Saturday, June 30, 2007

Smart Weapons

Glen Greenwald has been pointing out that lately Bush Administration media releases are claiming that all of the enemies we have been killing in Iraq are al Queda and hinting darkly that maybe Bush and his generals are lying. Shame on him. It may stretch the bounds of credulity that only 5% of those shooting at us are al Queda and that 100% of those we are killing are al Queda, but an untruthful administration is by no means the only explanation for that.

I will admit that the untruthful administration is the explanation that leaps to mind, since this Bush and Company are not exactly noted for truthfulness in general.

If my blog disappears look for me in Gitmo, because I am about to reveal a matter of national security, a secret never before known to the public, and it the explanation for all of those al Queda deaths.

Man portable smart weapons.

We’ve had smart bombs for years, that can be lobbed into your kitchen window from 30,000 feet by supersonic airplanes and destroy your wife cooking dinner without knocking your beer off of the television stand where you’re watching the ball game.

Now the army has rifles with dials on them. Just set one dial to fully automatic, another to “al Queda,” close your eyes and pull the trigger. You can wipe out a whole terrorist cell and leave the Shiite brigade next to them unscathed.

Or maybe Bush and the Army are just stretching the truth a bit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

America's Cup Wierdness

Regular blogging is limited because I keep getting up at 5:30AM to watch the America's Cup, and that pretty much wears me out. I'll be back to politics after the Cup is done.

Disclaimer: I am not an America’s Cup-class sailor. I raced a Lightening class sailboat years ago, and I won more races than I lost, but I make no claim to be in the same league as the men who are sailing for the America’s Cup off Valencia this month. That being said, what in the sam hill are these guys thinking? Yesterday’s match was exciting, but may have been the most bizarre thing I have ever seen happen on the water.

I am in complete agreement with those who say that the race should not have been held. The wind was light and extremely variable and I am one of those who believes that a race should not be determined by who gets a lucky break with changes in wind direction. A skipper being able to read pressure and gradient is one thing, but no one can read a 20 degree wind shift ten minutes before it happens. That is a matter of pure luck, and luck should not determine a winner.

Even so, the Swiss could have overcome the wind shift disadvantage but made some extraordinarily bad choices. More on that in a moment.

The Swiss won the start, with the Kiwis starting late and very slow but on the right side. Almost immediately, however, the Kiwis got a huge wind shift and were carrying what appeared to be an unbeatable lead approaching the second mark. Then things got really weird.

Either the wind shifted on the Kiwis or they changed tactics as they approached the mark, but they botched the spinnaker drop about as badly as can be, even managing to get it jammed in the genoa sheet (not once but twice) and having to cut it free. Destroying their spinnaker was the least of their problems, they have plenty more on board, all the flubbing around reduced their lead by quite a bit. The Swiss sailed very well and very aggressively and their better boat speed took a toll.

Approaching the third mark was some of the best sailing of the series by both teams. There was excellent strategy and tactics, sail handling was flawless, and the Swiss took the lead just before rounding the mark.

Then the Swiss broke out in a bad case of dumb. The Kiwis gybed away and the Swiss let them go. With the boats on different sides of the course the Kiwis found better wind, passed the Swiss again and won the match.

Why would the Swiss do that? In light airs the wind speed can vary greatly from one place to another on the course, so the trailing boats wants to separate in search of better wind. He has nothing to lose if his search is unsuccessful, and everything to gain. The leading boat, however, has nothing to gain by separating. He doesn’t need better wind, since he is already leading, and he stands to lose if he sails into less wind or his opponent finds better wind. So the leading boat always “covers,” keeping the two boats close and in the same wind. There are sometimes reasons to break with standard practice but that is just not one of them, which yesterday’s race demonstrated.

America's Cup today

Today’s race was more typical of what one might expect of America’s Cup sailing teams. Hard fought close-quarters sailing by two teams who made no mistakes. Well, the Swiss misjudged the lay line approaching the first leeward mark and rounded the mark at very slow speed. That’s a bit unusual, but it happens and it may actually have been more due to wind shift than to misjudgment.

This time the Swiss skipper used a more conventional strategy of keeping a pretty close cover on his opponent while leading. Not surprisingly, it worked and the series is now tied at two apiece.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Stock Car (?) Racing

I used to be a big fan of stock car racing, went to the local track on Saturday nights and went to the big Winston Cup events quite a few times a year. Then NASCAR decided to “grow the sport” and big money came along, and now the stands are full of twenty-something-year-old yuppies drinking lattes and I don’t know what that is on the track, but they are not stock cars and it is not racing.

I watched the “race” in California at Infineon Raceway for about half an hour on TV today. I think the track is named for a company of some sort but I have no idea what the company does, so the money it spent getting its name on the track is certainly wasted on me. I’m not in the market for whatever Infineon is selling. Or maybe I am but am blissfully unaware of it.

The series is now the Nextel Cup which is not the cell phone company that I use, but Nextel is now owned by Sprint which is the cell phone I use, so I probably should care. Brand loyalty and all that. But I don’t, really, it’s just a cell phone.

They kept talking about Fords, Chevrolets, Dodges and Toyotas but I didn’t see any of those. I saw some kind of strange looking car-like things with wings on the back that all looked exactly alike. If I saw one of those on a street coming toward me I would probably drive up in somebody’s front yard to get out of its way. Anyway, I drive a Mitsubishi.

They kept talking about how many laps were left in the race. What race? On what planet does a race consist of vehicles parading around in single file with no one of them ever getting closer to another than twenty yards? And on what planet does good television coverage consist of showing nothing but the first three cars?

I guess the racing part was that every once in a while the cars pull into a garage-like area and see who can change their tires the most rapidly. Whoever changes tires the most quickly and gets back onto the track first is on the front of the current parade and “wins” the race.

Then the announcers started getting all orgasmic about who was going to run out of gas. Like that has anything to do with racing.

I couldn’t stand the excitement. Turned it off.

America's Cup today

The sailboats actually did race. The Kiwis won the start, rather decisively, but the Swiss outsailed them upwind and were ahead at the first two marks. Then things got interesting. Either the Swiss got careless or the Kiwis did some really agressive and fine sailing and passed the Swiss on the second upwind leg. My opinion is that the Swiss did not cover as closely as they should have done, but the Kiwis are really good and they got a favorable wind shift. It was good stuff.

The end result is that the series is now tied at one apiece.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

America's Cup

America’s Cup racing started today. There’s not much that will get me out of the sack at 5:30AM, but that does.

The Swiss are up 1-0 over the Kiwis. I’m cheering for New Zealand for several reasons. I have a niece living (for a couple of years) in New Zealand with her husband and they are two of my favorite people. I’m a bit peeved with the Swiss for making the challenge a four-year delay: three years is traditional, and the Swiss announced within days of winning the cup that they would not entertain a challenge for four years. Finally, I don’t want the next America’s Cup to be in the Mediterranean because the wind there sucks.

The announcers keep talking about “perfect conditions” with 10-13 knot winds, but don’t you believe it – that is what a true sailor would call “light airs” and it is not the best test of a sailing crew. Nor does it make for the most exciting racing from a spectator standpoint.

Still, it keeps me watching. These are the best sailors in the world, the ultimate in sailboats, and the America’s Cup is the pinnacle of sailboat racing. These two competitors look very closely matched to me and today’s race was close, so we may be in for some fun.

Conventional wisdom is that the Swiss have an edge in boat speed and the Kiwis might be a bit better at handling their boat. The commentators are so far not disputing that, but today’s race didn’t seem to me to support the theory. On the first beat to windward the Swiss definitely increased their lead during the tacking duel and I could not tell if that was due to sail handling or if their boat just recovered speed better after the turn. Sail handling looked pretty much flawless by both teams, so I would guess it was the latter, but on the second beat the boats had a bit of separation and did some “drag racing” during which the Kiwis gained on the Swiss.

Sometimes I think the commentators are in some kind of world of their own and are not watching the same race I am or, perhaps, that they are just more interested in hyping the race than they are in describing what is actually happening on the water. I mean, they are getting all out of breath and the boats are moving at the breakneck speed of nine knots (about 12 miles per hour).

At one point the picture showed a crewman who had the visor of his ballcap cut down to a nub and the commentator said that he had cut it down to reduce wind resistance. Give me a break. These boats weigh 20,000 pounds and have thousands of square feet of sail area: the visor of a ball cap is going to slow that down? The man was a sail trimmer: I suspect he had cut the visor off to make it easier to look up at the sail.

Back to my comment about the best sailors in the world. Not quite. The best sailor in the world is Dennis Conner. Yes, he is the only American ever to lose the America’s Cup and, yes, he did so twice. He also won it multiple times, twice with a boat that was clearly inferior to the one that he beat. The Cup today is an international challenge of incredible scope, and it is what it is because of Dennis Conner. He is, without question, the greatest sailor ever to hold the helm of an America’s Cup sailboat and his departure from the sport is without doubt a great part of the reason this country does not have a boat in this year’s match.

We miss you, Dennis.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Popularity Contest

Congress and the administration seem to be running a reverse popularity contest and Congress seems to be “winning,” as their poll numbers are actually lower now than President Bush’s. That disappoints but doesn’t really surprise me. I hoped things would change if the Democratic Party took control of Congress, but I didn’t really expect that the change would be major if it occurred at all.

I’m not really disappointed that the Democrats have not stopped the war in Iraq. Hell, I’m not all that certain that stopping that war is actually the best course at this point. (I’m pretty certain that not starting it would have been the best course.) What annoys me is the methods and the reasons for that failure. The Democrats are not failing in that effort due to uncertainty as to what is best for the country, they are failing because of their dedication to their own political futures and to the causes of the moneyed interests that maintain their campaign coffers.

Witness the other causes that the Democrats have not embraced. They have not even whispered about reversing the Bankruptcy Bill. They have made only the most timid overtures toward reversing the Military Commissions Act, and only some small portions of it. They have made only cosmetic changes in earmarking and pork barrel spending, and the scope of that practice is unabated. They have enacted no real energy legislation, and what little good they have done has been countered by gifts to the coal industry. They have done nothing to slow the privatization of the military. They have made no effort toward anti-trust legislation. They have engaged in endless showy investigation that amounts to nothing more than political posturing and makes no effort to bring anyone to actual account. They made nothing more than a token effort to bring about actual negotiation on drug pricing for Medicare. They are not even discussing health care reform. No effort to close Guantanamo or bring a halt to indefinite detention and torture. They have made no more than a token investigation into war profiteering. They have not rejected a single Bush appointee, and when he has abused the recess appointment process they have not spoken out.

The Democrats speak with a disunited voice and the Republicans speak with one voice, but other than that there is no difference between them. Neither party is concerned with the best interests of the United States of America, they are concerned with reelection and with the best interests of the moneyed interests that will contribute the money that will assure them of reelection.

As Shakespeare said, "A pox on both their houses."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Shoddy Reporting

A recent article in Center for American Progress starts like this,

"...the MBA reported that the percentage of payments 30 or more days past due for sub-prime adjustable-rate home mortgages have risen 1.31-percent in the first quarter of 2007."

It goes on to say the delinquency rate increased from 14.44% last quarter to 15.75% this quarter. That is a 1.13 point increase, not a 1.31 percent increase; the latter would be a bump to 14.60%. The increase to 15.75% is actually a 9% increase, which is indeed the "striking" increase that the article later refers to. It goes on to say that actual foreclosures were up by "1.58-percent" but gives no other numbers, so there's no way to be sure what that actually means.

No big deal, but I just rather dislike this kind of sloppy reporting.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Grandiosity Abounds

Updated below

Another heinous plot has been nipped in the bud. While I am glad that anyone planning harm has been apprehended and confined, the manner of it seems, as usual, completely out of proportion to the actual situation.

If I decide to flush a cherry bomb down the toilet with my goal being the destruction of the entire sewage system of Greater San Diego and massive pollution of the entire West Coast, what is the actual threat? My intentions? Or flushing a cherry bomb, which will actually cause no damage beyond my own house and the incidence of a hundred dollars or so in repair bills?

As an aside, for those who don’t know, a “cherry bomb” is a rather large firecracker: or was, as I believe they are no longer available. I actually did flush a few of them when I was a kid. The first ones merely caused rather spectacular geysers, but then one made it farther down the pipe resulting in the aforementioned repair bills. That got me into a whole heap of trouble and brought the flushing of cherry bombs to a screeching halt. Fortunately for me, the Department of Homeland Stupidity did not exist in those days.

So the current buzz is another terrorist plot that has been brewing for more than a year, created by a bunch of dimwits, simply planning an attack for which they had no capability whatever and which, even if they brought it off, would not produce the anywhere near as much damage as they thought it would. Worth investigating and stopping, but...

That’s the plotter’s part in this grandiosity game, and I can understand it. You really have to be a bit unbalanced to carry that much hatred around, and if you had very much smarts you probably wouldn’t be inviting FBI agents to participate in your plot.

The news media contributes to the grandiosity game by reporting not what the actual threat was (a kid flushing a cherry bomb), but what the plotter hoped to accomplish (destruction of the entire sewage system of Greater San Diego and massive pollution of the entire West Coast) and describing it as a “chilling threat.”

Well, I can understand that, too. It’s a lot more fun to write about dramatic things and chaos than it is to write about things that no one would give even a minor thought to. Some kid wants to cost his father a hundred bucks, who cares? Some kid is trying to destroy the West Coast, now that’s news. The fact that he has absolutely no chance of succeeding need not get in the way of it being a major headline.

As a further aside, a teenaged Jayhawk with cherry bombs, etc. was just a bit of a "chilling threat." But my Dad had his own little DHS thing going and the country survived those days quite handily. So did I, eventually.

What baffles me is the role of law enforcement in the grandiosity game.

What this plot calls for is for the agent to be having a cup of coffee with his news contact and comment in passing, “Oh by the way. We broke up a half-assed plot to blow up JFK the other day. The plot wouldn’t have worked, and we got enough on the guys to put them away, so it’s all over. I’m working on something else this week.”

But no, press conference and major announcements. "The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable," Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf said at a news conference, calling it "one of the most chilling plots imaginable." (Never mind that, even if the plot had proceeded unhampered, it would not have done anything approaching her description.) Broken arms all around from patting themselves on the back, and they bask in the glow of their own accomplishments for as long as they can get away with it.

Saner heads eventually start “poking holes” in the threat and the whole thing sort of fades off into nothing. Until the next heinous plot is uncovered.

I would think that the media and law enforcement would become just a bit embarrassed at some point, and when the next plot is uncovered either law enforcement would make a more restrained announcement about it or the news media would be less enthusiastic about swallowing the bait.

But, as the “JFK plot” reveals, grandiosity abounds endlessly.

Update, June 4

Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque today writes a bit about this plot in his inimitable style. In Scare Tactics: The Great American Freak-Out he says, in part,

...the latest "terror scare" from people who allegedly planned to do something at JFK Airport that was not technically feasible and had not actually gotten around to procuring any supplies or making any concrete plans for the technically unfeasible thing they had allegedly been talking about doing.

The more that I read about this "heinous plot" the more the U.S. Attorney looks utterly ridiculous standing on the courthouse steps braying about the "unthinkable devastation" it was going to cause.