All posts by Number9

Is NATO Brain Dead? Negotiating with the Russians; Mike Pompeo in the Fulda Gap

NATO is not brain dead. But it is experiencing a deeply altered mental state.  To be efficient, a defensive alliance needs a formidable foe. In 1981, the army of the USSR counted 55,000 main battle tanks; see (Wikipedia) Cold War tank formations.  The number does not address readiness or functionality, but that much steel is impressive regardless. The rest of the Warsaw pact is not included by this number.

The Soviets had various plans to use this massive force, typified by one titled Seven Days to the River Rhine. Battlefield nuclear weapons were abundant, and their use was part of the plan.

The existence of a plan does not equate with intent. But NATO did not have offensive plans. The NATO problem was holding the Fulda Gap, an area of flat, even terrain, surrounded by what tankers call “rough terrain.”, of which many varieties are totally impassable by tanks. In the eastern U.S., the familiar Appalachians are an impenetrable barrier to armor, except in three spots, provided there is no access to man-made transportation corridors.

Around this time, Mike Pompeo was an armored commander in the Fulda Gap. He probably had three thoughts:

  • It probably isn’t going to happen.
  • If it happens, there’s a good chance I’ll die or wind up with severe radiation sickness from the tac nukes.
  • And then comes the joke. If shit happens,  curl your body, place your head between your legs, and kiss your ass goodbye.

The situation gave everybody the jitters, including Yuri Andropov, who was obsessed with the idea that the U.S. would launch a first strike; see Operation RYAN.

Fear holds alliances together. Without fear, they disintegrate. How much fear is there?

  • Turkey, once a linchpin of NATO, buys Russian weapons. They have no fear of Russia. They have calculated that Russian depredates weak states, pushovers like Ukraine. The Turks are right, though the margin in their favor is not of historic proportions. It holds for now.
  • Hungary’s margin is even thinner, but Viktor Orban’s chosen form of corrosion is to taste the delights of Russian economic subversion.
  • Germany, once the linchpin of NATO, has allowed their military to decay through lack of machine maintenance, while becoming ever more dependent on Russian gas.
  • Wavering commitments to democracy by some of the newer members complicate the question further. After all, a country can be a corrupt Russian vassal more easily than a member of the Western alliance.
  • The EU, a co-identity for many NATO members, is under existential threat from both nationalism and a defect in the Euro currency concept. Weakening of the EU  weakens NATO.

For Sergei Lavrov, this is all good news. As an alliance with the principal function of deterrence to Russia, NATO is better off dead. Since this cannot be achieved with the suddenness of Seven Days to the River Rhine, the strategy is corrosion, executed for the Kremlin by the criminal element that is an essential component of Russian governance and economy.


  • Corrosion is the preferred method to attack NATO and the EU. It does not inspire enough fear by itself to strengthen NATO.
  • The use of force by Russia against weaker powers is opportunistic. We  might see it again, or we might not. Putin works below the level that inspires panic, yet…
  • The Ukraine conflict is a significant boost to NATO. Had the invasion never occurred, NATO might actually be brain dead instead of merely delirious.

The most durable treaties between the U.S. and Russia date to a period when leadership in Russia was at least somewhat collective. Russia was then a bureaucratic state in the sense we understand. It had policy inertia that favored the honoring treaties because of the many bureaucrats  who had signed onto ratification.

In dealing with Sergei Lavrov, which means, negotiating with the Russians in-general, there is a significant difference from the past. We are dealing with a single authority, Vladimir Putin. While his authority over all of Russia has been exaggerated, foreign policy is concentrated in his hands.

Since Vladimir Putin is a consummate tactician, we cannot assume that treaties will be honored with the same durability afforded by the combination of collective leadership and bureaucracy. A recent casualty is the Open Skies Treaty. From (FAS, pdf ) INSIGHT The Open Skies Treaty: Background and Issues,

According to the U.S. State Department, Russia has restricted access for Open Skies flights over Kaliningrad, over Moscow, and along the border of Russia with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia has reportedly also failed to provide priority flight clearance for Open Skies flights on a few occasions. The United States has raised these issues in the Open Skies Consultative Commission, and some have been resolved. Nevertheless, the United States responded to limitations imposed by Russia by limiting the length of flights over Hawaii and removing access to two U.S. air force bases used during Russian missions over the United States.

The pattern will continue. This is not a time for formal  treaties. It’s a time to take notes and give them, for  informal commitments that can be tested, and modified, in time.

If collective leadership emerges in Russia, this can be revisited.







Slow-moving blob’ flying over Washington; Flying Saucer(s) ?

(CNN) Inside the frantic response to mysterious ‘slow-moving blob’ flying over Washington.

While conspiracies to hide events that might cause panic are virtually nonexistent, an editorial choice to exclude a hypothesis was made, and it’s not a good one. This is clearly a responsibility of the media, since the question was not asked.

If you have an interest in open source analysis, this is important. This kind of editorial choice, slant, or bias, occurs all the time. It’s up to the open source enthusiast to consider this, and do a kind of inverse, to include the exclusions.

Excuse me. Someone in a funny suit is at the front door, asking me to take him to my leader.


Fourth Spy Unearthed in U.S. Atomic Bomb Project, Part 2

We continue from (NY Times) Fourth Spy Unearthed in U.S. Atomic Bomb Project. In what follows, statements about Godsend are made as if they are facts. They aren’t facts; we’re just saving words.

Oscar Soberer, Soviet code name “Godsend”, was an electrical engineer. Then, as now, EE undergraduate training tended more to the math of devices than basic physics. An exception is the classical theory of electromagnetic fields, based on Maxwell’s equations. In 1940, this meant

  • Ohm’s law and Maxwell’s equations.
  • Radio waves and transmission lines; the telegrapher’s equation.
  • Electrical components — resistors, capacitors, inductors, vacuum tubes, and transducers.
  • Radio receivers and transmitters.
  • Telephony and telegraphy.
  • Rotating machinery based on magnetic fields — motors, generators, and converters.
  • Power transmission.

EE was a  tiny field compared to what it has become.  Nothing in the above syllabus gave Godsend the background to participate in the design of the Bomb. His usefulness was with supporting technology. In 1940, an EE with a BA typically knew more about rotating machinery/magnetic fields than today’s graduate. This brings us to the first part of Godsend’s employment, at Oak Ridge.

Only 4.7% of the Manhattan Project budget was spent at Los Alamos. Oak Ridge had the largest budget, for the production of U-235, the isotope used in one of the two Bomb designs. Four methods of production were simultaneously attempted. Two worked. Of the two, the Calutron was second-best, but that effort ran full bore until the #1 method, gaseous diffusion, was proven to be a complete end-to-end solution.

Note  “rotating machinery” in the above list. The calutron was not a rotating machine, but an EE with a practical grounding in magnetic fields would be well prepared in the fundamentals, able to absorb additional related knowledge, to work as a kind of high-level repairman. The calutrons, of which there were many  arranged in loops, used a precisely controlled magnetic field in a partial vacuum, to curve the trajectory of charged uranium ions through an angle. The lighter U-235 ions curved more, and fell into a collection bucket.

The calutrons were large, complex, and unreliable. Between 1942 and 1944, they required constant babying. They gradually improved. By 1944, with the kinks were mostly worked out, the #1 method, gaseous diffusion at K-25, had a clear lead. Godsend had to move on.

Assertion: Godsend worked at Oak Ridge maintaining the calutrons.  This specific activity prepared him for his next assignment, at Los Alamos. This assertion cannot be derived from an historical approach, because the role is too insignificant to be documented.

At this point, did Godsend provide the Soviets with useful information? The CIA paper quotes a lay statement, “he gave them the formula.”  The word has two completely different meanings:

  • Chemical composition.
  • Mathematical equation.

There were many of both. There was one formula or number, which I will not identify, that stood above the rest. It is not hard to measure now, but  how they got it back then is still classified. Since the Manhattan project was highly compartmentalized, it is unlikely that Godsend was in the custodial chain. Of course, someone could have talked.

Oak Ridge conducted assays of the purity of the refined uranium shipped to Los Alamos. In a few paragraphs, you’ll see how, if he provided the Soviets with information from Oak Ridge, how he was involved in those assays.

At Oak Ridge, Godsend was involved in the principle activity, the production of refined materials. Previously, materials synthesis had been the province of chemistry.   Let’s pull some stuff from (ACS pdf) The Rise of Instrumentation during World War II. Before World War II, instrumentation was rare in the chemical lab. Quoting,

The more widespread adoption of instruments transformed the appearance and feel of the chemistry laboratory. “If you look at a photo of a lab in the pre-1940s, the only things you see are a polarimeter, a refractometer, an analytical balance, a microscope,and lots of glassware,” says Gerald Gallwas, a Beckman Coulter retiree…

Godsend’s skills were required for calutron production. But after he left that program, where was he useful? Quoting from The Rise of…,

The need of the petroleum industry to find better means for analyzing complex hydrocarbon mixtures and the uranium isotope separation and atomic bomb production program (known as the Manhattan Project) stimulated the design and construction of new, improved mass spectrometers.

The calutron was an upscaled, specialized mass spectrometer, used to identify chemical compounds without traditional “wet chemistry.” This marked the rapid adoption of electronic instruments in the chemical laboratory. With Godsend’s calutron experience, he was well equipped to service mass spectrometers. Unlike the huge, specialized calutron, every chemical lab welcomed the availability of a nearby mass spectrometer. (They still tend to occupy dedicated spaces.)

So did Godsend provide the Soviets with information from Oak Ridge? As a maintainer, and possibly operator, of a mass spectrometer in the assay department, he was in close proximity to that information. Since the instruments of that time were not automated, it was impossible to conceal the results from the operator. Godsend’s expertise might have been required to interpret and transcribe the assay results.

Assertion: Following perfection of the calutrons, Godsend worked in the assay department at Oak Ridge. He was well positioned to know the exact composition of bomb-grade uranium. This corresponds to the nontechnical concept of a “formula.”

Godsend transferred to Los Alamos in 1944. Did Los Alamos have a big need for mass spectrometers? Stay tuned.

(NY Times) Fourth Spy Unearthed in U.S. Atomic Bomb Project

The CIA research article has no paywall: (PDF) On the Trail of a Fourth Soviet Spy at Los Alamos. The central figure, with Soviet code name “Godsend”, is Oscar Soberer, who attended the City College of New York, studied electrical engineering and worked at Los Alamos from 1944 to 1946. Quoting the Times,

“The bureau’s information about the defector had come from infiltrators of the Communist Party of the United States, and the bureau worried about their possible exposure. The name of the undercover operation was Solo.”

Coauthor Haynes of the CIA paper remarks (NY Times),

“In an interview, Mr. Haynes, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M., near Los Alamos, said he hoped that new files released in the future under FOIA to the scholars would ‘fill in a whole bunch of gaps.” The F.B.I., he added, “takes its own good time in these matters.'”

This is the background of the historians’ efforts, hindered by incomplete documentation, withheld to protect informants who may be still alive. This spy revelation is in the class of curiosities. It’s unlikely to affect the future, yet it’s an opportunity to compare how different systems of thought can apply to the same problem.

As a “mystery”, it resembles “Who killed Dag Hammarskjöld ?”  Whether you consider it a mystery depends upon the criteria for a solution. It’s very clear  who killed him;  accomplices vary from clear to vague; the problem of legal proof is bundling all the dead witnesses into the hearing room to depose in their final repose.

The solution to a mystery borrows from the legal tradition of courtroom truth: So-and-so saw it, so-and-so says it to the court. This is so fundamentally stringent, even one additional link in this short chain is excluded as hearsay.

Change was forced in the form of “technological hearsay”, the admission of  forms of indirect, technology based evidence,  with the testimony of the expert who is not an actual witness to the crime. Fingerprinting was used 1892 and 1897, followed by all manners of technology and pathology  for crime reconstruction.   DNA profiling, admitted to court in 1988, recently advanced to a new level of indirect evidence with family tree forensics.

We can apply  indirect, technical analysis to the  main question of historians Klehr and  Haynes, which is, what information did Godsend give the Soviets?  Though our hypothesis does not satisfy legal norms,  it approaches admissible circumstantial evidence, on which murder convictions have been obtained.

Our functional, technological approach is hard for non-techies, i.e. historians, to execute.  It could sharpen the attention while sifting voluminous, musty archives. So let’s do it.

The next post will develop a coherent picture of what Godsend could do, the history of his employment with the Manhattan Project, and what he probably was doing at both Oak Ridge and Los Alamos. The search space is much smaller than you might imagine, and it’s all open source.

You’ve got some reading to do: On the Trail of a Fourth Soviet Spy at Los Alamos. Read as much as you like about mass spectrometers. I’ll provide the easy explanation.

To be continued shortly.







Fiona Hill (reprint)

This is a reprint of an article series on Fiona Hill, written upon her appointment. If you’re in a hurry,  only the first article is specifically about Dr. Hill. The rest of the series is about our mutual interest:

CNN: The Flat Earth Conspiracy, a Darker Core? Part 1

(CNN) The flat-Earth conspiracy is spreading around the globe. Does it hide a darker core?

Yes, it does. There is no conspiracy to hide a “flat earth”, but the spread of this nonsense illuminates a weakness of common reason, suggesting that democracies can never be as pure as they aspire. It has implications for politics.

“Flat Earth” shouldn’t be shocking, since most people spend their lives believing doubtful things because it gives them comfort, or reduces the need for thought — or booze. Every society gives license to believe certain doubtful things, while proscribing others. But  this is technical, when we thought that science had triumphantly chased primitive beliefs into the shadows.

I was riding a New Jersey Transit train to the Apple, when I heard a rider  who sounded professional ask a companion (paraphrasing), “Does anybody really understand how the world works? Like how this train works?”  I compared her view of the situation to my own. I understood in considerable detail how and why our Arrow Multi-Unit car was moving down the tracks.

I understand the   car-body alloys, the wheel trucks, the IGBT transistors in the electric inverters,  the VVVF drive traction motors, the microprocessors that control things, the distant power plants that convert kinetic energy into electricity. And then my understanding  hits a roadblock, until I switch modes, to the abstract.

Magnetism, key to generating electricity, is so fundamental, it isn’t made of stuff. A theory of physics, QED for short, predicts magnetism and how it behaves.  If magnetism behaved in any other way, our universe would not exist in the form that it does.  So when I think about magnetism, I’m required to shed my naive view of the material world and place my trust in a symbol system, with has very complicated equations that predict things that are beyond the ken of all but specialists — or anybody.

When I was a small child,  I asked my pop why magnets work. He got a little frustrated with his inability. I did not understand that my question was impossible to answer. If he could have explained, I would not have understood.  Child psychologist Jean Piaget  described four stages of mental development. The last two (Wikipedia) are (ellipsis mine):

3. Concrete operational stage: from ages seven to eleven. Children can now conserve and think logically (they understand reversibility)…

4. Formal operational stage: from age eleven to sixteen and onwards (development of abstract reasoning). … Abstract thought is newly present during this stage of development. Children are now able to think abstractly…display more skills oriented towards problem solving, often in multiple steps.

Puzzlement is unpleasant. Some of the passenger’s angst could be alleviated by concrete comparisons with things she knows. Other answers are completely formal. Physics blogs are inundated by (Ask the Van, U. of Illinois, Urbana) demands to know what magnetic fields are made of. The answer is, it’s the wrong question. It requires a level of mastery of formal operations that most people never attain.

The puzzled passenger might get a satisfied feeling if I compared the alloys in the train to stainless steel tableware, with which she has tactile familiarity.  With magnetism, the best I could do would be to call it an essence, and hope she finds essences satisfying.

In comparison, Round Earth is high school simplicity. Flat earthers have not developed significant skill at formal operations, particularly in the subjects of  high school trigonometry and physics. They lack intuition, which can sometimes substitute. They distrust those who have these skills. Most damning, they don’t know what they don’t know.

The Age of Reason was supposed to herald the end of baloney.  Why Flat Earth, Now? What are the consequences for politics?

To be  continued, when “news conditions” permit.






Hong Kong Protestors Seize Universities; Not a Good Idea

This blog has a following in Hong Kong, so it’s worth underlining what may be obvious to international readers, and readers in the mainland.

China to Seize Hong Kong Airport? identifies the airport as a target of opportunity. Exactly the same reasoning applies to the occupation of universities, as a concentration of the elements the mainland considers most dangerous. See also Danger: Will China Deploy Troops in Hong Kong?

In other cases involving human rights, such as the internment of Uighurs, International pressure of China has had no results. Only in cases involving leniency for the  individual dissident has there been an occasional effect.

Today, Hong Kong is the fulcrum of a scale with two heavy weights. One side of the scale is the absolute domination of the China police state, an amplification of Confucian ideas of government. The other side is a bridge or welcome-mat to the West. As China has developed internally, with business law systems quasi-compatible with the West, this rationale for “one country two systems” has diminished importance. The residents of Hong Kong hardly count in the balance of this scale.

Democracy is a popular idea  everywhere in China. This is why the challenge of Hong Kong, on the doorstep to the mainland, is dangerous to the rule of the Communist Party, an opaque consensus of an elite.

There have been requests from some protestors for international help. Actually, you are getting some already, but help can come only in the form of negatives, like business disengagement. The more visible the crackdown, the more negative the business climate of China. In awareness of this, the mainland may choose a slow-motion, invisible crackdown, spreading secret arrests over many years.

I feel sorry for all of you, who had the misfortune to be born in the wrong country for your aspirations. Here, you would be doing great things.

Comments from Readers (not)

Since this blog is tailored to the high end, readers of officialdom hide behind the proxies/firewalls of their organizations. But there is one group that lets it all hang out — spammers.  Today’s haul is almost a good read. To avoid giving them a search engine boost, their names have been deliberately munged:

From “porn motive“,

Hello, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was juset curious if you get a lot of spam responses? If so how do you stop it, any plugin orr anything you can recommend? I get so much lately it’s driving me crazy so any support is very much appreciated.

From “best curlers on the wave“,

Now I am goinjg away to do mmy breakfast,when having my breakfast coming over again to read furter news.

From “frogleap”,

I am sure this paragraph has touched all the internet users, its really really fastidious paragraph on building up new webpage.

From “decor“,

Yes! Finally someone writes about furniture.

“Decor”, I am truly touched, that someone recognizes my skill at predicting furniture.  So here’s my prediction:

Divans are in. Ottomans are out.


Violence in America, Part 3; Another School Shooting

(CNN) Deadly school shooting in Santa Clarita.

Previous articles:

Violence, Part 1 asserts the meaninglessness of mental health criteria to the discussion. Violence, Part 2, accuses the “avatar”, the fictitious web identity, that in some users results in diminished responsibility. This Part 3 is about moral education.

The future history of mankind will have a new great divide: before social media, and after. Before social media, lurid tales of mayhem were told, but in the third person. The jail house interview was rare and thin.  With social media, the tales are told in the first person, usually before the event.

The telling of a story of murder,  in the first person, is psychically richer than the best reportorial prose. I doubt Tom Wolfe could have matched it if he so desired. Even the best murder mysteries lack the bite of the deranged young male exposing a piece of his mental disease.

Now, it’s out there. In the coming days, the killer’s mutterings may be discovered on social media, feeding imperceptibly into the subterranean zeitgeist. Many thinkers have toyed with the idea of the group mind, but who could have imagined that its expressions would be so lethal?

As per Part 2, the susceptible population of young men may be as high as 2.5%, corresponding to the prevalence of psychotics in the general population.  Gun control and prevention of concealment by avatar have been proposed. This is probably not enough.

Some, like Attorney General William Barr, advocate weakening of the separation of church and state. Quoting from (AU) Seeking God’s Law: Past Statements By Attorney General Nominee William Barr Are Cause For Concern, Americans United Says. 

“Because human nature is fallen, we will not automatically conform ourselves to God’s law, but because we can know what is good … we are not doomed to be slaves in our passions and wants,” Barr told the group. “To the extent that a society’s moral culture is based on God’s law, it will guide men toward the best possible life.”

Mr. Barr, I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe in “fallen” humans.  And you seem to forget the horrors of history. Spain committed genocide in Holland in the name of religion. New World aboriginals were enslaved in the name of religion. Most wars have at least some religious element, as does the current War on Terror, or whatever you want to call it.

So I don’t  hold with that. But liberals do have something to prove, that liberal values are compatible with moral teaching, which liberal dictum does not by itself supply.

Refer to (pdf) Recent Violent Crime Trends in the United States, Figure 2, “National Homicide Rate, 1960-2016”.  Superimpose on the chart the Oprah Winfrey show, which ran from September 8, 1986, to May 25, 2011.

This proves (you get the joke) that Oprah Winfrey’s show was a great moral teacher, all the while masquerading as entertainment. Good mothers make good kids. Television, long a moral vacuum, became the accidental pulpit of good.

If TV can be “moralized”, how about social media? As the offspring of liberal culture, it was conceived to be morally absent. Is there something that could be done to change absent to morally present?

Robot mentors?