It will be a life-and-death battle between those for and against Western democracy

Sunday, March 20th, 2022

The U.S.-China Perception Monitor published an essay in both English and Chinese by Hu Wei, a prominent think-tanker in Shanghai, T. Greer explains:

It argues that the war in Ukraine is bound to go poorly for Russia and thus China must moderate its support for Putin’s failing regime lest the post-Putin world turn against the PRC.

This essay has gotten a lot of play in China hand circles. People are eager for any news that might hasten Russian defeat. A decision by Beijing to retreat from a growing partnership with Moscow would certainly slow Putin’s cause. But there is no evidence this essay will have any such effect: this week the Chinese have agreed to ship supplies and weapons Russia, Hu Wei’s essay was scrubbed from the Chinese internet shortly after it went up, and as of today, the U.S.-China Perception Monitor is now censored in China. The highest circle of decision making in Beijing clearly does not fear events will unfold as Hu predicts.

In my mind, this essay is less interesting for what it says about Chinese intentions towards Russia and Ukraine than what it says about Chinese perceptions of the United States. If Hu has any moral objections to Putin’s war in Ukraine, he does not state them. His argument is stated purely in terms of China’s national interests. Here is the disaster Hu believes will unfold if the Chinese don’t pressure Putin to the negotiating table before his political position collapses:

[If Putin falls or is dragged into a multiyear insurgency] the United States would regain leadership in the Western world… the US and Europe would form a closer community of shared future, and American leadership in the Western world will rebound.

The “Iron Curtain” would fall again not only from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, but also to the final confrontation between the Western-dominated camp and its competitors. The West will draw the line between democracies and authoritarian states, defining the divide with Russia as a struggle between democracy and dictatorship… It will be a life-and-death battle between those for and against Western democracy. The unity of the Western world under the Iron Curtain will have a siphon effect on other countries: the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy will be consolidated, and other countries like Japan will stick even closer to the U.S., which will form an unprecedentedly broad democratic united front.

The power of the West will grow significantly, NATO will continue to expand, and U.S. influence in the non-Western world will increase. After the Russo-Ukrainian War, no matter how Russia achieves its political transformation, it will greatly weaken the anti-Western forces in the world. The scene after the 1991 Soviet and Eastern upheavals may repeat itself: theories on “the end of ideology” may reappear, the resurgence of the third wave of democratization will gain momentum, and more third world countries will embrace the West. The West will possess more “hegemony” both in terms of military power and in terms of values and institutions, its hard power and soft power will reach new heights.

China will become more isolated under the established framework. For the above reasons, if China does not take proactive measures to respond, it will encounter further containment from the US and the West. Once Putin falls, the U.S. will no longer face two strategic competitors but only have to lock China in strategic containment. Europe will further cut itself off from China; Japan will become the anti-China vanguard; South Korea will further fall to the U.S.; Taiwan will join the anti-China chorus, and the rest of the world will have to choose sides under herd mentality. China will not only be militarily encircled by the U.S., NATO, the QUAD, and AUKUS, but also be challenged by Western values and systems.

Record-breaking hydrogen electrolyzer claims 95% efficiency

Sunday, March 20th, 2022

A kilogram of hydrogen holds 39.4 kWh of energy — the highest chemical energy density you’ll find, at least by mass — but typically costs around 52.5 kWh of energy to create via current commercial electrolyzers:

Australian company Hysata says its new capillary-fed electrolyzer cell slashes that energy cost to 41.5 kWh, smashing efficiency records while also being cheaper to install and run. The company promises green hydrogen at around US$1.50 per kilogram within just a few years.


A reservoir at the bottom of the cell keeps the electrolyte out of contact with both the anode and the cathode until it’s drawn up through a porous, hydrophilic, inter-electrode separator using capillary action. The electrolyte thus has direct contact with the electrodes, but only on one side, and both the hydrogen and oxygen gases are produced directly, without any bubbling to get in the way.

At least some of the fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces has its roots in a now shuttered covert CIA training program

Saturday, March 19th, 2022

As the battle lines hardened in Donbas, back in 2014, CIA paramilitaries made their first secret trips to the frontlines:

Ukrainian snipers had a problem: Russian forces in eastern Ukraine were trying to blind them.

As the Ukrainians were looking through their scopes in order to find their targets, the Russians had begun pinpointing their location using the glare of the glass, and were shooting high-energy lasers into them, damaging the snipers’ eyesight.


CIA paramilitaries soon concluded that, in Russia and its proxies, the agency was facing an adversary whose capabilities far outmatched the Islamist groups that CIA had been battling in the post-9/11 wars. “We learned a lot real quick,” says a former senior intelligence official — including about the Russians’ laser-blinding techniques. “That s*** wouldn’t happen with the Taliban.”


At least some of the fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces has its roots in a now shuttered covert CIA training program run from Ukraine’s eastern frontlines, former intelligence officials tell Yahoo News. The initiative was described to Yahoo News by over half a dozen former officials, all of whom requested anonymity to speak freely about sensitive intelligence matters.

The program was run under previously existing authorities for the CIA and did not require a new legal determination for the agency, known as a covert action finding, according to a former national security official.

As part of the Ukraine-based training program, CIA paramilitaries taught their Ukrainian counterparts sniper techniques; how to operate U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles and other equipment; how to evade digital tracking the Russians used to pinpoint the location of Ukrainian troops, which had left them vulnerable to attacks by artillery; how to use covert communications tools; and how to remain undetected in the war zone while also drawing out Russian and insurgent forces from their positions, among other skills, according to former officials.

After Russia’s 2014 incursion, the U.S. military also helped run a long-standing, publicly acknowledged training program for Ukrainian troops in the country’s western region, far from the frontlines. That program also included instruction in how to use Javelin anti-tank missiles and sniper training.

Yahoo News reported in January on the CIA’s secret U.S.-based training initiative for Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel. That program, which began in 2015, also included instruction in firearms, camouflage techniques and covert communications. Yahoo News’ prior report also revealed that CIA paramilitaries had traveled to eastern Ukraine to assist forces loyal to Kyiv in their fight against Russia and its separatist allies.

They would come under immediate attack once they began their multiweek mobilization across the planet

Saturday, March 19th, 2022

Christian Brose opens The Kill Chain with the alarming fact that the US has consistently lost against China in war games:

Many of the US ships, submarines, fighter jets, bomber aircraft, additional munitions, and other systems that are needed to fight would not be near the war when it started but would be thousands of miles away in the United States. They would come under immediate attack once they began their multiweek mobilization across the planet.

Cyberattacks would grind down the logistical movement of US forces into combat. The defenseless cargo ships and aircraft that would ferry much of that force across the Pacific would be attacked every step of the way. Satellites on which US forces depend for intelligence, communications, and global positioning would be blinded by lasers, shut down by high-energy jammers, or shot out of orbit altogether by antisatellite missiles. The command and control networks that manage the flow of critical information to US forces in combat would be broken apart and shattered by electronic attacks, cyberattacks, and missiles. Many US forces would be rendered deaf, dumb, and blind.

While these attacks were under way, America’s forward bases in places like Japan and Guam would be inundated with waves of precise ballistic and cruise missiles. The few defenses those bases have would quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of weapons coming at them, with many leaking through.


Those bases would have no defense against China’s hypersonic weapons, which can maneuver unpredictably, fly at five times the speed of sound, and strike their targets within minutes of being launched. As all of these missiles slammed into US bases, they would destroy fighter jets and other aircraft on the ground before US pilots could even get them airborne.


Older, non-stealthy fighter jets, such as F-15s and F-16s, would not play an offensive role, because they could not survive against China’s advanced fighters and surface-to-air missile systems.


The limited numbers of stealthy, fifth-generation fighter jets that could be brought to bear, such as F-22s and F-35s, can fly only several hundred miles on a single tank of fuel, so they would depend heavily on aerial refueling tankers to be able to reach their targets. But because those tankers are neither stealthy nor equipped with any self-defense capabilities, they would be shot down in large numbers.


Once the war started, US aircraft carriers in the region would immediately turn east and sail away from China, intent on getting more than a thousand miles away from the opponent’s long-range anti-ship missiles. But from that far away, none of the aircraft on the flight deck would be capable of reaching their targets without aerial refueling, so the Navy would find itself on the horns of the same dilemma the Air Force faced.


All the while, Chinese satellites and radars would be hunting for those aircraft carriers as well as additional carriers meant to provide reinforcement that would begin their long journey across the Pacific Ocean from wherever they were in the continental United States.


The Marine Corps would struggle even more than the Navy but for the same reasons. Billions of dollars’ worth of amphibious assault capability, built to deliver US troops onto enemy beaches as they had done for the D-Day landings in 1944 or the forced entry at Inchon at the start of the Korean War, would play no such role.

Loitering munitions are odd weapons that can be considered either explosive drones or flying artillery shells

Friday, March 18th, 2022

The U.S. has announced that it will supply Ukraine with 100 Switchblade kamikaze drones:

Loitering munitions are odd weapons that can be considered either explosive drones or flying artillery shells, depending on how you define them. The AeroVironment Switchblade 300 is small enough to be carried in the backpack of a soldier or guerrilla. Once Switchblade is fired from its launch tube, wings pop out and a propeller spins to carry the drone aloft. It almost sounds like a hobbyist’s flying machine or a child’s toy, but Switchblade is quite lethal.

Switchblade orbits a target area, looking down with its day and night cameras and relaying the imagery back to the operator, who controls the drone with a handheld controller. Once a suitable target is spotted, the operator commands the drone to dive on the target and explode (hence the “kamikaze” nickname).

To be clear, the range of the Switchblade 300 model isn’t great: 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and an endurance of 15 minutes, and a cruise speed of 63 miles per hour. The warhead isn’t much more powerful than a grenade.

But so what? Just 2 feet long and weighing just 5.5 pounds, it can be carried as a disposable munition just like the M72 Light Antitank Weapon (which also weighs 5.5 pounds).


For urban warfare, Switchblade could be particularly useful: a weapon that could be flown into a window, or that can fly over intervening buildings and hit a Russian patrol on the other side of the street. For hit-and-run insurgent warfare, the Switchblade 300 is light enough that dismounted troops — and civilian fighters — could get within a few miles of a road that a Russian supply convoy is traveling down. A Switchblade is small enough that the convoy probably wouldn’t see it coming, further demoralizing an already demoralized Russian army.

The Marines as currently organized and equipped are about as relevant as the Army’s horse cavalry in the 1930s

Friday, March 18th, 2022

The Marines as currently organized and equipped are about as relevant as the Army’s horse cavalry in the 1930s, Douglas A. Macgregor says — speaking in 2012 — and the Marines are not alone:

They have company in the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps.


Today, enemy forces will mine approaches from the sea, and rely on stand-off attack to drive surface fleets away from coastlines. They’ll employ their ground forces, particularly mobile armored forces, inland, away from the coast. These mobile reserves will attack within the range of the defending forces’ own artillery and airpower to destroy elements that attempt to come ashore whether over the beach or through ports.

Most of today’s Marine force consists of airmobile light infantry. This Marine force is designed for use in the developing world against incapable opponents from Haiti to Fiji, but not much else.

The use of Marines to assault Iraq’s southern coast during Desert Storm was dismissed out of hand as too dangerous, particularly when Navy surface combatants struck sea mines in the Persian Gulf. Subsequently, in 1991 Marines were used ashore to augment the Army where Marines followed an Army armor brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, all the way to Kuwait City.

The point is simple.

The capability to come ashore where the enemy is not present, then, move quickly with sustainable combat power great distances over land to operational objectives in the interior, is essential. The Marines cannot do it in any strategic setting where the opponent is capable (neither can the XVIII Airborne Corps!).

The Marines cannot confront or defeat armored forces or heavy weapons in the hands of capable opponents. Nor can the Marines hold any contested battle space for more than a very short amount of time, after which the Marine raid or short stay ashore is completed.

Adding vertical-and/or-short-takeoff-landing (V/STOL) aircraft like the F-35B, to compensate for the lack of staying power and mobility on the ground is not an answer, particularly given the severe limitations of VSTOL aircraft, and the proliferation of tactical and operational air defense technology in places that count.

The real question is how much Marine Corps do Americans need? The answer is not the 200,000 Marines we have today.

Many of the same observations apply to the Army’s vaunted XVIII Airborne Corps. The Army’s airmobile infantry in the 101st have been used sparingly for similar reasons. Airmobile forces were used in 1991, but most of its value resided in its attack-helicopter force, not in its air-mobile infantry.

Proposals to use Army airborne forces to seize Tallil air field in An Nassiryah during Desert Storm were dismissed out of hand given the threat of Iraqi air defenses. A similar assault planned for Haiti was cancelled in 1994, and the large-scale use of airborne forces in Iraq and Afghanistan was also ruled out in 2001 and, again, in 2003.

There are several reasons for this:

  • First, like the Marines ashore, Army airmobile and airborne forces are “soft targets,” extremely vulnerable to long-range air and missile attack, as well as heavy weapons in the form of self-propelled artillery, mortars and auto-cannon.
  • Second, the Army’s airmobile division, the 101st, is extremely slow to deploy. Moving it requires as much cubic space as an entire armored/mechanized division. Its performance in Iraq in March-April 2003 was poor. Its alleged combat potential was never put to the test for the reasons already cited.
  • Third, the rotary-wing aircraft in the Army are very maintenance-intensive with often-poor readiness rates. The airmobile force in the 101st is also a major consumer of fuel and requires enormous support, as well as expensive contractor help. Their rotary-wing aircraft are also susceptible to detection and vulnerable to widely-dispersed small arms and MANPADS, potentially resulting in substantial casualties and equipment losses even before the airmobile force is ready to engage the enemy on the ground.

None of these attributes make the force attractive for employment against any enemy with a modicum of capability in its armed forces.

On-duty police fatally shoot about 1,000 people every year

Thursday, March 17th, 2022

When Ferguson burst into flames, Robert VerBruggen notes, we knew very little about the true number of people killed by police, unarmed or otherwise:

In a survey conducted by Manhattan Institute colleague Eric Kaufmann, for example, eight in 10 African-Americans and about half of white Biden voters said that they thought that young black men were more likely to be shot to death by police than to die in a car accident — one of the largest mortality risks to the young and healthy. Another survey, by Skeptic magazine, showed that more than a third of liberal and very liberal respondents thought that the number of unarmed blacks killed by police each year was “about 1,000” or more. About a fifth of those calling themselves “very conservative” thought the same thing. Yet another survey, from a trio of academics, found that about four in 10 African-Americans reported being “very afraid” of being killed by the police, which was roughly twice the share of black respondents who reported being “very afraid” of being murdered by criminals, as well as about four times the share of whites who reported being “very afraid” of being killed by the police.


So what do the basic numbers and five years of research reveal? These are the major findings detailed in the following pages:

On-duty police fatally shoot about 1,000 people every year. This number and its racial breakdown have remained remarkably steady since 2015. The overall Post tally has ranged from a low of 958 in 2016, to a “record” of 1,055 in 2021 (reported as this paper went to press), with any pattern difficult to distinguish from random chance.

Approximately a quarter of those killed are black. This is roughly double the black share of the overall population, but it is in line with — and sometimes below — many other “bench-marks” that one might use for comparison, such as the racial breakdowns of arrests, murders, and violent-crime offenders as reported by victims in surveys.

Blacks are an even higher percentage of unarmed civilians shot and killed by police (34%), which is a potential sign of bias. However, not all shootings of unarmed civilians are unjustified, and it is difficult to objectively classify these cases in a more granular fashion. And contrary to the popular perceptions outlined above, confirmed fatal police shootings of unarmed African-Americans number about 22 per year.

More rigorous research into the question of whether police killings reflect racial bias is in its infancy, and it has been subject to intense debates over the appropriate methods. But existing studies are divided on the bias question. Many papers fail to find bias in lethal force, though one of the most careful studies in the literature — of an unnamed city with a high murder rate — does find that white cops discharge their guns several times as often as black cops when sent to 911 calls in heavily black neighborhoods.

They want to solve poverty with sacrifice and without math

Wednesday, March 16th, 2022

Why is Bryan Caplan’s perspective on poverty so unpopular?

The obvious answer is that Effective Altruism is usually unpopular. Soft hearts and soft heads go together. Most people are instinctive Ineffective Altruists. They want to solve poverty with sacrifice and without math.

People perceive government bonds as wealth

Tuesday, March 15th, 2022

Arnold Kling thinks that people perceive government bonds as if they were wealth:

The government borrows $1 from me and spends it on you. You have a new dollar. And I think I still have a dollar, because the government owes me a dollar. Neither of us thinks that we will have our taxes raised next year, when the government has to pay me the dollar.


I assume that people are myopic and just look around and say “I got paid $x by the government” or “I lent $y to the government and got a $y bond in return” without thinking about what comes next.

“Moral clarity” became the new journalistic standard

Monday, March 14th, 2022

As a 23-year-old back in 1987, William Deresiewicz (Excellent Sheep) stumbled across a radio station unlike anything he had heard before:

They were in the middle of a story about the Appalachian Trail, profiling some of the people who were hiking its two thousand miles that year. The reporting was calm, patient, intelligent, allowing the subject to find its own shape, unfolding slowly, minute after minute, like the trail itself.

What is this, I thought? What portal had I fallen through? I’d been raised on 1010 WINS, “all news all the time,” blaring the same rotation of headlines, weather, traffic, and trivia, in 40-second increments, for hours at a stretch. The piece that I had happened on that day went on, improbably, for over 20 minutes.

The radio station was, of course, NPR, and he listened to it for hours a day, every day, for 30 years:

That is, until around the beginning of last year. My discontent had been building since the previous summer, the summer of the George Floyd protests. It was clear from the beginning that the network would be covering the movement not like journalists but advocates. A particular line was being pushed. There was an epidemic of police violence against unarmed African-Americans; black people were in danger of being murdered by the state whenever they walked down the street. The protests were peaceful, and when they weren’t, the violence was minor, or it was justified, or it was exclusively initiated by the cops. Although we had been told for months to stay indoors, the gatherings did not endanger public health — indeed, they promoted it. I supported the protests; I just did not appreciate the fact that I was being lied to.

But it wasn’t just that story. Overnight, the network’s entire orientation had changed. Every segment was about race, and when it wasn’t about race, it was about gender. The stories were no longer reports but morality plays, with predictable bad guys and good guys. Scepticism was banished. Divergent opinions were banished. The pronouncements of activists, the arguments of ideologically motivated academics, were accepted without question. The tone became smug, certain, self-righteous. To turn on the network was to be subjected to a program of ideological force-feeding. I was used to the idiocies of the academic Left — I had been dealing with them ever since I started graduate school — but now they were leaking out of my radio.

Nor was it only NPR. One by one, the outlets that I counted on for reliable reporting and intelligent opinion — that I, in some measure, identified with — fell in line.


“Moral clarity” became the new journalistic standard, as if the phrase meant anything other than tailoring the evidence to fit one’s preexisting beliefs. I was lamenting the loss, not of “journalistic objectivity,” a foolish term and impossible goal, but of simple journalistic good faith: a willingness to gather and present the facts that bear upon an issue, honestly and clearly, regardless of their implications.


For months, I felt trapped, alone with my incredulity. Was I the only person seeing this? Every time I turned on NPR, my exasperation grew — basically, I was hate-listening after a certain point — but what was the alternative? I literally couldn’t think of any. Then, by sheer dumb luck, I was invited on a podcast to discuss a book I had recently published.


But I didn’t start listening to them because I felt I had a civic duty to expose myself to opinions I disagree with. I started listening to them because I couldn’t stand the bullshit anymore. Because I needed to let in some air. They make me think. They introduce me to perspectives that I hadn’t entertained. They teach me things, and they are usually things the Times or NPR won’t tell you.

I have learned about the lab-leak hypothesis before it became an acceptable topic of discourse. About the lunacy of transgender orthodoxy (“affirmative therapy” for small children, the “cotton ceiling”). About the real statistics on police killings of unarmed black people (according to a Washington Post database, the number shot to death came to 18 in 2020, 6 in 2021). About the truth about Matthew Shepard (who was murdered, by a sometime lover and another acquaintance, over drugs), Jacob Blake (who was shot while stealing his girlfriend’s car, kidnapping her children, resisting arrest, and trying to stab a cop), and Kyle Rittenhouse (who worked in Kenosha, had a father who lived there, and was out that night, however misguidedly, to protect property and provide medical assistance).

Deresiewicz originally wrote the essay for a different publication:

It was one with which I’ve had a long and fruitful relationship, and the editor-in-chief, who is retiring, invited me to contribute to his valedictory issue. His initial reaction was positive, to say the least. “Like all your best pieces,” he wrote, “and like many of the other best pieces I’ve run, this one makes me a little scared, but also makes me excited by the prospect of waking people up. It wakes me up. I’ve felt some of this without ever quite admitting it to myself.”

This, I should say, was according to plan. While politically neutral in theory, the journal had been drifting in the same direction as the rest of the mainstream media. Waking up his readers, whom I doubt had ever heard this kind of argument before, was exactly my intention.

Alas, it was not to be. Two weeks later, the editor wrote me again. “[T]he more I’ve thought about it, the less comfortable I’ve become with associating [the journal] with many of the assertions you make…. [T]here is too much in your piece that I could not defend.”

I had written a piece about the truths we aren’t allowed to utter on the Left, but that truth too, apparently, must not be uttered. The editor, it seemed, did not appreciate the irony.

US Air Force backs Valkyrie’s high-speed, amphibious jet-powered eVTOL

Sunday, March 13th, 2022

Reno-based Valkyrie Systems Aerospace has received a research grant from the US Air Force to develop its HoverJet Guardian, which combines electric VTOL and high-speed jet cruise with amphibious and hovercraft capabilities:

The VTOL system appears to use a quadcopter layout, with four props (or perhaps eight mounted coaxially) hiding in holes in its fat wings. These get it off the ground in relatively civilized fashion, but then a pair of Pratt & Whitney 545c turbofan engines take over, adding a combined 8,200 pounds of horizontal thrust to the mix.

The result, claims Valkyrie, is a cruise speed of 340 mph (547 km/h), a transonic top sprint speed of 700 mph (1,127 km/h), and a whopping 15 hours of endurance at altitudes up to 40,000 feet (12,192 m).

This is no small bird. Measuring 24 x 30 x 6 ft (7.3 x 9.1 x 1.8 m), it’ll weigh 4,200 lb (1,905 kg) empty. Add fuel, a pilot and/or up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) of cargo, and that little VTOL system will have to lift the Guardian at a maximum takeoff weight of 12,000 lb (5,443 kg).

That’s considerably heavier, say, than the Joby S4, which is said to be around 8,820 lb (4,000 kg), and it uses fewer, smaller propellers. So those props are going to have to work hard. On the other hand, since it’ll run primarily on jet fuel, energy storage won’t be an issue at all, and the electric systems can be tuned for high power rather than efficiency.

High-speed VTOL is not all these things bring to the table, either. The Guardian, and its smaller brother, the Eagle UAV, are apparently capable of landing on water, and offering “three modes of operation: aircraft, hovercraft and amphibious.”

He annotated with passion and vigour

Saturday, March 12th, 2022

In 1899, a promising young poet and would-be revolutionary dropped out of the theological seminary in Tbilisi, Georgia:

He took with him 18 library books, for which the monks demanded payment of 18 roubles and 15 kopeks. When, 54 years later, the same voracious bookworm died, he had 72 unreturned volumes from the Lenin Library in Moscow on his packed shelves. At the time, the librarians probably had too many other issues with Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, aka Stalin, to worry about collecting his unpaid fines.

Those squirrelled library loans formed a tiny part of a vast collection amassed by the Soviet dictator, estimated by historian Geoffrey Roberts at 25,000 items. Joseph Stalin’s books, as Roberts recounts in his new study Stalin’s Library, belonged to “a serious intellectual who valued ideas as much as power”. He spent a lifetime as a “highly active, engaged and methodical reader”. His tastes and interests spanned not only politics, economics and history but literature of many kinds. The book-loving shoemaker’s son from Georgia grew into an absolute ruler who deployed his library not as a prestige adornment but a “working archive”. Its bulging shelves stretched across his Kremlin offices and quarters, and around his dachas outside central Moscow.

Stalin not only read, quickly and hungrily: he claimed to devour 500 pages each day and, in the Twenties, ordered 500 new titles every year — not to mention the piles of works submitted to him by hopeful or fearful authors. He annotated with passion and vigour. Hundreds of volumes crawl with his distinctive markings and marginalia (the so-called pometki), their pages festooned with emphatic interjections: “ha ha”, “gibberish”, “rubbish”, “fool”, “scumbag”; and, more rarely, “agreed”, “spot on”, or the noncommittal doubt conveyed by the Russian “m-da”.

Stalin also drafted, wrote, and re-wrote, keenly and tirelessly — everything from Communist Party propaganda to Soviet legal edicts and textbooks in history, Marxist-Leninist philosophy and economics. He loved to edit and, as Roberts shows, he did it very well, slicing through the verbiage of sycophants to achieve greater “clarity and accuracy”. Although not an original thinker, “his intellectual hallmark was that of a brilliant simplifier, clarifier and populariser”. Robert Service, in his biography, calls the dictator “an accumulator and regurgitator” of ideas.

Most professors are bored and lonely

Friday, March 11th, 2022

Once you’re on campus, you might as well make the most of it:

1. Read teaching reviews before you pick your classes. Teaching ability varies widely, so even though the average is low, you rarely need to suffer with a mediocre teacher.

2. Always sit in the front row. Ask questions. Talk to the professor before and after class. Even if they seem like crazy ideologues, you can learn a lot by asking thoughtful questions. If only at the meta level.

3. Type your professors’ names into Google Scholar to see what they’ve been doing with their lives. Then go to office hours and talk to them about their work. Come with questions that clearly won’t be on the test.

4. Crucial: Start doing this when you’re a freshman! At that stage, no one will wonder if you’re just trying to suck up for a future letter of recommendation.

5. Go to the Faculty webpage for every major you’re seriously considering. Look at everyone’s research specialties. If you think there’s a 5% or greater chance that you would find a professor interesting, type his name into Google Scholar. If you still think there’s a 5% chance you would find the professor interesting, go to their office hours and ask him some questions about his work.

6. Don’t be shy. Most professors are bored and lonely. Even at top schools, they almost never meet anyone who knows and cares about their work. They want you to show up… even if they don’t know it yet.

7. If you and a professor hit it off, keep reading their work and keep visiting their office. Ask them to lunch. Becoming a professor’s favorite student is easy, because the competition is weak.

8. Be extremely friendly to everyone. Always give a good hello to everyone in your dorm every time you see them. “Good hello” equals eye contact + smile + audible.

9. Never eat alone! If you don’t know anyone in the cafeteria, find a small group of students that looks promising and politely ask to join them. Almost everyone will say yes.

10. See if your school has an Effective Altruism club. If it does, attend regularly. Even if you have zero interest in philanthropy, EA is a beacon of thoughtful curiosity.

11. Be a friendly heretic. Openly regard official brainwashing with bemusement. This will generate propitious selection: Many students are as skeptical of the orthodoxy as you. If you’re good-natured about it, they will reveal themselves to you.

12. During Covid, live your life as normally as possible. Bend every rule you can, and associate with the most non-compliant students you can find. Because your school is trying to dehumanize you, you must strive to retain your humanity.

13. Avoid drunken parties. They really are grossly overrated. Just counting hangovers and accidents, the expected value is probably negative. Strive to be uninhibited without artificial assistance. And remember: The people who really enjoy alcohol are also the people most likely to ruin their lives with alcohol.

14. While you’re avoiding drunken parties, try to find true love. Despite the Orwellian propaganda, you are extremely unlikely to be persecuted just for asking someone out on a date. Remember: You will never again have such an easily-accessible candidate pool. In the modern world, dating co-workers is dead, but dating co-students lives. For now.

If this wargame had been played at the Pentagon or the White House in the weeks leading up to the war, no strategist or policymaker would be shocked by any event so far seen in the war

Thursday, March 10th, 2022

In the two weeks prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Marine Corps University ran a four-day wargame to simulate the first several days of just such an invasion:

The hope is that students will develop insights from these wargames that help them better understand joint warfighting. In the case of this particular wargame, its near concurrent use with the actual start of the war presents an opportunity to make constructive comparisons and contrasts. Actual events also highlight the importance of the human domain and how difficult it is to effectively model or assess prior to conflict. While the game does make allowance for aspects of the human domain, it is hard to factor in things like the courageous leadership being demonstrated by Zelenskyy and its impact on the will of the fighting forces and the Ukrainian people.

One must be very careful when using a wargame for predictive purposes. But, on the other hand, no one involved in this wargame has been much surprised by anything unfolding on the ground. Almost all of it took place within the game or was discussed at length among the players. This is in contrast with nearly every expert and pundit on the airwaves, who are expressing astonishment at how this conflict is unfolding. If this wargame had been played at the Pentagon or the White House in the weeks leading up to the war, no strategist or policymaker would be shocked by any event so far seen in the war.

The new catalyst lasted over two months at a current density of 200 milliamperes per square centimeter

Thursday, March 10th, 2022

A new, rare metal-free method for producing hydrogen from water has been discovered by a team of researchers at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science (CSRS) in Japan:

Nakamura explained that currently, the most active catalysts for water electrolysis are rare metals like platinum and iridium, which creates a dilemma because they are expensive and considered “endangered species” among metals.

According to the scientist, switching the whole planet to hydrogen fuel right now would require about 800 years’ worth of iridium production, an amount which might not even exist. On the other hand, abundant metals such as iron and nickel are not active enough and tend to dissolve immediately in the harsh acidic electrolysis environment.


Cobalt oxides can be active for the required reaction but corrode very quickly in the acidic environment. Manganese oxides are more stable but are not nearly active enough.


Eventually, the team overcame these issues by trial and error and discovered an active and stable catalyst by inserting manganese into the spinel lattice of Co3O4, producing the mixed cobalt manganese oxide Co2MnO4.

In their paper, the experts report that activation levels for Co2MnO4 were close to those for state-of-the-art iridium oxides.

Additionally, the new catalyst lasted over two months at a current density of 200 milliamperes per square centimeter, which could make it effective for practical use. Compared with other non-rare metal catalysts, which typically last only days or weeks at much lower current densities, the new electrocatalyst could be a game-changer.