Communism must be lived with, even while it is opposed

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

It was probably necessary for the opposition to win, in 1952, T. R. Fehrenbach suggests (in This Kind of War):

Whatever the domestic issues, only a Republican Administration could have dragged the American liberal middle classes into world affairs — and entanglement they violently distrusted. Only a Cabinet of men who never once, not even in college, had seen anything attractive in the far left could have brought to Americans understanding that Communism must be lived with, even while it is opposed.

This Republican Administration would do damage — it would toy with solutions such as “massive retaliation,” and it would seek cheap answers: “More bang for a buck.” It would continue to dislike professional legions, and try to do away with them. It would find, painfully, that all the old ideas dear to business-liberal society would not work.

It would, after a year or two, adopt containment, and continue virtually unchanged, every foreign policy of the Truman Administration.

The goal of the program was to keep the political concept of an autonomous Tibet alive

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

Since its inception, Nada Bakos explains in The Targeter, the CIA has had a paramilitary wing that today is part of its Special Activities Division (SAD):

SAD personnel were inserted into Tibet in 1950 after the Chinese invaded to lead resistance fighters against the People’s Liberation Army of China; during the Vietnam War, they ran the Agency’s covert Air America program.

Wikipedia offers this description of the CIA Tibetan program:

The CIA Tibetan program was a nearly two decades long anti-Chinese covert operation focused on Tibet which consisted of “political action, propaganda, paramilitary and intelligence operations” based on U.S. Government arrangements made with brothers of the 14th Dalai Lama, who was not initially aware of them. The goal of the program was “to keep the political concept of an autonomous Tibet alive within Tibet and among several foreign nations”.

Although it was formally assigned to the CIA, it was nevertheless closely coordinated with several other U.S. government agencies such as the Department of State and the Department of Defense.

Previous operations had aimed to strengthen various isolated Tibetan resistance groups, which eventually led to the creation of a paramilitary force on the Nepalese border consisting of approximately 2,000 men. By February 1964, the projected annual cost for all CIA Tibetan operations had exceeded US$1.7 million.

The program ended after President Nixon visited China to establish closer relations in 1972. The Dalai Lama criticized this decision, saying it proved wholeheartedly that the US never did it to help the people of Tibet.

Air America was an American passenger and cargo airline established in 1946 and covertly owned by the U.S. Government and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 1950 to 1976:

From 1962 to 1975, Air America inserted and extracted US personnel, provided logistical support to the Royal Lao Army, the Hmong Army under command of Royal Lao Army Major General Vang Pao and combatant Thai volunteer forces, transported refugees, and flew photo reconnaissance missions that provided intelligence on Viet Cong activities. Its civilian-marked craft were frequently used, under the control of the Seventh/Thirteenth Air Force, to launch search and rescue missions for US pilots downed throughout Southeast Asia. Air America pilots were the only known private US corporate employees to operate non-Federal Aviation Administration-certified military aircraft in a combat role.

There had never been enough Japanese POWs to matter

Monday, March 15th, 2021

The American Army had been ineffective at Koje-do, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and the reasons lay in the background of the POW question:

The United States had never faced handling massed POW’s since the War Between the States, and both sides had botched it then; in World War I the Allies shouldered the burden; and in the last war it was not until 1943 Americans had any prisoners, and these were from a foe of the same basic culture, who sensed they were already beaten.

There had never been enough Japanese POWs to matter.

But in Korea the United States not only had taken thousands of POW’s of alien culture; it faced an alien psychology also. The “specially trained” guard units sent out from the States understood neither Orientals nor Communists.

The CIA wanted its employees to operate anonymously

Sunday, March 14th, 2021

In Iraq, as Nada Bakos explains in The Targeter, she drove a Toyota pickup:

The pickup was one of a dozen or so the Agency had flown in for use by CIA personnel. Unlike the Pentagon, whose employees went around in armored carriers, and the State Department and USAID, whose diplomats were transported in caravans of fortified Chevy Suburbans, the CIA wanted its employees to operate anonymously. To blend in. So we drove this fleet of well-used trucks.

The Toyota Hilux — known to Americans as the Tacoma — is arguably the AK-47 of trucks.

Put everybody under arms

Saturday, March 13th, 2021

When Boatner came in to replace Colson at Koje-do, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), he noticed that everyone there was wearing different uniforms:

“Fitzgeral, speaking of uniforms, why are there so many different kinds around?”

“General, you wouldn’t want your own headquarters wearing the same uniform as the troops!”

Boatner, who had been on Heartbreak Ridge, was speechless. But only for a moment. “Dammit, that’s exactly what I want! Furthermore, some of the troops are wearing side arms, some aren’t. Put everybody under arms.”

“Oh, please, General, don’t do that. You’ll be sorry.”


“There’ll be so many accidental discharges around here, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

“Goddamit!” the Bull roared. “Goddamit, if a soldier can’t handle his weapons, what the hell kind of outfit have we got? Put ‘em under arms!”

“General, I wish you’d reconsider —”

The summation of Boatner’s further remarks was No.

The USSS proudly oversees the largest ink library in the world

Friday, March 12th, 2021

Nada Bakos’s CIA unit in Iraq consulted with the leading government experts in forgery, the United States Secret Service (USSS), as she explains in The Targeter:

Along with its highest-profile duty — protecting the president — the service has other branches that do everything from detect counterfeit currency to monitor networks of electronic crime. One branch, some 120 men and women strong, collects ink. More than 8,500 samples of ink, in fact, which have been sent to the USSS from manufacturers since the 1920s.

Each new ink formulation prompts a new delivery, with samples arriving from around the world as liquid in a bottle or perhaps a new batch of pens or refills.

Each time, the team scribbles a sample of the ink onto Whatman filter paper, grade 2 — hence the paper’s common nickname, scribble sheets — tucks it into a protective sleeve inside a binder, then stores it in dark cabinets to protect it against degradation from light, temperature, and humidity. The USSS proudly oversees the largest ink library in the world — and we needed their expertise.

It was a tremendous Communist propaganda victory

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Brigadier General Francis T. Dodd went to meet the Communist delegation at the gate of Korean Officer Compound Number 76 on the Island of Koje, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

The gate was opened, while U.N. guards stood by, idly watching, manifestly bored by the island and their duty.

At a sudden signal, the POW’s, who had carefully rehearsed the maneuver, formed a press around Frank Dodd; he was seized and dragged within the compound; a flying wedge pushed the startled guards back, and the gates were closed.

Their shouting did no good. Dodd was pulled deep inside Number 76, inside a hut, and the men around him suddenly had sufficient homemade workshop items, made from spare metal and the slivers within GI shoes, effectively to release him from his earthly existence long before a guard detachment could knock down the wire and fight its way through to him.

This, as the officer now in charge of the island, Colonel Bill Craig, realized, was one hell of a mess. He passed the buck, quite properly; though he did not realize that the buck would move idly across Koje Island bounce about in Pusan, wing its way to Tokyo, then shriek its way across the ocean, only to come sizzling back, within a period of three days.


Colson talked to 2nd Logistical Command in Pusan, thought he had its concurrence, got the POW’s to tone down their demands a little — though he agreed, in essence, that “the U.N. Command would stop beating its wife” — which confession he discounted, since he felt everyone knew such allegations were silly — and signed on the dotted line, to get Dodd out.

It was a tremendous Communist propaganda victory.


Dodd was reduced to the grade of colonel, and retired. That left Colson.

When a man has done nothing conspicuously or flagrantly wrong, and yet had embarrassed his chiefs, whether he is an Army officer or an executive of Travelers Insurance, the current American phrase is “exhibited lack of judgment.” It is a wonderfully enveloping phrase, like the 96th Article of War’s “…and all other acts prejudicial to good order,” and can be fitted to almost any situation.

Whether in the Department of Agriculture or Department of the Army, anyone who causes acute embarrassment must go, or the lack of judgment is considered to be even higher up.


They presented Colson, who had walked into Koje-do cold, knowing nothing of the POW and propaganda situation there or anywhere else, with a long string of demands. Among them was confession of past crimes against POW’s, a pledge to recognize Communist organizations and control of the POW’s, and agreement “to stop torturing and mistreating prisoners to make them say they are anti-Communist.”

It was the old “have you stopped beating your wife?” technique, and Charlie Colson walked into it.

Colson knew the Communist demands and allegations were ridiculous; he was completely aware that no such torment or abuse of POW’s had ever taken place. He was not aware that when the demands, repeated by the newsmen now deserting the barren front for Koje-do in droves, were wired across the world, millions of people said, “Where there is smoke there must be fire,” and that Nam Il in Panmunjom was shrieking, in joyous and righteous rage:

“…These criminal acts committed by your side under the name of voluntary repatriation thoroughly violate the Geneva Convention relating to prisoners of war and repudiate the minimum standard of human behavior!”

And, “Your side must bear the full and absolute responsibility for the safety of our capture personnel!”

One woman’s blink of light was another woman’s fully formed narrative

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

Tests of simple reaction time had done astonishingly little to help explain expert sports performance, David Epstein notes (in The Sports Gene):

The reaction times of elite athletes always hovered around one fifth of a second, the same as the reaction times when random people were tested.


So, in 1975, as part of her graduate work at [the University of] Waterloo, [Janet] Starkes invented the modern sports “occlusion” test.

She gathered thousands of photographs of women’s volleyball games and made slides of pictures where the volleyball was in the frame and others where the ball had just left the frame. In many photos, the orientation and action of players’ bodies were nearly identical regardless of whether the ball was in the frame, since little had changed in the instant when the ball had just exited the picture.

Starkes then connected a scope to a slide projector and asked competitive volleyball players to look at the slides for a fraction of a second and decide whether the ball was or was not in the frame that had just flashed before their eyes. The brief glance was too quick for the viewer actually to see the ball, so the idea was to determine whether players were seeing the entire court and the body language of players in a different way from the average person that allowed them to figure out whether the ball was present.

The results of the first occlusion tests astounded Starkes. Unlike in the results of reaction time tests, the difference between top volleyball players and novices was enormous. For the elite players, a fraction of a second glance was all they needed to determine whether the ball was present. And the better the player, the more quickly she could extract pertinent information from each slide.

In one instance, Starkes tested members of the Canadian national volleyball team, which at the time included one of the best setters in the world. The setter was able to deduce whether the volleyball was present in a picture that was flashed before her eyes for sixteen thousandths of a second. “That’s a very difficult task,” Starkes told me. “For people who don’t know volleyball, in sixteen milliseconds all they see is a flash of light.”

Not only did the world-class setter detect the presence or absence of the ball in sixteen milliseconds, she gleaned enough visual information to know when and where the picture was taken. “After each slide she would say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ whether the ball was there,” Starkes says, “and then sometimes she would say, ‘That was the Sherbrooke team after they got their new uniforms, so the picture must have been taken at such and such a time.’”

One woman’s blink of light was another woman’s fully formed narrative. It was a strong clue that one key difference between expert and novice athletes was in the way they had learned to perceive the game, rather than the raw ability to react quickly.

They were the ones who tended to boast or get in your face

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

Nada Bakos noticed there were differences between the army special operators and the navy special operators working with the CIA in Iraq, as she explains in The Targeter:

The army guys had a steely focus about them, emphasizing thorough plans and clear processes for their missions. They were almost aloof at times, and I came to appreciate their quiet professionalism. Talking to navy special operators, on the other hand, tended to feel like being back at a college fraternity party. They were the ones who tended to boast or get in your face. Though as members of perhaps the world’s most iconic special operations unit, who’d then been handpicked to join an even more elite combined task force, they had reason to be boastful. And the creative flexibility they demonstrated on the fly was at times remarkable.

The maladaptive variety is what gives competitiveness its bad name

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing draws a distinction between adaptive competitiveness and maladaptive competitiveness:

Adaptive competitiveness is characterized by perseverance and determination to rise to the challenge, but it’s bounded by an abiding respect for the rules. It’s the ability to feel genuine satisfaction at having put in a worthy effort, even if you lose. People with adaptive competitiveness don’t have to be the best at everything—they only strive to be the best in the domain they train for. They might be perfectionists at work, but they don’t care if they’re the worst at tennis and shuffleboard. They are able to defer gratification, meaning they accept that it can take a long time to improve. Healthy competitiveness is marked by constant striving for excellence, but not desperate concerns over rank. It’s adaptive competitiveness that leads to the great, heroic performances that inspire us all.

The maladaptive variety is what gives competitiveness its bad name. Maladaptive competitiveness is characterized by psychological insecurity and displaced urges. It’s the individual who can’t accept that losing is part of competing; it’s the person who competes when others around him are not competing. He has to be the best at everything, and he can’t stop comparing himself to others even when the competition is over. He doesn’t stop when the whistle blows. He drags others into competitions they don’t want to be in, by provoking them. And he will resort to cheating when he can’t win.

American airmen accepted mortal combat

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

Both sides’ air forces enjoyed “privileged sanctuaries”, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and the resulting air combat over Korea resembled that of 1916–1918, or even the jousting of knights of old:

Aided by their close ground control radar the Communist craft rose high, preferably waiting until American fuel ran low before striking. Then at rates of closure as high as 1,200 MPH, the two formations came together.

Immediately, the formations dissolved into individual dogfights.

It was air war with a code more out of the Middle Ages than of twentieth century combat. Yet day after day, always outnumbered, too far away from their own bases to glide to safety, as could the enemy, American airmen accepted mortal combat.

The MIG-15′s flashing upward from Manchurian bases were faster than the Sabrejets, and could out climb them. The Russian-built planes carried twin 20mm cannon and a single 37mm against the .50-caliber machine gun armament of the F-86s. The MIG-15 was a superb aircraft, superior to any U.N. craft except the Sabrejet, which proved to be the only United Nations plane able to live in the air with it.

The appearance of the MIG-15 caused many people deep concern. These men had not accepted the fact that culture and weaponry, or even culture and plumbing are not synonymous, and while a society may lag a hundred years behind in comforts and ethics, it may catch up in hardware in a human lifetime.

But the F-86 that flew daily down MIG Alley was an exceedingly rugged plane, extremely maneuverable, flown by competent pilots sifted for the “tiger” instinct — the quality that makes a man bore in for the kill — and above all, it carried a radar-ranging gun sight superior to anything owned by the Communists.

Because of that radar sight, as the Air Force admitted, American pilots destroyed enemy jet aircraft at a ratio of 11 to 1. At sonic speeds the human eye and hand were simply not fast enough — but more than 800 MIG-15′s were sent spinning down, to crash and burn over North Korea.

The MIG-15′s, flown by North Korean and Chinese pilots, were never handled with a skill matching that of American airmen.

Yet, overall, considering the hours of combat, few jets fell. The high altitudes, the high speeds, the toughness of the planes, which almost required a hit on engine or pilot to cripple, combined to keep losses small in comparison with earlier air combats.

This was to be an interim air war, a testing and a learning phase for both American and Communist. Tactics and weaponry could be put to test, and the answers — radar gun controls, air-to-air rocketry, automatic cannon — reserved to the future.

The advice to “keep your eye on the ball” is literally impossible

Monday, March 8th, 2021

When David Epstein’s The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance came out, I bought it in hardcover and enjoyed it immensely — but physical books don’t lend themselves to blogging. So, when I saw that the Kindle edition was on sale for $1.99, I “picked up” a copy and reread it.

The opening chapter explains how the Pepsi All-Star Softball Game was contested by Major League Baseball players — until one year, when they brought in a true softball pitcher from Team USA, Jennie Fitch:

As part of the pregame festivities, a raft of major league stars had tested their skill against Finch’s underhand rockets. Thrown from a mound forty-three feet away, and traveling at speeds in the upper-60-mph range, Finch’s pitches take about the same time to reach home plate as a 95-mph fastball does from the standard baseball mound, sixty feet and six inches away. A 95-mph pitch is fast, certainly, but routine for pro baseball players. Plus, the softball is larger, which should make for easier contact.

Nonetheless, with each windmill arc of her arm, Finch blew pitches by the bemused men.

For four decades, scientists have been constructing a picture of how elite athletes intercept speeding objects.

The intuitive explanation is that the Albert Pujolses and Roger Federers of the world simply have the genetic gift of quicker reflexes that provide them with more time to react to the ball. Except, that isn’t true.


A typical major league fastball travels around ten feet in just the 75 milliseconds that it takes for sensory cells in the retina simply to confirm that a baseball is in view and for information about the flight path and velocity of the ball to be relayed to the brain. The entire flight of the baseball from the pitcher’s hand to the plate takes just 400 milliseconds. And because it takes half that time merely to initiate muscular action, a major league batter has to know where he is swinging shortly after the ball has left the pitcher’s hand, well before it’s even halfway to the plate.

The window for actually making contact with the ball, when it is in reach of the bat, is 5 milliseconds, and because the angular position of the ball relative to the hitter’s eye changes so rapidly as it gets closer to the plate, the advice to “keep your eye on the ball” is literally impossible. Humans don’t have a visual system fast enough to track the ball all the way in.


So why are [All-Star batters] transmogrified into Little Leaguers when faced with 68-mph softballs? It’s because the only way to hit a ball traveling at high speed is to be able to see into the future, and when a baseball player faces a softball pitcher, he is stripped of his crystal ball.

That seemed like a valuable ethos for an interviewer

Monday, March 8th, 2021

In The Targeter, Nada Bakos explains that a book she threw in her bag before leaving Washington — Buddhism without Beliefs, by Stephen Batchelor — was surprisingly helpful as she began to interview detainees in Iraq:

“A compassionate heart still feels anger, greed, jealousy, and other such emotions. But it accepts them for what they are with equanimity, and cultivates the strength of mind to let them arise and pass without identifying with or acting upon them.”

That seemed like a valuable ethos for an interviewer. Little did I know how many times I would need to repeat this to myself in the coming weeks.

Hurtling to the earth in a free fall is something you can get acclimated to

Sunday, March 7th, 2021

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing opens with a study of first-time skydivers:

Analyzing the jumpers’ saliva samples, Deinzer wasn’t surprised to learn that they had a huge rush response to the first jump. But with each subsequent jump, the rush was reduced by about a quarter. By just the third jump, there was still a pronounced rush of stress, but (on average) it was now only half the first jump’s intensity. It was more akin to the stress you get from driving in slow traffic that’s making you late.

Apparently, hurtling to the earth in a free fall is something you can get acclimated to, rather quickly.


Stephen Lyng is a scholar who studies edgework, a term borrowed from Hunter S. Thompson’s description of anarchic human experiences. During the 1980s, Lyng was a jump-pilot at a local skydiving center. He contrasted what he learned there from skydivers with what he learned later by studying car racers, downhill skiers, combat soldiers, and business entrepreneurs. Lyng eventually concluded that the true “high” of skydiving, and other edgework, stems from the way skilled performance brings control to a situation most people would regard as uncontrollable.

All of the safety rituals used to minimize the danger (in situations of extreme risk) engender this sense of control, but edgeworkers’ fundamental skills are the ability to avoid being paralyzed by fear and the capacity to focus their attention on the actions necessary for survival. The feeling of self-determination they get from conquering the risks is the real payoff. It’s not pure thrill they seek, but the ability to control the environment within a thrilling context.

How does this compare to ballroom dancing — in the Nordrhein-Westfalen Regional Ballroom Dance Competition?

The pressure of ballroom dancing induced a stress rush just as strong as someone’s second parachute jump. Many of the ballroom dancers’ stress response was every bit as high as a first parachute jump.

Don’t forget — this was not the dancers’ first competition, or second. On average, the competitors had been in 131 competitions, and they had been going to dance contests for eight years. Yet even with all that experience competing, plus thousands of hours of practice, ballroom dancing was still enormously stressful.


According to what science tells us, dancing at that point in their lives should have required very little cognitive control. All the muscle memory should have been driven down into the cerebellum region of their brains, where it was automated. There should have been no worry over forgetting to vary the inside and outside of their feet to create style and line.


The cutthroat world of the ballroom remained terrifying no matter how long they’d been at it. The contestants did not habituate.


How is it that someone can immediately get used to skydiving but can never get used to ballroom dancing?


The real difference was the psychological environment. The expert dancers were in a competition, and the novice parachutists were not. To be more precise, it wasn’t the dancing that was stress-inducing. It was being judged. It was winning and losing.


Ten years of practice may make you an expert. But even then, it just gets you in the door. You’ll still have to dance against other experts — most of whom have put in their ten years, too.


The same fundamental skills that matter in edgework turn out to matter in any competitive situation: the ability to avoid being paralyzed by fear, and the capacity to focus attention.

(I bought the Kindle edition on sale for $1.99, and it’s still on sale.)

American aircraft were never permitted to cross the Chinese or Russian boundary, even in hot pursuit

Sunday, March 7th, 2021

There were only two new developments in the Korean War, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the general use of jet aircraft, and the widespread use of rotary-wing craft for evacuation, transport, and reconnaisance:

In the first days of the war, American Far East Air Force had knocked down the antiquated YAK-9 and YAK-15 fighters of North Korea. It was not until 31 October 1950 that a new phase of air warfare began.

On that date Russian-built MIG-15 jet fighters appeared in strength over North Korea. They raised havoc with the lumbering B-29′s bombing the Yalu bridges, and threw a fright into American pilots flying World War II F-51′s and Corsairs. On 8 November an American F-80 shot down the first MIG-15, but the Air Force was forced to rush its newest and best fighters, the F-86 Sabrejets, to the Far East.


The Communist aircraft, although field after field was constructed in North Korea, and as quickly bombed out, never were based south of the Yalu. They remained, silvery in plain sight on broad airdromes just north of the river, in privileged sanctuary, coming now and again across the river to engage patrolling American aircraft above the Valley of the Yalu — the famous MIG Alley.

American aircraft were never permitted to cross the Chinese or Russian boundary, even in hot pursuit.