The heliborne laser, fire-and-forget missile became the Hellfire

May 20th, 2023

In 1974 the US Army needed a “tank buster” missile for its helicopters. This heliborne laser, fire-and-forget missile became the AGM-114 Hellfire.

It’s still a force in being

May 20th, 2023

One of the “mysteries” of the Ukraine war has been the ineffectiveness of Russia’s air force:

Despite superior numbers and technology, Russian pilots have been surprisingly timid in pressing their attacks.

One reason for that is the effectiveness of Ukrainian ground-based air defenses, but the recent leak of secret US intelligence assessments has confirmed what some have suspected for a while: Ukraine is running out of anti-aircraft weapons.

Which raises the question: If Ukrainian air defenses fade, will the Russian Air Force — known as the VKS — finally become a decisive factor in the war?

“As a force, the VKS is still intact,” Dara Massicot, an expert on the Russian military at the RAND Corporation think tank, warned during an April episode of the Geopolitics Decanted podcast. “Yes, they’ve lost squadrons of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, but all in all that’s a single-digit percentage of the total force. It’s still a force in being.”


More importantly, Russian pilots encountered an effective Ukrainian integrated air-defense network composed of a patchwork of systems. It combined early-warning radars, manned interceptors, and Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs, such as the long-range S-300 and the short-range, man-portable Igla. These were quickly supplemented by Western weapons such as the man-portable US Stinger, British Starstreak, and, more recently, German Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns.

Given a choice, most air forces would perform deep strikes behind enemy lines rather than dangerous close-air-support missions, for which heavily armored ground-attack aircraft such as Russia’s Su-25 or the US’s A-10 are best suited. But as Russia’s ground invasion faltered in the early days of the war, the VKS was tasked with providing close air support to help the army.

“Then you saw them getting chewed up in various Stinger envelopes, various SAM envelopes,” Massicot said. “Ever since that, the VKS has been essentially used very conservatively.”


If Ukrainian SAM coverage at medium altitude does ebb, Bronk expects Russian aircraft to become much more active, but they may still struggle to provide close air support.

These missiles are likely completely stealth to the Patriot radar for the majority of their ballistic arc

May 19th, 2023

Simplicius breaks down Russia’s recent Patriot attack:

Russia was said to have conducted a layered, multi-vectored attack which came from various sides including north, east, and south, which included both Geran drones as screening cover, Kalibr missiles, Kh-101s, and finally the Kinzhals. The attack also likely included other cheaper types of drones as decoys to saturate the air defense, and in fact Kiev does attest to that, as in their official ‘shoot down’ graphic they include several drones they comically ID’d as Orlan ‘Supercum’ which was later changed to ‘Supercam’.

First, let’s break down how such an attack happens. Most logically, the cheaper decoy drones are sent in first to see if they can bait out any of the air defense into opening up on them. Kiev would try to use only its less important SHORAD (Short Range AD) systems against them, such as German Gepards and any Tunguskas/Shilkas and such that they might have.

Next would come the cruise missiles in order to bait out the true high value AD that may have held back with the first wave, and which Ukraine’s SHORAD systems may be useless against.


It should be stated that there are certain positions Russia already knows are likely, and are prefigured into their search matrices. For instance, Mim-104 Patriot system is an extremely complex and large system, you can’t just set it up anywhere, like in the middle of an apartment building courtyard or something like that. These systems not only require a lot of room but also, since they are much less mobile than drivable units like Gepards and such, they are preferably situated somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of civilian ‘eyes’ in the area, so that no one films or rats them out, whether accidentally or not.

This leaves only a few real, solid choices where you can put such a system. And they are almost always put in airports, as an example. It comes as no surprise then that during the attacks on 5/16, word now has it that two of the Patriots were located at Zhuliany airport in Kiev and one at or near the Zoo…

The launch angle of Patriot rockets is fixed at 38° above horizontal. Many other missile systems fire straight up.

This brings up the next issue: a lot of the Patriot missiles appeared to fail. These fallen pieces are not ‘discarded rocket stages’ or anything like that, but the actual missile heads themselves. In fact, we have photo proof that several of them “failed” mid-flight and did the famous ‘Patriot maneuver’ caught long ago in Saudi Arabia:

The Russians’ infamous hypersonic missile is the Kinzhal:

If we take its alleged Mach 10 value, a Mig-31K / Tu-22M3, flying approximately 100-150km north of Kiev over the Russian border, could fire the Kinzhal and it would take a mere 90 seconds or so to arrive in Kiev.

This means that, using the above methods of monitoring, tracking, and observation, once the Russian MOD homes in on a Patriot battery / radar location, it can transfer the coordinates to the Mig-31Ks already in the air, and the Patriots would only have 90 seconds, which is no where near enough time for them to move or do anything to really save themselves.


The other important thing to note is that no one actually knows how fast the Kinzhal or any hypersonic weapons system goes at the point of terminal impact, however it is almost certainly not hypersonic at that point. Yes, you heard that right: no hypersonic weapon on earth actually impacts the target at hypersonic speed.

No where is it actually stated it hits the target at hypersonic speed; this is merely a misleading assumption that people make. In fact, the official description for most hypersonic vehicles like the Kinzhal is that it hits hypersonic velocity at burnout speed. Burnout speed typically means when its engines finish firing during the peak of its ‘ballistic arc’.

People wrongly assume that the point of a hypersonic missile is “to hit the target at a hypersonic speed”. That’s actually not the main advantage. The real point of a hypersonic vehicle is to get to the target as fast as possible, and faster than any other conventional munition, which gives your enemy very little chance to react, such as trying to scramble or hide underground, etc.

The fact is, no manmade object can travel at hypersonic speeds at ground atmospheric levels. The atmosphere is way too thick and any object going such a speed would quickly heat up to astronomical levels and then vaporize. How do space rockets hit hypersonic speeds then, you ask? They accelerate very slow and don’t actually cross the hypersonic threshold until they’re basically already in space.

Most missile types like ballistic missiles and even air to air missiles fired by jets actually shoot up to a very high altitude for most of their cruise, and then come down only as they’re nearing the target. The point is to fly where the atmosphere and air resistance is much thinner to get maximum fuel mileage and acceleration/speed. Cruise missiles are an exception as the exigencies of needing to be ‘below the radar’ require most of them to fly very low.


The second most important thing is that hypersonic vehicles, as noted above, generate a plasma shield around them. This has been by far the biggest reason behind the ‘difficulty’ of creating hypersonic weapons. To accelerate something hypersonically, especially with a basic rocket motor, is easy enough. The problem is then communicating with the object. The plasma shield completely negates all electromagnetic waves, making the object completely impermeable to waves which means you can’t send it any signals to ‘guide’ it to a target.


No one knows which method Russia settled on and uses for the Kinzhal, it’s all classified. However, the likely fact is that the Kinzhal, as well as the Iskander, simply are no longer hypersonic by the time they reach the target, which allows radio signals to give them mid-course correction to the target. The reason is, once they accelerate to their hypersonic ‘burnout speed’ at the top of the ballistic arc, everything after that begins to bleed speed. No one actually knows for certain, but it is likely that by the time of target impact they may be going somewhere in the range of Mach 3-5.

This is still very fast, but keeps them from the ‘plasma field’ problem. How do we know this? Well, there are some videos of Iskander impacts, and while Iskander is said to top out at Mach 6-7 at burnout speed, its impacts do not look hypersonic, though they do look much faster than any other conventional missile types.


Because clearly, if it’s no longer being propelled by thrust, and is merely a ‘glider’ after the zenith of its ballistic arc, then the hypersonic speed it reaches from that point on will be slowly bled little by little. This is likely naturally timed such that the missile is no longer creating a plasma shield or disintegrating itself, such that it’s still going faster than anything else, but can receive course-correction data. This is why my best guess is these missiles actually impact at something like Mach 2-5 at the most.

Also, note that during the May 16 attack, on the night camera footage there was no “glowing objects” descending in the sky. If a Kinzhal was actually traveling Mach 5-7+ when it hit those Patriots, it would have streaked down like a meteor, glowing and throwing plasma.


But there’s one other important aspect not yet mentioned. A plasma bubble absorbs all electromagnetic signals, making the vehicle impervious to them. Guess what that means? That’s right—a hypersonic vehicle is essentially ‘stealth’ and cannot be detected by radar. The radar waves are simply absorbed and ionized by the plasma bubble, and in fact there have been many long years of stealth research in this field.

So the point is that, apropos the argument of whether the Patriot can intercept the Kinzhal or even the Iskander, the fact is, these missiles are likely completely stealth to the Patriot radar for the majority of their ballistic arc. Once they hit the arc and go into ‘glide mode’ and begin slowing down, they slowly come out of stealth, but the problem is, at that point they are already likely over the target and only 15-30 seconds at most from impact, maybe less, and still going a very fast Mach 4-5 at the beginning of the slow down.

A digital leviathan that wields power through opaque algorithms and the manipulation of digital swarms

May 19th, 2023

Something monstrous is taking shape in America, Jacob Siegel says:

Formally, it exhibits the synergy of state and corporate power in service of a tribal zeal that is the hallmark of fascism. Yet anyone who spends time in America and is not a brainwashed zealot can tell that it is not a fascist country. What is coming into being is a new form of government and social organization that is as different from mid-twentieth century liberal democracy as the early American republic was from the British monarchism that it grew out of and eventually supplanted. A state organized on the principle that it exists to protect the sovereign rights of individuals, is being replaced by a digital leviathan that wields power through opaque algorithms and the manipulation of digital swarms. It resembles the Chinese system of social credit and one-party state control, and yet that, too, misses the distinctively American and providential character of the control system. In the time we lose trying to name it, the thing itself may disappear back into the bureaucratic shadows, covering up any trace of it with automated deletions from the top-secret data centers of Amazon Web Services, “the trusted cloud for government.”

It’s not quite the Dwarven lightning axe of the same name

May 18th, 2023

The Air Force plans to spend $320 million buying 1,500 units of Raytheon’s 204-pound GBU-53/B StormBreaker precision glide bomb:

These relatively small (7” diameter) but sophisticated weapons will be built at a facility in Tucson, Arizona through June of 2027. European missile manufacturer MBDA will contribute the pop-out wings that swing out from the bomb upon launch. The latest order is comparable to past unit costs, equating to $213,000 per bomb.


While it’s not quite the Dwarven lightning axe of the same name used by Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it still has a whiff of the supernatural thanks to its three-eyed “tri-spectral” seeker, offering the option of laser-guidance, an uncooled infrared seeker and a millimeter-wave radar—all mounted on the same moveable gimbal in the nose.

Those sensors can be used in concert to improve accuracy, or used individually if one sensor type is degraded by counter-measures or the explosive device encounters smoke, fog, or rain (which is why ‘StormBreaker’ is all-weather capable). On average, the bomb lands within a meter of its designated target.

While gliding to its target, the bomb’s sensors also allow it to function as a reconnaissance system, feeding back sensor data to be used in locating additional targets or updating mission plans. It can even be instructed to search for specific enemies, using its infrared system to classify possible targets and send back targeting suggestions for approval or refusal by a human operator. This allows use in a fire-and-forget manner, improving survivability of the launching aircraft.

For a good measure, StormBreaker also uses jam-resistant GPS and inertial guidance, and can receive course-corrections from other aircraft or ground forces via its two-way Link 16 datalink. That could potentially allow re-directing of strikes to avoid collateral damage to civilians, or to hit higher priority targets as they’re detected.

When launched from maximum altitude, the glide bomb can engage moving targets up to 45 miles away, or static ones at 69 miles—allowing use from outside the range of short-range air defenses, and even lower-end medium-range systems. Against closer targets, though, the bomb employs an energy-burning ‘spiral mode’ trajectory to avoid overshooting its target.

The weapon’s 105-pound multi-purpose shaped-charge warhead is said to be effective against targets ranging from main battle tanks to infantry, unfortified buildings, and patrol boats. The bomb’s ability to hit moving targets is meant to make it capable of enforcing a ‘no-drive’ zone (the ground-based equivalent to a No-Fly Zone), forbidding traversal of an area by a warring party’s ground vehicles. It also seems useful for battling navies that rely on numerous smaller boats, like those of North Korea or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Between the warhead’s precision and relatively small size—as compared to unguided or GPS-outfitted bombs often clocking in at 500-, 1,000 and 2,000 pounds—Raytheon has argued that this bomb is ideal for minimizing collateral damage in densely populated areas.

Having all of these options built into one weapon streamlines logistics by removing the need to load multiple weapon types on a warplane in the interest of accounting for various contingencies.


Intriguingly, Raytheon has also suggested adding propulsion—likely a rocket booster—to further extend the weapon’s reach. If that can be done at limited additional cost, the glide bomb might transform into a comparatively cheap missile for picking off air defenses and high-value mobile targets from a moderate standoff distance.

The wing is a fuel tank, and the fuel indicator showed 0.000

May 17th, 2023

A lifting body is the opposite of a flying wing; it’s an aircraft or configuration in which the body itself produces lift. Some aircraft with wings also employ bodies that generate lift, like the F-15 Eagle, which produces substantial lift from the wide fuselage between the wings:

A simulated dogfight training took place between two F-15D’s and four A-4N Skyhawks over the skies of the Negev, Israel. The F-15D #957, (nicknamed ‘Markia Shchakim’, 5 killmarks) was used for the conversion of a new pilot in the squadron. Here is the description of the event as described in “Pressure suit”:

“At some point I collided with one of the Skyhawks, at first I didn’t realize it. I felt a big strike, and I thought we passed through the jet stream of one of the other aircraft. Before I could react, I saw the big fire ball created by the explosion of the Skyhawk.

The radio started to deliver calls saying that the Skyhawk pilot has ejected, and I understood that the fireball was the Skyhawk, that exploded, and the pilot was ejected automatically.

There was a tremendous fuel stream going out of my wing, and I understood it was badly damaged. The aircraft flew without control in a strange spiral. I reconnected the electric control to the control surfaces, and slowly gained control of the aircraft until I was straight and level again. It was clear to me that I had to eject. When I gained control I said : “Hey, wait, don’t eject yet!” No warning light was on and the navigation computer worked as usual; (I just needed a warning light in my panel to indicate that I missed a wing…).” My instructor pilot ordered me to eject.

The wing is a fuel tank, and the fuel indicator showed 0.000 so I assumed that the jet stream sucked all the fuel out of the other tanks. However, I remembered that the valves operate only in one direction, so that I might have enough fuel to get to the nearest airfield and land. I worked like a machine, wasn’t scared and didn’t worry. All I knew was as long as the sucker flies, I’m gonna stay inside. I started to decrease the airspeed, but at that point one wing was not enough. So I went into a spin down and to the right. A second before I decided to eject, I pushed the throttle and lit the afterburner. I gained speed and thus got control of the aircraft again.

Next thing I did was lower the arresting hook. A few seconds later I touched the runway at 260 knots, about twice the recommended speed, and called the tower to erect the emergency recovery net. The hook was torn away from the fuselage because of the high speed, but I managed to stop 10 meters before the net. I turned back to shake the hand of my instructor, who had urged me to eject, and then I saw it for the first time – no wing !!!


Ukraine uses artillery fire as a long-range sniper weapon

May 16th, 2023

In Ukraine, as in previous major conflicts, artillery is the biggest killer, accounting for 80% of casualties, but Ukraine appears to be doing more damage with fewer rounds:

In November NBC quoted US officials estimating Russian expenditure of 20,000 rounds per day against 4,000-7,000 for Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated in February that Russia was firing around four times as many shells as Ukraine. In March, Spanish newspaper El Pais quoted EU insider sources as saying that Russia was firing 40-50,000 rounds per day, compared to 5,000-6,000 for Ukraine, while Estonia (which has supplied shells to Ukraine) estimated that Russia was firing 20,000-60,000 per day compared to 2,000-7,000 from Ukraine.

So Russia is likely firing something between four and nine times as many shells as Ukraine.

And yet, Russia has suffered much higher casualties. To take just one figure, recently leaked Pentagon documents suggest 189,500-223,000 Russians killed or injured compared to 124,500-131,000 Ukrainians or 1.4 to 1.8 to 1.


While Russia has stuck mainly to Soviet doctrine of massed area fires, Ukraine uses artillery fire as a long-range sniper weapon to pick off individual targets. This has been made possible with the widespread use of two innovations: small drones for artillery spotting, coupled with cheap tablet computers running software like Nettle system to direct fire.

Back in 2014, Ukrainian volunteer organization Army-SOS set out to use its technical skill to help the military. They initially helped soldiers fly and support drones, but soon found the biggest problem was using the data gathered by drone operators efficiently. So they developed Kropyva (“Nettle”) proprietary intelligence mapping software, which can run on any Android tablet.

Nettle is supplied as a tactical system compatible with NATO-standard secure communications and is used from divisional command down to individual vehicles. It maps battle lines and targets and calculates artillery fire missions. It is specifically designed to work with drones, receiving data and using it to calculate the adjustment needed. The gunner changes angle and azimuth accordingly, and shells land on target.

Several other Ukraine-developed software packages — GIS Arta, ComBat Vision, and the major Delta battlefield management system – are also used to share data, locating targets and directing fire.

Ukrainian forces use a wide variety of small drones, including several locally-made military-grade types such as the Leleka-100 and Spectator-M for artillery spotting, as well as thousands of DJ consumer quadcopters. The latter has a range of just a few kilometers and a flight endurance of perhaps half an hour, but their low cost means they are expendable and universally available.

In March 2022, Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the office of President Zelensky, told the media that a standard platoon defensive position took normally took 60-90 artillery rounds to destroy, but with drone-guided fire this was reduced to just 9 rounds, and that drones had been supplied to all artillery units. This suggests an improvement of a factor of 7-10, which is roughly what we see in the ratios of artillery shells: casualties above.

Previously, a vehicle, especially in a dug-in, camouflaged position or behind buildings or trees might not be detected until enemy forces were close by. Drone observation changes this, with small drones buzzing overhead spotting everything below in real time – not just vehicles but even individual soldiers. Hiding behind a ridge or hill no longer helps. Given suitable software and communications which Nettle supplies, every potential target can be geolocated precisely, the co-ordinates passed to artillery, and rounds walked on to it.


Increasingly drone-enabled Ukrainian tanks are acting in an indirect fire role, engaging Russian armor beyond normal combat ranges and beyond line of sight. In August 2022, a video posted on social media showed a Ukrainian T-64BV destroying a Russian tank at a claimed range of 6.5 miles, which would make it the longest ever tank vs. tank kill. This required some twenty 125mm projectiles, but the Russian could not fire back to the ‘duel’ was entirely one-sided.


Older, supposedly obsolete weapons are being transformed into effective indirect-fire platforms. Videos show 100mm T-12 Rapira anti-tank guns dating from 1961 in this role, and even a T-12 mounted on an MT-LB tracked vehicles. The 73mm SPG-9 recoilless rifle (from 1962), again originally a direct-fire anti-tank weapon, is being also used for precision indirect fire, as is the AGS-17 Plamya 30mm automatic grenade launcher. In this latter case, there does not seem to be any software, just the drone operator standing next to the gunner directing them, or in some cases the gunner observing the drone feed directly to adjust fire.

Third parties act with speed and initiative that risk-averse government bureaucracies lack

May 15th, 2023

NGOs are delivering equipment directly to Ukrainian units on the frontline, bypassing its Ministry of Defense:

Several Ukrainian soldiers told us that “It’s more common for the average Ukrainian unit to have 100 percent of its drones sourced from these non-governmental organizations [Prytula Foundation, Come Back Alive, and Monsters Corporation], not our Ministry of Defense…and these drones already come ‘modified’ so they’re ready for combat use when they arrive.”

These soldiers also told us that “Most Ukrainian units have half their vehicles coming from non-governmental organizations,” and that Come Back Alive arms all “Territorial defense units with ready fire support” by providing them “120-mm mortars with vehicles.” Volunteer organizations are providing night vision goggles and medical supplies, collecting and analyzing battlefield intelligence. Many international volunteers also serve a vital role with training simulators, delivering lethal aid, and buying and modifying simple drones to drop grenades.

Informal security aid reinforces a global narrative that Ukraine’s battle against Russian invaders is a just cause worthy of support. Third parties act with speed and initiative that risk-averse government bureaucracies lack and provide a low-profile and low-risk lever that Western governments can use to amplify the impacts of conventional assistance and strategic-level communications. Such hobbyists often work through important networks of people and trusted information sources beyond the reach of government agencies. Thus, private aid fits within the scope of irregular warfare.


It is only with an operational reserve that strategic choices can be made

May 14th, 2023

In “continental warfare”, Edward Luttwak reminds us, each side strives to retain and, if possible, increase its “ operational reserve” — the sum total of trained and equipped combat units that are not in combat:

It is only with an operational reserve that strategic choices can be made: whether to keep forces ready to counter an expected enemy offensive, or to launch an offensive to drive back the enemy, or, better still, to penetrate the enemy front, roll out and encircle enemy forces. It was by a succession of such offensive “envelopments” that the Red Army drove back the Germans from Stalingrad all the way to Berlin. The Allies did the same on a much smaller scale after the 1944 Normandy landings.

Of course, until an operational reserve is built up and offensives can be launched, frontal forces are absolutely necessary, whether to resist an advancing enemy or to keep attacking the enemy, so that it cannot withdraw its frontal forces to build up its own operational reserve. But frontal forces can only fight by attrition, First World War-style, to kill and wound enemy troops in front of them. And an entire war fought by attrition alone must last for years, killing and maiming troops on both sides until one side or the other gives up because of sheer exhaustion.

That is what happened on November 11, 1918, when Germany surrendered, even though not one Allied soldier had entered German territory, which remained almost undamaged in spite of the British and French air raids that hit a few buildings here and there. It was because Germany was neither devastated nor occupied after its surrender that it could go to war again just 20 years later, with catastrophic consequences. In other words, attrition is not only costly in lives, but it is also inconclusive, for it does not exhaust the will to fight.

Why is this relevant? Ever since the failure of the Russian air assault at the Antonov airfield on the first night of its invasion, which was supposed to open the way for the conquest of Kyiv and the country’s surrender, Ukraine has been fighting a war of attrition. At the cost of mounting casualties, Ukrainian frontal warfare has been successful enough to induce the Russians to withdraw from Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, to prevent the seemingly inevitable Russian conquest of Odesa, the country’s premier port, and to limit Russian advances in the most contested Donetsk and Luhansk regions, lately by holding Bakhmut in a house-by-house, street-by-street fight, in spite of relentless attacks by Russia’s Wagner mercenaries.

1% of people were accountable for 63% of all violent crime convictions

May 13th, 2023

A small minority of repeat offenders are responsible for a large fraction of all crimes:

Criminal and delinquent behavior approximately follow such power laws. It is observed for arrests, convictions and even self-reported delinquent behavior. For example, Cook et al. (2004) compared convictions in a UK study and self-reported delinquency from a US dataset and found that both were well-described by a power law. Other UK data show that 70% of custodial sentences are imposed on those with at least seven previous convictions or cautions, and 50% are imposed on those with at least 15 previous convictions or cautions (Cuthbertson, 2017).

But perhaps the most illustrative study is by Falk et al. (2014), who used Swedish nationwide data of all 2.4 million individuals born in 1958–1980 and looked at the distribution of violent crime convictions. In short, they found that 1% of people were accountable for 63% of all violent crime convictions, and 0.12% of people accounted for 20% of violent crime convictions.


Another notable fact: approximately half of violent crime convictions were committed by people who already had 3 or more violent crime convictions. In other words, if after being convicted of 3 violent crimes people were prevented from further offending, half of violent crime convictions would have been avoided.


It is clear that people tend to have many arrests before being incarcerated. The data show, among persons admitted to state prison, more than 3 out of 4 have at least 5 prior arrests, including the arrest that resulted in their prison sentence. Going further into the tail: 46% (almost 1 in 2) had 10 or more prior arrests, 14% (1 in 7) had 20 or more prior arrests, and 5% (1 in 20) had 30 or more prior arrests. Indeed, having 30 or more prior arrests when admitted to state prison was more common than having no arrest other than the arrest that led to the prison sentence (i.e., 1 prior arrest). Further, it was more common to have 9 or more prior arrests than it was to have 8 or fewer.


Data from New York City finds that a tiny number of shoplifters commit thousands of theft. The police stated that nearly a third of all shoplifting arrests in the city in 2022 involved just 327 people, who collectively were arrested and rearrested more than 6,000 times. Thus 0.00386% of New York City’s population (327 out of 8.468 million, 1 in ~26,000) accounted for nearly a third of all shoplifting arrests in the city. As illustrated by a different study, crime in New York City is not only disproportionately committed by few people, it also disproportionately affects specific local areas. They find that 14% of streets in the city produce 75% of property crime and 10% of streets produce 75% of violent crime.

One in three Europeans who traveled to the Congo died

May 12th, 2023

In The Predictioneer’s Game — and in his EconTalk podcast on The Political Economy of Power — Bruce Bueno de Mesquita makes the point that Leopold II of Belgium was, if anything, quite progressive back in Belgium, where he had to answer to his people, in contrast to how he ruled the Congo, where he did not.

Any discussion of the Congo, or of European colonialism more generally, Bruce Gilley remarks, invariably begins with the question: “Have you read King Leopold’s Ghost?” — but he calls the book King Hochschild’s Hoax:

The first and biggest deceit at the heart of King Leopold’s Ghost is the attempt to equate Léopold’s “État indépendant du Congo” or EIC (long mistranslated as the Congo Free State) with Western colonialism. Yet the EIC was a short-term solution to the absence of colonial government in the Congo river basin. The deal was simple: Léopold was to open the area to trade and eliminate endemic Arab slave empires and African tribal wars. In return, he hoped to bring glory to the Belgian people for having done what no other European ruler dared (one in three Europeans who traveled to the Congo died, usually of illness). The EIC had nothing to do with the Belgian government. To the extent that limited abuses and misrule occurred in some parts of his domain (discussed below), this was a direct result of its not being controlled by a European state. As no less than Morel insisted (not quoted by Hochschild), “Let us refrain from referring to the Congo as a Belgian colony, let us avoid writing of ‘Belgian misrule.’”


The freelance EIC had at its peak just 1,500 administrative officers and about 19,000 police and soldiers for an area one third the size of the continental United States. As such, it exerted virtually no control over most areas, which were in the hands either of Arab slave-traders and African warlords, or of native soldiers nominally in the employ of Belgian concession companies without a white man for a hundred miles.


By 1891, six years into the attempt to build the EIC, the whole project was on the verge of bankruptcy. It would have been easy for Léopold to raise revenues by sanctioning imports of liquor that could be taxed or by levying fees on the number of huts in each village, both of which would have caused harm to the native population.


Instead, he did what most other colonial governments and many post-colonial ones in Africa did: He imposed a labor requirement in lieu of taxes. In a small part of the upper Congo river area, he declared an EIC monopoly over “natural products,” including rubber and ivory, that could be harvested as part of the labor requirement to pay for the territory’s government. From 1896 to 1904, an EIC company and two private companies operated in this area, which covered about 15 percent of the territory and held about a fifth of the population. The resulting rubber revenues temporarily saved the EIC, but only until rubber prices collapsed.


The rubber quotas imposed on natives in this 15 percent of the territory were enforced by native soldiers working for the companies or for the EIC itself. In many areas, the rubber came with ease and the natives prospered. The rubber station at Irengi, for instance, was known for its bulging stores and hospitable locals, whose women spent a lot of time making bracelets and where “no one ever misses a meal,” noted the EIC soldier George Bricusse in his memoirs. Elsewhere, however, absent direct supervision, and with the difficulties of meeting quotas greater, some native soldiers engaged in abusive behavior to force the collection. Bricusse noted these areas as well, especially where locals had sabotaged rubber stations and then fled to the French Congo to the north. In rare cases, native soldiers kidnapped women or killed men to exact revenge. When they fell into skirmishes, they sometimes followed long-standing Arab and African traditions by cutting off the hands or feet of the fallen as trophies, or to show that the bullets they fired had been used in battle. How many locals died in these frays is unclear, but the confirmed cases might put the figure at about 10,000, a terrible number.

The abuses were first reported by an American missionary in The Times of London in 1895 and quickly brought Léopold’s censure: “If there are these abuses in the Congo, we must stop them,” he warned EIC officials in 1896. “If they continue, it will be the end of the state.” For the next ten years, reforming the Congo’s rubber industry absorbed an inordinate amount of attention in the British and American press and legislatures, not to mention within Belgium and the EIC itself, leading to formal Belgian colonization in 1908.

Never go home at night without wondering where the mole is

May 11th, 2023

During the first 25 years of the Cold War, U.S. counterintelligence was in the hands of two men, Tim Weiner explains, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover and the CIA’s James J. Angleton:

Hoover was slow to see that the Kremlin’s spies had run rampant in the United States since the early 1930s. By World War II, they had infiltrated the State Department, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department, the OSS (the CIA’s predecessor), and the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb; Representative Samuel Dickstein, who represented the Lower East Side for 22 years, served the Kremlin as a paid agent in Congress from 1937 to 1940, informing on anti-communist and pro-fascist Americans for the Soviet Embassy. After the war, the FBI picked up the scent of Soviet spies in the United States. By 1951, with the Red Scare in full roar after the convictions of the atomic spies and leaders of the Communist Party of the United States, whose underground had supported the Kremlin’s agents, the Soviets laid low. But not for long.

Angleton became the CIA’s counterintelligence chief in 1954. For the next 20 years, he dominated his field throughout the free world. He was secretive and suspicious and, as he grew older, paranoid and alcoholic. An official CIA historian, David Robarge, wrote that Angleton enveloped himself “in an aura of mystery, hinting at knowledge of dark secrets and hidden intrigues too sensitive to share.” He thought the Kremlin commanded a company of moles within the CIA, and that every Soviet defector after 1961 was a double agent. The main purpose of this monstrous, though imaginary, plot was to seduce American presidents into the delusions of détente. Angleton tore the CIA apart in a futile hunt for Soviet moles, ruining loyal men. He missed the fact that the Chinese, Cubans, Czechs, and East Germans either had recruited agents in the CIA or doubled all the spies the agency thought it was running against them.

U.S. counterintelligence depends in great part on cooperation between the CIA and the FBI, though the two are often at loggerheads. Their cultures clash; the bureau’s agents are cops and the agency’s spies are robbers. The trust between Hoover and Angleton glued them together despite this friction. But Hoover died in 1972, Angleton was fired two years later, and counterintelligence fell into chaos. By the 1980s, spies working for the Soviets, the Chinese, and the Israelis had burrowed into the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and Navy intelligence. Some were caught, but others went undetected: The CIA’s Aldrich Ames and the FBI’s Robert Hanssen were busy selling out almost every Russian agent working for the United States. Ames spied for nine solid years, Hanssen off and on for 22; they were arrested, respectively, in 1994 and 2001.


The FBI now opens a new counterintelligence case against Chinese spies and agents every 10 hours. In October, the CIA’s assistant director for counterintelligence sent an alert throughout the agency noting that, in recent years, dozens of recruited informants in China, Iran, Pakistan, and other hostile nations have been compromised and turned against the United States as double agents, or arrested, tortured, and killed. And in January, Charles McGonigal, who was in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI’s New York office from 2016 to 2018, was indicted for aiding the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, over the course of several years. The case has cataclysmic implications; the charges represent the worst breach at the bureau in the last 20 years.

All this suggests several ground truths. First is the actuarial certainty that, at this moment, the U.S. government is penetrated by spies, foreign and domestic, as has been the case for nearly a century. Second, if counterintelligence officers aren’t finding those spies, they have failed. Third, when they do catch them, the public perception is that they’ve failed again, by not detecting them for years on end. Spy-catchers are thus damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and one may sympathize if they drink too much or doubt if God is just. The awful truth is that no outsider—and no insider, for that matter—can say for sure whether U.S. counterintelligence is better or worse than it was two, four, or eight decades ago, because no one knows if there are two, 20, or 200 moles burrowing into our body politic at this moment.

Diffused lighting camouflage

May 10th, 2023

Diffused lighting camouflage  was a form of active camouflage using counter-illumination to enable a ship or plane to match its background, the night sky. You could light up a ship or plane to make it harder to see:

An equivalent strategy, known to zoologists as counter-illumination, is used by many marine organisms, notably cephalopods including the midwater squid, Abralia veranyi. The underside is covered with small photophores, organs that produce light. The squid varies the intensity of the light according to the brightness of the sea surface far above, providing effective camouflage by lighting out the animal’s shadow.


In 1940, Edmund Godfrey Burr, a Canadian professor at McGill University, serendipitously stumbled on the principle of counter-illumination, or as he called it “diffused-lighting camouflage”. Burr had been tasked by Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) to evaluate night observation instruments. With these, he found that aircraft flying without navigation lights remained readily visible as silhouettes against the night sky, which was never completely black.

Burr wondered if he could camouflage planes by somehow reducing this difference in brightness. One night in December 1940, Burr saw a plane coming in to land over snow suddenly vanish: light reflected from the snow had illuminated the underside of the plane just enough to cancel out the difference in brightness, camouflaging the plane perfectly.

Burr informed the NRC, who told the RCN. They realized that the technique could help to hide ships from German submarines in the Battle of the Atlantic. Before the introduction of centimetre radar, submarines with their small profile could see convoy ships before they were themselves seen. Diffused lighting camouflage might, the RCN believed, redress the balance.


In January 1941, sea trials began on the new corvette HMCS Cobalt. She was fitted with ordinary light projectors—neither designed for robustness, nor waterproofed—on temporary supports on one side of the hull; brightness was controlled manually. The trial was sufficiently promising for a better prototype to be developed.

The second version, with blue-green filters over the projectors, was trialled on board the corvette HMCS Chambly in May 1941. This gave better results as the filters removed the reddish bias to the lamps when at low intensity (lower colour temperature). The supports too were retractable, so the delicate projectors could be stowed away for protection when not in use. This second version reduced Chambly‘s visibility by 50% in most conditions, and sometimes by as much as 75%. This was enough to justify development of a more robust version.

The third version featured a photocell to measure the brightness of the night sky and the ship’s side; the projectors’ brightness was automatically controlled to balance out the difference. It was tested in September 1941 on the corvette HMCS Kamloops.


The British General Electric Company developed a manually operated diffused lighting system, which was trialled on the ocean boarding vessel HMS Largs and the light cruiser HMS Penelope. The Largs surface observation trials were conducted between 25 January and 6 February 1942; air observation trials, using Hudson bombers, took place on the nights of 4/5 February and 25/26 March 1942. They found an average reduction in the range at which the ship could be seen at night from another ship of around 25% using binoculars, 33% using the naked eye. The results from the air were less conclusive.


The best case was on the exceptionally clear moonless night of 29/30 January 1942, when Largs could be seen from a surface ship with the naked eye at 5,250 yards (4,800 m) unlighted, but only 2,250 yards (2,060 m) with her diffused lighting, a 57% reduction. By June 1942, Royal Navy commanders considered that camouflage was largely unnecessary, given that the enemy would be using RDF and submarine hydrophones. In April 1943, the Admiralty decided that diffused lighting was impractical, and development was halted, though discussions continued with the Canadian Navy.


Because submarines at the surface could see the dark shape of an attacking aircraft against the night sky, the principle of diffused lighting camouflage also applied to aircraft. However, British researchers found that the amount of electrical power required to camouflage an aircraft’s underside in daylight was prohibitive, while externally mounted light projectors disturbed the aircraft’s aerodynamics.


An American version, “Yehudi”, using lamps mounted in the aircraft’s nose and the leading edges of the wings, was trialled in B-24 Liberators, Avenger torpedo bombers and a Navy glide bomb from 1943 to 1945. By directing the light forwards towards an observer (rather than towards the aircraft’s skin), the system provided effective counter-illumination camouflage with an affordable use of energy, more like that of marine animals than the Canadian diffused lighting approach. But the system never entered active service, as radar became the principal means of detecting aircraft.

California could owe $800 billion, more than 2.5 times its annual budget, to Black people

May 9th, 2023

California’s reparations task force voted Saturday to approve recommendations for reparations for black residents:

Some estimates from economists have projected that the state could owe upwards of $800 billion, or more than 2.5 times its annual budget, in reparations to Black people.

Rotten meat may have been a staple of Stone Age diets

May 8th, 2023

European explorers found that indigenous peoples ate rotten meat:

From arctic tundra to tropical rainforests, native populations consumed rotten remains, either raw, fermented or cooked just enough to singe off fur and create a more chewable texture. Many groups treated maggots as a meaty bonus.


Some Indigenous communities feasted on huge decomposing beasts, including hippos that had been trapped in dug-out pits in Africa and beached whales on Australia’s coast. Hunters in those groups typically smeared themselves with the fat of the animal before gorging on greasy innards. After slicing open animals’ midsections, both adults and children climbed into massive, rotting body cavities to remove meat and fat.

Or consider that Native Americans in Missouri in the late 1800s made a prized soup from the greenish, decaying flesh of dead bison. Animal bodies were buried whole in winter and unearthed in spring after ripening enough to achieve peak tastiness.

But such accounts provide a valuable window into a way of life that existed long before Western industrialization and the war against germs went global, says anthropological archaeologist John Speth of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Intriguingly, no reports of botulism and other potentially fatal reactions to microorganisms festering in rotting meat appear in writings about Indigenous groups before the early 1900s. Instead, decayed flesh and fat represented valued and tasty parts of a healthy diet.


Many travelers such as Landor considered such eating habits to be “disgusting.” But “a gold mine of ethnohistorical accounts makes it clear that the revulsion Westerners feel toward putrid meat and maggots is not hardwired in our genome but is instead culturally learned,” Speth says.


Fermented fish heads, also known as “stinkhead,” are one popular munchy among northern groups. Chukchi herders in the Russian Far East, for instance, bury whole fish in the ground in early fall and let the bodies naturally ferment during periods of freezing and thawing. Fish heads the consistency of hard ice cream are then unearthed and eaten whole.

Speth has suspected for several decades that consumption of fermented and putrid meat, fish, fat and internal organs has a long and probably ancient history among northern Indigenous groups. Consulting mainly online sources such as Google Scholar and universities’ digital library catalogs, he found many ethnohistorical descriptions of such behavior going back to the 1500s. Putrid walrus, seals, caribou, reindeer, musk oxen, polar bears, moose, arctic hares and ptarmigans had all been fair game.


“Recognizing that eating rotten meat is possible, even without fire, highlights how easy it would have been to incorporate scavenged food into the diet long before our ancestors learned to hunt or process [meat] with stone tools,” says paleoanthropologist Jessica Thompson of Yale University.


Instead, Speth speculates, cooking’s primary value at first lay in making starchy and oily plants softer, more chewable and easily digestible. Edible plants contain carbohydrates, sugar molecules that can be converted to energy in the body. Heating over a fire converts starch in tubers and other plants to glucose, a vital energy source for the body and brain. Crushing or grinding of plants might have yielded at least some of those energy benefits to hungry hominids who lacked the ability to light fires.


Over the last few centuries, they have favored tongue, fat deposits, brisket, ribs, fatty tissue around intestines and internal organs, and marrow. Internal organs, especially adrenal glands, have provided vitamin C — nearly absent in lean muscle — that prevented anemia and other symptoms of scurvy.

Western explorers noted that the Inuit also ate chyme, the stomach contents of reindeer and other plant-eating animals. Chyme provided at least a side course of plant carbohydrates.