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Archive for July, 2009

Fighting the Next War, Part II

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 25, 2009

The F-22, which the Air Force has alleged to be the fighter that could not be shot down, has been destroyed on the ground by the American Congress, two days before the news broke that the F-35– the Joint Strike Fighter– is at least two years behind schedule and won’t enter the production phase until at least 2016.

It’s been a bad week for the Air Force.

Where does this leave American air power as we head into the second and third decades of the century? Not in a particularly good place in the short term but, if the Air Force brass can get their heads around it, in a very good position for the mid to long term.

In the first part of this article I touched upon the F-22 suffering from many problems, the most critical of which was timing. Not only was the insanely expensive F-22 up for review during a financial crisis, but at a time in which unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) have been constantly in the news for their outsized role in the Afghan theater of the war. Every week we see stories of Reaper or Predator strikes against targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan and hear the virtues of this style of aerial combat– extremely long loiter times, no American pilots in danger or captured in sketchy places in the event of a shootdown, reasonably stealthy… and relatively cheap. If these drones work so well in the air-to-ground role, what can they do for air supremacy?

The idea of taking the human pilot out of the cockpit holds several advantages, not the least of which is taking the risk of dead American pilots off the table. From an aircraft design standpoint, removing the pilot, cockpit controls, life support system and ejection seat is a dream for the weight savings, allowing greater loiter time, greater deliverable payload and overall cost savings.

In modern fighters, the pilot is always the weakest link; fighters can pull far more Gs than the pilot can tolerate without losing consciousness. While it is true that could make UCAVs incredible dogfighters, that isn’t nearly as important in modern aerial warfare as is the fact that the higher G load the aircraft can handle, the better chance it has of avoiding  advanced SAMs You also eliminate the problem of limited mission duration by taking fatigue, food, and discomfort out of the equation. From a mission planning standpoint you can take greater risks; although these planes will be expensive, they will also be more disposable as you aren’t losing pilots when you lose airframes. It’s politically a lot easier to send a fleet of robots against a highly defended target than it is to send someone’s kids to do the job.

There are significant downsides to UCAVs in the air supremacy role; the control systems would be extremely complex, especially if any autonomy is expected. Active control systems are potentially subject to interference and jamming, and the technology to actively control these aircraft in the split-second environment of aerial combat may not even be possible due to broadcast lag time, demanding the aforementioned complex autonomy. When you take humans out of the loop, you also have the problem of the computer choosing incorrectly and destroying the wrong targets or making other mistakes. The “creepiness factor” of robots killing humans is going to inspire a Russian, Chinese and Iranian campaign amongst lesser developed nations to outlaw these things, and it is undeniably going to gain traction as America will likely be the only ones deploying autonomous systems like this for several years.

The biggest problem facing the move to UCAVs, though, isn’t technological– it’s oh so very human. The biggest obstacle is the revulsion with which UCAVs are viewed by the Air Force, which of course is run primarily by fighter pilots whose entire identities are invested in the fact that they have piloted high performance jets. Ever have a conversation with a fighter pilot? They talk about flying a fighter the way a 17 year old boy talks about sex– it’s the ultra-idealized, be all and end all of human existence. They cannot, for the most part, conceive of, first, a computer doign their job in the cockpit and second, of not spreading their profession to a next generation of fighter pilots. That’s a problem when these men and women are the ones who need to set strategic and tactical policy for the Air Force and as well as making the research and procurement decisions about future aircraft.

The Air Force has run up against a wall every bit as imposing as the limits of a human to withstand Gs– the potential of the next generation of planes has outstripped the costs that Americans are willing to pay for them. A plane that can cruise at supersonic speeds rather than only sprint at them, that can engage a dozen targets simultaneously while being nearly invisible to radar, that can maneuver like no plane before it– those are the features of the F-22. So is the $361,000,000 price tag per plane, for a plane that is designed to operate in units measured in multiples of 12. The next plane up, the F-35 JSF, is rumored to be significantly less capable int he air-to-air role than advertised and is getting very expensive itself; if its primary role is to be that of an air-to-ground attack plane with a secondary air-to-air capacity, then one has to question the wisdom of buyign it when UCAV technology has already been demonstrated to handle that role very well.

This week we’ve heard the Air Force make the argument that to deny the F-22 is to fight the last war rather than the next as the F-22, while useless in Afghanistan could be a huge difference maker in a more symmetrical war against a major power. The reality may well be that procuring the F-22 and F-35 may indeed be the move rooted in the last war, as technology has eclipsed the need for the human pilot in the cockpit; the Air Force may finally, unwillingly, be dragged into that realization by the White House quaterbacked drive that ended the F-22’s procurement cycle.


Posted in American Politics, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Pursuit of Happiness, Michael Vick Style

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 24, 2009

The question of just what the NFL should do with Michael Vick has been hotly pursued in many places lately, not the least of which is my favorite forum website.

One of the fundamental issues I take with those who favor Vick’s being allowed back into the NFL is the concept that Michael Vick has paid his debt to society and thus should be able to pursue reinstatement to the Commissioner. Perhaps I should restate that– I don’t have an issue with Vick having paid his societal debt or asking to be reinstated; I have an issue with the assumption that he should be granted the object of his pursuit simply for having asked after having served his time in Federal prison. Roger Goodell appears this morning to be leaning towards forsaking that duty and allowing Vick back into the league with a short suspension to be serve dat the start of the 2009 season if he signs a contract. It’s a poor decision, if it comes to pass.

Many, many people have pursued a playing career and have failed, from walk-on tryout dreamers to insufficiently talented college players to ultra-talented losers like Art Schlister. Although they failed to succeed in their pursuit for disparate reasons, they all shared one commonality– the NFL rejected them. That’s the major danger in pursuing a career in playing football– there’s only one source of good jobs in the field, and if you do something to make yourself unattractive to that entity, you will fail to make a living playing football.

For an industry as image conscious as professional sports, profiting from the intentional infliction of cruelty upon animals is not something likely to endear you to your single source employer.

Let’s take this out of the realm of the NFL for a moment to illustrate the sole employer problem. Let’s make Mr. Vick an intelligence officer in the employ of the CIA, instead, and have him arrested for the same crime, running and hosting a dog fighting operation. Would the CIA immediately hire him back as he had served his time, paid his debt to society, and asked sweetly to be rehired? The answer, obviously, is of course not. That’s a bit of a problem for Mr. Vick, as the CIA is an intelligence organ of the sole major employer in his field– the government– and the government, for various reasons, is not going to give Mr. Vick another job in his field of expertise no matter how sweetly he asks as he is a felon and could do significant damage to the employer if they took him back. This is almost precisely the same situation he potentially faces in football– he is constrained to seeking work with a limited number of franchises, all under the direct control of a central authority that may well deem Mr. Vick to be deleterious to its image. In short, he could very well be screwed.

Sadly (ahem) for Vick, there’s no other employer to really pursue this career path with.

Second chances are all well and good, but to assume that Vick is owed one or that the NFL should mindlessly take it on the chin to offer him one is a bit naive. There is a real cost to the NFL for letting Vick back in after his conviction on animal cruelty charges; whichever team hires Vick, if any one did, would be subject to protests, potential boycotts, and the continuing bad press both for the club and the league of having to put up with that sort of thing.

Yes, the NFL, MLB, and other leagues have in the past allowed criminals back into their sports despite the cost to the league. In some cases that is warranted, in others it has shown a sorry lack of convictions by the various commissioners and leagues. While people who have committed worse crimes– domestic abuse, assaults, even manslaughter or vehicular homicides– have been allowed back in, that should serve as no guide in this case nor, indeed, in any case. Each situation must be base don the the individual circumstances and potential for damage to the overall entity, not just on the severity of the initial crime. Like it or not, morally wrong or not, what Vick did excites negative public opinion much more than a domestic abuse or drug charge does and that must be a consideration in the NFL’s decision on Vick.

Were I in the Commissioner’s chair, I would view this solely through the prism of business, and that means that damage control is my primary concern. In light of that, there is no way I could countenance the reinstatement of Mr. Vick, societal debt paid or not, and subject the brand identity of the NFL to the damage that allowing this felon back into the league would entail; the duty to protect the brand’s already marred image far outweighs in my mind the questionable compassion of allowing Vick to resume a playing career in the league.

Posted in Cultural Phenomena, NFL | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Fighting the Next War, Part One

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 21, 2009

America has a nasty habit when it comes to maintaining our military– we fight, throw all of our economic and industrial might into the battle… and then destroy the military created the day after the armistice is signed.  The ugliness of this cycle has, of course, become greatly magnified during the era of industrial-technological warfare; with the drawdown post-World War I setting us up for WW II, the post-WW II drawdown enabling the North Koreans to launch their war in 1950 and push the Americans all the way to Pusan within roughly 5 weeks. Drawdowns occurred even in the Cold War settings that followed Korea and Viet Nam, always returning America to a dramatically weakened strategic position than it was in during the war.

The reasons for this are clear– in a democratic society war fatigue runs high and the will of the people to be reminded of war after the fact is low, leading to demands for a “peace dividend” and for tremendously reduced military spending. This is, of course, a sensible response– unbridled military spending during peace time can be ruinous, but in the course of American history we have traditionally overcompensated for this sentiment and cut back to the point of fundamental weakness with relation to our global responsibilities.

As the most active portion of the ill conceived and strategically unsuccessful “War on Terror” comes to a close with the shuttering of the Iraq Theater, war fatigue is running particularly high at the same time America deals with a financial crisis that makes spending on military systems particularly painful. The situation is further complicated by the traditional dual impetus to reduce military capacity coming at a time of transitional technology, in which robotic systems seem nearly ready to displace traditional man-in-front systems.

Into this maelstrom flies the F-22 Raptor, a tremendously advanced aircraft with no clear role in the current war and a pricetag that represents the cost of ten to fourteen F-15s, the current American fighter in the air superiority role that the F-22 seeks to fill.

The Obama Administration’s stance on the F-22 is clear– we don’t want this thing. The Congress is divided between fiscal responsibility and the fact that suppliers for the F-22 project have been strategically salted throughout the most important Congressional Districts in the nation, making the vote tough for key Congressmen and Senators. The Air Force sees the design potential of the aircraft and wants many, many more. The other three services see the Raptor as the usual platinum plated Air Force toy– good only for air-to-air combat and useless in the close air support role that has been so incredibly vital to the Marines & Army in this and the past several wars. They may have a point– since 1991 and Operation Desert Shield/Storm, through Somalia and Kosovo and the WoT, the US Air Force has made fewer than 25 air-to-air kills against jets of an enemy air force, all of them in 1991 in the air war phase of Desert Storm. In that same time, over 10,000 missions have been flown against targets on the ground.

Oddly enough, that disparity makes, for both sides, the most militarily compelling argument over the F-22. The President, the members of the DoD not wearing blue suits, and the budget conscious can point to the scarcity of air-to-air combat and make the seemingly rock solid case that an incredibly expensive air superiority fighter is unneeded; the Air Force can conversely claim that we have fallen into the trap of falling the last war rather than preparing for the next against a more symmetric adversary against whom the F-22 would be a key to American victory over China, Russia or (in a stretch) Iran. “Fighting the last war” is a phrase loaded with meaning to military planners and historians, an indictment of the thinking that what worked last time will prevail next. The Maginot Line is an oft-cited example of fighting the last war; the French built a huge line of fixed positions that mimicked the trench system of the First World War in the hope that it would secure France from Germany; Germany on the other hand had prepared for the next war by developing mobile operations featuring tanks and trucks that easily outflanked the Maginot Line. It’s a damning accusation.

Later today the Congress will issue an up or down vote on continued funding for the F-22, and the vote counters are hard at work trying to figure out the balance between self interest, military necessity, financial prudence and technological advance. Running Local will be back after the vote with Part Two of the story.

Posted in American Politics, Obama Positions, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Is the Sky Our New Limit?

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 17, 2009

I was at our pool club the other day when I heard a man of about 40 say those immortal words to an unruly child– “Back when I was a kid, we wouldn’t have dreamed of disobeying our parents!”. After my kids and his were out of earshot, I conspiratorially mentioned to him that back in my day I wouldn’t have dreamed of obeying my parents if I thought there was any chance of getting away with it, giving us both a chuckle at being the newest members of the I’ve Become My Father Club.

We often get lost and wallow in nostalgia when things aren’t quite the way we want them to be in the present; it’s probably our most commonly used emotional crutch and one we’ve all been indoctrinated in by the universal “back in my day…” musings of our forebears. Generally the facts don’t hold true to the sentiments– things weren’t really so peachy under Reagan or Kennedy or Roosevelt or Wilson when you get right down to it, no more or less so than they are in whatever present their names and eras were invoked.

There is at least one realm, however, where I can’t escape the belief that things were oh so much better in the early 60’s, and that is the sense of man’s unlimited potential. Watch this video and tell me if you can recapture that spirit right now if you lived through these events, or if you can even imagine it if , like me, you didn’t.

Billions of words have been spilt upon the 60’s, of course, and so I’ll limit mine to remarking how amazing the changes embodied in those 10 years were, from the unbridled hope and dreams of the early years to the tumult and despair of the ending years.

Space exploration seems the perfect metaphor for the dialing back of our dreams that happened during those years. The Kennedy proclamation that we were going to do the extremely difficult, that we were going to the moon within the decade, is the kind of proclamation that today would be immediately obliterated under the weight of words from the blogosphere, from the media and from the Congress. The discussion of going to Mars hasn’t captured the popular imagination– in fact, it isn’t something that most kids would even know was on the table.

The problem seems to be that we’ve become enamored of the incremental rather than the revolutionary. Kennedy proposed something that skipped so many steps as to be breathtaking– he didn’t get lost in the ephemera of cost benefit analysis or the reality of the many steps between the speech and the landing– he boldly declared an endgame and demanded a  process that would get us there rather than implementing a process that could someday find its way beyond our gravitational pull. In this instance Kennedy wasn’t a man invested in escaping the bonds of gravity, he was  a man who simply didn’t care to be bound.

Since July 20, 1969 we have been gripped by what we think of as reality but which might be more reasonably classified as a miasma of doubt. The day that Armstrong and Aldrin stepped upon the fine powder of a world beyond Terra was the day that an instantly fossilized footprint was laid in the lunar sand, not the day that our first bold steps towards the galaxy were laid. They were the high water mark of an era of hope which receded with the liftoff of the LEM back to the lunar orbiter, an era which, to be fair, had ended years before Apollo 11 ever lifted off. In the resounding roar of the engines of that Saturn V were the echoes of the post war ear of dreams, sounding across the Florida swamps and triggering not the vague stirrings of nostalgia for a distantly remembered past but the desperate grasp for one tantalizingly just out of reach, a ledge grabbed for an instant after the teeter became the fall.

The fall ended in a vat of goo that softened the landing but has clung to us and restrained our reach. The space program sank into the sludge that the rest of our country was submerged in as lunar landings became passe and the next great adventure, Skylab, never really became anything but a punchline. What started to pass for leaps forward weren’t manned strides out into the solar system but hobbled paces like the robotic probes and then the Space Shuttle. Each of those could have been important steps if they were indeed steps towards a goal, but in truth they weren’t. As dramatic as reaching out and landing on Mars for the first time could have been, Viking was an anti-climax– a robot that took a few pictures and died, fulfilling its limited design specs. Even the Space Shuttle was an anti-climax, literally a space truck that delivered satellite cargo into low orbit and landed to be refit for its next cargo delivery. At least it looked like a space ship, to an extent. It couldn’t go to the moon, it couldn’t take us to Mars, but at least it wasn’t just a conical tin can atop a rocket. It was something but, honestly, was never a huge reach. It led to the construction of a failed orbital station that has proven to be not even the modest next step it was supposed to be, a breakthrough-possible lab and perhaps construction station for extra-terran missions, but rather an expensive, orbiting Edsel that holds a very few people in orbit for a few months at a time.

To my mind the one bright spot, the one glimpse in my lifetime of the possibility of man as embodied by the reach into the sky beyond our own, was Hubble. Hubble allowed us not so much to dream as to wonder why we suddenly weren’t, a glimpse into the heavens and perhaps literally into Heaven, a Heaven of unsuspected and unimagined delicacy and grace where even the greatest celestial furnaces burning with a heat beyond the imagination of Dante were objects of breathtaking beauty. Hubble made us ask once more what was out there and reawakened in some of us a desire to find out, even if that quest led beyond our lifespan and into a dreamed future. It literally made the nebulous tangible.

Perhaps as important was the fact that we were able to service and improve Hubble over the years, demonstrating that space wasn’t outside of human reach but was in fact a place we could work, a realm in which we could do what we as humans fundamentally do– manipulate our environment. Four times we reached out to service and improve Hubble, recognizing the fundamental worth to mankind of dreams. Our waking eyes saw the costs and limits of space, but in the never-ending night of orbital space our dream continued to project its images into our lives.

That we had to debate the mission that extended the life of Hubble earlier this spring epitomizes the battle between those two existences, that of our budget conscious day and our limitless night. The bright lights of night won out, with caution and pessimism thrown to the wind and the mission, one of extraordinary difficulty and more than what some considered acceptable risk, executed perfectly. That the mission happened proves that the dreams live and that their value has won a column in the often seemingly heartless spreadsheet of our existence.

We have not overcome our incremental and limited existence, either in space or in our national life. The replacement for the Shuttle is a return to the conical tin can atop the rocket, a huge disappointment for most who love space and see a role for man in it, but one which may yet surprise and take us to a place where we touch the dream instead of merely glimpsing it on the fringes of consciousness. Private space travel seems to be becoming a reality, even if the suborbital flights of the Rutans of the world are a return to the days of Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepherd. It must be recalled that we went from Kitty Hawk to space in a span of 58 years; who knows how little time it might take the visionaries of the private sector to catch and exceed the realities of NASA, the ESA, the Russians and the other governmental space players even starting from the notional point of the 1961 push into space.

I refuse to consider the sky our new limit. I can only hope that others will, too.

Posted in American History, Cultural Phenomena, History, Space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Painted Painted Painted, Painted… White?

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 16, 2009

The Rolling Stones saw a red door and wanted to paint it black. Steven Chu, US Energy Secretary and Nobel prize winner, saw a black roof and he wants to paint it white.

Either way it’s no colour anymore.

While Jagger’s nihilistic anthem grew to become one of the theme songs of the Vietnam War, Chu’s hopeful musing may grow to become a touchstone of the greening of America. You see, Steven Chu is smarter than you, me… well, pretty much everyone this side of Steven Hawking, and sometimes it takes genius to perceive and promote the obvious. We all know that dark colors absorb heat– it’s why we wear white in the summer– yet we seem to have forgotten that when we made our rooftops and roads black or other dark colors.


In a speech a couple of weeks ago, Chu pointed out that if (admittedly unrealistically) we all painted our roofs and roads white the carbon impact would be the same as removing all the world’s cars for eleven years. No cap and trade gyrations, no 17,000 page House Bills alleging to set a roadmap to saving the environment whole similarly saving ExxonMobil’s shareholders any undue pain, no laws enforcing the use of hu-manure in our landscaping to limit nitrogen fertilizer production. Just white paint, leading to a 10-20% reduction in electricity bills in a standard building while also killing off the “heat island” effect that those of us who live in large cities know all too well and reflecting solar radiation back into space, leading to an overall atmospheric cooling.

It seems so easy that it can’t really work, right? Yet there exists a large and ever growing body of research that Chu drew on in his comments that shows that not only do white roofs work, but they work better than initial estimates ever dreamed they could.

This dichotomy, the exquisitely simple answer for the dauntingly complex problem, is something that Americans are loathe to accept. We all complain about the complexity of life, the unneeded red tape of bureaucracy, the burying of common sense under layer upon layer of sophistry, yet when a simple idea comes along that can make a real impact we are conditioned to laugh it off or at the very best give it a shrugged, “Huh, that’s interesting… but what’s the catch?”. That, to me, is one of the most interesting challenges we Americans face as a society, this reverence for simplicity and common sense but our out of hand rejection of it when it appears.

It emerges so many times, just in the energy debate and in forms from the everyday to the grandiose. We are falling over ourselves to buy impractical and unsafe miniaturized cars in an effort to reduce carbon footprint… yet we won’t take a train or bus to get to work. We want vehicles that use less fuel, but instead of insisting upon real research into petroleum-free cars and trucks we have stalled out on this hybrid vehicle temporization which allows us to feel good about the direction we’re going in while actually stalling the progress towards the destination. A friend of this blog has for years been saying that what we need is an energy “Manhattan Project”, bringing together the best minds in a crash program to actually make an impact on energy problems… yet we spend even more money than that would take in uncoordinated fits and starts in a million directions that aren’t mutually supporting.

I won’t bother you with yet another call for a return to common sense– we’ve heard it a million times from some of the the least sensible people out there and we ignore it every time, perhaps because we have heard it a million times from some of the least sensible people out there. What I will do, though, is ask you to share with someone else (or with the comments section of this entry… hint hint) at least one of those dumb ideas you’ve had, the one that you say, “Nah, that couldn’t be right” but that keeps popping into your head. Forget how geekish it sounds, that it could be (hell, probably is) fundamentally flawed in some way, whatever. A Nobel Laureate is pimping the wonderfully non-complex idea of painting our rooftops white and using light colored cement for roads because it would make a huge difference in energy usage; can your ideas be much simpler or more obvious than that?

We laugh off so many ideas that seem unworkable because they aren’t nearly complex enough to mesh with our incredibly complex society; perhaps it is time to stop laughing and paint it white.

Posted in American Politics, Environment, Obama Cabinet | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Killing the Assassination Story

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 14, 2009

Something isn’t right in Langley, on the Hill, or in the newsrooms. Amidst the sturm und drang of the latest CIA-Congressional blowup over no-oversight covert ops the story has started to emerge that the program in question was centered on hit teams finding and then taking out al Qaeda leaders in the Middle East and South Asia. That’s all very dramatic… but is it all that believable?

Hit teams and assassination programs are the stuff of spy novels and Tom Cruise movies, but drones are the stuff of this war and that’s the major problem I’m having with the “revelation” that the entire imbroglio is over an assassination plot. What would make Dick Cheney order the CIA to withhold information from what at the time the order was given was a galvanized, Republican Congress when the groundwork was already being laid for the not terribly covert Predator program, which was acknowledged to be operational in 2002 but which may have been in action even before that?

To my mind, nothing. Yes, Dick Cheney did some fairly stupid stuff with connection to the intelligence community– Valerie Plame, anyone?– and him ordering the CIA to withold information from the Congress isn’t that far a bridge to cross in terms of believability, of course. Still, to issue that order almost immediately after 9-11, when you could’ve gotten a Republican Congress (or a Democratic one, for that matter) to stay quiet about, oh, a massive program of snatching suspects from both friendly and hostile nations, spiriting them away to foreign nations to be tortured into giving up information and then dumping them in Cuba– that doesn’t add up, even with Dick Cheney’s penchant for bloody mindedness.

This strikes me as an attempted deception– someone picked a spy novel premise that seemed to them like something the public would suck up while being just appalled enough to say, “Oh that CIA, they’ve done it again!” It’s damage control 101– when you are going to get tagged with something you really don’t want to be tagged with, admit to something embarrassing– people stop looking because they themselves can’t stand to be publicly embarrassed and can’t understand that you would willingly embarrass yourself to dodge the greater bullet. People look away when they see something embarrassing, and that’s precisely what the CIA wants to have happen here– they want us to look away.

In the end I have no idea what this program was, if Congress or even the President know what it is at this point, if it involved assassination or something else, or if Cheney even ordered it covered up. It could be a huge issue borne of post- 9/11 excess or it could be a tempest in a teapot conjured up in the Speaker’s office to draw attention away from some of Nancy’s recent foibles. I am confident, however, that this wasn’t all about some silly plot to set up hit teams to pursue al Qaeda leaders and hide them from the Congress. Hit teams to go after Saudi Royals funding al Qaeda?

Now that would be a story worthy of hiding from Congress.

Posted in Afghanistan, American Politics, CongressCritters, Intelligence (and lack thereof) | Leave a Comment »

Minor League Night

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 14, 2009

I am an unabashed lover of Minor League baseball, the “lower” the league the better. Last night I went to the Carolina League game between our local Potomac Nationals and the Lynchburg Hillcats with my two sons and a good friend who brought his son & daughter.

The differences between the full blown Major League experience and going to a minors game is the difference between spending a week at Disney World and happening upon a summertime Firemen’s Carnival out in the country, and I mean that in the best possible way. Every year I trek to a fair number of Major League games, be they in Washington or Baltimore or New York, and I love going to them, but they’re a production. The seats usually coast between $30 and $75, you get bowled over with $25 parking charges and confronted with Epcot-esque diversions and distractions. Baseball, which is to my mind the game that most benefits from an intimate setting, is being played on a magnificent field that seems to be miles away and is being ignored by 35,000 of the 45,000 people in attendance at the game. Sure you can get into it if you’re determined to in the way that I usually am and there’s few things better than a playoff game in a Major League park, but still, there’s just so much laid on top of the experience that finding the essence of the game, the idyll, is a task.

Last night, on the other hand, we enjoyed Dollar Night with the Potomac Nats in a “stadium” made out of aluminum bleachers and wooden walls adorned with the kind of cheesy advertising that only a Southern minor league park can bring you. Every Monday home game fro the P-Nats offers $1 general admission tickets that are at a distance from the field that would cost you $575 at Yankee Stadium and $1 grilled hotdogs– how do you beat that? The game experience itself is what baseball should be about– tons of kids rooting earnestly for “their” team, even if they don’t know who all the players are, chasing down foul balls and getting autographs from the players who willingly make themselves available to sign any ball, bat, program or napkin offered to them. The players run out every grounder, they dive for every out of reach ball; for the most part they’re job applicants rather than acknowledged gods of sport and their aspiration is emblazoned on their uniforms along with the team name.

Somehow it’s the antithesis of what Major League baseball has made itself into– it is pure. It’s an American experience from before the days of Walmart and The Olive Garden, and those are becoming so rare. One of the things I love about goign to these games is meeting the people around me and listening to their conversations. The Dads spend the game explaining the finer points of the double paly to young kids who don’t get it but sit in rapt attention, the Moms make jokes about the Dads, the kids just take it all in between bites of hot dogs and gulps of sugary drinks while dreaming of being on the field themselves. Between innings you get some of the cheesiest, silliest promotions– kids racing the mascot around the bases for a bobblehead prize, tricycle races, bowling with plastic balls down the first base line and, of course, the two staples of Minor League enticements– kids run the bases after the game and the Friday Night Fireworks.

It’s just right. It’s basbeall without commitment to a “huge” night, both financially and logistically. It’s baseball that a non-baseball fan can enjoy– heck, it’s something to do for a few bucks on a warm night, it’s silliness and laughs and bad for you food and some of the best people watching around. If you love the game, it’s a chance to see some great baseball played up close by guys who may just be on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a few years.

Go to a Minor League game. Trust me on this one; you’ll find out what the magic of baseball has always been about.

Posted in Baseball, Cultural Phenomena, Events | 3 Comments »

Mermaids and Centaurs and Minotaurs, Oh My!

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 14, 2009

Sam Brownback (R-KS) is, has been, and always will be one of my favorite Senators. Aside from a name evocative of a juvenile underwear joke, Brownback is so conservative and moreover so consistently goofy about his conservatism that he makes even serious DC conservatives cringe in amused horror. To understand how Brownback is seen by intelligent people in DC, you have to view him as the Republican Yogi Berra– you sit there just waiting for him to open his mouth because as soon as his lips start moving you’re going to hear something unbelievable. Today, though, we have a Brownbackian gem of staggering proportions.

Senator Brownback’s conservative Christianity has moved him to enter a bill which specifically defends us from the horror– horror– of mermaids.

Senator Brownback has never seen a crusade against science and technology that he couldn’t get behind, from space exploration to genetic manipulation of seeds to, and this is key to today’s mirth, stem cell research. While many principled conservatives have issues with embryonic stem cell research based on their opposition to anything even remotely tinged by abortion or even in vitro fertilization, Senator Brownback has picked a doozy here– he’s going on the record opposing stem cell research because it might be used to create human-animal hybrids… like mermaids.

Of course, his trail on this particular bit of inanity (insanity…?) was blazed by another guy who is getting a reputation for being a bit, uhm, outside the box, Bobby Jindal. Jindal jammed a similar anti-Mermaid bill through the Louisiana legislature earlier this year, making sure that the Bayous of Louisiana would never give rise to the dreaded manigator.

The scariest thing about this kind of legislation isn’t the time wasting aspect of it– I mean, really, Senators, nothing better to do while the economy is in a shambles?– it’s the fact that it will be viewed as a logical and needed step by many of Brownback’s, shall we say, less worldly constituents. That the good people of Kansas (and Lousiana…) see anti-Mermaid legislation as a cornerstone of keeping America a god fearing and holy land is a sad point amongst the undeniable humour of Brownback’s latest crusade.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters, Cultural Phenomena | 1 Comment »

Using the Media

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 13, 2009

CNN has the breathless story– the Franklin Park Zoo, Boston’s only zoo, will have to euthanize its animals due to budget cuts made by Governor Deval Patrick. The horror!

This is far from the best media manipulation I’ve ever seen, but it is the most bald-faced I’ve seen in a while. The background story is that the Franklin Park Zoo was originally granted $6,500,000 in the Massachussetts budget for the upcoming year, which Governor Patrick slashed to $2,500,000 due to the ongoing economic crisis. Far from being singled out, the cuts to the payments to the zoo are accompanied by state budget cuts to services for children and families, elder services, education, agriculture, environmental protection, almost $200,000,000 in cuts to health care services, etc.

Enter Joyce Lineham, wife of ZOONewEngland CEO John Lineham, who works in PR. Suddenly we don’t have a budget crisis, we have Governor Patrick personally sticking the syringe of deadly chemicals into the gorilla’s butt. The budget shortfall for the notoriously in the red zoo wasn’t a reason to do some extra fundraising or improve business practices, it was now a reason to close the zoo and kill the animals that couldn’t find other homes.

Patrick successfully called the bluff, and ZOONewEngland released a statement on Saturday saying that they misspoke and that what they meant was that the state would have to care for the animals… rather than ZOONewEngland holding them hostage with a gun to their head.

Bad budget times bring out the worst in many agencies and enterprises reliant on state funding, but this one is about the worst manipulation I’ve ever seen, targeted as it was not at the Governor so much as at parents who have been explaining to their children all weekend long that the Governor isn’t going to kill their favorite monkey or lion.

I would expect the Linehams to be seeking new employment within the next 12 months, and for the Franklin Park Zoo to continue to receive visitors for decades to come.

Posted in American Politics | Leave a Comment »

80’s Music

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 12, 2009

Saw a great, kitschy 80’s tribute band last night at a cool venue in Virginia. The interesting thing was that their playlist, which ranged from Cyndi Lauper to Ozzy to The Clash and Madonna, was all pulled off without a hitch. If a single band can play so many different types of music from a single era so well, it begs the question– was the band really that good, or was 80’s music that bad?

Posted in Music | 1 Comment »

Happy Birthday Josh!

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 11, 2009

A light weekend for RUnning Local as we celebrate the birthday of my son Joshua. Happy birthday, Joshie!

Posted in Blog Business | Leave a Comment »

The Rap on The Lack of MRAPs

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 10, 2009

CNN reports this morning that IED bombings have increased by 1000% in Afghanistan over the past month, a shocking number but perhaps not a shocking development given the likely migration of skilled bomb makers from the Iraq front of the war to the Afghan one. The use of improved IEDs employing shaped charges and molten jets to defeat armored vehicles seems to confirm this suspicion.

With the recent introduction of thousands of Marines to the theater and the southern offensive which is being undertaken by the Corps, hits against extremely vulnerable Hummvees are on the rise. The Hummvee was a Cold War design, made to shuttle officers and equipment around the conventional battlefields of Central Europe, not the guerilla deserts and mountains of this war. It’s manifest deficiencies for this type of war were made crystal in the midstage of the Iraq Campaign, with the rush to deploy MRAPs (Mine Resistant, Ambush Proof) heavy vehicles  as replacement for the Hummvees that were getting blown away with alarming regularity.

So, why have the Marines deployed without sufficient MRAPs even with the certain knowledge that Hummvees are a death trap for the Marines using them? The standard line echoes Donald Rumsfeld’s line about fighting with the force you have rather than the one you want– we needed the Corps in there now and they, as they always do, met that call and deployed light. The real truth, though, is a bit more complex.

The first element is that MRAPs are wildly expensive relative to the mission that they are designed to carry out– light hauling, command mobility, patrol, and reconnaissance. The Hummvee did that job at less than $200,000 per copy (albeit, not well…); the average MRAP’s tag is well north of $1,000,000. Given the huge fleet of these “light” wheeled vehicles an army needs– they’re literally the commuter cars of the force– that is running into very serious money. Complicating that is the rush to design, build and deploy these monsters– the production infrastructure is still being built up and production capacity dialed in; it is hoped that by December we can crank out 1000 of these things per month, but right now we’re looking at a number closer to 50 per month. They’re also a bitch to move around– they’re heavy, big, and unwieldly; you can move many fewer on a standard transport than you could Hummvees.

That doesn’t bring us to the biggest problem of MRAPs in Afghanistan, though– the fact is that they don’t work well there in the craggy, mountainous terrain that they’ll have to handle. As I mentioned, these things are hulks with poor visibility. Imagine driving a Hummer H1 along, say, the Pacific Coast Highway– it’s a twisty narrow road, high on a cliff and your vehicle is extremely wide and has crappy visibility. Sound like fun? Now make the road narrower by two thirds, put it much higher on a cliff, make your visibility much worse and add bombs, RPGs, and other infantry nastiness to the mix. MRAPs are both necessary for operations in Afghanistan and a nightmare for operations in Afghanistan.

Financially, logistically, and strategically we are not at a point where we can simply redesign vehicles for every theater of operations we operate in; the sad fact is that to fight in Afghanistan we’re going to have to accept a higher level of casualties from IED until we can find a better way to deal with the IED threat.

Posted in Afghanistan, American History, terrorism, Warfare | 1 Comment »

Iranian Protests Re-Emerge, With a Difference

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 10, 2009

During the dramatic June protests that rocked Tehran and other Iranian cities, one thing became obvious from the Twitter feeds and new reports coming out of that nation– everything was being fueled by passion without organization. Massive protests would break out in Tehran, but Kerman would be quiet. Esfahan would be in the streets, but Shiraz would be silent.

One of the primary features of  warfare in the Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries was the perpetual quest not to get caught on a narrow front with many of your formations still in column. Think of an army of those days as a “T”– formations would get fed down the vertical column of the “T” while they marched and then deployed wide along the horizontal line at the top of the “T” so that they could attack or defend all along a broad front; to have to weather an attack while still in column would almost inevitably lead to being defeated “in detail”, as one unit after another falls because they couldn’t coordinate their actions and receive the attack as a whole rather than as individuals. So, too, was this the major problem with the Iranian protests; lacking coordination borne of the lack of communication, individual protests never coalesced into a cohesive movement, allowing Revolutionary Guard and other security forces to deal with the protests one by one, limit and handle them, and then redeploy to handle another outburst. In essence, the protest movement was caught marching in column and its units were dispatched in detail by a deployed force.

How did this happen, with so many people across the nation energized and seeking change? The presumed demise of the “Twitter Revolution” lay in its most noted feature– the reliance upon overt and easily monitored social networking and communication sources for coordination. During the first days of protest in Tehran, flash mob style protests were effectively organized via Twitter and Facebook with the more technologically savvy of the Iranian security services trying in vain to convince the command structure that the regime was actually being endangered by these foreign doodads. Once that message got through, about 48 hours into the uprising, things started to change dramatically– Twitter users were being rounded up, the Basij, IRGC, and other security forces were deploying in advance of protests and more importantly were deploying along the lines of advance of protesters, defeating the smaller protests as they marched to designated squares or other meeting points to coalesce into larger mass protests. It was easy to do in the end– they turned off cell and text service to ensure an end to any semi-covert communication and coordination between protest leaders in Tehran and in other cities, then they simply logged on to the Twitter Feeds and Facebook conversations so that they, too, knew exactly what was going to happen where and when.

Twitter is a great way to recruit your army due to its overt and self-disseminating nature , not a way to give it marching orders for those self-same reasons. The Mousavi forces were not able to overcome that obvious fact during the initial outbreak of uprisings; they were not prepared for the scope and nature of the wave that the electoral outcome set off and had no national, or indeed even Tehranian, covert communications net. Nearly all successful uprisings need at their base a cell-based C3I (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence) that can not only organize and give orders to the field forces but also withstand assault by security forces without compromising the entire enterprise. From the 19th Century Russian Narodnya Volya , the modern progenitor of the cell structure, to the Bolsheviks to the French Resistance to the Viet Minh to the 1970s PLO to al Qaeda and indeed the Iranian Revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to the fore, the concept of the cell structure has been proven time and again to be integral to major operations against a state security apparatus.

Today, in his Informed Comment Blog, Juan Cole notes that the re-ignition of protests today in Iran shows a major difference from the earlier protest wave– it broke out simultaneously in several cities, hinting at the emergence of a national structure underlying the movement.

If this is the case– and I strongly suspect it is– then the “Green Revolution” may indeed have legs to carry it beyond the spasm of activity we saw last month. While the real possibility existed that the relative quiet of the past two weeks signalled the ultimate victory of the Khameini-Ahmahinejad Regime over the Mousavi faction, it now seems that the Mousavites have constructively used this lull to organize a cell structured, covert C3I network and have trotted it out today in an obviously successful trial run. On what the exact mechanism of this structure is I won’t speculate, but Cole did report that the Iranian security structure disabled the cell texting network today but that did nothing to stop the coordinated civil disobedience. Moreover, the regime has allegedly responded quickly with deadly force, perhaps signaling their surprise at the developments of the day and unpreparedness to deal with it.

It will be interesting to see if the Mousavi faction will use this new structure in a very public and showy wave of new protests in an attempt to effect the quick collapse of the regime or if they will go to ground  and use it in a long, strategic campaign to destabilize and ultimately depose the Iranian theocratic structure by using popular unrest and the weight of the regime against itself. I view this in the same light as the “Daily Kos” vs. Obama fight that we saw in the Democratic Party in 2007 & 2008– there will be a strong will amongst the younger, more passion driven foot soldiers to get back in the streets and stay there, while the deceivingly conservative Mousavi and his leadership circle will likely look more to the mid-term and a campaign of destabilization that will ultimately lead to a more gradual change.

The coming days, months and year will be very interesting to watch.

Posted in History, Iran, Islamists, Middle East | Leave a Comment »

A New York State of Mindlessness

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 9, 2009

Unless you’re a New Yorker or a hopeless political geek, you probably have no idea what’s going on in America’s most dysfunctional capital, Albany. Suffice it to say that New York is making governance in Minnesota, Florida and California look rational.

After decades of GOP control of the State Senate and Democratic control of the State Assembly, the dynamic went out the window with a slight Democratic majority taking the Senate after the last election. While many Dems were thrilled, I cringed a bit; you see, the State Senate is where New York’s Democratic Party puts its red headed stepchildren. If you can raise money but can’t put ten words together to make a sentence, Congratulations! You’re going to run for State Senate! If you’re from an important political family but flunked out of a public high school… we have a Senate District for you! Basically, and with a very few exceptions, the Democrats have used the Senate as a dumping ground for idiots as they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s nothing less newsworthy, nothing more obscure than a Democratic State Senator. They’ve always been buried in the minority in a legislative body where majority members with years of seniority have absolutely no influence on what the Majority Leader is going to do; it makes the Gingrich-led GOP Congress of old look positively democratic.

Here’s where the problem comes in– when you take the majority after such a long drought, the radioactive waste that you surreptitiously dumped in the Chamber is still around and now– the horror– has become relevant and has access to the press. All of a sudden you have guys like Hiram Monserrate, a former corrupt cop and current corrupt Senator under indictment for felony assault on his girlfriend suddenly becoming the most important politician in New York State government.

To make a painfully long story short, the Democratic Majority Leader, Malcom Smith, maneuvered his way into the post by holding the Senate hostage in what, at the time, was one of the more bizarre scenes in Albany’s sordidly comic political history. Two of those held hostage, the aforementioned corrupt cop (known in the New York tabloid press as “The Thug”) and Pedro Espada (similarly known as “The Thief”) engineered a coup by which they put a Long Island Republican in as Majority Leader, deposing the hated Malcom Smith, possibly illegally. This set off an amazing spectacle– Senators locking themselves in the Chamber and in their offices, important laws being allowed to expire because the Senators couldn’t all get together and achieve a quorum to vote on them because it would’ve led to enormous political procedural problems, name calling, sit-ins, sessions held on the lawn in front of the Senate, just a god awful mess that even seasoned New York political observers, used to the most bat shit crazy behavior in the world, couldn’t believe.

Now, New York State’s simpering dolt of a Governor, David Paterson, has wandered into the fray. You may remember Governor Paterson’s emergence as Governor when former Governor Elliot Spitzer got himself nailed for nailing a $3,000 per hour hooker in DC and resigned, making Lieutenant Governor Paterson the new Governor. The “Lieutenant Governor” post is beyond insignificant, by the way– generally Lt. Gov’s only make the papers when they take a swing at someone on stage (yes, that happened) or when their persona of a politically schizophrenic academician causes them to get dumped from a ticket. The post is so insignificant that there is no provision in the New York State Constitution for replacing a Lieutenant Governor, leading to the current chapter in New York’s political tragi-comedy– David Paterson, with no legal authority according to his own Attorney General (and, to be sure, Gubernatorial Primary Opponent) Andrew Cuomo, has appointed a crusty old-school New York politico by the name of Richie Ravitch to be his Lieutenant Governor with the intention of him somehow breaking the Senate deadlock even thought the NYS Constitution seems to make clear that being unelected Ravitch could have no vote… even if he was legally occupying the Office of the Lieutenant Governor… which apparently he is not.

You can’t make this stuff up– a wildly unpopular governor illegally appoints a Lieutenant who can’t do what needs to be done from the office to a legislative body that would have been dismissed by the principal if they tried to pull this crap when they were the fourth grade Student Council. Oh, did I mention that when a Republican walked through one of the Democratic rump sessions in the Chamber  on his way to the Coke machine the Dems marked him “Present”, declared that they had a quorum and started pasing legislation willy-nilly that the Governor then vetoed because said Republican Senator, a most unpleasant alleged human being by the name of Frank Padavan, managed to put together his longest conversation in years and informed the Governor in two sentences (and, knowing Frank, 117 grunts) that he just wanted a Coke, not to upend (reupend? re-re-upend?) the New York State Government.

I have never been prouder to not be associated any longer with the New York State Legislature, and that’s saying something if you knew the guy I worked for when I was there.

Posted in American Politics, Just Annoying | 3 Comments »

Vegetables and Bloodlust

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 9, 2009

My son could make a Vegan cry. Which is good, come to think of it, because Vegans should cry. Here’s some bacon to dry their tears.

Marcus is a sweet kid; he’s compassionate to a fault, he has a greater weight in stuffed animals in his bed than he weighs himself, his teachers have used him to help the kids who aren’t getting along in class because everyone likes Marcus and Marcus can tolerate anyone.

Animals? If this isn’t the kid who grows up to actually become a vet I’ll be shocked. At three he decided on his own to run a lemonade stand and give the money to”whale scientists”, he fawns over his pets and talks constantly (and if you know him you know what “talking constantly” really means…) about animals.

Marcus had a new obsession this Spring– he wanted to plant a vegetable garden because “it would be good for the Earth”. Ten trips to Lowes and the local nursery, two weekends of ripping up old tree roots and building 12×10 garden boxes and a dumptruck load of topsoil moved up a hill a wheelbarrow at a time and voila, Marcus had his garden. He busted his butt working next to me to put the whole thing together and takes an extreme amount of pride int he whole endeavor. The daily “checking the vegetables” has become a sacred ritual.

Yesterday we came home form the day’s outings, pulled into the driveway and saw– gasp– a rabbit coming out of the garden.  Marcus’ usual reaction to seeing a rabbit runs towards, “Wow, a bunny! Do you think she has baby bunnies? Do you think we can have a bunny for a pet? Do you think we can have bunny babies?”, which generally goes on for about 20 minutes or until he sees the next animal.

Yesterday was slightly different. Yesterday’s bunny was met with a scream of “WHAT is that bunny doing in OUR garden?!?!?!?!?” He charged up the hill out of the van screaming the whole way at the formerly beloved bunny, which, of course, hopped away at Bunny Mach 3 much to Marcus’ consternation. He had turned into our family dog who bolts from the backdoor to chase squirrels that he never catches and wouldn’t know what to do with if he ever did.

With the immediate crisis passed, Marcus set about surveying the apparent carnage… which consisted of one of the first ripe tomatoes of the season and a not so ripe one partially munched. Hanging offenses if ever there were any in the court of Judge Marcus.

Marcus immediately set his mind to ways of keeping the bunnies at bay. He spent the next ten minutes designing elaborate bunny traps that would allow us to capture and relocate the offending lagamorphs to woodlands far from our own bordering woods or that would discourage the bunny from eating OUR vegetables. He decided that these would be unworkable, and things darkened.

The next set of ideas was decidedly more violent. “Daddy, maybe we could get Rob to come over with his bow and arrows and kill the bunnies!” “Daddy, how do rat traps work?” Finally, “Daddy, just leave Tonka out. He killed a snake, he can eat the bunnies!”

Wow. I guess it all goes to show that underneath all of the kiddy cuteness we’re accustomed to seeing in our kids beats the heart of the coldly rational adult… if you dig deep enough to find it. It’s so easy to take kids at face value and forget that there is so much going on within their little heads and hearts.

Especially when they get in touch with their inner adult and declare a rampage against cute little bunnies who eat OUR vegetables.

Posted in Cultural Phenomena, Food | 4 Comments »

The Things History Forgets

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 8, 2009

There is an amazing story running at Wired Magazine today ( detailing what may be the greatest story of the Space Race era– one that I’d never heard before.

The Space Race is one of the most detailed chronicles in modern history, both in the popular culture realm (The Right Stuff comes immediately to mind) and in countless tomes of historical works. We know all about Sputnik and Explorer, about Laika the Soviet space dog and Able and Baker the American space monkeys, about Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard. The early years of the race were tit for tat, an exchange of feats and breakthroughs that pitted the US & Soviets in a tight race for the ultimate high ground. When John Kennedy announced that America would go to the moon within ten years the race actually ratcheted up even as it went a bit more covert, especially on the Soviet side of things. I don’t need to tell you these things, though– you know them, and that’s the point. We all know just about all there is to know about the drama of the early years of space exploration.

Oh, except for the fact that the Soviets tried to upstage the Apollo 11 moon landing by putting their own unmanned lander on the lunar surface first while Apollo 11 was in lunar orbit and then again while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface, with the Soviet lander ultimately crashing close to the Tranquility Base site that our own lander was sitting on.

According to the story (and the accompanying original audio recordings) astronomers at a British observatory were monitoring transmissions from the moon when they discovered that a Soviet orbiter, Luna 15, had dramatically changed its orbit while Apollo 11 was in orbit and then, after the landing, had made a radical change to get very close to the lander. Apparently that day a “reliable rumor” emerged from Moscow that Luna 15 would land, retrieve lunar rock samples, and return to Earth, demonstrating not only that the Sovs were the equals of the Americans but that they were far ahead in robotics and, presumably, in humanity as they could do what we did without putting lives at risk. It all went awry, however, on July 21st with panicked broadcasts from a Soviet mission control center that Luna was landing but was coming in much too fast, according to Wired & the recording. Luna smashed into the lunar surface and was obliterated, ending what could have been the most dramatic chapter in the competition.

As fascinating as the story of Apollo 11-Luna 15 is, what interests me even more is how this story was lost to history for 40 years. The recordings of the events, monitored at Jordell Bank Observatory in the UK, were put in the ever-popular drawer and lost. There was no problem of classified materials, no effort to obscure the facts, no cover-up. History, in this case, was simply misplaced and stumbled upon 40 years later when someone was doing research for a tribute to the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, a story that could have been radically different.

When a story that we know so well, that was so well documented can have an unsuspected component of the magnitude of this one you have to question all events in human history and accept the concept that even the best known history may not accurately reflect the facts in their totality. The temptation to question the history of events that would have shown a strategic benefit to obscure– the story of FDR knowing that Pearl Harbor was coming would be a good example– gets new life in light of something like this, and the saw that victors write the history gains emphasis. That history, especially military and security history, can be intentionally obscured, distorted, or had false emphasis placed upon aspects of it is no secret; that benign history can be so greatly impacted by simply tossing something hugely important in a drawer and forgetting about it for decades is breathtaking if not, perhaps, surprising to the historian.

The Race to the Moon almost had a dramatically different– and largely unsuspected– outcome. It has often been said that history is a guide, but it is also an area as worthy of reasearch as science and mathematics; just as man has confronted in the past unique and challenging situations, so to do we now and shall we do again. Knowing how we actually met those situations informs how we can do so the next time we are faced with one, and that is a road map worth having.

Posted in American History, History, NASA, Space | 1 Comment »

The Spy Who Sagged Me

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 7, 2009

Just in case you think we Americans are the only ones who get themselves tangled in meaningless scandals and news stories that bear no resemblance to news, the Brits have really gotten themselves twisted over a pair of saggy Speedos.

It seems that the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers (that’s “M” to you, Bond fans…) wears Speedos while, like oh so many Euros, he clearly shouldn’t. The issue has slouched into the public consciousness by means of Facebook; it seems that Sir John’s wife has breached his, uhm, operational security by publishing a photo of her hubby in his full glory on her Facebook page, which was promptly found by everyone from the Murdoch papers to the BBC to… and here’s the earth shattering problem… the TERRORISTS!!!

It seems that some in the UK are quite concerned that the nefarious folks who wish to see the sun set ont he British Empire now have some advantage over Her Majesty’s stalwart spymaster because they’ve seen him hanging gut over his Speedos. The tight shot (…oh, how lamentably tight…), as you can see, shows Sir John, some sand, some rocks, and a few other people’s (better defined) legs. Apparently, according to The Mail, this blows Sir John’s cover… or at least exposes his need for a cover-up.

Of course, Sir John was publicly announced as the head of MI6, his home address is well known, and while most would’ve presumed he wore full swim trunks I’m not sure that his penchant for Speedos portends the official translation of “God Save the Queen” to Arabic.

Rule, Brittania.

Posted in Cultural Phenomena, Intelligence (and lack thereof), Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

If You Don’t Like The Game…

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 7, 2009

Sarah Palin is giving an extraordinarily entertaining series of interviews this morning with the major network morning shows plus the news nets. Appearing in chest waders (but with her hair perfectly coiffed and in full makeup…) Simple Sarah is busy attacking not only the media but the individual correspondents who are interviewing her. Speaking to Andrea Mitchell, Palin came close to screaming at her, saying that she just wasn’t listening and didn’t understand. The somewhat creaky and very proper Ms. Mitchell, wife of Alan Greenspan, was also clad in chest waders. Classic TV.

What has become obvious is that while Simple Sarah does not see this as the end of her political career. While wallowing in a storm of claims that “opposition researchers” are wasting her time, the State’s resources, and making it impossible for her to govern, Simple Sarah is also telling all who ask her the key question– are you still considering a run for President in 2012?– are getting the classic candidate’s answer (in this case with a twist): “I can’t know what the next fish run is going to be like, much less what’s going to happen in 2012”. She says she’s tired of “this insane game of politics”… and then refuses to end speculation that she’s still a candidate for the Presidency. If you really don’t like the game, Sarah, don’t play it.

The CW is that Simple Sarah has dynamited her hopes, torpedoed her chances, burnt her bridges. Nearly every “name” GOP leader seems to be echoing that sentiment– she’s toast. There’s something interesting happening here, though– as the orgy of obituary rolls along, Sarah Palin seems to be cementing the one thing she has going for her, politically– her “ultimate outsider” status. It’s clear that the party bosses (such as exist in the GOP) aren’t fans and in fact wish she’d be eaten by a grizzly on one of her fishing trips; given her penchant for hunting there’s some speculation that Haley Barbour may dispatch Dick Cheney to her igloo for a bird shooting excursion. Think about this from the perspective of a campaign strategist seeking to make a buck (well, several million bucks) from Sarah Palin over the next three years, though. The Republican Party’s popularity is below the levels it nearly drowned under after Watergate, so being the sworn enemy of the “establishment” that put it there is a boon. Simple Sarah is a pretty girl who plays to that point even in denying that she does– it’s almost pathological– and the big bad boys are picking on her, triggering that most American of sentiments: standing up to the bully. She’s  busy trying to make quitting on her state a matter of “politics as usual”– it’s opposition researchers hectoring her out the door and she’s just trying to be fiscally and politically responsible and saving Alaska’s taxpayers from the expense of answering never-ending FOIA requests and suffering through a year of a lame-duck (lame-caribou?) governorship when so many important things are happening in the country. Take that all two years down the road and it starts to sound sensible; her former constituents (and the GOP base) will have gotten over the sense of being quit on, she’ll seem to have stood up to not only the Party bosses but the political process in and of itself, she’ll appeal to the idea that she doesn’t want to be a career politician. Her veracity will be perversely increased by stage managing her “exit” from politics, only to be brought back by her dad-gum gee willikers desire to do good by her countrymen and step into the race at great personal sacrifice to do nothing more than help her fellow Americans escape from the (wait for it) tax and spend Obama Admin. If she steps in late– think a few weeks before New Hampshire, skipping the organization-intensive Iowa Caucus but still influencing it– she might hope to create a media maelstrom that would drown out the obvious questions and enrage the Party establishment, thus bolstering her outsider image. She saw how Obama rode the wave of momentum he generated with his early showings and how it drowned (in GOP minds) negative coverage of his run and she wants some of her own. More importantly, as of two weeks ago Palin was handicapped by Mike Huckabee’s 2012 ambitions as they draw from the same base. if she can simply dance her way in and steal the spotlight she can neutralize the Huckster if things break right.

Anyone else sensing that maybe Palin really, really, really does like “the game”?

Posted in American Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Back On Track

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 6, 2009

If there’s one thing you can say about mass transit, you can say it’s subject to interruption. Sorry for the long delay in a hot tunnel with no ventilation, but we’re back on track and running local once again.

So, what’d I miss?

Posted in Blog Business | Leave a Comment »

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