The United States of America was configured by its founders as a constitutional republic, not a democracy as is commonly misconstrued. A true democracy--from the Greek demos/people and kratos/ power--is a government literally by the people via direct action. It has proven impractical as discovered by the ancient Athenians much to their dismay.
Our constitutional republic intersperses autonomous elected representatives and an executive who can take independent action but are accountable to the populace via elections. They are generally supposed to represent their constituents' wishes. A Supreme Court is supposed to keep everyone honest. Legislative autonomy is further constrained in theory by a system of checks and balances in the form of the three independent branches of government and a selection process designed to incorporate philosophical diversity.
Aye, there's the rub.
Largely as the result of a media-complicit campaign of unprecedented and, in my opinion, largely unfair vilification of the previous Republican administration, combined with an incredible display of voter gullibility, practically any semblance of philosophical diversity presently has been lost in the two elected branches of government. This is a danger not sufficiently appreciated by our founders, who constitutionally protected the press which in those days was fiercely independent and mistrustful of government in general, regardless of who was in power. The prospect of a mainstream media overwhelmingly partisan to one political philosophy was not anticipated.
Although my personal political philosophy is essentially conservative in the belief that past is prologue, it really matters little which ideology--liberal or conservative--is ascendant. Having said that, liberal ideologues do tend more to be elitist. They often consider their ideas to be superior to others, to the exclusion and sometimes vehement suppression of dissent. There often is an "end justifies the means" mentality on the left, which is a truly dangerous concept.
A government where a single militant ideology is in control of all elements of the legislative process, which is presently the case, effectively negates a key element of the checks and balances our founders built into the system. The current incredibly manipulative and underhanded process by which government-run health care legislation is being uni-partisanly rammed down our throats is a classic case in point.
As Lord Acton observed well over a century ago, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What we are seeing in the political train wreck that is Washington today is nothing less than the legislative destruction of the very nature of our nation, which was forged through centuries of sometimes painful and costly trial and error, certainly not perfect but equally certainly not rotten to the core requiring Phoenixian destruction and re-creation. Incremental change, a cardinal principle built into our system from the beginning, is in the process of being discarded in favor of wholesale reconstruction in blind disregard of the blood, sweat and tears expended in the historical structuring of our society.
The extreme left-wing ideologues presently in control are not content with simply fixing and fine-tuning deficiencies--real or perceived--in a time-tested socio-economic system that is responsible for creating unprecedented prosperity and liberty in the most successful society on earth. Our present political regime is in the frantic pursuit of asserting unprecedented control over nearly every aspect of our lives. We are indeed in the grip of a true elitocracy--an autocratic government of elitist ideologues who consider their ideas superior to all others, especially to those of the unwashed masses--us.
Some have argued that our system is broken. Unlikely as that may be given the lot of the great majority of citizens and our status as the dominant world power, whatever defects may exist do not justify throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
In my view, from a historical perspective our way of life, incorporating at least some degree of personal freedom, and our national security and perhaps our very survival are in deep peril. Absolute power is indeed in the process of irretrievably corrupting this precious land of ours.
As the grateful son of desperately poor immigrants who came here searching for a better life and finding it, I fear greatly for this grand and noble experiment we call the U.S.A. It is to weep.
The mainstream media generally is not very friendly to Israel, seemingly blaming it for stalling the Middle East "peace process" and frequently parroting Arab propaganda. The Obama administration seems of similar bent.
I will not belabor the point, but just look at a map of the region and imagine the entire West Bank in the hands of Arabs most of whom wish only that all Jews die. Central Israel would be only 15 miles wide, with some of its main cities in Arab crosshairs. The same danger accrues to the Golan Heights.
Anyone who thinks a paper agreement "guaranteeing Israel's right to exist," assuming you can get the Arabs to sign it, is a guarantee of safety is smoking something. At a minimum. the western half of the West Bank, encompassing the high hills, is essential to Israeli survival.
The validity of an agreement depends on the character and morality of the signers. Witness the North Korean nuclear non-proliferation agreement negotiated with much fanfare by that great peacmaker, Jimmy Carter, some years ago. North Korea simply ignored it, using it to camouflage its ongoing nuke development program.
A current example of national character and morality is currently being played out in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. Among the very first responders, along with the U.S., Britain and France, was Israel, a nation of 7.5 million, who immediately sent a 220-person highly experienced rescue team (lots of local practice), including a fully-equipped and staffed large field hospital set up in Port-au-Prince and capable of treating 5000 patients per day. This team just rescued a 22-year-old man buried in the rubble for 10 days and treated him in their field hospital He is is stable condition.
Many other nations have sent money and supplies.
The oil-rich Arab and Muslim world has sent nothing.
A couple of weeks ago I was on my daily morning walk on the second day of ice fog conditions. Our area of the Village of Wales experienced what I think was a particularly spectacular display of hoar frost on trees and bushes. I ran (well, walked briskly) home, got my camera and shot a bunch of photos.
In the interest of a badly-needed break from the current mayhem of politics, I present the following images simply for your enjoyment. Winter in Wisconsin does have its moments.
Toyota's gas pedal woes have pushed Afghanistan and the economy off the front pages. One would think the entire free world is threatened by a sticky accelerator. ABC News has dug up 2000 accidents and 16 deaths over many years, supposedly attributed to runaway acceleration of Toyota automobiles. Unfortunately, none of these are confirmed by official accident investigations. A highly-publicised four-car accident in Florida blamed on a sticky Toyota gas pedal turned out to be caused by improperly-installed homemade floor mats. Other reports are anecdotal without identification of a specific cause.
Reports of runaway acceleration have been around for years, ever since automobile engines have been controlled by computers. Pressing on your accelerator pedal no longer opens a throttle plate in the carburetor via a mechanical cable. In most modern cars, it merely creates an electrical input to the car's computer which then controls the fuel injection system to increase fuel and air flow. Audi and VW have been accused for years through anecdotal reports of electrical defects causing runaway acceleration. No defect has ever been found.
Now for the coincidence. Last year, Toyota announced it was closing its Fremont, CA, auto assembly plant, called NUMMI for New United Motors Manufacturing, because they say GM pulled out of a joint venture agreement. About 5,000 union jobs are involved. Some have speculated that this only UAW-organized Toyota plant proved too expensive to operate in sunny Taxifornia. Regardless, the UAW is highly incensed, especially since shortly thereafter Toyota announced it was building a new plant in non-union Mississippi. So, about a week ago about 100 UAW demonstrators gathered in front of the Japanese embassy in Washington and delivered a nasty letter of protest to the ambassador.
This took place shortly after Toyota's gas pedal woes burst upon the national scene. Since then, Congress and the Feds have piled on poor Toyota, threatening all sorts of investigations, making outrageous allegations and even issuing veiled suggestions that Toyota's flagship Prius hybrid, by far the best of the hybrids, has brake and acceleration problems caused by "electrical glitches." Again, no hard evidence. The fact that the Chevy Volt priority-electric vehicle is due for release this year is just a coincidence--right?
O.K., what are the facts. Toyota's floor mats are quite thick (I know, I have them in my Camry) and are held in place by tricky little floor clips that are rather difficult to re-attach if the mats are removed, say for cleaning. If these clips, admittedly not the best design I've ever seen, are not re-attached properly, the mats could shift and interfere with accelerator pedal movement. Toyota claims the major problem is slow pedal return caused by floor mat interference, which can be quite disconcerting. Their fix is a shim which raises the back of the pedal to provide additional clearance. They deny any electrical problems, and in truth there is no evidence to support that allegation.
So, are we seeing an attempt by the Feds to strike a blow at largely non-union Toyota as another payoff to the UAW? Or perhaps this is an attempt to boost sales of Government Motors at Toyota's expense. Or both. Ford, a major Democratic supporter, is licking their chops in anticipation. Toyota's stock has taken a half-gainer off the high board.
Look for the appearance of ads sticking it to Toyota. Look for this attack to continue and be blown into a huge safety issue, including Democratic Congressional hearings and investigations, as though no other car company ever had a safety-related recall. This appears to me to be more about politics than safety.
Meanwhile, I'll continue to drive my Camry, enjoying the best car I have ever owned.
Introduction: This rather lengthy article addresses what I see as a potentially very serious problem with current U.S. military policy. This analysis is intended to be apolitical, in that all administrations since Reagan have pursued more or less unwise policy. Beginning with G.W. Bush, downright dangerous military policy decisions have been implemented. President Obama, who I suspect is not especially enamored of the military, has changed little even to the extent of retaining Bush's Secretary of Defense (SECDEF), Robert Gates.
The U.S. military is the best trained, best equipped in the world, but it is not the largest. Pakistan has more troops, not well trained or equipped, as do China and Russia, better trained and equipped. Even North Korea rivals us in numbers and we were clearly outnumbered in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). As we learned to our dismay in Korea and Vietnam, sufficient numbers can overwhelm even the best equipped and trained army. What makes the difference is air power.
This detailed discussion of American air power may seem a bit sanguine and warlike to some of you. I assure you I am not a war lover. However, this is a hostile world with adversaries who would like nothing better than to replace us as the world's superpower. China and Russia are assiduously enhancing their military power with only one logical purpose--to overpower us. Even North Korea, the mouse that roared, has somewhat unrealistic ambitions of world power.
The jihadists work to defeat us using cowardly terrorism while developing and/or buying nuclear weapons capability. All the UN's rhetoric and threats won't stop them. While we all yearn for peace, unfortunately Scripture is correct when it talks of wars and rumors of wars. So long as there is ambition and ruthlessness in the world, there will be danger. If we lower our guard, rest assured that someone will take advantage of the opening and we will find ourselves at the bottom of the hill looking up.
The purpose of the following is to demonstrate the significance of air power to our overall military power, and the danger posed by current policy. I have concentrated on the U. S. Air Force (USAF) in part because it is larger than Navy Air and also because I know it best, being a former Air Defense Command interceptor pilot during the Cold War years, defending your skies from Red aggression. I never fired a shot in anger, which I guess says something for deterrence.
Discussion: The USAF is far and away the most lethal military force in the world today. The firepower it can bring to bear is simply awesome. Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) bombs, from 500 lb. to 2000 lb., are precision guided via radar, infrared (IR), global positioning system (GPS), TV and even totally self-contained inertial guidance if all else fails. The JDAM system is a strap-on package containing the guidance electronics and sensors, guiding the bomb via movable tail fins. There are also two versions of a 250 lb. Small Diameter Bomb (SDB I and II) with built-in guidance designed to minimize collateral damage. There is also a new 30,000 lb. Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP) bunker-buster designed to destroy the deepest buried facilities. (Rumor has it that it was developed in part for use against Iran's buried nuclear weapons development facilities.)
The subject of bombs unfortunately would not be complete without mentioning nukes. The Navy has their Trident sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) launched from nuclear submarines called "boomers". Each missile Mark IV warhead contains 8 multiple independently-guided re-entry vehicles (MIRV) carrying 100 kiloton W76 warheads.
The Air Force has three gravity bombs, the B53, an older 9-megaton weapon; the B61 (see photo) with adjustable 100-500 kiloton yield; and the most recent B83, with a 1-2 megaton yield. In addition, the sole Air Force ICBM is the inertial-guided Minuteman III which was originally designed with 3 MIRV warheads but now reduced to one 400 kiloton warhead by treaty.
B61 Gravity Bomb (Nuke)
Added to the JDAM and SDB's is a panoply of air-to-ground (AGM) missiles fired by attack aircraft at ground targets. There are many dozens like the AGM-65 Maverick, AGM-83 Bulldog and AGM-114 Hellfire, all precision guided by various means. The Hellfire AGM was one of the the primary weapons that demoralized the crack Medina Republican Guard Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The Medina tried to maneuver under cover of an intense sandstorm when their tanks and other armor began blowing up around them without warning, victims of radar-guided Hellfire missiles and JDAM. Wholesale defections followed and the Medina was not a factor in OIF thereafter.
The key to effective use of air power is something called Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). This capability sets the USAF apart from every other air power in the world today. Other nations have effective aircraft, some--mainly Russian-built and sold to anyone with the money--are very good, and some, like India, have very well-trained pilots. (They defeated us with their Russian-built aircraft in a fairly recent joint exercise. Our most potent fighter, the F-15E Strike Eagle, was not a participant.) Our ISR capability involves highly specialized non-combat aircraft such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint (signals intercept and intelligence), E-8 Joint STARS (Surveillance Target Attack Radar System--ground situation information), E-3 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System--air warfare detection and control) and RC-135U Combat Sent (very secret--enemy radar detection and analysis). Photos of the Rivet Joint and AWACS are shown below.
RC-135 Rivet Joint (Note antennas on top and bottom of fuselage and vertical stabilizer)
E-3 AWACS with radome
The most intriguing category of air power today is the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), so-called pilotless aircraft. Originally designed for purely ISR capability, the first of the Air Force UAV's (the Army has several very small, hand-held UAV's) was the RQ-1 Predator, still a mainstay as the MQ-1 armed UAV. (The prefix "R" indicates reconnaissance use; the "M" prefix designates missile-carrying or armed.) Along with its larger and more lethal big brother, the MQ-9 reaper (see photo), these aircraft are equipped with multiple sensors and have the valuable capability of loitering over a target area for 24 hours or more, transmitting TV, radar and IR pictures back to a ground control site for analysis. Recent upgrades allow information to be accessed by ground units directly.
These aircraft can be equipped with a range of AGM missiles, including the ubiquitous Hellfire. The Reaper was developed from the Predator to carry heavier armament loads. The Predator, of course, was originally intended only as an unarmed ISR platform and so has limited ability to carry armament.
MQ-9 Reaper fully armed
USAF UAV's are controlled by pilot-trained operators in often distant central control facilities either back in the U.S. or at Central Command (CENTCOM) regional headquarters.
The most interesting and mysterious of the UAV's is the shadowy RQ-4 Global Hawk (see photo). Shadowy not in terms of appearance but in mission. The Hawk is equipped with multiple sensors, both imaging and signals intercept, the most potent of which is high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar(SAR) that can penetrate cloud-cover and sandstorms, and Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) imagery at long range with long loiter times over target areas. It can survey as much as 40,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) of terrain a day.
RQ-4 Global Hawk
The jet-powered RQ-4 can fly at altitudes as high as 65,000 feet and loiter for 30 hours. A Global Hawk set a long-distance flight record for pilotless aircraft of over 8,000 miles.
It is likely that it was a Global Hawk's SAR that detected Saddam's Medina division moving under cover of a sandstorm, resulting in its destruction. (Synthetic aperture radar uses a specialized fixed array of computer-switched small antenna elements to control the radar beam, allowing very precise focusing and beam control. Penetration of obscurations is enhanced by the ability to stop the beam and bombard a target or repeatedly and rapidly scan back and forth over a small area.)
A recent modification program, called Block 20, equipped the Global Hawk to carry armament, including missiles and bombs, changing its designation to MQ-4.
Before leaving the subject of UAV's, there is one more worth mentioning. There is a new entry in the game, designed and built by the fabled Lockheed (-Martin) Skunk Works, their advanced projects facility guided by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, a true aeronautical genius, for many years. Johnson died in 1990. The Skunk Works (from Al Capp's "Li'l Abner" comic strip) produced such aerial classics as the U-2 and SR-71 spyplanes, the latter being arguably the greatest aircraft ever built, and the F-117 stealth fighter. The latest product of this now Kelly-less operation is the RQ-170 Sentinel, a stealthy, super-secret UAV shown in the photo below. It is a flying wing design, popular for years among aircraft designers because of its low drag characteristic resulting in greater fuel efficiency. Little specific information is known except that it is designed to be nearly invisible to radar. My guess from its appearance is that it will soon become the MQ-170, carrying a significant bomb load. My point in showing it is to demonstrate that pilotless aircraft development is a very active and expanding Air Force program.
The two primary advantages of UAV's are their long mission duration capability and the fact that no human lives are in harm's way, this being a very politically-attractive feature. SECDEF Robert Gates is madly in love with UAV's as they have proved invaluable in Southeast Asia. The problem I have is that he is neglecting other elements of air power, primarily manned aircraft like fighters, bombers, tankers and tactical transports. UAV's may be of great value and the wave of the future, but they have significant limitations. They cannot perform many necessary roles outside of ISR, except some limited tactical bombing missions and close air support (CAS) activity. Limitations include the absence of mechanisms for instant judgement and handling emergencies. They obviously cannot function in an air superiority role, at least for the foreseeable future.
Our current premier fighter is the F-15E Strike Eagle (see photo). It is a substantial upgrade of the earlier F-15 series, which first flew in 1972, 38 years ago. The most numerous "C" and "D" models date from 1978 and are well beyond their design lifetime. The more recent "E" model dates from the 1980's.
F-15E Strike Eagle, fully loaded
The new Russian Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E is generally considered to be the performance equal of the F-15E, some claim better. The Russkies, as is their long-standing practice, are selling it to anyone with the money. They are working on even more advanced aircraft. Make no mistake, the Russians build very good fighters.
The average age of all USAF aircraft is in excess of 26 years, some over 50 years old. Due to heavy use in Southeast Asia and domestically as part of Operation Noble Eagle, a constant airborne combat air patrol (CAP) instituted after 9/11 and flown by the National Guard (it has only recently been cancelled and replaced by aircraft on 5-minute alert), many are well beyond their design flight-hour lifetimes. The level of heavy usage is reflected across the board to include especially tankers like the KC-135 and tactical transports like the C-130.
The entire F-15 fleet, except for the Strike Eagle, was grounded not too long ago when a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C broke in half in mid air due to fatigue at a junction weld in a critical structural longeron. While the construction of the longeron was judged inadequate, fatigue due to heavy use was definitely a factor. Expensive repairs of many F-15's and the scrapping of a few were necessary before the fleet was again allowed to fly. The U.S. was very vulnerable at this time as our remaining F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters were too few to react to an attack.
We do have a clearly superior so-called 5th generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor (see photo). It is a fully-stealthy (nearly radar-invisible) air superiority and CAS fighter. It incorporates an amazing avionics package that allows it to automatically detect threats and coordinate an attack with other F-22's. It also can communicate and integrate information in real time with ground units and ISR aircraft like the AWACS.
During a recent head-to-head exercise against our best "legacy" fighter, the F-15E Strike Eagle, the final "kill ratio" was 109 to 1 in favor of the Raptor. (The "1" loss was during an experimental close-in dogfight exercise, not the F-22's normal tactics.) The F-15 pilots complained that they never saw (on radar) the F-22's until they were "killed". Presently, Raptor units have no opponents to practice against as the F-15 jocks refuse to play.
The Air Force insists it needs 381 Raptors to provide sufficient capability world-wide. DOD under then SECDEF William Rumsfeld granted only an inadequate 181, later increased by Congress to 187. The 187th F-22 just rolled off the assembly line and the current administration has officially terminated the program. The Lockheed-Martin F-22 production facility will now be shut down. Restart would be very expensive and take substantial time to accomplish.
All the eggs have been placed in the basket of the F-35 Lightning II "Freedom Fighter," formerly the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). This is a multi-role stealthy aircraft intended for Air Force (F-35A), Marine Corps (F-35B, intended to replace their AV-8 Jump Jets) and Navy carrier-based (F-35C) use. The F-35B incorporates a large lift fan to provide short-takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) capability. (See photo)
F-35A Lightning II Freedom Fighter
This is a large scale procuerement involving over 3,000 aircraft and many countries who collaborated in its development, production and funding. The DOD likes it because of all the foreign money helping pay for it. (It should be noted that the F-22 is not available to any foreign nation due to its advanced features and capability. That should tell you something.) Unfortunately, the F-35 program is billions over budget and 2 years behind schedule. The egg basket has a hole in it.
So, we have a 5th generation air superiority fighter capped at less than half the strength required to support world-wide operations, supplemented by a less-capable aircraft being sold to everyone except sworn enemies, while the Russians forge ahead designing and building some very good fighters that they will sell to anyone with the money, friend or foe. Meanwhile, our existing legacy aircraft--fighters, bombers, tankers and transports--are as old as 50 years, with the average over 26 years, and are being flown into the ground due to usage rates far beyond design parameters. Replacements are either bogged down in political red tape, well behind schedule or underfunded resulting in slow production rates.
We are rapidly wearing out our military aircraft, with very few exceptions. Some, like the C-130 Hercules, our only large tactical airlifter (the C-17 cannot operate out of unprepared tactical airfields) and our main aerial refueling tanker, the KC-135, a Boeing 707 airliner derivative, average more than 50 years old. A new replacement for the older C-130's, the C-130J, is entering the inventory at an excruciatingly slow pace. Tanker replacement, called the KC-X program, is mired in legal wrangling and political turf wars.
The Air Force awarded a contract for a new tanker to Northrup-Grumman-EADS (European Aerospace Defense Systems, heaquartered in France). The loser, Boeing, sued and the award was thrown out due to Air Force mismanagement of the bidding process. Congressmen are infighting over production in their districts, the net result being there is now no new tanker procurement program while the Air force tries to regroup. If this mess ever gets straightened out, the normal procurement cycle will insure that many KC-135's will be 80 years old and still flying--hopefully. This is a real disaster in the making.
It should be clearly understood that without tankers, almost the entire air support structure grinds to a halt. Combat aircraft typically do not carry sufficient fuel to complete many critical missions, from close air support (CAS) of ground units to bombing missions and supply airlift, and in some cases search and rescue. Loss of effective tanker support would simply be devastating and would--not "might"--would effectively neutralize much of U.S. air power.
Summary and Conclusion: Those who have stuck with me to this point (thanks!) may quite justifiably be wondering what is my point in writing this very long summary on the state of U.S. air power. (I do not claim that this is the entire picture.) Recall that at the beginning I stated that air power is the key element in our military pre-eminence. The problem is that Air Force funding and personnel are being cut by DOD, with threats of even greater cuts in the future. SECDEF Gates and others at the DOD favor UAV's over manned aircraft. UAV's, as described in this article, are increasingly capable and in great demand by Army and Marine ground forces.
While I have absolutely no problem with the increased dependence on UAV's in ISR and CAS (close air support) roles, they presently have no capability in other critical roles such as air superiority, airlift, tankers and strategic heavy bombing. Some of these capabilities may come to pass in the future, but today they are only concepts at best. In addition and perhaps most critically, UAV's lack the intuitive quick-reaction judgement often essential in non-conventional and counter-insurgency warfare that only a human pilot can provide.
I firmly believe that short-changing the most essential element of our military power is somewhere between risky and foolhardy. In this era of tight budgets--except for stimuli and bailouts--diminishing our most valuable military asset opens us to danger from adversaries both present and future. The prime Constitutional imperative is national defense. It must not be sacrificed on the altar of budgetary expediency and political demagoguery.
Make no mistake, we are in a war with a formidable and implacable foe. We also live in a very militarily-competitive world. If we lose to the jihadists or to an ambitious, resurgent China or Russia--or both together--"free" government health care won't do us much good.
NOTE: I like to think that most readers of my blog are thinking folks and don't need me to to tell them what a train wreck the current Washington scene is. There is a principle in law called "Res ipsa loquitur" which is Latin for "The thing speaks for itself." I believe it applies to the current political scene, so any further commentary on my part would be redundant. Consequently, I have decided to indulge other interests and write about some non-political subjects that appeal to me. They may not be everyone's cup of tea, but then it's my blog and I can write whatever I please. Give it a chance; you might find it refreshingly interesting, if a bit self-indulgent.
This piece is about flying from a personal viewpoint. Through the years, several people have asked me what it's like to fly in general and jet fighters in particular. (No slight intended towards private aviation, but high-performance military flying is a different world.) The question is a difficult one to answer, because this type of flying is more than just a physical event, it is an experience. There is an emotional aspect that is hard to describe. In this article I will venture to draw the reader into the world of aviation, partly through the words of others more articulate than I and partly by personal reminiscenses. I have thrown in a few pictures to break the monotony. I hope you enjoy this trip above the clouds.
First, the personal. Air Force flight training when I went through in the late 1950's was divided into three phases, each six months in length. The first six months was called Primary, which was administered by a civilian flight school using Air Force-supplied aircraft. I suppose this was because the Air Force did not want to waste their hot-shot pilots flying little Primary trainers.
The school to which I was assigned was at Spence Air Base in Moultrie, Georgia, actually a former WW II B-25 training base. The instructors were mostly crop dusters who were anything but daredevils. To survive in that business, you have to be careful. There's a saying most pilots know: "Aviation is not inherently dangerous but, like the sea, is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect." This was drummed into us by these intrepid flyers, who were very good pilots and surprisingly good instructors.
If any of you are familiar with the history of acrobatic flying, you may recognize the name of the owner of this civilian flight school: Bevo Howard, a famous acrobatic pilot. He entertained us with a private demonstration in his Becker-Jungmeister biplane when we graduated. He was killed shortly thereafter during an aerobatic competition.
Flight training was about half ground school, with subjects like aerodynamics, aircraft systems, meteorology, navigation and survival, and the other half flying. The planes we flew in Primary back in the mid-1950's were the T-34A Mentor, a militarized version of the Beechcraft Bonanza, and the North American T-28A Trojan, three months in each. (See photos.) We actually got to take off the little T-34 on the first flight.
The essential difference was the T-28 could perform acrobatic maneuvers while the T-34 could not. Here are photos of these fine aircraft. They were both honest aircraft that were a joy to fly. Both are no longer in service as trainers, but the T-28 in its more powerful Navy version and armed, acquitted itself quite well in Vietnam.
After Primary, we went into Basic training which was administered by Air Force personnel. I was assigned to Laredo AFB, Texas on the Mexican border. There we flew exclusively the T-33A Shooting Star (everyone just called it the T-Bird), a modification of the famous F-80, our first really effective jet fighter which saw service in Korea and Vietnam, where it was outclassed by the Russian MiG-15. In Basic we learned instrument flying ("on the gages"), formation flight and lots of acrobatics, basic fighter stuff. (See photo.)
T-33A Shooting Star/"T-Bird"
Upon completion of Basic flight training and passing of our final check ride, we got our wings and had a choice of Air Defense or Tactical fighters. (Prior to Basic, we had a choice of fighters or multi-engine. The multi guys went to a different training base and flew the B-25 Mitchell.) I chose Air Defense and the F-86D all-weather interceptor. This aircraft was a major revision of the famous F-86 Sabre of Korea and Vietnam fame. This was the fighter that was the equal of--some say superior to--the MiG-15 and MiG-17. The F-86D and upgraded F-86L incorporated the Hughes E-4 radar and fire control system, a 24-rocket drop-down pod and an afterburner for the J-47 engine to handle the extra weight. It had a distinctive black radome "nose" that clearly distinguished it from the F-86 tactical fighter. (See photos.)
The six-month advanced training in all-weather interceptors and the F-86D was at Moody AFB in Georgia. We were the first class to fly the -86. The first three months were spent in the famous Air Force all-weather instrument school, the best in the world. Training was done in the T-Bird and prepared us for flying in all weather conditions, including zero visibility. Airline pilots today will not attempt a zero-visibility landing except at specially-equipped airports and with heavy computer assistance. We had no computer assistance, just GCA (ground-controlled approach) and standard ILS (instrument landing system). The GCA controllers--you're talked down by a controller observing radar--used to like to practice with us on zero-vis landings to test their skills. They'd always ask how close to the runway centerline they came. They probably had an office pool going.
After the instrument school, we checked out in the -86D. Since it was a single-seat aircraft, an instructor couldn't ride along. There was a sophisticated (for the time) F-86D flight simulator where we practiced normal and emergency procedures. After a number of hours of simulator time--I forget how many--we went through an 11-mission checkout in the aircraft. Initially, an instructor would fly "chase" to talk us through the flight. After a few dual missions, we were cleared to fly solo without mother along.
Here is one personal illustration of the hazards of training in a single-seat aircraft. Two of us, another student and I, were practicing GCA's. Although the weather was good, flying a GCA requires close attention to your instruments as very precise adjustments in airspeed, rate of descent and course direction are required in response to instructions from the controller. During the very precise final approach phase, the controller instructs the pilot to not transmit any acknowledgements and issues an almost steady stream of instructions and commentary.
For safety reasons, these practice approaches were always flown with another student flying behind and watching out for other aircraft. During this particular approach as we neared final, my aircraft was set up for landing--gear down, etc. Because of a temporary runway obstruction--a truck, we were asked to "do a 360," a large circle to allow time for the runway to be cleared. To conserve fuel, I "cleaned up" the aircraft, including raising the landing gear. The approach resumed and entered the final approach phase. About halfway through the descent to the runway, as the controller paused momentarily to take a breath, I heard a single word from my fellow student behind me: "GEAR!" I had forgotten to re-lower the landing gear after completing the "360" and resuming the approach!
I quickly slammed the gear lever down and sucessfully--and safely--completed the approach and landing. I don't remember the other student's name, but I bought him several drinks at the Officer's Club that night. In flying, distractions can be catastrophic, a valuable lesson I never forgot.
The final 11th mission was a bit of a reward, a flight just to try to break the sound barrier, i.e. exceed the speed of sound, Mach 1. The mission consisted of flying over the Okefenokee swamp at 40,000 feet and pointing her straight down at full power. The F-86D was transonic, that is it would just exceed the speed of sound. With the added drag of the underwing drop tanks, necessary to extend flight time to something reasonable like an hour, she would only "bust the Mach" in a screaming dive, and not every aircraft would make it before reaching the mandatory pull-out altitude of 5,000 feet. Mine did, achieving Mach 1.01. The only sensation when she went through was a tendency to roll gently to the right. The sonic boom only frightened a few alligators.
After after graduation in January of 1957, I was assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing, 94th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) based at Selfridge AFB, near Detroit. I was surprised to discover that this was the fabled second U.S. fighter squadron in World War I, the famous "Hat in Ring" squadron once led by Eddie Rickenbacker. (See emblem.) It was a good outfit, if a bit taken with themselves and their history. We were part of the Northern Air Defense Command (NORAD), which included Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) units up north across the border. We flew combined exercises with our sister RCAF unit in North Bay, Ontario, which was as far out of the country I ever got.
"Hat in Ring" 94th FIS Emblem
The "Fight'n 94th" still is active, although not at Selfridge which is now an Air National Guard base. The 1st Fighter Wing with its two flying squadrons has relocated to Langley AFB, VA. The 94th Fighter Squadron ("Interceptor" was dropped) is the first squadron to become operational with the F-22 Raptor.
Flying a single-seat fighter is a unique experience. Being alone with the aircraft creates a special man-machine bond. This marvelous machine is all that is between you and the lethal, hostile environment out there just beyond a thin plexiglass canopy. At rare moments when the practice mission is done and you have a few minutes to just fly around, you become one with the airplane. The F-86D was completely silent--no engine noise except a nearly inaudible hum and no wind noise. Especially at night at high altitude with a black sky and myriad stars, suddenly you aren't flying a machine, you are just flying alone in the silence. It is a strange and almost spiritual experience unique to high flight. It happened to me only a few times, but I feel privileged to have had it.
This is why I never had a desire to fly general aviation. I did spend another eight years in the Air Force Reserve flying first C-119 Flying Boxcars and then the C-130 Hercules. They were both fine airplanes, especially the -130, but there was no comparison with flying a single-seat jet fighter.
Others have had similar experiences and put them into words more articulate than mine. Following are two excerpts, one by World War I pilot Cecil Lewis (not C.S.). Lewis was a poet as well as an aviator, which uniquely qualified him to describe the wonder of flight, which he did quite effectively in his marvelous little gem of a book, "Farewell to Wings." The second is an excerpt from Brian Shul's beautiful coffee table book, "Sled Driver," about flying the SR-71 Blackbird, the highest performance aircraft ever built. Although retired in the 80's, it still holds altitude and speed records, a marvelous product of Lockheed's and Kelly Johnson's Skunk Works.
I. Cecil Lewis, from "Farewell to Wings"
"There is an experience every pilot knows. It is a dreadful day, low clouds and rain, and when he takes off the pattern of trees and woods and fields is a dark, depressing tapestry of grey and blacks. The ceiling is down to perhaps 1,500 ft. He has hardly time to check his instruments and course before the clouds envelop him. In a second the sombre earth is gone and around him is a featureless cloak of vapour with no horizon, no top, bottom or sides to it. He is suddenly alone, in nothing!
"Settling down onto instruments he climbs steadily through it, knowing there must be a top, but ignorant of how high above him it may be. The clouds seem to come right into the cockpit, pressing in on him and there is nothing but the roar of the engine and the pointers on the dials. It is oppressive and sometimes terrifying, for curiously enough it requires courage for a pilot to trust his instruments. … (B)ut if all goes well, the clouds suddenly turn golden, the blue appears and a moment later he is through!
"Through into another world of unimaginable serenity and clarity. The terrible clouds have turned to a level pavement of virgin snow; the heavens are a miraculous vault of blue, crystalline, dazzling and perfect. Such a fantastic change makes a man want to shout and sing at the glory of it. The sun shines. The shadows of the struts are on the wings. The warmth and light permeate his body. He is alone with the wonder. No other breed but his own can share these things he has seen and known."
II. Brian Shul, from "Sled Driver"
"It happened during the early hours of the morning, while (RSO) Walt and I were over the Pacific, having passed the northwest coast of the United States. We were heading, in a round about way, back toward Beale (AFB). Our jet was running smoothly and we would soon be home resting our weary bodies after another training mission. With no moon above and no lights from the ocean below, the night was darker than usual. Out of habit, I peered outside through the glare of the cockpit lighting and noticed the faint glimmer of stars. To fully see the night sky, I would have to turn my lighting too far down because I didn't want to be in an awkward position if something were to go wrong with the airplane.
"Desire to see the stars overruled my caution and I began to turn the lights down one at a time, carefully leaving a few critical gauges well lit. My eyes adjusted to the lower level of light and I gradually saw more stars through the remaining reflections on the windows. On impulse, I flicked the remaining lights off, then quickly back on. … The jet reassured me as it purred rock solid, so I turned the remaining lights off. I was immediately startled; were those the lights of another aircraft out to my right? My disbelief soon turned to awe as I realized in the calm darkness, that what I saw was not the bright lights of any man-made vehicle, but the brilliant expanse of the Milky Way. Unlike the view from the ground, at 78,000 feet there were few spaces unlit in the sky. Shooting stars appeared and faded every few seconds. The spectacle was mesmerizing, but I knew I must bring my eyes back to the flight instruments. When I did, I discovered my entire cockpit bathed in starlight, bright enough to illuminate all the gauges. I needed no cockpit lighting and reveled in the ghostly sight of my space suit dimly lit in the starlight.
"… (T)his sight was a symphony of silence. I became very aware of the sound of my own breathing. For a brief moment I was part of something larger and more profound. I felt a joy to be at this place, at this time, looking at these stars."
Finally, I close with the pilot's poem, the classic High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., the son of missionaries who joined the RAF in WW II. He wrote this poem during flight training. Sadly, John Magee was killed in a mid-air collision when returning to his home field from his first mission in France, but he will live forever in this poem.
High Flight, by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds--and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of--wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along,
And flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark , or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
The following is a letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that will not be published, primarily because it punctures their beloved choo-choo train balloon. (I'm taking a risk here; if they publish it, I'll have to eat my words.) The letter was written by a close, long-time friend, Charles A. Bass, a former Chicago and Northwestern brakeman who has written and published a marvelous book on his experiences, Life on the Shiny Iron, which is presently available at certain specialty bookstores or on-line at ronsbooks.com. (I don't get a commission.)
The commuter/high-speed rail business is just another government payback-boondoggle at taxpayer expense. (Remember, even federal largesse is taxpayer money.) To my knowledge, there is not a commuter train system in the country that is self-sufficient. The automobile is the most convenient, efficient and flexible means of transportation invented by man. Buses run a distant second. Commuter rail is way down the list. Passenger rail can be a useful and convenient means of transportation between metropolitan destinations, but even it is far from self-sufficient.
Chuck is an entertaining writer with a wealth of railroad experience and knowledge of the "shiny iron." I highly recommend his book.
A number of commenters and commentators have lamented the rancor and venom permeating the legislative and administrative branches of our government. In my (long) memory, the intensity of conflict is unprecedented. In as non-partisan way as possible, I'll try to explain what I think is behind this unseemly display of partisanship. First, to explain the title.
The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic civil wars between supporters of the rival houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England.. They were fought in several spasmodic episodes between 1455 and 1485. Substitute Republicans and Democrats for Lancaster and York, and U.S. Government for England, and you have a pretty good description of what is going on in Washington these days. The political battle approaches the intensity and level of a civil war. I find the analogy irresistable.
At its core, it boils down to an arrogant display of the lust for power. But to delve deeper into this ugly syndrome, we have to look at the makeup of our legislative government. Who are these often juvenile scrappers who are supposed to represent "we the people" and what possesses them to act like children fighting over a football?
First, what motivates someone to run for high office? (except local representatives who are not anticipating a political career.) It's not the money, which, while significant, is not munificent. The retirement plan is pretty good as is the medical, but I think those are unlikely main motivating factors. Oh, I know, it's a desire to help his/her fellow man and solve the problems of society, right?
O.K., that sounds good, but why then do our problems seem to continually multiply and solutions elude us? How long have we been "fighting" poverty and homelessness? Is it any better for the trillions of dollars thrown at the "problem"? How about Social Security, which provides an unsustaining income for seniors and is going broke doing it? Pick your own program.
As flawed human beings, many of us find the idea of superiority over our fellow man appealing. We nurture our flagging egos by striving for a position where we can tell others what to do. Not everyone, of course, is thus motivated. There seem to be two distinct classes of people: those who gain self-satisfaction from controlling others and those who genuinely care for their fellows or are at least indifferent to the idea of being superior. The career politician, with pitifully few exceptions, tends to fit the former paradigm.
Neither liberals nor conservatives are immune to the Lorelei-song of elitism, which by definition is superiority. However, liberals typically espouse idealistic goals that create an aura of a higher calling. Sadly, liberal philosophy often tends to discount the "masses" as being unenlightened as to the desirability of its ideas. This concept of idealistic superiority leads in the political arena to a disconnect between the compassionate leftist fixes of perceived problems in society and the desires of the electorate. We are seeing this in garish Technicolor presently taking place in Washington.
High political idealism, something to which both sides of the aisle are prone, although more common among liberals than conservatives who are less inclined to favor radical change, requires the means to implement. In order to cram "fixes" down the throats of an often reluctant public complacent in their unsophisticated ignorance, near-absolute power is required. Liberal Democrats thought they had it, but they moved too fast creating the present backlash which they definitely did not expect. However, they will persist and will prevail whatever it takes, because the end justifies the means and the end is holy.
What we are seeing in government today, most flagrantly in Washington, is the unbridled quest for power. The overwhelming majority of government "fix-it" programs are spectacular failures. This is no accident. Even the blind man will hit the barn door occasionally, but these guys seem to miss every time.
The reason most government fixes don't work is that the purpose of these programs is not to fix the problem, but rather to gather power unto government, for only with absolute power can unpopular but deemed-necessary concepts be implemented. Unfortunately, as Lord Acton observed 170 years ago: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. High-level government today is largely morally and philosophically corrupt.
The present irrational suicidal headlong rush to pass publically unpopular health care reform legislation heedless of the consequences is an absolutely classic example of elitist arrogance. The reason for this politically suicidal quest for the Holy Grail of government-controlled health care is not a concern for 31 million uninsured--a ridiculously inflated number--but rather for the power it would accrue to the federal government. By the same token, Cap and Tax (nee Trade) is not to save the planet, but to acquire even more control. There are many more examples of government power grabs that are apparent if examined closely.
The allure of idealistic elitism is irresistable to the career politician, again with a few exceptions. The insular nature of that murky world beyond the Beltway provides temporal cover for this mad obsession with power. So, what's the solution? Frankly, I don't know. Perhaps the only thing we of the unwashed masses can do is vote the rascals out. Problem is they likely would be replaced with similar ilk.
What we are seeing today with the tortured and politically suicidal machinations to pass ObamaCare against all common sense--and it will pass as I predicted months ago because it must, lest liberal philosophy be discredited--is perfectly illustrated by the parable of the Scorpion and the Fox, which goes like this.
A fox is preparing to swim across a stream when a scorpion appears beside him. The scorpion says, "I need to get across the stream also, but I can't swim. May I ride across on your back?" The fox says, "No, you'll sting me and I'll drown."
The scorpion says, "I wouldn't do that. If I stung you, I'd drown too." The fox thought this over and decided it made sense, so he said, "O.K., hop on." The scorpion jumped on his back and the fox proceeded to swim across the stream.
Halfway across, the scorpion stung him. Drowning, the fox said, "Why did you do that? Now we'll both drown." The scorpion said, "I'm sorry, I couldn't help it. It's my nature."
Easter is a time when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event is more than a miracle, more than the bedrock of Christianity, it signifies the reconciliation of mankind with God. Jesus' life, crucifixion and resurrection reconciles sinful man with God. This is the real message of Easter.
Not only Christians, but Jews, Muslims, believers in other faiths and, yes, even atheists, can agree on the wonderful message of reconciliation that Easter represents. It is a message that is desperately needed in our society. There are greater animosity, anger, invective and even physical threats today than at any time in the modern history of our nation. There is even increasing talk of revolution, not at the polls but actual insurrection, because of the perceived arrogant actions of an activist government. There is equally disturbing counter-rhetoric on the other side. The result is we are a nation badly--violently--divided, which is a tragedy in the making.
We can point fingers and accuse, which will accomplish nothing constructive, or we can take a lesson from the Christian Easter message. We can heed the wonderful peace implied in the resurrection of God's son, or just color hard-boiled eggs and gift chocolate bunnies, or celebrate Spring two weeks late. We can resolve to tone down the rhetoric, stifle the threats of retribution and the self-serving petty partisan politics, or continue down the path to what I fear may be an eventual tragic conflagration.
Heed the Easter message of peace, love and reconciliation or munch that bunny. Ask yourself which is the true meaning of this grand experiment in freedom we call the United States of America. Note that the first word is "United". If there is anger, be patient and express it at the ballot box. That is the American--and the Christian--way. Resist the temptation to hurl vicious bricks at those with whom we may vehemently disagree, which will only inspire like return missiles and continued escalation.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, could come to realize that what really matters is the preservation of the Union and the perpetuation of the American Dream. If all we differ on is the means, isn't that something we can all work out in concert rather than confrontation?
God held out His hand in friendship and reconciliation nearly 2000 years ago. Can't we do the same?
This my final article on this general subject will concentrate on the world's most common element: carbon, more specifically, carbon dioxide (CO2), labeled the most dangerous of greenhouse gases responsible for potentially catastrophic global warming.
The Obama administration is embarking on its next holy crusade to save the planet from greenhouse gas, namely CO2 . The first target is the eeeevil automobile (unless it's electric). Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards will be raised from the present 28 mpg to 35 mpg by 2016 as the first major salvo against carbon emissions. Government spokespersons assure us that this will add "only" $960 to the average cost of a car. If you believe that, I'll back up the turnip truck so you can hop back on.
Cap and Tax (nee Trade) is now looming like a vulture ready to pounce on the carrion wreckage of our formerly free society. The fact that this CO2 "carbon footprint" business is a monumental scam is irrelevent in this quest for the Holy Grail of government control of our entire formerly free society. The fact is, this all has nothing to do with saving the planet. It has everything to do with power and control.
I will now begin huffing and puffing at the hurricane and address the fallacy of CO2 as the villain in this Hamletian saga. (Remember, everyone dies [well, almost everyone] at the end of Shakespeare's Hamlet.) It is not a simple subject and I have a penchant for excruciating detail, so be prepared for a long read. However, I have spent some time researching the science and am prepared to stand firmly behind all of it. "En garde, M'sieu Pussycat!"
The production of work-energy is generally understood to require heat. With the exception of nuclear energy, heat is produced by combustion--burning something. For example, your conventional automobile engine burns gasoline to create heat which expands gases to generate mechanical force to turn the wheels.
Electric automotive propulsion is not an exception. The electric motor is an energy conversion device, not a creator of energy. (Rigorously, energy cannot actually be created or destroyed, but that is a technical distinction irrelevent to this discussion.) It converts electrical energy, generated in power plants, into rotational kinetic energy. Wind, solar and hydroelectric are examples of non-combustive heat-energy creation mechanisms, but they are a relatively small part of the overall energy budget in developed countries and likely to remain so for the forseeable future.
Even the human body "burns" glucose (sugar) to produce energy to fuel muscles and other organs, including the brain, heating us up to 98.6 degrees in the process. Glucose contains carbon which is oxidized (combined with the oxygen we breathe) to produce heat-energy, the byproduct being carbon dioxide which we exhale. This process is essentially the same for all fauna.
With only a few exceptions, heat energy to do our work comes from combustion. Carbon is everywhere, the most common non-atmospheric element on earth. All combustion is oxidation--a chemical reaction of carbon combining with oxygen. The unavoidable byproduct of this process is carbon dioxide, CO2.
Oil and coal are vilified as prolific CO2 generators. But that is because they are prodigious sources of carbon and thus are efficient heat producers. This is the major reason why they are so popular as fuels. Their very efficiency has made them targets of environmentalists. This is scientifically fallacious. To compare based on weight or volume, ignoring efficiency is deliberately misleading. Let's take a look at the chemistry to try to inject some rationality into the discussion.
Gasoline is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons--chemical compounds consisting of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The main organic chemical in gasoline is Heptane, H3C(CH2)5CH3. The atoms in this molecule add up like this. Carbon: C+5C+C=7C; Hydrogen: 3H+10H+3H=16H. This format is often abbreviated to simply add up the carbon and hydrogen atoms, i.e. C7H16. From now on, I'll use this simpler notation. Gasoline also contains Iso-octane-C8H18, Cyclohexane-C6H12 and several arenes or aromatics like Benzene-C6H6 and Toluene-C7H8. I'm omitting the contaminants added in "reformulating" gas as they vary all over the map.
As you can see, there's a whole lot of carbon and hydrogen in there. When gasoline is oxidized, or burned, the major byproducts are CO2 (oxidized carbon) and water-H2O (oxidized hydrogen). Combustion in an internal combustion engine is incomplete due to the nature of the thermodynamic cycle, leaving some unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen (from the air)-based byproducts like NOx (nitrous oxides} and other air pollutants that are reduced by reformulation additives (except ethanol, to be addressed later). The unburned hydrocarbons are cleaned up by the catalytic convertor on all passenger vehicles which simply further oxidizes them. Interestingly, catalytic convertors actually increase CO2 exhaust emissions by oxidizing carbon monoxide-CO-to CO2, the evil carbon dioxide.
Well, how about ethanol? Isn't it supposed to be "cleaner burning?" By volume, that's essentially true, but the kicker is that ethanol provides less energy per unit volume than gasoline. Overall, it's pretty much a wash, except for the large amounts of energy it takes to make the stuff. (Ethanol is basically moonshine--"corn likker." Picture a still; picture the big, hot fire boiling the corn mash.) Ethanol is about 30% less efficient (i.e. poorer fuel mileage) than gasoline.
Remember the main ingredient of gasoline, Heptane, is C7H16--seven carbon atoms and 16 hydrogen atoms per molecule. Ethanol is C2H5OH, only 2 carbon atoms; less carbon = less heat = less efficiency. It does burn more completely because of the hydroxyl radical (OH) which supplies some built-in oxygen to aid in combustion. That's why the reduction in efficiency is "only" 30%. Since ethanol is about 70% as efficient an energy-producer as gas, you can expect a 25% reduction in fuel mileage with E85 fuel (85% ethanol) The current E10 blend reduces your mileage by about 3%.
Coal is a geologic mineral that does not lend itself to chemical formulae. However, soft (bituminous) coal contains about 80% carbon, 6% hydrogen, 10% oxygen and 4% trace elements. Hard (anthracite) coal contains about 90% carbon, 4% hydrogen and 3% oxygen. It is a popular fuel precisely because of its high carbon content and internal oxygen. (The percentages quoted are averages. The specific composition of coal varies widely with the region from which it is mined.
Heating Oil also evidences a wide range of formulations, but its chemical formulation typically ranges from C14H30 to C20H42. Also lots of carbon.
The point of all this is that it will be extremely difficult, costly and potentially disastrous to attempt to run a modern economy (sans horses and buggies) without hydrocarbon-based fuels. Hydrocarbons, particularly petroleum and coal, are extremely effective and efficient producers of work-energy. No other source, except perhaps for hydroelectric, is as efficient. Switching to "renewable" energy sources, while possible in the sense that given enough time and money anything is possible, would be very costly and inefficient. If we are determined to do it, we better be prepared to pay a steep price.
A final word about carbon dioxide as the greenhouse gas largely responsible for global warming/climate change. As I have mentioned often in previous articles in my Global Humbug series, it constitutes a miniscule part of our atmosphere, about 1/2500 (0.04%). While the actual percentage is never mentioned in the mainstream media, this minor atmospheric component is nevertheless portrayed as the major villain.
While CO2 concentrations have indeed increased since the Industrial Revolution and continue to do so (See chart), we are in the midst of an 11-year cool-down that global warming advocates concede is contrary to all their computer models and that they are unable to explain. What does track the temperature trend is solar activity, but that explanation is unacceptable because it would not justify government intervention and control, and global wealth redistribution. This is why the movement persists in the face of clear evidence of fraudulent science, something I can honestly say does not surprise me in the least.
The claimed major impact of such a minor greenhouse gas is explained by something called radiative forcing, whereby small changes in CO2 levels supposedly cause large changes in the effect of atmospheric water vapor which is a major greenhouse gas. There is an empirical formula which has been concocted for this effect ("empirical" means based on observations instead of scientific analysis). Here is the famous formula:
ΔF = 5.35 ln C/Co Wm-2
Where ΔF is the forcing factor, C = CO2 concentration, Co is the reference concentration and Wm is heat energy. The problem with this formula is that it has no scientific basis other than it is needed to explain the major warming effect of a minor atmospheric gas. To be fair, however, there is some observational support for a slight forcing effect on cloudy days.
It is scientifically unsupportable that CO2 is the 800-pound gorilla in the global warming room. While there has been some overall warming over the last several decades, despite the current 11-year cooling "anomaly", there is no way CO2 is responsible. Rather, solar activity, which shows a clear cyclic characteristic over eons, is a much more logical explanation.
Sorry, folks, but the science just ain't there . The "carbon footprint" is that of a gnat.
The current controversy over Arizona's new immigration enforcement legislation, supported by 70% of the population according to polls, has engendered a firestorm of protest by so-called "immigration supporters." The uproar is reported to be concentrated among Hispanics, although some photos of the demonstrations seem to show a number of Caucasian faces. If one is a cynic, one might think there may be a number of professional protesters and anarchists who seem to turn out regularly to march in any anti-authority cause. The abundance of professionally-printed signs is also a bit suspicious, suggesting professional involvement.
In addition, a veritable army of commentators have surfaced, meticulously picking apart Arizona's new law and assigning some pretty outlandish extrapolative interpretations to selected excerpts. Invariably, the conclusion is that Arizonans are anti-immigration racist bigots. Now I actually don't currently know anyone who lives in Arizona, but I find that hard to believe.
But the main problem I have with this whole brouhaha is the pervasive misleading semantics being practiced. Invariably, the poor mistreated folks who are the targets of the law are described as "immigrants" without the added adjective "illegal". The law is depicted as "anti-immigration," as are any who support it. (This is in addition to the "racist-bigot" label.) Without question, the Arizona law is not anti-immigration. It very specifically targets illegals who are technically not even immigrants in the accepted interpretation.
An immigrant is someone who has entered a new country via the existing legal framework. This country is largely populated by immigrants and their descendants. They entered the United States in accordance with the existing immigration policy and legal procedure. My parents were among them, entering through Ellis Island in the late 1920's. Most Hispanic residents went through the same process. My guess is many of them are not particularly fond of those who skirt the rules and sneak across the border, regardless of ethnicity. The fact is, these folks, regardless of the merit of their motivation, are simply intruders, not immigrants.
The mainstream media, if they were honest and courageous, would use accurate terminology when refering to these clandestine intruders. At least add the adjective "illegal" to the "immigrant" misnomer. Instead, we are subjected to what can only be described as deceptive reporting in an attempt to mislead the public.
Another fiction is the argument that "these folks only take the jobs American workers won't." In the present jobless environment that certainly is no longer true, if in fact it ever was. What the intruders seem to accomplish is to dry up the low-skilled entry-level jobs badly needed by chronically high-unemployment demographics. They are preferentially hired because they incur no benefit costs, being paid "off the books" in cash. Sheriff Joe Arpiao of Maricopa County, Arizona, claims to have caused the deportation of 35,000 illegals. He also claims--I have no way to verify this--that the vacated jobs were quickly filled by American workers.
True immigrants were and are our most valuable resource. They are what made this nation so wonderfully diverse and dynamic. Many European societies have stagnated under ethnic exclusivity. Not so the richly heritaged American social experiment. However, rampant, uncontrolled intrusion of "undocumented workers" (another PC appellation) only serves to create a huge social problem, contaminating this marvelous "melting pot.".
Arizona has the right idea regardless of the politically-motivated hyperbole. Hopefully, their courageous action will spur meaningful border control and enforcement action from Washington.
I'm not holding my breath.
In my first post on the state of America's military and the dependence on air power, I described the impressive capabilities of the F-22 Raptor and lamented the reduction in quantity purchased. I also asserted that air superiority is absolutely essential to the success of any military action today. Reliance on the troubled F-35 Lightning II "Freedom Fighter" as the sole replacement for rapidly aging legacy fighter aircraft, averaging in age about 25 years and deteriorating, is increasingly risky. Here is the latest update, along with a discussion of missile defense given the unabated thrust of the North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapon delivery systems. In my opinion, we are rapidly approaching an extremely dangerous state of diminished military capability and defense vulnerability.
F-22 Raptor: I previously stated that the Department of Defense (DOD) had reduced the Air Force request for 381 F-22 Raptor fighters to 187 (6 added by Congress). The Obama Administration has canceled the project outright, shutting down the production facilities thus making it impossible to build more without long delay and great expense. We're stuck at 187 for the duration. Meanwhile, the F-35 program is over 2 years behind schedule and so far over budget that the current unit cost--as much as $135 million--is nearly the same as the more capable F-22 at $140 million each. The program is in a Nunn-McCurdy breach due to cost overruns, which could require restructuring and endless investigations. The Air Force General in charge of the project has been fired ("re-assigned"). The program, originally scheduled to go operational in 2010, is now delayed at least until 2013. Meantime, our existing fighters continue to deteriorate due to overuse.
Now the Russians have announced their own stealth fifth-generation fighter, the PAK-FA (see photo) modelled, as is their practice, on our F-22. The all-important avionics package for this guy is unknown and probably inferior to ours, unless they steal that too. Make no mistake, the Russians build very good airplanes.
Russian PAK-FA Stealth Fighter
I suspect the Russians will not be playing partisan politics with their air-superiority stealth fighter, and will sell it to anyone with the bucks. There is reason to believe that it is a "work in progress," but it is very likely that it will eventually be more capable than the F-35, the only egg in our basket.
Airborne Laser: A little-known Air Force/DOD project over the last 10 years or so is the Airborne Laser (ABL). This is a high-powered laser crammed into a modified Boeing 747 and designed to destroy an ICBM during the boost phase. This is NOT the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) proposed by Reagan which gave the Soviets nightmares. SDI involved missile interceptors that would destroy an incoming ICBM during the re-entry phase. The problem with this is the remnants of the ICBM could fall on friendly territory, as demonstrated in Desert Storm when a SCUD missile was successfully intercepted by a Patriot missile and destroyed, but the warhead survived and crashed into an Army barracks killing 128 U.S. troops.
Destroying the ICBM during the boost phase, as is the intent of the ABL concept, will result in the debris likely falling on enemy territory, much more desirable. In addition, an airborne anti-missile system can go anywhere, not limited by its physical location. Following is a fairly technical description of this fascinating project, unfortunately also recently canceled by the Obama Administration immediately after its first successful airborne test. (See photos.)
ABL Aircraft YAL-1 (Note laser output mirror in nose pod. Laser beam projects sideways, right at you.)
ABL Successful Test
In this photo, the perspective is misleading. The YAL-1 aircraft (right) and target ICBM (left) were hundreds of kilometers apart.
Technical Description (If you're not interested, skip this section.)
Lasers: "Laser" is an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation." The physics are quite complex involving atomic energy and activity states. Essentially, a gas laser imparts energy to gas atoms, pumping them up to an unstable higher energy state which then decays, emitting energy in the form of light of a very specific frequency (color). The familiar neon sign, although not a laser, works this way by exciting neon gas with a high alternating voltage. Neon emits a characteristic red light. There is no amplification of light in a neon sign.
The most common gas laser is the helium-neon (HeNe) laser, where helium is mixed with neon to enhance the excitation. The HeNe laser emits the characteristic neon red light at a wavelength of 633 nanometers (NM), called coherent light because it is a pure color. (Other colors are possible via essentially harmonic selection, at a considerable reduction in power.) In this case, there is amplification which greatly intensifies the output light beam.
The amplification is accomplished by high voltage acting on the light reflecting back and forth in a straight glass tube with facing mirrors at the ends. The voltage "pumps" the helium atoms by raising their energy state. The helium atoms then excite the neon gas atoms by collision, which then emit the characteristic red light. The atomic excitation process, called "pumping", increases incrementally as the light reflect back and forth between the mirrors, providing the light amplification.
The mirror at the output end is only partially reflective, allowing a small portion of the light to escape. This is the laser output beam. The output power of the laser is determined in part by the length of the tube. The light bleed-off stabilizes the laser at its design output power, measured in milliwatts for HeNe lasers. Other gases produce different colors and can generate much higher output power levels. For example, the CO2 gas laser, commonly used in industry for metal cutting, produces very high powers and emits well into the invisible infrared region.
In a nutshell, a laser creates pure-color light by stimulating atoms, usually gas, to emit light and re-stimulating ("pumping") them repeatedly by reflecting the light between opposing mirrors, thus providing the "light amplification."
There are solid state lasers which operate on essentially the same principle but on a much smaller scale. There is considerable research into increasing their power output, but heat dissipation is a big problem. However, through semiconductor doping, many different colors can be generated. They're also relatively cheap and require much less electrical power. Those little laser pointers use solid state lasers. (No, they can't blind pilots. The output power is much too low and dissipates quickly with distance. The pilot-blinding was probably done with much more powerful light-show lasers.)
There are many types of gas lasers using different gases, but they all generally operate on the same principle as the HeNe. Some are tunable and can change color within a small range. Output light "colors" range from the deep ultraviolet to the far infrared.
COIL: In order to generate enough power to fry a distant missile, a very special laser system is necessary. The device built for the Airborne Laser (ABL) is a chemical oxygen-iodine laser (COIL). The iodine is stimulated to generate the light, which is in the near infrared--barely visible--at a wavelength of 1.315 micrometers. It operates by combining a nasty brew of chemicals which react to stimulate oxygen atoms which, instead of emitting light transfer their energy to the iodine which then emits the light. There are pumps and nozzles and all sorts of plumbing to make this thing work, but it is perhaps the only laser system capable of generating megawatts of continuous power.
Because of size and heat dissipation requirements, the airborne COIL consists of six identical serial-connected modules each weighing over three tons stuffed into the body of a Boeing 747. (See drawing)
YAL-1 Airborne Laser Aircraft Cutaway
Infrared sensors along the fuselage or satellites detect an ICBM launch. Low power illuminator lasers find the target and provide aiming data. The higher power CO2 ranging laser system pinpoints the target range and provides precise atmospheric distortion information. This data is used to control a set of deformable mirrors that focus the high-power COIL laser beam, compensating for atmospheric effects in the path to the target. The main laser is directed by a rapid-response telescopic mirror and fires sideways from the nose turret, striking the target missile and heating its skin to the point of structural failure. This all takes about ten seconds. The laser beam has sufficient power to destroy a target at a range of up to 600 kilometers.
To summarize, I personally think the ABL was an excellent program, proven to work and incorporating unique advantages. The ability to destroy an ICBM launched from anyplace in the world during the boost phase are advantages not possessed by any other anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. The YAL-1 Boeing 747 platform would be able to loiter at 40,000 feet for as long as 12 hours due to augmented fuel capacity. It could reach any hot spot in a few hours at a speed of 600 mph.
My personal suspicion concerning the cancellation of this program is that Vladimir calls Barack and says, "We Russians don't like this ABL because we don't have one." Barack replies, "We certainly don't want to offend our Russian friends, so I will cancel the program forthwith." O.K., that's fantasy, but I can't help suspecting it may possess a smidgeon of truth.
Conclusion: I will defer to the words of an expert. This is a quote from Thomas Donnelly, a defense and security analyst and Director of the Center for Defense Studies, excerpted from an article in the Weekly Standard.
"[The Air Force] has fallen on hard times. The 1990s, the time of Operation Desert Storm and the Kosovo war, look in retrospect like the golden age of airpower. The future looks like a nightmare. The Obama Administration's decision to terminate the F-22 Raptor program, combined with the technological and program-management problems with the F-35, raises previously unthinkable questions about the American ability to assert air superiority in a modern defense environment."
To which I would add, without air superiority and the means to defend against ICBM attacks, our conventional ground and naval forces are sitting ducks as are we civilians. If we lose that, the U.S. will no longer be a dominant military force and the survival of this nation as we know it will be in doubt. We will be at the mercy of any nuclear power with a large army, something the world is full of and growing. The world is not a friendly place. This wealthy nation of ours is a very ripe-looking plum to many in the world, to say nothing of being the "Great Satan" which must be destroyed.
Many of you reading this will scoff at my alarmism. To you, I will quote once again from historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote about the great ancient city-state of Athens: "In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all--security, comfort and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."
The Achilles heal of this great nation, and of many others in the past, is complacency. I assure you without any fear of error, that there are wolves at our door and we better have the means to defend ourselves.
National defense must not be subject to risk and pragmatism. Fearfully, that seems to be the course of our present government.
Much has been said and written about liberal/Democrat bias in the media. I contend that it exists but is often not deliberate, being essentially institutionalized. For various reasons, usually sociologically obscure, the majority of writers and reporters tend to be a bit left of center. While they may intend to be "fair and balanced" (I love that phrase), human nature intrudes, with unconscious bias as the result. (There are of course exceptions, like Paul Krugman of the increasingly moribund Gray Lady, but then he is a columnist and entitled to his very obvious bias.)
Today I had a rare period of relaxation, as a wonderful home care aide was caring for my wife, so I sat down and read our major newspaper throughout, at least the news sections. I was struck by a couple of examples of what I was discussing in the previous paragraph. So, in a fit of nitpicking, here they are.
There was a front page article, complete with candidates' photos, presenting a remarkably detailed analysis of campaign rhetoric from three Republican congressional candidates, two from Wisconsin, noting that position statements on their Web sites were remarkably similar in content and wording. The stated explanations by the two intrepid investigative reporters were that these were cases of plagiarism or copying from a common source. Horrors! As if Democrats never spouted the party line. Not much balance here.
An article on Page 2A , also complete with photos, described an allegation of "an inappropriate relationship" on the part of the female Republican candidate for governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, which she vehemently denies of course. The point here is the candidate was clearly identified in the first sentence as the "tea party favorite ... Republican candidate ... endors[ed] by Sarah Palin." Horrors again!
O.K., that in itself could be justified as factual reporting. However, in a sidebar next to the fold on Page 4A, sandwiched between four other briefs, was a short blurb about Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Attorney General running for the U.S. Senate, who had for years claimed Vietnam War service that he never performed. This is a major scandal there. Nowhere in the article is he identified as the Democratic senatorial candidate. An innocent omission? Perhaps.
Maybe I'm just a conspiracy nut, but truthfully, I wasn't looking for anything controversial, just reading the paper. These perhaps trivial little juxtapositions just struck me. Ah well, maybe I need to get a life.
With respect to the recent confrontation between a Turkish flotilla of six ships alleged to be carrying "humanitarian aid" to Gaza in violation of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza established to prevent importation of rockets and other armaments, Israel has neatly fallen into a superbly engineered trap.
The flotilla was organized by a Turkish organization called Insani Yadim Vakfi (IHH) that has two faces. One is as a legitimate humanitarian-aid NGO (non-governmental organization) and the other as a radical anti-Western Islamic organization supporting Hamas and other global jihad elements, with ties to al Qaeda, according to French Intelligence. The following link is to a report with more details on IHH.
The ship boarded by Israeli Navy commandos rappelling down from a helicopter was the Mavi Marmara, sailing under a Turkish flag. The first commandos to reach the deck were immediately surrounded and attacked by Turkish activists armed with iron bars and knives (The iron bars can be seen on video of the attack; the knives cannot.) The commandos were armed with non-lethal paintball rifles and were under orders to not use their sidearms. As a result, several were injured before permission was given to use sidearms to defend themselves. In the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, according to Israeli sources, at least ten and as many as 19 activists were killed and as many as 12 Israeli Navy commandos were injured, some seriously.
The ship was towed by the Israelis to an Israeli port, and unconfirmed reports say that there were no humanitarian supplies on board. The other five ships in the flotilla were peacefully redirected to the Israeli port of Ashdod 40 km north of Gaza, where whatever humanitarian supplies that were on board will be transported overland to Gaza via established channels.
Israel established the blockade when Hamas gained control in Gaza and proceeded to rain rockets, mostly shipped from Iran, into Israeli territory. The purpose was to block the shipment of arms and missile components into Gaza. Egypt cooperated by blocking overland--and under it via tunnels--routes into Gaza. The blockade has worked to a great extent. The established procedure for humanitarian aid was to divert to Ashdod where the shipments would be examined and legitimate humanitarian supplies transported overland into Gaza. No humanitarian supplies were prevented from reaching Gaza.
IHH organized this particular flotilla not to break the blockade but to induce Israel into exactly the type of confrontation that occurred. Israel was neatly boxed in by being confronted with the Hobson's Choice of either allowing the ships through, which would render the blockade meaningless and indicate weakness, or intercepting them chancing a bloody confrontation for which Israel would be vilified by the press and by nations not sympathetic to the Jews, which is most of them, as being brutal and unreasonable.
Israel chose to use force to maintain the blockade, creating a stage for the bloody confrontation with armed Turkish activists that ensued. Predictably, many nations, Arab and other, immediately jumped to condemn Israel literally before the smoke cleared, abetted by most of the mainstream media. Wisely, the Obama administration has adopted a more reasonable stance so far, counseling calm until the facts become clear. However, the IHH strategy was a resounding success as a public relations ploy. Whether they expected the loss of life is debatable, but given the jihadist martyr complex, it probably wasn't an issue for them.
An objective investigation would unmask this whole thing as a brilliant exercise in the manipulation of public opinion against Israel. Whether said investigation will actually take place, or be objectively reported, remains to be seen. Israel has vowed to continue to enforce the blockade regardless of consequences. I cannot fault them for this approach, as the jihadists only understand force. For Israel to display weakness would simply encourage more of the same.
The Obama administration desperately wants to achieve progress in resolving the Palestinian problem. I hope realistic pragmatism will result in a fair and honest reaction from Washington instead of the knee-jerk anti-Semitic response we have seen so far from other nations.
Faisel Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, on May 1 attempted to explode a very powerful bomb on 45th Street near Times Square. He was detained on May 3 attempting to board an Emirates Airlines flight to Dubai. The bomb failed to explode because of incompetent implementation of the detonation chain. This was extremely fortunate, because this bomb, installed in a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder small SUV, was powerful enough to cause massive casualties. Below is a diagram of the bomb installation, from the Department of Justice.
The primary explosive was 250 lb. of urea-based fertilizer. Urea-based fertilizer is usually mixed with nitric acid, creating the very powerful explosive urea nitrate. This much urea nitrate would cause serious damage and loss of life. The Nissan was parked on 45th Street near the always busy Times Square.
The bomb also included two 5-gallon cans of gasoline, which would have done little to enhance the damage if the bomb had exploded. Commercial M-88 firecrackers were placed hear the gasoline cans, presumably to trigger detonation. They did explode, creating only a carpet fire and smoke which alerted a street vendor. The firecrackers were inadequate to initiate the full explosion sequence, including detonation of the urea nitrate.
There were also three 20-gallon pressurized propane tanks with the valves closed. This was apparently intended to increase the explosive power, which they would have done had the thing gone off. If the valves had been opened, the firecrackers would have successfully initiated detonation of the urea nitrate. Propane tanks are common IED components.
The bomb failed due to incompetence and/or inexperience on the part of Shahzad. Had he been a bit more knowledgeable, this would have been a major terrorist incident with many casualties. We were lucky.
Shahzad was apparently trained during a five-month trip to Pakistan, but was inexperienced in bomb-making. He was apprehended so quickly because apparently he was under surveillance because of the Pakistan trip and also probably due in part to intercepted cell phone calls authorized under the much-maligned USA Patriot Act and still quietly being employed.
What is disturbing is that, despite the surveillance, Shahzad was able to purchase and assemble the bomb under our noses. He typifies the new nature of the al Qaeda threat. Its infrastructure decimated, the current terrorism paradigm is the solitary bomber or small cell. Shahzad was probably recruited because of his ability as a U.S. citizen to freely travel overseas. Be assured he is not alone.
The most disturbing feature of this bungled attack was how nearly it succeeded and the ease with which Shahzad assembled the bomb-making materials ostensibly while under surveillance. If he could do it, so can others with disastrous consequences.
While the powers that be in this country apparently realize the severity of the threat by continuing many of the clandestine surveillance activities initiated under the Bush administration, the hard truth is, it is practically impossible to stop them all. Shahzad failed due to the fact he was a novice bomb-maker and screwed up.
If we continue to allow unknown intruders--"non-Mexicans"--across our border, many reportedly resembling Mid-Easterners (Ooo--profiling!) and perhaps with more experience than the hapless Shahzad, a major terrorist attack, likely utilizing the very effective car bomb, becomes a very immediate threat. Even without the "NM" border-crossers, sooner or later someone is going to succeed. If we don't get really serious about surveillance and all other tools, including profiling and border enforcement, the possibility of multiple successful major terrorist incidents causing great loss of life here at home becomes more of a certainty than a possibility.
This post may upset some of my conservative friends, and I have delayed writing it because of some self-agonizing as well as personal issues of time availability. We have to recognize that as tempting as it is to characterize our opponents as idiots or evil conspirators, this is rarely if ever true. More than that, it is a mistake that often leads to underestimating them. Many of us intensely dislike the Obama administration, often for good reason, but they are not fools nor evil.
What happened was that due to an unwise overreaction to perceived missteps by the Bush administration, all Republicans were tarred with a broad brush and the Democrats ended up not only with the presidency but also with Congressional supermajorities. This latter is the real problem. A key element of governmental checks and balances was lost and, as Lord Acton wisely observed, "absolute power corrupts absolutely." The corruption I'm talking about is ideological and legislative corruption, not personal.
With this power comes arrogance and complacency. The former engendered the Tea Party movement as an instinctive attempt to re-establish some check and balance, as well as a degree of voter disenchantment. The latter is a major factor in the Deep Water Horizon tragedy of errors playing out in the Gulf of Mexico. Make no mistake, this is an environmental catastrophe that will eventually eclipse everything in the last 100 years. There are credible predictions that this thing will not be contained until the end of the year.The oil will pollute major parts of the Gulf from Louisiana through Florida and most likely the Atlantic seaboard up the Carolina coast before it's done.
Oil in sea water forms a heavier-than-water tar that sinks to the bottom, destroying or blocking necessary nutrients and devastating coral reefs. The beaches are the least of the problems as they can be cleaned. The sea bottom in the Gulf will suffer damage that could take decades to recover. The loss of some oil-soaked Brown Pelicans, while tragic and visually heart-rending, is another relatively minor issue. The good news is that Nature will eventually clean it all up or work around it. Prince William Sound has been virtually wiped clean by the action of the sea, and wildlife is pretty much back to normal. The same will happen in the Gulf, but it will probably take even longer because of the massive size of this thing, despite our President's assurances.
O.K., whose fault is it? Obviously, British Petroleum--BP, a London-based corporate monster--bears the brunt of the blame. An incompent and corrupted (there's that word again!) federal Materials Management Service (MMS) bureaucracy also bears major responsibility for being in the pockets of major oil companies and not providing competent oversight. The Obama administration, who woefully underestimated the magnitude and potential impact of this accident, delayed significant reaction and even today is doing little more than jawboning and promising. (They're very good at promises.)
I do not see a conspiracy here to make the situation worse in order to push through environmental legislation like a carbon tax, although there may be some opportunism at play. I think this was simply a very large error in judgement by the Obama administration to rely solely on their (former) friends at BP to solve the problem. BP obviously has no clue how to stop the oil flow at that depth and pressure--over 2,200 pounds per square inch--and is playing this solely by ear. The government is now well behind and in an impossible position to catch up.
Congress of course let it all happen and also went along with BP and the Obama administration in downplaying and ludicrously underestimating the magnitude of this disaster. Now of course there is a frantic scramble to hold hearings and beat up on oil companies in general. That'll fix it!
Perhaps there was some consideration of BP's generous political contributions leading to an over-reliance on BP to "fix the problem." That's really irrelevent at this point. There was an obvious policy of "hands off and let BP fix it" until recently, when it is really too late to do much of anything to contain this thing.
Even today, there is significant help available, and has been since the first week after the explosion, via foreign expertise from Norway, the Dutch and Belgians, and probably others. They were and are being prevented from supplying real expertise, ships and equipment because of an antiquated union-pandering law, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the Jones Act, which forbids any foreign ships or crew in U.S. waters or ports.
For example, three days after the explosion the Dutch government offered to assist the U.S. with ships equipped with oil-skimming booms and expertise in building sand barriers to protect the Gulf coast. The Obama administration official response was, "Thanks, but no, thanks." Seven weeks later, we accepted the booms but not the ships. The administration also finally accepted advisors to help with sand barriers, but again no ships allowed. There are also reports of domestically-available skimmer boats (foreign-owned) and other oil-barriers available but all turned down, apparently in deference to BP.
Lurking in the background of all this is the question: why are we drilling oil wells 5000 feet under water? This has to be terrifically expensive for the oil companies, besides being very dangerous and an incredibly difficult environment in which to work in the event of a problem. I don't pretend to know all the reasons and regulations behind this, but I don't think it was BP's or anyone else's choice. Drilling on land, say in Alaska, is much cheaper, safer and more easily controlled in the event of an accident. Even drilling in shallow water on the Continental Shelf would entail less risk and expense. I detect an environmentalist influence here, but really don't know all the specifics. I suspect no-one does.
The thrust of much of the rhetoric is to "wean us from our obsession with fossil fuels." (I even read a suggestion to "nationalize BP," ignoring the fact that it is British.) O.K., what do we use instead? Wind and solar, despite all the subsidies and incentives, account for less than 1% of our energy needs and display an inconvenient unreliability. (The sun goes down and the wind doesn't always blow.) Ethanol is a joke and an environmental disaster in its own right. Electric propulsion requires power generating capacity which means....power plants and fossil fuels. Oh, shucks! Or we could import more ... . Ditto.
The only solution in the near term--I know, it's not all that near--is domestic oil obtained in the safest and most economical way possible, drilling on land. We should have been doing this all along instead of fooling around far out to sea. The Deepwater Horizon deep-sea drilling platform and its like are certainly not the answer.
As regular readers know, I have long claimed that most of the mainstream media is biased left, which is reflected in their news coverage. President Bush was heavily criticized for a 72-hour delay in responding to the Katrina disaster, even though most of that delay was due to reluctance on the part of Lousiana governor Kathleen Blanco to relinquish control to the military as required by law for military intervention in state affairs. This latter fact went virtually unreported in the Bush feeding frenzy.
Now we have President Obama delaying nearly two months before taking an active role--if you can call jawboning "active"--in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, potentially the worst environmental disaster in recent times. Press mention, to say nothing of criticism--of this delay is almost impossible to find.
Now we have British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward's excursion on a racing yacht. The press has gone ape in labeling this likely long-term commitment, probably from well before the Gulf disaster, as "insensitive", "dereliction", "outrageous" and whatever other lurid insults they can come up with. Administration spokespersons like Rahm Emanuel spout similar critical remarks in the media.
President Obama has gone on seven golf outings, according to Internet reports, since this crisis began. He apparently is scheduled for another one this coming weekend. These are probably not long-time commitments. This "business as usual" has, so far as I know, received insignificant press coverage.
Of course, it could be argued that President Obama really can't do anything about the situation anyway, so why begrudge him some well-needed recreation? O.K., I'll buy that. My problem is poor Tony Hayward goes on one yacht ride and is crucified in the press, and he really can't do anything either. Meanwhile, our "laser beam" president recreates as usual without a discouraging word from our "unbiased" media.
Of course, he did pick up some tar balls from a beach.
Communist writers Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin wrote that the West, specifically the United States, would be brought down from within through a process called dialectical materialism, which postulated that material and economic forces would inexorably advance to replace capitalism with a classless communist society. It didn't work out that way as we know, but there are today other forces at work to bring down the classic American capitalist system and society.
I will no doubt be labeled a conspiracy nut by some of my faithful readers, but frankly I don't care. I have been through many administrations and many crises, including the "Great War" which we won at frightful cost and two more that we did not. The one we lost outright, Vietnam, was lost not due to superior military might but rather to political mismanagement by "smart" people in Washington who knew nothing about fighting a war. The same is true of the one--Korea--that non-ended in a murky stalemate.
The great one that we won, World War II, was won solely by the military. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt--FDR--wisely kept total hands-off the military in the conduct of the war, instead doing what politicians do best, making speeches and shmoozing allies. The greatest military operation in history, the D-Day invasion, was planned solely by the military under General Dwight Eisenhower, who made all the major decisions unencumbered by political considerations and interference. I know, I was here and remember. (I also remember the Holocaust, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad you idiot. The horrendous news photos of the piled bodies and skeletons, and the walking survivor-skeletons are forever burned into my memory.)
The sacking of General Stanley McChrystal, former military commander in Afghanistan, is widely reported as a colossal goof by the General and his staff in shooting off their mouths to Rolling Stone magazine, scathingly criticizing the Obama administration for interfering in the conduct of the war. Folks, this was no goof. These are experienced senior military officers, not turnip-truck dolts. This was planned and orchestrated by military men, specifically Gen. McChrystal, who could no longer stomach the micro-management and interference of know-nothing political hacks in the conduct of the war. The so-called rules of engagement I believe were the catalyst. The "shoot last and only if you see the whites of their eyes" policies effectively put our soldiers in unnecessary harm's way. The establishment of the "Courageous Restraint" medal by the Obama administration, called by some "the Obama Coward Award," rewarding soldiers for not shooting the enemy (or letting them shoot first), may have been the last straw. Expect lots of posthumous awards.
I think McChrystal sacrificed his career for his men, a truly courageous act. He felt he had to speak out in a public forum, since his criticisms certainly wouldn't see the light of day through official channels. Sadly, the compliant media have effectively downplayed his criticisms, obsessed with lauding his successor, General Petraeus ("Betray-us"--remember?), a consummate military politician who would certainly never criticize that military genius in the White House who was never even a Boy Scout.
I have reluctantly come to believe that this administration is actively working to accomplish what dialectical materialism failed to do. The disingeneous "concentration" on the war in Afghanistan while undercutting the military and setting a withdrawal deadline, regardless of caveats, thus painting a huge target for the Taliban to focus on, is setting us up for another humiliating defeat. Remember, the Taliban are indigenous Afghanis, one of several factions in that fractured, government-less country. The recent media label shift to "insurgent" for the Taliban fighters is disingenuous in the extreme. We are fighting Afghanis on their own land, perhaps the most rugged on earth. They will never be defeated, especially with that big, red "2011" goal post in view.
What will finally bring this country down is the breaking of the American spirit. Another major military debacle, coupled with the wholesale taking over of private institutions like the auto industry (yes, I know; we the public own it) and the controlling of entire industries like finance and health care, will create an abject dependency on government and a loss of self-reliance, an integral element of our spirit.
Economy in shambles, industry crippled by ridiculous carbon controls, taxes and regulation, dependent on government, military capability diminished, jobless, investments decimated by the second recessionary dip that is certainly coming, saddled with unmanageable debt and deficits; our spirit broken, we will be ready to relinquish our sovereignty to wiser world leadership. Thus, the obstacle of a single world superpower is eliminated. Liberal Utopia ascendant.
Oversimplification? Yes. Conspiracy nut theory? Sure sounds like it. I hope the inevitable critics of this piece are right and I have fallen out of my tree. All I ask is that you step back ten paces and take the wide-angle view. If you don't see it, or at least some of it, fine. Maybe I need new glasses. I certainly hope so. Nevertheless, I had to write this.
The tea-party folks, overwhelmingly ordinary citizens, I think are motivated by a visceral fear for their beloved country. They may not be able to articulate the specifics, but they just know that something very bad is happening. I feel the same way. This feeling has been growing in spite of my innate sane and rational skepticism for some time now. The voices of doubt have grown more faint with each succeeding government disaster.
Seventy years of experience and living shout to me that this great nation is in dire danger from within, more so than at any time in our history.
Karl Marx would be pleased.
One of the mixed blessings of seniority is memory, especially if it's a good one. I clearly remember the debate that led to the $3.2 billion deep tunnel project (budgeted at less than half that). Illinois (or was it Chicago) sued Milwaukee for dumping sewage into its pristine lake, smug in the knowledge of spewing all its sewage into an artificial canal reverse-flowing into the Mississippi and Gulf. Federal court, in an orgasm of environmental consciousness, found for the plaintiff and ordered Milwaukee to "fix it." I'm not sure of the time frame, but I believe it was somewhat vague.
Anyway, Milwaukee essentially had two options. Its sewage-dumping problem essentially derived from a network of combined storm-sanitary sewers on the North Side and Shorewood. Of course, every time it rains a lot, the sewers get overloaded with storm runoff and bury sewage treatment facilities, forcing dumping. So, the problem is directly the result of the combined sewers because folks don't flush toilets any more often in rainstorms.
In the early '90s, the city hired a consultant, Ch2MHill, to evaluate the feasibility of digging a hole under the ground--a "deep tunnel"--versus separating the combined sewers. The conclusion (by CH2MHill) was that a deep tunnel was feasible in that the ground under Milwaukee was largely rock and very stable, so they'd just have to dig the hole. Separating the sewers would be very messy and anyway would not provide CH2MHill with their kind of project. Yes, that's right, folks, if it were a tunnel, they would build it. If it were sewer replacement, they wouldn't.
Let's see. We'll hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study between two options, both very expensive, one of which the consultant would be the general contractor and the other he would not. Guess what the conclusion would be.
RIGHT! Dig the hole!
So we did, at a much higher cost than estimated because, lo and behold, the subsoil under Milwaukee is shifting sand in significant areas, not "rocky and stable." It took a tragic collapse with significant loss of life--I believe 12 workers--to demonstrate this minor oversight on the part of consultants CH2MHill. This required lining parts of the tunnel with cement, substantially increasing the cost.
The tunnel system was designed and advertised to have sufficient capacity to "handle a 100-year rain." I clearly remember this claim by MMSD officials and others, repeated in several Milwaukee Journal articles on the subject. Seems we've had quite a few 100-year rains since the tunnel went on line in 1994, about 50.
So, now the City of Milwaukee has a tunnel, 19.2 miles long, leading nowhere and definitely without a light at the end. Despite numerous assertions to the contrary, this tunnel is a failure. Its purpose was to reduce sewer overflows to practically none. The figure presently quoted as the original goal is "one or two per year." I'm not going to get into a numbers game of overflows before and after, blendings versus sanitary overflows, basement backups and manholes blowing into the air. Suffice it to say we've had a whole bunch of "100-year rains" in the 16-year life of this monument to municipal incompetence.
If your problem is a broken arm, you don't amputate a leg. If your problem is combined sewers, you don't dig a hole to hold water, a hole that can't be filled to design capacity because it will settle excessively in the sand causing the lining to crack, which it has already done. The city pays a pile of money annually to downtown business to compensate them for damages caused by settling induced by the tunnel built underneath them.
When the tunnel interceptor gates are closed and bypass gates opened because the tunnel is filling, this appears to cause a disruption in the flow of sewage, creating a reflected pressure wave which blows manhole covers five feet in the air and rapidly floods roads and fills basements. ( This is my analysis; no one at MMSD will admit to anything like this.) This has nothing to do with "leaky private laterals," which is MMSD's latest excuse.
The tunnel system will never fulfill its original intent. This last storm with its 8-inches of rainfall, a lot but certainly not a monsoon, dumped more water on Milwaukee and suburbs than 10 deep tunnels could hold and created massive tragic consequences to homeowners. (Anyone notice the speed with which FEMA has responded?)
The argument that this was a "500-year rain"--based on rate of accumulation--is irrelevent. Any time we exceed 2 inches, MMSD dumps. Build another tunnel and it will take a 4-inch rainfall. The only solution was and is to separate the sewers in that limited area of Milwaukee. Oh, but then a big Illinios contractror wouldn't get a huge contract and "reward" local politicians accordingly, a sad commentary on the state of government these days.
Shame on you, Al, that's cynical.
There has been intense media focus on the controversial Arizona illegal immigrant law, much of which conveniently omits the adjective "illegal". The strategy of the protestors is obviously to lump Arizona's attempt to deal with its illegal immigrant problems with generic (legal) immigration. I am not going to discuss the Arizona situation any further except to observe that there does not seem to be any intent other than to deal with a very difficult, dangerous and costly problem with illegal immigrants entering Arizona from Mexico.
Lost in the sturm und drang is the wider issue of very real danger from a ridiculously leaky border with Mexico. The very violent drug war under way in Mexico has already cost the lives of Americans in border cities like Laredo (Nuevo Laredo), El Paso (Juarez) and Nogales (Nogales). The problem is that the Mexican government, while ostensibly fighting the drug cartels, is in fact simply supporting one cartel against another.
There is a major drug war under way between the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels. The Mexican government is alledgedly militarily supporting the Sinaloa cartel and its leader Joaquin Guzman Loera ("El Chapo") against the Juarez folks. Most of the fighting is focused on the Juarez organization which is becoming desperate because they are losing. In fact, the lucrative drug flow through our porous border from Juarez into Texas/New Mexico is now largely controlled by the Sinaloa cartel.
O.K., you say, at least the Mexican government is reducing the influence of a major drug cartel. Problem is there is really big money at stake and the Juarez folks aren't going down quietly. Since they can't beat the Sinaloa-government alliance, in desperation they are trying to draw the U.S. into the conflict through intimidation. In March of this year, three U.S. Consulate employees (two American) in Juarez were murdered. A member of the Los Aztecas street gang--a Juarez ally--has been arrested.
The well-fortified U.S. Consulate in Juarez was closed for a few days at the end of July in response to a threat from an enforcement arm of the Juarez cartel to blow it up with a VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) unless the U.S. forced out the head of a Mexican government intelligence agency they said was working with Sinaloa. The enforcement arm--La Linea--successfully killed two Mexican federal police in July with a small IED, demonstrating the ability to carry out their threat. Obviously, the U.S. considered the threat credible, although it was not carried out.
In case you think this is just a Mexican problem, recall that Juarez is 7 miles from central El Paso, TX. Also, Los Aztecas has a U.S. branch, Barrio Azteca. Grenade and IED attacks have been made against U.S. Consulates in Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo. The Juarez cartel is desperate and, with the huge amount of money at stake, could do something very drastic and foolish to attempt to get the U.S. involved, which to date it has refused to do.
The virtually unfettered drug traffic and the easy transit from Mexico into the U.S. pose a major threat to not only border cities but major drug distribution points withing the continental U.S. The complicity of the corrupt Mexican government in facilitating a major drug war is a continuing danger. The longer we close our eyes to this threat, the greater the possibility of it spilling into our backyard.
Sadly, the once great nation of Mexico is today a drug-infested corrupt battleground of powerful criminal organizations that dwarf the Mafia at its peak, fighting over billions in drug traffic to the U.S. through a joke of a border. The Mexican government is inept and riddled with corruption purchased with cartel money, with its military co-opted by drug money. Its economy is in shambles, dependent for survival on wages sent home by illegal aliens working illegally in the U.S.
This is the national boundary the present and previous administrations refuse to enforce for self-serving political reasons, creating an increasingly dangerous situation for border states that threatens to spread like a cancer throughout our nation. We have our own little war on terror here at home, the very existence of which which our esteemed leaders consciously refuse to acknowledge. Instead, our government goes after a hapless border state for taking matters into its own hands out of desperation and frustration.
Extinction, thy name is complacency.
(NOTE: This post incorporates information from a STRATFOR (stratfor.com) newsletter.)
The following is a column written many years ago (the reference to Tip O'Neill and Reagan) by Charlie Reese, a former reporter, editor and columnist with the Orlando Sentinel, now retired. I don't usually reproduce others' work, but this was so to the point today that I couldn't resist. I agree wholeheartedly with everything he says, so you can fling your brickbats at me.
Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.
Have you ever wondered why, if both the Democrats and Republicans are against deficits, we have deficits? Have you ever wondered why if all politicians are against inflation and high taxes, we have inflation and high taxes?
You and I don't propose a federal budget. The president does. You and I don't have Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does. You and I don't write the tax code. Congress does. You and I don't set fiscal policy. Congress does. You and I don't control monetary policy. The Federal Reserve Bank does.
One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president and nine Supreme Court justices — 545 human beings out of 235 million — are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.
I excused the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered by private central bank.
I exclude all of the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman or a president to do one cotton-picking thing. I don't care if they offer a politician $1 million in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it.
No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislators' responsibility to determine how he votes.
Don't you see the con game that is played on the people by the politicians? Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.
What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of Tip O'Neill, who stood up and criticized Ronald Reagan for creating deficits.
The president can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it. The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating appropriations and taxes.
Those 545 people and they alone are responsible. They and they alone should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses — provided they have the gumption to manage their own employees.
Recent reports from the Coast Guard and others marvel at the fact that apparently the oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion-induced blowout has all but disappeared. They're running all over the place looking for it, mostly in vain. A miracle? Nope. Just Nature taking care of things.
The Gulf of Mexico sits atop a pile of oil. For eons, oil has leaked through fissures and vents into the waters above. The reason the Gulf is not an oil-polluted mess is a tiny organism called alcanivorax borkumensis and a few of his brothers and sisters, the popularly-named oil-eating bacteria. The Gulf is teeming with them due to the abundance of his favorite food, oil, or more accurately, alkanes. Alkanes are the family of complex hydrocarbons that make up petroleum.
Alcanivorax borkumensis is a rod-shaped bacteria that consumes oil to provide it with energy. It is quickly attracted to areas polluted by an oil spill, rapidly increasing in number to dominate. It can be found in varying numbers throughout the world's oceans. The bacteria work together as a team. Some digest the big hydrocarbon molecules of oil, generating much shorter HC chains. Others then consume these shorter chains. At the end of this collaboration, the oil has completely disappeared. Only byproduct residues of water and carbon dioxide are left.
Simply, alcanivorax, let's call him "Al" for short, consumes petroleum for energy and reproduction, leaving only CO2 and H2O, and baby bacteria, as residue.
So, that's what happened to the BP oil. As is the case throughout our Creation, or Mother Nature if you prefer, there are built-in repair and balancing mechanisms to correct dangerous disturbances of the equilibrium. Left alone, the ecosystem will repair itself, within reason. All things considered and contrary to my previous dire predictions, the BP oil spill has turned out to be little more than a boon for boom and suction equipment suppliers, but basically only a blip on the Gulf ecosystem except for the oil that washed ashore.
Just a word about certain "scientist" naysayers. A couple of university types have disagreed with the alleged disappearance of the oil, claiming it's all just hiding under the surface. I'm afraid this may be an example of what's wrong with science these days. Their statements ignore the presence and efficacy of "Al" in cleaning up the mess. I'm sure they are well familiar with the little critters, so why neglect to mention their effect in the press releases? Cynic that I am, I suspect some grant-fishing going on, perhaps hoping the government will shovel a few million bucks their way to "research the problem." *Sigh*.
So, be at peace folks. God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world, at least the Gulf of Mexico part.
There is a huge controversy over the planned construction of a major Mosque and Islamic Center near the "Ground Zero" site where the Twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York were destroyed by Islamic extremists who hijacked four airliners and flew two of them into the towers, causing their collapse. An estimated total of 6000 people lost their lives, including those in the Towers, first responders, people in the vicinity and airline passengers.
Understandably, many people are outraged at the building of a large Islamic Center and Mosque on what is considered by many to be hallowed ground, and strongly feel it should be stopped or at least relocated. I am not one of them. My opinion is to let them build it right there. If to some it's a symbol of triumph, so be it.
Make no mistake, the argument that only the 19 hijackers and a few al Qaeda were responsible and the overwhelming majority of Muslims were as appalled and outraged as we were is false. According to news reports at the time, Muslims all over the world rejoiced when the Towers came down. Certainly not all, but equally certainly many more than the few direct participants, were not at all unhappy at this outrage. Unfortunately, this is a stain on all of Islam, as very few Islamic leaders world-wide publically and forcefully condemn the attack, either then or even now. Shamefully, some continue to celebrate it.
My suggestion is to put up a large, permanent and highly visible memorial display in full view of the new Islamic Center and Mosque. I leave the design to experts, but it should clearly assign the responsibility for this outrage where it belongs. Let all who patronize this place see the memorial each time they come. To illustrate what I have in mind, I have created a mockup of what I feel would be appropriate.
As many of you know, some much to their disgust, I happen to believe in Creation, or "intelligent design" if you prefer. I have written extensively about this in a prior post ("In the Beginning ...") and so will not revisit that argument. But it has struck me for some time that our world is filled with beauty, mainly in the form of color. Grass and foliage are luscious green, flowers are every color and shape under the rainbow and then, of course, there is the rainbow. Birds vary in plumage from relatively dull to the brilliant hues of Cardinals, Goldfinches and Bluebirds. Goldfinches even change from a boring dull green in winter to their brilliant black and gold heraldry of spring.
The riot of color bestowed on us by flowers defies description. Literally every color under the sun (except maybe black which technically is no color at all) is represented, from majestic roses to the lowly dandelion. Many birds sport plumage of brilliant color. Even the lowliest of creatures often are beautiful in their own way.
Have you ever thought what a dull, drab world it would be without the gift of color? Even the sky is blue, a miraculous gift covering the blackness of space. Also, have you wondered why? After all, beauty really serves no practical purpose. Plumage is often explained as serving to attract the opposite gender, but then how about the rather mundane such as the starling, brown sparrow or even the little gray mouse? Are they doomed to frustration and extinction? No, that can't be the whole story. Flowers are virtually a limitless panoply of brilliant hues and shapes. It can't all be just to attract bees. In fact, most animals are color blind and see only in black and white. So how does this all come to be and why? Aye, there is the miracle.
Take the sky, a brilliant blue when weather permits. Some of you may have been taught that it has to do with dust particles in the air filtering the light. Sorry, science teacher, that's wrong. In fact it's implausible because dust particles vary in size and so would not result in a consistent blue. Actually, molecules of nitrogen, a fortuitously major component (81%) of the atmosphere, form the filter.
Nitrogen and oxygen molecules, which make up 98% of our atmosphere, are of a diameter that is less than the wavelengths of visible light colors. These molecules are much smaller in diameter--less than 1/1000th--than the wavelength of blue light, so they scatter that wavelength via a mechanism called Rayleigh scattering. The scattering effectiveness varies with the fourth power of the wavelength, so blue light is scattered 10 times more effectively than red. This scattering effect renders the sky blue to our eyes while still letting all the color wavelengths*, including blue, through. (Actually, violet is scattered even more effectively, but our eyes are much less sensitive to violet so we just see the blue.)
*NOTE: Light is technically not a wave phenomenon, but rather a quantum radiation involving energy packets. That's so mathematically complex that scientists still use the wavelength concept for light because it works in most cases and is much easier to employ. We'll stick to wavelengths.
Sunsets are often red because the longer and lower light path from the sun near the horizon increases the effect of dust particles and water droplets, which are larger and scatter more red light.
The net result of all this scientific stuff is a beautiful blue (or red or orange) sky instead of the depressing blackness of space. What a lucky happenstance--or not.
Bird and flower colors are created differently. The pigments that create their colors contain tiny particles that selectively reflect and absorb certain colors. What we see are the reflected color wavelengths. (This same process is used in print and paint pigments.)
Even the night sky is decorated with stars and the brilliant shape-changing moon. The net result is an interesting and beautiful night sky decorated with countless tiny sharp lights and one large one rather than just featureless blackness. Occasionally we even get meteor showers and the northern lights added in to further delight us.
The bottom line is we are surrounded by beauty, little of which has a practical purpose except to entertain and delight us poor humans. We virtually alone (maybe alone--I haven't researched this) have eyes with the retinal detection range to see it all. If only we take some time and open those wonderful eyes to the gift of nature's palette all around us. Please do, and enjoy a truly beautiful world.
God's a pretty nice guy after all, isn't he?
There is much to be said about the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, most of which has already been said and repeated. The events leading up to that outrage and subsequent events are widely misunderstood, in my opinion. I intend to deal with that issue in a future post. For now, I wish to address the blizzard of Muslim apologetics from President Obama and virtually all the media.
It is asserted over and over that it's not the religion of Islam that's responsible for terrorist acts but rather a small fringe group of misguided fanatics. The Fort Hood assassin was "a self-radicalized, home-grown terrorist;" the Times Square bomber was a demented extremist and, most of all, the 19 hijackers that flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon were wild-eyed suicidal al Qaeda dupes. I wish that all were true, but it's not.
The motivation behind Islamic terrorism is in fact Islam. The Fort Hood assassin, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was a trained psychiatrist, certainly not an ignorant fool. The 19 hijackers included several educated professional men. The Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was an account analyst although he does seem a bit unbalanced.
It is a mistake to assume that those who commit violent acts in the name of Islam and their supporters are all fringe Muslims following erroneous Islamic teachings. Islam, as widely preached and practiced today, is not a "religion of peace." Alone of all the major religions, it advocates aggressive and, "if necessary," violent worldwide expansion. Historically, there have been two major violent jihads. The first began shortly after Mohammad's death in 632 AD and reached into France before being stopped, and the second, promulgated by the Turks, also reached Europe before suffering a series of defeats by the Crusaders and others. This one led to what was called the Ottoman Empire.
Islam divides the world into two zones: Dar al-Islam (zone of submission) and Dar al-Harb (zone of war). All of the world is covered by one or the other of these two zones. We are located in Dar al-Harb. The United States, in fact, is the center of Dar al-Harb. We are the "Great Satan;" Israel is relegated to "Little Satan" status because it is not a significant obstacle to the expansion of Islam.
Most major religions encourage expansion--Judaism alone seems content to practice their faith in peaceful contentment. Christians call this evangelism. It is practiced by persuasion, ancient history notwithstanding. Islam also encourages conversion by persuasion, and in fact the Quran states that those who chose not to convert should be left alone in peace. However, if unbelief constitutes an obstacle to Islamic expansion, violence and death are justified. Guess who is the major obstacle to Islamic expansion in the world today?
The U.S. is an "infidel" economic and military superpower with major worldwide influence. We are the most significant anti-Islamic influence in the world today. We are morally corrupt, irreverent and arrogant. We treat women as equals. We will not tolerate Shari'a law or theocracy in any form. Islam alone among religions requires government inclusion--a theocracy. It's not just a religion, it's a form of government. Thus, we are the "Great Satan," the prime enemy of Islam and its primary target for destruction.
Certainly not all Muslims subscribe to this madness. In fact many are peaceful, mind-your-own-business citizens, mostly in the West. But make no mistake, many worldwide do subscribe to violent jihad. (The Quran does call for "jihad" as a military struggle on behalf of Islam. But the Quran also refers to jihad as an internal, individual, spiritual struggle toward self-improvement, moral cleansing and intellectual effort.) Recall the pictures of Muslims around the world celebrating the World Trade Center outrage.
Many Muslims, especially in this prosperous country (or at least it was), don't countenance terrorism or violent expansion, subscribing to the second definition of jihad above. They just want to practice their religion in peace. Despite this, we are the prime target of violent jihad. Israel is just a boil; we are the septic disease that must be "cured". That cure is either wholesale conversion to fundamental Islam or our destruction.
Uncomfortable as this may be to many, we ignore the threat to our peril. All the politically-correct speeches and warm-fuzzy newspaper articles will not change reality.
Certainly, all people, regardless of religious persuasion, should be considered individuals without stereotyping or pre-judgement. But the underlying aggressive and violent jihadic elements of Islam, very seldom disavowed by Islamic leaders, warrant great caution and vigilance.
Lot of folks seem to be exercised over the potential of Iran developing an atomic bomb to loft into Israel or even across the pond to us. Equally dire is the potential for Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. However, we must remember that in politics, local or world, all is not as it seems. In fact, practically nothing is. Actually, all the hoopla is about oil. (Surprise!)
The Iranians are busily working to enrich uranium. Vanilla uranium has an atomic weight of 238: U238. It's actually pretty stable and rather weakly radioactive, not able to sustain a chain reaction which is required for an atomic explosion. However, natural uranium contains a very small amount of U235--less than 1%--which is highly radioactive and the primary fissible material in an atomic bomb. (Modern bombs sometimes employ plutonium [Pu239] to augment the U235 neutron flux. This permits a more compact device.) An atomic explosion occurs when the U235 core is compressed, typically by precisely-timed conventional explosives, increasing the neutron flux (density) to the point where enough U235 atom nuclei are fissioned (busted) to provide new neutrons needed to sustain the chain reaction/explosion. The explosion terminates when the remaining U235 is scattered, diminishing the neutron flux density below the critical level. (Neutrons are atomic particles with mass but no charge. Thus they can bang into charged particles and isotopes without being deflected.)
NOTE 1: Where plutonium is used, it forms a shell around the uranium, usually in a ball shape. The combination is compressed by the conventional explosive charges, greatly increasing the neutron flux and increasing the yield.
NOTE 2: U235 atoms are fissionable--splittable--because they have fewer neutrons than U238. The latter atoms won't absorb neutrons because they have their full complement. U235 will absorb a neutron, forming U236 which is unstable and breaks up (fissions) spontaneously, emitting more neutrons and incurring a mass-to-energy conversion, the combination creating an uncontrolled chain reaction and explosion.
The real tricks in making a bomb are the super-precision needed in machining the parts, the placement of the conventional explosive charges and especially the complex triggering mechanism for setting off the charges in the proper split-second sequence to create a perfectly spherical shock wave to compress the fissile ball in the center. This is in addition to manufacturing sufficient enriched uranium to build the thing.
One method of making U235 involves selectively getting rid of U238 using rather sophisticated gas centrifuges until the concentration of U235 is high enough. (The U238 atom is heavier than the U235 and so can be separated by centrifuging.)
Uranium flouride gas (UF6) is spun at high speed. Heavier U238 atoms move to the outside of the spinning chamber, leaving a slightly higher concentration of the lighter U235 in the center which is drawn off. Repeated centrifuge cycles gradually increase the concentration of U235. The process goes on--literally hundreds of cycles--until the resulting product contains mostly U235, as much as 90% pure, although lower concentrations are adequate for a bomb. It takes lots of centrifuges running around the clock to provide enough enriched uranium for one bomb. (To be fair to the Iranians, enriched uranium is also needed for power plant reactors which employ controlled nuclear fission.)
NOTE 3: There is another process for enriching uranium called gaseous diffusion. This is a somewhat more complex process using membranes to separate the uranium isotopes. This process is used almost exclusively in the United States for commercial enrichment.
The reason I went through this long technical explanation is to demonstrate the complexity of the process for building an atomic bomb. Then you have to package it in a deliverable form and find a means to deliver it, no simple tasks. The bottom line is the Iranians are years away from becoming a realistic nuclear threat. The real problem with Iran is its formidable conventional military power which is a real threat to countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the source of much of the world's oil.
Israel will not attack Iran's nuclear facilities partly because Iran is far away and would be very difficult and costly to attack, but mainly because it's not necessary. Besides, if Iran is attacked, the first thing they will do is mine the Straits of Hormuz to the hilt, stopping the flow of oil via tanker and creating a monumental world economic crisis that will make the present one seem tame. This is in no-one's interest, including Israel but especially the U.S.
In order to successfully attack Iran and neutralize its real or imagined nuclear threat, their conventional military capability, especially naval (which is not insignificant), would have to be neutralized to prevent the closure of Hormuz. Only the U.S. has the capability to do this. That is the dilemma that we and the western world, as well as much of the Middle East, face. Consequently, don't expect anything more than bluster and rhetoric along with ineffective sanctions, at least for the duration.
Five years from now ...? At some point in time, Iran, unless it implodes politically which is at best a remote possibility, will have to be dealt with. It is likely that, again, only the U.S. will have the capability. This is not as implausible as it sounds. Many of the other Middle Eastern countries fear Iran and would like nothing better than to see its teeth pulled. Remember, Iran is Persian, not Arab.
In my post of April 7, 2010, "Global Humbug VI-Finis," I said it was my last word on the subject. In retrospect, that was an unwise commitment. The subject continues like "The Immortals" with no sign of abatement, so to assert closure is unrealistic. However, I have said in the seven "Humbug" posts much of what I have to say of substance on the subject insofar as the science is concerned. But every once in awhile something pops up that is irresistible. This is one of those instances.
An oft-cited "evidence" of global warming and its dire consequences is the melting of the Greenland and other glaciers and the resulting rise in sea levels. In 2007, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warningly predicted that the seas would rise 7 to 23 inches by 2100, inundating many coastal areas and islands, due to glacial melting in Greenland and parts of Antarctica. This was based on satellite measurements of the heights of those glacial areas, which were decreasing.
I have long maintained that the so-called "science" of global warming is biased and reflects a movement towards world governance, led by the U.N. After all, if this dire world-wide threat is to be stopped, the entire world must work and sacrifice together under central (read U.N.) control, although said sacrifice seems to be focused mainly on the U.S. and other "wealthy" nations like China and India. (Our share is estimated at $143 billion by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.) I did not anticipate the blatant fraudulent activity of major climate research facilities, called "Climategate", although I was not surprised.
The general sloppiness of much of climate research was graphically dramatized by the recent (September) announcement in the journal Nature Geoscience that previous estimates of glacial ice loss should be reduced by at least half. Those original estimates failed to account for a known phenomenon called glacial isostatic adjustment.
Large areas of the Northern Hemisphere were compressed under the tremendous weight of the great Ice Age glaciers that reached thicknesses of one mile. When the Ice Age ended and the glaciers melted, the Earth's crust began to rebound. That rebounding is still occurring. As the crust under North America rises, it pulls down other areas, including Greenland. (They were pushed up during the Ice Age.) Thus, the measured drop in the height of the glaciers is at least partially accounted for by this subsidence phenomenon. (I've always acknowledged that some long-term warming is occurring, just that it's much less than predicted and accounted for by natural cycles instead of "carbon footprints.")
Thus, the scary prediction of widespread coastal inundation is ... well ... all wet.
Years ago when I began blogging here, I wrote an initial post that promised an open forum, diverse subjects and an honest discourse. I asked for civility in comments and promised the same in return. Those were the days when we screened and could edit comments. I promised to publish any and all comments that were not obscene, racist or contained personal attacks. I kept that promise. Today, of course, we no longer can screen comments.
I am increasingly bothered and saddened by the virulent tone of many comments to this blog. I am not dishonest, nor do I attempt to mislead. I am a fairly intelligent person with a good engineering education and long experience in scientific and technical fields. I am I think unusually curious and obsessively search for truth. Being human, I do not always find it.
My posts always deal with what I believe to be true. My basic purpose is to get people to think, to consider things in a way that is perhaps new or different. I am conservative by experience, having been a vocal liberal in college. I am an unabashed Christian, having arrived at faith from college agnosticism through common-sense science-based analyses of the conflicting theories of life and existence. I know this bothers a lot of folks, but I assure you that my belief in God is an honest and thoughtful conclusion to a long period of introspection. It is definitely not the result of listening to Jimmy Swaggart.
Comments to Eagle's Eye lately and going back aways have become increasingly vile and insulting. I have been called an idiot and a liar, which I am neither. Neither am I a fool or any of the other personal insults. I am a pretty nice guy (so I've been told) who has certain opinions and is taking advantage of this wonderful flexible forum to express them. Some admittedly are controversial but none are meant to be mean-spirited or hurtful.
I am chagrined that I have at times succumbed to the temptation to respond in kind to particularly nasty comments. For this I am truly sorry. I will try to do better. (Some of you could make it easier for me by toning it down a bit.)
So, this is a plea for understanding. If you disagree with what I say, feel free to express your rebuttal. I try very hard to research my assertions and avoid error. However, I have made mistakes and have, with the passage of time and availability of additional information, modified my positions. I do listen to contrary views. To not do so would indeed be dishonest. This does not mean I lied, just that I was honestly mistaken. Give me a break, folks. Even Albert Einstein admitted error. (No, I am not comparing myself to Albert the Great.)
All I ask for is civility and a modicum of respect. I promise to exercise the same to those who take the time and make the effort to comment. I truly appreciate thoughtful commentary, even in disagreement. Let's discuss, not fight. Thanks.
First, a personal note. To the one or two of you who missed me these past few weeks, sorry. Things got a bit hectic at home and, believe it or not, there are things in my life more important than this blog. For what it's worth, I'm back.
Well, the election's tomorrow and I suppose I should comment on it. Unfortunately, all my vehement exhortations have already been expressed by others, so my thunder has been reduced to a pathetic pop. But let me offer some perhaps out-of-the-box observations.
First, to all those who will be disappointed and even distraught by the results, take heart. As the Desiderata observes, "Although it may not always be clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should." Also, I believe God is alive and well, and is looking out for us in spite of our follies.
I'm not going to try to convince you to vote as I want you to, mainly because anyone with two or more working brain cells has already made up his or her mind and nothing I say will make any difference. So, go cast your vote and let the devil take the hindmost.
There has been much--much too much--hyperventilational rhetoric, accusations, rebuttals and outright smeary lies in this campaign. Excess "outside money" is not the problem, absolute disregard for the truth is. The philosophy of "say anything to get elected" has become pervasive for both sides, which I'm sure creates much confusion among some voters. My advice? Disregard it all. Look at who the candidate is, his political philosophy, his record and, as much as possible, his character. The rest is all--as the Germans say--Sturm und Drang. Or, as Will Shakespeare observed, "...full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Remember that most candidates are not the spawn of the devil. Even our much-reviled President is not the Antichrist. (Oh come now, he really isn't!) Most politicians and politician-wannabe's are basically decent folks with perhaps an obsession for power and control, which is certainly not unheard of in our world. Their philosophies and sometimes their methods are anathema to many of us, but most of them really think they are doing what is best for the country--or at least not harming it--while benefiting themselves in the bargain. The difference is philosophy and methods.
That's not to say there isn't danger. Some powerful folks, political and otherwise, ascribe to a world-view that diminishes the stature of the United States in favor of a one-world Utopian paradigm. This is not in our best interest as a nation and a free people. Watch out for this in all its permutations; it is a clear and present danger to our way of life. Again, these are not evil people, at least not most of them, just horribly misguided. It has been said there is greater danger from well-meaning fools than from villains.
About "big government" and the promises to "rein it in," take them with a grain of salt. Government today bears no resemblence to what was envisioned by our founders and it never will. Big government is here to stay. Ronald Reagan's "ten scariest words in the English language": "Hello, I'm from the government and I'm here to help!" have come to fruition, in spades! There is no way to turn back the clock. All we can do is try to put in place men and women of good character who place the best interests of our nation above their own to run it.
So, take ten steps backwards, away from the campaign signs, and try to see the larger picture in perspective. Vote for the man or woman, not the rhetoric and promises. In the end, only character--values and priorities--matters.
And always remember, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.
Note: The initial publication of this post omitted a critical section of the argument. Without it, the 9/11 comparison seems bizarre. As usual, I had organized what I was going to say in my head, but had limited time to write it and simply omitted the section. The following contains the missing text. (Published 11/05/10 @ 12:15 A.M.)
The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, should have been a warning to our ultra-liberal friends and their White House messiah. Americans woke up from their self-indulgent, inward-focused lives and banded together in an outburst of patriotic outrage that shook the nation. Al Qaeda woke up der Schlafenlöwe (the sleeping lion), and suffered mightily for it. Two nations were invaded, not without controversy, a depraved despot eliminated and a terrorist base and infrastructure destroyed. Der Schlafenlöwe became der Böserlöwe, the angry lion, with dire consequences for the instigators.
The United States of America, as opposed to most of Europe and the rest of the West, was founded in freedom. It never was a feudal or monarchic society from the day it began. We Americans value our free society and independence, which is why we sacrificed nearly a half-million lives in World War II to preserve it. The 9/11 attack threatened part of that freedom, the freedom to feel safe in our own country. It's one thing to kill 40,000 each year on our highways and totally another to lose nearly 3,000 to foreign attack. We all feel we can avoid a highway death, but a terrorist sneak attack is beyond our ability to control.
In the minds of many today, government itself has become a threat to our freedom. The last two years have seen a massive intrusion, or the means thereof, into the lives of our citizens. While this threat may not be of life and limb (except perhaps for the elderly), It is perceived by many to potentially affect our independence and freedom of action. While this fear may be exaggerated, it is real nevertheless. Thus, many Americans rose up or changed political allegiance to combat this perceived intrusion. Not everyone understands his or her discomfort in these terms, but feels strongly that something is very wrong and scary. Thus, the shift to conservativism, conservatives being seen as favoring limited government and less intrusion in our lives. Also, there is the principle that if what you are doing isn't working, try anything else. "Change" swept the liberals in and is in the process of sweeping them out.
The economic situation, particularly unemployment, simply adds to the feeling of insecurity but is not the sole cause. We have had economic crises before without the kind of public uprising we saw Tuesday. We the people have lost that precious freedom from fear in our own nation, which is intolerable. The Tea Party movement and the determination to "throw the bums out" are consequences of that fear of freedom lost.
The Democratic Congress and our President in a orgy of leftist activism scared the public with their excesses and again woke der Schlafenlöwe, this time represented by the Tea Party movement, and the result was a political catastrophe for them. They tried to boil the frog by throwing him in a pot of boiling water*, and the frog is unhappy. Make no mistake, the Tea Party movement, regardless of unsubstantiated and unjustified characterizations of racism, bigotry and ignorance, was a major catalyst for a public voter uprising that has shaken the nation.
Professional politicians of both parties are discomfited by this public "interference" in the sacred machinations of government. Thirty of the new Representatives are Tea Partyers, a potential thorn in the side of the Republican hierarchy as well as the Democrats. These new "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" folks are a whole new element on the political scene. It remains to be seen how effective an element, but it could hardly be worse than what has been going on these past two years. "If what you're doing isn't working .... ."
The most encouraging factor in the election results is the burgeoning of public intrusion into that fog-bound region across the Potomac that so long has felt safe in ignoring the "flyover" public in favor of its own paternalistic social engineering concepts. The mainstream media has fostered this political arrogance by largely reflecting coastal attitudes and neglecting the heartland.
Well, the heartland has spoken. The Schlafenlöwe is wide awake and watching, and both political parties better pay attention. I deliberately include the Republicans, because there is a clandestine liberalism even there among the party elite. The Tea Party folks and their even more numerous sympathizers are not going away.
I for one couldn't be happier.
On second thought, maybe I better wait for some results.
*For anyone who hasn't heard this little fable--I've used it twice--here is a short version: If you try to boil a frog by dropping him in a pot of hot water, he'll jump out violently as soon as he feels the heat. However, if you drop him into cool water and gradually heat it, he will fall asleep and be obliviously boiled. Our Washington liberal friends made the mistake these past two years of flinging Mr. Frog into a hot pot.
Note Personally, I'm sick of politics. I'm tired of liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, left and right and all that noise. "'Tis a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing." Not that politics and government are irrelevent or insignificant, just that all the lurid rhetoric, insults, screaming and assorted invective constitutes zero communication and a dearth of benefit. Nothing is as it seems and folks spend monumental emotional resources on pointless verbal clashes without a jottle of intelligent discourse. So, I'm taking a vacation. Y'all, if you're so inclined, can have at it to your heart's content. Me, I'm going to expend my feeble efforts on what are to me more pleasant and/or interesting subjects.
Now to the subject of this post. The title comes from an old ballad (I mean, really old) called "September Song." The full line is, "When the Autumn weather turns the leaves to flame, one hasn't got time for the waiting game." It was composed in 1938 by Kurt Weill and recorded by Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaugh, Jo Stafford and others. I have a 78 RPM vinyl of the Jo Stafford version. However, this is not about the music but about the phenomenon of Autumn colors, most of which, except for a few stubborn Maples, are now on the ground and the trees bare.
I recently wrote a generally misunderstood (That seems to be happening alot lately) post on the gift of beauty and color in Nature. This is in the same vein and will probably also be digressed to death in comment. However, never let it be said that I shrink from controversy.
I think any of you dear readers who took the time to look and see will agree that this was a particularly colorful Autumn with respect to tree colors. One of the true blessings of living in the north temperate zone is our annual display of vivid shades of gold, copper and red. Nature prepares us and her trees for the harshness of winter by entertaining and delighting us with her prolific paintbrush while at the same time protecting them from the elements. Few of us think of how this all comes about even though it is as wonderful a process as its colorful result. (The photos in this post were all taken in my immediate neighborhood in Wales.)
September Song has another line: "The days grow short, when we reach September." This shortening of daylight is what is thought to trigger the changes that result in Fall colors. During the Summer, the green pigment chlorophyll dominates, masking any other foliage color. Chlorophyll is essential for the complex process of photosynthesis by which sunlight is captured to energize the manufacture of the plant's basic food, simple sugars produced from water and carbon dioxide. Sugars are the source of nourishment for trees and other plants. (Actually, the same is true for fauna, including us.)
In the late days of Summer, trees begin to pull nutrients back from the leaves and branches into the trunk and roots. A layer of cork-like cells forms at the base of the leaves and gradually chokes off nutrients. The leaves stop producing chlorophyll and photosynthesis stops. As the chlorophyll breaks down, the green color fades and other colors that were always there burst forth. The brilliant colors are formed by pigments--anthocyanin and carotenes--produced by sugars trapped in the leaves. This is why Sugar Maples seem to produce the most vivid colors. The amount of sugar in the leaves and the resulting color intensity is a function of how well the tree was nourished by water and sun in Summer.
I always have to ask "why?" things happen as they do. The leaves falling, baring the branches, is easily understood. If leaves remained, severe Winter storms and heavy snows would damage and likely kill the tree. But the reason for the colors is less obvious. In fact, there is no plausible reason, other than happenstance, for this riot of Fall colors. Except perhaps to delight the human eye and buck us up for the coming drear of Winter.
Other elements of nature--animals and perhaps some plants--color for a reason, but the brilliant and varied tree colors have no discernible purpose. Except one.
I hope you enjoyed this year's exceptional Fall colors, one of Creation's true gifts to us mortals. I know I did.
The following email letter was sent to me by a close friend who is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen born in Israel. His name is Mike Meiberg and his family was originally from Germany, lived there at the time of the Nazi regime and were victims of Adolf Hitler's particular brand of ethnic cleansing. He still has considerable family in Israel and frequently travels over there. (He insists El Al is the world's safest airline because of their sophisticated profiling techniques.)
This is to me a stark reminder of man's potential for evil. I was 13 years old when World War II ended and clearly remember the horrific newspaper photos of the liberated concentration camps like Auschwitz. Believe me, dear readers, the Holocaust really did happen, and we would do well to remember it. And also remember that evil is not gone from the world today. Those who have stared it in the face will never forget and will never permit it to happen again.
Here is Mike's letter as originally printed and accompanying photo of "The Bricks".
Dear friends and family, Last month my son-in-law Andrew and I visited While at one of the cemeteries we met a German lady, Ms. Cordes, who is a local photographer and was there to snap some pictures. She told us about a program whereby "bricks" are placed in front of homes from where Jewish families were rounded up and deported to concentration camps. The program intrigued me and I asked her if I could have these markers placed in front of my family's last known address. She asked that I forward to her any information I had about my family and she would see to it that these markers were placed. They obtain information from municipal, telephone (if available), public and utilities records available at the time of deportation. This project, named Stolpersteine, or Stumbling Stones, started in Four years ago, my daughter Linda, sister Tirza and I visited the concentration camp Theresienstadt in The Czech Republic, formerly For those of you who are not German speakers this is the translation from the German: " Name Geb=Maiden name JG.=Year born Year deported Where to Year deported to ???= Indicates no record of their fate after arriving in
Dear friends and family,
Last month my son-in-law Andrew and I visited
While at one of the cemeteries we met a German lady, Ms. Cordes, who is a local photographer and was there to snap some pictures. She told us about a program whereby "bricks" are placed in front of homes from where Jewish families were rounded up and deported to concentration camps.
The program intrigued me and I asked her if I could have these markers placed in front of my family's last known address. She asked that I forward to her any information I had about my family and she would see to it that these markers were placed. They obtain information from municipal, telephone (if available), public and utilities records available at the time of deportation. This project, named Stolpersteine, or Stumbling Stones, started in
Four years ago, my daughter Linda, sister Tirza and I visited the concentration camp Theresienstadt in The Czech Republic, formerly
For those of you who are not German speakers this is the translation from the German:
Year deported to
???= Indicates no record of their fate after arriving in
There has been much hyperactive reaction to the new Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) screening procedures utilizing whole-body scanners or, alternatively if you refuse the scan, so-called "enhanced" pat-downs likened to near-sexual assaults. Most of it is ill-informed and over-reactive. My purpose here is to inject a bit of calm factual discussion into the maelstrom of rhetoric whirling around this issue. Hopefully, the result will be a little better understanding.
First, the overall problem of airport security should be addressed. The precipitous implementation of airport body scanners, a major cause of the negative reaction, was brought about by the so-called "underwear bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and his failed attempt to set off a small amount of explosive--think a McDonald's salad dressing packet--concealed in his tighty-whities. This Newman's Own "bomb" passed undetected through the existing security screening, eliciting a frantic government reaction. Also at issue, of course, is the billions in taxpayer money spent on developing the scanners.
The fact is, no physical screening technology or procedures, short of naked body examinations including parts and places you don't want to think about, will detect all potential hidden explosives. Even then, some idiot fanatic will find a way to swallow a ticking bomb made of X-ray-transparent materials. So, impressive as this brilliant new technology may be, it won't guarantee safety from dedicated terrorists. The question then becomes, is it worth it? The answer is, no-one knows. Personally, I doubt it.
Now, what is it and how does it work? There are two types of Whole Body Imaging (WBI) technologies in place. They are backscatter and millimeter-wave. The first uses low-level X-rays to image the body. This passes through clothing and into you, but a portion reflects off of your skin, or "backscatters", technically called "Compton scattering." This radiation does penetrate the skin, but a small amount reflects and is detected by a bank of detectors. The data are computer processed to create a whole-body image. Frontal and rear images are usually obtained simultaneously. The resulting two-part image is of the subject's skin surface, all of it, in excruciating fine detail. The processing software blanks out facial features.
It must be acknowledged that this is X-ray radiation, which is ionizing radiation. That is, it penetrates cells and can modify or damage their DNA. Hence, it is designated by the government--EPA?, CDC?, CPSC? I'm not sure who--as a non-threshold carcinogen. This means no level is low enough to be 100% safe. Even though the amount of radiation is relatively small, the energy is focused on the skin and adds to the normal background radiation we receive every day.
Background radiation is diffused throughout the body, while backscatter X-rays are focused on the skin and penetrate a short distance below. Damage from ionizing radiation is permanent, and therefore is cumulative. Consequently, despite assurances from the TSA and others, radiation from airport backscatter body scanners is not totally innocuous. There is some risk of genetic damage to the skin and the tissue beneath. Again, the question is, is it worth it?
The other technology is millimeter wave. This method utilizes Extra-High Frequency (EHF) radiation in the range of 30 GHz-- think microwave on steroids--to create an image. EHF radiation will penetrate clothing but reflects off of skin which it does not significantly penetrate. Thus, there is no risk of genetic damage but it can burn. At the levels employed by the airport scanners, this is highly unlikely unless you fall asleep in one. Unfortunately, this safer technology is the less common. I'm not sure why, but it might be the state of development or perhaps the cost.
The following drawings show the typical configurations of the two types of WBI scanners.
Backscatter Scanner Millimeter Wave Scanner
So, what's the bottom line? WBI scanners in airports are an invasion of privacy and grossly immodest, if that matters anymore. There is a serious question of medical privacy for persons with ostomies and breast prostheses from cancer surgery. Since these items can appear suspicious in the scans, invasive pat-down, sometimes with exposure and close physical examination, is usually required which can cause problems. I don't think I need go into detail. (TSA is currently re-examining their procedures in light of this problem.)
The health risk from backscatter scans is small. There is a possibility of genetic damage, especially for people whose health is already compromised. Although we are exposed to ionizing radiation every day, this is an additional exposure exacerbated by the focused nature of the radiation. So, there is an undeniable small risk, especially with repeated exposure as the effect is cumulative. There is no known risk from millimeter-wave scanning, unless you believe that cell phones cause brain cancer.
Note: The above statements reflect my opinion, some knowledge and interpretation of published information on the subject. The purpose of this post is only to inform. It is not to be construed as any sort of medical advice as I am not medically trained. There are, however, qualified authorities (which excludes the ACLU) on both sides of this issue, some of whom convincingly assert a medical risk from backscatter X-ray scanners.
Finally, I leave you with a quote from Rafi Sala, an Israeli airport security expert who helped design security at Ben Gurion International Airport: "I don''t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. ... That's why we haven't put them in our airport."
El-Al, Israel's airline, relies on sophisticated profiling techniques. They haven't had a terrorist incident since 1970, and that one failed.
My reaction, for what it's worth, is that this is just another over-reactive wasteful government boondoggle that will do virtually nothing to improve airline security. Although the health risk is slight, the benefit is even less. There is a greater risk from baggage and cargo than from individuals. Many in the jihadist community are a good bit more clever than the hapless "underwear bomber" and will simply devise other methods and technology to defeat whatever screening equipment we create. It is not possible to anticipate every possible terrorist tactic so long as people, luggage and cargo are allowed aboard and the ground crew and flight crew have unscreened access. (Pilots have just been exempted from WBI screening because of union objection. They and ground crew are subject only to identity verification.)
The solution is not in fancy hardware but in intensive profiling as implemented by the Israelis, looking to detect demeanor and actions, and yes, including background and origin, that betray the suicide bomber attempting to board. Nervousness is much harder to hide than explosives. This screening process should also be applied to anyone who has access to the aircraft on the ground.
But I'm whistling in the windstorm. It will never happen here in the indulgent, politically-correct, overly-sensitive U.S.A. Until ..... .
Note: I originally published this last Christmas. I tried to come up with another Christmas theme, but kept coming back to this little essay as best expressing my thoughts at this time. Therefore, I am re-publishing it--slightly edited--for this season.
Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year to you and yours.
Life and Time
At this time of the year, on this Holiday, we are exhorted to be joyous, and joyous many of us are. Whether we rejoice around a decorated evergreen tree—real or imitation--with family and friends, engaging in an orgy of gift exchange very loosely based on Biblical Kings bearing gifts to the Christ child, followed or preceded by another orgy of food consumption, or perhaps a quieter more religious observance, this is an opportunity to reflect on life and time.
"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" reminds us that what really matters is something called the Christmas spirit, in essence the spiritual nature of the Holiday. There is indeed more to life than life. Peace to men of good will, charity, generosity and celebration are all good and important things. But there is more.
Not everyone, alas, is joyful; not all mankind is filled with charity and good will. There is poverty; there are tragedy, anger and hate; there is injustice and, yes, there is evil. Like it or not, these are all part of this life. But again, there is more.
There is a theory that life is a zero sum experience. For each joyful moment there is, in due time, a sad one; for each success a failure; for each triumph a tragedy. It all evens out in the end. While this may imply futility, the true imperative is to fully appreciate and revel in the good times, for they are inevitably temporary. Do not waste them. Appreciate and openly love spouse, family and friends. They are not immortal. Do not let the little things ruin the big ones. Everything leaves a mark in time. Wasting the good leaves the field to the bad.
Most important, do not ignore the spiritual. As Mr. Church said in "Virginia", there is something beyond the corporeal. There is an order and a plan toward which final conclusion we are chaotically lurching. Many believe, as do I, that it is not of this world.
Max Ehrmann's strangely wise Desiderata puts it this way: "Although it may not always be clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should." The aviators' classic poem High Flight ends with, "I've trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God." Spirituality--if you look closely enough, there is spirituality in nearly everything, transcending the mundane and mean of our daily lives. Thus the zero sum game is defeated.
Some of you may already know our family has experienced a great tragedy. Joan, my wife of fifty-one years, is lost in the darkness of a massive stroke. She is home, but may never return to me. However, I look back at fifty years of true blessing, love and wonder, and thank God for her and those years, and the two wonderful children who resulted from our union. Zero sum, indeed not.
So, at this eleventh Christmas of the Third Millennium from that Glorious Birth, please enjoy fully the good times and the good people. They will leave a lasting, shining mark on your life and time.
Merry Christmas and "God bless us, every one!"
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