Friday, January 30, 2015

Not Sure How Jeb Gets Past This

It's looking like former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, intends to seek the Republican presidential nomination.  There's a big slate of aspirants this year and plenty remaining even after Mitt Romney stood down.

I'm guessing here but I expect some of Jeb's rivals might just suggest he take his mother Barbara's advice.  (Go to 2:20)

Could "Rapidly Proliferating Threats" Derail the F-35?



(Remember, this is the plane that the Harper government wants to saddle our aircrews with for half-a-century, fifty years.  But, I digress.)

Trying to keep tabs on the development of Lockheed's F=35 requires no end of reading between the lines.

One thing that comes through, admittedly in snippets and from different angles, is that the Americans are starting to conclude that their wunder-plane is less wunderful than they had hoped.

Months ago the journal of the US Naval Institute fretted that the F-35 was operationally flawed because it lacked "all-aspect stealth."  Its stealth cloaking is mainly frontal aspect which means the F-35 remains detectable from the sides, above, below and behind.

The head of the US Air Force air combat command, General Hostage, has said the F-35 isn't a stand alone warplane but requires fighter cover, that is to say the F-22 Raptor, to survive.

Word has leaked out that the F-35 has to steer clear of thunder storms and night flying is out, for now.  More recently it got out that the F-35 has a "heat management" problem that prevents it from flying fast at low altitude, the very place an airplane like this has to operate.  The proposed solution is to re-engine the already over-priced warplane in a few years as a new, adaptive engine is developed.  Keep those cheque books open, fellas.

One thing that has emerged in snippets is that both the US Air Force and US Navy are pressing hard for a new warplane to replace the F-35 ASAP.  They're not sure that its limited stealth cloaking can stand up to rapidly proliferating threats.

There is a saying in Washington defense circles: The threat always gets a vote. It means that a valid strategic threat can influence decision-makers to derail or accelerate a weapons program. In the case of the most expensive aircraft program in history, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), senior Pentagon officials have begun considering what might happen if the still-developmental F-35 were compromised by the proliferation of ever-more-capable air defenses.

...There is a “growing concern” among senior officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense about the proliferation of advanced air defense radars and anti-aircraft weapons, says an industry official familiar with these discussions. “We took a long time on this. The threat is taking some turns on us.” Senior officials are loath to cause alarm and jeopardize the coalition behind the F-35 and are thus tight-lipped about it.

The situation is not at a crisis point yet, one industry source says. Obsolescence is inevitable for any weapon system; the discussion now is about when that could happen for the F-35 and how to address it if it is sooner than hoped. “We are starting to see the emergence of some stressing capabilities to our conventional forces,” Al Shaffer, acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, told Aviation Week during an interview last March. He was referring to the emergence of radars operating in very-high-frequency bands that can detect stealthy aircraft at long range. The concern is that these VHF radars could eventually pass targeting data to fire control elements for air defense systems.



Bear in mind that killing off the F-35 would be about as simple as dismembering Goldman Sachs. It's the biggest military aquisition programme in American history and there is a consensus in military, industrial and political circles that it's simply too big to kill.  There are too many people with too much at stake to shut it down as Obama did when he killed off F-22 production.  This isn't a 'white elephant.'  It's a diamond-encrusted elephant and, right now, everybody's still prepared to double down.

My guess is that the military types see the way out from under the F-35 is to move on to a newer-technology plane, manned or unmanned, that, put up against the F-35, will be irresistible.  Keep the F-35 as a bomb truck while deploying a "6th generation" successor to the F-22 that will have full-aspect state of the art stealth and a genuine multi-role capability.  This is the scenario predicted by Pierre Sprey, one of America's "fighter mafia" types responsible for the highly successful F-16 and A-10, who expects the US to wind up cutting the build of F-35s from the roughly 2,500 figure common today to around 500, no more.


"I do predict that they will have that much trouble within the next few years, and that we will never see them build more than 500 of these airplanes. That the airplane will become technically such an embarrassment that they'll pretend they did not really need it anyhow, and that 'it’s alright we have a better idea, we are working on a new airplane and forget about the F-35.'"

Foreign customers will have to realize their "F-150" is the Ford pickup variety, not the Ferrari of the same designation.  But, so?  The only Ferrari part will be the price tag.



Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Costly Fix for One of the F-35's Achilles' Heels?

Word is out of yet another problem for the F-35.  It has an overheating problem that is said to keep it from going fast at low altitude, right where this less than stellar warplane needs to operate.



Two big drawbacks to the F-35 are its limited range and mediocre speed.  It doesn't go very far in stealth mode on its internal fuel and it is incapable of the modern fighter sine qua non, supercruise.  Those are enormous shortcomings, especially for an uber-expensive warplane.

Good news.  It seems the Americans have noted the problems and have come up with a partial answer - a new engine.  Think of it as a cross between your kid's Transformer toy and a modern, high-powered jet engine.  It still won't achieve supercruise but it's a significant but very costly improvement.

The future fighter will be required to not only fly farther than today’s aircraft, but will also need more speed and power when engaging the enemy. But from a propulsion perspective, up until now these objectives have been mutually exclusive. Longer range and subsonic loiter require lower fuel burn and good cruise efficiency, while higher thrust for supersonic dash demands larger cores and much higher operating temperatures, neither of which is good for fuel burn or stealth.

To solve this conundrum and combine both capabilities in one propulsion system, engine makers are working under the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) program to test technology for a new generation of engines that can be reconfigured in flight. Although AETD is set to end with a flight-weight core demonstration in 2016, the Air Force is planning a follow-on initiative called the Adaptive Engine Transfer Program (AETP). This will pave the way for an adaptive, 45,000-lb.-thrust-class combat powerplant for sixth-generation combat aircraft as well as the possible reengining of the Lockheed Martin F-35 in the 2020s.


Adaptable engines use an array of variable geometry devices to dynamically alter the fan pressure ratio and overall bypass ratio—the two key factors influencing specific fuel consumption and thrust. Fan pressure ratio is changed by using an adaptive, multistage fan. This increases the fan pressure ratio to fighter-engine performance levels during takeoff and acceleration, and in cruise lowers it to airliner-like levels for improved fuel efficiency.

The AETP-based engine design “is more aggressive than today’s standard F-35 requirements but not to the level of [powering] directed energy weapons,” comments McCormick. Instead, the potential benefits of the third stream would be aimed at opening up the low-altitude/high-speed corner of the F-35’s flight envelope to enable extended operation at Mach 0.8/0.9 and 500 ft. “Today, the F-35 has flight restrictions at lower altitudes because of thermal management. You just can’t get heat off the airplane,” he adds. “The program we have laid out says you could be in the F-35 before mid-2020s. It depends on funding profiles and how big AETP is, but it’s early in the 2022-24.”

The F135 engine currently equipping the F-35 costs about $16-million a copy. Given its advanced and more complex engineering it's a safe bet that the AETP engine will cost at least as much, probably a good deal more.

As a light, first-strike bomber, the F-35 needs to be able to go very low and very fast to defeat a sophisticated enemy's air defences.  With the existing engine's heat problems, it can't do that.  This raises the question of whether customers should buy now and be prepared to take a big hit to re-engine the fighter with the AETP engine or be content to remain with an over-cost, under-performer.  Or, they could play it safe and just look elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Taliban Finally Have Something to Worry About - ISIS

The Taliban have a new enemy, ISIS.  The Talibs figure ISIS is trying to take over their turf and, when former Taliban stalwart, Mullah Abdule Rauf Khadim, returned to Afghanistan after being released from Guantanimo, they took him down.

[Rauf] recently joined the IS, a jihadi group which controls large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria, and has been leading hundreds of masked gunmen in northern districts of Helmand.

A Taliban commander in Helmand, wishing anonymity, told Pajhwok Afghan News they disarmed Rauf and his 45 gunmen and detained them on Wednesday in compliance with directives from the Taliban’s governor for Helmand, Mullah Abdul Rahim Akhund.

Maybe we could hire a gaggle of Talibs to give us a hand in Iraq.

That Salman Guy, the Saudi King Whose Ass We're Lining Up to Kiss? Brace Yourself.



Maybe we should just paint the ISIS logo on those armoured fighting vehicles we're supplying to the Saudis.

An eye-opener in Foreign Policy magazine notes that, far from being the "moderate reformer" as our governments and media portray newly minted Saudi king Salman, he's actually steeped in Sunni extremism.


Salman was appointed by his full brother and close political ally King Fahd to direct the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHC) upon its founding in 1992. Through the SHC, Salman gathered donations from the royal family for Balkan relief, supervising the commission until its until its recent closurein 2011. By 2001, the organization had collected around $600 million — nominally for relief and religious purposes, but money that allegedly also went to facilitating arms shipments, despite a U.N. arms embargo on Bosnia and other Yugoslav successor states from 1991 to 1996.

And what kind of supervision did Salman exercise over this international commission? In 2001, NATO forces raided the SHC’s Sarajevo offices, discovering a treasure trove of terrorist materials: before-and-after photographs of al Qaeda attacks, instructions on how to fake U.S. State Department badges, and maps marked to highlight government buildings across Washington.

The Sarajevo raid was not the first piece of evidence that the SHC’s work went far beyond humanitarian aid. Between 1992 and 1995, European officials tracked roughly $120 million in donations from Salman’s personal bank accounts and from the SHC to a Vienna-based Bosnian aid organization named the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). Although the organization claimed to be focused on providing humanitarian relief, Western intelligence agencies estimated that the TWRA actually spent a majority of its funds arming fighters aligned with the Bosnian government.

...The SHC’s connection to terrorist groups has long been scrutinized by U.S. intelligence officials as well. The U.S. government’s Joint Task Force Guantanamo once included the Saudi High Commission on its list of suspected “terrorist and terrorist support entities.” The Defense Intelligence Agency also once accused the Saudi High Commission of shipping both aid and weapons to Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the al Qaeda-linked Somali warlord depicted as a villain in the movie Black Hawk Down. Somalia was subject to a United Nations arms embargo starting in January 1992.

...Many in the West wish for a Saudi king who will pass meaningful reforms and push back against incitement by local extremists. Sadly, Salman does not look to be that man.

For a better insight into Saudi's shady king, read the entire article here.


The Hypocrisy is Blinding

One of these people is Not Happy to Be Here

Barack Obama cuts short his state visit to India, but not before lecturing his hosts on tolerance and women's rights, so that he can kiss the slippers of the new Saudi king, Salman.

So, Barack, how do you explain that one?  “Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counter-terrorism or dealing with regional stability.”

Okay, I get it.  The state that has had its sticky fingers in every major terrorist outfit from al Qaeda to ISIS, whose citizens crewed the 9/11 planes that launched the West into a 15-year fiasco of hapless (and potentially endless) wars in the Middle East and South Asia, is vital to counter-terrorism and regional stability so we'll just look the other way at their lethal religious intolerance and their oppression of their women folk.

(For a little eye-opening look into King Salman's shady past, go here.)

Of course in Harperland we're falling over ourselves to deliver $15-billion worth of armoured democracy-suppression combat vehicles to the same herd of swine. Who knows, maybe we can win the contract to sharpen their headsman's swords.

But this Gal is All Smiles
Obama's Saudi ass-kissing was a full bore effort.

Obama arrived in Riyadh at the head of a large delegation, which included senior officials from past and present administrations, members of the U.S. Congress – both Republican and Democrat – and top U.S. security officials, signaling the strong ties between the two states.
Joining Obama in paying respects over the death of King Abdullah was Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived on a separate flight from Germany, as well as Republican statesmen James Baker, who served as secretary of state in the George H.W. Bush administration, and Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state for President George W. Bush.
CIA Director John Brennan, Lisa Monaco, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser and Susan Rice, the U.S. National Security adviser.
Former security officials Stephen Hadley, a former U.S. National Security adviser, and Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush were also listed as part of the delegation.
Members from both ends of the U.S. political spectrum also took part in the visit, including Democrat Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator John McCain, who is often critical of Obama’s foreign policy.
What, no Dick Cheney?  C'mon fellas.  

Update:

From Bloomberg.

The new king shook hands with President Obama at the Erga Palace but didn’t acknowledge the first lady during a brief meeting at the funeral for King Abdullah. Barack and Michelle Obama cut short their trip to India to attend the funeral.

Several videos posted on Saudis' Facebook pages obscured Michelle Obama's face. They were removed shortly after they were posted. I captured a screenshot of one such video before it was taken down. The Arab news service Mashahead posted on YouTube a video allegedly taken from the Saudi government television broadcast showing the blurred spot.

Saudi television officials are denying they blurred images of Michelle Obama from their broadcasts.  You be the judge.

Next time, Michelle, bring your Happy Face when you're meeting the Lizard King.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Weak Economy? 'They' Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way.

Take it from Joe.  Nobel laureate economist Joe Stiglitz to be precise.

The near-global stagnation witnessed in 2014 is man-made. It is the result of politics and policies in several major economies -- politics and policies that choked off demand. In the absence of demand, investment and jobs will fail to materialize. It is that simple.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the Eurozone, which has officially adopted a policy of austerity -- cuts in government spending that augment weaknesses in private spending. The Eurozone's structure is partly to blame for impeding adjustment to the shock generated by the crisis; in the absence of a banking union, it was no surprise that money fled the hardest hit countries, weakening their financial systems and constraining lending and investment.

In Japan, one of the three "arrows" of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's program for economic revival was launched in the wrong direction. The fall in GDP that followed the increase in the consumption tax in April provided further evidence in support of Keynesian economics -- as if there was not enough already.

...For the past six years, the West has believed that monetary policy can save the day. The crisis led to huge budget deficits and rising debt, and the need for de-leveraging, the thinking goes, means that fiscal policy must be shunted aside.

The problem is that low interest rates will not motivate firms to invest if there is no demand for their products. Nor will low rates inspire individuals to borrow to consume if they are anxious about their future (which they should be). What monetary policy can do is create asset-price bubbles. It might even prop up the price of government bonds in Europe, thereby forestalling a sovereign-debt crisis. But it is important to be clear: the likelihood that loose monetary policies will restore global prosperity is nil.

This brings us back to politics and policies. Demand is what the world needs most. The private sector -- even with the generous support of monetary authorities -- will not supply it. But fiscal policy can. We have an ample choice of public investments that would yield high returns -- far higher than the real cost of capital -- and that would strengthen the balance sheets of the countries undertaking them.

The big problem facing the world in 2015 is not economic. We know how to escape our current malaise. The problem is our stupid politics.

In other words, just like that other great economic plague, inequality, is the bastard child of our political elite, so too is the global stagnation besetting every nation's economy.  It's the waste product of neoliberal ideology in practice.  If only a change of government would free Canada of that curse.

"American Sniper" - to Chris Hedges, It's America's "Triumph of the Will"

What does the Eastwood hit movie, American Sniper, say about America in the 21st century?  To Chris Hedges it says a lot, none of it good.

"American Sniper" lionizes the most despicable aspects of U.S. society—the gun culture, the blind adoration of the military, the belief that we have an innate right as a “Christian” nation to exterminate the “lesser breeds” of the earth, a grotesque hypermasculinity that banishes compassion and pity, a denial of inconvenient facts and historical truth, and a belittling of critical thinking and artistic expression. Many Americans, especially white Americans trapped in a stagnant economy and a dysfunctional political system, yearn for the supposed moral renewal and rigid, militarized control the movie venerates. These passions, if realized, will extinguish what is left of our now-anemic open society.

...There is no shortage of simpletons whose minds are warped by this belief system. We elected one of them, George W. Bush, as president. They populate the armed forces and the Christian right. They watch Fox News and believe it. They have little understanding or curiosity about the world outside their insular communities. They are proud of their ignorance and anti-intellectualism. They prefer drinking beer and watching football to reading a book. And when they get into power—they already control the Congress, the corporate world, most of the media and the war machine—their binary vision of good and evil and their myopic self-adulation cause severe trouble for their country. “American Sniper,” like the big-budget feature films pumped out in Germany during the Nazi era to exalt deformed values of militarism, racial self-glorification and state violence, is a piece of propaganda, a tawdry commercial for the crimes of empire. That it made a record-breaking $105.3 million over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday long weekend is a symptom of the United States’ dark malaise.

...Kyle’s first kill is a boy who is handed an anti-tank grenade by a young woman in a black chador. The woman, who expresses no emotion over the boy’s death, picks up the grenade after the boy is shot and moves toward U.S. Marines on patrol. Kyle kills her too. And here we have the template for the film and Kyle’s best-selling autobiography, “American Sniper.” Mothers and sisters in Iraq don’t love their sons or their brothers. Iraqi women breed to make little suicide bombers. Children are miniature Osama bin Ladens. Not one of the Muslim evildoers can be trusted—man, woman or child. They are beasts. They are shown in the film identifying U.S. positions to insurgents on their cellphones, hiding weapons under trapdoors in their floors, planting improvised explosive devices in roads or strapping explosives onto themselves in order to be suicide bombers. They are devoid of human qualities.

...The culture of war banishes the capacity for pity. It glorifies self-sacrifice and death. It sees pain, ritual humiliation and violence as part of an initiation into manhood. Brutal hazing, as Kyle noted in his book, was an integral part of becoming a Navy SEAL. New SEALs would be held down and choked by senior members of the platoon until they passed out. The culture of war idealizes only the warrior. It belittles those who do not exhibit the warrior’s “manly” virtues. It places a premium on obedience and loyalty. It punishes those who engage in independent thought and demands total conformity. It elevates cruelty and killing to a virtue. This culture, once it infects wider society, destroys all that makes the heights of human civilization and democracy possible. The capacity for empathy, the cultivation of wisdom and understanding, the tolerance and respect for difference and even love are ruthlessly crushed. The innate barbarity that war and violence breed is justified by a saccharine sentimentality about the nation, the flag and a perverted Christianity that blesses its armed crusaders. This sentimentality, as Baldwin wrote, masks a terrifying numbness. It fosters an unchecked narcissism. Facts and historical truths, when they do not fit into the mythic vision of the nation and the tribe, are discarded. Dissent becomes treason. All opponents are godless and subhuman. “American Sniper” caters to a deep sickness rippling through our society. It holds up the dangerous belief that we can recover our equilibrium and our lost glory by embracing an American fascism.


Learning to Live With ENSO

The bad news is that ENSO is expected to get a helluva lot worse.  The worse news is that nobody really cares.

ENSO, the El Nino Southern Oscillation, is a little something that happens every few years in the southern Pacific Ocean. It manifests in cooling waters on one side and warming waters on the other.  It comes in two forms:  El Nino, the boy (commonly thought of as the Christ Child because it usually shows up around Christmas); and La Nina, the girl, El Nino's nasty step-sister.

ENSO changes weather patterns around the world - Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, Australia, pretty much the lot.  El Nino, for example, brings scorching heatwaves and drought to Australia.  It can also bring the relief of rain to the American southwest.



As mentioned, ENSO is second only to the changing of seasons in impact on global weather conditions.  A new report forecasts that, not only are ENSO events going to get a lot more severe this century, but we may see La Nina events double in frequency.  That could greatly exacerbate the drought conditions currently besetting Central America and the US southwest.

Only in Harperland is a Verdict a "Matter of Opinion"

Nice House of Commons You Got Here
It'd Be a Shame if Something Happened to It

Dean del Mastro wants a do-over.  Presumably it has something to do with being on the wrong side of the verdict in the four charges brought against him for campaign spending violations in the 2008 election.

His lawyers want the judge to backpeddle and declare a mistrial instead of going ahead and sentencing their client to the fines and possible jail time he deserves.

As far as Harper's former parliamentary secretary is concerned the court's ruling wasn't a verdict, just a matter of opinion.

Judge Lisa Cameron's ruling "was not a final decision," he said. "I've in no way broken any of the laws governing elections."

"I know what the truth is. That's her opinion. My opinion is quite different."

Monday, January 26, 2015

What It Takes to Watch FOX (or Sun) News - by John Cleese

Legendary Python, John Cleese, gets down to the basics of what it takes to be a viewer of FOX (and we might add Sun) News.

40 Years of Downsizing Democracy



The Tyee's Murray Dobbins sees signs everywhere that our civilization is heading for collapse.

The exceptionally successful four decades campaign to change the "ideological fabric" of society has put western civilization on a track to irreversible collapse according to a major study sponsored by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The study focused on population, climate, water, agriculture and energy as the interrelated factors that determine the collapse or survival of civilizations going back 5000 years.

According to a Guardian report on the study, these factors can coalesce and lead to civilization's collapse if they create two critical social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity... and... the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or 'Commoners') [poor]."

According to the study these two developments played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in the demise of the Roman, Han, Mauryan, Gupta and multiple Mesopotamian Empires as well as the Maya. The study provides convincing "testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent."

How far down the road to collapse are we? For my generation not so far that we will see the worst of it. But what is alarming is that all the signs are so dramatically obvious. And while the mainstream media isn't yet talking about the end of our world, the issue of grotesque inequality and unsustainable resource depletion are somewhere in the media almost every week. Indeed inequality in particular has been a hot topic ever since the Occupy movement briefly swept the planet. Yet if you monitor the political debate in this country the two most important trends in our society and the world are virtually never mentioned except rhetorically. There are no serious policy prescriptions. Mass denial reigns. Or, as Freud stated, we are "knowing without knowing."

...Is this really what the geniuses at the Chicago School of Economics like Milton Friedman had in mind? Did he really believe that "a democratic society, once established, destroys a free economy"? Would he have had any qualms about his policy prescriptions resulting in capitalism devolving into neo-feudalism or into Plutonomies -- a term first used by analysts at Citigroup in 2005, to "describe a country that is defined by massive income and wealth inequality.'" The analysts singled out the U.K., Canada, Australia and the United States.

The NASA study is not optimistic about our chances of avoiding eventual collapse given the failure of other civilizations, saying "collapse is difficult to avoid.... Elites grow and consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society."

Warnings go unheeded. The NASA reports says "historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases)."

How close are we to collapse? The study points out that the process can extend over decades and even centuries. Yet some of the supporting empirical studies (by KPMG and the British Office for Science) suggest a perfect storm that involves food, water and energy could occur within 15 years.

The NASA study highlights two trends -- resource depletion and inequality -- as the key factors in civilization collapse. But there is a third and it explains why historically elites have been "oblivious" to their unfolding catastrophes. That factor is the political system of the particular civilization. Designed to govern and manage social and economic life before it became corrupted, and still in the hands of the benefiting elites, these governing systems were simply incapable of incorporating the idea of collapse into their thinking.

A Troubling Disconnect

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has criticized the bigwigs attending the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos for a lack of focus on green infrastructure investment.

“We see this at the G20 and even here – we need to address this troubling disconnect,” he told a panel which included IMF chief Christine Lagarde and Rwanda president Paul Kagame.

“If we do not we will lock ourselves to bad long term investments which will make it impossible to hit the sustainable development goals and put ourselves at risk of costly climate change.”

Speaking at the same event, the chief executive of consumer goods multinational Unilever Paul Polman said economic growth was already being stifled because of climate change.

Polman – whose business reported a 2.7% downturn in sales for 2014 – said business leaders had a responsibility to declare their commitment to low carbon growth.

“We’ve been too long the silent majority – we have given the voice to the vocal minority,” he said.

Well, They Do Have It Coming



If you can't stand the heat, get out of Australia.  A new report claims that the 'land down unda' will be hit harder by climate change impacts than the rest of the world.

It's a real 'out of the frying pan and into the fire' predicament.  Most of the country is already miserably hot.  Adding another 5.1 degrees Celsius by 2090 would be turning your oven up from 'roast' to 'broil.'

Good thing Aussie prime minister Tony Abbott, the King of Coal, and our own Stephen Harper are BFFs.  At some point Abbott might need Steve's help to get his family out of Australia and into some bearable part of Canada.

Just a Matter of Time

Mini-drones, hand-launched devices that can deliver small payloads on flights of 15-minutes or more.  The Genie is out of the bottle and proof came in the form of a small drone found on the lawns of the White House.

The Secret Service is investigating.  Initial reports say the drone was harmless.

This is a wake-up call.  Technologies already on the market are incredibly sophisticated and they're cheap.  They can fly remotely with GPS guidance or you can control them from your i-Pad or Android phone with a real-time wi-fi video link.

That's the civilian side of micro-drones.  The military stuff is genuinely scary and it's almost certain that, at some point, a rogue state will pass along advanced drones to non-state actors - terrorists, insurgents, criminals you name it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

But Gosh It Sure Looks Purty


One of the great threats facing mankind discussed at this year's World Economic Forum meeting in Davos is algae blooms triggered by agricultural run off into coastal waters and freshwater lakes and rivers.

Some are red, some are green, but the residents of Hong Kong are being treated to a lovely, glowing blue faux algae this year.

The luminescence is an algal bloom created by Noctiluca scintillans, nicknamed "sea sparkle." When disturbed by currents or waves, the bloom glows. "It looks like algae and can act like algae. But it's not quite," wrote Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press. "Noctiluca is a type of single-cell life that eats plankton and is eaten by other species."

So why is it toxic? Such blooms are caused by farm pollution. "The plankton and Noctiluca become more abundant when nitrogen and phosphorous from farm run-off increase," Borenstein wrote, "Noctiluca'srole as both prey and predator can eventually magnify the accumulation of algae toxins in the food chain."

The beauty of Noctiluca scintillans is lethal. Such is the case in the Arabian Sea, where a biological dead zone the size of Texas is filled with the species. The resulting "emerald swirls" are large enough to been seen from space.

But Noctiluca scintillans can be lethal to plants and animals. Scientists think the dead zone was created when the species killed off native algae and compromised the fish population. Gwynn Guilford of Quartz wrote: "Few animals can survive 'dead zones' of oxygen-poor water. As the scientists discovered, N. scintillans thrives in these conditions…. And once a dead zone sets in, it's hard for the ocean to recover."


Huge, anoxic "dead zones" have become the new normal in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Oregon.  Inland waters are succumbing to algae also.  In 2013, Lake Winnipeg earned top place as the world's most threatened lake.

“Lake Winnipeg is a symbol of a much larger problem”, says Bob Sandford, chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of the U.N. Water for Life Decade. “It is not just Manitoba that deserves a black-eye for this distinction”, he added. “Recent research demonstrates that the toxic bacteria contributing to the declining health of Lake Winnipeg, has now been detected in 246 water bodies across Canada, at levels exceeding guidelines in every province. That these problems exist right across the country is an issue of national health and environmental concern.”

In August, residents of Toledo faced a ban on tap water use when the city's Lake Erie water supply became contaminated with blue-green algae.  The water ban extended to Pelee Islanders the following month.  Beaches were closed and residents were warned not to swim, bathe or cook in the local water.

Most concerning is the notion that the toxins in these algae blooms can pass from prey to predator and, through the process known as bio-concentration, spread through food chains to the very top.


Religion's Twelve Deadly Sins



Alternet's Valerie Tarico has written an insightful piece about 12-concepts, integral to organized religions, that "promote conflict, cruelty, suffering and death rather than love and peace."


First up is the concept of "chosen people" - that separates believers from non-believers, the believers alone linked to God.   Then there's the companion concept of "heretics."  Again, non-believers.  Call for the headsman!


Religions have also introduced us to the notion of Holy War.  Gott Mit Uns, that sort of thing.  When Muslims do it we call it Jihad.  When we do it, it's just getting rid of Satan.  Man has been doing it for thousands of years and, it seems, it never gets old.


Then there's "blasphemy" - the crime of saying things that offend religious doctrine.  The Bible has a cure for that - death.

Religions have also introduced us to the notion of "glorified suffering" and who doesn't love a martyr who suffers agony and death in the name of God.  The Catholic church loves them, makes them saints.  Islam goes a step further and provides them with explosive vests.

"Genital mutilation."  Alright, let's get real - circumcision.  No illustration required.

"Blood sacrifice."  It's more than killing goats.


Then there's the trump card, the ace in the hole, "Hell."  It's an awful place.  It's forever and ever.  And it's where you go if you don't do what the nice man at the front of the church tells you to do.  The nice thing is, it never gets old.  We do and, as we draw ever nearer to our final exit, Hell looms ever larger.

Religions that go the reincarnation route fall back on "Karma."  Stay in line or else you'll pay for it in the next life when you return as a toilet seat.


If life on Earth is brutal and nasty, don't fret, there's always the afterlife.  That's your payoff, "Eternal Life."  Now, don't forget to tithe and, remember, the guy with the keys to Heaven, he's counting.

"Male Ownership of Female Fertility."  I'll let you get this directly from Val:
"The notion of women as brood mares or children as assets likely didn’t originate with religion, but the idea that women were created for this purpose, that if a woman should die of childbearing “she was made to do it,” most certainly did. Traditional religions variously assert that men have a god-ordained right to give women in marriage, take them in war, exclude them from heaven, and kill them if the origins of their offspring can’t be assured. Hence Catholicism’s maniacal obsession with the virginity of Mary and female martyrs."

And last, but by no means least, "Bibliolatry."  This is book worship so integral to all modern religions.  It binds the faithful to notions of what is and isn't, right and wrong, as envisioned way back in ancient times when writing was discovered.  We know that the apostles didn't write their chapters of the New Testament.  Somebody else did.  But, hey, it's in writing so it's magical, divine.


It's particularly prevalent in religious fundamentalism whether Islamic, Judaic or Christian.  There are plenty of Christian fundamentalists who hold a fierce belief in Biblical Inerrancy.  No matter how contradictory, no matter how vague or at odds with reality, it's the Word of God and that's all there is to it.

I urge you to read the entire article here.



A Nation Vexed by Anti-Vaxxers?



There's a cult in the United States that's come to be called the "Anti-Vaxxers." The term describes parents who prevent their kids from receiving ordinary medical vaccinations. They claim the vaccines are a greater threat to their children's health than the diseases they're intended to ward off.

A recent study found that these anti-vaxxers often live in clusters, such as California's Orange County, increasing the prospects for transmission of the diseases against which their children are unprotected.

For the most part the anti-vaxxers are liberals who have allowed themselves to lapse into belief-based instead of fact-based decision making.

Now they've been told to keep their kids clear of Disneyland where 51-measles cases have been linked.

..the deputy director of California’s Center for Infectious Diseases announced that the theme park is no longer safe for the unvaccinated — the status of over 80 percent of those infected. The outbreak has spread to five states and Mexico, and includes six infants who were too young to have received the vaccine. A full quarter of the patients so far had to be hospitalized. And for 24 unvaccinated children in Orange County, where the theme park is located, school is no longer safe, either: They were told to stay home for three weeks after it emerged that an infected student had shown up on campus earlier this month.

So what's considered "the most contagious disease in the world", measles is now spreading from a theme park and into schools and, obviously, into the general community because a gaggle of contrarian parents knew better than the medical professionals.

Don’t expect, in other words, that modern medical advances will protect us from the ravages of measles — vaccines are the modern medical advancement that were doing a fine job of things until the misguided decisions of a few sacrificed the protection of herd immunity for all of us. If anything, the rapid emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs could make a modern-day measles epidemic even deadlier. The continual frustration is that measles was effectively eliminated from this country in 2000, but all it took was enough people buying into the junk science telling them that vaccines aren’t safe to give the disease a new foothold.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ditto What Australia Said. America Can Be a "Dangerous Ally"



Former Australian prime minister (1975-83), Malcolm Fraser, fears his country's dependence on the United States could drag Australia into a war not of its own choosing, a war with China.

In Fraser's book, he describes how Australia's blind faith in the UK before World War II left the country unprepared for war. He then goes on to say that currently many feel more vulnerable because of the country's dependence on the United States. What Fraser and many Australian leaders fears most is that the United States will get Australia involved in a coflict not of its own making. "Australia effectively ceded to America the ability to decide when Australia goes to war," said Fraser.

Fraser labelled the United States a "dangerous ally" as Australia has become progressively more enmeshed in American strategic and military affairs since the end of Cold War.

Just as with the armed conflicts in the Middle East, Fraser said that the conflict in Ukraine took place partially due to Washington's attempt to include Ukraine in NATO. He went on to blame the United States lack of historical understanding towards Russia on the matter.

Washington's policy to "contain" China can eventually lead to trouble for Australia. Believing that the United States will eventually use Australia as a base to attack China, Fraser suggested the removal of all American military facilities from Darwin in the north and Pine Gap in the center of the country as soon as possible. The former Australian leader added that the country should be more independent of the United States in both defense and foreign affairs. While recommending that Australia shore up its diplomatic activities throughout Asia and at the UN, he also suggested an increase in defense spending to 3% of the country's GDP.



When All the King's Horses and All the King's Men Can't.

The Atlantic's James Fallows was interviewed on Bill Maher's show last night. The discussion focused on Fallows' article in the latest edition, "The Tragedy of the American Military."

One point that Fallows addresses is how the mightiest, most costly and best equipped military in the world lost America's last two wars - in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Fallows accuses the American people of becoming a Chickenhawk Nation, plenty eager to go to war as long as someone else is sent to do the killing and the dying.

Too much complacency regarding our military, and too weak a tragic imagination about the consequences if the next engagement goes wrong, have been part of Americans’ willingness to wade into conflict after conflict, blithely assuming we would win. “Did we have the sense that America cared how we were doing? We did not,” Seth Moulton told me about his experience as a marine during the Iraq War. Moulton became a Marine Corps officer after graduating from Harvard in 2001, believing (as he told me) that when many classmates were heading to Wall Street it was useful to set an example of public service. He opposed the decision to invade Iraq but ended up serving four tours there out of a sense of duty to his comrades. “America was very disconnected. We were proud to serve, but we knew it was a little group of people doing the country’s work.”

...Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. No decent person who is exposed to today’s troops can be anything but respectful of them and grateful for what they do.

Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much. Recall that while Congress was considering whether to authorize the Iraq War, the head of the White House economic council, Lawrence B. Lindsey, was forced to resign for telling The Wall Street Journal that the all-in costs might be as high as $100 billion to $200 billion, or less than the U.S. has spent on Iraq and Afghanistan in many individual years.

Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.

Fallows deals with the modern collapse of accountability in top military ranks.

During and after even successful American wars, and certainly after the standoff in Korea and the defeat in Vietnam, the professional military’s leadership and judgment were considered fair game for criticism. Grant saved the Union; McClellan seemed almost to sabotage it—and he was only one of the Union generals Lincoln had to move out of the way. Something similar was true in wars through Vietnam. Some leaders were good; others were bad. Now, for purposes of public discussion, they’re all heroes. In our past decade’s wars, as Thomas Ricks wrote in this magazine in 2012, “hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness.” This, he said, was not only a radical break from American tradition but also “an important factor in the failure” of our recent wars.

The author goes on to link the American public's detachment from their military with the madness of modern military procurement.

America’s distance from the military makes the country too willing to go to war, and too callous about the damage warfare inflicts. This distance also means that we spend too much money on the military and we spend it stupidly, thereby shortchanging many of the functions that make the most difference to the welfare of the troops and their success in combat. We buy weapons that have less to do with battlefield realities than with our unending faith that advanced technology will ensure victory, and with the economic interests and political influence of contractors. This leaves us with expensive and delicate high-tech white elephants, while unglamorous but essential tools, from infantry rifles to armored personnel carriers, too often fail our troops (see “Gun Trouble,” by Robert H. Scales, in this issue).

We know that technology is our military’s main advantage. Yet the story of the post-9/11 “long wars” is of America’s higher-tech advantages yielding transitory victories that melt away before the older, messier realities of improvised weapons, sectarian resentments, and mounting hostility to occupiers from afar, however well-intentioned. Many of the Pentagon’s most audacious high-tech ventures have been costly and spectacular failures, including (as we will see) the major air-power project of recent years, the F-35. In an America connected to its military, such questions of strategy and implementation would be at least as familiar as, say, the problems with the Common Core education standards.

Fallows reserves special attention for the overpriced, overdue and under-performing F-35.

“Political engineering,” a term popularized by a young Pentagon analyst named Chuck Spinney in the 1970s, is pork-barrel politics on the grandest scale. Cost overruns sound bad if someone else is getting the extra money. They can be good if they are creating business for your company or jobs in your congressional district. Political engineering is the art of spreading a military project to as many congressional districts as possible, and thus maximizing the number of members of Congress who feel that if they cut off funding, they’d be hurting themselves.


The next big project the Air Force is considering is the Long Range Strike Bomber, a successor to the B-1 and B-2 whose specifications include an ability to do bombing runs deep into China. (A step so wildly reckless that the U.S. didn’t consider it even when fighting Chinese troops during the Korean War.) By the time the plane’s full costs and capabilities become apparent, Chuck Spinney wrote last summer, the airplane, “like the F-35 today, will be unstoppable.” That is because even now its supporters are building the plane’s “social safety net by spreading the subcontracts around the country, or perhaps like the F-35, around the world.”

...In the spring of 2011, Barack Obama asked Gary Hart, the Democratic Party’s most experienced and best-connected figure on defense reform, to form a small bipartisan task force that would draft recommendations on how Obama might try to recast the Pentagon and its practices if he won a second term. Hart did so (I was part of the group, along with Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University, John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, and Norman R. Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin), and sent a report to Obama that fall. [Here is that memo.] He never heard back. Every White House is swamped with recommendations and requests, and it responds only to those it considers most urgent—which defense reform obviously was not.

...Seth Moulton, a few days after his victory in last fall’s congressional race, said that the overall quality and morale of people in the military has dramatically improved since the days of a conscript force. “But it’s become populated, especially at the highest ranks, by careerists, people who have gotten where they are by checking all the boxes and not taking risks,” he told me. “Some of the finest officers I knew were lieutenants who knew they were getting out, so weren’t afraid to make the right decision. I know an awful lot of senior officers who are very afraid to make a tough choice because they’re worried how it will look on their fitness report.” This may sound like a complaint about life in any big organization, but it’s something more. There’s no rival Army or Marine Corps you can switch to for a new start. There’s almost no surmounting an error or a black mark on the fitness or evaluation reports that are the basis for promotions.

Obviously America's cultural-political-military problems are an order of magnitude greater - and worse - than what  confronts us today in Canada.  Yet we too are a society detached from our military, a people too willing to support sending our soldiers into unwinnable wars by Chickenhawk politicians to suit their own ends and often led by ticket punchers that populate the highest ranks.  

America wasn't alone in losing the Afghan war.  We lost it too.  Every ISAF contingent lost that war.  Yet we don't speak of that.  We'll have no scrutiny of what went wrong and what went right, no post-mortem, without which we're entirely vulnerable to making the same blunders in our eagerness to send other young Canadians into harm's way whenever the coalition horns sound.  

No one has dared ask Harper why we lost.  We have on record his declaration of what we were fighting for in Afghanistan and what we were determined, even bound to achieve.  In that, our prime minister set the bar that determines victory or defeat for our Afghan campaign and, by his boastful criteria, we failed.  We didn't even have a solitary defeat because Harper kept lowering the bar as the war dragged on until, at the end, success was so hollowed out as to become a function of getting our troops and the bulk of our equipment out of Afghanistan. 

It wasn't the sergeants and corporals or the lieutenants and captains who let us down.  They fought admirably.  By elimination that leaves our political and military leadership who must be held accountable but they're not talking.