Over-the-horizon radar systems are very expensive to build and essentially immobile

Thursday, March 31st, 2022

China has set about building over-the-horizon radars to track American aircraft carriers as they make their long journey across the Pacific Ocean:

The frequency of radio waves used by most radars, in the form of microwaves, travel in straight lines. This generally limits the detection range of radar systems to objects on their horizon (generally referred to as “line of sight” since the aircraft must be at least theoretically visible to a person at the location and elevation of the radar transmitter) due to the curvature of the Earth. For example, a radar mounted on top of a 10 m (33 ft) mast has a range to the horizon of about 13 kilometres (8.1 mi), taking into account atmospheric refraction effects. If the target is above the surface, this range will be increased accordingly, so a target 10 m (33 ft) high can be detected by the same radar at 26 km (16 mi). Siting the antenna on a high mountain can increase the range somewhat; but, in general, it is impractical to build radar systems with line-of-sight ranges beyond a few hundred kilometres.


The most common type of OTH radar uses skywave or “skip” propagation, in which shortwave radio waves are refracted off an ionized layer in the atmosphere, the ionosphere. Given certain conditions in the atmosphere, radio signals transmitted at an angle into the sky will be refracted towards the ground by the ionosphere, allowing them to return to earth beyond the horizon. A small amount of this signal will be scattered off desired targets back towards the sky, refracted off the ionosphere again, and return to the receiving antenna by the same path. Only one range of frequencies regularly exhibits this behaviour: the high frequency (HF) or shortwave part of the spectrum from 3–30 MHz. The best frequency to use depends on the current conditions of the atmosphere and the sunspot cycle. For these reasons, systems using skywaves typically employ real-time monitoring of the reception of backscattered signals to continuously adjust the frequency of the transmitted signal.


OTH systems are thus very expensive to build, and essentially immobile.


A second type of OTH radar uses much lower frequencies, in the longwave bands. Radio waves at these frequencies can diffract around obstacles and follow the curving contour of the earth, traveling beyond the horizon. Echos reflected off the target return to the transmitter location by the same path. These ground waves have the longest range over the sea. Like the ionospheric high-frequency systems, the received signal from these ground wave systems is very low, and demands extremely sensitive electronics. Because these signals travel close to the surface, and lower frequencies produce lower resolutions, low-frequency systems are generally used for tracking ships, rather than aircraft.

There have been only three unicorns in 35 years in the defense space

Thursday, March 31st, 2022

In 2016, Facebook unceremoniously pushed Palmer Luckey out of the virtual reality startup he founded, Oculus. Then Luckey founded Anduril:

Luckey is now winning billion-dollar Pentagon contracts. One of them is for a counter-drone system based on its “battlefield operating system,” called Lattice. Anduril’s demo video shows one of the company’s sentry surveillance towers detecting a hostile drone and dispatching a small high-speed drone of its own to literally knock the intruder out of the sky. Recently, Anduril acquired a company that makes robot submarines.


Anduril has a valuation of nearly $5 billion, making Luckey a rare founder of two unicorns. He is unusual for a military contractor. Perpetually garbed in a Hawaiian shirt, and occasionally still in cosplay threads, his vibe is much more cheerful hacker. His conservative politics also make him an awkward figure in Silicon Valley. (One of his sisters is married to the right-wing provocateur and congress member Matt Gaetz.)


There have been only three unicorns in 35 years in the defense space: Palantir, SpaceX, and Anduril. All three of those companies were founded by people who had just sold their previous company for billions of dollars.

The first key to Starstreak’s capability is its guidance system

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

The UK is sending Starstreak High-Velocity Missiles (HVMs) to Ukraine:

The first key to Starstreak’s capability is its guidance system. Most MANPADS fire heat-seeking missiles — first, the missile’s infrared seeker head needs to become locked onto the target’s heat signature, before it’s launched and then autonomously homes in on it, in a ‘fire and forget’ mode. Depending on the age of the missile, certain heat-seeking MANPADS will also require some time for the seeker to cool down before it can lock on.

In contrast, the Starstreak uses laser-beam-riding guidance, in which the operator fires the missile as soon as a target is detected in the optically stabilized sight. Line-of-sight is then maintained throughout the engagement process. The aiming unit projects two laser beams onto the target, with sensors on the missile calculating the relative positions until impact. The intensity of these laser beams is low enough that, the manufacturer claims, the targeted aircraft won’t be able to detect them.

Overall, this guidance method is more accurate than traditional laser guidance, in which the target is ‘painted’ with a single beam. The twin-laser approach is more resistant to maneuvering targets that could otherwise break the laser lock. At the same time, unlike infrared-guided MANPADS, the Starstreak cannot be spoofed by flares or other heat sources. Unlike most air defense missiles, it’s effectively immune to countermeasures, including the latest L-370 Vitebsk (exported as the President-S) directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) found on many Russian Aerospace Forces helicopters.

Another advantage is that smaller targets can be engaged (as long as the operator can see them through the sight), including those with infrared signatures that might be insufficient for a heat-seeking missile to track.

In another break from MANPADS tradition, it’s not a single missile with a traditional warhead that’s guided onto or very near the target before detonating. Instead, three tungsten darts are released from the missile body, which contains the rocket motor, during the end-game terminal portion of the attack on the target.

The velocity of these darts, also known as ‘hittiles,’ is such that the Starstreak can destroy not only targets in the air [but] also heavily armored targets on the ground if the need arises. The darts have small control surfaces at the front to ensure they are steered into the target, via the projected laser matrix. They fly in ‘formation’ with a separation of around 5 feet.

The speed with which the missile itself then closes in on the target — up to 2,000 mph — gives it little chance of escape within a very brief engagement window, or ‘unmasking time.’


Once they have penetrated the target, the darts also explode, each one carrying a fragmentation warhead.

They were ignoring Reason and basing all of their opinions on three thousand year old fairy-tales

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

The rise of the Internet broadened our intellectual horizons, Scott Alexander argues:

We got access to a whole new world of people with totally different standards, norms, and ideologies opposed to our own. When the Internet was small and confined to an optimistic group of technophile intellectuals, this spawned Early Internet Argument Culture, where we tried to iron out our differences through Reason. We hoped that the new world the Web revealed to us could be managed in the same friendly way we managed differences with our crazy uncle or the next-door neighbor.

As friendly debate started feeling more and more inadequate, and as newer and less nerdy people started taking over the Internet, this dream receded. In its place, we were left with an intolerable truth: a lot of people seem really horrible, and refuse to stop being horrible even when we ask them nicely. They seem to believe awful things. They seem to act in awful ways. When we tell them the obviously correct reasons they should be more like us, they refuse to listen to them, and instead spout insane moon gibberish about how they are right and we are wrong.

I can only describe this experience from my own side of the aisle, which was the progressive side. We watched the US population elect George W Bush and act like this was a remotely reasonable thing to do. We saw people destroying the environment, leaving the poor to starve, and denying gay people their right to live as normal members of society. We saw people endorsing weird ideas and conspiracy theories, from homeopathy and creationism to the Clintons murdering their enemies. We were always vaguely aware from reading the newspapers that some of these people existed. But now we were seeing and conversing with them every day.


And so we asked ourselves: what the hell is wrong with these people?

And New Atheism had an answer: religion.

That was it. It was beautiful, it was simple, it was perfect. We were the “reality-based community”. They were ignoring Reason and basing all of their opinions on three thousand year old fairy-tales because people told them they would burn in Hell forever if they didn’t. There was nothing confusing or unsettling at all about the situation, and we did not need to question any of our own beliefs. It was just that some people had been brainwashed by their church/mosque/synagogue to believe transparently wrong things, so they did. Sin began with the apple tree in Eden; conservatism began with the Bible in Jerusalem. Language separates us from the apes; not being blinded by religion separates us from the Republicans.

This was a socially momentous proposal. The Democratic Party is centuries old, but the Blue Tribe — the Democratic Party as a social phenomenon with strong demographic and ideological implications — can be said to have started in 2004.

It does not amount to “formalized” training

Tuesday, March 29th, 2022

President Joe Biden said on Monday that US troops stationed in Poland have been “helping train the Ukrainian troops” in that country — but this has been clarified:

The sources told CNN that while US troops are indeed providing some instruction to the Ukrainians at a military base in Poland, it does not amount to “formalized” training.

Rather, the coaching is more tactical and in-the-moment, the sources explained. That includes showing the Ukrainian soldiers picking up the weapons shipments in Poland how to use some of that equipment, like the Javelin anti-tank missiles that the West has been sending in large numbers. Poland has become the central transit point of arms transfers into Ukraine.

The US has allocated $1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine in the last month alone, and intends to provide Ukraine’s armed forces with more than 9,000 shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons, including Javelins; nearly 7,000 small arms including machine guns and grenade launchers; 20 million rounds of ammunition; and 100 armed drones.

“These are direct transfers of equipment from our Department of Defense to the Ukrainian military to help them as they fight against this invasion,” Biden said earlier this month. “We’re going to continue to do more in the days and weeks ahead.”

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Tod D. Wolters told US lawmakers on Tuesday that the US had been providing “advice and assistance with respect to materiel” going into Ukraine, but that the US forces are not “in the process of currently training military forces from Ukraine in Poland.”

“There are liaisons that are there that are being given advice, and that is different than what I think you are referring to with respect to training,” Wolters told Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas when asked about the training.

Wolters said separately during the hearing that “as you well know we’ve made dramatic improvements in our information sharing and intelligence sharing, and as [the Ukrainians] continue to pursue their campaign, our advice and our assistance with respect to material will be very, very important,” Wolters said.

Some of the technologies behind China’s Assassin’s Mace weapons were indigenously developed

Tuesday, March 29th, 2022

After the Gulf War, Christian Brose explains (in The Kill Chain), the Russians weren’t the only ones to notice the US military’s success:

Upon visiting Baghdad, Chinese military officials learned that Saddam Hussein had the same aging Soviet air defenses and other weapons that China did, and in some cases, Iraq’s were better.


What unnerved the Chinese Communist Party was not just the stealth and precision of US forces but also their ability to achieve victory without completely annihilating the Iraqi military.


In 1996, as tensions between China and Taiwan flared, the United States sailed an aircraft carrier battle group into the Taiwan Strait, one hundred miles from China’s mainland, and the Chinese military struggled to locate its exact position. Three years later, China watched again as the same US way of war that had triumphed in Iraq destroyed Serbia’s ability to fight and forced Milosevic to capitulate. This time, however, it was personal, because a US airstrike had destroyed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.


Under what it called its 995 Plan (named for the Belgrade embassy attack in May 1999), China accelerated work to build a different kind of military. It continued to spend money on traditional military systems, such as ships and tanks, but its priority was to develop what it called “Assassin’s Mace” weapons. The name refers to special weapons that were used in Chinese history to defeat more powerful adversaries.


In the event of a war in Asia, the US military would build up its iron mountains in these forward bases, much as it had used similar bases to wage the wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and this would enable US forces to fight how, when, and where they wished. China knew that Washington assumed all of this, and it built larger and larger quantities of increasingly capable missiles, primarily medium-range and long-range ballistic missiles, to wipe out America’s critical warfighting infrastructure in Asia.


As a result, China developed early-warning and long-range radars to spot approaching US aircraft from as far away as possible. It also built dense and formidable networks of integrated air and missile defense systems that would aim to shoot down US planes from greater distances and high-powered jammers that would seek to destroy their ability to communicate.


The fact that aircraft carriers could move — so first had to be located — made them much tougher targets than land bases. But China knew that most US carriers were not based in Asia and would need to sail into the region from elsewhere in the event of conflict.


So, China set about building over-the-horizon radars, long-range reconnaissance satellites and aircraft, and other means of hunting America’s floating airfields as they made their long journey across the Pacific Ocean.


The DF-21, the world’s first ever anti-ship ballistic missile, was designed to do just that — fly out more than one thousand miles, slam into a carrier, and cripple its ability to fight, if not sink it altogether.


As Washington lurched from one costly military acquisition debacle to another, Beijing fielded an even more capable carrier killer missile, the DF-26, which may be able to fly twice as far as the DF-21, possibly farther, carry a larger warhead, and strike more precisely. It also fielded quiet diesel submarines and anti-ship cruise missiles that were harder to detect and defeat because they could fly low and maneuver unpredictably.


An additional set of Assassin’s Mace weapons focused on doing to the US military what it had done to Iraq in 1991: destroying the underlying systems that sustained the ability to wage war. In America’s case, this was its communications and intelligence satellites, especially its Global Positioning System (GPS), which enabled US weapons to find their targets. It was the information networks that moved targeting data from sensors to shooters. And it was the logistics enterprise that allowed US forces to flow into theaters of operations and sustained forces in combat with food, fuel, and supplies.


This was all part of a broader warfighting doctrine that Chinese military officials ultimately called “systems destruction warfare.”


Some of the technologies behind China’s Assassin’s Mace weapons were indigenously developed, but many fell into Chinese hands as the result of a long-term and large-scale campaign of state-sponsored theft.


It was often noted, for example, that China’s CH-4B unmanned aircraft was a spitting image of the US Predator drone, and that its J-20 fifth-generation fighter jet looked strikingly similar to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Indeed, some joked in Washington that all of the multi-billion-dollar acquisition disasters that plagued the US military were actually part of an ingenious plot to sabotage China when it tried to copy them.


By 2012, General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of US Cyber Command, estimated that the United States was losing a quarter of $1 trillion every year to cyber-enabled industrial espionage, much of it by China. He called it “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”

Why assassin’s mace?

A club-type weapon sounds like a rather unsuitable weapon for an assassin. The actual Chinese term is Sha Shou Jian (literally “killing hand club”), which refers to a pair of short wooden or metal rods used as a martial arts weapon. “Jian” normally denotes a long Chinese swordbut Sha Shou Jian are blunt and heavy. They could be concealed in the long sleeves of court robes and used to make surprise attacks — hence the association with assassins.

And although some Western commentators like the *New Atlantis *claim that the meaning of the assassin’s mace “remains elusive, ” it’s no mystery to Mandarin speakers. Sha Shou Jian a popular expression used by sports commentators, businessmen and even in romantic advice columns. Alastair Johnston of Harvard University criticizes the way Washington pundits want to make the Assassin’s Mace “mysterious and exotic”: it’s simply the decisive, winning quality. In sports, the Assassin’s Mace may be the key goal-scorer; in business, it’s any quality that puts you ahead of the competition; in love, it might be the subtle smile that wins over the object of your affections. Johnston suggests that a fairly idiomatic translation would be “silver bullet” and that the concept behind it is less fiendishly oriental than is often supposed.


The Pentagon defines the Maces as technologies that might afford an inferior military an advantage in a conflict with a superior power. In this view, an Assassin’s Mace is anything which provides a cheap means of countering an expensive weapon. Other examples might include Chinese anti-satellite weapons, which might instantly knock out U.S. space assets, or a conventional ballistic missile, designed to take out a supercarrier and all its aircraft in one hit. It’s an interesting contrast to the perspective of the American arms industry, which can end up spending vast amounts countering low-tech, low-cost threats like mines and IEDs.

Our culture is accidentally creating PTSD by expecting it

Monday, March 28th, 2022

Perhaps our culture is accidentally creating PTSD by expecting it, Lenore Skenazy suggests, by assuming that no one could possibly emerge from a trauma psychologically intact:

The idea that trauma changes everything is so common now that it is taken as gospel. A recent New Yorker article by Parul Sehgal traces how trauma became the all-purpose backstory for a huge swath of today’s TV shows, movies, and books. Peek into the past of characters from Claire Underwood to Ted Lasso, and you will find that they were deeply hurt by something or someone, which somehow explains everything from their utter ruthlessness (hers) to their irrepressible cheer (his). Viewers easily accept the idea that trauma, above all else, made these people who they are.

Psychiatrist Sally Satel, co-author of 2005′s One Nation Under Therapy, sums up that view this way: “You’ve done something to me, and now I’m tormented with the memories and will never lead a normal life!” While “I’m not saying that can’t happen,” Satel says, it is far less common than people tend to think.

Most people who suffer trauma end up psychologically fine, says Samantha Boardman, a psychiatrist who teaches at Weill Cornell Medicine and the author of the recent book Everyday Vitality (Penguin Life). Boardman points to Londoners during the Blitz. Even back then, the authorities were so concerned that the population would go mad with fear and grief that they set up three hospitals exclusively for psychiatric patients. The basket cases never materialized. Those British upper lips stayed so stiff that the mental hospitals were turned over to the army to care for wounded soldiers.

Fast forward to 9/11, another traumatic event. Surveys of New Yorkers six months afterward found us almost back to our normal stress levels. “We have lost sight of the fact that people are rather more resilient and resourceful than we have tended to think about them,” psychiatrist Simon Wessely observed in a 2006 lecture.

In fact, Wessely said, the one thing that seems to stymie the normal recovery process is professional intervention, a.k.a. “psychological debriefing.” He noted that “there have been over 15 trials in which we randomly allocate people to receive debriefing or not, and we know now, for certainty, that this does not work.” Worse, “the three best studies, with the longest follow-up, have shown that those who randomly received the debriefing were more likely to develop PTSD”—post-traumatic stress disorder.

The battlefield would now be everywhere

Sunday, March 27th, 2022

Russia’s exploits from a few years ago, Christian Brose explains (in The Kill Chain), demonstrated a type of modern political warfare that became known as the “Gerasimov doctrine”:

“The very ‘rules of war’ have changed,” Gerasimov wrote. “The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”

Put another way, the reconnaissance-strike complex now included the ability to surveil the political and social fault lines in countries and strike directly at the heart of them through “military means of a concealed character.” This included misinformation campaigns, political subversion, assassination, cyberattacks, and “active measures” using social media to tear at the fabric of diverse and democratic societies. The battlefield would now be everywhere.

Facts are useful, but not enough to actually fix the issue

Saturday, March 26th, 2022

David Epstein talks to Lisa Fazio, a Vanderbilt psychologist who studies misinformation , about the illusory truth effect:

This is a term we use for the finding that when you hear something multiple times, you’re more likely to believe that it’s true. So, for example, in studies, say that you know that the short, pleated skirt that men wear in Scotland is called a “kilt,” but then you see something that says it’s a “sari.” You’re likely to think that’s definitely false. If you see it twice, most people still think it’s false, but they give it a slightly higher likelihood of being true. The illusory truth effect is simply that repetition of these statements leads to familiarity and also to this feeling of truth.


We’ve done studies where we get people to pause and tell us how they know that the statement is true or false. And when people do that, they seem to be less likely to rely on repetition.


We’ve seen the illusory truth effect from five-year-olds to Vanderbilt undergrads, and other adults. I think that’s one of the big takeaways from all of the research we’ve done on misinformation is that we all like to believe that this is something that only happens to other people. But, in reality, just given the way our brains work, we’re all vulnerable to these effects.


Facts are useful, but not enough to actually fix the issue. You have to address the false information directly. So in a truth sandwich, you start with true information, then discuss the false information and why it’s wrong — and who might have motivation for spreading it — and come back to the true information. It’s especially useful when people are deliberately misinforming the public.


People have already created this causal story in their mind of how something happened. So in a lot of the experiments, there’s a story about how a warehouse fire happens. And initially people are provided with some evidence that it was arson — there were gas cans found on the scene of the crime. And then in one case you just tell people, “Oh, oops, sorry, that was wrong. There were no gas cans found there.” Versus in another you give them an alternative story to replace it — that there weren’t any gas cans at all; instead, it turns out that there was a faulty electrical switch that caused the fire. If you only tell people the gas cans weren’t there, they still think it’s arson. They just are like, “Oh, yeah. The gas cans weren’t there, but it was still arson, of course.” Whereas in the second story, they’ll actually revise the story they had in mind and now remember it was actually accidental.


Yeah, and with false information you can make it really engaging, really catchy, really easy to believe. And the truth is often complicated and nuanced and much more complex. So it can be really hard to come up with easy ways of describing complicated information in a way that makes it as easy to believe as the false information.

All of this military modernization had one explicit purpose

Friday, March 25th, 2022

What each president was slow to learn, Christian Brose suggests (in The Kill Chain), was that Russia was more interested in restoring the great-power status it lost in 1991 than in becoming the partner the United States hoped it would be:

This was especially true once Vladimir Putin became president on New Year’s Eve 1999.


A ruler who referred to the demise of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” set about restoring what he believed was Russia’s rightful place in the global balance of military power.


So, as the Obama administration was going out of its way to “reset” US relations with Russia, Putin was pouring money into the construction of an arsenal of technologically sophisticated weapons: long-range missiles and rockets, highly capable special operations forces, advanced air defenses, electronic warfare, cyber weapons, lasers to blind satellites, missiles to shoot them down, and tactical nuclear weapons.


All of this military modernization had one explicit purpose: to render the United States incapable of projecting military power into Europe and defending its NATO allies, especially the many parts of Europe that Putin still believed should be part of a greater Russia.

We’re applying the secret genius sauce solely to the kids who aren’t going to be geniuses

Thursday, March 24th, 2022

Erik Hoel suggests that the most depressing fact about humanity is that during the 2000s most of the world was handed essentially free access to the entirety of knowledge and that didn’t trigger a golden age:

Think about the advent of the internet long enough and it seems impossible to not start throwing away preconceptions about how genius is produced. If genius were just a matter of genetic ability, then in the past century, as the world’s population increased dramatically, and as mass education skyrocketed, and as racial and gender barriers came thundering down across the globe, and particularly in the last few decades as free information saturated our society, we should have seen a genius boom — an efflorescence of the best mathematicians, the greatest scientists, the most awe-inspiring artists.

If a renaissance be too grand for you, will you at least admit we should have expected some sort of a bump?

And yet, this great real-world experiment has seen, not just no effect, but perhaps the exact opposite effect of a decline of genius.


So, where are all the Einsteins?

The answer must lie in education somewhere. And if we look into research on different education strategies and their effectiveness, we do indeed see all sorts of debates about best practices, learning styles, class size, monetary policy, and equality. But mostly we see, actually, that none of it matters much.


For paradoxically there exists an agreed-upon and specific answer to the single best way to educate children, a way that has clear, obvious, and strong effects. The problem is that this answer is unacceptable. The superior method of education is deeply unfair and privileges those at the very top of the socioeconomic ladder. It’s an answer that was well-known historically, and is also observed by education researchers today: tutoring.

Tutoring, one-on-one instruction, dramatically improves student’s abilities and scores.


However, despite its well-known effectiveness, tutoring’s modern incarnation almost universally concerns specific tests: in America the Advanced Placements (AP) tests, the SATs, and the GREs form the holy trinity of private tutoring. Meaning that contemporary tutoring, the most effective method of education, is overwhelmingly targeted at a small set of measurables that look good on a college resume.

This is only a narrow version of the tutoring that was done historically. If we go back in time tutoring had a much broader scope, acting as the main method of early education, at least for the elite.

Let us call this past form aristocratic tutoring, to distinguish it from a tutor you meet in a coffeeshop to go over SAT math problems while the clock ticks down. It’s also different than “tiger parenting,” which is specifically focused around the resume padding that’s needed for kids to meet the impossible requirements for high-tier colleges. Aristocratic tutoring was not focused on measurables. Historically, it usually involved a paid adult tutor, who was an expert in the field, spending significant time with a young child or teenager, instructing them but also engaging them in discussions, often in a live-in capacity, fostering both knowledge but also engagement with intellectual subjects and fields. As the name suggests it was something reserved mostly for aristocrats, which means, no way around it, it was deeply inequitable.


Spanning kingdoms and continents aristocratic tutoring had a several-millennia long run. If we fast forward almost 2,000 years we can find Bertrand Russell, one of the undeniable geniuses of the 20th century, who was a classic case of aristocratic tutoring — raised by his rich grandparents, he didn’t even attend school until he was 16, and had a revolving door of tutors to equal Marcus’s. Many of whom were impressive scientists and intellectuals in their own right, e.g., J. Stuart, one of Russell’s tutors, had himself been a student of Lord Kelvin (that “Kelvin”).


The same sort of idyllic learning situation was true for Russell’s famous compatriot, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was privately tutored at home until he was 14. Name a genius and find a tutor: the governesses of John von Neumann taught him languages, and he had other later tutors as well. Even in the cases where the children weren’t entirely homeschooled, up until the latter half of the 20th century aristocratic tutors were a casual and constant supplement to traditional education.


When you go back further, into the 1600s and 1700s, aristocratic tutors are the norm, often members of the aristocracy themselves. Voltaire’s tutor when he was young was the educated and worldly abbe de Chateauneuf, who was also his godfather. In turn, Voltaire was tutor to Émilie du Châtelet, an early female scientist and mathematician (notorious for her harsh demands of her tutors). Ada Lovelace, inventor of the first algorithm, was tutored as a youth by Mary Somerville, another early female scientist (indeed, the term “scientist” was coined specifically to refer to Somerville in a gender-neutral way, rather than the previously-used “man of science”).


Perhaps the clearest example in history of a genius constructed by tutoring comes from the case of John Stuart Mill: philosopher, economist, politician, early feminist, and all-around Renaissance man. His father, already a famous intellectual, raised John explicitly to be a genius capable of carrying on the cause of philosophical utilitarianism, purposefully keeping the young John away from children his own age.


Karl Marx’s father (who was rich enough to own vineyards) privately tutored him up to the age of 12, his official schooling starting only after. Or consider the later case of Hannah Arendt, a titan of 20th century philosophy; raised upper-middle class and Jewish in Germany during the rise of Hitler, she was no aristocrat, but she received independent tutoring from rabbis and professors at various points in her young life, and, perhaps far more relevantly, her own mother acted in the role of a classic aristocratic tutor.


Well, it turns out most of the school stuff is exaggerated or apocryphal, and Einstein had multiple tutors growing up in subjects like mathematics and philosophy, such as his uncle, Jakob Einstein, who taught him algebra. In fact, there was a family tutor of the Einsteins who went by the name Max Talmud (possibly the best name of a tutor ever), and it was indeed Max Talmud who introduced the young 12-year-old Albert to geometry, prefacing young Albert’s eventual transformation of our understanding of space and time into something geometric. Maybe we don’t make Einsteins anymore because we don’t make Max Talmuds anymore.


Today, tutoring is seen mostly as a corrective to failures within the bureaucratic structures of eduction, like an intervention to help out a course, grade, or test. In general, those doing well in school don’t get tutoring — it’s like we’re applying the secret genius sauce solely to the kids who aren’t going to be geniuses.

The Little Green Men could jam Ukrainian drones

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

The Russian military of 2014, which Christian Brose describes in The Kill Chain, seemed disturbingly competent:

This was not a Russian military that most in Washington recognized. It had highly capable weapons, such as electronic warfare systems, communications jammers, air defenses, and long-range precision rocket artillery, much of which was better than anything the US military had.


The Little Green Men could jam Ukrainian drones, causing them to fall out of the sky. They could also jam the fuses on Ukrainian warheads so they never exploded when they hit their targets, but instead landed on the ground with an inert thud. The Ukrainians talked about how the Little Green Men could detect any signal they emitted and use it to target them. Minutes after talking on the radio, their positions were wiped out by barrages of rocket artillery. Their armored vehicles were identified by unmanned spotter drones and immediately hit with special munitions that came down right on top of them, where the armor was weakest, killing everyone inside.


The Ukrainians tried to dig themselves into bunkers and trenches, but the Little Green Men hit them with thermobaric warheads that sucked all of the oxygen out of those closed spaces, turning it into fuel that ignited everything and everyone inside. Entire columns of Ukrainian troops were annihilated by cluster munitions.


One day during the conflict, the man’s mother received a call from someone claiming to be the Ukrainian authorities, who informed her that her son had been badly wounded in action in eastern Ukraine. She immediately did what any mother would do: she called her son’s mobile phone. Little did she know that the call she had received was from Russian operatives who had gotten a hold of her son’s cell phone number but knew that he rarely used the phone for operational security reasons. This Ukrainian commander, being a good son, quickly called his mother back, which enabled the Little Green Men to geolocate his position. Seconds later, while still on the phone, he was killed in a barrage of precision rocket artillery.


What emerged in Ukraine in 2014 was more than just Little Green Men; it was a battle network of sensors and shooters that closed the kill chain with remarkable speed and lethality. It was a Russian reconnaissance-strike complex.

This insurance was supposed to pay off in case those bonds lost value

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2022

Many money managers who had bought Russian bonds in the past had purchased credit insurance from other companies:

This insurance was supposed to pay off in case those bonds lost value, which they clearly have as a result of sanctions.

Under terms of some of these contracts, some money managers have been able to collect insurance claims. But other insurance contracts stated that in order to be paid, the money manager had to transfer the bonds to the insurer. But the sanctions will not allow the bonds to be transferred! Once again, innovative financial instruments proved to be fragile in ways that were not anticipated.

Between them, they control the commanding heights of politics and culture

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2022

Linking to a Sesame Street celebration of “Latinx culture,” Antonio García Martínez quipped:

One of the great mysteries is how every elite institution, from universities to corporations to media to even Sesame Street, all spontaneously coalesced on the same narrow set of values all of a sudden.

In the scope and rapidity of institutional embrace, Martin Gurri notes, nothing like it has transpired since the conversion of Constantine:

The cult of identity, properly understood, consists of a series of platitudes and stereotypes invariably leading to gestures of repudiation and calls for the ritual purification of society. By definition, there can be no missionaries of identity. True believers have shown little interest in persuasion: their faith has spread not because of clever arguments but by relegating rival creeds beyond the pale of moral consideration. Hence the obsession with nomenclature — with the magical force of words.

Conversion has entailed drastically different experiences, depending on where you stand in the social pyramid. From below, at the level of the young professional and the college student, the cult provides a vision of truth and a source of meaning in a romantic struggle against the systemic evil represented by the rest of us. From above, at the level of high government and corporate officials, ostentatious adherence to the cult is a tool of control.

The dance between the generations has been awkward. Young activists are eternally on the hunt to identify and attack injustice, typically revealed by the utterance of certain taboo words. They dwell in a world of weakened religious and family ties, and their idea of community is a website. The cult of identity fills an existential void and raises up the young to be the vanguard of avenging virtue in a sinful world. This cohort is driven by the urge to purify — that is, by negation to the edge of nihilism.

Older institutional types, on the other hand, have seen their influence and authority plummet over the past decade. Of this vertiginous fall from grace, Trump was merely a symptom, not the cause. The digital age will not tolerate the steep hierarchies of the twentieth century: these will either be reconfigured or smashed. Stripped of the splendor of their titles, panicky elites have cast about for some principle that will allow them to maintain their distance from the public.

The puritanical slogans pouring out of anti-Trump protesters must have sounded, to this group, like an opportunity. They could reorganize society on woke values, with themselves in charge as high commissioners of purity. They could trade institutional authority for social control. With uneven measures of sincerity and cynicism, the cult of identity could be appropriated by power.

The young, as might be expected, despise these graying warriors, whom they consider hypocrites tainted by the very sins of racism and privilege they pretend to oppose. Periodically, woke institutions like Google and the New York Times are shaken by revolts from below, and liberal governors and CEOs get consumed in inquisitional fires. As a matter of unromantic reality, however, protesters need elite politicians and executives to be the applauding audience in the theater of grievance: they have no choice but to rely on the institutions to expand their reach and adjudicate the cult’s contradictions into some sort of bureaucratic order.

The elites, just as naturally, fear and detest the youthful zealots, whose proximity has an effect similar to that of a ticking bomb. Yet every political system needs fear-inducing enforcers. The elite class learned long ago that it inspires mostly scorn, so it has conscripted true believers to be the attack dogs of virtue and the digital SWAT teams that will keep the rabble quiet on behalf of a purified establishment.

This is the uneasy bargain that, in García Martínez’s phrase, “spontaneously coalesced” during the Trump years and today rules over every prestigious corner of America. For all the differences in age and status, the two groups come from the same stock: upwardly mobile, hyper-educated, and largely white. It’s really a family arrangement among parents and children in the upper echelons of the great American middle class.

Together, they constitute a small minority of the electorate. Between them, they control the commanding heights of politics and culture, and they may possess the means to intimidate a surly public into silence.


Christianity advanced on the strength of a double-edged strategy. From above, the government redirected its subsidies from pagan to Christian institutions, creating a potent incentive for the upper classes to see the light. From below, mobs of exalted souls ransacked pagan temples while the police stood by, intimidating ordinary people into abandoning the old gods.

But the process took generations.

They were simply new versions of old things

Monday, March 21st, 2022

Many of the high-tech weapons systems that Rumsfeld and others billed as “transformational” were not actually transformational, Christian Brose explains (in The Kill Chain) — at least not in the way that Andrew Marshall and like-minded thinkers intended, when they proposed a “revolution in military affairs” years earlier:

These systems did not represent better, faster ways to close the kill chain. They were simply new versions of old things.


The bigger issue is that most of these allegedly information age military systems struggle to share information and communicate directly with one another to a degree that would shock most Americans. For example, the F-22 and F-35A fighter jets cannot directly share basic airborne positioning and targeting data despite the fact that they are both Air Force programs and built by the same company.


If one aircraft identifies a target, the only way it can transmit that data to the other is how it was done in the last century: by a person speaking on a radio.


The ability of these things to share information is often an afterthought. In fact, the incentives usually cut the other way: Defense companies have profited more by building closed systems of proprietary technologies that make the military more dependent on a given company to maintain and upgrade those platforms for the decades they are in service, which is where companies make their real money. This behavior stems not from malice but a rational pursuit of self-interest in a platform-centered defense market.


The connections between our military systems tend to be highly rigid, excessively manual, rather brittle, and thus slow. We have largely focused on connecting specific military systems together to generate understanding, facilitate decisions, and take actions against specific kinds of targets. But those kill chains do not easily adapt to threats that are different from those they were specifically built to address. They may be highly effective against preplanned objectives that do not change much, such as striking stationary targets in the opening days of a conflict. But our kill chains struggle to confront dynamic threats, such as moving targets, or multiple dilemmas at once.