Saturday, December 08, 2007
Heap has a beautiful voice, is a talented lyricist and musician, and her ability to perform live a very challenging act (if she had made one mistake the song is over) is superb. Celine Dion can sing, but I much prefer Heap's voice, and I can't stand watching Dion perform. I could watch this video over and over. Heap's virtuosity is as fascinating as it is magical, and her raw talent that is so well-showcased on this video staggers the imagination.
I honestly don't see how she can become any better.
Friday, November 30, 2007
First, a little history. The .MOBI eBook format, the most popular eBook format prior to the Kindle's introduction, was developed by a company called MobiPocket for use by their MobiReader software. MobiPocket used to charge a nominal fee for the MobiReader application, and another nominal fee for popular public domain eBooks like the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, Mark Twain, etc. The appeal of this, a decade ago, is that one could read books on various PDAs and computers. MobiPocket ended up being the largest publisher of eBooks, and was able to entice mainstream publishers to get on board by offering them protection against unauthorized copying, via DRM. MobiPocket also made their eBook creation software available for free to prospective publishers, so it costs almost nothing to create an eBook from the textual source. MobiPocket (the company) was purchased by Amazon a few years ago, by the way.
After thinking about this on and off, I now understand why Amazon decided not to support DRM .MOBI and went with a new DRM format, .AZW. (Interestingly enough, .AZW is almost identical to DRM .MOBI, and why not? After all, Amazon owns DRM .MOBI.)
Current DRM schemes do not account for selling and transferring ebooks. In fact, since it is impossible to tie a DRM .MOBI ebook to a particular reader (because users might get a new reader), it is effectively impossible to enforce DRM if the original purchaser is willing to provide the key to another person.
The Kindle, on the other hand, is a closed system. The Kindle's serial # is tied to the user on the Amazon website. Although, like MobiPocket, creating eBooks costs nothing, unlike MobiPocket the creation software is not downloaded to one's computer but instead resides on Amazon's servers (so they can control it fully). A record of all DRM ebooks purchased is also stored on Amazon, and associated with both the customer and the specific Kindle. Amazon could institute a firmware feature that would automatically verify each DRM ebook on the system with Amazon's server on a regular basis, and inform Amazon if a pirated file were found. Maybe they're doing that now. Who knows what data goes up to Amazon?
However, a closed system has advantages. Amazon could institute an ebook trade-in program, where you get partial credit for 'returning' a book to Amazon (removing it from your purchased book list), and they could enforce this by having the Kindle verify the 'ownership' of any .AZW book when you try to read it (by storing a copy of your purchased book list on your Kindle). Or, Amazon could facilitate 'selling' of used ebooks to other Kindle owners, by taking a bite of the 'selling' price for themselves and the publisher... call this the eBay model. The Kindle would certainly support this.
So, because Amazon can't guarantee that an individual is the owner of a particular DRM .MOBI ebook, it is perfectly understandable why they don't want the hassle and liability of supporting that format. And, because they control the Kindle, they could have all sorts of flexibility with .AZW ebooks... flexibility that is impossible with DRM .MOBI ebooks.
P.S.: Why have I written a lot about this device? Because I believe the Kindle will revolutionize the book industry, and it will also transform Amazon, the company, into what it originally promised to be back in 1995. Stay tuned for further thoughts on this device...
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Dear Amazon Kindle Support:
I’ve purchased a Kindle> after looking at a friend’s beta-test version, and think you guys really have a winner here, and I feel I can say this as someone who had spec’d out the ideal eBook, as a dream project, back in the late ‘80s at a large Redmond software company (the needed technology wasn’t available yet).
However, I do have a problem, as a customer, with the Kindle’s lack of support for DRM content downloaded from Mobipocket. After all, Amazon owns Mobipocket, and to not support purchased Mobipocket files while supporting open Mobipocket files seems weak.
I understand that, from a business point of view, Amazon wants to differentiate the Kindle and to raise the barriers against other content providers, but what Amazon is really doing is forcing me and other customers to buy two different electronic books. If I have to do that, then I’ll probably end up only buying the content I can use on both devices, and failing that I’ll end up buying only the content I can use on more than one device… which means I’ll eventually sell or abandon my Kindle and go to something like the iRex iLiad as soon as someone implements support for .AZW (the Kindle’s ‘native’ eBook format).
If you really want to kill off the Mobipocket format, then do so by only publishing new titles in .AZW, not .MOBI DRM, and then offering a conversion from DRM Mobipocket to .AZW. Amazon has the marketing clout to ensure that it can publish what it wants. But, really, does Amazon want to be in the hardware business? No. Amazon was founded to be in the book business, and the twelve years of building a tremendous infrastructure was forced upon it by the demands of the market and of the products it chose to sold. Everything else is just productizing what Amazon needed to build in the first place (web services, storefronts, etc.). If only books didn’t need to be printed… but people aren’t going to want to have to worry about the Tower of Babel (different formats for electronic books, and devices that purposely choose to exclude the most popular format for business reasons).
Amazon wants, no, needs to be in the virtual book business. Leading the transformation away from physical media, of any type, should be Amazon’s goal. The best way to do this is to remove impediments to customer adoption. Do this by offering free .MOBI to .AZW conversions for 90 days after a new owner gets a Kindle, and then charge a nominal fee thereafter. Then no one has a reason to buy any other eReader.
I guess Amazon has the data for it’s decision to leave current electronic book owners out in the cold (no support for rights-protected .MOBI files), but what does this really buy you? If you don't offer conversion to .AZW, someone will figure out how to provide DRM’d .AZW files even if you don’t publish the specifications, just as Real Networks found out how to produce iTune-compatible protected music. Far better to make a few cents for conversions than to watch your competitors start offering content for the Kindle that you won't get any money for.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Though I don't especially want to perpetuate anyone's stereotypes about the mainstream media, I have to say that this optimism is totally unwarranted. Not because things aren't improving in Iraq—it seems they are, at least for the moment—but because the collateral damage inflicted by the war on America's relationships with the rest of the world is a lot deeper and broader than most Americans have yet realized. It isn't just that the Iraq war invigorated the anti-Americanism that has always been latent pretty much everywhere. Far worse is the fact that—however it all comes out in the end, however successful Iraqi democracy becomes a decade from now—our conduct of the war in Iraq has disillusioned our natural friends and supporters and thrown a lasting shadow over our military and political competence. However it all comes out, the price we've paid is too high.The price we paid isn't the almost 4,000 Americans who gave their lives in Iraq fighting Al Qaeda fanatics and Sunni intransigents. It's not the tens of thousands of wounded, some of whom are permanently disabled, and all whom have gone through hell. Nope... the price we've paid is the fact that no one likes us enough anymore to listen to us:
News flash: They weren't listening to us anyway! The folks that opposed us in 2003... folks like Hans Blix, Gehard Schroeder, Jacques Chirac... opposed us because they believed it was in their best interests to oppose us! Whether those interests revolved around money (as in keeping the Oil For Food cash coming), political ambition (as in using the US as a whipping boy to distract one's own voters away from a dismal political record), or strategic ambition (as in utilizing general angst over war as a club to beat the US with in the hopes of weakening America strategically so that we would no longer project power) is just additional grist for the mill.
From the start, however, all negotiations between Iran and the "EU-3," as the group is known in diplomacy speak, have been haunted by Iraq. Certainly, there is no expert committee in existence that could successfully convince Europeans (or anyone) that Iran really does have nuclear weapons, or even that Iran intends to build them. So fresh are the memories of American claims about the extent of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and so vast, therefore, is the skepticism about any assessments of anybody's nuclear program, that even a report bearing a United Nations or European Union label would fail to convince, even if Iranian nukes were on display in downtown Tehran. All analysis coming out of the United States is, of course, automatically discounted.
So, here we are, almost five years later, with yet another crisis fomenting in the Middle East over a terrorist-sponsoring state that is developing WMDs, and even the critics of America admit that they do not wish to confront Iran. Hell's bells! Why on Earth should Iran change its course of action? What is the downside of their current direction? Can the Europeans not see that their very ambivalence is what is causing the crisis? And, that if they would just grow a pair and stand up, just once, to a totalitarian regime, then perhaps they could prevent yet another dictatorial miscalculation that "democracies are too weak and decadent to fight?"
Hitler started World War II because he truly believed that Britain and France lacked the will to oppose him. Oops. Kim Il Sung started the Korean War because he and Stalin believed that Truman lacked the will to oppose them. Oops. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait because he believed the US lacked the will to intervene. Twelve years later, he defied US and UN demands because he again believed that the US would not intervene because his bought-and-paid-for 'friends' would prevent UN approval of any attack. Oops yet again. Anyone else spot the "wars are often started by miscalculations" trend here?
I have to tell you; I think Iraq was worth the cost, and I further believe that history will agree with me in a very short time. September 11, 2001 was the culmination of several decades of escalating terrorist attacks on America... attacks with no consequences. The Bush Administration correctly analyzed the situation in the Middle East, recognizing that things weren't going to change unless we changed our response. That's a bad neighborhood, and people over there needed to realize that business as usual was over. If that meant invading a few countries, then so be it. Of course, our enemies doubted our resolve, having seen eight years of Clinton pusillanimity. We all knew their game plan: kill Americans violently and hold on until they give up and go home. But it didn't happen, despite the tremendous cost in blood and money, because we were uniquely blessed with a military, a president, and a majority of the American people, all of whom possessed the courage and resolve to see it through, and to ignore the naysayers. That resolve is what finally made the Iraqi people choose America. Osama bin Laden was right: Arabs always choose the strong horse. We showed the Middle East that, contrary to popular opinion, we are the strong horse, not Al Qaeda and its minions. If Clinton had done his job, and those who hated us believed this in 2001, then 9/11 wouldn't have happened.
We've won in Iraq. Now we need to finish the job, and that means confronting Iran instead of avoiding it. This is when the Rest of the World needs to grow up and get with the program. Europeans need to realize that Iran is a real threat, and that once Tehran has nukes the possibility of nuclear war increases dramatically. Iran sends all types of munitions to their Hamas and Hezbollah proxies for indiscriminate use against Israeli civilian targets. Does anyone really not think that a small nuke is off the table? Does anyone really think the US wants to go to war with Iran? Evidently, many Europeans are in a state of denial.
And whose fault is this really? Whose fault is it that the US and specifically the Bush Administration is seen as less than credible? I think that some Americans, who have attacked the motivations of the current president in their scorched-earth effort to regain political power by any means necessary, bear a good part of the blame. There's been way too much irresponsible politicking. After all, most of our enemies are merely repeating the Democrat Party talking points. This is why, once upon a time, political attacks stopped at the water's edge. Maybe, if a Democrat does win the presidency in 2008, they'll soon regret the bitter harvest that two terms of irresponsible political attacks have sown.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Yes, having the right to face one's accusers is fundamental to our system of justice... but how can Obama answer such charges? How do you defend yourself from such allegations? It's like asking him when he stopped beating his wife. What is important, to the Clintons anyway, is not the substance but the allegations themselves. What I don't understand is why the media doesn't tell the Clinton campaign, and Hillary herself, to either put up (disclose the evidence) or shut up (apologize to Obama for slandering him)**. The Clintonistas get to have their cake and eat it, too. I guess what they really want is a public outpouring of gratitude from Obama for not actually disclosing the dirt. Never mind the smear.
Am I the only one who remembers the venality of the Clintons? The attacks against Monica Lewinsky, characterized by Bill as a 'stalker' and by Hillary as part of the 'vast right-wing conspiracy.' The demonization of Ken Starr. The selling of pardons to upstanding folks like Marc Rich? The destruction of an innocent man's character (Billy Dale) in order to enrich political contributors? The lies?
And now this. Thank goodness the Clintons and their supporters are such upstanding folks. I mean, they're decent enough to annouce to all and sundry that they're not going to use shockingly scandalous information about Obama against him.
What a crock.
*Novak knew Richard Armitage, a Clinton administration holdover in the State Department, was the source of the Valerie Plame leak and not Scooter Libby or Dick Cheney... but did he come forth? No. Better to let an innocent man be crucified by yet another Democrat holdover (Patrick Fitzgerald) with political motivations.
**Of course, I understand. The drive-by media will not do anything to threaten the coronation of the Rightful Heiress to the Throne.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
There was a wide variety of static displays, including one of my favorites, the Lockheed C5-A Galaxy:
The C5 is designed to carry three(!) M1 Abrams tanks, and as you can see it is huge outside and inside:
There was also a sample of airplanes from the 1940s on, including several Stearman biplane trainers in both Navy and Army colors, an AT-6, a C-47, a B-17 Flying Fortress, and a B-25 Mitchell. Here's the nose art from the B-17 and B-25:
There was also some examples of Korean War-era planes including a Mig-15, an F-86 Sabrejet, and it's immediate predecessor the F-80/T-33:
The F-80 actually was sent to Korea but proved to be no match for the Mig-15; the F-86 was rushed into production forthwith and proved to be a very fine Mig killer.
While the jets were fine for air-to-air combat, the bulk of ground support was done using reciprocating-engine propellor-driven airplanes. The Marines used the F4-U Corsair, while the Navy and the Air Force both used the Douglas Skyraider:
The Skyraider served on into Vietnam and was very popular. As an aside, my father flew these off of straight-deck carriers back in the late '50s and early '60s.
Speaking of the Navy, they did have a minor presence here with a static flight simulator trailer and a recruiting booth. The Marines and the Army were present also, with recruiting booths, but the Air Force kept its fellow services well back from the flight line! Even more notable (to this ex-swabbie) was that although the F-18 Hornet put on a show, it was a CF-18 Hornet from the Canadian Air Force:
I could have sworn I heard someone whisper, "Better a sister in a whorehouse than a brother flying for the Navy!" Probably my imagination....
The civilian flyers weren't left out, both with the classic military planes as shown above, and with purpose-built sport acrobatic aircraft. The Red Bull Flying Team put on one awesome display, with pilot Kirby Chambliss and his Extra 300 doing everything from the mundane to the incredible... check out this Lomcevak:
You can see from the trailing of the smoke how the plane is tumbling, instead of flying, moving horizontally in the direction that the bottom of the plane is pointed. The Red Bull helicopter was doing loops and barrel rolls, too, and it literally dove after the skydiving team while Chambliss was doing rings around the whole formation as the helicopter and skydivers free-fell. I've never seen a crazier aerobatic show.
Of course, what Air Force celebration would be complete without one of the BUFFs making an appearance?
The aircrew opened up the bomb doors for a simulated run, with special-effects explosions on the ground (the EOD folks were having a field day blowing off C-4 underneath jugs of diesel fuel for that 'napalm' effect).
Of course, all of this was merely a prelude to the main event... the Thunderbirds:
All good things must come to an end, as the Thunderbirds park their steeds on the Nellis flightline, with Las Vegas in the background:
But wait, the Air Force wasn't done yet... seems that something had been watching us all day (a Predator drone, complete with Hellfire missiles!):
The Air Force's ground attack community put in an appearance with the A-10 Thunderbolt II, also known as the 'Warthog'. This tank-killing plane was designed around its 30mm 6-barreled electric Gatling gun, shooting projectiles the size of Coke bottles at a rate of 70 per second. Ouch!
Interestingly, there was not a single F-15 Eagle at the air show. I believe that all F-15s are grounded due to concerns about fatigue after an F-15 came apart during a training flight in the midwest a few weeks ago. The Air Force couldn't let the celebration end without some fighter presence. The best surprise of the airshow was an appearance by the brand-new F-22 Raptor:
Note the unique exhaust signature with its multiple rings:
The Raptor was joined by a little bit of Air Force history in the form of a P-51 Mustang from WWII, an F-4 Phantom from the Vietnam era, and an A-10 Warthog from the Gulf War, for a final flyby....
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Give me a break!
Ahmadinejad just wants to go in order to obtain a photo op. The only "victims" he plans to pay his respects to are the terrorist hijackers, whom he has stated acted with the knowledge and assistance of the US government. This man is the president of a country that, at his orders, is participating in the killing of Americans on a daily basis. This man has openly called for the destruction of the United States, the "Great Satan" as he refers to us. This man was one of the "students" who took American diplomats hostage back in 1979, yet he understands that he is safe in America with his diplomatic credentials. And he wonders why Americans don't like him, or Iran? Puh-leeze!
I've got a better idea. I understand that the US is bound by the agreement with the UN which requires us to let anyone with diplomatic accreditation from a foreign government come to New York to visit the UN, and that's fine. No one says that visitors get the freedom to move about the City, however. Meet this wretch's plane with a pair of F-15s when he approaches US airspace, ensure his flight path stays over water and unpopulated areas until it arrives at the airport. Meet his plane with a security detail, for his protection of course. If he stays overnight, escort him to his accomodations and station security outside of his room. Do not allow him to leave his room without US-provided security, and then only to go to and from the UN. Once he's there, let him make his speech, meet with representatives from other countries, etc. When his business is concluded at the UN, take him to the airport, put his sorry butt back on his airplane, and then once again escort that airplane with a pair of F-15s until he is well beyond US airspace. Make sure he understands that, once his plane touches the ground back home, our promise to guarantee his safety ends and the next US airplane he sees might well have already dropped the smart bomb that will send him to his own special place in Hell.
If he has a problem with that, remind him that he is still alive at our discretion, and that if he would prefer, we can treat him the same way he calls for the treatment of his enemies.
Update: I called into a local radio talk show today to give them grief about the liberal host's position that perhaps this was a missed opportunity to "connect" with Ahmadinejad. Give a listen and see what you think! If you get a 'page not found' error when you click on the link, just hit 'refresh' and that should start up Windows Media Player and start playing the MP3...
Friday, September 14, 2007
Taken on Labor Day in the Lisabeula area of Vashon Island, Washington.
Does the tree wake up from summertime drowsing to notice the first dead leaf, and only then realize its mortality? Regardless of how bright the sun or how warm the day, winter eventually comes to us all.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
This first group was actually very good, but they have (had?) the misfortune of going before the Blue Angels in front of a crowd that is used to the levels of performance that only a world-class top-of-the-line military fighter can give... and that only a government can afford to operate! Very precise flying, and the group was fast, but not quick (very slow to accelerate, rejoin, etc.).
Another great hour filled with sonic booms, turnin' and burnin', etc. Until you viscerally feel the vibration from an F-18 making a high speed subsonic pass maybe 100' overhead, watch them go from sea level to 15,000 feet in under 20 seconds, etc., you can't appreciate how astoundingly fast and agile... and loud these planes are.
The 'smoke' (condensed water vapor) above the inboard leading edges of the wings is a sign that the plane is really pulling some 'G's (the air pressure above the wing is dropping so low that the water vapor condenses). I meant to bring my 70-200/2.8 EX and use the TC with it... but my son was in too much of a hurry this morning so I grabbed the small Lowepro instead. No big deal... all's well that ends well.
Monday, July 30, 2007
I spent last weekend in the San Juans, having rented a house with my family for the week, but alas, we are still trying to ship the product that was supposed to be done at the end of June, so I'm back by myself for the week.
At least the ferry ride back was beautiful.
Update: I did get to go back on Thursday evening and go fishing, bike riding, and just relaxing for a couple of days. I took this picture at sunset on the south end of the Deception Pass Bridge, while I was waiting for the last ferry of the night. A little post-processing magic, and voila!
Sunday, April 22, 2007
I've ridden it for the past three years, but now I've been dared to do it in one day, so I've started to train in earnest. First, I realized that the bike I'd ridden for the three previous rides, a RANS V-Rex with a Rohloff Speedhub (a 14-speed internally-geared hub), just wasn't the bike to do this in one day. The V-Rex, especially one set up the way mine is, weighs around 31 lbs. The new bike to get was obvious: a Bacchetta Aero.Why was it obvious? The Aero started the high racer recumbent craze, it weighs 22 lbs, has a titanium frame, and is one of the lightest and fastest recumbents out there. After dithering over 24" or 650c wheels, I went with the latter (better tire choices, lower rolling resistance) despite worries over seat height (I'm 5'6"), and I'm perfectly happy with my choice.
I've had the Aero since early March and have found that it is easily 20% faster than the V-Rex on the flats and perhaps twice as fast climbing. I should have bought one of these when they first came out.
I went on a quick 30-mile training ride tonight. Here's the details, courtesy of my Garmin Edge 305 GPS/Cyclecomputer (ah... gadgets!) and MotionBased.com:
If you want to follow my ride, click on the 'View Activity' link above, then select the orange 'Player' tab at the top far right, then select 'Satellite' and set the speed to '0.5x', and hit the Play button.
Note the elevation graph, at the lower right. I live at the south end of one of a series north-south ridges (a result of glacial activity during the last Ice Age), and I have to descend almost 400 feet to get to the valley below (near sea level). Of course, there's lots of ridges in this neck of the woods, so I have to climb back up a 500' high ridge, then descend down the other side, ride in the Sammamish Valley for a while, and then climb back up the ridge I live on. If the hills don't kill you, they make you wish you were dead. Any wonder why I miss south Louisiana, where the highest hill is a highway overpass?
Why am I writing about this? Because now that I've put this goal in writing, I'm obligated to do it. Ouch.
Friday, March 16, 2007
As I put the books on the counter, the sales clerk started her banter. "How is your day going?"
"Fine," I replied.
"I just know today will be a good day for me, too!" she said. "The past several days have been really bad, so today has to be good, doesn't it?"
"That's an interesting question," I said. "Are you familiar with statistics?"
"No, I'm not."
I warmed to my subject. "Well, let me explain something to you. Let's say you flipped a coin a thousand times, and ended up with a thousand 'heads'. The odds against that are astronomical, right?"
"Yes, I know that much!"
"Okay, but did you know that the odds of your getting heads on the next flip is still 50:50? In other words, regardless of how lousy the past few days have been for you, the odds are just as likely that today, and tomorrow, will be just as lousy, or lousier."
The poor woman visibly deflated, but bravely tried to recover as she handed me my books and my credit card back. "Have a nice day!"
"You, too," I replied as I left.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Take a look at this image, from Google Earth. I found it while dinking around this afternoon. It's the location of the Gulf War Battle of 73 Easting, almost sixteen years ago to the day, on the night of February 25-26 1991, when the US VII Corps caught up with one of the three Iraqi Republican Guard armored divisions, the Tawakalna Division and literally kicked their butts in a few hours. Click on the image to see it larger, and use the coordinates to help you zoom in with Google Earth if you want to check out the battlefield. This particular image is, I believe, the graveyard of the Iraqi 12th Armored Division, left behind to guard the rear of the Tawakalna Division while the Republican Guard units tried to retreat back into Iraq. I believe this division was destroyed mostly by Apache helicopter, with some assists from M1A1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
I've looked further to the north, where the three Tawakalna battalions got theirs, but the density of destroyed vehicles is very low although there are hastily prepared fighting positions where they're suppsed to be. Perhaps the Iraqis salvaged the destroyed tanks after the war, starting at the north and working their way southward.
Despite the impression that we have of Iraqis being most militarily adept at surrendering, the Guards divisions were actually pretty tough customers who tried to slug it out with the American forces. Remember, these are the same tank units that defeated the Iranians for a decade. Their biggest handicap was lack of intelligence; looking at the most-southern fighting positions shows that they were expecting the attack from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to the south and east, and were completely surprised by our forces to the left. Coalition forces also had the advantage of superior equipment, training, and communications. Our tanks could detect and destroy their tanks beyond the range that they could even see us through their gunsights. In these battles, the first indication the Iraqis had that US armored forces were nearby was having one of their tanks blow up spectacularly.
One of the tactics used by the Iraqis as the battle raged on was to not power up their tank, instead letting it remain at the ambient temperature and thus be mostly invisible to our thermal sights. One of the US units reported coming over a small ridge and seeing 'basketballs' appearing and disappearing... and realizing these were the heads of Iraqi tank commanders coming in and out of their turrets quickly spread the word to shoot below the basketballs... ouch!
The smarter Iraqis kept their tanks cold and their heads down. After US vehicles would roll past these dormant tanks in the night, the Iraqis would crank their turrets around by hand and shoot us from behind. It was an effective tactic, but once a shot was fired the tank's temperature changed enough to become clearly visible on our thermal sights and most of these tanks only got off one shot before they were destroyed. Unfortunately, US tanks adjacent to those hit turned their turrets around to engage the bypassed Iraqis, leading to several incidents of fratricide, or "friendly fire" deaths when their gun flashes firing westward were mistakenly identified as enemy fire and engaged by oncoming US tanks to the westward.
After the destruction of the Tawakalna Division, the next Guard unit encountered was the Medina, leading to the Battle of Medina Ridge, the largest tank-on-tank battle in the history of the US Army. I think that only the WWII Battle of Kursk between the Soviets and the Germans was larger.
I think a case can be made that the Soviet Union collapsed as a result of the Gulf War and the lopsided US victory. Why? Because the Soviets were in Iraq supporting their client state with technical advisors and the latest and greatest Warsaw Pact armament. The Soviets always outnumbered the US in Europe, just as the Iraqis outnumbered us in Iraq, however US military strategy was predicated on the fact that large conventional battles would always be against numerically superior enemies like the Soviets and the Chinese. And yet, we defeated the fourth largest army in the world in less than 100 hours, while suffering more casualties in traffic accidents at home than we did on the battlefield. I think the Soviet leadership saw that all of their military spending, the decades of deprivation of their people, the lack of progress in their country's standard of living... it was all a waste. They'd never be able to conquer us militarily, they lost 40,000 troops and wrecked their army in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and they were getting left further and further behind, while their earstwhile junior partner China was making great economic strides. Despite the Soviets' best efforts, the US was less than 100 kilometers from downtown Baghdad with nothing in the way but sand. And so we saw the coup attempt fail shortly thereafter, and the Soviet Union was no more.
One wonders about the lost opportunities of the 1990s, starting with our running from Somalia to our ineffective responses to Al Qaeda. What would the world have looked like with Bush had won instead of Clinton? Would 9/11 or something similar have happened?
My favorite part of the article:
The tourists left on their Carnival cruise after the incident and Hernandez said authorities do not plan to press any charges against them, saying they acted in self defense.
"They were in their right to defend themselves after being held up," Hernandez said.
Honduras is a pretty cool country.
Lesson #1: When your life is threatened, fight back with an overwhelming amount of force and definitively eradicate the threat. Mercy can wait until you identify the perp in the ER or the morgue.
Lesson #2: Picking on Americans can be hazardous to your health.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
c/o Outdoor Life
I've met you at sportsmen's shows and at the SHOT Show. I've read your work for a couple of decades now. I'm really pretty disappointed in you, because I don't think you get why people are so upset.
I've hunted for almost 40 years, and owned guns for the same amount of time. I've been in the military. I've shot competitively. And, I've owned a gun shop and shooting range.
People could care less if you do, or don't, hunt with an AR-15, or Mini-14, or AK-47, or SKS, or whatever. That's your business. When you start denigrating people over their choice of hunting firearms, then it becomes a problem. When you call them "terrorists" and call for banning their weapon of choice, then it really becomes a problem. And, in today's political climate, where those who work to ban all firearms look for any and every opportunity to divide the gun owner community on the basis of cosmetics so they can gradually ban all guns by banning this type and then that type, you just handed anti-gunners some potent information. "Why not ban AR-15s from hunting?" they'll say. "After all, noted hunting authority Jim Zumbo says that they are unsporting and don't belong in the woods!"
Jim, the problem isn't that you didn't realize people hunt with AR-15s. It's that both your original post and your apology demonstrate you truly do not believe in the right to keep and bear arms, and that it extends to beyond what type of firearms may be suitable for a week-long elk hunt in the Rockies.
So, going on a hunt with Ted Nugent and using AR-15s isn't going to fix the problem. How about writing an article on how people who don't hunt also have a right to own firearms, including AR-15s, and maybe then following up with another article specifically for non-hunters who own semiautomatic rifles derived from military weapons, directed at how to get them to start hunting with those weapons. After all, we need more hunters!
Hunting as an activity is decreasing in popularity. I'd venture to say that, unlike when I was a boy, the majority of gun owners are not hunters. If you, as a recognized authority on hunting (certainly not guns), dismiss these people for their taste in firearms, then in a few years don't be surprised when hunting as a legitimate sporting activity is ended. After all, we don't need to hunt to feed ourselves, and we can farm elk and deer if we like the taste of venison. It's just a cruel blood sport, isn't it, and no one needs to kill a poor cute defenseless prairie dog or a clever and handsome coyote.
Gun owners and Americans in general are pretty forgiving, if they think you're sincere and if they see that you've changed. But the burden is on you, and not on them. If your apology really is sincere and you really don't think these guns should be banned from hunting, then you need to start writing... and soon.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
I learned to ride a bike when I was five, on my own. My parents had bought my oldest sister a red Schwinn on her sixth birthday, and my other sister Sue and I spent the afternoon running behind my father as he attempted to mentor Amie in the art of cycling by holding the bike with her on it, running with it for a few steps and then launching her to wobble across the drive. She never really took to it and the bike ended up in the garage, unused. Sue never expressed any interest in the bicycle and so it languished for over a year until one day, after watching some of the older boys in the neighborhood ride and pondering on the subject I decided that I was going to learn.
I spent a few days on the sidewalk besides our house, starting at the top of the block and coasting down, dragging my feet at first until I finally figured out what to do in order to keep from falling... turn in the direction that the bike starts to lean. Shortly thereafter I was up and running, or cycling. I spent the rest of the summer cycling on my own without anyone being the wiser... and as the youngest child and the only boy that is just how I wanted it.
A week or two after school began, I made an offhand comment as we passed a bicyclist on the way home in the car with my mother and sisters. "What do you know about bicycles?!" Sue challenged. "Why, I'm a year older than you and I can't ride and I know more about bicycles than you do!" "I can too ride a bike!" I responded. "No, you can't!" And so on, until my mother told us both to stop arguing.
I slumped back in my seat and challenged her, "I bet you a quarter I can ride!" Now, a quarter was a lot of money in the mid-1960s. It was two week's allowance, and would buy five Cokes in those little glass bottles, or five candy bars, or any combination of the two. We're talking serious money for a five year-old... or a six year-old, for that matter. Sue had to put up, or shut up... and, really she had no choice; I had called her bluff. She could hardly wait to get home to take my quarter.
The car had barely stopped before we all piled out. I ran across the yard to the door under the porch and pulled the bike out, and then proudly rode it across the yard and up to the car. My mother was speechless with astonishment, and both of my sisters were calling, "Teach me! Teach me!" (I tried for a few minutes, but they wouldn't listen, and I eventually realized that they would have to learn on their own the same way I did, although being outdone by their younger brother was powerful motivation. I don't remember getting the quarter.)
A couple of days later, my father pulled up while I was sitting on the back steps. He stepped out of the driver's seat and pulled a brand-new 24" boy's bike out of the back. I was totally surprised; I guess my mother must have mentioned that we would need at least one more bike. This was a typical Sear's cruiser with lots of chrome plating, the taillight behind the seatpost, a swooping gas tank on the main tube, a headlight and a big spring shock absorber on top of the front fender. I immediately tried to ride it and ran into a problem. Either Dad overlooked my height, or lack of it, at five years of age, or more likely he bought a little bigger bike figuring I would grow into it. My father showed me how to start by stepping on the left pedal with my left foot, scooting a few steps, and then swinging my foot over the main tube, and I was able to ride it, but even at its lowest I couldn't pedal while sitting. I quickly learned how to stop the bike and get off without falling; ride into our hedge and then climb off as the bike was held up by the front wheel!
As you can imagine, with very little clearance between the top tube and sensitive portions of my anatomy, not being able to sit, and having to find a hedge in order to get off, I quickly parked the new bike under the porch and returned to riding my sister's 20" candy apple red Schwinn mixte (girl's bike). It didn't help that a few weeks later some cretin opened the door under our porch while we were out and made off with the bike. I was upset, but more with the idea that it was stolen than with the fact that I couldn't ride it anymore.
A while later, my father came home with a decades-old mixte with 20" balloon tires, painted pea green with a brush. I hopped on and rode it and fell in love. Everything fit, it was comfortable, no bar to crunch myself on, and it was mine. I don't think the manufacturers even considered using anything besides the same stuff you'd find beneath your bathroom sink for frame tubing, and the bike had to weigh at least 50 lbs. It was ugly, but it never let me down. I rode that bike for three years, until my eighth birthday... the best birthday of my life.
All that fall I had been entranced, dreaming of a bike in the Sears catalog. As you may remember, Sears had a good marketing habit of having at least two items in any category and often three... "Good," "Better," and "Sear's Best." The bicycle marketer must have understood small boys, because he had two Stingray-type bikes in full color. I lusted after the "Sear's Best" model, the 'Scream' with its butterfly handlebars, its 5-speed shifter in a console on the main tube, its banana seat, and its dragster-type slick rear tire. It was too much to hope for, but I would hold the catalog and walk in circles around my room at night when I was supposed to be in bed, dreaming. I literally prayed about that bike, even offering to take the "Better" model if that's all God thought I deserved... but I really figured there was no way I'd get any bike for Christmas. After all, even the cheaper model was $50 and the "Scream" was $80. The number was beyond comprehension to a person who got a quarter for his allowance. It might as well have cost a million dollars.
I remember my birthday, that December day in 1969, very well. It was raining and cold, and my father wasn't home for dinner so we all ate and waited for him to start on the cake. I heard my father pull up around 6:30 and ran to the front door to open it for him, and as I did the bike of my dreams appeared as he wheeled it inside.
I couldn't believe it. If you've ever really wanted something, figured you'd never get it, and then, lo and behold, it's yours, you understand. Nothing would do except that we go outside and ride it, in the cold December rain at night, so we did. And then we brought it back inside and I lovingly dried it off with a towel. My father even brought it upstairs that one night so I could sleep with it in my room. To this day, it was the best birthday present I've ever had.
But, like most love stories it ended badly. Six months later I went up to stay with my stepsister and her husband for a couple of weeks. Despite my repeated demands, backed up by my parents, that my bike not be taken out while I was away, my sisters did take it out, and left it out for a couple days in the rain. By the time I returned home it was rusted, the chrome flaking off. Once the paint blisters and the steel corrodes there is nothing that an eight year-old boy can do with Naval Jelly to restore his pride and joy. I still rode it but things were never the same. I'd look at the rust and the flaked chrome and alternate between depression and anger. A year later someone stole it from our garage, and although we came across the thief on the bike and stopped him, I could not get my father to take it from him even though I positively identified every scratch and defect down to the traces of Naval Jelly still remaining on the chainguard. We went home and called the police but the thief had hidden the bike by the time they came and I never saw it again. I was heartbroken.
That was the last bike I owned until I was an adult. I had forgotten what it looked like until I ran across a picture of it while Googling random stuff. Here it is... my first love.
I know, it looks ridiculous. I wonder what I ever saw in it. And then I realize that when one is in love common sense goes out the window. I've owned several bikes as an adult, some costing in the thousands, made of titanium with top-end componentry... and yet, no bike has ever made me happier. No photo can possibly reproduce the experience, the emotion, of owning my dream bike. Laugh if you will, but how many of you would have given everything for such a bike when you were eight?
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
As a listener of yours since the late '80s, and a member for the past several years, I think you're going a little overboard on the astronaut.
I joined after the press was ganging up on you over your issue with painkillers. I didn't think it was fair, and I wanted to show my support.
Similarly, I think the story of Lisa Nowak and her actions this morning is really a tragedy. Captain Nowak is an Annapolis grad with a regular commission, three young children, and is at the pinnacle of her career as a test pilot and astronaut. Now, all of that is over. Regardless of the legal outcome, her career is ended and she will have to resign her commission because she can no longer be trusted behind the controls of a fighter aircraft much less in command of an aircraft carrier or in the Space Shuttle.
If she is acquitted of all charges, she will still be unemployable; no defense contractor or airline will have her for the same reason that the Navy and NASA no longer will. She will almost surely be court-martialed; if she is found guilty she will most likely lose her pension. Her marriage is most likely over as well. And, if she is convicted in a criminal court she will spend at least a decade in jail.
I don't know why Captain Lowak did what she did. I don't know what pushed her to act this irrationally. My point is, regardless of the reason this is a tragedy that has and will harm many innocent people, from the intended victim to the male astronaut to the Nowak children to Captain Lowak herself. The woman has lost everything. There's nothing funny about that.
Give the woman a break, okay?
Monday, January 29, 2007
In a reprise of her antiwar youth, Jane Fonda finally came out and spoke to an antiwar rally in Washington DC last weekend. "I haven't spoken at an antiwar rally in 34 years," she said. But, "Silence is no longer an option."
Oh, yes it is! Hasn't this woman learned anything? After all, she apologized at least twice for her actions supporting the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, acts which she acknowledged caused harm to other Americans and which gave aid and comfort to the enemy. In other words, treasonous acts that at any other time would have seen her prosecuted. Haven't you learned to keep your ignorant mouth shut yet?
Maybe Jane and her Fellow Travelers should reminisce a little further back, and ponder the words of an American president who was himself attacked for leading the country into an unpopular war, who was savaged by his Democratic opponents, and yet whom, unlike Jane Fonda, was proven to have been on the right side of history:
“If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.” -- Abraham LincolnJane, we know your game. Silence is no longer an option... it's mandatory. Shut the hell up and let the President win the war.
Read this for more on Hanoi Jane and her avowed appetite for her own foot.
*apologies to Jefferson Starship
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Many people who identify as Democrats think that Webb really put the wood to Bush last night. Yes, he was very eager to blame, but was anything really accomplished. I don't see it. Come on! What did Webb really say?
Whether or not you believe invading Iraq was necessary back in 2003 (I do), the fact remains that we did. All of the finger-pointing, blame-gaming, insulting, etc., is irrelevant. Yeah, I know it's red meat for the Democratic base, but it's basically just so much BS. The question is, what do we do now?
Some are urging that we leave Iraq as quickly as possible. They say that achieving our objectives is impossible, that those objectives aren't worth another American's life, or both. Some, e.g. Michael Moore, say that, because we shouldn't have invaded in the first place we deserve to fail and we should give up, retreat, and accept the consequences as our just desserts. What I haven't heard these types fully explain is their understanding and acceptance of what will happen should we heed their urge and abandon Iraq immediately.
Others realize that, as Hillary said (unfortunately not about Iraq), we must be "in it to win it." Whether or not we were right to invade Iraq, whether or not we've made mistakes, we have to deal with reality as it is, not as we wish it would be. And, the reality is that abandoning Iraq would be disastrous for the US and for the rest of the civilized world.
Abandoning Iraq would leave it to be controlled by Iran or by Al Qaeda after a fierce and bloody war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Abandoning Iraq would mean we'd leave the sanctuary of a nation-state with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil to be used as a resource by those who have repeatedly sworn to destroy us by any available means. Abandoning Iraq would give our sworn enemies a new, and much better base than Afghanistan ever was. Abandoning Iraq means the War on Terror (the war against Islamic extremists of both Sunni and Shia persuasion) would come to our shores, as it did on 9/11.
Webb held up the Korean War and the way it was ended as a desirable solution. The Korean peninsula is a mess today because we didn't finish what they started back in 1950. More than 50,000 Americans died and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in Korea over the past half-century. Now, North Korea is frantically working to develop nuclear weapons to go on top of their ballistic missiles, even though they can't feed their population. So, offering the way we handled Korea as being a good way to settle Iraq is woefully ignorant at best, and dishonestly disingeneous at worst.
When I hear Webb mention that the Dems will "show [us] the way" I think about how they showed us the way out of Vietnam... and that way led over killing fields strewn with millions upon millions of bodies. Or, how they showed us the way out of Somalia... and that way led to an emboldened Al Qaeda and increasingly effective terrorist attacks against us culminating on 9/11. We've seen the Democratic way, and it doesn't lead to peace and stability. It leads to war and instability because the Democratic way tells our enemies that we can be attacked with impunity.
Here's the problem in a nutshell: the "cut-and-runners" believe that there's no way we can win in Iraq, there's no way we could win, and that we've already lost so we might as well cut our losses and get out now. This begs the question of why is it that the US can never win a war anymore while the our dilapidated and rag-tag enemies are inevitably victorious? Why is it that the most powerful nation in the history of the world can't win a war, while the weakest and most disorganized states can never lose? Why is it that Ethiopia can completely rout the Islamists in Somalia in a couple of weeks but we can't rout them in Iraq in three years? The answer is obvious... different rules of engagements. We can't win, these people believe, because they can't bring themselves to do what it takes to win.
I used to think James Webb was a smart man. Now, I wonder if he really did learn anything from Vietnam, or is he just embittered and angry and looking for someone or something to, as we rednecks say, whup up on. That's not what the country needs now. Why don't people realize this?
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Watching his speech tonight via a live Internet video stream, I was struck by the reactions of the various members of the audience in the House chamber, especially to Bush's statement of "Whatever the people voted for, they didn't vote for failure [in Iraq]." Unfortunately, the Democrats seem to be circling like sharks smelling blood in the water, Bush's blood. They think he's fatally wounded (and he may be), but Bush isn't giving up yet. "Lame duck" status is a matter of perception, and Bush has the advantage of strength of character; he really doesn't care what people think of him as long as he believes he is on the right path. So... regardless of whether Bush's positions on the issues have merit, too many of his opponents will seek to act in whatever manner gains them the most political advantage whether or not the country is helped or hurt.
I also watched the Democratic response, given by Senator James Webb. Now, I have been a Jim Webb fan ever since I read "Fields of Fire" and especially "A Sense of Honor" while I was an NROTC midshipman. I thought George Allen's attack on Webb based upon the father/son scene in "Lost Soldiers" was pathetic; it cost Allen the election as it should have. However, James Webb the Senator is not as impressive as James Webb the author, or James Webb the Vietnam-era Marine war hero. In many ways it seems he has become the type of politician he reviled in "Something To Die For" when he pontificates on the mistakes that were made as "reckless" instead of acknowledging that mistakes are the "friction of war" as von Clausewitz noted.
Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes. Two years later, it's blindingly obvious what should have been done in the aftermath of the Iraq War; declare martial law, clamp down on Iraq as we did in post-WWII Germany and Japan, set up the country as a US protectorate and get the civil institutions up and running before we turned Iraq back over to its citizens. However, at the time, there was little popular support for a long occupation just as after the Clinton Administration there were insufficient numbers of troops to successfully fully occupy Iraq while meeting our commitments across the globe. More important, what is accomplished by continually harping on our mistakes and publicly threatening the Administration with a Congressional fight over the war? Yes, I know it's good for partisan political advantage, but is it good for the country? Imagine how much harder it would have been for FDR to fight World War II if the Republicans had continually pointed out the mistakes that were made, from failing to reinforce Wake Island, to letting the Philippines fall, to the disasters in the Solomon Islands, Anzio, etc. We would not have won that war in this political climate.
Do I think the surge in Iraq will work? Evidently both Al Qaeda and al Sadr do; the former has evacuated Baghdad knowing that to stand and fight means losing, the latter is desperately trying anything and everything to avoid the coming smackdown. The problem I have with the Democrats and their views on the surge is, as John Kerry so aptly put it, they were for it until they were against it. There is no reason to the Democratic opposition to Bush's plans, unless one considers it acceptable to seek partisan advantage by any means necessary regardless of the troops it endangers and the harm it does to the country.
The Republicans lost the Congress because they failed to live up to their campaign promises and took their constituencies for granted. "Where else are they going to go?" was the attitude. The Republican leadership knew that most conservatives wouldn't vote for liberal Democrats. What they forgot is that their base might not go anywhere and choose to stay home and not vote at all. This is what happened in 2006; the Republican turnout was very light while the Democratic base showed up at the polls and voted. The same thing happened in 1992, with the same results (the GOP lost everything). However, I don't think 2006 portends a continuance of Democratic Congressional rule after 2008. Just as they did in 1992, the Democrats are well on their way of reminding the voters why they were kicked out in the first place, and we all know what happened in 1994.
Despite their missteps and blunders, the Republicans have brought the country a long way from where it was in 2000, from the start of a recession with an administration that refused to face the oncoming economic and terrorist storms. We weathered the recession and 9/11, and the country is stronger with more jobs, a better economy, and reduced deficits. The terrorists who were gaining strength in 2000 have been largely obliterated and the few that are left are hiding in holes in remote regions of the world. Most of us no longer worry about terrorist attacks on our country, and that goes a long way to explain why Democrats won (we don't se the threat). But our troubles and travails aren't over yet, despite wishful thinking on the part of the majority of Americans.
So, the State of the Union is that we are both stronger, and blinder, than we have been in a long time. We have a president who still believes we are threatened, and not only does the opposition disagree but many from his own party are starting to distance themselves as well.
Who's right? Unfortunately, I think we'll find out sooner rather than later.