technology, insufficiently encouraged by governments and ignored by the private sector. New vaccines are rarely profitable. By the time a company develops one for a new epidemic, the worst may be over. Last year Wayne Koff, president of the Human Vaccines Project, warned that the world was poorly prepared for a pandemic because vaccine development “is an expensive, slow and laborious process, costing billions of dollars, taking decades, with less than a 10% rate of success.”

It is not just vaccines. Throughout the economy, with the exception of the digital industry, the West is experiencing an innovation famine. The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter’s “perennial gale of creative destruction” has been replaced by the gentle breezes of rent-seeking. Two recent books argue that big companies in cozy cahoots with big government increasingly shy away from change, sheltered against competition by regulation and intellectual property rights. In “The Captured Economy” (2017), Brink Lindsey and Steven M. Teles make the case that to the extent that incomes have been stagnating and opportunities for social mobility drying up, the cause is not too much innovation but too little. In “The Innovation Illusion” (2016), Fredrik Erixon and Bjorn Weigel argue that Western economies have “developed a near obsession with precautions that simply cannot be married to a culture of experimentation.”

Innovation relies upon freedom to experiment and try new things, which requires sensible regulation that is permissive, encouraging and quick to give decisions. By far the surest way to rediscover rapid economic growth when the pandemic is over will be to study the regulatory delays and hurdles that have now been hastily swept aside to help innovators in medical devices and therapies, and to see whether such reforms could be applied to other parts of the economy too.


Surprisingly, there is no good evidence that patents are helpful, let alone necessary, in encouraging innovation. A 2002 study by Josh Lerner, an economist at Harvard Business School, looked at 177 cases of strengthened patent policy in 60 countries over more than a century, finding that “these policy changes did not spur innovation.” James Watt, Samuel Morse, Guglielmo Marconi, the Wright brothers and many others wasted the best years of their lives in court defending their intellectual property, when they might have been busy developing new devices.

The expiration of patents often results in a burst of innovation, as with 3-D printing, where the recent lapse of three key patents has resulted in notable improvements in quality and a drop in price. The historian Anton Howes, of the Royal Society of Arts in London, points out that the French government bought out Louis Daguerre’s patent for photography in 1839 and made the technology freely available, unleashing a burst of creative innovation. Dr. Howes argues, “As we look to fight coronavirus and any future pandemics, we should perhaps consider which patents—for antivirals, vaccines, ventilators and other hygienic equipment—might be bought out in order to remove…innovation bottlenecks.”

Execution matters as much as the creative idea:

Charles Townes, who won the Nobel Prize for the physics behind the laser in 1964, was fond of telling the story of a beaver and a rabbit looking up at the Hoover Dam. “No, I didn’t build it myself,” says the beaver. “But it’s based on an idea of mine.”

That’s adapted from Ridley’s new book, How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom. I have some catching up to do on his previous books, but I’ve been a fan since I read The Red Queen.

There will be other engagements in other places, sometimes littoral, sometimes not

Monday, May 18th, 2020

There is no greater danger in military strategy than shaping a nation’s force structure to respond to one specific set of contingencies, giving an adversary the ability to adjust and adapt beforehand, Jim Webb says:

If authorized, appropriated and put into place, [General Berger's] plan would eliminate many of the Marine Corps’ key capabilities. It could permanently reduce the long-standing mission of global readiness that for more than a century has been the essential reason for its existence as a separate service. Its long-term impact would undo the value of the Marine Corps as the one-stop guarantor of a homogeneous tactical readiness that can “go anywhere, fight anybody, and win.” And after the centuries it took to establish the Marine Corps as a fully separate military service, it could reduce its present role by making it again subordinate to the funding and operational requirements of the Navy.

General Berger bases his proposal on guidance in the 2018 National Defense Strategy which “redirected the Marine Corps’ mission focus from countering violent extremists in the Middle East to great power / peer-level competition with special emphasis on the Indo-Pacific . . . Such a profound shift from inland to littoral . . . will also demand greater integration with the Navy and a reaffirmation of that strategic partnership.” He then concludes that “Our current force design, optimized for large scale amphibious forcible entry and sustained operations ashore . . . are no longer what the nation requires of the Marine Corps.”

In making his conclusions, Berger emphasizes two principles. The first is that the future force should be formulated based on “approved naval concepts.” The second is that its operational practices should heavily emphasize a “hider versus finder competition” that exists in many of the highly structured DOD “war games” that he has experienced, calling the “reconnaissance / counter-reconnaissance mission an imperative for success.”

Based on a 2018 Department of Defense framework that is always subject to change, General Berger has thus decided to dramatically alter the entire force structure of the Marine Corps to a posture whose overriding emphasis would be short-term, high-tech raids against Chinese military outposts on small, fortified islands in the South China Sea. While it is certainly useful to develop contingency plans should Marines be called upon to conduct such limited tactical interventions, building a force around this concept is not a bold leap into the future. Rather, it reflects a misunderstanding of the past, as well as ignoring the unpredictability of war itself. Such scenarios are hardly a full reflection of “what the Nation requires of the Marine Corps.” The General seems to acknowledge that when he states in his proposal, “We need better answers to the question, “what does the Navy need from the Marine Corps?”


In forwarding his conclusions, the General noted that he had already decided that the Marine Corps should divest (his word) its combat structure by three full infantry battalions, a 14 percent reduction of its most important combat elements, and all of the correlative support units that would be involved. Marine Corps analytical teams were also ordered to “avoid” criteria related to the possibility of “sustained land operations,” thereby removing future considerations of the type of operational challenges the Marine Corps has predominantly faced over the past one hundred years.


Depending on how limited one views the future responsibilities of the Marine Corps, this plan is erected on a fragile house of cards: that future Marine Corps operational commitments should be shaped by the reduction of front-line infantry battalions, whose casualties in any sustained engagement would quickly require replacements that may not be available if the battlespace expands; by subjecting Marine Corps commitments to the needs of the Navy; and by an unproved reliance on the augmentation of combat units such as aviation assets and tanks from other services that may not be available and who will not have trained with the Marine Corps.

The proposal was based on extensive wargaming, in which the new Commandant has great confidence. But it is axiomatic that experimental war games (like staff studies) can be biased through subtle control of the methodology decided upon by those who design the war game. There is no greater danger in military strategy than shaping a nation’s force structure to respond to one specific set of contingencies, giving an adversary the ability to adjust and adapt beforehand. Nor would it serve the country’s long-term interests for the Marine Corps to careen from two decades of overemphasis in the Middle East to a fixation with narrow naval scenarios in places like the South China Sea.

If history teaches us anything in combat it is that the war you get is rarely the war that you game. As former heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson once put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” In World War I the Germans were convinced they would defeat France in exactly forty-two days. Prior to World War II the French matched this folly by building a string of fortresses along the Maginot Line, leaving open the thickly forested Ardennes, which their war planners decided was impenetrable by a large-scale German attack. In 1941 the British were convinced that no military assault could overcome its shoreline defenses against an attack on their naval base in Singapore, then known as the unassailable “Gibraltar of Asia.” The Japanese army landed far to the north, then bicycled and marched its way down the Malayan Peninsula, attacking Singapore from behind and quickly smashing the stunned British and Australian defenders. Except for General Tomoyuki Yamashita the Japanese high command was not usually that brilliant. Its pre-war plan of fixed defenses on island redoubts throughout Pacific Asia backfired spectacularly, and their inability to adapt after their unexpectedly quick victories at the beginning of the war allowed American resilience and control over the sea and the air to destroy their gains.

None of these debacles were the result of a failure in new technologies. All were the failure of faulty planning and especially of the miscalculations of those at the highest levels of command.

Our present-day Marine Corps serves as the nation’s pre-eminent expeditionary force, deployable immediately in any scenario short of nuclear war. But before World War I the role of the Marine Corps was narrowly defined to shipboard duties, small “landing party” operations, and the protection of diplomatic legations ashore. Despite its well-earned reputation in those roles, from its founding in 1775 until World War I, total Marine Corps casualties in all of our country’s wars amounted to only 332 Marines killed in action. Marines were truly “soldiers of the sea,” an important but surrogate element of the Navy itself.

World War I changed that. The Marines quickly stood up two hardened and undefeatable regiments. During six months of heavy fighting they endured 2,457 killed in action and 12,379 total casualties, earning the revered title of “Devil Dogs” from their German opponents. Their discipline, unmatchable marksmanship and ability to adapt and innovate on the battlefield also earned them a larger role among America’s combat arms, from which has come a remarkable series of forward-looking contributions to our military and to our national security. But this evolution was not an easy one. The mid-twentieth century was marked with repeated efforts by competing services and politicians to either do away with the Marine Corps or to put it back inside the Navy box.

The Marine Corps first broke out of that box through its development of amphibious warfare doctrine during the 1930s after an intricate study of the ill-fated 1915 British landings and ground campaign at Gallipoli. The leaders of that period tested, trained and wrote the book on large-scale amphibious landings. During the island campaigns of World War II they demonstrated the Corps’ historic combination of leadership, discipline, and command accountability. But although the Marine Corps perfected the techniques of modern-day amphibious warfare, they did not own the concept. In fact, the largest U.S. amphibious operations in history, in Sicily and on D-Day at Normandy, were not conducted by the Marine Corps at all.

The most important evolution of the Marine Corps in our national security posture has been as an immediately deployable, fully capable expeditionary force, with an included mission of amphibious assault. And this has usually required “sustained land operations.”

When North Korea suddenly attacked South Korea in June 25, 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur asked immediately for the Marines, not simply because they had amphibious capabilities but because he knew that whatever it took, they would be ready. By September 15 the Marines had called up thousands of World War II veterans, formed an invasion force, deployed aboard ship, crossed the Pacific and landed at Inchon. The Inchon landing was one of the most technically difficult maneuvers in American history, subject to fluctuating sea tides and well behind enemy lines. Inchon was followed by more than two years of sustained land operations, including the most memorable engagement of the Korean War, the First Marine Division’s breakout from the Chosin Reservoir against vastly superior odds after the Chinese army crossed the Yalu River and surrounded them.

During and after the Korean War, Marine Corps innovation developed and perfected techniques of close air support and helicopter doctrine. During the late 1950s its leadership overcame intense opposition in order to retain fixed-wing aircraft so that the Corps could continue to field a fully capable, homogeneous force that could deploy immediately whenever called upon to do so, with every necessary combat component intact. This effort paid off in Vietnam with the quality of Marine Corps close-air support, a skill perfected only by continuous air-ground training.

In Vietnam the Corps fielded two full divisions and part of a third in sustained land operations, engaging a determined enemy for six years of hard combat that took the lives of fourteen thousand Marines and brought more than one hundred thousand total casualties. In the 1980’s they operated for more than a year in Beirut, Lebanon. They were among the first on the ground during Desert Storm, and again in Afghanistan and then again in Iraq. Such sustained operations as a highly integrated combat force, available to the country’s leadership on demand, has become an inseparable part of the modern Marine Corps tradition.

History tells us that in the future there will be other engagements in other places, sometimes littoral, sometimes not. If so, the Marine Corps that will be called upon to respond will be bringing with them only the weapon systems, logistics, technologies and people that our top leaders are now deciding to fund and to build and to train.

What will such a commitment look like? Where will it be? Will it involve “sustained land operations” rather than a “one and done” smack-down launched and quickly recovered by Navy ships? What kind of notice will our Marines have before being sent into harm’s way? What will be the size of that commitment?—a company, a battalion, a regiment, perhaps a division?—and over what expanse? Will it be urban or rural, or maybe in the mountains? How long will it last? Will there be adequate helicopter and other assets to insert, relocate, provide fire support, resupply and sustain the Marines, weapons systems, and logistical necessities required even to begin such an unanticipated call to duty? With such drastic “divestments” as those now proposed, will there be enough infantry Marines in the pipeline to replace and sustain the casualty flow and weapons replacements from battalions that are committed, not simply on the first day or the first week but over a much longer period, perhaps under conditions where our aviation assets and other mechanical systems are shot down, or crash, or wear out from such environmental erosions as heat, ice, sand, clay dust, monsoon rains, or the simple wear-and-tear of constant operations?

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

Scientists have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Scientists have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria:

The malaria-blocking bug, Microsporidia MB, was discovered by studying mosquitoes on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. It lives in the gut and genitals of the insects.

The researchers could not find a single mosquito carrying the Microsporidia that was harbouring the malaria parasite. And lab experiments, published in Nature Communications, confirmed the microbe gave the mosquitoes protection.

Microsporidias are fungi, or at least closely related to them, and most are parasites.

However, this new species may be beneficial to the mosquito and was naturally found in around 5% of the insects studied.