California condors can reproduce without mating

Friday, June 24th, 2022

California condors, a critically endangered species, can reproduce without mating, according to a study by conservation scientists at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance:

During a routine analysis of biological samples from the California condors in the zoo’s breeding programme, the scientists found that two condor chicks had hatched from unfertilized eggs.

[…]

Scientists confirmed that each condor chick was genetically related to its mother but neither bird was genetically related to a male.

The two birds represent the first two instances of asexual reproduction, or parthenogenesis, to be confirmed in the California condor species, the zoo said.

“This is a very rare discovery because it’s not well-known in birds in general. So it’s known in other species, in reptiles and in fish, but in birds it’s very rare, in particular in wild species,” Dr Steiner said.

Dr Steiner said the discovery was particularly surprising, because both female birds were continuously housed with fertile male partners and had already produced chicks while paired with a male.

Asexual reproduction has never before been confirmed in any avian species where the female bird had access to a mate.

[…]

Both chicks were underweight when they hatched, Dr Steiner said.

One was released into the wild and died at the age of two in 2003, while the other survived for eight years in captivity and died in 2017.

Make England merry again

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

Ed West wants to make England merry again:

Today is Midsummer’s Eve. There was once a time when people up and down the country would spend the evening around bonfires, drinking ale and generally being merry in that way I like to imagine medieval people. The whole community would get together and mark the passage of the longest evenings of the year before the arrival of the hot summer.

Midsummer’s Eve, also known as St John’s Eve after John the Baptist, was formerly a huge day in the English calendar, as it still is in much of Scandinavia. As medieval historian Eleanor Parker writes, it was once ‘a popular communal celebration: houses were decorated with lamps and greenery, there were parades with pageantry and music, people feasted with their neighbours, and bonfires were lit in the street.

‘After the Reformation, midsummer bonfires were suppressed as Catholic superstition, though in some regions they survived as late as the 19th century. But numerous customs lingered in later folklore that preserve the idea of Midsummer Eve as a magical time when you might encounter ghosts, when unmarried girls could try love-divination to find out about their future husbands, and when anyone who kept watch in the church porch at midnight would see the spirits of those fated to die in the coming year.’

Well that’s nice, some people will say, an interesting historical anecdote. But, I would counter, what’s to stop us bringing this back? The love-divination and midnight spirits-watching could be optional, but I mean the general feast. I have many crank beliefs, but one of my strongest is that the medieval calendar should be returned in some way, even if most people no longer believe in the religion that inspired it.

[…]

Contrary to the fashionable Noughties takes about the evils of supernatural belief, religion has huge psychological benefits. There is a vast array of evidence showing that attending religious ceremonies increases dopamine responses in the brain. Overcoming our fear of death is not even the key part; it is meeting other people and taking part in a common ritual, which has huge benefits, including reduced risk of suicide or addiction. Religious attendance is ‘associated with lower psychological distress’ and ‘related to higher well-being’.

Modernity, diet and substance abuse may have slightly increased rates of extreme mental illness such as schizophrenia, while social media has allowed people with personality disorders to become prevalent, especially in politics. But most of the ‘mental health crisis’ is just loneliness. People attend fewer communal events because of the decline of religion, they see other people less regularly and they have fewer friends — of course they’re unhappy! Humans are not just social mammals, we are ultra-social by the standards of other species; that’s why we need common rituals and why we’re chasing that religious feeling everywhere and can’t find it. It is why, as Madeline Grant wrote in the Telegraph this week, that as well as progressive institutions adopting religious-type feasts, even exercise classes increasingly resemble Mass.

[…]

So Ed, the sceptics will ask, are you just suggesting we have a completely fake return to the pre-Reformation calendar, marking religious festivals even though a small minority of the population are actually believing Christians? Are you suggesting that the unreligious get involved in church-run events such as Midsummer bonfires and parish ales, in a completely pastiche way? Yes, that is exactly what I’m suggesting. I’m an unapologetic believer in ersatz tradition, because ersatz traditions have all the benefits and few of the downsides.

Midsummer, by the way, is celebrated right around the summer solstice, the first day of summer:

It has often been claimed that the Church authorities wanted to “Christianize” the pagan solstice celebrations and for this reason advanced the Nativity of John the Baptist as a substitute for a formerly pagan festival.

This pending demographic tidal wave gave business leaders a new reason to care about race- and sex-conscious policy

Tuesday, June 21st, 2022

American companies’ embrace of radical ideas appears both sudden and inexplicable:

The story starts in the civil rights era — not with marches, sit-ins, and the broader social movement, but with the sprawling bureaucracy that this movement produced. Lyndon B. Johnson’s landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 dramatically expanded the responsibilities of the executive and judicial branches, compelling regulators to intervene in education, housing, and welfare. It also created new regulatory entities, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), to carry out its mandates. “Civil rights ideology,” writes journalist Christopher Caldwell, “especially when it hardened into a body of legislation, became, most unexpectedly, the model for an entirely new system of constantly churning political reform.”

The new regime, however well intentioned, came with a complexity that private enterprise struggled to understand. As sociologists Frank Dobbin and John Sutton have argued, the machinery of civil rights suffered from many of the problems that plague the rest of the U.S. regulatory state. It was ambiguous, in that it broadly prohibited discrimination without clearly articulating what that meant; it was continuously expanding, so corporations constantly had to update their awareness of relevant rules; and it was fragmentary, in that it was carried out by redundant and often conflicting agencies at different levels of government. Such terms as “affirmative action” and “discrimination” were rarely defined, their meanings always in flux.

Still, enforcement took off in the 1970s as both political parties embraced the new apparatus. The doctrine of disparate impact, enshrined by the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1971 decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., lowered the burden of proof for bias. Richard Nixon set up “goals and timetables” for corporate affirmative-action commitments and established hiring quotas for federal contractors, Gerald Ford promulgated regulations mandating bilingual education, and Jimmy Carter consolidated enforcement power under the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), while welcoming “hundreds of complaints” against employers for various violations. Under all three presidents, the EEOC aggressively targeted some of America’s biggest employers, including AT&T, General Electric, and Ford.

Facing the dual challenges of inscrutable regulation and aggressive regulators, businesses responded by complying with the new mandates for race-consciousness under the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII. They implemented race-conscious policies to avoid the ire of regulators and the risk of lawsuits or federal investigations. Diversity consultants Rohini Anand and Mary-Frances Winters note that corporate trainings were primarily legalistic affairs, “a litany of dos and don’ts and maybe a couple of case studies for the participants to ponder.” As civil rights regulations grew, so did corporations’ tools for complying. In 1970, Dobbin observes, fewer than 20 percent of firms had written equal-employment or affirmative-action rules; by 1980, after a decade of heavy-handed enforcement, nearly half had done so.

[…]

Corporations were not going to give up race-conscious policy just because Reagan told them to, but they needed a rationale for continuing to pursue it. The Reagan administration unwittingly handed them one with Workforce 2000, a 1987 report commissioned by the Department of Labor and authored by two fellows at the Hudson Institute that unexpectedly became a bestseller. The report’s blockbuster finding: by the end of the millennium, only 15 percent of those entering the workforce would be white men, while the large remainder would be women and minorities. This pending demographic tidal wave gave business leaders a new reason to care about race- and sex-conscious policy — namely, the need to create a workplace that could cater to a wide variety of workers.

[…]

While the business case for diversity still commands the support of corporate leaders, it is empirically lacking. Workforce 2000’s most sweeping conclusion — that by the turn of the century, white men would make up just 15 percent of new entrants to the workforce—was wrong. In reality, those entering the workforce by 2000 would look much like those in 1987. Even today, the workforce remains majority white, particularly at the top end of the skill distribution, where the economy is growing fastest. The demographic tidal wave never came.

Meantime, research generally doesn’t support the notion that diversity is good for the bottom line.

[…]

If the findings on diversity and productivity are ambiguous, the evidence for whether diversity trainings or similar programs succeed is unambiguously negative.

Not so much storming the beaches as trying to keep an airbase open

Monday, June 20th, 2022

In a war against China, tiny islands could become strategic strong points for the U.S. military’s advance across the Pacific Ocean for the first time since World War II:

The Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept, for example, calls for putting small numbers of forces on “a series of austere, temporary locations ashore or inshore,” an August 2021 Marine Corps story explaining the concept says. The story includes a diagram showing how Marines would move from ships onto islands using MV-22B Ospreys and CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters.

[...]

Rather than invading and clearing islands such as Saipan and Tinian, U.S. troops would likely set up airfields and air defense systems on them and then defend those islands against Chinese air and missile attacks, said Dean Cheng, a China expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C.

“These are islands that aren’t even defended,” Cheng told Task & Purpose. “It’s an interesting way of thinking about it: Island hopping, not so much storming the beaches of Iwo Jima as trying to keep an airbase open,” Cheng said.

First, however, U.S. ships and troops would have to fight their way across the Pacific Ocean, and they would likely take casualties along the way, Cheng said. Just to get from Hawaii to Guam, U.S. forces would have to brave Chinese DF-26 intermediate ballistic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, submarines, and possibly Chinese merchant ships armed with missiles.

[...]

Instead, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s plan to redesign the force calls for Marines to operate from Expeditionary Advanced Bases inside the range of enemy missiles and other defenses.

The term “Expeditionary Advanced Bases” is intentionally vague so that adversaries cannot be sure which forces are ashore and which are embarked on ships, according to a 2018 Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, Concepts & Plans Division paper about the concept.

“Historically, advanced naval bases have frequently been found astride straits or on islands,” the paper says. “It is appropriate to think of future EABs being similarly situated, but the expeditionary advanced ‘base’ is purposefully ill-defined in terms of its perimeter and specific geographic location. ‘Amorphous’ is an apt description of how we wish EABs to appear to adversaries.”

The Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept envisions small numbers of Marines managing to operate undetected from islands, from which they can fire anti-ship missiles, collect intelligence, and possibly coordinate long-range strikes from ships and aircraft, said Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Studies think tank in Washington, D.C.

500,000 men capable of teaching the Japanese a definition of absolute victory not seen since the Mongols

Sunday, June 19th, 2022

I remember being confused as a kid that we had an army, a navy, and another, smaller army, which was part of the navy — sort of. Then, years later, I learned that navy had its own elite troops, which weren’t marines. In By Water Beneath the Walls, Benjamin H. Milligan explains why the US Navy’s elite commandos aren’t Marines:

Except for some magnificent excursions into the deserts of Libya and up the slopes of Chapultepec, the US Marine Corps —­ from the American Revolution to the American Civil War —­ was mostly an indentured adjunct of the blue-­water American Navy. In peace, a ramrod insurance against mutiny; in battle, mast-­clinging marksmen intended to replicate Admiral Nelson’s fate upon the enemy — Nelson had been killed by a French sniper in a crow’s nest. Later, after the Navy’s conversion to steam stacks and the elimination of mast-­top rifle nests, the Marines had adapted too, matching themselves to meet the national demand for foreign expedition. What followed was a Marine Corps of broad-­brimmed campaign hats and leg-­wrapped puttees, of guerrilla hunters like Smedley Butler and Chesty Puller, of brushfire victories in China, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua. It was a Marine Corps that had not only stretched the Navy’s reach beyond the beaches that blocked its ships but along the way had also stretched the Navy’s expectations for its own go-­anywhere utility force.

Because of this history, the Marines of this period seemed poised to evolve into the Navy’s very own corps of guerrilla hunters and amphibious raiders, but this was a logic that was upended during the First World War, when the Marines’ battles at Belleau Wood, Soissons, and Blanc Mont proved as far removed from their small-­war past as was a man from a monkey. More important, these meat grinders proved the Marines were every bit the battlefield equals of their soldier-­cousins in the US Army, an upstaging that the Army sought to avenge by harnessing Congress’s belt-­tightening calls for consolidation in the early 1920s to turn the corps’ 13,000 Leathernecks into soldiers.

Threatened by consolidation with the US Army, by disbandment, by the elimination of their entire branch of service, the planners of the US Marine Corps scrambled for a solution. Their options: 1) decrease in size and thereby stature to return to filling the Navy’s need for a shipborne utility force — ­essentially to return to their past as the Navy’s guerrilla hunters and not-­quite amphibious raiders; or 2) identify a future enemy and a future mission that would catapult the Marine Corps to an equal rank with the Navy and Army and thereby preserve it for half a century. Actually, this wasn’t much of a choice at all; only one future appealed to the Marine Corps’ planners: the option that would do nothing to satisfy the Navy’s inland ambitions. More important for our purposes, it was a choice that would unintentionally produce a unit of raiders the Marine Corps didn’t want, and a raid so near to disaster that its Navy planners wouldn’t want any more of them, at least not from the Marine Corps.

A composite of islands and rapaciousness, the Empire of Japan was an enemy defended by water and fueled by a lust for resources. After the First World War, the only power that had stood between this lust and the vulnerable islands practically sinking beneath the weight of oil, tin, and rubber was the United States. If war ever came, it would come on these islands; if the US was going to win, it would need an army capable not simply of landing on them, but of stripping them clean of Japanese defenders.

[…]

On December 7, 1941, the day the Red Sun wings blackened the skies over Honolulu, all Marines awoke to the world for which Holcomb had prepared; amphibious war was upon them. The next day, sitting beside General George Marshall in the House Chamber packed with legislators, secretaries, and black-­robed justices, Holcomb listened to his old friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulate the terms of Japan’s future. “No matter how long it may take us,” the president promised, right hand gripping the lectern, his son James seated behind in a shadow to catch him should he stumble, “the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” Few could understand what this meant in terms of lives and logistics, method and strategy. For Holcomb, it meant a Marine Corps of 500,000 men capable of teaching the Japanese a definition of absolute victory not seen since the Mongols. It definitely didn’t mean a Marine Corps of behind-the-­lines commando raiders; especially not commandos whose service was indentured to the Navy.

Drones and hypersonic missiles in the 1960s

Saturday, June 18th, 2022

A few years ago I read and enjoyed Skunk Works, about Lockheed’s legendary Advanced Development Project. I just recently got around to listening to the audiobook version of Kelly: More Than My Share of It All, the autobiography of Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the famed aerospace engineer behind the U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird.

A few things stood out as at least mildly prescient for a book written in 1985. First, he expected planes to become pilotless soon. His experience with the D-21 drone in the 1960s helped there. Second, he mentioned that an SR-71 variant, the YF-12, was designed as a high-altitude interceptor with missiles that, when launched, quickly went hypersonic, because the aircraft was already going Mach 3.

After having his kingdom taken away, his nose cut off, and his tongue split, Justinian II sailed across the Black Sea

Friday, June 17th, 2022

Benjamin H. Milligan opens his oddly named history of the rise of the Navy SEALs, By Water Beneath the Walls, with a short passage on an ancient amphibious commando operation:

In 705 CE, after having his kingdom taken away, his nose cut off, and his tongue split, Justinian II sailed across the Black Sea and led a small group of fighters under the impregnable walls of Constantinople by way of an unguarded aqueduct and captured the city. It was a victory that never should have been, by water beneath the walls.

Game of Thrones fans might compare this to the Fall of Casterly Rock. Justinian II‘s whole story is rather…Byzantine:

While his land policies threatened the aristocracy, his tax policy was very unpopular with the common people. Through his agents Stephen and Theodotos, the emperor raised the funds to gratify his sumptuous tastes and his mania for erecting costly buildings. This, ongoing religious discontent, conflicts with the aristocracy, and displeasure over his resettlement policy eventually drove his subjects into rebellion. In 695 the population rose under Leontios, the strategos of Hellas, and proclaimed him Emperor. Justinian was deposed and his nose was cut off (later replaced by a solid gold replica of his original) to prevent his again seeking the throne: such mutilation was common in Byzantine culture. He was exiled to Cherson in the Crimea. Leontius, after a reign of three years, was in turn dethroned and imprisoned by Tiberius Apsimarus, who next assumed the throne.

While in exile, Justinian began to plot and gather supporters for an attempt to retake the throne. Justinian became a liability to Cherson and the authorities decided to return him to Constantinople in 702 or 703. He escaped from Cherson and received help from Busir, the khagan of the Khazars, who received him enthusiastically and gave him his sister as a bride. Justinian renamed her Theodora, after the wife of Justinian I. They were given a home in the town of Phanagoria, at the entrance to the sea of Azov. Busir was offered a bribe by Tiberius to kill his brother-in-law, and dispatched two Khazar officials, Papatzys and Balgitzin, to do the deed. Warned by his wife, Justinian strangled Papatzys and Balgitzin with his own hands. He sailed in a fishing boat to Cherson, summoned his supporters, and they all sailed westwards across the Black Sea.

As the ship bearing Justinian sailed along the northern coast of the Black Sea, he and his crew became caught up in a storm somewhere between the mouths of the Dniester and the Dnieper Rivers. While it was raging, one of his companions reached out to Justinian saying that if he promised God that he would be magnanimous, and not seek revenge on his enemies when he was returned to the throne, they would all be spared. Justinian retorted: “If I spare a single one of them, may God drown me here”.

Having survived the storm, Justinian next approached Tervel of Bulgaria. Tervel agreed to provide all the military assistance necessary for Justinian to regain his throne in exchange for financial considerations, the award of a Caesar’s crown, and the hand of Justinian’s daughter, Anastasia, in marriage. In spring 705, with an army of 15,000 Bulgar and Slav horsemen, Justinian appeared before the walls of Constantinople. For three days, Justinian tried to convince the citizens of Constantinople to open the gates, but to no avail. Unable to take the city by force, he and some companions entered through an unused water conduit under the walls of the city, roused their supporters, and seized control of the city in a midnight coup d’état. Justinian once more ascended the throne, breaking the tradition preventing the mutilated from Imperial rule. After tracking down his predecessors, he had his rivals Leontius and Tiberius brought before him in chains in the Hippodrome. There, before a jeering populace, Justinian, now wearing a golden nasal prosthesis, placed his feet on the necks of Tiberius and Leontius in a symbolic gesture of subjugation before ordering their execution by beheading, followed by many of their partisans, as well as deposing, blinding and exiling Patriarch Kallinikos I of Constantinople to Rome.

Lake Issyk Kul Zis the Wuhan of the Black Death

Thursday, June 16th, 2022

A new study of DNA from the “pestilence” victims in what is now northern Kyrgyzstan shows that they were indeed infected with the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, that caused the Black Death:

The Syriac engraving on the medieval tombstone was tantalizing: “This is the tomb of the believer Sanmaq. [He] died of pestilence.” Sanmaq, who was buried in 1338 near Lake Issyk Kul in what is now northern Kyrgyzstan, was one of many victims of the unnamed plague. By scrutinizing field notes and more photos from the Russian team that had excavated the graves in the 1880s, historian Philip Slavin found that at least 118 people from Sanmaq’s Central Asian trading community died in the epidemic.

Slavin was on the trail of the origin of the Black Death, which devastated Europe a decade after the Kyrgyzstan burials. But he knew the medieval diagnosis of “pestilence” encompassed many horrific diseases. “I was almost 100% certain it was the beginning of the Black Death,” says Slavin, a medieval historian at the University of Stirling. “But there was no way to prove it without DNA.”

Now, Slavin is senior author of a new study of ancient DNA from the “pestilence” victims showing they were indeed infected with the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, that caused the Black Death. The strain that killed them was ancestral to all the strains that rampaged across Europe a decade later and continued to kill for the next 500 years. The bacterium jumped from rodents to humans just before the Kyrgyzstan burials, perhaps after sudden changes in rainfall or temperature, the researchers propose this week in Nature.

“This is the place where it all started — the Wuhan of the Black Death,” says senior author and paleogeneticist Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

[…]

The strain was closely related to ones found in rodents near Issyk Kul today. The authors suggest it spilled over to humans, perhaps from a marmot, which are abundant in the Tian Shan mountain region of northern Kyrgyzstan, southern Kazakhstan, and northwestern China. Sudden changes in rainfall or temperature could have led to surges in local rodent populations and the fleas or other insects they harbor. More rodents and their pests meant more opportunities to hop to a new host—humans—and adapt to it, says population biologist Nils Christian-Stenseth of the University of Oslo, who has shown a correlation between outbreaks of plague and warm, wet weather in Central Asia. He adds: “There are many good possibilities for plague reservoirs; you have the great gerbils, marmots, voles.”

The remaining mystery, he says, is how the Black Death traveled 3500 kilometers from Central Asia to the Black Sea, where historical accounts describe the Mongolian army hurling the bodies of plague victims into the besieged city of Caffa in Crimea in 1346 in an early form of biological warfare.

The meticulous archaeological records for each Kyrgyzstan grave offer hints, Slavin says. Many people were buried with pearls, coins, and other goods from the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and Iran; some were apparently traders. As they traveled, their camel wagons may have harbored rats and fleas, long considered likely vectors for plague.

An engineer then predicted that it would take 45 years

Tuesday, June 14th, 2022

Fifteen years ago, Con Edison finally ended its 125 years of direct current electricity service that began when Thomas Edison opened his Pearl Street power station on Sept. 4, 1882, the New York Times reported

Con Ed will now only provide alternating current, in a final, vestigial triumph by Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, Mr. Edison’s rivals who were the main proponents of alternating current in the AC/DC debates of the turn of the 20th century.

The last snip of Con Ed’s direct current system will take place at 10 East 40th Street, near the Mid-Manhattan Library. That building, like the thousands of other direct current users that have been transitioned over the last several years, now has a converter installed on the premises that can take alternating electricity from the Con Ed power grid and adapt it on premises. Until now, Con Edison had been converting alternating to direct current for the customers who needed it — old buildings on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side that used direct current for their elevators for example. The subway, which has its own converters, also provides direct current through its third rail, in large part because direct current electricity was the dominant system in New York City when the subway first developed out of the early trolley cars.

Despite the clear advantage of alternating current — it can be transmitted long distances far more economically than direct current — direct current has taken decades to phase out of Manhattan because the early backbone of New York’s electricity grid was built by Mr. Edison’s company, which had a running head start in the first decade before Mr. Tesla and Mr. Westinghouse demonstrated the potential of alternating current with the Niagara Falls power project. (Among the customers of Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street power plant on that first day was The New York Times, which observed that to turn on its lights in the building, “no matches were needed.”)

But direct current clearly became uneconomical, as the short distances that it could be transmitted would have required a power station every mile or less, according to Joe Cunningham, an engineering historian. Thus alternating current in New York began in the outskirts — Queens, Bronx, Upper Manhattan and the suburbs.

The direct current conversion in Lower Manhattan started in 1928, and an engineer then predicted that it would take 45 years, according to Mr. Cunningham. “An optimistic prediction since we still have it now,” he said.

Schmitt wrote well, distilling the best parts of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu into prose accessible to the Marines who would do the actual fighting

Monday, June 13th, 2022

In 1989, then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Alfred M. Gray reenergized the post-Vietnam Marine Corps with the publication of Warfighting:

Thirty-three years later, the thin manual is known today as Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication One and still canonizes the fighting philosophy of the Marines. But Warfighting has always been controversial. It was written quickly and quietly, by one Marine captain working directly for the Commandant and with minimal input from the broader Marine Corps. Gray’s approach — jamming through innovation against strong headwinds — seems echoed today by Commandant David H. Berger’s efforts to change the design of the Corps with an audacious document called Force Design 2030 (FD 2030), a fact that seems somewhat ironic given the stiff opposition he faces from some of Warfighting’s most ardent advocates.

[…]

Al Gray remains a Marine Corps icon. Gray was an enlisted Marine; a veteran of combat in Korea and Vietnam who once walked into a minefield to save a wounded Marine. He was one of the Corps’ great mavericks, the kind of Marine who dared to break rules, and succeed greatly, in an organization known for rigid standards. As commandant, Gray typically wore camouflage utilities rather than dress uniforms and regularly punched enlisted Marines in the chest — hard — to show affection. Warfighting was Gray’s vision and he bent rules and ignored the conventions of the Marine Corps’ often mind-numbing bureaucracy to bring it to life.

Gray was an impatient intellectual in a Corps suffering through a post-Vietnam anti-intellectual malaise. Commanding the 2nd Marine Division in the early 1980s, he declared maneuver warfare the official doctrine of his division. Then-Lt. John Schmitt was a platoon commander in 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. He remembers being called to the base theater at Camp Lejeune along with every officer in the 2nd Marine Division, where Gray declared, “Maneuver warfare is the doctrine of Second Marine Division. Get on board or get left behind.” Though already a “maneuverist,” Schmitt could not have known how much that day would affect his future. Gray kept pushing forward with the maneuver warfare concept and in 1987 when he became commandant, he wasted no time cementing maneuver warfare as the Corps’ foundational doctrine, though years later he would say he regretted using the word doctrine instead of philosophy. It’s an important distinction as Warfighting is more about how Marines should think about warfare than how they should execute warfare.

In another maverick move, Gray ignored the line of colonels outside his office lobbying for the task of composing the document and assigned just one junior officer — then frocked Capt. John Schmitt — to write Warfighting alone and responsible only to Gray, an experience Schmitt now describes as “pretty surreal.”

[…]

As Schmitt was drafting Warfighting, building upon bottom-up momentum generated by informal Marine study groups, Gray brought Marine allies such as Van Riper and Cols. Michael Wyly and Patrick “Paddy” Collins to Quantico, Virginia, in what became known as the “Quantico Renaissance.” He also availed himself of outsiders like William “Bill” Lind and legendary Air Force Col. John Boyd to help plant his flag in the chest of an intellectually stultified Marine Corps. Lind was a controversial figure, an Ivy League scholar of German history with no military experience, a gap that did not prevent him from claiming to have started the debate over maneuver warfare in the 1970s. Boyd was best known for describing the OODA loop, an air-to-air combat concept he broadly applied to ground war theories. Lind and Boyd were both fans of the closely related German military concepts of Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war,” and Auftragstaktik, or mission command, and of Liddell-Hart’s belief in the indirect approach to warfighting.

Gray gave Schmitt minimal guidance. In fact, Schmitt says, Gray refused to give any direct guidance. Instead, the commandant spoke in parables, Schmitt recalled to Task & Purpose.

“I would ask him what he thought and he would look at me and say, ‘Let me tell you a story about Little Al Gray.’ What he was doing was maneuver warfare,” said Schmitt. “He made sure I understood his intent, but he left it up to me to figure out how to accomplish the mission.”

Gray met with Schmitt only twice during the writing process, then signed off on the draft with only one change. Where Schmitt had written within the introduction a charge for every Marine to read Warfighting, Gray inserted, “…and re-read.” If Warfighting had turned out to be just another military document; written, published and largely ignored, this would still be a remarkable story. But it wasn’t remotely ignored.

Schmitt wrote well, distilling the best parts of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu into prose accessible to the Marines who would do the actual fighting. Warfighting has since spawned a series of equally compelling, readable Marine Corps doctrinal publications, or MCDPs, on everything from campaigning to leadership to intelligence. Schmitt had a hand in many of these as well. Taken together, the books anchor Marine Corps training and education. But when it comes to institutional change, the messenger matters as much as the message.

Getting an organization of 200,000 people to buy into a book like Warfighting requires salesmanship, a painful lesson Commandant Berger is now learning two years into the life of FD 2030. Gray’s acolytes, including Van Riper, pushed hard to get Marines to adopt all aspects of maneuver warfare. The hard push was only partially successful.

[…]

Van Riper, Schmitt, and others in Gray’s inner circle needed all the help they could get in selling Warfighting in some parts of the Marine Corps, but while they were energizing Marines with the best parts of Warfighting, Bill Lind was alienating Marine leaders well-positioned to undermine Gray’s initiative.

It is hard to find Marines who served in the 1980s or 1990s who have fond memories of Bill Lind. Even before Gray ascended to commandant, Lind wrote an article in The Washington Post calling senior Marine officers inept for failing to prevent the 1983 Beirut barracks attack and personally criticized then-Commandant P.X. Kelley for refusing to embrace his ideas about war and tactics. In the same article, he described war as an intellectual chess match, taking the idea of winning without fighting to an unrealistic extreme. According to Lind, the purpose of a rifle is not to kill, but to suppress the enemy so he can be outmaneuvered. That notion didn’t wear well in a Marine Corps culturally centered on good old-fashioned rifle killing at close range.

Gray and Lind were both enamored of German military concepts from the world wars. But Lind pushed the German example to the point that it became repellent, often showing up unannounced and wearing an ersatz German officer’s uniform at Marine planning sessions, exercises, and training schools like the Infantry Officer Course. Lind had the often-infuriating habit of telling even the most talented Marine officers they were wrong or simply stupid before quoting German Wehrmacht doctrine to set them straight. Many of these officers — all aware that Lind had no actual military experience and that the Germans had lost both world wars — went on to become colonels and generals. They remembered Lind’s words and demeanor and could not have helped associating it with maneuver warfare, a lingering resentment well documented in Marine Corps War College professor Jim Lacey’s 2014 article, “The Continuing Irrelevance of William Lind.”

TPS’s plasma ignition system can increase engine efficiency by 20%

Sunday, June 12th, 2022

Transient Plasma Systems replaces the conventional spark plugs in a vehicle’s engine with an ignition module that uses very short duration (nanosecond) pulses of plasma to ignite the fuel-air mixture within the cylinder:

TPS commissioned a testing company called FEV to evaluate the pulsed plasma system after fitting it to a highly efficient 2.5 L Toyota Camry engine that runs the Atkinson cycle, with a thermal efficiency of around 40 percent.

“Across the drive cycle, that is a really good engine. And what we were able to do was drop [the plasma ignition system] on, put a slightly different spark plug in the hole but still a spark plug and then our power supply, and they were able to get up to 6 percent increase in fuel economy. This, with the stock engine pulled out of a crashed car, with just being able to open up that EGR valve a bit more and adjust the timing, and then we were able to get that benefit,” he said.

“Essentially, if you were to open the EGR valve more with the stock ignition system, you would start to lose combustion efficiency and so you no longer get the overall benefit. Whereas with us they were able to open up that valve more and preserve the combustion efficiency and, therefore, that translates into better fuel economy because you have a lower temperature of combustion. You’re reducing heat losses,” Singleton told Ars.

The final stage of testing for TPS’s system is to prove its durability, but Singleton expects this won’t be a problem. “The technology uses all solid-state, high-voltage switches — these are switches that are used in applications where they’re run for millions and millions of shots. If you just did an analysis of the parts, you would say no problem, right? The testing that still needs to be done is, once you’ve put it into a package where it’s going to go to altitude and extreme heat, extreme cold, you just have to do some design validation and tweaking,” he said.

The notion of integrating stand-off weapons (SOWs) on the A-10 was first hatched 10 years ago

Saturday, June 11th, 2022

There is a joke that discussions of getting rid of the A-10 started 2.5 minutes after the last one rolled off the Fairchild-Republic assembly line in 1984. How does a jet under constant threat of divestment adapt and evolve to support the ever-changing mission?

The notion of integrating stand-off weapons (SOWs) on the A-10 was first hatched 10 years ago, but never gained traction due to the threat of divestment. […] The first proposal was the ADM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy, also known as MALD. Carried by the F-16 and B-52, the MALD is a low-cost combat capability that offers mission and combatant commanders the opportunity to saturate an air defense picture and increase the survivability of our 5th-gen assets. When planned and utilized properly, a few dozen decoys can wreak havoc on the defenses of a sophisticated potential enemy like Russia or China.

The A-10C has up to 10 weapons stations available. In today’s Air Force, where new fighters have fewer weapons stations in order to prioritize internal carriage and stealth, the A-10’s sheer volume of available weapons stations is a force multiplier. The MALD weighs about 300 pounds and has a range of approximately 500 miles. It is programmable and aims to duplicate the signatures and flight profiles of combat aircraft, inducing confusion and noise into the enemy air defense picture and complicating their tactical decision-making. A single MALD can be loaded directly onto a station, or two MALD can be loaded on a triple-ejector rack. This enables a single A-10 to carry up to 16 MALD, which is as many as a B-52 can hold and 12 more than an F-16 can. To further break it down, a four-ship formation of A-10s could bring up to 64 MALD to a fight. The A-10’s robust, agile combat employment capabilities (low maintenance footprint and ability to operate from unimproved or makeshift runway surfaces) combined with the ability to carry 16 MALD per aircraft, provides combatant commanders the ability to create multi-axis problems, target saturation, and horizontal escalation options for adversaries. No software integration with the jet’s central computer is required. Carriage and separation testing is the only cost to consider.

[…]

The second proposal, the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or JASSM, is the next step in the A-10’s evolution of mission support. The JASSM is a low-observable, air-launched cruise missile, which has become so strategically important to combatant commanders, that it has been integrated onto the F-15E, F-16, F/A-18, F-35, B-1, B-52, and even the B-2. Initial assessments and theorizing suggests that the A-10 could potentially carry four to five of the missiles. For comparison, the F-15E is the only fighter that can carry more than two JASSM (the Strike Eagle can carry up to five JASSM), while the bomber fleet can carry between 12 and 24 of the munitions, depending on the platform. Although this may not have the same sticker shock associated with the MALD, the A-10 can offer combatant commanders an additional four to five JASSM per sortie, and leverage integrated combat turns (ICTs) to increase sortie production. Risk mitigation demands more SOWs employment, and the carriage capacity combined with the quick-turn capability of the A-10C should be considered as a means to increase the Mass the USAF can provide to a combatant commander. This is not about taking the JASSM away from bombers and other fighters. This is about bringing more weapons to bear in a shorter span of time, which is a critical component of massing fires.

[…]

Imagine a rapidly-deployable force of non-nuclear fighters that can operate from the most austere locations with a minimal footprint while providing long range fires, decoys, electronic attack, and mission support. That vision is achievable at minimal cost by using assets and capabilities that the Air Force already has, but simply needs to integrate. That is what stand-off weapon integration on the A-10 can provide to combatant commanders.

Experts have been writing the aircraft carrier’s obituary for a century

Friday, June 10th, 2022

China already has a variety of ground-based radars, airborne sensors, and satellites that have made U.S. military planners apprehensive about sending aircraft carriers anywhere near Taiwan, but now, the South China Morning Post reports, a Chinese satellite equipped with artificial intelligence detected the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman during naval exercises off the coast of Long Island, New York, allowing China’s military to follow the ship’s movements:

Retired Navy. Capt. Jerry Hendrix said he has been worried about how U.S. aircraft carriers can be detected from space. Hendrix is a Navy expert who spent 26 years on active duty, during which he served on aircraft carriers and as a strategist on the Chief of Naval Operations staff.

Hendrix recounted to Task & Purpose how he read a news story years ago about an astronaut who spotted his former carrier while he was serving on a space station. From far above the Earth, the astronaut was still able to see the ship’s hull number through one of the station’s telescopes.

“It occurred to me that if a human astronaut in the space station was able to do this, that it probably is not that hard to look for aircraft carriers,” Hendrix said.

Indeed, there are not that many ships in the world that are as large, as fast, or that displace as much water as U.S. aircraft carriers, so Chinese satellites have plenty of clues to look for, Hendrix said. Even though super tankers are larger than aircraft carriers, they do not turn into the wind to launch aircraft.

“If you’re programming in through AI-specific attributes of an aircraft carrier that an aircraft carrier would do but a merchant ship of a similar size would not, then you’re able to make that detection from overhead imagery more quickly,” Hendrix said.

Artificial intelligence would also allow Chinese satellites to quickly distinguish an aircraft carrier’s electronic signature from background noise on the electromagnetic spectrum, he said.

[…]

There’s no doubt that threats against aircraft carriers are growing, but it’s also worth noting that experts have been writing the aircraft carrier’s obituary for a century. Indeed, the U.S. Naval Institute has compiled a list of articles from its “Proceedings” magazine going back to 1922 that debate the carrier’s worth.

One naysayer argued in 1925 that the Navy should use large dirigibles instead of ships to carry aircraft because airships can fly over both sea and land. A 1959 commentary questioned whether the Navy would get better use out of its money if it built more submarines instead of carrier strike groups. And one author wrote in 1999 that the cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda in Sudan and Afghanistan the previous year marked the beginning of the end for aircraft carriers.

Participants lost one-fifth of their body weight

Tuesday, June 7th, 2022

In a 72-week trial in participants with obesity, tirzepatide — a novel glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide and glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist — provided substantial and sustained reductions in body weight. Participants lost one-fifth of their body weight.

The America of the 2020s is not the America of the 1970s

Monday, June 6th, 2022

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, by Rick Perlstein, is the sequel to Nixonland:

Where Nixonland roughly covered 1964-1972, The Invisible Bridge covers 1973-1976. It starts with Watergate, progresses through the bumbling missteps of the Ford administration, and ends with Ford’s narrow defeat of a right-wing insurgency by Ronald Reagan in the 1976 GOP primary.

There’s no throughline at all to this book — no coherent plot. Where Nixonland was a tight, coherent story about liberal rage and right-wing reaction, The Invisible Bridge is a chaotic, meandering tale of exhaustion, confusion, oddity and pointlessness. Which means it’s a book about the 70s. It’s a portrait of a grumpy, bitter country traumatized by social conflict but not yet ready to heal. And as such, it reminds me very much of 2021 and 2022.

Did you know that in 1976, there were two separate assassination attempts against President Gerald Ford in the space of three weeks, both by leftist radicals in northern California? I think I had heard that, but the bizarre reality of those episodes really stands out as the centerpiece of the book. Two wacky lefties tried to kill the President, one after another, and the country basically just shrugged and went on.

Anyway, as in Nixonland, the parallels to the modern day are not exact, but eerie nonetheless. Watergate feels a lot like the coup attempt of January 6, 2021 — an event that horrified people, and kept them glued to their screens for weeks, but where all the action ultimately remained confined to the ranks of the elite. The President being revealed as a crook — and then trying to cover up his criminality by claiming quasi-dictatorial powers, only to be rebuffed by resilient institutions — produced no riots, no mass wave of unrest, no repeat of 1968. Exhaustion had set in by 1973, and people were just kind of relieved to see Nixon go.

Reading this book, it’s possible to see the bumbling, nonthreatening Ford administration as the beginning of a sort of healing process. With a friendly old man in the White House, people could finally afford to tune out politics a little. The lefty radicals were still doing their thing, but they were getting fewer in number and their increasing extremism was turning off more and more Americans. Liberal Dems cruised to a huge midterm victory in 1974 off of Watergate backlash, but managed few legislative victories and ultimately saw their moment pass. Meanwhile, the angry White backlash that had powered Nixon to victory was also losing some of its energy, as White Americans fled the cities for burgeoning suburbs.

There was one group of Americans, however, who felt no exhaustion, and whose activism was just getting started — social conservatives. They wove together a slow-building backlash against libertine sex culture with the remnants of racial resentment, and turned it against abortion and gays. This story really reaches its apotheosis in Perlstein’s next book, Reaganland, but you can see it get its start in The Invisible Bridge. And the Reagan of this book is far from the cuddly, pro-immigration Reagan of the 80s — he’s seen as a genuinely dangerous right-wing radical.

The Invisible Bridge doesn’t tell a coherent story, but it teaches some important lessons about American politics. It suggests that episodes of lefty rage — where progressives expect a better world, don’t get it, and resolve to tear everything down — burn bright and hot but burn out fast. It was only 11 years from the Watts riots to Squeaky Fromme. Meanwhile, conservative America is slower to rouse, but has the stamina to secure gains when everyone else is exhausted.

The America of the 2020s is not the America of the 1970s; much will be different this time around. But many of the fundamental processes at work in that era are still at work today, and understanding them can help shine light on the stuff we see in the news.