The only thing remarkable about their deployments was the sheer number of artillery rounds they had fired

November 9th, 2023

An investigation by the New York Times found that many of the troops sent to bombard the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017 returned to the United States plagued by nightmares, panic attacks, depression and, in a few cases, hallucinations:

Interviews with more than 40 gun crew veterans and their families in 16 states found that the military repeatedly struggled to determine what was wrong after the troops returned from Syria and Iraq.

All the gun crews filled out questionnaires to screen for post-traumatic stress disorder and took tests to detect signs of traumatic brain injuries from enemy explosions. But the crews had been miles away from the front lines when they fired their long-range cannons, and most never saw direct fighting or suffered the kinds of combat injuries that the tests were designed to look for.

A few gun crew members were eventually given diagnoses of PTSD, but to the crews, that didn’t make much sense. They hadn’t, in most cases, even seen the enemy.

The only thing remarkable about their deployments was the sheer number of artillery rounds they had fired.

The United States had made a strategic decision to avoid sending large numbers of ground troops to fight the Islamic State, and instead relied on airstrikes and a handful of powerful artillery batteries to, as one retired general said at the time, “pound the bejesus out of them.” The strategy worked: Islamic State positions were all but eradicated, and hardly any U.S. troops were killed.

But it meant that a small number of troops had to fire tens of thousands of high-explosive shells — far more rounds per crew member, experts say, than any U.S. artillery battery had fired at least since the Vietnam War.

Military guidelines say that firing all those rounds is safe. What happened to the crews suggests that those guidelines were wrong.

The cannon blasts were strong enough to hurl a 100-pound round 15 miles, and each unleashed a shock wave that shot through the crew members’ bodies, vibrating bone, punching lungs and hearts, and whipping at cruise-missile speeds through the most delicate organ of all: the brain.

More than a year after Marines started experiencing problems, the Marine Corps leadership tried to piece together what was happening by ordering a study of one of the hardest-hit units, Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines.

The research was limited to reviewing the troops’ medical records. No Marines were examined or interviewed. Even so, the report, published in 2019, made a startling finding: The gun crews were being hurt by their own weapons.

More than half the Marines in the battery had eventually received diagnoses of traumatic brain injuries, according to a briefing prepared for Marine Corps headquarters. The report warned that the experience in Syria showed that firing a high number of rounds, day after day, could incapacitate crews “faster than combat replacements can be trained to replace them.”

The military did not seem to be taking the threat seriously, the briefing cautioned: Safety training — both for gun crews and medical personnel — was so deficient, it said, that the risks of repeated blast exposure “are seemingly ignored.”


The military for generations set maximum safe blast-exposure levels for eardrums and lungs but never for brains. Anything that didn’t leave troops dazed was generally considered safe. But that has recently changed.

Today, shooters wear hearing protection, even when shooting relatively low-power guns, like pistols, alone, outdoors, but it wasn’t that long ago that a machine-gunner was supposed to tough it out. The military didn’t address the problem until a new technology made it impossible to ignore.

When unwise people are influential, bad things happen

November 7th, 2023

Arnold Kling presents a simple theory of history:

When wise people are influential, good things happen. When unwise people are influential, bad things happen.

I will just offer two data points. During the era of the American founding, influential people included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and other men who had great wisdom. Today, we have social media “influencers” who are idiots.

In politics, the Democratic Party is drifting way to the left, influenced by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, the Squad, and a cadre of young activists. None of them has any wisdom.

The Republican Party looks worse. The new Speaker of the House does not strike me as wise. Nor does the prospective Republican Presidential nominee.

Contemporary journalism is a disaster. The influential writers are partisan hacks. No wise person could trust Paul Krugman or Tucker Carlson.

Most galling of all is the disconnect between influence and wisdom in higher education. The dominant influence at universities used to be faculty. And they were faculty in real disciplines, not grievance studies. Professors can be petty and juvenile, but there was enough wisdom to maintain a decent atmosphere for seeking truth and reasoning with rigor.

Today, the influence comes from administrators. Most notorious are the DEI administrators. They are not at all wise. The critical theorists and the grievance studies professors cause harm both psychologically and intellectually.

I suspect that the rise of foolish influencers reflects the new information environment. The Internet rewards tribalism, not wisdom.

A drone is simply a smartphone with wings, and the wings are the cheap part

November 6th, 2023

When it became clear that drones were playing a significant role in Ukraine, I decided to finally catch up on the topic, and I noticed that David Hambling, whose articles seemed reasonable and well written, had written a book on the topic back in 2013, Swarm Troopers: How small drones will conquer the world.

One of the first points he makes in the book is that the Pentagon used to always be 20 years ahead of the private sector:

Smartphone sales have accelerated from zero in 2006 to over a billion smartphones shipped in 2013.


Billions of dollars are spent annually on advancing technology just for small electronic devices.


These days soldiers are less likely to be awestruck at the gadgetry they are issued than shocked by how clunky it is compared to the sleek lightweight devices they have at home.


Selling to the military means extensive testing and certification, with the related delays and costs. Add to this a military bureaucracy that can take years to agree on the specification it wants in the first place, overseen by a political leadership that may cancel, delay, or divert any project depending on the shifting sands of expediency, and you have a recipe for a long time between generations.

Each generation of electronics roughly translates to a doubling of processing power, memory, pixels, or other relevant metrics. If a commercial product goes through a generation every two years, and the military cycle takes six years per generation, then in twelve years the military product goes from being four times as powerful as the competition to a quarter as powerful.


A drone is simply a smartphone with wings, and the wings are the cheap part.

Musk’s college-admissions test scores were not especially notable

November 5th, 2023

Elon Musk is certainly bright, but he’s not superhuman, at least not according to his test scores and grades, as reported by Walter Isaacson (in his biography of Elon):

Musk’s college-admissions test scores were not especially notable. On his second round of the SAT tests, he got a 670 out of 800 on his verbal exam and a 730 on math.


During his first year, Musk got A’s in Business, Economics, Calculus, and Computer Programming, but he got B’s in Accounting, Spanish, and Industrial Relations. The following year, he took another course in Industrial Relations, which studies the dealings between workers and management. Again, he got a B. He later told the Queen’s alumni magazine that the most important thing he learned during his two years there was “how to work collaboratively with smart people and make use of the Socratic method to achieve commonality of purpose,” a skill, like those of industrial relations, that future colleagues would notice had been only partly honed.

The Mulberries veiled the biggest secret of all

November 4th, 2023

The two greatest armored commanders in history, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), clashed on the proper way to meet the Allied invasion of France:

Guderian came to his position from his experiences in the east with the Red Army, Rommel from his experiences in Africa with the western Allies. They proposed diametrically opposite solutions.


Panzer and panzergrenadier divisions, Guderian wrote, “must be stationed far enough inland from the so-called Atlantic Wall so that they could be switched easily to the main invasion front once it had been recognized.”

Guderian and Geyr proposed that the ten fast divisions Hitler had allocated to defend the west be concentrated in two groups, one north and the other south of Paris. Both officers recognized the immense superiority of Allied air power, and that it gravely affected German ability to shift armor. But they believed the problem could be overcome by moving at night.


Because of Allied air supremacy, Rommel said, there could be no question of moving large formations, even at night.

To Rommel the day of mobile warfare for Germany had passed, not only because of Anglo-American air power but because Germany had not kept up with the western Allies in production of tanks and armored vehicles—a result due more to the shortage of oil than to Allied bombing.

Implicit in Rommel’s theory was that the Germans must guess right where the Allies were going to land. If German forces could not move, they had to be in place close to the invasion site. Rommel decided that the Allies would land at the Pas de Calais opposite Dover.

Rommel ruled out other landing places, especially because the Allies could provide greater air cover there than anywhere else. Rommel wrote Hitler on December 31, 1943, listing the Pas de Calais as the probable landing site. “The enemy’s main concern,” he wrote, “will be to get the quickest possible possession of a port or ports capable of handling large ships.”

Guderian did not conjecture precisely where the Allies might invade. He thought they should be allowed to land and make a penetration, so that their forces could be destroyed and thrown back into the sea by a counteroffensive on a grand scale. This was in keeping with successful German movements in Russia. Although Rundstedt and Geyr accepted the idea, neither they nor Guderian had any idea how Anglo-American command of the air could restrict panzer movement.

Rommel did, and to him Guderian’s proposal was nonsense. “If the enemy once gets his foot in, he’ll put every antitank gun and tank he can into the bridgehead and let us beat our heads against it,” he told General Fritz Bayerlein, commander of the Panzer Lehr Division.

The only way to prevent this, Rommel wrote, was to fight the battle in the coastal strip. This required operational reserves close behind the beaches that could intervene quickly. Bringing reserves up from inland would force them to run a gauntlet of Allied air power, and take so much time the Allies could organize a solid defense or drive farther inland.

Rommel set about building a fortified mined zone extending five or six miles inland. He also built underwater obstacles along the shore—including stakes (“Rommel’s asparagus”) carrying antitank mines, concrete structures equipped with steel blades or antitank mines, and other snares. But his efforts came too late to be fully effective, and they were concentrated in the Pas de Calais, though some work extended to Normandy.

Rommel and Guderian were both wrong, of course. The Allies were not bound to take the shortest route to seize the closest port. Rommel did not understand the vastness of Allied maritime resources, and he was not aware of British ingenuity in building two artificial harbors (Mulberries) which could serve as temporary ports. The Mulberries veiled the biggest secret of all: the Allies did not have to capture a port to invade the Continent. This made possible a landing at the least likely place still under the Allied air umbrella: the beaches of Normandy.

Guderian was wrong in his belief that the Germans could duplicate anything like the vast sweeping panzer movements they practiced in Russia. There the Luftwaffe generally had parity with the Red air force, and could achieve temporary local superiority to carry out a specific mission. In the west, Allied air power was overwhelming and permanent.


Erich von Manstein had won the campaign in the west in 1940 by convincing Hitler to concentrate his armor. Now, at the moment of Germany’s greatest military peril, Hitler was dispersing his armor—all across the map. Furthermore, he kept a firm rein on most of these divisions, intending to direct the battle from Berchtesgaden.

If, instead, three or four fast divisions had been stationed directly behind the beaches at each of the potential sites, they very likely could have crushed any invasion on the first day.

Time After Time

November 3rd, 2023

When I recently revisited H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and the 1960 movie, I noticed that Max also had Time After Time, a 1979 movie I enjoyed watching on TV as a kid, in which Wells builds a working time machine, which his surgeon friend uses to escape to the future, because he is, in fact, Jack the Ripper. It’s an excellent premise for a Hollywood movie, and Malcolm McDowell does an excellent job playing a Victorian proto-nerd, even though he doesn’t look at all like the real Wells — or sound like him:

While preparing to portray Wells, McDowell obtained a copy of a 78 rpm recording of Wells speaking. McDowell was “absolutely horrified” to hear that Wells spoke in a high-pitched, squeaky voice with a pronounced Southeast London accent, which McDowell felt would have resulted in unintentional humor if he tried to mimic it for the film. McDowell abandoned any attempt to recreate Wells’s authentic speaking style and preferred a more “dignified” style.

Wells is expecting to find a socialist Utopia in 1979, but his nemesis shows him the news:

Palestine terrorists carried out their threat and began shooting the first five of 106 Israeli schoolchildren held hostage…

We’ve just received word that Mayor Margolin of Columbus was shot…

Jack also shows him football and a war movie, before commenting that, in this future world, you can just walk into a shop and buy a rifle or revolver — which pulled me right out of the film, because, of course, that was perfectly legal in England in 1893, when they left. Sherlock Holmes routinely shoves a revolver in his pocket, after all. U.K. firearms laws came about in the 20th Century:

The Pistols Act 1903 was the first to place restrictions on the sale of firearms. Titled “An Act to regulate the sale and use of Pistols or other Firearms”, it was short, with just nine sections, and applied solely to pistols. It defined a pistol as a firearm whose barrel did not exceed 9 in (230 mm) in length and made it illegal to sell or rent a pistol to anyone who could not produce a current gun licence or game licence, unless they were exempt from the Gun Licence Act, could prove that they planned to use the pistol on their own property, or had a statement signed by a police officer of inspector rank or above or a Justice of the Peace to the effect that they were about to go abroad for six months or more. The Act was more or less ineffective, as anyone wishing to buy a pistol commercially merely had to purchase a licence on demand over the counter from a Post Office before doing so. In addition, it did not regulate private sales of such firearms.

The legislators laid some emphasis on the dangers of pistols in the hands of children and drunkards and made specific provisions regarding sales to these two groups: persons under 18 could be fined 40 shillings if they bought, hired, or carried a pistol, while anyone who sold a pistol to such a person could be fined £5. Anyone who sold a pistol to someone who was “intoxicated or of unsound mind” was liable to a fine of £25 or 3 months’ imprisonment with hard labour. However, it was not an offence under the Act to give or lend a pistol to anyone belonging to the two groups.

Oddly, when they travel to the future, they don’t end up in 1979 London, but 1979 San Francisco, and, despite the premise that Wells expects Utopopia and finds something quite different, the 1979 San Francisco they show is clean and beautiful, at least until Wells goes into a hospital emergency department to check on Jack, who had been hit by a car. This is not the San Francisco of Dirty Harry — or of today.

I also found it odd that Wells goes to exchange his 15 pounds sixpence for $25.50 and only seems mildly surprised that the exchange rate was nowhere near the five-to-one ratio that held for a century, outside of major wars, and he never comments on prices being 100 times what he might expect, especially since he lived in an era with no inflation.

Sergei Brin’s airship has received FAA Clearance

November 2nd, 2023

Sergei Brin’s airship has received FAA Clearance:

Expect traffic on the 101 highway in Mountain View, California, to be even worse in the days or weeks ahead, as motorists slow down to watch Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s 124-meter long airship Pathfinder 1 launch into the air for the first time.

IEEE Spectrum has learned that LTA Research, the company that Brin founded in 2015 to develop airships for humanitarian and cargo transport, received a special airworthiness certificate for the helium-filled airship in early September.

That piece of paper allows the largest aircraft since the ill-fated Hindenburg to begin flight tests at Moffett Field, a joint civil-military airport in Silicon Valley, with immediate effect.

The certificate permits LTA to fly Pathfinder 1 within the boundaries of Moffett Field and neighboring Palo Alto airport’s airspaces, at a height of up to 460 meters (1500 feet). That will let it venture out over the south San Francisco Bay, without interfering with planes flying into or out of San Jose and San Francisco International commercial airports.


Twelve electric motors distributed on the sides and tail of the airship, and four fin rudders, allow for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and speeds of up to about 120 kilometers per hour. A tough layer of laminated Tedlar material contains 13 helium bags of ripstop nylon, which contain lidar systems to track the gas levels within.

Pathfinder 1 has a hybrid propulsion system, with two 150 kilowatt diesel generators working alongside 24 batteries to provide power for the electric motors, according to a recent presentation by LTA’s CEO, Alan Weston. He said that LTA has plans to use hydrogen in later versions of the airship, perhaps as fuel for future fuel cells or turbogenerators, and possibly even as a lifting gas.

LTA’s Pathfinder 1 carries bigger dreams than hovering over a sports stadium:

Pathfinder’s cigar-shaped envelope is just over 120 meters in length and 20 meters in diameter. While that dwarfs Goodyear’s current, 75-meter Wingfoot One, it’s still only half the length of the Hindenburg. LTA expects Pathfinder 1 to carry approximately 4 tonnes of cargo, in addition to its crew, water ballast, and fuel. The airship will have a top speed of 65 knots, or about 120 kilometers per hour—on par with the Hindenburg—with a sustained cruise speed of 35 to 40 knots (65 to 75 km/h).

It may not seem much of an advance to be building an airship that flies no faster than the Hindenburg. But Pathfinder 1 carries a lot of new tech that LTA is betting will prove key to an airship resurgence.

For one, airships used to be constructed around riveted aluminum girders, which provided the highest strength-to-weight ratio available at the time. Instead, LTA will be using carbon-fiber tubes attached to titanium hubs. As a result, Pathfinder 1’s primary structure will be both stronger and lighter.

Pathfinder 1’s outer covering is also a step up from past generations. Airships like the 1930s’ Graf Zeppelin had coverings made out of doped cotton canvas. The dope painted on the fabric increased its strength and resiliency. But canvas is still canvas. LTA has instead built its outer coverings out of a three-layer laminate of synthetics. The outermost layer is DuPont’s Tedlar, which is a polyvinyl fluoride. The middle layer is a loose weave of fire-retardant aramid fibers. The inner layer is polyester. “It’s very similar to what’s used in a lot of racing sailboats,” says Taussig. “We needed to modify that material to make it fire resistant and change a little bit about its structural performance.”

But neither the materials science nor the manufacturing advances will take primary credit for LTA’s looked-for success, according to Taussig—instead, it’s the introduction of electronics. “Everything’s electric on Pathfinder,” he says. “All the actuation, all the propulsion, all the actual power is all electrically generated. It’s a fully electric fly-by-wire aircraft, which is not something that was possible 80 years ago.” Pathfinder 1 has 12 electric motors for propulsion, as well as four tail fins with steering rudders controlled by its fly-by-wire system. (During initial test flights, the airship will be powered by two reciprocating aircraft engines).

There’s one other piece of equipment making an appearance on Pathfinder 1 that wasn’t available 80 years ago: lidar. Installed at the top of each of Pathfinder 1’s helium gas cells is an automotive-grade lidar. “The lidar can give us a point cloud showing the entire internal hull of that gas cell,” says Taussig, which can then be used to determine the gas cell’s volume accurately. In flight, the airship’s pilots can use that information, as well as data about the helium’s purity, pressure, and temperature, to better keep the craft pitched properly and to avoid extra stress on the internal structure during flight.

Although LTA’s initial focus is on humanitarian applications, there are other areas where airships might shine one day. “An airship is kind of a ‘tweener,’ in between sea cargo and air freight,” says Taussig. Being fully electric, Pathfinder 1 is also greener than traditional air- or sea-freight options.

Backing up is rarely a successful option

November 1st, 2023

If you pay attention, you’ll regularly see video of criminal attackers armed with contact weapons closing the distance by charging their victims at a dead run:

That’s a difficult scenario to handle and a lot of victims give in to their natural reaction to back up and create more distance. The problem is that the defender cannot move faster going backwards than the attacker can move going forwards. The defender often ends up on his backside as he trips. Take a look at this video of a knife attack against a St. Paul police officer for a fine example of that happening.

Backing up is rarely a successful option unless the defender is very fast and agile, the defender gets his gun into play very quickly, or the attacker isn’t truly motivated to stab the victim. A lot of these “attacks” directed against the police are really “suicide by cop” incidents where the attacker isn’t really trying to stab anyone. He’s trying to be just enough threat that the cop will pull the trigger.

If backing up doesn’t work very well, what should a defender do to counter a charging attacker who is armed with a contact weapon?

The best way to solve this problem is to set up two people, one armed with a training knife and one armed with a Simunitions or airsoft pistol. While the knife attacker charges, the person with the gun experiments, trying to move backwards, laterally, or forwards. The “right” answer depends on a lot of factors including the defender’s agility, the defender’s draw time, the attacker’s speed, and the initial stand off distance before the attacker charges.

This kind of drilling, while tiring, is exceptionally valuable. After a dozen or so reps, the defender gets a “feel” for what tactic might work best for any given attack. That knowledge is invaluable.

I’ve done this drill with hundreds of students over the years. The most successful movement pattern I’ve found is somewhat counter intuitive.

Moving FORWARDS at a 45 degree angle to the attacker’s charge almost always works. Sprint forwards at a 45 degree angle away from the attacker’s knife side. If the attacker has the knife in his right hand, you should try to sprint past the attacker’s left shoulder. Running towards the unarmed side reduces the chance that he can reach out and cut you as you sprint past him.

Beware of linkanthropes

October 31st, 2023

I’ve written about Halloween and horror quite a bit over the years:

It was like a Dickensian steampunk nightmare

October 30th, 2023

Teenage Elon Musk tried to get each of his parents to move to the US and to bring him along, Walter Isaacson’s notes (in his biography of Elon), but he ended up going alone:

He first tried to get U.S. citizenship on the grounds that his mother’s father had been born in Minnesota, but that failed because his mother had been born in Canada and had never claimed U.S. citizenship. So he concluded that getting to Canada might be an easier first step. He went to the Canadian consulate on his own, got application forms for a passport, and filled them out not only for himself but for his mother, brother, and sister (but not father). The approvals came through in late May 1989.

“I would have left the next morning, but airline tickets were cheaper back then if you bought them fourteen days in advance,” he says, “so I had to wait those two weeks.”


“You’ll be back in a few months,” Elon says his father told him contemptuously. “You’ll never be successful.”


When Elon left South Africa, his father gave him $ 2,000 in traveler’s checks and his mother provided him with another $ 2,000 by cashing out a stock account she had opened with the money she won in a beauty contest as a teenager. Otherwise, what he mainly had with him when he arrived in Montreal was a list of his mother’s relatives he had never met.

He planned to call his mother’s uncle, but discovered that he had left Montreal. So he went to a youth hostel, where he shared a room with five other people. “I was used to South Africa, where people will just rob and kill you,” he says. “So I slept on my backpack until I realized that not everyone was a murderer.” He wandered the town marveling that people did not have bars on their windows.

After a week, he bought a $ 100 Greyhound Discovery Pass that allowed him to travel by bus anywhere in Canada for six months.


At one stop, he got off to find lunch and, just as the bus was leaving, ran to jump back on. Unfortunately, the driver had taken off his suitcase with his traveler’s checks and clothes. All he had now was the knapsack of books he carried everywhere. The difficulty of getting traveler’s checks replaced (it took weeks) was an early taste of how the financial payments system needed disruption.


The cousin showed up with his father, took him to a Sizzler steak house, and invited him to stay at their wheat farm, where he was put to work cleaning grain bins and helping to raise a barn.


After six weeks, he got back on the bus and headed for Vancouver, another thousand miles away, to stay with his mother’s half-brother. When he went to an employment office, he saw that most jobs paid $5 an hour. But there was one that paid $18 an hour, cleaning out the boilers in the lumber mill. This involved donning a hazmat suit and shimmying through a small tunnel that led to the chamber where the wood pulp was being boiled while shoveling out the lime that had caked on the walls. “If the person at the end of the tunnel didn’t remove the goo fast enough, you would be trapped while sweating your guts out,” he recalls. “It was like a Dickensian steampunk nightmare filled with dark pipes and the sound of jackhammers.”

You have a 99% chance of surviving the encounter

October 29th, 2023

Greg Ellifritz was recently watching a video where a guy in Thailand takes his belt off to whip another guy, and that guy pulls out a knife and stabs him in the neck:

First of all, knife wounds (both slashes and stabs) are far less lethal than gunshot wounds. It is generally only the people who are stabbed multiple times in the torso who die from knife wounds. People who are cut or stabbed two, three, or even five times tend to survive. It’s only those who are “sewing machined” that generally die. Don’t believe me? Check out the study titled “Murder and Medicine.” According to this research, firearms assaults have a 5.4% fatality rate. Knife assaults kill only 1.1% of victims. That makes gunshot wounds almost five times more lethal than knife wounds. You really shouldn’t prefer to get shot instead of cut.

Second, most of the people I know who have been stabbed or slashed didn’t know it initially. Virtually all of them perceived the knife strike as a punch. It was only when they saw the blade or their own blood did they realize a blade was involved. Watch the video embedded above. The man in the red shirt was stabbed in the neck, resulting in spurting arterial bleeding. Initially, he had no idea he had been stabbed. He first seems to notice he had been cut approximately five seconds after the attacker delivered the wound. He remains on his feet and capable of violent action for more than 30 seconds, despite massive blood loss.

Generally, puncture wounds hit fewer nerves and cause less pain than slashes even though they are generally more lethal. It isn’t unusual at all for people to report that they didn’t know they were cut or stabbed until the incident was completely over. Instant incapacitations with knives are even more rare than the famed “one shot stop” with a handgun.

How can we use this information?

If you are defending yourself by using a knife to cut an attacker, it’s important that you not give up after one strike. You shouldn’t think your attacker is going to magically vanish as soon as you stab him. Get some training to be able to find good targets (generally large blood vessels close to the surface of the skin or major muscle groups that control bodily functions) under stress and keep slashing and stabbing until the attacker stops hurting you.

If you attacked by a criminal armed with an edged weapon, keep in mind that this phenomenon works both ways. Just because your attacker has a knife doesn’t mean that you are dead. Stay in the fight. Try to avoid getting cut as best you can and work to quickly disable your attacker. Remember, knife attacks have a 1% lethality rate. It doesn’t matter if you are cut or stabbed. Keep fighting. If you can disable your attacker, you have a 99% chance of surviving the encounter.

The Allied high command’s dominating thought was to make sure of success

October 28th, 2023

Marshal Kesselring had the most insightful comment, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), on Allied leadership in Italy:

The Allied high command’s dominating thought was to make sure of success, a thought that led it to use orthodox methods and material. As a result it was almost always possible for me, despite inadequate means of reconnaissance and scanty reports, to foresee the next strategic or tactical move of my opponent.

The longstanding U.S. base is a radar facility

October 27th, 2023

Two months before Hamas attacked Israel, the Pentagon awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to build U.S. troop facilities for a secret base it maintains deep within Israel’s Negev desert, just 20 miles from Gaza:

Codenamed “Site 512,” the longstanding U.S. base is a radar facility that monitors the skies for missile attacks on Israel.

On October 7, however, when thousands of Hamas rockets were launched, Site 512 saw nothing — because it is focused on Iran, more than 700 miles away.


The $35.8 million U.S. troop facility, not publicly announced or previously reported, was obliquely referenced in an August 2 contract announcement by the Pentagon.


“Sometimes something is treated as an official secret not in the hope that an adversary would never find out about it but rather [because] the U.S. government, for diplomatic or political reasons, does not want to officially acknowledge it,” Paul Pillar, a former chief analyst at the CIA’s counterterrorism center who said he had no specific knowledge of the base, told The Intercept. “In this case, perhaps the base will be used to support operations elsewhere in the Middle East in which any acknowledgment that they were staged from Israel, or involved any cooperation with Israel, would be inconvenient and likely to elicit more negative reactions than the operations otherwise would elicit.”

Since I recently read The Puzzle Palace, I can’t help but notice that this sounds like a SIGINT collection facility.

As long as something else is taking off when another technology peaks, that’s tolerable

October 27th, 2023

Productivity growth is some combination of literal technology and social technology, Byrne Hobart says:

The former is pretty easy to understand: physical technologies from wheels and pulleys to RFID and EUV allow us to get more results from a given amount of effort. Social technologies cover a wide range of other behaviors that can affect economic outcomes, from high-level ones like trustworthiness and punctuality to more granular ideas like accrual accounting, performance-based compensation, post-mortem memos, and the like.[1] Other elements include general attitudes: at the level of companies and countries, having people in charge who think that the institution they’re responsible for will last a long time, but could fail if they make a mistake, will tend to produce better results than the vague hope of retiring before things go off the rails. The concept of productivity growth itself is an instance of productivity growth: just by having a new mental model, you can slice up your statistics on economic growth to figure out how much of it to attribute to the gradual accumulation of buildings, equipment, roads, ships, etc., to general population growth, and to the sometimes-mysterious extra factor that makes the sum of these equal more than their parts.


In the very long run, employment rates have been surprisingly stable everywhere we’re able to measure them—it’s surprising and counterintuitive that over the last two centuries of extreme technological, institutional, and cultural change, roughly 90-95% of people who want a job can find one most of the time. In many countries automation has increased formal employment when the alternatives were either agricultural work, working in the informal sector, or rent-seeking. And in a sense that’s even true of rich countries’ industrialization; the US was much more corrupt historically, and certainly the late 19th century and early 20th centuries had some egregious abuses of government power for private gain, but after a while it started to get obvious to most people that there was simply more money in positive-sum activities than in negative-sum ones—and that tolerating the negative-sum behaviors was a drag on overall growth.

That actually extended to politics, too; the relationship between labor and capital is an easier one to navigate when the question is “how fast do each of us get rich?” rather than “how can I protect my piece of the shrinking pie?”

The story of economic growth is usually a story of overlapping S-curves in adoption, and the first derivative of that S-curve, which measures the new deployment of a technology, tends to peak and decline. As long as something else is taking off when another technology peaks, that’s tolerable; it doesn’t avoid recessions, but a recession also forces people to leave declining sectors and join growing ones instead.

From a monetary perspective, World War I never really ended

October 26th, 2023

From a monetary perspective, World War I never really ended once it began in 1914, Lyn Alden notes:

In prior wars throughout history, wars had to be funded with savings or taxes or very slow debasement of coinage. Physical coinage held by citizens could usually only be debased by their government gradually rather than diluted instantaneously, because a government couldn’t just magically change the properties of the coins that were held by households; it could only debase them over time by taxing purer coins, issuing various decrees to try to pull some of those purer coins in, and spending debased coins back out into the economy (and convincing initial recipients to accept them at the same prior value, despite the lesser precious metal content, which would only work for a time and might not even be noticed at first). However, with the widespread holding of centrally issued banknotes and bank deposits that were redeemable for specific amounts of gold, governments could change the redemptive value with the stroke of a pen or eliminate redemption all together.

This gave governments the power to instantaneously devalue a substantial part of their citizens’ savings, literally overnight, and funnel that purchasing power toward war or other government expenditures whenever they determine that the situation calls for it.