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Archive for February, 2009

Quote of the Day, Tuesday February 17

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 17, 2009

“It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by intellectuals, for throughout most of our political history, the intellectual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant, or a scapegoat.”— Richard Hofstadter, former Columbia University professor and historian

It’s a day that seems richin irony. What can I say?

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Posted in American History, Quote of the Day | Leave a Comment »

Losing Our Heads Over Stereotypes

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 17, 2009

Muzzammil Hassan was tired of the post-September 11th stereotypes of Muslims being put into play by the American media, and rightfully so. At a time when it was all too easy to believe that most of the world’s Muslims were a blood thirsty band of maniacs just looking for an American to kill and with American televangelists calling Islam Satan’s religion, Hassan started thinking about a way to make a difference, a way to project Islam in America in a more positive light. Being a media-savvy guy, he had an idea– an English language cable channel featuring positive Islamic stories and Islamic lifestyles. This is America and people believe what they see on TV; why not give them some positive Muslim imagery to combat the dark stereotypes?

Hassan launched the hopefully-named Bridges TV in Orchard Park, NY, home of the Buffalo Bills and not an area renowned for its inclusivity or deep thinking on racial issues. His programming choices were guided by his founding ethos of portraying Muslims in America as they are– your neighbors, your shopkeepers, your friends.

Mr. Hassan’s message of tolerance, inclusivity– really, sameness to every other American– took a slight detour late last week when Mr. Hassan turned himself in to Orchard Park police for the act of ritually beheading his wife– the mother of his four and six year old children– who was in the process of filing for divorce from Hassan. The beheading, which took place in the studios of Bridges TV, was portrayed as an honor killing in Mr. Hassan’s confession. Apparently the beatings that he was delivering his wife in the months before her ritual slaughter– the police had been called to the hosue several times fo domestic violence complaints– were also designed to increase Hassan’s honor.

This abominable behavior isn’t characteristic of the Islamic community in America; the people who engage in this stuff who happen to be Islamic are no less of a lunatic fringe than Christians who blow up abortion clinics and murder doctors “in the name of god” or Jews who become ensnared by the insane teachings of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

Now if only the guy who was working so hard to get the message of Islamic “sameness” in America out there wasn’t also the same guy who ritually beheaded his wife in an honor killing we’d have a much easier task of convincing the average Christian American that all Islamic Americans aren’t practicing a religion that demands killing pretty much everyone else. That slap you just heard was the entire respectable body of Americans who practice Islam doing a face palm over this thing.

Posted in Cultural Phenomena, Human Rights, Jerks, Television | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Submarines Collide, Questions Abound

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 17, 2009

It’s a big ocean. There aren’t that many submarines in it.

There are even fewer nuclear missiles subs (SSBNs) in it. The US has the largest contingent with 10 Ohio boats  assigned (with 4 usually on patrol at any one time), the Brits and French have four each, and the Russians sometimes send a few into the North Atlantic but generally keep them much closer to home in the Barents Sea.

Somehow, on the night of February 3-4, one of those four French subs found one of those four British subs and crashed into it, placing a big chunk of each nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent on the shelf for the foreseeable future. It’s almost unbelievable. Actually, it’s totally unbelievable; let’s explore why.

To say that these subs had the entire Atlantic to operate in would be incorrect; SSBNs have “patrol boxes” based on factors like their missile ranges, security requirements, transit times to and from port, etc.  which greatly reduce the area of ocean they can operate in. The French L’Triomphant class carry up to 16 M45 missiles with a range of 6000km, the British Vanguard boats sport 16 US designed Trident II missiles with a classified range known to be upwards of 7300km, so that is the first stricture on their patrol areas– they must be maintained within range of their primary targets, assumed to be European Russia and the Middle East. The French doctrine also is rumored to demand that their SSBNs be maintained within land based air cover. Combine those strictures– a flight radius of 5000-5500km of Tehran and Moscow and under land based air cover– and you can see why the widely assumed operating area for French SSBNs has always been the western Bay or Biscay and its approaches in the East Atlantic. The British boats, given the much longer range of their missiles, operate considerably to the northwest of that area.

Another limit to patrol areas is an Agreement by NATO on carving out operating areas for member subs. The Atlantic is broken up into sectors, with those sectors being assigned to the US, British, Norwegians, Dutch, Germans and Belgians, all of whom have operated subs during the last thirty years. They are not exclusive operating zones, but if the boats from one nation crosses or operates in the zone of another they are expected to notify the “owner” nation. The zone system wasn’t put into place to prevent collisions; it was put into effect so that if a Dutch sub picks up a sub operating in its AO on passive sonar it can be reasonably sure that it was tracking a Soviet/Russian sub, not an American 688 or British Trafalgar. Notably missing from the hunting preserve list is France, who maintains itself outside the NATO military command structure and thus refuses to acknowledge this orderly system or notify other allied nations of the transit of their subs.

So, we’ve greatly carved down the swath of available ocean that these boats operate in. That still leaves not only an incredibly huge tract of ocean relative to the size of these subs, but an incredibly huge swath of ocean multiplied by the operating depth of these submarines. Subs, of course, operate in two dimensions– the incredibly unlikely event of the two boats being in the same geographic place doesn’t alone give us a collision– they must also both be operating at depths basically in the same sixty foot band out of the roughly 1500 foot operating ranges of these boats.

So, even though we can’t say these two subs had an entire ocean to play in, we can safely say they had a huge amount of water, both in area and volume, with which to miss each other. To put in in perspective, let’s totally clear the airspace over the United States from Maine to Florida to Cleveland. Now let’s randomly put two airplanes in the skies in that area… and watch them smash into each other. That’s a decent example of what we’re talking about in this collision… only with 48 nuclear warheads and two nuclear powerplants involved.

Want to know the most disturbing bit of all of this? From photos taken of the two subs, it is apparent that the French L’Triomphant crashed nose-first into the side of HMS Vanguard, t-boning her in the kind of accidental collision you’d see if someone ran a red light. What makes that quite so crazy in this instance (just in case we need more crazy here…) is that the bow of the submarine is where her sonar dome is located. Assuming that these subs were both operating under passive sonar– basically just listening to the water in front of and around them with their hydrophones– the one place above all others that the L’Triomphant should’ve had an excellent picture of the water around them was right in front of the bow. Granted the Vanguard is an extremely quiet ship and the L’Triomphant a bit less so but still quiet, but still… they didn’t know they were about to hit Vanguard? While not impossible, it is highly unlikely barring the sonar operators being asleep at their consoles or the sonar being degraded in some fashion. Quite strange.

So, how did these two boats with different operating areas defy all odds and crash into each other under the Atlantic Ocean on the night of February 3-4? It is believed that this collision occurred well to the northwest of the assumed French patrol area, probably within the British patrol box. What was the French sub even doing there, at the very edge or even outside the range of its missiles from their primary targets? Given the secrecy with which SSBN operations are handled, we may never know, or more likely we probably won’t know until twenty years from now when some retired Royal Navy captain spills the beans in a book, much as American and Russian captains and civilian contractors have been doing over the past five years with regard to US-Soviet submarine games and disasters.

That being said, do you really think this was compeltely a fluke occurrence, against astronomical odds, of two subs being in the same place at the same time, one of them with no discernible reasons for being there?

Me either.

Last week satellites collided against huge odds, this week it’s nuclear missile subs. What crashes next week?

Posted in European Union, NATO, Nuclear Weapons, Submarines | 1 Comment »

What a Weekend

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 17, 2009

Running Local is back on track after a long, long holiday weekend that featured puking kids, a trip to the ER, a Mom & Dad who also got sick and a few other pitfalls. In short, not a good time.

Everyone is healthy now, though, and I’ll be posting the regular slate of entries today and all week. I’m working on a research piece on the continued viability of the US Air Force and whether or not we should be spending on it as a separate entity or incorporating its varied roles into the other services. It’s becoming a complex article so rather than pumping it out I want to explore the intricacies of the funding and actual savings versus the capabilities that an independent Air Force gives us over the Navy, USMC and Army operating their own fixed wing aircraft, the lack of desire of the Air Force to fund and fly close air support aircraft and missions weighed against the presumptive lack of desire by the Army for strategic bombing planes and missions, etc. Sometimes these back of the envelope ideas develop into intellectual octopi, and this one is busy eating mollusks as we speak.

Looking to the week ahead, I’ll also undoubtedly be writing about the three ringer that will occur today at the Yankees’ Legends Field when ARod holds his presser, the unacceptably remote chance that the English and French ballistic missile subs “accidentally” happened to be in the same chunk of ocean and collided solely by chance, Hugo Chavez’ little problem in holding onto Venezuela, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mind the closing doors.

Posted in Blog Business | Leave a Comment »

Quote of the Day, Febraury 13 2009

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 13, 2009

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly” — Proverbs  26:11

This dog is as sick as one, as are his kids today… so I may or may not be returning to this folly this afternoon. Check back after lunch for your daily dose of Running Local… unless my dose of this lovely flu bug keeps the train off track.

Posted in Quote of the Day | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez Has New On Sale Date

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 13, 2009

Just released from HarperCollins, Selena Robert’s publisher– A-Rod: The Many Livs of Alex Rodriguez has had it’s on-sale date accelerated from May 19 to April 14, putting it on the bookstore shelves two days before Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium. Love it, hate it, talk about Selena Roberts’ journalistic ethics… but never let it be said that the publisher can’t move quickly to take advantage of free publicity. Also never let it be said that her literary agent most likely didn’t remind her of that two months ago.

Posted in Baseball, Publishing | Leave a Comment »

Quote of the Day, February 12 2009

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 12, 2009

“Sorry you couldn’t be with us tonight”– David Letterman to Joaquin Phoenix at the conclusion of the most brutal interview in Late Night history.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

David Letterman At His Best

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 12, 2009

Joaquin Phoenix has apparently lost his mind but discovered recreational pharmaceuticals. The video is almost ten minutes; if you can’t watch the whole thing, watch a minute or two up front and cut to about 9.10, for Letterman’s money quote. Hysterical.

Posted in Cultural Phenomena, Television | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Orbital Bumper Cars or A Message Sent Via Communications Satellite?

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 12, 2009

The New York Times is reporting that for the first time two large satellites have collided in orbit, an American Iridium sat-phone orbiter and what has been described as an “inoperatve Russian communications satellite”. The debris from the collision of the two spacecraft is a potential disaster for other spacecraft; indeed the International Space Station and its crew is already in danger from the debris field, which is expanding through not only its orbit but also through that of hundreds of other birds.

This mess is reminiscent of the January 11, 2007 Chinese intercept of a satellite in a demonstration of their ability to take out militarily significant sats. The Chinese came under fire from all quarters for the irresponsible test/poke in the eye which resulted in a gigantic cloud of orbital debris in an already crowded orbital path. Satellites, despite the rough journey they follow to get into orbit, are extraordinarily delicate instruments and can be easily damaged by tiny, high velocity mini-meteors and bits of space junk; huge chunks of defunct satellite are not, thus, a good thing. Worse, the bits of debris need to be tracked as their orbits change due to the initial energy of the impact and then either settle into an orbit or, more likely, degrade across many other orbits. Think about that– take two 1200+ pound plus machines loaded with ceramics and metals, smash them into each other at 17,000+ mph and then consider how many pieces they will break into. Now track the larger parts that can be resolved on radar for weeks, months, and years as they first expand their orbital paths and then plunge back through the orbital paths of thousands of other spacecraft on their way to burning up in the atmosphere sometime over the next few weeks to years. It is, to simplify, not good.

There are larger issues here. The first is that orbital space is getting very, very crowded as redundant sats are launched to do jobs that satellites of competitors are already doing while other satellites fail and replacements are launched, with new birds going up all the while for new purposes. Some say these collisions will become inevitable, although to this point only three smaller accidental collisions have been recorded. Sooner or later, either satellite design is going to have to dramatically change to deal with collisions (most likely an impossibility) or satellite losses are going to become more frequent, a problem that will grow exponentially as the failure by destruction of one satellite will lead to a debris field which in turn may well destroy others. It’s quite a mess.

The other concern here is that since these were an American and Russian satellite and the collision happened over Siberia that we have a Chinese test redux happening here. There have been rumors in the past that the US was covering some of its intelligence satellites as Iridium constellation birds, an exchange that was allegedly worked out as the US government bolstered the technologically brilliant but fiscally disastrous early Iridium days. Additionally, the US military and intelligence agencies make extensive use of the Iridium satellite phone system, and the satellite destroyed was, coincidentally, the one that would handle transmissions from a swath of Central Asia, already the arena of US-Russian competition in the previous few weeks as the Russians have sought to hamper our Afghan War effort by shutting down the Kyrgyz Manas air base to us.  Could this have actually been a Russian demonstration of their capacity to intercept an American satellite? There is some logic to it when you consider the belligerence of the Putin-Medvedyev regime as well as the “Test Obama” ethos that our rivals can be expected to adopt and indeed some have, especially the Russians. It’s also hard to imagine that this collision came as a surprise, given how closely satellites are tracked in orbit– it suggests that one of those satellites was actively maneuvering to get close o the other, otherwise this collision would likely have been seen coming in advance. I’ll be keeping an eye on Aviation Week (aka AvLeak) over the next few weeks amongst other sources to see what buzz pops up.

Either way, accident or attack, this is a nasty situation and one we will likely be visiting and revisiting in the future as space not only continues to fill up but also as its strategic importance is magnified.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Intelligence (and lack thereof), NASA, Russia, Space, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

ARod All Day, All The Time

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 12, 2009

Just a quick follow up on the A-Rod posts of the last couple of days. First, some people have asked me for the cite on the Harper Collins publicity document I copied to my post of February 9th, With ARod, Nothing is Ever Simple. The document appeared in several places– at Amazon.com on the preorder page for Hit & Run: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez, at the publisher’s website, HarperCollins.com, and at PublishersWeekly.com— where I personally saw it. When the controversy over the journalistic ethics of author/journalist Selena Roberts started to take off, however, Harper retracted the publicity statement and it was scrubbed fro the sites. This isn’t a terribly rare occurrence– the controversy around Jim Frey’s A Million Little Pieces caused a lot of the publisher’s marketing material to get scrubbed from sites that are dependent on a good relationship with the publisher. The last bit of the marketing statement that I can find is at Publisher’s Weekly, which under its “Spring 2009 Hardcovers: Sports” (scroll down to the “Harper” entry) still describes the book sing words from the statement: “Hit and Run: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez (May, $26.99) by Selena Roberts exposes A-Rod’s controversial path to self-destruction. 150,000 first printing.” You can scrub all you like, but some spots don’t come out.

Also interesting to note is that HarperCollins yesterday changed the name of the book; on the HarperCollins site linked above, the book is now known not as Hit & Run: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez, but as A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez. I wonder why the change? Could it be that the original title was a bit too close to the public perception of Selena Roberts journalistic style?

Additionally, word out of the publisher in the trades is that a new, accelerated release date is under consideration to take advantage of the publicity generated for the book by Selena Robert’s article in SI… but please, remember, Ms. Roberts can in no way be accused of generating this story at this point or releasing the name only of Alex Rodriguez from a list of 104 players in a naked attempt to generate publicity for her book and thus personally benefit from the news. Never. Really. Please, don’t do it.

Oh what the hell, go ahead.

Posted in Baseball, Journalism, Publishing | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Alomar, Tejada and the Straw

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 12, 2009

We’re talkin’ baseball, but we aren’t talkin’ Willie, Mickey & the Duke. No, it’s time for the newest preseason ritual, not Pitchers & Catchers, the Caribbean Series or claims of fat and disappointing players claiming to be in the best shape of their lives– no instead it’s Preseason Scandal time!

We have a full crop this year, and it’s about to get fuller. ARod we all know about, Tejada has been indicted for lying to Congress (that’s a crime?), and Alomar either has erectile dysfunction, a history of anal rape and full blown AIDS or one very pissed off ex-girlfriend. Next up- Darryl Strawberry, no stranger to scandal he, is cashing in on his preseason controversies with a new book from Harper Collins, Straw: Finding My Way. Ironic title, given how many times the straw found its way up Straw’s nose in the ’80s.

But hey, at least he’s on the right side of his scandals– he’s making money off of them while the others are losing money. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, boys! Just follow the Strawberry Express.

The Alomar thing just has multiple book deals written all over it. Deal one to the girlfriend, who claims she had unprotected sex for three years with Alomar despite thinking that he might have HIV– he became ill and she constantly pressured him to have an HIV test, according to the suit she filed, but she kept having unprotected sex with him because he claimed he couldn’t have AIDS or HIV. For kicks, she included in the filing her uncorroborated claim that Alomar was anally raped by two Mexicans (you have to appreciate how she managed to toss in the ethnicity, to boot) when he was 17 and that Alomar suffers from erectile dysfunction… I’m sure that in her first interview she’ll also claim that Alomar has a two inch penis and that he enjoys wearing high heels and things. Whether or not her suit has merit is for the judge and jury to decide, but this one sounds like it may have, oh, a hole or six in it.

Book deal two is Alomar’s and its thrust could follow many paths. Will it be a book about how his ex-girlfriend tried to shake him down? A tearful recounting of his life with HIV? A Wilt Chamberlain “I screwed 13,000 women and none have any diseases” romp? How about the big kahuna, the Times #1 bestseller in the batch– for years Alomar was rumored to be gay and the infamous spitting incident has been alleged to be about umpire John Hirschbeck calling him “a little fag”… could we have our first potential Hall of Famer coming out in the pages of an “Out of the Locker: My Tortured Life Denying My Sexuality in MLB”, Oprah Book Club shoo-in? Editors are already camping out in front of his house in hopes of that one.

Now, not to distract from the salacious details of a lurid lawsuit filed against a player that people love to hate, but we do have one guy in this stew who may be in danger of a trip to Federal Prison. Miguel Tejada is your general baseball bad actor– an inveterate juicer, an all around schmuck, and now an indicted liar. The Al Capone irony of this one is rich– instead of going down for his own steroid & HGH use or even for lying about his own use, Tejada is screwed over his lying about the steroid usage of ex-prospect, current nobody Adam Piatt. In an interview with Congressional staffers, Tejada denied talking to Piatt about obtaining HGH and steroids, for which he is now being charged with lying to the Congress. Now I know a lot of Congressional staffers and it is true that making them look bad has negative implications for your life if they cacth you at it and can prove you did wrong, but this? Really? Is anybody sending a CEO to prison this month for lying to Congress? How about the entire previous Presidential Administration? How about every Director of Central Intelligence since Wild Bill Donovan? I’m no Tejada fan, but he’s getting reamed out of frustration by a bunch of Congress Critters and a US Attorney who can’t find any other way to cash in on steroid mania. This is just stupid. Maybe he’ll at least get a book deal out of it though, right? I imagine it’ll be published, or at least hyped, in February of, oh, 2011.

That brings us to the book being hyped now for release around Opening Day, Darryl Strawberry’s combination of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Bronx Zoo. According to publicity releases on this one, Straw talks at length about ballplayers in the ’80s using coke and speed, drinking beer to take the edge off of the illegal stimulants, and getting head in the clubhouse during games. New ground there, eh? Just in case that doesn’t hook you, there’s also the promise of details on the nightly three and four ways the Mets engaged in after a night in the bars and clubs… or you could just go out on the net and see the real thing at any porn site. I’m sure this one will fly off the shelves at Barnes & Noble outlets all over Queens and sell, well, less robustly everywhere else.

Maybe it’ll spawn a new book from some of the Strawberry-Alomar overlap women who can write that they gave Straw head in the clubhouse while having unprotected sex with Alomar and don’t have HIV. Coming soon from (extremely)Random House, I suppose.

Posted in Baseball, CongressCritters, Cultural Phenomena, Jerks, Publishing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Today’s Quote, February 11 2009

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 11, 2009

“L’audace, L’audace, toujours l’audace!” — Frederick the Great

Audacity, Audacity, always Audacity! This was the general order of Prussia’s Frederick the Great to his field commanders– always be bold in your thougths and action as the bold are the ones who achieve.

Hey, if you can conquer a big chunk of Europe on those words, who knows what else you can do with them.

Posted in Quote of the Day | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Winging It

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 11, 2009

I am fighting a war with my intestines. There’s some twisted, dark, evil part of my brain that recalls the fiery goodness of the foods I ate as a teenager in largely Asian Flushing, Queens in the  ’80s– alien to my English-German-Italian DNA, I suppose, but oh so delicious. If it didn’t have bird chiles or Szechuan peppers in it, I didn’t want it. I still don’t. My GI tract doesn’t always agree, but screw it if it can’t take a joke.

Going to school in Buffalo didn’t help any. I worked for a semester in a pizza and wings joint just off campus and I learned there possibly the only bit of useful info I learned in Buffalo, that real Buffalo wings have only four ingredients– chicken wings, butter, garlic powder and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce from Durkee. Fry the wings, dump them in a plastic paint bucket, dump in an unwise amount of Frank’s Red Hot, the garlic powder and some butter to make the sauce stick– think the “jellied” part of “jellied gasoline” for napalm– and temper the fire with some (more) fat. Throw the top on the bucket, swirl and shake.  The only difference between “Mild” and “Why God, WHY?” wings is the amount of butter and Frank’s sauce– for hot you use a lot of butter and the same amount of sauce you’d use for mild. If you have a vendetta against someone, you up the Red Hot. Slap some carrot & celery sticks in a little paper french fry tray, wrap it in foil, throw in a cup of Blue Cheese (NEVER ranch, for the love of Jim Kelly and all things Buffalo) and deliver.

Simple. No exotic spices, no pineapple (gack), no chipotle or barbecue sauce. Wings, Frank’s Red Hot, butter, garlic powder. Finito.

I had a bad thought last night. I wanted wings, and was already planning on making BBQ chicken for the family. I bought a package of wings to go with the chicken breasts. I grilled the hell out of the wings over the hottest part of my fire, until they looked like they’d been fried. I got a bucket. I got the butter, I got the garlic powder. In the store earlier I had seen that Frank’s had a newer product, Frank’s Extra Red hot. I got that.

My kids wanted to know why I was crying at the table. It was hard to explain the physiological response of tearing eyes to a five year old when your upper palate is on fire and your guts are screaming at your esophagus, “Oh no you DO NOT! Not in OUR HOUSE!”.

But damn, were they good.

Posted in Cooking | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Now Where Did I Leave That Nerve Gas…?

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 10, 2009

It would be comical if it weren’t so terrifying– after a year of the Air Force misplacing, mis-shipping, and basically mishandling nuclear weapons to the point that generals are getting fired and entire command structures are being redone, the Deseret News (Salt Lake City) disclosed on Sunday that–oopsies!– the Army may or may not have had a slight accounting discrepancy with the amount of nerve gas it’s storing for destruction at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah.

Any sensible military would’ve put half of the USAF command structure in front of firing squads this year, but as it turns out that would violate OSHA or some such regulation. In America, instead, we’re forced to retire to lucrative positions with defense contractors the dopes who send nuclear detonators to Taiwan and watch planes under their command fly around the US with “We thought they were test dummies but– oopsies!– were actual strategic weapons” bolted to the wings of their aircraft.

The scary thing isn’t just that those events happened, it is the reason why they have happened– crappy training and discipline. The two great separators between the US military and all others have traditionally been level of training and sophistication of weaponry. The US spends more money training its enlisted and especially officers than any other military in the world. For that investment, we theoretically get a force that can be trusted to think for itself, to carry out complex orders using sophisticated systems, and generally not to trod upon its own penis with combat boots. Guess what we’ve been stepping on of late? Lax standards and under-trained staff officers have been the proximate cause of all of the Air Force’s strategic weapons blunders this year; reviews have found QA checklists unchecked, officers who have no clue what is in the procedural manuals for handling nuclear weapons that they’ve allegedly been drilled on, weapons handlers who can’t tell a detonator from helicopter batteries. We’ve spent years pumping money into the Russian military to secure their arsenal and agonizing over the possibility of them misplacing a few nukes; anybody taken a look at Minot AFB or, I don’t know, under the carpet at the O club at Barksdale?

Lapses in training as it pertains to nuclear materials are a huge fear we have with Pakistan; it is unthinkable that it should be occurring within the US force structure. One has to wonder if the suddenly crappy training being given to our nuclear weaponeers isn’t the result of the financial pressure being exerted on DOD by the ongoing wars. Clearly strategic nuclear weapons are not the priority that they were in the darkest days of the Reagan-Evil Empire era’ s it possible that the USAF is pulling training dollars and competency out of the strategic arsenal in favor of spending with direct application to this war? It seems a reasonable assumption, especially given the unconscionable screw-ups going on. One more little gift from Mr. Bush’s war that keeps on giving even after the mission is accomplished, I suppose.

Now we see that the Blue Boys aren’t the only ones who can’t be trusted with a WMD– the Army may or may not know how many tons of deadly nerve agents they have or have destroyed or have shipped to god knows where. The United States went out of the chemical warfare business in 1985 when the Congress voted to destroy all stockpiles of US chemical warfare agents. Nearly a quarter century later we’re still in the process of doing so as the things are damnably hard to safely dispose of, requiring highly specialized incinerators. We still have stockpiles of artillery shells, bombs, rockets, spray tanks, storage tanks, mines, and the like mainly sitting out in the Utah desert at Deseret, at a handful of other sites in the nation (eight, according to GlobalSecurity.org), and offshore on Johsnston Atoll in the South Pacific… at least as far as the Army knows. 

We now know that the Army doesn’t actually know for sure– oopsies!– just how much nerve agent it has destroyed at Deseret or indeed how much they ever had or were supposed to have. They are putting the blame on accounting problems and tell us that they are “reasonably sure” they’ve gotten everything destroyed that they were supposed tot destroy by this point and know how much is left. Are you reasonably assured by that? 

Here in DC a few years back we had a bit of first hand experience with this issue– it seems that during the World War One era chemical weapons research was conducted in what is now the Spring Hill neighborhood of the city and on what is now the campus of American University. Due to some accounting errors and forgetfulness, nobody realized that when Spring Hill and AU were built that there were not only buried storage pits of toxins under the sites but also the odd unexploded mustard gas shell or six hundred. Nobody realized this until, in December of 2000, someone noticed that kids were getting sick at an AU childcare facility. Soil samples revealed huge levels of arsenic, which led to some digging and then an odd metallic clink when a shovel hit an artillery shell–oopsies!– still full of gas, which led to half the neighborhood being dug up and a boatload of munitions and toxins cleared. At least we know that what’s going on at Deseret isn’t a new problem, I suppose.

We are the kings of sanctimony when it comes to responsible stewardship of WMDs, which we absolutely should be– the things are a wee bit dangerous. Lax disciplinary standards and poor training are antithetical to the lowest infantryman in our system; that they seem to have become prevalent amongst the highest security areas of our military structure is unacceptable.

To have this emerge now, of all times, with Dick Cheney still predicting nuclear and chemical attacks against out cities… well, it does make you wonder just how sloppy we’ve been, doesn’t it?

Posted in Nuclear Weapons, terrorism, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

An Overlooked Great Cuisine

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 10, 2009

When we as Americans think of the world’s great national cuisines we are automatically drawn to the “classics”– French and Italian, with a  broader second tier that might include Japanese, New American, Spanish, Chinese, German and Indian. All have their culinary wonders, to be sure, but we tend to fall back on them to the exclusion of some of the world’s other great cuisines, rooted in antiquity but advanced by modern technique.

One of my favorite overlooked cuisines in Lebanese. A subtle blend of Middle Eastern flavors meshed with Mediterranean and North African influence, Lebanese mirrors and places its own mark on foods both east and west, appropriate for the food of the residents of ancient Phoenicia.  A trading people who at the very least roamed the Med and the West Coast of Africa and who may have even made it to the East Coast of North America and around the Horn of Africa to East Asia, the Phoenicians introduced the Hellenic and Roman worlds to spices and foodstuffs from around the ancient world.

Reminiscent of its Phoenician roots, modern Lebanese cuisine takes from cultures all around the Mediterranean rim and adds in flavors and spices from the deserts to the east. Like most of the Med cuisines, they look heavily to the sea and make extensive use anchovy, sardines, octopus and squid.  The warm flavors of lemon, garlic and olive and the coolness of mint are hallmarks of the dishes.

Like truly great Italian cooking, it does not rely on the intricate techniques of haute French or the precision of New Spanish; instead Lebanese food is all about the interplay of fragrant spice and fresh ingredients, cooked in the peasant methods of stewing or grilling and eaten with usually with pita. While not showing the sophisticaton of technique that produces layers of flavor in French cooking, Lebanese cuisine presents flavors every bit as intricate achieved through imaginative combinations of ingredients.

Lebanon follows the pattern of many warmer Mediterranean cuisines by offering a vast array of small plates, called mezze. Analogous to Spanish tapas, a group would generally order two or three hot or cold mezze per person, usually including a hommus or a tabouleh salad as one, and maybe an order of kebobs for the table.

Amongst the homey mezze you’d see on any Lebanese menu are the above mentioned hommus and tabouleh, of course, as well as the salad fattouch (chopped tomatoes, onion, cucumber, radish, pepper, parsley & mint with olive oil and lemon juice), soujok (beef & lamb sausage, mildly spicy), and shawarma, either beef or chicken marinated in lemon, garlic and aromatic spices and then roaster or grilled. Falafel (chickpea fritters) and fried kibbe (beef or chicken dumplings) are omnipresent; if you want to try something more adventurous, go with the kibbe nayeh, which is a Lebanese version of steak tartare– raw ground beef mixed with burghul (bulgar) wheat, mint and onion. I know– sounds awful to the American palate, but trust me, it’s incredible once you get past your aversion to eating raw meat.

I’m proud to be friends with Rabih abi-Ahd, who owns one of the finest Lebanese restaurants in America– Me Jana, in Arlington, VA. We dined at Me Jana again on Saturday with friends, and I couldn’t recommend it more if you live in DC or travel here for business or sightseeing. Rabih’s place serves the kind of ethnic cuisine that foodies go searching for and most often find in a no-ambiance Mom’n’Pop joint that has incredible food and formica tables; luckily Me Jana tampers with that mold by serving the same incredibly good food in a pleasantly sophisticated dining room that works for a dinner with clients or a nice date night but that isn’t a stranger to big groups ordering tons of mezze and drinking too many Lebanese beers. If you come, go for the sea scallops in saffron lemon yogurt. Just trust me.

If you don’t live in DC, find a Lebanese restaurant in your city and give it a go, especially if you’ve never tried the cuisine before. Before long you’ll be addicted to zataar and sumac, craving good hommus rather than the stuff fromt he fridge section in your supermarket and you’ll be thinking kafta rather than hamburger next time you pick up a package of ground meat. It’s that good.

Posted in Cooking, Restaurants, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Today’s Quote, February 11 2009

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 10, 2009

“United in this determination and with unshakable faith in the cause for which we fight, we will, with God’s help, go forward to our greatest victory.”  — General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1944)

Words as true today in the economic and social crisis we face as they were int he great catclysm of the 20th Century.

Posted in Quote of the Day | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Ecomonic Warfare or Fiscal Porn?

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 10, 2009

But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that’s moving through Congress is designed to do. –Barack Obama

Yesterday, Barack Obama finally got back to doing what he does best– taking his case to the people of our nation and rallying them behind policy positions that previous administrations of both stripes have considered to be “above” them, too complex to understand and thus not worth attempting to explain. Suffice it to say that you never would’ve seen George Bush (pick your iteration…) in front of a large crowd of politically unscreened citizens handed microphones to ask questions after being given a straight assessment of the problems facing our economy and the extraordinary tasks that need to be undertaken to quell them. Yesterday in Indiana and today in Florida, however, that is exactly what we have and will see Barack Obama do. Lest you think that these were randomly chosen locales, recall that Indiana and Florida were two of the toughest Red states that flipped to blue in the election, a clear reminder to the Senate and House of who they’re dealing with, politically.

Some of the questions he received yesterday were extremely critical of him and his administration– one was delivered by a woman who identified herself as “…one of those who think you should have a beer with Sean Hannity”– but they were handled with aplomb and humour as the cost of doing business for a President who knows that he will have to deal with detractors head on to gain the trust of a nation. Like him or not, that’s a refreshing…wait for it… change.

Last night Obama went before reporters for a live prime time presser and again handled everything thrown at him, acquitting himself well and making yet another strong case for his particular vision of a stimulus package and the steps needed to fix the economy.

Obama and his aides are not fools– they understand that despite the losses of the Republican Party and the seeming rejection of its philosophies by the voting public, there is still an aftertaste of the conservative fiscal policies that the Bush Admin and the House Republicans, in particular, have  told America that they were practicing for the better part of the last decade. There is a seductiveness to talking about tax cuts and limiting government while ignoring the larger issues that drive the economy and the nation; it’s fiscal porn. Why talk about having to free the liquidity of the credit markets when you can talk about the bliss of a paycheck less encumbered by taxes or the pleasures of getting government “off of your back”? The GOP has engaged in this quite literal application of bread and circuses and has done so well– give the people some extra bread in their weekly take-home while keeping them diverted with asinine wedge issues like gay marriage and putting the Ten Commandments on public property and they conveniently forget to take a look at what Fannie & Freddie are doing. It’s undeniable– and undeniably sad– that this formula has worked politically so well for so long.

What Barack Obama has been giving us, literally, is the opposite of fiscal porn– it is depressingly honest at times, featuring quotes like the above and a constant reminder that “the party is over” or “this is the worst financial crisis we’ve seen since the Great Depression”. Obama is treating us as adults and partners, not only in the problem but in its solution. Not only is this the right thing to do– our grandparents handled the Germans and the Japanese, I think we can handle Goldman Sachs and sovereign wealth funds– it is also the politically smart thing to do. As noted by David Gergen last night on CNN, last week saw the Admin focus entirely on policy and working the hallways at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. They were effective in doing so, getting a fixable stimulus package through the House and then saving a better bill in the Senate, but they also allowed public support for the bill to erode. They gave people like Jim DeMint, Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell the media floor to rally against what they saw (often mistakenly, sometimes correctly) as excesses in the bill passed by the House and attempted to make the bill a referendum whose choices were Nancy Pelosi’s “San Francisco Power Bitchery” or the Debbie Does Taxes myth of Republican fiscal responsibility featuring their promise about going down on taxes and the double penetration of cutting spending while shifting focus to social issues.

When given the choice between someone with a plan, an actual way to move forward on a problem, and someone who tells you that the best thing to do is either nothing or, worse, admits the problem and then tries to hand you another that has the illusion of being easier to solve, the choice is clear. Obama has a proactive plan of attack that he’s willing to talk about and allow scrutiny of; he’s been honest enough to say that his plan will sometimes lead into blind alleys or need to be adjusted along the way, and that pain will be felt by all as we move forward. What he describes and the way he describes it is very much akin to a war; the comparisons to FDR have already been made ad nauseum, but it is impossible to not note here the latter-day Fireside Chat ethos of Obama’s town hall events this week and his general willingness to tell us we’re in for a bad ride for the next few years– but also that there is an end to the ride in sight in the distance. The war that Obama describes isn’t a war in the sense that Mr. Bush forced us to grow accustomed to; the war that Mr. Obama lays out has clearly defined goals, a frank assessment of risks and challenges, and a strategy to overcome them. It is also explained as war without fait accompli as a component– in this war, the enemy will fight back and will even win battles. We start this war much as we did World War Two– under attack, shocked and dazed, with an enemy in the field that will be initially superior to our efforts to fight it. We are also uniquely suited to grow in strength throughout the fight and overwhelm the problems facing us as long as we do so in a progressive (little “p” progressive, note) fashion that has us methodically building a foundation and then laying successes atop it until the overall fight is won. We started World War Two with crappy and far too few airplanes, a Navy that needed to be built from the keel up, and tanks that were ten years out of date but with a strong base from which to fix those problems. We start this war similarly challenged, with a fiscal sector in chaos, with corporations running out of date models, with too few and patently lousy tools to manage Wall Street, but with the ability to fix those problems with some discipline and some reassessment and realignment of our priorities.

Obama is our Roosevelt; Geithner & Summers our Marshall & Eisenhower. The fight will be long, but it is on. If that doesn’t sound like fun, though, Ann Coulter is going down on your tax bill over at FoxNews LateNight. Your choice.

Posted in American History, American Politics, CongressCritters, Economy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Alex Rodriguez Comes Clean

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 9, 2009

So, sometimes the least likely– and most correct– outcome is what comes to pass. Alex Rodriguez has just come clean and admitted not only to using steroids in 2003, the year that he tested positive in supposedly confidential tests, but that he started using in 2001. He relates his use of PEDs to the signing of his $252,000,000 contract with the Texas Rangers, claiming that the pressure to perform at a top level every day combined with the permissive attitude of MLB in 2001 and the stupidity of youth. He also states that he stopped using steroids in

Wonderful.

Yes, Rodriguez gets some credit for at least explicitly coming clean, going beyond what he had to do by admitting that he used not just in 2003, when he was tagged in the test, but also in 2001 and 2002. The easy outs are to say that he only used once and was unlucky enough to get caught in a test or to say that he only used that year. Either one of those would’ve been sufficient and indeed have been used many times by other players; Rodriguez did more. Good for him.

That being said, he is forever tarnished in the eyes of any serious baseball fan. That Rodriguez used steroids in three of his better years– years in which he hit 52, 57, and 47 home runs, respectively– puts question marks on everything else he did, too. Rodriguez claims that he stopped using in 2003– a plausible claim given that he got nailed in a test and apparently was informed as such by Gene Orza of the Player’s Union.

Rodriguez’ numbers were extremely good in 2001 through ’03, his admitted steroid years, but they also weren’t the best of his career. Using one of the more accurate metrics by which statheads can measure offensive performance, OPS+, we can see many better years for Rodriguez. For my readers who aren’t also readers at RotoJunkie.com, OPS+ is broken out as On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage measured against league average, with the league average being represented as 100. During his three Rangers/steroids years, Rodriguez’ OPS+ were 160, 158, & 147– all fantastic, without question. In 1996, his second full year, his OPS+ was also 160. In 2000, his last year in Seattle, it was 162. With the Yankees in 2005 ARod’s OPS+ was 170 and in 2007 his OPS+ was a ludicrous 177.

More interestingly, when you look at Rodriguez’ numbers during his Texas/steroid years, they show something very interesting– a declining trendline.

 Year Ag Tm  Lg  G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  SB CS  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG *OPS+  TB
 2001 25 TEX AL 162  632  133  201  34  1  52  135  18  3  75 131  .318  .399  .622  160  393
 2002 26 TEX AL 162  624  125  187  27  2  57  142   9  4  87 122  .300  .392  .623  158  389
 2003 27 TEX AL 161  607  124  181  30  6  47  118  17  3  87 126  .298  .396  .600  147  364 

During those Texas/steroid years, Rodriguez’ OPS+, his value relative to the league, remained very high but fell each year, especially notable as Rodriguez had moved to one of the best parks for hitters in the American League. If you look at these three years as the peak of the steroid era, the last years in which steroid usage wasn’t specifically punishable in the Majors, we can see American League OPS+ leaders Jason Giambi (198 in 2001), Jim Thome (197 in 2002), and Carlos Delgado (161 in 2003) with Barry Bonds going 259/268/231 in those same years to lead the NL. All of these guys have at least been rumored to have been steroid users, as well.

It is similarly acknowledged that the Steroid Era curtailed in the years after 2003, with testing and penalties now becoming mandatory. As you look at these years, something becomes very evident– the yearly OPS+ leaders, the standouts relative to their respective leagues, say within the realm of reality. No longer do you see the insane 200+ numbers of Barry Bonds after 2004, nor do you see the 195+ numbers of Jason Giambi– you see numbers in the 160 – 180 range in the AL and the same in the NL with the exception of Albert Pujols’ super-human (perhaps literally, if you believe the steroid rumors) 190 in 2008. What this tells us is that the disparity between the juicers of the ’90s and early part of this decade has started to disappear as even the standout players aren’t so far above the average players as to make the eyes goggle. In that time, Alex Rodriguez has posted his two best OPS+ years– his 2005 & 2007 seasons in New York– and played them, allegedly and perhaps quite believably, clean. It does lend some credence to his statement today that after using ‘roids for a few years, he realized that he didn’t need them to perform.

I will never be able to look at ARod the same way again, which is particularly painful as I am a die-hard, lifelong Yankee fan and my five year old loves ARod. He cheated, plain and simple, and at the very least I could never bring myself to look at his numbers from 2001-2003 as part of any career tally, which is huge when you consider that barring injury it’s almost a fait accompli that Rodriguez will blow away Barry Bonds’ career home run record. What makes that even more ironic is that Rodriguez is absolutely right– going from the King Dome and Safeco Field, two fields that were a nightmare for hitters to the launching pad that is the Ball Park at Arlington/Ameriquest/Whatever it’s called now, one of the statistically best places for a home run hitter to play– Rodriguez could’ve put up those numbers or ones nearly indistinguishable without steroids. Most players will tell you that the effect steroids have on hitting home runs is that they let you hit the ball further; for a guy with Rodriguez’ natural talent level going into the Texas homerun haven, that boost probably didn’t make a hell of a lot of difference. In Seattle, they would’ve upped his numbers. In Texas, the gains would have been marginal. Did I recently write that nothing is ever simple with this guy?

Going forward, Rodriguez should continue to be one of the great players in the league and one of the greatest in the history of the game.

Sadly, he can never be credited accordingly. He doesn’t deserve to be.

Posted in Baseball, Cultural Phenomena, Jerks | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Blue Jeans Problem

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 9, 2009

OK, there are a lot of blue jeans problems, ranging from the hot 19 year old who is now the slightly frumpy 37 year old with the muffin tops to the concept of $600 jeans to the fact that some people still think it’s ok to wear a denim shirt with blue jeans.

But those aren’t important right now.

No, what I’m thinking about is much more insidious… mysterious… well, just weird. Why, on every pair of jeans I’ve owned that are over a year or two old, has the right knee worn out? How come whenever I see someone with a hole in their jeans it’s always in the right knee? Always the right, never the left.

There has to be a reasonable explanation– maybe we stress our right pants leg more when we drive with all the ankle movements on the peddles, or maybe, as my friend Rob suggested, when we kneel down we tend to kneel our right knee. I’m not sure.
Hey, I warned you that my mind runs local.

Posted in Cultural Phenomena, Just Annoying | 4 Comments »

 
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