Sunday, June 25, 2006

What About Kim Jong Il?

I got into a conversation at the gym today on the subject of Kim Jong Il and his proposed missile test. It was started by the wacko suggestion, mooted by William Perry and Ashton Carter, that if they do appear to be going to fire the thing, the U.S. should pre-emptively bomb the launch site and destroy it and the missile. The rationale seems to be that the U.S. shouldn't allow North Korea to develop a long range missile with which it could conceivably fire a nuclear missile at U.S. territory. My gym mate asked what I thought we should do, and my answer was, we should do nothing. We absolutely should not shoot at the thing.

Consider Kim Jong Il, if you can. There are a number of things we aren't sure of about him and his country, starting with do they actually have nuclear weapons and is the Taepodong-2 missile as good as they say it is. The one thing we are sure of is that this guy is a complete wingnut, and one of the ways he stays in power is by waving around the threat that the U.S. wants to invade North Korea. The last thing we should do is give him any support for that notion. The U.S. wouldn't have North Korea if they gave it away with a pound of tea; but of course Kim doesn't think that way. If we shoot at his missile, we've confirmed every paranoid fantasy he's ever had. No.

I've also heard an unnamed genius from the Pentagon say he's "very confident" that if North Korea does fire the missile, U.S. interceptor rockets can destroy it. Is he talking about our missile defence system? The one that's never had a successful intercept, even when we staged the whole test and in essence told it where to point? This is a really bad idea - we absolutely don't want to give the world the notion that if they shoot stuff at us, we can't take it down. Maybe he was talking about the Patriot, which actually did shoot down some incoming during the first Gulf War, although if you look at the analysis, the actual success rate is very unclear and depends strongly on who's counting.

Clearly, our best possible response is not to dignify the effort with a response,
as my mother used to say, but just keep encouraging the North Koreans back to the six-way talks.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Future Warriors

The Economist's latest Technology Quarterly has an article on the "future force warrior" (which you won't be able to read unless you subscribe, unfortunately; but if you Google the phrase you'll come up with a whole list of public sites). The gist of it is that the U.S. military has decided it needs to protect its soldiers better (about time, too). The technology bug has bit them, however, and instead of just investing in more Kevlar body armor, they propose turning each soldier into a walking internet node (wireless, of course), complete with sensors to tell not only where he is but how he is (vital signs, asleep or awake, etc.), portable power sources, all under lightweight Kevlar armor plates (black, of course); and with a fully integrated night vision/heads up display with video feeds from robot drone scout planes, and a data link to every other soldier and vehicle.

I'm sorry, these guys have been reading too much science fiction. They have seen Matrix and Star Trek one time too many. I'm not suggesting that your basic GI can't handle all this; with training, he probably can. I am suggesting that the designers have lost sight of the K.I.S.S. principle, and of the fact that the more complicated a system is, the more likely it is to fail in unexpected ways. I do not think it's a coincidence that the picture of the proposed outfit looks exactly like an Imperial Storm Trooper, only in black.

These designers are the same people who thought the Star Wars anti-missile defense was a good idea, despite the fact that it would have required tens of thousands of lines of software code which couldn't be debugged except under fire. Virtually every computer programmer in the world thought it was a Bad Idea, and so is this. This "battlesuit" - yes, they use the term - is so complicated that the likelihood of system failures is quite high, and the early wearers of this will be, I'm sorry, sitting ducks. The only good thing is that they'll be sitting ducks wearing Kevlar armor. In addition, if the whole thing is based on the GPS and the wireless data link, what does our soldier in his battlesuit do if the other side comes up with some easy way to jam the transmission frequencies?? Or simply blow up the transmission towers? Wireless still required line of sight, last time I looked.

Go back to the video games, guys, and just buy the boys overseas some better armor. The lightweight Kevlar armor plates are the only good idea you've come up with. The really good idea would be to come up with some way to settle international disputes without shooting at people, but that's apparently way too far out.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Road Signs

I'm tired of politics. Let's contemplate a little Americana (well, North Americana, since some of this was Canadian). We're planning a driving vacation in July, up the Coast to the Cascades and then Vancouver (B.C.); driving vacations have always been my favorites (gas crisis be damned! apres moi, le deluge...), they being the way we could afford to vacation when I was a child.

One thing I always enjoy, and in fact, collect, are the advertising signs by the side of secondary roads, some hand-lettered. Most of you will have seen ads for "beer pool", but those are common. I have a small collection of rarities to share:

parking cherries (near Sebastopol, California)
diesel cheese (somewhere in Wisconsin, courtesy of my brother-in-law)
coffee minnows (on the road from Toronto to Sudbury, Ontario)
video worms (same road, a very good source)
fountain burrito gizzards (Newberg, Oregon - a deli and butcher...)

The drive to Sudbury was a fruitful source for these signs; I'm still trying to decide which is superior, coffee minnows or video worms. We also found the following which I feel qualifies for Honorable Mention:

Shoe repair and live bait

and a motel which advertised:

Cold Rooms Warm Beer Cozy Food (Oops!)

(Yes, "Oops!" was part of the sign.) How about some that you've seen?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mr. Jefferson Stays in Washington

Let me say up front that in the case of Representative William Jefferson, D-LA, I am in solid agreement with Nancy Pelosi (not always a given): he ought to step down from the Ways and Means committee until his guilt or innocence is established. The principle here is very old: "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion." The members of Congress would get a whole lot more respect from their constituents, and the country in general, if they realized that they are in the position of Caesar's wife: it isn't enough for them to be innocent of wrongdoing. They must appear to be innocent of wrongdoing. For a public figure the appearance of venality is almost as bad as venality itself.

Mr. Jefferson has offered three arguments for staying on the committee: he's innocent; Louisiana needs the help he can give it while a committee member; and he's being picked on because he's black.

Since Mr. Jefferson hasn't yet been tried or even indicted, he is, of course, assumed to be innocent; but some very peculiar allegations have been published about him, and the Justice Department feels it has grounds for indictment. Not to mention that two of his former associates have pleaded guilty to bribing him.
If Congressmen, like Caesar's wife, should be above suspicion, he's clearly failed that test. I've said before that I thought he had some explaining to do.

Louisiana certainly needs all the help it can get. But I have some reservations about how much it needs Mr. Jefferson's help.

I hardly know how to approach the suggestion, made by Mr. Jefferson and supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, that he's being victimized because he's black, because no white Congress members have been asked to step down from their committees. There certainly
are white Republican members of Congress who, if this principle were equitably applied, should resign their committee seats; but Nancy Pelosi has no authority over Republicans, and I haven't seen any news articles about any other Democrats in just this equivocal position. In fact, Ms. Pelosi's point, which Mr. Jefferson appears to miss entirely, is that Democrats ought to hold themselves to a higher ethical standard than the Republican "culture of corruption."

Does the Black Caucus really believe African Americans ought to be immune from the consequences of their behavior, because their ancestors were forced into slavery? Does the Black Caucus really think that African Americans don't want their elected African American representatives to be held responsible, if they act as Mr. Jefferson appears to have acted?

The Republican Party leadership has spent the last few years disgusting the electorate with its corrupt and arrogant behavior. One of the strongest arguments the Democrats can make in the fall elections, if they can pull it off, is that they are honest public servants. Mr. Jefferson seems to feel that his personal privilege is more important than his party's advantage.

Death of a Terrorist

I can't feel too sorry at the loss of Abu-Musab Al-Zarqawi. He wasn't a nice man, and you couldn't call him an ornament to society. Still, I thought the photos of his dead face, plastered all over the news media, were a little much. Frankly, it reminded me of my dear, and late, aunt; except that she had better taste. We visited her once, shortly after her husband had died; and she showed us a photo of him in his coffin. Given the family history, I assume she wanted some definite proof that he was really dead and she was finally rid of him. She, however, didn't publish the photo in the newspaper to make her point.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Damn, Now I'm Really Mad

If you've read the link from where cooper posted it at Fanatical
, you can skip this post; cooper, you already know all this.

Did you ever wonder why John Kerry lost so solidly in 2004, when the exit polls said he had it nailed? Well, folks, the answer is simple and sad, and it's laid out in extreme detail, with footnotes and documentary evidence, in the article published last week in Rolling Stone, by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. The answer is fraud. The Republican administration in the state of Ohio, fraudulently prevented tens of thousands of Democratic voters from casting ballots; connived at tampering with voting machines so that votes cast for Kerry actually went to Bush, or weren't counted at all; imported goons from Texas to threaten and intimidate minority voters. These people make Kathleen Harris, in Florida in 2000, look like a chocolate cupcake.

Make no mistake: they succeeded. They swung the election. The wrong man is in the White House. The Republican machine is nothing if not efficient. Honest, no; honorable, no; but efficient. This is vote-rigging on a scale not seen in America since Tammany Hall, except maybe in Chicago on occasion.

It's a long article, but everyone should read it, and then everyone should write to their elected representative and urge them to Get Those Bastards Out Of There. Jimmy Carter, where were your election monitors in Ohio in 2004, when we needed them? This is the sort of shenanigan I associate with Belarus, or Zimbabwe; the only thing they left out were the armed goon squads actually shooting opposition voters.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

June is Busting Out All Over

No, this isn't about June, or busts, or anything rational. I can't think of a subject, so maybe I'll just vamp for a bit.

The California primary elections are over, and most of who/what I voted for lost. (Come on, folks - rejecting library bonds?) No one is sure about the hot Oakland mayoral race, though, because Alameda County went back to paper ballots (carefully marked by filling in the ovals with a black felt pen), and they've been counting for 24 hours now and they still have almost 40,000 absentee and provisional ballots to go. Ron Dellums thinks he's got it sewed up but with a margin of 125 votes past the line labeled "Runoff", it's not sewed very tight.

The "dangerous" date of 6-6-06 is over, and the English lady who rescheduled childbirth to protect her child from being born on that Satanic date (the birthdate of the Beast?) can sigh with relief. Based on the Chronicle's review of the remake of "Omen", I won't bother to see this one either.

The administration is getting weirder and weirder. The anti-gay marriage amendment never had the chance of a celluloid cat in Hell, but they shoved it through the Senate anyhow, so they could point at it and "energize the base" to turn out for the election. If your base is fanatical Christian theocrats, and some of theirs is, you end up doing some very odd things to make them happy.

And I can't find the reference, but I'm sure I heard some govmint authority on the radio the other day, confidently predicting that there will be a major terrorist attack in the continental U.S., sometime in the next year. Unstated but there: vote for us Republicans again in November, and we'll protect you, just like we did the last time. Yeah, right.

Meanwhile the FBI wants to subpoena all of columnist Jack Anderson's papers, now that he's dead - they never did this while he was alive - they say, to protect any classified documents that may have been leaked to him. I think, to find out what he really knew, especially about J. Edgar Hoover...

Finally, according to Scientific American, the world has 4 "super-volcano" locations. These are places that, when they blow, spit out 750 cubic kilometers of magma all at once, eliminating the landscape, anything living on it within a radius of about 300 KM, and the entire world climate for at least decades. Mt. St. Helens blew out less than .5 cubic KM. Think Bishop tuff, those of you who know California geology. And of these 4 places, 2 of them are in North America (Yellowstone National Park, and Long Valley in California); how do we rate? Actually I don't think I want to know the answer to that. Fortunately, they don't blow very often.