Sunday, April 29, 2018

Picking The Winner

NASCAR is racing at Talledega this week. All of the "experts" are reminding us that the superspeedway race is totally unpredictable because the cars run in snarling, 200mph packs of twenty to thirty cars packed inches apart, and that wrecks involving as many as twenty cars are common and expected. They then go on to tell us who they think will win the race.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Subron 8: Inland Sea Cruise

Another in the ongoing "Subron 8 Sea Stories" series.

One time, for reasons us whitehats were never told, Diablo took what was called the “inland sea cruise.” I think we were the first submarine ever to do it, in part because armed warships are prohibited in the Great Lakes by treaty with Canada, and submarines are difficult to disarm. Unloading all those torpedoes is a major chore, and the loss of weight does ugly things to our trim. Then, sooner or later, we have to put them all back in. We did keep a dozen or so practice fish, which had dummy warheads.

The cruise is up the Saint Lawrence Seaway, through all the Great Lakes, then down the Mississippi River. The Navy was not thinking clearly when they sent us on this journey because even rigged for surface we draw almost thirty feet, and you’ve probably read stories of what the Mississippi River is like. Right. Sandbars and such, and much of it no more than six feet deep. So at Chicago we turned around and went out the way we came in.

We didn’t, in those days, make a habit of colliding with everything in sight the way Navy ships do today, but that doesn’t mean my Navy was a paragon of clear thinking. Remind me to tell you about the refueling at sea experiment.

On the way we made port at lots of cities where the citizenry were all very excited about seeing a real live submarine. They came aboard in tour groups, gaped at all the machinery and asked a lot of rather silly questions, to which they got a lot of equally silly answers which embarrassed and frustrated the officers who overheard us giving them. They would chime in with a patient, “No ma’am, that isn’t what that does. What it really does…” and deliver an ugly look at the sailor involved.

The officers were, of course, totally unable to prevent us from having quite a good time conducting tours, entertaining guests in various ways which the Navy had not planned for, and getting phone numbers for when we went on liberty. On shore we were quite a novelty since many of the cities, Detroit for instance, hadn’t seen the Navy much, and we didn’t have to pay for our own drinks very often. So all in all, we enjoyed the cruise.

There were a few pitfalls to sailing a submarine in fresh water, though.

Like, for instance, how to deal with puddles of water on the deck. The air in submarines is normally very humid, and is compressed frequently which adds to condensation being a frequent issue. So when we see a puddle of water, we taste it. If it’s fresh then we know it’s condensation and can be ignored. Or cleaned up if an officer or chief petty officer notices you tasting it. If it’s salty, then it’s seawater, and you have a leak and had better do something about it. Leaks, in a submarine, are not good.

But when you are in the Great Lakes, any water leaking from outside the ship is not salty. Now what?

Yes, Diablo had leaks. She was built in 1941 for God’s sake. We maintained that our most critical piece of equipment was the bilge pump, because if it ever crapped out the leaks would sink us in eight hours.

The periscope gland leaked and the captain got wet every time he looked through the scope. The weird thing was that it leaked even when we were on the surface and the gland was 24 feet above the waterline, so the captain always got wet when he looked through the scope. Needless to say, he was not happy about it, and that gland was one of many things that made me glad I was an Electrician and not a Machinist’s Mate.

Then there was our stop at Bay City, MI, which was a bit weird. For one thing, the town is misnamed. It should be “Cove City.”

The “bay” into which we arrive is barely bigger than the length of our boat, and there is no pier other than one about eight feet long and situated in water about two feet deep. This was early in my service and I am still on the forward line handling party, so I’m on the foredeck looking around and wondering if the Skipper has gotten us lost.

We come to a stop about halfway into this cove, and I look up onto the bridge where some arm pointing and conversation is going on. The crowd on shore seems to be expecting us, though, so I figure we’re in the right place, that everything is under control and when it’s time for us to do something they will let us know.

Then I hear the vents pop under my feet and feel the deck settling and angling a bit, and I realize we’re flooding down forward. Not a lot, maybe a few feet, but it’s odd. Then the engines ramp up and we begin moving forward, toward shore. That’s definitely odd, and we’re all looking at each other like maybe the captain has gone off his nut. The bow rises very slightly, quite gently actually, the ship stops, and I realize than I’m on a ship that has run aground.

Apparently on purpose, because everyone on the bridge seems quite happy with the situation. So we’re all standing around on the foredeck with our teeth in our pockets and our hands in our mouths, until the captain finally leans over the bridge coaming and yells down, “Get a line over.”

We look around and wonder how the fuck we are supposed to do that. Not only are there no bollards, there is not even a pier. Not to mention, no personnel on shore to receive the line when we throw it. Ridley, who’s in charge, yells up at the bridge, “Get a line over to what, sir?” The query may have contained a faint note of sarcasm. Maybe more than a faint note.

If so, the captain missed it. “I don’t know,” he calls back, “That fire hydrant over there looks pretty good. Tie up to that.”

Tie up to a fire hydrant. Right. So after some yelling and arm waving we get a couple of volunteers on shore and we manage to get a five inch line to the fire hydrant in question. As soon as it is made fast, we shift the flag but leave one engine running to provide power since there is no shore power connection available for us to hook up to.

One guy is concerned as whether the fire hydrant will hold a 1800-ton submarine when the tide changes. Ridley puts his arm around the guy and assures him that of course the hydrant will not even come close to holding the ship, but that it’s okay because there are no tides in the Great Lakes.

When we were ready to leave, we just blew the forward ballast tanks, which picked the bow up off the bottom and allowed us to back smoothly out of the bay. The fire hydrant survived entirely intact. The same could not be said for some of the taverns, but no real harm was done.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Odd Ruling

Some Democrats and many Republicans were of the opinion that Obama's policy of "If Congress won't act then I will" was not only unconstitutional, but was weakened by the fact that what one president could create by executive order, another president could rescind by executive order.

According to a DC judge, apparently that's not the case. He ruled that Omama's executive order creating the DACA program, written after Congress specifically rejected passage of the exact same law, could not be ended by a Trump executive order. It is unclear whether the judge ruled that a Democratic president has more power than a Republican one, or a black president has more power than a white one, or a president elected by Americans has more power than one elected by Russians, or...

Democratic Platform

A liberal commenter waxes poetic about the excitement of the upcoming Democratic landslide in the 2018 midterm elections.

Instantly, the House would be converted into a hive of investigatory bodies. In a Democratic House, the grand Washington battle will no longer be Trump versus Mueller. It will be Trump versus 21 subpoena-wielding House committee chairmen, played out in public on a 24-hour televised loop…

Although Facebook has categorized me as a “liberal,” based on pretty much nothing since I don’t discuss politics on Facebook, I perceive this idiot’s wet dream as an overwhelming reason to hope for the retention of a Republican majority in both houses. The idea that the Democratic Party would abandon all pretence of governance in pursuit of a single-minded witch hunt against Trump utterly appalls me.

Actually, the Democrats have made very little pretence at governance since they ran on the platform of stopping the war in Iraq in 2006 and gave us “the surge” after taking control of Congress in 2007. They have been, in fact, a party of “against” and little else.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Madame Secretary

Having recorded it on Sunday, we watched the latest episode yesterday, in which the President, Chief of Staff and Secretary of State are in the Oval Office discussing to what extent, and on behalf of which candidate, this country should interfere in the Nicaguaran presidential election. There was no even momentary thought given to us staying out of it. I rather enjoyed the irony.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Bathwater and Bad Pot?

Dean Baker lives in a state where marijuana is not legal, so he may be getting some of the illegal bad quality stuff which is doing weird things to his brain. Either that or he’s using way too much of the good stuff.

On the 19th, critical of the stand taken by the Washington Post against tax cuts, he said that, “we have already paid an enormous price for having deficits that are too small. We have needlessly kept the unemployment rate higher than necessary, with a cost to our children of a permanently smaller economy, to the tune of $1 trillion to $2 trillion annually.”

So spending at a rate which has led our debt to grow from $5.7 trillion in 2000 to $18.2 trillion in 2015, a 219% increase, is “deficits that are too small.”

He then goes on to argue for higher deficit spending and makes the claim that our debt level of more than 100% of GDP is not problematic by saying that, “Japan has a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 200 percent, over twice the US ratio. Until recently, investors were paying the Japanese government to lend it money, as its long-term interest rate was negative in nominal terms.” Etc.

He notes that Japan has maintained low inflation while accumulating that debt, but he doesn’t address Japan’s economic growth during that time, and it is economic growth that he claims has been harmed by insufficient deficit spending in this nation. In fact, Japan's economic growth has been so paltry during those years during those years of deficit spending that the population refers to those years as “The Lost Decades.”

So deficit spending didn’t grow Japan’s economy, but apparently he thinks it would grow ours. He does not explain why.

Then on the 20th he goes on another of his rants about the evils of patents and copyrights. It’s not that he doesn’t make some valid points regarding pharmaceutical companies, but he throws the baby out with the bathwater. Since Big Pharma is abusing the copyright/patent process, the entire process is evil and a person who writes a book should not be allowed to profit from having done so.

And, as usual, the ability to engage in logical thought completely escapes him.

“Suppose the government were to spend $400 billion this year on biomedical and other research and creative work,” he says. “This means that the deficit and debt would be $400 billion larger because it paid out money to corporations and individuals for this work.”

Then the train leaves the tracks. “Now suppose it grants patents and copyrights this year that will add an average of $50 billion a year over the next decade to the price of prescription drugs, software, and other protected items. Ignoring interest and discounting, how is that different from adding $500 billion to the debt?”

Actually, it adds nothing to the debt and $500 billion to the GDP, thereby reducing the debt to GDP ratio that, while utterly meaningless, is something that economists other than Dean Baker constantly worry about. Baker used to care, until doing otherwise suited his narrative better.

Baker does not see it that way, however, he sees that “we are requiring taxpayers to pay more money to drug companies and software makers,” which he says is, “in effect a privately collected tax.” Well, since it goes to corporations and not to the government, no, it is not a tax. Look up the definition of “tax” in the dictionary.

He then strays farther and farther into Paul Krugman territory. “Perhaps people feel better about being taxed by Pfizer and Microsoft than by the government,” he says, but given complaints about drug prices, clearly such is not the case.

He then discusses having an excise tax on drugs as opposed to the higher price and says that with respect to the difference, “No one would say that changes the debt story at all.” That borders on delusional, since the excise tax would reduce the deficit and the higher price does not.

He finishes with, “Anyhow, any deficit/debt monger who doesn't talk about the cost of patent and copyright monopolies is just being a political hack. They are not making serious economic arguments.” Well, we know who isn’t making serious economic arguments.

Monday, April 16, 2018

War Birds Have Bird Brains

Friday night I was really concerned, fearing that WW3 had begun, but by the next morning what I saw was a lot of yelling, fulminating, chest thumping and almost certainly a lot of lying by everyone involved. The whole thing is now beginning to resemble a comedy, except that we may not have seen the final chapter of it yet.

Actually, barring further escalation, the whole thing is mostly rather embarrassing at this point. My present conclusion is that we made an enormous production out of blowing up several empty buildings to “punish” Assad for a chemical weapons attack that not only did he not perpetrate, but which almost certainly never actually happened at all.

The US, Britain and France fired over 100 cruise missiles from airplanes and ships, which Russia said they would retaliate against but so far have not, other than with words like “violation of sovereignty.” I have no idea why they think such a charge would give this nation any cause for concern. The US violates the sovereignty of other nations on a frequent basis; it’s what we do best.

Russia pretty much said that since we didn’t kill anyone, only injured three Syrians, and didn’t destroy anything that anyone cared about, other than one civilian research lab which was unoccupied at the time, they are going to take a pass on this one.

Trump said the missile strikes would continue until Assad’s use of chemical weapons stopped, which was a bit odd since even he had not claimed Assad was currently employing chemical weapons as of the day of said missile strike. Which means they had already stopped. Logic, however, is not Mr. Trump’s strong point, so let’s move on.

Mattis, who is being referred to as “General” and as Secretary of Defense, says that this was a one time strike which will not be ongoing, so there is a communication problem here. One of them is obvious and the other is within the media and is with respect to his title, since military officers cannot serve in the civilian government. He is either an Army general or he is Secretary of Defense, but he can’t be both. The media needs to make up their minds.

Yes, general officers continue in rank after retirement, but using his rank while he is serving in government makes us sound like a nation with a military government such as, say, Egypt. You may recall that the military took over the government of Egypt by means of a coup. The population supported the coup because they trusted the military more than they did the civilian government. Does that sound familiar? When a US citizen meets a soldier today he says, “thank you for your service,” but when he meets a politician he says, “fuck you.” Anyway, back to the US war with Syria.

We say that we have dealt Syria a cruel blow and have destroyed their ability to use chemical weapons in the future, an ability which Syria, Russia and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says they did not have prior to our missile strike.

It’s also in conflict with Trump’s statement about the strikes continuing until Assad stops using chemical weapons. If we have destroyed his ability to use them, then by definition he isn’t going to continue using them. Right? Assuming, that is, that he ever used them in the first place. (“Yes or no, have you stopped beating your wife, Mr. Jones?”) Consistency, however is another thing that Trump is not known for so, again, let’s move on.

Syria says that they shot down, or otherwise disabled, 71 of the 103 missiles which were fired in the strike. The US, of course, says that not one single missile failed to strike the target, which is the same thing we claimed back in April of last year. Pictures of the target back then, however, showed only 23 impact craters after we fired 60 missiles, so the truth about shoot downs this time is probably closer to the Syrian claim of 71 than it is to our claim of zero.

CBS Evening News is still claiming that last April, after a single missile failed into the sea near the ship which was firing it, all of the other 59 missiles hit the airfield which was the target. Somehow, however, they only left 23 craters, and the pieces of metal littering the ground dozens of miles away from the target which look like missile parts are actually, um, er, uh… something else.

If we anticipated a 100% hit rate, why did we need to fire 103 missiles, each with 450 pounds of very powerful explosive, to destroy three buildings?

As to those buildings we destroyed, according to a correspondent with our military who served in Syria prior to their civil war, those facilities are not recent intelligence discoveries, but were known to us and disclosed to the Israelis 25 years ago. They were emptied of chemical weapons in 2013 under a program initiated by Russia and overseen by the US military and have been monitored since then by the OPCW, an international watchdog agency who does for chemical weapons what the IAEA does for nuclear weapons. The most recent inspection, in which they were pronounced clear of any weapons, was November 22, 2017.

According to a Syrian interviewed by a CBS News reporter who worked at the research center in Damascus, which was hit by our missiles and destroyed, the facility did research on food chemicals and he did not have a security clearance. They were standing in the rubble of the destroyed research center as they spoke, and were not wearing anything in the way of protective clothing or breathing gear. Does that sound like a chemical weapons research center?

That same “news agency” is now walking the story back a bit, saying repeatedly last evening that the missile strike was “in response to suspected use of chemical weapons by Assad.” I find such a statement astonishing. Bit like a judge saying, “I sentence you to death for suspected first degree murder.”

Of course, we have been sentencing people to death by Hellfire missile for being “suspected militants” since the beginning of the Obama administration, so I don’t know why I should be surprised by this latest.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Futility Award

Chase Elliott, son of Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott, is in his third year driving in NASCAR's premier stock car racing series. When he came into the series it was widely expected that he would run away with stardom, given his heritage and the fact that he was driving a car furnished by Hendrick Motors, one of the winningest teams in the sport. He took over, in fact, the car driven by Jeff Gordon, who won the series championship four times.

Chase Elliott can drive very fast, but six races into his third season has yet to win his first race. He is on the verge of setting a record, however, for leading the most laps without winning a race. I'm trying to decide between naming the award as suggested in the title, or naming it "The Frustration Award."

I'm leaning toward the title, however, because when your car is fast enough to lead that many laps and you cannot win with it...

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

CBS News No Longer Even Pretends

"We cannot verify this film clip, but it appears to show victims of a Syrian gas attack." If you cannot verify the film clip why are you airing it? A legitimate news agency does not air anything which it cannot verify as accurate. A propaganda machine airs anything which purports to support the position it is promulgating.

"The United States hit this airfield with 59 missiles after the last time Assad used chemical weapons on his own people."  First, the United States fired 59 missiles, but only six missiles hit that airfield. Fifty-three missiles went awry, some shot down by Russian air defense, and some for unknown reasons. Second, the putative chemical weapons use which triggered this missile attack was debunked; it never happened.

CBS News no longer even pretends to tell the truth.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Stupidity Reigns

The stupidity of these claims regarding the use of chemical weapons becomes more and more bizarre. Having essentially won, overall, his civil war, Assad destroys 90% of an enemy position and then, ready to begin “mop up” operations, hits civilians near that position with chemical weapons. We do not even stop to ask why he would do that.

In view of an announcement that we are leaving, Assad makes a move which is certain not only the get us to stay, but to get us to renew our threats of attacking him directly, something we have done only in a token manner before this. We do not pause to ask why he would want to have us in active military engagement against him.

Don’t even get me started on the White Helmets, who have been making idiots of us for years.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Beware of First Impressions

As Loyola of Chicago was in the final minutes of what was obviously a losing effort on Saturday, television showed a shot of Sister Jean being wheeled out of the arena several minutes before the final buzzer. I thought that was a bit odd, and certainly not in character. Sure enough, she was merely making sure that she was in place to greet each player as they left the court, congratulating each one individually on a successful and wonderful season and acknowledging each for their accomplishment. Nice.