Boxing and jiu-jitsu have always seemed more important than any training in marksmanship

April 20th, 2022

I stumbled across an MSNBC opinion piece arguing that fitness-fascists have been recruiting and radicalizing young men with neo-Nazi and white supremacist extremist ideologies. I rolled my eyes, but I was legitimately surprised by this bit:

In “Mein Kampf,” Hitler fixated on boxing and jujitsu, believing they could help him create an army of millions whose aggressive spirit and impeccably trained bodies, combined with “fanatical love of the fatherland,” would do more for the German nation than any “mediocre” tactical weapons training.

I’m honestly shocked that I did not know this, since I’m interested in both military history and martial arts. Here’s the offending passage (from 1925):

Now if the SA could be neither a military combat organization nor a secret league, the following consequences inevitably resulted

1. Its training must not proceed from military criteria, but from criteria of expediency for the party.

In so far as the members require physical training, the main emphasis must be laid, not on military drilling, but on athletic activity. Boxing and jiu-jitsu have always seemed to me more important than any inferior, because incomplete, training in marksmanship. Give the German nation six million bodies with flawless athletic training, all glowing with fanatical love of their country and inculcated with the highest offensive spirit, and a national state will, in less than two years if necessary, have created an army, at least in so far as a certain basic core is present. This, as things are today, can rest only in the Reichswehr and not in any combat league that has always done things by halves. Physical culture must inoculate the individual with the conviction of his superiority and give him that self-confidence which lies forever and alone in the consciousness of his own strength; in addition, it must give him those athletic skills which serve as a weapon for the defense of the movement.

Naturally, anyone recommending physical fitness or martial arts is basically Hitler. (Same with vegetarians, of course.)

They are difficult to defend against due to their speed, maneuverability, and flight path

April 19th, 2022

Iain Boyd, University of Colorado Boulder, explains how hypersonic missiles work:

These new systems pose an important challenge due to their maneuverability all along their trajectory. Because their flight paths can change as they travel, these missiles must be tracked throughout their flight.

A second important challenge stems from the fact that they operate in a different region of the atmosphere from other existing threats. The new hypersonic weapons fly much higher than slower subsonic missiles but much lower than intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. and its allies do not have good tracking coverage for this in-between region, nor does Russia or China.

[...]

Describing a vehicle as hypersonic means that it flies much faster than the speed of sound, which is 761 miles per hour (1,225 kilometers per hour) at sea level and 663 mph (1,067 kph) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) where passenger jets fly. Passenger jets travel at just under 600 mph (966 kph), whereas hypersonic systems operate at speeds of 3,500 mph (5,633 kph) — about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) per second — and higher.

[..]

All of the intercontinental ballistic missiles in the world’s nuclear arsenals are hypersonic, reaching about 15,000 mph (24,140 kph), or about 4 miles (6.4 km) per second at their maximum velocity.

ICBMs are launched on large rockets and then fly on a predictable trajectory that takes them out of the atmosphere into space and then back into the atmosphere again. The new generation of hypersonic missiles fly very fast, but not as fast as ICBMs. They are launched on smaller rockets that keep them within the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Three types of hypersonic missiles

There are three different types of non-ICBM hypersonic weapons: aero-ballistic, glide vehicles and cruise missiles. A hypersonic aero-ballistic system is dropped from an aircraft, accelerated to hypersonic speed using a rocket and then follows a ballistic, meaning unpowered, trajectory. The system Russian forces used to attack Ukraine, the Kinzhal, is an aero-ballistic missile. The technology has been around since about 1980.

A hypersonic glide vehicle is boosted on a rocket to high altitude and then glides to its target, maneuvering along the way. Examples of hypersonic glide vehicles include China’s Dongfeng-17, Russia’s Avangard and the U.S. Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike system. U.S. officials have expressed concern that China’s hypersonic glide vehicle technology is further advanced than the U.S. system.

A hypersonic cruise missile is boosted by a rocket to hypersonic speed and then uses an air-breathing engine called a scramjet to sustain that speed. Because they ingest air into their engines, hypersonic cruise missiles require smaller launch rockets than hypersonic glide vehicles, which means they can cost less and be launched from more places. Hypersonic cruise missiles are under development by China and the U.S. The U.S. reportedly conducted a test flight of a scramjet hypersonic missile in March 2020.

The primary reason nations are developing these next-generation hypersonic weapons is how difficult they are to defend against due to their speed, maneuverability and flight path.

The lure of the grandiose explains the pull of Terraforming Mars

April 19th, 2022

The lure of the grandiose explains the pull of Terraforming Mars:

Although the topic is formidably complex — how many people do you know who are qualified to renovate planets? — the game is not a hard-core scientific simulation requiring degrees in astrogeology or exobiology. Rather, the genius of Terraforming Mars is that it takes a topic that should be as dry as a Martian dust storm and turns it into a fun family game that elegantly captures many of the essential processes necessary to make a planet of milk and honey.

The briefly described premise of Terraforming Mars is that a World Government has decided to make Mars so hospitable for humans that they don’t need to walk around in space suits. “Generous funding attracts gigantic corporations that compete to expand their businesses and emerge as the most influential force behind the terraforming,” explain the rules. Such capitalization of terraforming does not seem implausible. We have already seen how government-funded space programs — the ones that brought us Sputnik and Apollo — have been replaced by private corporations and spacefaring billionaires. It is quite possible that the first manned exploration of Mars will be accomplished by the private sector, followed by private developers who know that if people will buy houses in deserts and flood plains on Earth, they’ll buy them on Mars.

But these interplanetary entrepreneurs should remember a simple rule: if the government has to pay you to build somewhere, it’s not out of generosity. Whether it’s tax breaks for building housing in hollowing Rust Belt cities in the United States or free land in Siberia, as the Russian government has promised settlers, those incentives exist because the projects may be unprofitable or unpleasant.

And on Mars, developers who might have cursed zoning boards and environmental impact statements on Earth will quickly discover that the Martian environment is even less business-friendly.

[...]

In Terraforming Mars, each player takes on the role of a big corporation or political group, from the Mining Guild and Interplanetary Cinematics to the Tharsis Republic and the United Nations Mars Initiative. Each corporation has specific capabilities in terms of income, raw materials, or terraforming ability. The goal is to achieve the most points by taming the Angry Red Planet into the Jolly Green World.

[...]

Cities, forests, and oceans begin to sprout on a brown map that soon turns blue and green.

The goal of all this growth is to change three Martian parameters: temperature, oxygen level in the atmosphere, and number of ocean tiles on the map. These all feed into each other. “As the atmosphere thickens, greenhouse effects will raise the temperature. . . . As the temperature rises, carbon dioxide will thaw out, adding a greenhouse warming effect. . . . Then, at 0°C, ice-bound water in the soil will begin to melt, adding water to the surface,” as the Terraforming Mars rules book explains.

The game ends once all three parameters reach a certain level (although even those endpoints seem less than hospitable). The acceptable Martian oxygen level is 14 percent—Earth’s is 21 percent—while the Martian temperature goal is 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit), a bit chillier than Earth’s average temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit).

[...]

What humorist Will Rogers said about Earth applies equally to Mars: “Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.” And indeed, there is a limited amount of space on the Terraforming Mars map to create cities and forests. However, the real stumbling blocks—and where Terraforming Mars shines as a simulation of planetary ecology—are the prerequisites for many Project cards. Fancy a fleet of zeppelins as a cheap, low-pollution transportation option? Then someone has to first thicken the Martian atmosphere to 5 percent oxygen. Tundra farming on newly thawed Martian soil? Sounds wonderful, except that the Martian temperature begins the game at minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit), and the card can’t be played until the temperature is a relatively balmy minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit) or warmer. Would you like to import some nice nitrophilic moss that will thrive in salty Martian muck? Those plants need water, which means there must be at least three ocean tiles on the board.

As many a Terran politician has painfully learned, environmental policy often involves painful choices. Damming a river, planting new flora, or introducing non-native animals to an area will help some species but hurt others. Such dilemmas are a feature of Terraforming Mars. For example, players can introduce birds, fish, and herbivores to score extra points—but only at the cost of decreasing their plant production (presumably devoured by the new species).

The Red Planet game becomes truly inflamed when players discover that all those expensive Project cards they purchased become useless once someone has changed the delicate balance of life on Mars. We already see this on Earth, where expensive hydroelectric dams, such as the Hoover Dam or China’s Three Gorges Dam, generate increasingly less electricity because of low water levels caused by drought. Or there is the infamous Soviet plan to divert water from the Aral Sea to irrigate cotton, which turned a large body of water into a desert and created a massive environmental disaster.

The result is a Russian military designed to win land wars while avoiding a rout from the air

April 18th, 2022

Back at the start of March, Samo Burja wrote about observers puzzled to see Russian troops advancing into Ukraine without attaining air supremacy:

On the first morning of the attack, Russia disabled many Ukrainian airfields with a barrage of missiles. Since this was evidently insufficient to stop the Ukrainian air force from fighting back or launching air-to-ground attacks on the Russian army, Russia has, at best, achieved only air superiority over Ukraine: it can operate advantageously in Ukrainian skies, but it lacks the total dominance at which effective interference is no longer expected.

From the U.S. perspective, Russia’s decision to pursue a ground invasion when the skies remain contested seems foolhardy. The American military strongly favors establishing air supremacy before committing ground troops to battle. In the 1991 Gulf War, when the United States led a coalition force to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, an air campaign that lasted 42 consecutive days and nights preceded the first major ground assault. Over 100,000 sorties flew, using stealth bombers and laser-guided munitions to incapacitate the Iraqi military from above. When coalition forces invaded Iraq again in 2003, they did not first wait for an extensive air campaign—not because of a fundamental change in doctrine, but because the U.S. and its allies had continuously maintained air supremacy over Iraq for the previous 12 years. At the end of the Gulf War, the U.S. and allied militaries declared and enforced no-fly zones over most of Iraq, periodically striking Iraqi aircraft and air-defense systems, among other targets.

Since World War II, the United States has used airpower to great success. But airpower has another benefit beyond the strictly military advantage of being able both to see and strike any target in a theater of war: it is politically feasible. Air campaigns can inflict tremendous casualties on an enemy while sustaining few losses of their own. This prevents the bad public relations and loss of morale that afflicted the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in later years, while bypassing the onerous bureaucratic and logistical capacity needed to field an effective army. It’s unlikely that the U.S. ever would have launched conventional ground invasions of Yugoslavia in 1999 or Libya in 2011, but overwhelming airpower proved sufficient to achieve U.S. goals in both cases.

This extremely successful track record, however, has eclipsed the reality that orientation around airpower is not the only potent military strategy for a major power. Russia’s military is instead built around ground-based heavy artillery. Much of the Russian force now invading Ukraine consists of “Battalion Tactical Groups” (BTGs). These formations of less than 1,000 men operate as much artillery as a U.S. armored brigade—a formation of about 4,500 troops—as well as air-defense, anti-tank, and multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) batteries. Russia’s Soviet-era artillery has been modernized and much of it is brand new. In addition to large quantities of self-propelled artillery, many of Russia’s active artillery systems substantially outgun and outrange their Western equivalents, partially thanks to a domestic defense industry that specializes in this niche. Unlike many European countries, Russia still employs cluster munitions that can saturate an area of 40,000 square meters with explosives. In Western doctrine, tanks are typically supported by artillery fire when seizing contested ground. Russian doctrine is the other way around: tanks are used to seize favorable positions for artillery, which then finishes off an enemy force. Surprisingly, the Russian military currently does not even operate any armed drones but uses a 2,000-strong fleet of reconnaissance drones to help locate artillery targets.

This artillery-centric army would be nevertheless highly vulnerable to air strikes in the absence of air defenses, a weakness of which Russian military theorists have been aware since the last years of the Soviet Union, and which modern Russia has taken pains to address. In the 1980s, Soviet marshal Nikolai Ogarkov proposed—among many other reforms—the creation of a unified aerospace service with combined responsibility for both airpower and air defense. The Soviet military proved too rigid for reform before the USSR’s collapse in 1991, but Putin’s Russia inaugurated the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2015. This followed a major period of military reform from 2007 to 2012 under Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, a civilian and career tax official who relentlessly purged Russia’s bloated defense bureaucracy and worked to modernize equipment, tactics, and administration. Today, Russia operates some of the world’s densest and most sophisticated air-defense systems. The infamous S-400, which has been purchased by China, India, and Turkey, is one example, but progress has also been made in linking up older air defenses to modern target-acquisition systems. Every BTG also operates its own short-range air-defense systems.

The result is a Russian military designed to win land wars while avoiding a rout from the air. Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine without air supremacy simply because its army was designed to operate without it. Moreover, Putin’s authoritarian Russia is far more politically willing to absorb casualties than Western democracies.

Mental illness is no longer something to recover from and fight against

April 18th, 2022

The younger generation’s understanding of mental health is completely destroying people’s lives:

I have met and helped and treated numerous individuals now who are my peers in age — anything from 18-early 30s. And so many have internalized a generational “understanding” of mental illness that is toxic and worthless beyond condemnation. Our youngest generations’ understanding of mental health enables, encourages, and at worst glorifies mental illness. I can not understate the number of times I’ve met a young woman who has made being mentally ill, and polysexual, and queer, and autistic, et cetera, their identity.

Accountability is absent to the nth degree. But more importantly, a lack of any accountability has deprived these people of personal empowerment and agency. Mental illness is no longer something to recover from and fight against. It is an identity and a definition of life itself. There is no reason to seek “cures” (which of course is borderline nonexistent in mental health but that’s a whole essay itself), there is no reason to look to better ourselves. There is no reason to fight our internal struggles at a personal level, without feeling the need to inform every last member of the community whom we interact with. This is not only society’s problem, but our peers’.

Recently I have been working with a woman a bit older than I am, but she is just an example of something I’ve seen numerous times. She understands every moment of high anxiety to be a crisis: deserving of calling hotlines devoted to suicidal people. Every second of discomfort is an attack on themselves. “Trauma response” is the only verbiage through which they understand how maybe a parent wasn’t so loving, so now a snide comment = mental health crisis. They have no contextual understanding how minor inconveniences can and SHOULD be resolved quietly to themselves by being a little anxious for a night. To them, it is an affront to their character, an affirmation that they are disabled and unable to contribute to society without constant affirmation. And they have the internet to thank.

The culture of mental health amongst millennials and lower glorifies and denies all responsibilities towards people with mental illness. Not to mention the flimsy and extremely thin definitions by which they diagnose themselves and each other. I have never in my life met a they/them who also didn’t call themselves “autistic” and “traumatized.” This is not a coincidence. The internet community they are a part of is destroying all sense of responsibility and personal understanding of agency and even sexuality. The result is people aged 14-mid 30s who have no grasp of improving themselves or working on their mental health. The aforementioned woman feels zero responsibility for losing now dozens of friends who did something between refusing to be a part of her “crisis plan” or simply not acknowledging her severity of mental illness. But I’ve seen her dozens of times. She can hold down a job just fine. She shows more initiative than any homeless person (of which I’ve worked with hundreds) I’ve ever met. But her understanding of herself and any struggles is so absolutely poisoned by this ridiculous generational attitude towards mental illness that she will never recover. To not be a part of the cult is in of itself a toxic trait to her poisoned mind.

A second of anxiety is a crisis. Two panic attacks in a week merit hospitalization. A close friend refusing to validate these things is valid grounds for terminating the relationship. And so on, it repeats. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I’ve now met numerous people who would otherwise be functioning members of society who instead have no belief or understanding that they could be just that. Instead they are queer disabled anarchists with trauma response issues unable to hold down a job… because when you surround yourself with enablers and increasingly lenient definitions, something as simple as an anxiety attack once in your life will quickly turn into being “handicapped” and separate you from society in perpetuity.

How Harpoon V would model the Ukrainian attack on the Moskva

April 17th, 2022

Ian B. of the Rocky Mountain Navy looks at how the latest version of the table-top Harpoon war game, Harpoon V, would model the Ukrainian attack on the Moskva:

Given that Moskva is a major combatant with a wide assortment of radars and defensive systems, the result of the attack/accident seems almost implausible. On paper this is a Ukrainian David vs. a Russian Goliath. Alternatively, how could the Russian Navy lose a ship to a fire? A closer examination of a plausible “engagement” using the Harpoon V rules reveals it’s not as lopsided as one might think.

If reports are to be believed, Moskva was struck by by two RK-360MC Neptun (Neptune) anti-ship cruise missiles. Neptune is generally reported to be a Ukrainian version of the Russian Kh-35U but with a longer body, more fuel, and a larger booster. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s use the Kh-35U which is listed as the Uran (3M24) [SS-N-25 Switchblade] in Annex D1 of Russia’s Navy: Soviet & Russian Naval Vessels, 1955-2020 (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2021). The most important data element is perhaps the damage caused by the 150kg warhead which Harpoon V rates as “35+D6/2” or 36-38 damage points. Admittedly, this number may be a bit low given the Neptune has more fuel and is larger, factors which lead to more damage in Admiralty Trilogy models.

Moskva is (was?) the lead ship of the Project 1164 Atlant class. To Cold War Grognards like me it’s perhaps better known as a Slava-class guided missile cruiser. The lead ship, Slava, entered service in 1983 and eventually was renamed Moskva in 1995. This particular ship was overhauled between 1991-2000 and was to be overhauled again in 2016. Reports indicate the overhaul stalled for lack of funds and the ship reentered service in 2019 with few—or none—of the planned upgrades completed. Full details for Moskva are found in Annex A of Russia’s Navy. Of particular concern to this analysis, Moskva is rated at 341 damage points.

There are many unanswered questions about how the Ukrainians may have hit Moskva with two ASCMs. In Harpoon V one can play out the detection, engagement, and damage results. While many pundits are saying that Moskva “should” have seen—and defeated—the inbound missiles, Harpoon V helps us understand why this may have not been an “automatic” thing.

[...]

The defensive model in Harpoon V assumes ships are at General Quarters with all sensors and weapons at the ready. General Quarters is also very hard to maintain with watertight doors secured and people constantly on edge. It is more likely that Moskva was operating in some lesser readiness condition. This of course means sensors and weapons may not have been ready (extending the Reaction Time) and watertight integrity/damage control teams may not have been set to immediately deal with damage.

[...]

The late Captain Wayne P. Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.) in his book Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Second Edition (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000) shared a study showing the number of Exocet equivalents (approximately equal to one 3M24) it would take to cripple or sink a warship (see Fig. 6-1, Exocet Missile Equivalents versus Full-Load Displacement for Ships Out of Action and Sunk, p. 160). The table goes up to 7,000 tons but extrapolating the data to ~10,000 tons (Moskva is 9,380 tons standard displacement) indicates that two hits are very likely enough to put Moskva out of action and four or five hits would be sufficient to sink the ship. Assuming two missiles and maybe one sympathetic detonation of ordnance that’s already three hits…with maybe a fourth from fire and flood damage. In many ways the surprise should not be Moskva sinking but if the ship somehow survives.

It’s bad enough losing a ship, but worse not losing it in combat:

At this point the Russian need to claim the ship was saturated with dozens of missiles and they heroically downed all but the last two. The story will be the Captain stood on the bridge with his middle finger raised and said, “F*ck you, Ukrainian missile!”

Tom Clancy used an earlier edition of Harpoon to game out The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising — which he did with Larry Bond, the US Navy officer who developed the game. A Forbes piece from a couple years ago describes the origin of the game:

In July 1976 a young naval officer made the short walk from his warship to a destroyer tender docked nearby. Lieutenant (JG) Larry Bond returned to the USS McKean with a precious copy of the NAVTAG wargame. And because it was a Secret document, he promptly signed it in to his ship’s classified material locker. NAVTAG (Naval Tactical Game) was an official war game used to train U.S. Navy officers how to fight with their ships. It was a great training aid, but its classified status created a bureaucratic barrier to playing it, so it rarely came out of the safe. What Bond thought was needed was a non-classified version which could be played more easily. It was the beginning of the now famous Harpoon wargame lineage.

[...]

When Bond released the first version in April 1980 it was an instant success, even winning the H.G. Wells award in 1981. Bond knew all about wargames, being an associate of Dave Arneson of Dungeons & Dragons fame. Arneson’s company even publish the first two editions. While it was popular with the civilian audience, it was also a hit with professional war fighters. It was easier to play than NAVTAG, and free from classified material, but retained the realism needed in a navy setting.

Arneson was not the only famous person associated with the game. Upcoming author Tom Clancy bought a copy of Harpoon and began corresponding with Larry Bond. Clancy used the game during his research for his first novel, The Hunt for Red October. His second book, Red Storm Rising, was based on scenarios tested out playing Harpoon. The bona fide wargaming gave the book a level of realism and credibility which sets it apart from many other Techno Thrillers. Bond was also Clancy’s co-author on the book.

Red Storm Rising was essentially a Soviet Invasion of Europe war game written as a story. It was a scenario familiar to naval planners. So if you have ever wondered why Russia’s Tu-22 Backfire bombers featured so prominently, it was a real-world concern of NATO navies. Armed with powerful supersonic missiles, these could overwhelm all but the latest warships. It was the threat that AEGIS and the F-14 Tomcat were primarily intended to counter.

In Red Storm Rising — spoiler alert — the Soviet Navy achieves a decisive early victory against a US Navy carrier group by using air-launched decoy drones to draw the carrier’s air patrol far away, while Tu-16 Badger bombers attack from another direction, causing considerable damage. Apparently the Ukrainians pulled off this trick against the Russian Moskva, with their Turkish drone.

Another tactical lesson from the book seems to be playing out, too. Three men and a jeep can race along the road, set up, fire one or two missiles, be gone before the enemy can react, then repeat the process a few hundred meters away.

(The Harpoon V Jumpstart rules are free to download.)

Egg trees are a dismal failure when compared to Christmas trees

April 17th, 2022

In the era before plastic eggs, many Americans carefully emptied whole eggs of their contents and colored them brightly for Easter, occasionally hanging them on tree branches with scraps of ribbon or thread:

In 1890s New York, it was even something of a craze. But despite brief bursts of popularity, Kaufman writes, today “egg trees are a dismal failure when compared to Christmas trees, found only in a few public fora and very scattered homes.”

Much like the Christmas tree, the custom likely came to the United States with German immigrants, entrenching itself among the Pennsylvania Dutch. (Although the Easter egg tree is typically a bare-branched tree hung with eggs, rather than an evergreen.) Across parts of Pennsylvania and Appalachia, Kaufman writes, women considered egg trees a type of good-luck charm, especially when it came to fertility.

Easter Egg Tree in Saalfeld, Germany

The Easter tree achieved more widespread popularity in 1950, after Katherine Milhous, an American author, published the Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book The Egg Tree. Pennsylvania Dutch scholar Alfred Lewis Shoemaker credited The Egg Tree with a “nationwide acceptance, overnight, of the custom of decorating a tree with colored eggs at Easter.” Milhous herself prepped and painted 600 eggs for the New York Public Library’s Easter tree that same year. But Shoemaker spoke too soon. The tradition slowly faded in New York, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art only discontinuing its yearly Easter egg tree in the 1980s. Hollowing out fragile eggs and hanging them on trees, Kaufman writes, seemed unable to compete with the relative ease of simply placing eggs in a basket.

The Pentagon builds its budgets in five-year plans, much as the Soviet Union once did

April 17th, 2022

The Pentagon builds its budgets in five-year plans, Christian Brose notes (in The Kill Chain), much as the Soviet Union once did:

Once the Pentagon starts paying for people, places, and things, it has to keep paying for them. This means that the majority of the money that the Department of Defense plans to get in future years has already been obligated by past decisions. And once those programs get started, it is incredibly difficult to stop them, because of how many stakeholders in and out of our government benefit from continuing them at all costs.

[…]

Of the limited future money that remains unspoken for, the process to plan how to spend it begins nearly two years before the Pentagon actually receives a dollar of that money from Congress.

[…]

In that gap of time, entirely new technologies are developed. Brand new companies are founded. And the Pentagon cannot plan to take advantage of any of them, so it programs its future money toward capabilities and technologies that it knows about now, which makes it exceedingly difficult to be dynamic, adaptive, and responsive to unforeseen conditions.

[…]

What’s more, if the Pentagon wants to shift, or “reprogram,” any of this funding for other purposes, it often requires permission from four different congressional committees, and the total amount of money that the Pentagon is allowed to reprogram in a given year is roughly .5 percent of its budget.

[…]

As each layer of bureaucracy was added to govern the sprawling defense enterprise, some power shifted to the top. But much of this was power on paper. In reality, most power still remains at lower levels, concentrated ironically in what are known within the largest non-democratic institution in America as “communities of interest.”

[…]

What this means, in practice, is that countless decisions affecting enormous amounts of defense spending are made by entrenched parochial interests spread around the Department of Defense that have neither the authority nor the incentive to make bold moves that change America’s defense program. This leads the Pentagon’s many communities of interest to view their senior leaders, who come and go every few years, as tantamount to part-time employees who are not around long enough to really matter—or, as a friend in one of those communities once put it to me, “the Christmas help.”

[…]

Military servicemembers are only in a given job for a few years before they rotate to another one. In that short time, they are rarely rewarded for rocking the boat or raising problems up the chain, least of all when their complaints regard the failure of their own institutions to do new things or adopt new technologies for which few people as yet see a need. Such disruptions are more often viewed by the powers that be, who manage military careers, as a reason to doubt whether a person is a team player who deserves a top job in the next promotion cycle. Those who are rewarded are people who shepherd the existing programs of their respective communities of interest through the budget process with as little change as possible.

[…]

The Navy fixates on “ship count.” The Air Force fixates on its number of squadrons. The Army fixates on its “end strength,” the number of soldiers in its ranks. And the Marine Corps has traditionally fixated on amphibious ships.

[…]

For example, despite decades of progress in unmanned aviation, both the Navy and Air Force are planning to spend billions of dollars to develop new, manned fighter jets that they expect to deliver to the force many years from now.

[…]

Both services are also developing autonomous aircraft, but they are limiting them to missions centered around traditional, manned fighter jets—refueling them, in the case of the Navy, and defending them, in the case of the Air Force.

[…]

The truth is that Congress has considerable power to correct the failings and oversights of the Department of Defense and the defense industrial base, but Congress too often uses its awesome powers for things that just do not matter that much to the future effectiveness of our military. It is hard not to think that this is related, in some way, to the significant reduction in the number of members of Congress with military experience, which is roughly half of what it was thirty years ago, which contributes to a growing unfamiliarity with the US military among the very people charged with overseeing it.

\

The only possible victory would be local but total

April 16th, 2022

Discussing Elon Musk potentially buying Twitter, Curtis Yarvin (Mencius Moldbug) says, “I rarely think anything is meaningful. But I think this is.”

Action in a conflict is strategically positive if it makes further action easier. For example, in a shooting war, a battle is won if the result of the battle is to make the next battle easier. The same is true of a political confrontation.

The occupation of Ottawa was a defeat, not a victory (which should be easier to see now that it is not the Current Conservative Thing), because it left the powers that be stronger, and the powers that would be weaker. The regime fortified itself against any future clever democratic uses of eighteen-wheelers, and field-tested new tools of financial suppression. The participants and organizers were left with legal problems.

[...]

Almost every conservative action is a defeat by this standard, which is why only losers are conservatives. For instance, traveling in Austin, I noticed that the streets had been largely cleared of homeless encampments (which have been pushed into the nearby forests). Most people take this as a conservative victory. It is actually a defeat.

It is a victory in the ordinary sense of the term — an action which gets what the actors want. It is a tactical victory — but a strategic defeat. At a party the other day, I spoke to one of the people who orchestrated this “victory,” and explained why I saw it this way.

In general, victory on an issue-based political rebellion is a strategic defeat, because it reduces the energy of support. Aristocratic support is crucial for any serious rebellion. Severe disorder in aristocratic cities produces rebellious thoughts among aristocrats, who start to question truths they had previously held sacred.

The first stage of these rebellious thoughts is the “unprincipled exception.” In the 1980s, it violated the principles of many aristocratic New Yorkers to vote for “tough on crime” Republicans. Seeing the results of their own principles in their own lives, they did not react by becoming Republicans — they reacted by voting for a Republican. They did not change their principles — they created an exception to those principles.

There are three fates for such an exception. It can stay what it is; it can go away; or it can expand to become a genuine change in principle. Because electing a Republican mayor created a tactical victory that gave the voters what they wanted, the exception went away — its troubling cognitive dissonance was no longer needed. Had the issue persisted, the exception would have stayed as it was or expanded.

Instead, thirty years, the progressive citizens of a mostly-safe, mostly-orderly New York looked at themselves and asked why they tolerated such unprincipled policing. Finding no answer, they rolled it back. Inertia no longer protected the consequences of the exception — and the conservative boomers in Queens and Staten Island who had allied with the exception were moving out and dying off. And the new consciousness was specifically programmed against “broken windows” and “stop-and-frisk.” In the end, the tactical victory was lost and became near-impossible to repeat. Finem respice.

The general lesson we learn from this is that, for a rebel, all true victories are total. He who makes half a revolution digs his own grave.

The only possible victory would be local but total:

These are the only kinds of incremental wins that rebels should shoot for — “niche coups” which completely and irreversibly capture a part of the whole.

Victory is only achieved if Musk completes his whole plan — buying Twitter and taking it private. This is because, as Musk fully recognizes, compliance with power is economically optimal. It is easy for power to control a public company — since a public company must be managed to maximize profit and serve the shareholders, just set up incentives which ensure that compliance is profitable. If there is only one shareholder and he has ulterior motives beyond profit, this control mechanism ceases to work. In any other situation, the management has a fiduciary responsibility to comply.

Would it be a strategic victory? Again, a strategic victory is a victory that makes other victories possible. It goes without saying that a monopoly social-media platform not beholden to the prestige media and its single synoptic perspective would be a source of enormous power that could create all kinds of tactical and strategic victories.

Knocking out the RAR-alpha gene in male mice makes them sterile, without any obvious side effects

April 16th, 2022

To develop a non-hormonal male contraceptive, researchers targeted a protein called the retinoic acid receptor alpha (RAR-alpha):

This protein is one of a family of three nuclear receptors that bind retinoic acid, a form of vitamin A that plays important roles in cell growth, differentiation (including sperm formation) and embryonic development. Knocking out the RAR-alpha gene in male mice makes them sterile, without any obvious side effects. Other scientists have developed an oral compound that inhibits all three members of the RAR family (RAR-alpha, -beta and -gamma) and causes reversible sterility in male mice, but Georg’s team and their reproductive biology collaborators wanted to find a drug that was specific for RAR-alpha and therefore less likely to cause side effects.

So the researchers closely examined crystal structures of RAR-alpha, -beta and -gamma bound to retinoic acid, identifying structural differences in the ways the three receptors bind to their common ligand. With this information, they designed and synthesized approximately 100 compounds and evaluated their ability to selectively inhibit RAR-alpha in cells. They identified a compound, which was named YCT529, that inhibited RAR-alpha almost 500 times more potently than it did RAR-beta and -gamma. When given orally to male mice for 4 weeks, YCT529 dramatically reduced sperm counts and was 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, without any observable side effects. The mice could father pups again 4-6 weeks after they stopped receiving the compound.

According to Georg, YCT529 will begin testing in human clinical trials in the third or fourth quarter of 2022. “Because it can be difficult to predict if a compound that looks good in animal studies will also pan out in human trials, we’re currently exploring other compounds, as well,” she says. To identify these next-generation compounds, the researchers are both modifying the existing compound and testing new structural scaffolds. They hope that their efforts will finally bring the elusive oral male contraceptive to fruition.

Strike rapidly, consolidate gains, harden victory into a fait accompli

April 15th, 2022

Christian Brose explains (in The Kill Chain) how our near-peers plan to win a future war:

Indeed, that is exactly how China plans to win a future war in Asia and how Russia plans to prevail in Europe: strike rapidly, consolidate their gains before US forces can respond effectively, harden their victory into a fait accompli, and force the United States to escalate the conflict to attack and dislodge their forces. This kind of rapid aggression will only become easier when future war is moving at the speed of hypersonic weapons and intelligent machines.

To deter this kind of conflict, the United States must have nearly all of the military forces required to defend against great-power aggression right where war might occur.

This necessitates positioning large numbers of new military forces, especially autonomous systems, advanced missiles, and electronic attack systems, in Europe and Asia.

It will also require the eventual forward deployment of advanced manufacturing and other means of production that could rapidly generate vast quantities of replacement forces in the event of conflict, where losses would be significant.

In Kyiv, exactly the same thing happened, but in reverse

April 15th, 2022

In the old days, Edward Luttwak notes, a CIA officer appointed to serve in a foreign country whose language he did not know would apply himself furiously to learn as much of it as possible:

But now, very few CIA officers speak any foreign language. Their superiors do not demand that they learn them, and they themselves are too busy chatting with each other to talk with the locals — other than with English-speaking local counterparts who mostly tell them what they want to hear.

This is why Biden paid a high political price for the effortless Taliban conquest of Afghanistan and the rapid fall of Kabul: the CIA told the White House that the Afghan army would hold out on its own for much more than a decent interval, for years perhaps, and said nothing at all to suggest that it might crumble without a fight. Not knowing Tajik, Uzbek, or any Pathan dialect, the CIA officers who uselessly served in Kabul from their offices did not overhear the jokes on the street about the Afghan army, or hilarious accounts of how incompetent fools could become instant officers by paying a modest bribe.

Because American generals, including media-star David Petraeus, flatly refused to call upon the regiments of Pathans, Tadjiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras who might fight out of ethnic solidarity, instead creating a mythical national “Afghan” army, the result was a fraud from day one. When the time came, they did not fight or even flee: they handed over their US-supplied weapons to the Taliban.

In Kyiv, exactly the same thing happened, but in reverse. Just as in Kabul, we had CIA officers with no situational awareness. They did not listen, or understand, or even speak Ukrainian — they proclaimed it unnecessary “because everyone speaks Russian”, before sheepishly admitting that they themselves did not. Hence the CIA told the White House that Zelenskyy would flee, that the government would dissolve, that the Ukrainian army would not fight, and that the Russians would control Kyiv in 24 hours.

Since the White House still gave credence to the CIA in spite of its long history of incompetence, it ordered the urgent, even panicked evacuation of the US diplomatic mission to Lviv. Had they had any idea at all, they might have noticed that the Russians proposed to invade Europe’s largest country with very few troops — 150,000 compared to the 800,000 sent into far smaller Czechoslovakia in 1968 — and told the White House that with a bit of help the Ukrainians would contain the invasion.

But the CIA is highly professional in its press relations, and sure enough the New York Times promptly published an article that featured “former intelligence officers” highlighting the impossibility of ascertaining “fighting spirit”. It was as neat an illustration as any of why Kabul fell, and why Kyiv could too. Unless the US remedies its CIA problem by emptying out and fumigating the place, before restaffing it with people who care enough about the world to learn its languages, the US will continue to fly blind — and crash into the next Ukraine.

China also lives in a G7 world

April 14th, 2022

But by the second day of the Ukraine war, Beijing realised that China also lives in a G7 world, Edward Luttwak notes, with its economy utterly dependent on the daily arrival of bulk carriers loaded with animal and human food:

China’s economy was self-sufficient if miserably poor in 1976 when I first visited, with a population on the edge of malnutrition. But today’s citizens will not grin and bear it without their meat, eggs, or milk. Last year, Xi Jinping’s naval groupies, including the jovial retired Admiral Luo Yuan, suggested that the US could be scared off from defending Taiwan against a Chinese invasion by sinking a US warship or two, perhaps even an aircraft carrier. Now Xi must realise that if a US warship is sunk, the supply of animal feed would end.

High schoolers are taking tougher classes, getting better grades, and know less than students did a decade ago

April 14th, 2022

High schoolers are taking tougher classes, getting better grades, and know less than students did a decade ago:

In the four decades since the U.S. National Commission on Excellence in Education published its landmark report, “A Nation at Risk,” there’s been a sustained effort to push high schoolers to take more rigorous courses, with the sensible expectation that tougher classes will mean more learning. Well, consider that experiment half-successful. According to the recently released 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress High School Transcript Study, students are taking more rigorous classes in science and math and they are getting better grades in those classes. The problem? They actually know less than students did a decade ago.

During the decade between 2009 and 2019, the share of 12th graders who took a rigorous or moderately rigorous slate of courses rose from 60 to 63 percent, and the average GPA of high school graduates climbed from a 3.0 to a 3.11—an all-time high. So far, so good. When we turn to how 12th graders actually fared on NAEP (the “nation’s report card”), though, we see that science scores stayed the same and that math scores actually fell by about 3 percent.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen counterintuitive results like these. In 2009, Mark Schneider, now the commissioner of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, found that decades of efforts to boost the number of students taking higher-level math classes had led to the dilution of those very classes. In particular, Schneider noted that, between 1990 and 2005, average math GPAs rose, as did the average number of math credits completed by high-school graduates. Furthermore, while only one-third of students completed algebra II in 1978, more than half did in 2008. And yet, despite all of this, NAEP scores for students in algebra I, geometry, and algebra II declined between 1978 and 2008.

In other words, more students were taking more advanced math and getting better grades—and yet our students knew less in 2008 than they did 30 years earlier. Schneider termed this phenomenon the “delusion of rigor” though it could equally well could be termed the “dilution of rigor.”

[…]

It’s actually not that hard to figure out what’s going on: Schools have a lot of incentives to get students into more rigorous-sounding classes. Many states require that more students take such classes; equity-oriented advocates urge schools to enroll more low-income and minority students in advanced-sounding classes; and, perhaps most significantly, parents want schools to ensure that their children can enroll in courses that look good on college applications (this pressure only increases as colleges put less weight on the SAT or ACT). In short, there are lots of reasons why students are taking more high-level courses that have nothing to do with whether students are actually prepared for those courses.

But the problem isn’t just that schools are incentivized to stick students into classes they aren’t ready for. The problem is also that schools are incentivized to make those classes easier. Even as more students take more challenging courses, school and system leaders are under a lot of pressure to ensure that graduation rates keep rising. This puts pressure on schools and teachers to soften classes by simplifying instruction, shortening units, skipping difficult concepts, or just slapping an impressive-sounding name on a class that doesn’t deserve it.

The infantry is once again the queen of the battlefield

April 13th, 2022

The current war in Ukraine is causing no end of trouble for the staff officers and civil servants working on next year’s budgets, Edward Luttwak remarks:

The infantry is once again the queen of the battlefield, empowered as it is by anti-tank missiles that pursue armoured vehicles until they destroy them, and by portable anti-aircraft missiles that are the doom of helicopters, even if they cannot intercept much faster jets. This means that current combat helicopter and armoured vehicle purchases should be cancelled until they can be redesigned with much better protection; that is active defences that detect and intercept the incoming missiles — a process that might take years. (So far only Israel has active defence systems for its armoured vehicles )

By contrast, killer drones that can reliably destroy armoured vehicles and anything else beyond the horizon are grotesquely underfunded given their demonstrated combat value, largely because they are captive to air force priorities, set by pilots and ex-pilot senior officers. Only with political intervention can the stranglehold of the flying fraternity be overcome — they are today’s reactionary horse cavalry that resisted tanks in the Twenties. But the main thing, of course, is to have more infantry and to train it very well, and that raises the need for compulsory military service which only Sweden has confronted so far — by re-instituting it.