How much did the Chinese Balloon weigh? Napkin Calc

Last week, major news outlets reported that the inner core of Earth was about to stop turning. Now a prominent columnist has declared that the Chinese balloon weighed as much as three buses, which is about 105,000 lbs. This is baloney. So I did a calculation.

We need the diameter of the balloon. Based on a photo, and the length of the truss, stated by U.S. authorities as three coach bus lengths (12 meters/bus X 3), the diameter is estimated as 50 meters.. We use:

  • Density of helium at STP.
  • Height of 20,000 meters.
  • An altitude air density table for standard day,
  • Adjustment of buoyancy  for altitude with Boyle’s Law.
  •  F=m*g for the force to be balanced.

This determines a total weight in the vicinity of 11,000 pounds. The payload may be a third of that.


China Spy Balloon

(CNN) What is a suspected Chinese spy balloon doing above the US?

Refer to CNN Exclusive: FBI investigation determined Chinese-made Huawei equipment could disrupt US nuclear arsenal communications. A possible explanation:

  • Inside the skin of the balloon, there is an electronically steerable antenna array.
  • A goal is to intercept and precisely determine locations of 44 gHz uplinks (from ground station to satellite) of the Milstar system.
  • This knowledge could be used to disable one of the redundant command paths for the nuclear deterrent.
  • The uplink beams are very narrow, not practical targets for typical satellites.

The National Reconnaissance Office has space-based ability to do this; the sigint satellites cost $1BN apiece. This is currently beyond the capabilities of China.



Could AI Stop Police Brutality? Are the Memphis Scorpion Five Psychopaths? Part 1

From Police Brutality, Derek Chauvin, George Floyd, Rousseau’s Social Contract Part 2,

CNN) National security adviser: ‘I don’t think there’s systemic racism’ in US police forces. Quoting Robert O’Brien,

“No, I don’t think there’s systemic racism. I think 99.9% of our law enforcement officers are great Americans. Many of them are African American, Hispanic, Asian, they’re working the toughest neighborhood, they’ve got the hardest jobs to do in this country and I think they’re amazing, great Americans.”

This is easily contradicted:

      • If 5-10% of  males (Australian estimate), or 1-5% (other estimates) are workplace psychopaths, then 99.9% of cops can’t be great Americans. No sampling of any profession or group of Americans shows 99.9% of people you just want to love. There are lots of rotten people, everywhere you look….

The participants in the fatal attacks on George Floyd and Tyre Nichols did not initiate  simultaneously. In each case, one individual initiated. In the case of Floyd, the rest remained passively complicit. Statistics imply, without proof, that Derek Chauvin and at least some of the “Memphis Scorpion Five” are workplace psychopaths.

In (CNN) Opinion: The police who killed Tyre Nichols were Black. But they might still have been driven by racism, Van Jones suggests that racism may have a part. Though self-loathing occurs in minorities, it can be only a part of what causes a police officer to slip the bonds of civil behavior. The huge occupational hazard, per Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

The Stanford prison study conducted by Philip  Zimbardo offers a horrific alternative to the notion that brutality is the domain of the psychopath: In conditions fairly easy to obtain, ordinary people can be induced to behave like workplace psychopaths. Quoting Zimbardo about the Lucifer Effect,

“I had been conducting research for some years on deindividuation, vandalism and dehumanization that illustrated the ease with which ordinary people could be led to engage in anti-social acts by putting them in situations where they felt anonymous, or they could perceive of others in ways that made them less than human, as enemies or objects,”


“Good people can be induced, seduced, and initiated into behaving in evil ways. They can also be led to act in irrational, stupid, self-destructive, antisocial, and mindless ways when they are immersed in ‘total situations’ that impact human nature in ways that challenge our sense of the stability and consistency of individual personality, of character, and of morality.”(Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, p. 211)

Police Brutality, Derek Chauvin, George Floyd, Rousseau’s Social Contract Part 2 proposes an approach with three forks:

  • Mitigating the direct cause, preventing cops who shouldn’t be cops from becoming cops.
  • Fulfillment of the social contract.  In our culture, this means that crime is punished, even if the perp is a cop.  This won’t prevent a repetition, but the social contract demands it.
  • Only then will the people consent to be governed.

The Memphis Scorpion Five, which forced a look at the Stanford prison study, suggest this is inadequate.

What else is there? Hint: It’s in the title.

***The Stanford Prison Experiment***




(CNN) Earth’s inner core may have stopped turning and could go into reverse, study suggests

(CNN) Earth’s inner core may have stopped turning and could go into reverse, study suggests.

This is baloney. The cited study, Multidecadal variation of the Earth’s inner-core rotation, claims no such thing. Quoting from the abstract,

Differential rotation of Earth’s inner core relative to the mantle is thought to occur under the effects of the geodynamo on core dynamics and gravitational core–mantle coupling.

The word in red is omitted. CNN, you could have used “relative.”

The difference in the speeds of rotation of the inner  core and the mantle, regardless of direction, is about that of a near-frozen inchworm. If you were looking at it, you would see nothing.

How much must be lost in translation?



Tanks for Ukraine, NFG?

Combined arms is an ancient concept. In this context, it refers to the presumed ability of infantry which accompany tanks to protect them from man-portable antitank weapons. This was feasible when man-portable antitank weapons were unguided and extremely limited in effective range  – 50% hit —  of no more than a few hundred meters. Working in concert with the tank,  an exclusion zone  keeps these weapons out of range.

Although (pdf) Mathematical Analysis of the Counterfire Duel: Tanks vs. Anti-Tank Munitions is specific to the M712 Copperhead, it is representative of smart munitions in general:

Abstract-A detailed, analytic model is developed to represent the duel between a ground laser designator (GLD) directing a sequence of laser-guided rounds against a platoon of target tanks which counterfire against the GLD. The model accurately portrays the complex interplay between the designator-on time, the rate of fire of the laser-guided rounds, and the tank counterfire response time distributions. Also taken into account are the tank aiming errors and range estimating techniques. the level of GLD protection, flight times, designation modes, and degree of coordination of the tank platoon.

Before the advent of a whole class of precision weapons with strong analogy to the above, it took bravery to confront a tank at close range. The need for bravery has been reduced to a level less akin  to immediate self sacrifice.

Skip to page 40, figure 13. Quoting,

The graph shows the expected number of tanks killed (solid curves) and the probability of GLD kill (dashed curves) in a 3-on-3 encounter over a range of tank-to-GLD distances,with the GLD located in either a foxhole, a Forward Observer Vehicle or a bunker.

The greater the distance from the GLD to the target, the more kills achieved by the GLD before it is destroyed. This is the opposite of unguided man-portable antitank weapons.  The required exclusion buffer around the tank expands to 800 meters for the NLAW, 4000 meters  for the FGM-148 Javelin, and 8000 meters for the 9M133 Kornet. It is not possible for  infantry to exclude these weapons from large areas that they do not yet control.

Penetration of Russian tank armor often results in ammo cook-offs resulting in the jack-in-the-box  blown off turrets. Tank proponents vaunt the superior armor and ammunition storage of current western main battle  tanks, which do not so dramatically destruct. Sadly, drama is not required. A hit from a top attack weapon has a high chance of penetration, almost inevitably causing multiple crew casualties, disabling  the tank.

While the Abrams and Leopard 2 have clear advantage over Russian tanks in frontal engagement, this does not imply greater resistance against top-attack weapons, or from attack from the sides or rear with shaped charges or explosively formed penetrators. While crew are more likely to survive a penetration, the result is 60-70 tons of metal transformed into spare parts and scrap.

The Marines have turned in their tanks, mandated by their new littoral mission. A general principle can be distilled: Stealth multiplies lethality. Is it impossible to employ armored spearheads in Ukraine? If the abysmal performance of the Russian army continues, it is conceivable, though such assumption receives warning from von Clausewitz. Paraphrasing, the  enemy does not do what you want him to do; he does what he wants to do, which could be competence with the 9M133 KornetCluster munitions would be far more useful to Ukraine.

This is a plausibility argument, not contradicted by recent battle experience. We guessed this war all wrong, which does not hinder tank proponents, yet should give pause. The tentative conclusion is that the current battle doctrine of combined infantry-armor requires either re-validation or revision.

For those readers who desire a short summation of this complicated discussion, here it is:

***Tanks are NFG***




Putin Replaces Surovikin; the Search for a Suvorov Ends

Popular speculation on Surovikin’s demotion centers on his “alliance” with Prigozhin, implying conflict with the Russian M.O.D., which is presumably alleviated by the appointment of Gerasimov as the new theater commander.

If Putin’s former reputation as a coldly logical thinker were not diminished, this reasoning would not be so attractive. The explanation for why some actor did something always exists on multiple planes:

  • Stated reason, with at least partly fallacious logic.
  • Private, how the actor understands his motivation at the level of consciousness.
  • The real reason, a product of the unconscious mind, unknown to the actor himself.

The popular argument cannot be excluded from the mix. But it lacks logical support, hiding the lack in the swirl of frictions that envelope the Kremlin. A simple syllogism kicks kicks it hard:

  • Premise: Putin’s overriding goal is to win his war.
  • If Surovikin were winning, his replacement would compromise the overriding goal.
  • Therefore, his  replacement is primarily due to military failure.

This logic has been neglected. Within the desert of Russian military strategy, bolstered by a romantic belief in Russian military qualities, Putin has engaged in a quixotic search for the perfect general. In the 18th Century, there was a Russian candidate for perfection. Alexander Suvorov never lost a battle. His admirable personal qualities and modest lifestyle contrast with the degraded modern Russian military. Perhaps the last who could approach him was Zhukov.

As Putin’s romantic dream wilted, he gained a new appreciation for industrial warfare. This is key to the selection of Gerasimov. Russia’s military-industrial complex is small, with a “stovepipe” informational architecture lacking lateral connections. While the U.S. complex has widespread lateral contact with the uniform military, this is not true in Russia.

Surovikin’s appointment in 2017 as Commander of the Aerospace Forces does not negate this.  He is a field officer, without technical background or the advanced education of western militaries. It implies an institutional system that promotes field combat experience as a qualification for any position, no matter how technical. The Russian romantic replaces expertise with martial experience when substitution is actually impossible.

Gerasimov is marginally better. His long experience as a staff officer brings him close to the tops of the stovepipes, where he can sample the smoke. He has contact with suppliers. He may even be able to read parts of a contract. He knows who is stealing, a step in the right direction.  He can see the supply chain in action. Gerasimov is the best Russia has to enable industrial warfare for Putin’s “long war.”

Let’s revisit the Kremlin Game of Thrones. Prigozhin’s public persona resembles a cobble of Navalny (alleging corruption) and the bellicosity of some separatist leaders who were liquidated by the Kremlin. As his public posture gets louder while Putin’s voice softens, why is Prigozhin still alive? The answer is the  premise of the syllogism: Putin’s overriding goal is to win his war.

Prigozhin is in conflict with the Conglomerate Imperative: Grow by absorption. The M.O.D. wants to own Wagner. This does not mean an immediate acquisition; absorption could result in the loss of Wagner’s edge.  But Putin’s clock is running; see Putin Disappears; Illness a Factor? Prigozhin risks a  prolonged, violent succession struggle. Surovikin’s alliance figures as a minor footnote.

Stalin: “Death solves all problems, no man, no problem.”








Ukraine Future & Russian Politics, 2023

We’re not predicting. It is possible to give some shape to the future. The mainstream media studiously ignores the chemo tracks on Putin’s hand, and other obvious medical issues. These are key to 2023, far more deterministic in effect than anything else, save the Ukrainian ability to fruitfully stymie the Russian military. See  Putin Disappears; Illness a Factor?

Here in the U.S., we’ve had recent exposure to the authoritarian mindset, of both the leader and the follower. This is a quasi-personal relationship. When the leader  suffers political eclipse, his loyalties are not transferable. The obedient masses become the querulous masses.

So it is in Russia. Putin’s  popularity results from deep authoritarian tradition. Stalin said, “What can I do? The people want a czar.” When Stalin died, executions followed, not on the scale of the purges, but as a political part of the succession process. We see this now, an accelerated rate of extrajudicial executions, as hardliners attempt to “shape the battlefield” for the succession struggle.

The hardliners authored Putin’s expansionist ideology; he didn’t do it himself. He represents both an asset and a hindrance:

  • Putin is the irreplaceable conduit to the masses.
  • Compared to some of the hardliners, such as Aleksandr Dugin, who espouse out-and-out extermination of Ukrainians, Putin is a moderate.

Thus far, the logic is  a clockwork. Now we come to the first question:

  • As  Putin weakens, will he acquiesce to the hardliners, removing the tension?
  • When physical, and possibly mental incompetence becomes manifest, will the hardliners visibly depose Putin?
  • Valuing his conduit,  will they keep him as a figurehead as long as he can be made presentable?

The clockwork resumes; the murky interregnum is followed by Putin’s absolute disappearance. His legacy becomes subject to interpretation and appropriation. In life there have been at least three Putins:

The factions that emerge will be free to edit Putin’s image. The universal question will be “How did we become so poor?” The hardliners will be blamed for massive destruction of wealth. And they will have no good answer, because they don’t know how to run a country. Many of those who do have already fled Russia.

Pretenders to the throne will have a hard time acquiring legitimacy from Russians who miss their czar.  In other countries, the military have often stepped in. In Russia, there are few visible candidates untainted by debacle. Surovikin is a possible exception. Prigozhin is an alleged ally, which may be a highly temporary arrangement. Or, as suggested in Power Transition in Russia? Revolution? Part 1, colonels could revolt. See also Power Transition in Russia? Revolution? Part 2.

The effect on the Russian military will be profound. In the event of an unseemly succession of Prigozhin, some officers may recant their oaths. The military may in fact crumble. The blood lust between factions, with practiced lethality, will be huge. In this environment, it is natural for Russians, cultural heirs to the Purges, for the sake of survival, to mask their thoughts.

Will a “Party of Wealth” vanquish the “War Faction”, so adroit at political murder? This cannot be assured in the first round. But Russia will always have the capacity for rebirth as a civilized nation, as celebrated by  Igor Stravinsky.

***Firebird Suite***







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