The purpose is to get to race without using race

May 16th, 2019

The College Board plans to assign an adversity score to every student who takes the SAT:

This new number, called an adversity score by college admissions officers, is calculated using 15 factors including the crime rate and poverty levels from the student’s high school and neighborhood. Students won’t be told the scores, but colleges will see the numbers when reviewing their applications.

Fifty colleges used the score last year as part of a beta test. The College Board plans to expand it to 150 institutions this fall, and then use it broadly the following year.

SAT Score Distributions by Race

White students scored an average of 177 points higher than black students and 133 points higher than Hispanic students in 2018 results. Asian students scored 100 points higher than white students. The children of wealthy and college-educated parents outperformed their classmates.

Adversity Index

“The purpose is to get to race without using race,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Mr. Carnevale formerly worked for the College Board and oversaw the Strivers program.

It can really mow things down

May 16th, 2019

Dunlap felt that the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) was a good gun, but it required too much shop maintenance for use as a field weapon:

The BAR should not be considered a light machine gun, such as the Bren or the Breda 30 or the Degtyarov, but rather an automatic shoulder weapon, a flexible infantry arm only a half-step above the M1. I believe Browning intended it to be this kind of arm.

[...]

It fires from an open bolt and its strong spring jolts the gun enough to make accuracy rather a matter of hope than holding. Beyond 200 yards the BAR is mainly valuable as a harassing weapon; up to 200 it can really mow things down, in the hands of a good man. That is important, too; I think it takes longer to make a good BARman than a good rifleman. He needs plenty of practice with live ammunition.

[...]

One thing sure, if a man has any tendency to flinch, a Browning will intensify it. It took me two years to get used to shooting BARs, but I finally was able to master them, being able to completely control them.

There were times when real machine guns paid off:

Too, there were times in the early Pacific warfare when watercooled .30s paid dividends, but after the Nips woke up to the fact that nine out of 10 of their banzai charges ended with them running out of soldiers, business was not so booming.

[...]

For aircraft use, the faster a gun fires, the better.

Mysterious Proto-Romance

May 15th, 2019

The mysterious Voynich manuscript, named after the Polish book dealer who bought it in 1912, has gone uncracked despite the best efforts of experts like Alan Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park and the FBI during the Cold War, but now a linguist from Bristol University has decoded the document, which was written in a language we now call Proto-Romance:

It was written in accordance with the Catholic and Roman pagan religious beliefs of the time and has been carbon-dated to around the mid-15th century.

Dr Cheshire discovered that it was compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, who is the great aunt to Catherine of Aragon.

There are also images of Queen Maria (1401–58) and her court conducting trade negotiations whilst bathing as well as many other images of naked women bathing.

It demonstrates that the spa lifestyle was highly regarded as a form of physical cleansing and spiritual communion, as well as a general means of relaxation and leisure.

Also within the manuscript is a foldout illustrative map that helped Dr Cheshire to date and locate the origin of the manuscript.

The map tells the story of a rescue mission, led by the Queen of Aragon, to save the victims of a volcanic eruption in the Tyrrhenian Sea in 1444 off the western coast of Italy.

Voynich Folio 19 Borago officinalis

Proto-Romance is ancestral to today’s ‘Romance’ languages including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Galician.

Some of the symbols were unfamiliar to scholars studying the text because they have different geographical origins or because they have different variants which indicate particular phonetic accents.

The language was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of royalty, church and government.

The bazooka is a fine example of the Ordnance procedure

May 15th, 2019

The bazooka is a fine example of the Ordnance procedure, Dunlap says:

In its original form it was light, cheap and simple. If it worked, fine. If it did not, you threw it away and forgot it. Then the modifications began; a tube let go somewhere so henceforth they were wire-wrapped for strength. I don’t think that would help much if a rocket did pop in the barrel, but the ammunition was bettered also, and they seldom did. That was not very bad, for an alteration (wire-wrapping, I mean!). Then the battery holes in the wooden stocks had to be drilled out for standard size flashlight batteries rather than make the boys carry smaller ones as originally specified. So after that batteries were always stuck in the wood. Then a plastic optical sight was put on, it becoming opaque in three days. Extra guards were put on the front to keep some of the rocket trail from the operator and several types of front sights appeared. Then it was redesigned completely, into a two-piece type, coupling in the middle and with a magneto-principle trigger mechanism doing away with batteries. And a strap-iron shoulder piece. By now it was so heavy and cumbersome no soldier could carry the damn thing more than 50 yards on level ground. The last I heard was that they were trying to make it out of aluminum in order to get the weight down to a reasonable one-man load again. The intervening one-piece jobs were useful though, and the cavalry appreciated them. When they short-circuited and became helpless, they still served until repaired; being just the right length for corner poles on pyramidal tents.

Plastic bags are thought to endanger marine animals

May 14th, 2019

Plastic bags are thought to endanger marine animals, but they may protect us humans:

San Francisco County was the first major US jurisdiction to enact such a regulation, implementing a ban in 2007 and extending it to all retailers in 2012. There is evidence, however, that reusable grocery bags, a common substitute for plastic bags, contain potentially harmful bacteria, especially coliform bacteria such as E. coli. We examine deaths and emergency room admissions related to these bacteria in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that both deaths and ER visits spiked as soon as the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, deaths in San Francisco increase by 50-100 percent, and ER visits increase by a comparable amount. Subsequent bans by other cities in California appear to be associated with similar effects.

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

The one great fault of American ordnance is that it can never let well enough alone

May 14th, 2019

As designed, the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) weighed less than 16 pounds, Dunlap notes, and was semi- as well as full-automatic. That was back in 1918:

When World War II broke, the gun weighed 19.4 pounds, was full-automatic only, and called the M1918A2 (between the two were three or four experiments in remodeling, including the 1922 machine rifle, one of the worse abortions). The one great fault of American ordnance is that it can never let well enough alone on any item. Rather than redesigning or adopting a new type, the original model is “modified” time and again. With each improvement the BAR got heavier and harder to handle, until even the boys up high began to blush (they got the weight below 20 pounds for the books by forgetting to count the adjustable butt rest, or monopod, a holdover from the machine-rifle job, and used for holding the guns nice and pretty for field inspections).

NATO’s material inadequacies were matched by a lack of will

May 13th, 2019

NATO began dropping bombs on Serbian forces in Kosovo on March 24, 1999:

America and NATO went to war in Kosovo for humanitarian reasons. There was no vital national interest at stake. The Serbs, already responsible for the lion’s share of the atrocities during the Bosnian war, were to be punished and deterred from further mass killings in their restive, majority-Albanian province of Kosovo. Proponents of intervention compared ethnic cleansing in Kosovo to the Holocaust, sometimes inflating the death counts of Serbian atrocities by a factor of 10. That the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army was considered “without any questions, a terrorist group” by President Bill Clinton’s own special envoy to the Balkans was hand-waved away.

Kosovo gave birth to the idea of the responsibility to protect—“R2P” in international relations shorthand. R2P cast aside the Westphalian state system by declaring that when a government proved unwilling or unable to protect its people from crimes against humanity, it was the duty of other nations to intervene. British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that Kosovo was “a battle between good and evil; between civilization and barbarity.” Established during America’s decade of unipolarity and hyperpower status, R2P thus implicitly called on America to be a force of intervention for global good.

Proponents of this doctrine unabashedly cast aside state sovereignty for the sake of humanitarianism. As would later come in Iraq, with no United Nations Security Council mandate, the war’s backers proclaimed that it had “legitimacy if not legality,” an argument that would be repeated a few years later in Iraq. R2P was celebrated by internationalists and interventionist human rights activists. After sitting on its hands for too long in Bosnia, America was now acting swiftly to prevent a potential genocide in Europe. At home as abroad, that “moral arc of the universe” was bending toward justice.

[...]

R2P proponents helped carry water for America’s disastrous wars in Iraq and Libya. R2P was not explicitly used by the Bush administration when it made the case for invading Iraq, but humanitarianism and Saddam Hussein’s undeniable brutality were used as rhetorical cudgels against those who dissented from this war of choice. In Libya, R2P was the casus belli. Intervention was explicitly and indeed solely justified by the responsibility to protect Libyan civilians in Benghazi from the coming wrath of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Of course, the goal posts were quickly moved, as NATO airpower helped the rebels to win the civil war and Gaddafi was murdered in the street. Libya sank into further strife, with militias battling in the cities, foreign militants flooding in, and even slave markets appearing.

In Syria, humanitarian concerns only led the United States to arm jihadis and conduct a few feckless cruise missile strikes, rather than launch a full-scale invasion of yet another Arab country. One of the primary architects and apostles of R2P, then-UN ambassador Samantha Power, was left to sputter and rage about the atrocities of one side in the civil war.

The Kosovo campaign exposed the hollow force that NATO had become less than a decade after the end of the Cold War. All Western nations rightly took a peace dividend after the Soviet Union collapsed and the fearsome Red Army became the farcical Russian Army that (initially) couldn’t even subdue tiny Chechnya. The Europeans cut far more deeply than the United States, however. The vaunted Royal Air Force nearly ran out of bombs and spare parts in Kosovo. U.S. aircraft ended up conducting about two thirds of all sorties during the 78-day war and carried far more of the load in the early days of the campaign. Eighty-three percent of all munitions dropped were American.

American generals were unpleasantly surprised by the state of NATO air assets. The European NATO states were most lacking in the most critical capabilities: ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) and strike. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld initially rejected European assistance in the wake of the September 11 attacks, so struck was he by European military impotence in Kosovo two years prior.

The limits of NATO’s smart bombs and precision strike capabilities also became clear in Kosovo. Despite overwhelming technological superiority, including the first combat use of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and the now standard GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, coalition attrition of Serbian forces turned out to have been more limited than early reports indicated. Poor weather, Serb cunning, and legacy air defense capabilities combined to limit the air campaign’s effect on Serbian materiel. The Serbs built dummy tanks with wood, plastic sheeting, and camouflage netting; metal plates and even hot water were used to spoof NATO thermal sensors. It took NATO the first 12 days to conduct the same number of strike sorties that the U.S.-led coalition had achieved during the first 12 hours of Operation Desert Storm. When Serbian troops withdrew from Kosovo at the end of the campaign, they left in good order, having suffered perhaps 20 percent of the casualties the coalition had originally claimed to have inflicted.

NATO’s material inadequacies were matched by a lack of will. European member states demurred from an aggressive U.S. plan to bomb Belgrade from the outset, likely prolonging the air war. When they did sign on to a broader air campaign, European leaders insisted on micromanaging the target list, in the manner of President Johnson in Vietnam 30 years before. This centralization, risk aversion, and fixation on preventing civilian casualties would become familiar to those who served with NATO troops in Afghanistan a few years later.

Americans were right behind Europeans in risk aversion, however. Much of the indecisiveness of the air campaign was due to keeping NATO planes at high altitude to avoid the remaining Serbian air defense assets. Decoy tanks and dummy artillery pits were much tougher to spot at 15,000 feet than at 500. No pilots in body bags trumped operational effectiveness and decisive victory.

The biggest legacy of the Kosovo war came in its immediate aftermath. Russia had tried to position itself between its Western economic benefactors and its traditional Serbian ally. Russian mediation offers were rejected by the U.S., and air strikes on Belgrade inflamed Russian public opinion. Even Boris Yeltsin, who owed his reelection in 1996 to U.S. intervention (the original, reverse Russiagate), could not stand for this level of shame.

When Serbia capitulated, Russian troops rushed into Kosovo from neighboring Bosnia to seize the airport in the capital, Pristina. Elite Norwegian and British troops met the Russians at the airfield, but General Clark insisted on trying to block the runway to stymie Russian attempts to reinforce their 250-man company at Pristina. His more level-headed British subordinate, General Mike Jackson, refused to carry out Clark’s orders and reportedly told the hyper-ambitious Arkansan, “I’m not going to start the Third World War for you.” Cooler heads prevailed, no shots were fired, and Clark left his post early, headed for eventual irrelevance in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. But the ailing and humiliated Yeltsin resigned six months later, giving the Russian presidency to Vladimir Putin.

The war had left Kosovo as an autonomous region of Yugoslavia and then Serbia, policed by NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR). But Serbia’s continuing authority over Kosovo was still internationally recognized. The Kosovars, frustrated with the pace of final status negotiations, unilaterally declared independence on February 17, 2008. The international community was and is divided on recognizing Kosovo’s sovereignty, but Russia’s reaction was unequivocal. Vladimir Putin described the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the U.S. and many European nations as “a terrible precedent, which will de facto blow apart the whole system of international relations, developed not over decades, but over centuries.” He warned the West: “they have not thought through the results of what they are doing. At the end of the day it is a two-ended stick and the second end will come back and hit them in the face.”

Putin explicitly invoked Kosovo after his incursion into Georgia in 2008 and his annexation of Crimea in 2014. Speaking to the Russian State Duma on March 18, 2014, Putin quoted America’s April 2009 Written Statement to the UN International Court in support of Kosovo’s independence, and asked what made Kosovo a special case. He told the Duma’s deputies, “This is not even double standards; this is amazing, primitive, blunt cynicism. One should not try so crudely to make everything suit their interests, calling the same thing white today and black tomorrow.” Turnabout is fair play. America’s ill-considered endorsement of Kosovo’s independence not only deepened tensions with Russia, it quickly provided justification for Russian land grabs and wars on both sides of the Black Sea.

Regardless of America’s laudable intentions and aims, the Kosovo war proved a handmaiden of two decades of disastrous interventions abroad. American hyperpower hubris, set free in a tiny corner of the Balkans, would unleash far more disastrous interventions in far more important regions of the world. Then-secretary of state James Baker had said of Yugoslavia in 1991, “We don’t have a dog in that fight.” Since Kosovo, America has found fights wherever it looked for them.

What if he stops running the instant the gun goes off?

May 13th, 2019

Dunlap didn’t have much faith in long-range rifle fire:

Beyond 450 or 500 yards effective rifle shooting at humans is at the very least half luck, and do not believe anything else. Slight mistakes in range calculation mean considerable variation in points of impact. If the guy is moving at all, he can move enough to make you miss him during the time the bullet is in the air! I know all about leading a running mark, etc.; what if he stops running the instant the gun goes off?

[...]

The Springfield was considered the most accurate rifle we had, even though the average service rifle was no bargain as issued. Using M2 ball ammunition I was never able to make a Garand shoot better than 8″ groups at 200 yards, and, frankly, two-thirds of the Springfields would not do much better. I do believe, however, that if I had at least 10 new M1s to cross-check against each other, and switch parts here and there to change tolerances, it might be possible to get groups close to 4″, or two minutes of angle, although it might be necessary to experiment with handloaded ammunition or M1 ball service or National Match government loadings.

[...]

They all change their points of impact fast, as the thin barrel heats up, and the fact that the handguards and gas cylinder assembly are fastened to it and interfere with its vibration or whip, does not make for high accuracy.

They both have to be laughing together

May 12th, 2019

Gottman and Murray published their work as The Mathematics of Marriage: Dynamic Nonlinear Models:

Their subjects initially included 130 couples who had applied for marriage licenses in King County, where, at the time, the professors taught at the University of Washington in Seattle. Some of the couples were newlyweds, others were about to be married, and each pair was videotaped for three 15-minute conversations.

In one exchange, the couples were instructed to talk about their day. In another they were told to talk about something positive. And in the third, they were asked to talk about something contentious. The topic didn’t matter — it could be about money, sex, food, in-laws or anything else — as long as they disagreed.

The contentious exchange proved to be the most predictive.

The couple’s interactions were scored by two independent observers who rated every emotion in the exchange.

Altogether, 16 different emotions were coded. At one end of the spectrum, contempt, the most corrosive emotion, according to Dr. Gottman, was scored -4. At the other end, shared humor, one of the best ways to defuse tension, he said, was scored +4.

“They both have to be laughing together,” Dr. Gottman said. “A lot of contempt happens with one person laughing and the other person looking stunned. That’s a minus 4.”

The scores for the various emotions expressed during each exchange were summed, and the researchers plotted the scores for each subsequent exchange as a time series on a graph.

Once the emotions were scored and plotted, the researchers found that the positive and negative progression of the exchanges eventually settled down and didn’t change very much.

That steady state, they concluded, described how a couple resolves conflicts.

“It’s like a Dow Jones curve,” Dr. Murray said. “The ones that went continuously down, it was clear they found it very, very difficult to appreciate what the other one was thinking. That’s what made it clear the marriage wasn’t going to last.”

For low-risk couples, the ratio of positive to negative responses was approximately 5 to 1. For high-risk couples, the ratio was about 1 to 1, and based on their observations, the researchers were able to predict divorce with 94% accuracy.

The researchers followed the couples for a decade, and in that time, all of the pairs they predicted would divorce did, most within four years. A few other couples they predicted would remain married, though unhappily, also divorced, lowering their overall accuracy.

Marriages, they found, fell into five categories: validating, volatile, conflict–avoiding, hostile and hostile – detached (a significantly more negative pairing). Only three — validating, volatile and conflict–avoiding — are stable, they write in their book, but a volatile marriage, though passionate, risks dissolving into endless bickering.

Notably, they also found that as the years passed, each couple’s style of communication changed very little from that initial videotaped contentious exchange.

“We found about 80% stability in couples’ interaction over time,” Dr. Gottman said, a result that was based on bringing the couples back to the lab for additional scored discussions, usually at three-year intervals.

Submachine guns did a lot of work in the jungles

May 12th, 2019

The Thompson .45 submachine gun underwent three or four changes during the war, in the interests of production manufacture and simplification, but essentially remained the same, Dunlap explains:

Like the M1, it was a weapon I did not like but ended up respecting. Here again, weight was the drawback — the original M1928 model went 10.8 pounds without magazine and the simplified M1 and M1A1 models ran 10 pounds even, without clips (the M1A1 was the same as the M1 except that it had its firing pin machined on the face of the bolt, integral with it, while the M1 had the older style movable firing pin and “hammer”).

The stocks of all three had too much drop, which made accurate automatic fire from the shoulder almost impossible, since the guns could climb up an off the mark easily.

[...]

Effective range of these guns was about 75 yards in the hands of the average soldier. This because the trigger-pull on the gun was 14 pounds maximum, 10 pounds minimum, and it fires from an open bolt, making accurate semi-auto fire very difficult.

[...]

Submachine guns did a lot of work in the jungles where often only the approximate direction of an enemy would be known and it was desirable to rake an area with bullets. For investigating the tops of coconut palms it was a highly useful tool, and good for hosing dugouts or clearing bunkers at times, but grenades were smarter and safer for the latter jobs.

The company’s polygenic test for “mental disability” is more controversial

May 11th, 2019

Genomic Prediction is the first company to offer polygenic risk scores for embryos rather than adults:

The firm is mainly promoting its tests as a way of screening out embryos at high risk of certain medical conditions. But the company’s polygenic test for “mental disability” is more controversial. It isn’t accurate enough to predict IQ for each embryo, but it can indicate which ones are genetic outliers, giving prospective parents the option of avoiding embryos with a high chance of an IQ 25 points below average, says Hsu.

[...]

Information from the same test could be used to go one step further and select whichever embryo is most likely to have a high IQ. “What that corresponds to is way-above-average intellectual potential,” says Hsu.

Naturally, this has been deemed highly unethical.

Insects ruined more carbine barrels than rust

May 11th, 2019

The weight of the M1 Garand rifle was to a great extent responsible for the popularity of the .30-caliber carbine. The carbine had other strengths, too, Dunlap explains:

The carbines’ best feature was their non-corrosive ammunition. Because of it the barrels and gas pistons and cylinders could take a lot of neglect and still keep the arm operating perfectly. M1 rifle barrels were always pitted, but the carbines usually looked good inside.

Insects ruined more carbine barrels than rust or lack of cleaning did together. It is a fact! In the Pacific land areas lives a kind of wasp we called mud-daubers, and they love to set up an apartment in a .30 caliber barrel — they will take a .45 or .50, but prefer .30’s. By carrying in mud and secreting some sort of liquid they plug a barrel and if that plug is not discovered and removed within 12 hours, a ring starts to eat into the barrel steel at its top; in 36 hours it will be the depth of a land, cutting both lands and grooves equally, which meant classification as unserviceable by ordnance when inspected or reported. Oil in the barrel made no difference. If the plug was not discovered and the rifle or carbine fired, the barrel usually bulged and was unserviceable anyway.

[...]

In the Pacific the carbines were more reliable and gave less trouble than the M1’s, although in North Africa and in Italy they were not rated so highly.

[...]

The troopers often complained that it took all 15 shots to down a Jap, but I suspect that this was usually because they always shot the Nip 15 times anyway, whether he went down on the first or last round.

The non-expanding bullet would not do much damage unless it hit a vital spot, which was not always easy. Heck, you can kill a man with a .22 Short if you can shoot him in the brain, heart, or spine.

[...]

A military load should render a man hors de combat with almost any hit.

[...]

If our carbine cartridge had been the .38 Super Automatic Colt pistol case, using a .35 or rather, .36 caliber 125-grain bullet at about 1,500 FPS — the soldier would have been a lot better off in battle. Such a bullet would carry a great deal more shocking power than the 1,975 FPS 110-grain .30 caliber carbine bullet.

Killing the enemy is not always as desirable as merely making a casualty out of him. Even the Japs realized this, if a special military report I read is true. According to it, a non-com or two from a 24th Division unit on Leyte stated his outfit suffered many casualties at one location, encountering Japanese riflemen who shot them up. Most of the Americans were shot in the hip or upper leg with 6.5mm bullets, not a fatal wound but one which called for a minimum of two persons to evacuate, besides getting the shot-up soldier out of the battle for months, if not permanently. The opinion was that the enemy was deliberately attempting to cause such serious wounds in order to tie up the additional personnel necessary to care for the men, thereby delaying our advance. Each such hit removed from three to five men from the immediate opposing force, while a man killed was just one less.

[...]

Our officials scoffed for years at the Italians and Japs for putting bayonets on everything and claimed everyone else’s automatic weapons had too high a rate of fire (our carbine now can empty itself at about 850 to 900 RPM — is definitely much faster than the Thompson, comparing cyclic rates). The bayonet business is silly, except for guarding prisoners, for which a repeating shotgun with 00 Buckshot loads is better, and the regular military shotguns have bayonet studs themselves for full-size prodders.

So far as the automatic feature is concerned, I am for it. We really have something, but I am not sure what. The guns were a lot of fun to shoot and came out just a little too late for real use in combat. The full-automatic feature did not affect the ballistics of the cartridge any but did increase the effectiveness of the arm by allowing it to deliver three or four bullets close together on one squeeze of the trigger, rather than one. I think these models would have been ideal for jungle fighting, where the heavier Thompsons were popular.

The cartridge remains a full-jacketed, fairly high-velocity .32-20, which has not been considered a suitable deer cartridge for years. I consider a man in the class of a white-tailed deer as a meat target, taking about the same amount of energy to stop. Except that deer usually get shot with expanding bullets which mess up more flesh. A man is tougher game physically than he thinks. I am no big-game hunter so maybe I will get a lot of argument. As in killing deer, men seldom suffer identical wounds and results always vary somewhat. I have two friends who received Jap bullets in their chests on Luzon; one recovered and went back to his outfit in a very few weeks and the other was discharged after spending about eight months as a sick boy. Just 1″ or 2″ or a change of angle made the difference, though both were uncomplicated lung punctures so far a simple description goes.

Debt is free and Western criticisms of excessive infrastructure investment are nonsense

May 10th, 2019

T. Greer describes the central problems with China’s Belt and Road initiative:

There is also a gap between how BRI projects are supposed to be chosen and how they actually have been selected. Xi and other party leaders have characterized BRI investment in Eurasia as following along defined “economic corridors” that would directly connect China to markets and peoples in other parts of the continent. By these means the party hopes to channel capital into areas where it will have the largest long-term benefit and will make cumulative infrastructure improvements possible.

This has not happened: one analysis of 173 BRI projects concluded that with the exception of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) “there appears to be no significant relationship between corridor participation and project activity… [suggesting that] interest groups within and outside China are skewing President Xi’s signature foreign policy vision.”

This skew is an inevitable result of China’s internal political system. BRI projects are not centrally directed. Instead, lower state bodies like provincial and regional governments have been tasked with developing their own BRI projects. The officials in charge of these projects have no incentive to approve financially sound investments: by the time any given project materializes, they will have been transferred elsewhere. BRI projects are shaped first and foremost by the political incentives their planners face in China: There is no better way to signal one’s loyalty to Xi than by laboring for his favored foreign-policy initiative. From this perspective, the most important criteria for a project is how easily the BRI label can be slapped on to it…..

The problems China has had with the BRI stem from contradictions inherent in the ends party leaders envision for the initiative and the means they have supplied to reach them. BRI projects are chosen through a decentralized project-management system and then funded through concessional loans offered primarily by PRC policy banks. This is a recipe for cost escalation and corruption. In countries like Cambodia, a one-party state ruled by autocrats, this state of affairs is viable, for there is little chance that leaders will be held accountable for lining their pockets (or, more rarely, the coffers of their local communities) at the entire nation’s expense. But most BRI countries are not Cambodia. In democracies this way of doing things is simply not sustainable, and in most BRI countries it is only so long before an angry opposition eager to pin their opponents with malfeasance comes to power, armed with the evidence of misplaced or exploitative projects.

He goes on to cite Andrew Batson’s explanation:

Local governments discovered they could borrow basically without limit to fund infrastructure projects, and despite many predictions of doom, those debts have not yet collapsed. The lesson China has learned is that debt is free and that Western criticisms of excessive infrastructure investment are nonsense, so there is never any downside to borrowing to build more infrastructure. China’s infrastructure-building complex, facing diminishing returns domestically, is now applying that lesson to the whole world.

In Belt and Road projects, foreign countries simply take the place of Chinese local governments in this model (those who detect a neo-imperial vibe around the Belt and Road are, in this sense, onto something). Even the players are the same. In the 1990s, China Development Bank helped invent the local-government financing vehicle structure that underpinned the massive domestic infrastructure boom. Now, China Development Bank is one of the biggest lenders for overseas construction projects.

Those who defend the Belt and Road against the charge of debt-trap diplomacy are technically correct. But those same defenders also tend to portray the lack of competitive tenders and over-reliance on Chinese construction companies in Belt and Road projects as “problems” that detract from the initiative’s promise. They miss the central role of the SOE infrastructure-complex interest group in driving the Belt and Road. Structures that funnel projects funded by state banks to Chinese SOEs aren’t “problems” from China’s perspective – they are the whole point.

One of the clumsiest singleshot arms since muzzleloading days

May 10th, 2019

“In my opinion,” General Patton once said, “the M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.” Roy Dunlap did not share the General’s opinion:

I do not like the M1 rifle and never have, but it proved a much better weapon than I thought it would.

Any gas-operated arm must be kept reasonably clean to reliably operate and the majority of malfunctions in the field proved due to either worn gas cylinders or worn (undersize) pistons on the end of the operating rods. The cylinders are rust-proof, but the pistons rusted if not cleaned daily, wearing undersize rapidly and allowing gas to leak so that the operating rod would not move far enough to the rear to correctly function the action. Barrels did not last long. Noncorrosive ammunition would have been a godsend in the Pacific War. I never saw an M1 barrel shot out but saw thousands rusted out.

The Garand has two faults, to my mind — it is too heavy and it must be loaded with the eight-round charger clip. The latter means you either load it with a full eight-round clip or you have one of the clumsiest singleshot arms since muzzleloading days. I admit that with the complete dropping of our bolt-action rifles using the fiveround Mauser clip and the issue of all U. S. rifle ammunition in the M1 clip this objection is practically nullified, but the fact remains that it is very difficult to keep the M1 rifle fully loaded when firing sporadically. If, say five cartridges of a clip are fired, three remain in the gun, and the five expended ones are well-nigh impossible to replace in the rifle. In action, soldiers simply released and ejected partially-emptied clips and reloaded with full ones in an attempt to keep full effectiveness as long as they could. In some outfits it was customary to empty the rifle — blazing away the remaining cartridges — after the sixth round was fired. It is of course easier and faster to empty the rifle by firing than by stopping to use two hands to hold the bolt back and press the clip release. Infantry fighting is not always correctly pictured, and a lot of people have very little understanding of some phases. Often it was almost man-to-man scale on a life and death basis game of hide-and-seek. In jungle warfare visibility usually was limited and sound played an important part. Japs on Guadalcanal learned that the “ping” of an ejecting M1 clip meant a momentarily-empty rifle and American infantrymen died because of it. Aberdeen was in a slight furor for awhile, trying to silence the noise, make plastic clips, etc.

Probably in Europe such ammunition and loading troubles were not so important, for conditions were different and supplies more plentiful and accessible. The boys could burn out a clip whenever they saw something move, and have another always handy. In the Pacific a lot of the island fighting was in patrol activity where combat conditions could be likened to nothing except big-game hunting — with the game liable to shoot first. Engagements were often short skirmishes or ambushes — exchanges of a few shots, where rifles were used to back up automatic weapons, reversing the usual roles of the weapons. Against a number of scattered, camouflaged targets the Thompsons and BARs were uneconomical, but they could drive the enemy to cover or make him reveal himself getting cover, to be eliminated by riflemen. Where automatic arms in numbers existed, it was of course possible to simply spray the landscape with bullets and relegate the rifle to mopping up on running Nips, or distant shots.

The weight of the blasted rifle got me down — 10 pounds is about two and a half too much for an army rifle if the soldier is to carry it under his own power. Gun writers are always harping on the subject of keeping hunting rifles light in weight, but nobody ever seems to worry about the infantry rifle avoirdupois. The average deer hunter lives a life of ease compared to a combat soldier, yet he wants seven-pound rifles and would be aghast at the thought of going out wearing heavy boots, a three-pound hat, a belt loaded with assorted pouches and 80 rounds of ammunition, and probably a 30-pound pack.

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The Garand’s sights and stock are in my opinion better than those on any other standard military rifle in existence. One of its best points is that it is very easy to teach a man to shoot with; far easier than with the 1903 Springfield.

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Garands did not like the desert, but no other arms did either.

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In the Pacific islands it was naturally necessary to keep the sand out of M1’s around the beaches, but inshore in the jungles and mountains they did OK.

The flying Ginsu doesn’t explode

May 9th, 2019

Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have used a modified version of the well-known Hellfire missile with an inert warhead:

Instead of exploding, it is designed to plunge more than 100 pounds of metal through the tops of cars and buildings to kill its target without harming individuals and property close by.

To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky, the officials said. But this variant of the Hellfire missile, designated as the R9X, also comes equipped with a different kind of payload: a halo of six long blades that are stowed inside and then deploy through the skin of the missile seconds before impact, shredding anything in its tracks.

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The R9X is known colloquially to the small community of individuals who are familiar with its use as “the flying Ginsu,” for the blades that can cut through buildings, car roofs or other targets. The nickname is a reference to the popular knives sold on TV infomercials in the late 1970s and early 1980s that showed them cutting through both tree branches and tomatoes. The weapon has also been referred to as the Ninja bomb.

Back in 2003, RAF Tornadoes were armed with laser-guided concrete bombs, and back in Vietnam the USAF used “lazy dog” bombs — two-inch chunks of steel with fins — which inspired the THOR system of tungsten rods dropped from cheap satellites.