Friday, February 29, 2008

More evidence that North Korea's leaders are evil to the core

It seems that 22 North Korean fishermen and -women strayed into South Korean waters recently, quite by accident.

The South Korean authorities investigated and, upon finding that their transgression was indeed innocent, sent them home.

The North Korean authorities promptly shot all of them.

A South Korean newspaper reported yesterday that all the drifters were immediately shot dead in a secret location by agents of North Korea's national security agency.

It was another alleged incident supporting claims that North Korea has a "no tolerance" policy against anyone suspected of trying to leave the country - even in error.

So much for the "socialist workers paradise".

May God have mercy on the souls of these murdered innocents . . . and may someone do something - soon! - about (and to!) the brutal, savage, inhuman scum who run North Korea!


Rogue waves in the news again

I don't know how many of my readers have ever investigated the phenomenon known as "rogue" or "freak" waves. They've always fascinated me, and a recent news report from South Africa has revived that interest. Apparently one person drowned and 18 others had to be rescued after a freak wave hit the beach near Durban, South Africa last weekend. It's not the first time this has happened. Just a few months earlier thirty-foot-plus waves hit the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean after a storm some days earlier off South Africa. The waves had traveled the thousands of miles to Reunion with their force scarcely diminished. Six people were reported missing after their arrival.

Rogue waves have been rumored and reported for as long as humans have gone to sea, but many European and US scientists were sceptical about them - despite the evidence of damage claimed to have been caused by them. When I was growing up in South Africa they were a regular item on the news as ships would limp into harbor, hulls cracked and torn and cargo (and sometimes crew members) washed away. The photograph below is of a Norwegian tanker that was clobbered by a rogue wave off South Africa in 1974. I saw this ship myself as she lay in Cape Town harbor, waiting for repairs, and was amazed that she'd survived to reach port at all. Authorities stated that one could have driven a double-decker bus through the hole in the bow.

Rogue waves are believed to have caused the loss of countless vessels over the centuries. In South Africa it's widely suspected (although, of course, not proved) that the SS Waratah, which vanished without trace in 1909 off that country's coast, was hit by a rogue wave. If it encountered one as large as that which struck the tanker illustrated above, the much smaller Waratah wouldn't have stood a chance. The MS München, regarded as "virtually unsinkable", was lost in 1978 in what is believed to have been an encounter with a rogue wave during a storm in the Atlantic. It's thought to have damaged her so badly as to render her uncontrollable. There have been many other reported encounters with rogue waves.

The crews of ships that have survived encounters with rogue waves speak of the experience as being like a "hole in the ocean" into which the ship falls, only to be struck by a "mountain of water". The "hole" is, of course, water being drawn into the wave ahead of its passage, thus lowering the water level. If one hits such a combination head-on, one's ship can be in grave danger. Perhaps the most gripping photographic evidence of such dangers was provided by the Chief Engineer of the MS Stolt Surf, damaged by a rogue wave in 1977.

Whilst battling through waves in excess of the usual 10 metre height, she encountered at least one 'freak wave', which towered above the tanker, reaching a height of at least 22 metres and rising above the height of the bridge deck . . . The breaking wave crashing onto the deck and superstructure of the Stolt Surf caused considerable damage. Three of the tank hatches and the door to the pump room were torn off, despite their strong construction. The pipelines running across the decks were bent and the gangways were tossed over the deck and wrecked. Steam pipes and electric cables were torn and ruptured, whilst the wave smashed a number of windows and port holes. Flooding entered the ship, smashing the furniture and tearing off bulkhead panelling. Despite the severe damage, there were no serious injuries, and only one sailor was subsequently hospitalised. The Stolt Surf was fortunate in that her engines remained operational, and the ship was able to remain heading into the waves. Had she lost headway, the storm would have forced her to turn sideways into the oncoming waves, where she risked being hulled or capsized, particularly if she encountered another rogue wave.

In the following photographs of the Stolt Surf's experience, remember that the ship is 556 feet long and 81 feet wide. That gives you a scale for the size of the waves. (Click on the pictures for a larger view.)

A detailed account by the Chief Engineer, with lots more photographs (particularly of the damage to the ship), may be found here. It's well worth reading.

A classic measurement of the rogue wave phenomenon was conducted by US Navy Lieutenant-Commander R. P. Whitemarsh in February 1933. He was in command of the tanker USS Ramapo, crossing the Pacific, when the ship encountered a severe storm. Clearly a cool-headed man, Whitemarsh had his crew take careful measurements of the monstrous waves they encountered (and, fortunately, survived). The wave length was measured at 1,000 to 1,500 feet, with wave periods (intervals) of 14.8 seconds. By careful measurement and triangulation the height of the waves from trough to crest was calculated. The largest was estimated to be 112 feet. That's the height of a ten- to twelve-floor building!

Scientists have only recently begun to investigate the rogue wave phenomenon after actual measurements sparked their interest (particularly the "Draupner Wave" in 1995, recorded at over 80 feet). Recent research has indicated that rogue waves are far more frequent than previously thought. The European Space Agency measured ten during a mere three-week period of satellite surveillance in 2001. There are ongoing research efforts to analyze why they occur, as well as attempts to figure out how to forecast conditions in which rogue waves are more likely to be encountered. South Africa's been doing this for some years, with considerable success.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Geek's Paradise?

I'd like to introduce you to the world of Tom Spina Designs.

This outfit makes some of the geekiest (yet most fascinating) bits and pieces I've come across in a long time. I'll show just a few examples here - you'll find a bunch more at their Web site. Click on the pictures for larger views.

How about Han Solo frozen in carbonite on your desktop? No, I don't mean your computer's desktop background - I mean the desk on which your computer stands!

You'll need an appropriate chair to go with the desk, of course. How about one of these?

Then there's the four-and-a-half-feet-long Tyrannosaurus Rex head for your office wall:

And finally, you can mount this on a pivot above your office door as proof of your graduation from Conan The Barbarian Management School:

There are many more fascinating designs at their Web site. It's worth a look.


A seeing . . . tooth???

We read the following in this news report:

An Irishman blinded by an explosion two years ago has had his sight restored after doctors inserted his son's tooth in his eye.

Let me get this straight. This guy is seeing through a tooth?

Well, apparently, sort of, yes.

It seems there's an operation called - wait for it - "Osteo-Odonto-Keratoprosthesis", known for short as OOKP.

The technique, pioneered in Italy in the 1960s, involves creating a support for an artificial cornea from the patient's own tooth and the surrounding bone.

The procedure used on McNichol involved his son Robert, 23, donating a tooth, its root and part of the jaw.

McNichol's right eye socket was rebuilt, part of the tooth inserted and a lens inserted in a hole drilled in the tooth.

Color me amazed. I'd never heard of this: but if it works (as this operation seems to have done) then more power to them. Still, the thought of seeing through a tooth is somewhat mind-boggling, isn't it?


An Islamic Reformation?

Things are about to get very interesting in the Islamic world.

According to a BBC report, Turkey has begun a major project to revise the Hadith, the written compilation of oral traditions relating to the words and deeds of Mohammed. It's second only to the Koran as the most important and authoritative religious document in Islam. Interpretation of the Koran relies on it, and most Sharia (Islamic religious law) is based on its precepts.

That's where the problem lies.

. . . the Turkish state has come to see the Hadith as having an often negative influence on a society it is in a hurry to modernise, and believes it responsible for obscuring the original values of Islam.

It says that a significant number of the sayings were never uttered by Muhammad, and even some that were need now to be reinterpreted.

. . .

An adviser to the project, Felix Koerner, says some of the sayings - also known individually as "hadiths" - can be shown to have been invented hundreds of years after the Prophet Muhammad died, to serve the purposes of contemporary society.

"Unfortunately you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim - or pseudo-Muslim - practice of female genital mutilation," he says.

"You can find messages which say 'that is what the Prophet ordered us to do'. But you can show historically how they came into being, as influences from other cultures, that were then projected onto Islamic tradition."

. . .

Even some sayings accepted as being genuinely spoken by Muhammad have been altered and reinterpreted.

Prof Mehmet Gormez, a senior official in the Department of Religious Affairs and an expert on the Hadith, gives a telling example.

"There are some messages that ban women from travelling for three days or more without their husband's permission and they are genuine.

"But this isn't a religious ban. It came about because in the Prophet's time it simply wasn't safe for a woman to travel alone like that. But as time has passed, people have made permanent what was only supposed to be a temporary ban for safety reasons."

This is potentially vital if Islam is to modernize: but, of course, the fundamentalists of that faith would argue that there is no need to modernize. Under strict Islamic law there is no distinction at all between church and state, as there is in most Western democracies. The state is always subject to the religion. To have a "secular Muslim state" (such as Turkey claims to be) is a contradiction in terms to a fundamentalist Muslim.

Expect uproar when this work is published. The last time a religious upheaval of this nature and scope took place in the Christian world it sparked the Thirty Years War. Let's hope this development doesn't do the same to the Islamic world.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Neat gadget!

Now and again I come across something so neat, so well-thought-out, that I slap my head in exasperation and exclaim, "Now why didn't I think of that?"

I've just had to do that again.

An Australian company has come up with the neatest portable "tripod" idea for a small camera that I've ever seen.

A reviewer describes it as follows:

The FOZI Tripod is a tiny fold-up camera stand that makes it easy to ensure you're always in the picture. It is brilliant in its simplicity - basically a thin piece of polypropylene plastic, the size of a credit card, it folds out into three sections. The ends slot into each other to create a sturdy, triangular stand on which you rest your compact camera or mobile phone.

. . .

You can also use it as a stand for watching video or slideshows on cameras or media players such as the iPod Touch.

The FOZI will fit in most wallets, purses or camera cases. It's available in six different colours, or you can buy a five-pack of assorted colours. Cheap, simple and functional - the FOZI gets a tick in every box.

I couldn't agree more! Whoever thought this up is a genius of creativity. You can even turn it upside down and use it as a camera stand for macro-photography!

See the company's Web site here for more information. It costs about $8.50 in US dollars to order it from Australia (including S&H). I'm going to be ordering several - and no, I get no commission on this recommendation, I just like a really neat and useful gadget.


A sudden and acute failure of the victim selection process

I love it when criminals' bad choices slap them in the face.


It seems that two dumbasses, one of them armed with a cheap imitation of a Samurai sword, decided to rob the Regents Park Sporting Club in Sydney, Australia yesterday.

Unfortunately for them, they neglected to check out the clientèle before making their move.

This can best be described as Not A Good Idea.

You see, the local motorcycle club, the Southern Cross Cruiser Club, was having their weekly beer-and-poker session business meeting there at the time.

Yes, Australian "motorcycle clubs" are not dissimilar to their US counterparts. Think large, burly, hairy men with teeth, leather jackets and an attitude.

And they did not appreciate having two young punks threaten them.

Biker club founder Noel "Bear" Mannix said the robbers appeared to have regretted attempting the heist as soon as they saw the bikers.

"It was one of those stopped-time moments," he said.

"It was very hard to see the expression on their faces because of the balaclavas, but I imagine it was something along the lines of 'Oh shit, what have we done here?' "

The two wannabe robbers fled in panic (one plunging headlong through a glass door - neglecting to open it first - and jumping off a fifteen-foot balcony) but it didn't do them much good. Fifty irate bikers took off after them. They brought one down (heavily, and repeatedly) and held him for the police, who found the other one hiding nearby. (Hey, with fifty bikers after me, if I couldn't outrun them I'd be hiding too!)

The two miscreants are now in durance vile, and the Regents Park Sporting Club management are exceedingly pleased with their biker guests - so much so that they're talking about "putting on a night" for them.

Knowing (and liking) Australia as I do, I can assure you that this will probably involve large quantities of meat and beer. Should be great fun!

And I don't think they'll have a problem with gate-crashers, either . . .

(Oh - and a hat-tip to my friend Massad Ayoob for the title of this post. It's one of his favorite descriptions of idiot criminals and their bad choices.)


UPDATED TO ADD: I got this news from an Australian source (linked above), but now it's spread to US news media. CNN has a good report on it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Japanese TV stunts #1

I don't know why it is, but Japanese TV shows seem to get away with tricking, conning or duping participants into the most amazing situations - and never get sued for it.

Some of them have had me rolling in the aisles from time to time, and I'd like to share some of them here now and again.

I'll start with this classic sauna scene.


The factors behind our economic woes

I'm sure many of us have been affected by the crisis in the housing market, the drying up of loans to all except high-credit-score applicants, and the knock-on effects of these problems that impact other areas of the economy.

It can all be summed up in a fairly short sentence:

If you live beyond your means, sooner or later you're going to have to pay the bill.

This doesn't apply only to individuals or corporations. It applies to countries as well.

Take a look at the CIA World Fact Book.

Study the rank order for national current account balance (i.e. income versus expenditure in terms of the balance of trade for that country).

Notice who's right on top?

And notice who's in position 163 - right at the bottom?

There's a difference of $1,110,400,000,000 between them.

That's $1.1104 trillion, folks. That's the annual - annual - difference in the balance of trade across all their trading partners between China (top of the list, in the black) and the USA (bottom of the list in the red).

There's also the US national debt.

US Gross National Debt

And those two figures are a very clear demonstration of why the USA's in the financial brown substance right now.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Funny advertisement

Via e-mail from Mark (thanks, buddy!) comes this Lucky Strike advert. I don't know if it's a genuine advertisement or someone's viral video, but it made me laugh.

WARNING: Some of the other videos on that site are definitely NSFW, so I'd be careful about clicking on any of the links that come up at the end of the clip.


Cold sleep

From England comes the story of a woman who's providing a hibernation home-from-home for 75 tortoises - in two refrigerators!

Mrs. Shirley Neely said that the refrigerated assistance was necessary because of an unusually mild winter. If the tortoises didn't hibernate properly, they wouldn't have enough energy to eat or drink and not enough body weight to keep warm on their own. She wraps them in towels (removed for the photograph above) and puts them away for three months.

Sounds good to me . . . but I hope that a hungry guest doesn't reach into the fridge and grab something to eat without looking carefully!

"My goodness, Shirley, your meat pies have gotten awfully crunchy lately!"


Artful alliteration

This has to be one of the more intriguing (and most alliterative) newspaper headlines I've ever read:

Feckless fishmonger
faces flak for
foisting fatal fugu
on famished foreign female

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? The article concerned may be found here. It refers to a Japanese fishmonger who sold a poisonous puffer fish to a foreign woman who didn't know how to cook it safely. As a result, she died.

Sad story, I suppose, but enlightened by a witty copy-editor.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Danes have their knickers in a twist over Ikea

It is to laugh . . .

Seems that certain Danish circles feel rather put-upon by Ikea, the Swedish furniture manufacturers.

Popular daily Nyhedsavisen led the charge on Valentine's Day with a front page headline accusing Ikea of "bullying" Denmark.

Why is it, the paper wondered, that Swedish and Norwegian place names are always associated with the shiniest, comfiest furnishings in the Ikea catalogue, while the names of Danish towns are reserved for doormats, rugs and carpets?

"It seems to be an example of cultural imperialism," Klaus Kjøller, Assistant Professor in Political Communication and the Danish Language at the University of Copenhagen, told The Local.

"Ikea has chosen the objects with the lowest value and given them Danish names," he added.

Oh, dear.

Well, dear Danes, look at it like this.

At least they didn't use Danish names for the bathroom range. What if you had Danish basins, bidets and - gasp! - toilets?


Ireland is represented by a leprechaun turkey???

The Irish never cease to amaze me.

They've just selected a glove-puppet singing turkey to represent their nation at the Eurovision song contest.

Disco beat, lights, dancers with turkey feathers . . . it's enough to give a leprechaun a complex, I tell yez! (And Heaven knows what it'll do to the Eurovision judges!)

Be that as it may, one bookmaker has already rated Dustin The Turkey as the 10-1 favorite to win the competition.

Perhaps the Daily Mail's picture caption said it best: "All You Need Is Glove!"


Happy birthday to Lawdog!

My buddy Lawdog celebrates two birthdays today: his own (and no, I won't tell you how old he is) and his blog, which he started two years ago.

Many happy returns, ol' buddy, and I trust you're hoisting a cold one or two in honor of the occasion!


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Weekend Wings #8 - Revisiting Military Aircraft Cost-Effectiveness

On February 11 I posted "Weekend Wings #6: Military Aircraft And Cost-Effectiveness". It was cross-posted on the Winds Of Change blog as well. It attracted a fair amount of reader response, here, there and by e-mail. Some were favorable, but many were opposed to my thesis that the USAF is spending far too much money on "gee-whiz" technology without enough emphasis on "bang-for-the-buck".

The two weeks since I posted that article have been a fascinating vindication of most of the points I raised. If you haven't read the original article, please do so now before reading further here. I won't be able to include all the background material, and there are lots of updates. In that post I examined four aircraft programs. I'll use the same headings here and re-examine the issues in the light of the latest developments.


This article is positively vitriolic in its analysis of the mind-boggling budgetary boondoggle that is the VH-71 Kestrel. I wouldn't put my case quite as strongly as its author, who appears to have political as well as economic motivations, but nevertheless it's worth reading. A sample to whet your appetite:

Let us stipulate that the shooting down of a U.S. president would be a bad thing. One might ask whether a distinctively appearing, distinctively marked leviathan flying about would create more risk than a standard, common helicopter that could be mistaken for any other rotorcraft in the military or civilian inventory. The UH-60 Blackhawk is as common a sight above metropolitan Washington as a Lexus on the Capitol Beltway: it is inconspicuous. The UH-60 is also in the current presidential fleet.

But the UH-60, or any other helicopter, would inevitably have an Achilles heel if presidential security were the paramount criterion. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, presidential vanity has long since trumped the need for pure physical survival at least cost. Hence presidential chariots must be gaudily decorated in the imperial livery of Marine One, making them unnecessarily conspicuous. Hence the perceived need to equip the new presidential fleet with every conceivable spoofer, jammer, and communications link that sole source IT contractors can push on the VH-71 program manager.

The army and navy have announced their intention to buy a large quantity of Blackhawks over the next 5 years. The price would come to around $14 million each. Fourteen million as opposed to half a billion. Wouldn’t a UH-60 — as we have said, a rotorcraft already in the current presidential fleet — be far more cost effective than a VH-71, as well as safer, particularly if it were painted in inconspicuous colors mimicking a standard military paint scheme? One could put every conceivable bell and whistle on a Special Operations UH-60, as well as an Aga Khan-level interior, and there is no way it could remotely approach the unit cost of the VH-71 boondoggle.

Nicely put, sir.


Concerning the V-22 Osprey, one respondent claimed that "The value of Osprey is as R&D for other programs". Nice try . . . but the only other US military program of which I'm aware that uses V-22 technology is the Bell "Eagle Eye" unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, being developed for the US Coast Guard as part of the profoundly troubled Deepwater program.

Guess what? The Coast Guard has announced that after committing $100 million to its development, it has discovered that it'll take several hundred million dollars more to get it to production status. They don't have the budget for that expenditure, so they've "suspended" (read: canceled) the program.

Think about it. If you worked for a commercial corporation, and you told the Board Of Directors that you'd just blown $100 million of the company's money on a program that had proved too expensive to pursue, just how long would you expect to continue working there?

I want to know two things. First, what will happen to the careers of the cretins who approved this expenditure without thinking it through? I can only hope that someone is making sure that they will never have the chance to perpetrate a repeat performance of this fiduciary catastrophe. Second, what criminal charges will they face for their misuse of US taxpayers' money? (Of course, this applies to all those involved in the can of worms that is the Coast Guard's "Deepwater Project". To add insult to injury, some of those involved are now trying to get the US Navy to buy Deepwater's deeply flawed design of the National Security Cutter! One hopes they'll not succeed.)

As for the V-22 itself, I repeat my acknowledgment and acceptance of the fact that it's a superb aircraft in its current form: but at four to five times the unit cost of a helicopter to do the same job, albeit more slowly in the latter, I still maintain that it's overpriced and doesn't deliver value for money. To demonstrate this, let's examine in some detail just
one alternative (out of several currently available).

The basic commercial list price for the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, with a similar effective cargo capacity to the V-22 (albeit over a slightly shorter range and at lower speed), was stated in 2003 to be $15.5 million. There would be no development costs to be paid by the US government, as the aircraft has already been fully developed at the expense of its manufacturers. The only additional expense would be the cost of developing, purchasing and installing any specialized equipment to be put aboard. In a worst-case scenario I can't imagine such equipment costing more than $10-$15 million per aircraft, which would take the unit price to about $30 million at the most (probably rather less than that). In contrast, the total contractual expenditure on the V-22 program, including all development costs as well as production, was estimated in 2007 to be approximately $55 billion. Averaging this over a planned total production of 458 aircraft for the US Marine Corps, USAF and US Navy, the unit cost of each comes out at about $120 million.

You do the math.
At least four S-92's, probably more, could be bought for the total cost of one V-22. The former would be slower and shorter-ranged than the latter, but in terms of cost-effectiveness (defined in this case as the expense and time taken to move X amount of cargo and/or passengers from point Y to point Z), I respectfully submit there's no contest at all. Even if a S-92 fleet had to make two trips to move the load compared to the number of V-22 flights required, it would still cost less than half as much overall to do the work, even including increased operating costs. I accept that the V-22's greater speed and slightly better range might be tactically desirable, but they come at a heck of a price premium. Given that consideration, might not tactics be adjusted to accommodate the less-capable (but still perfectly usable) helicopter platform?

Another consideration. In wartime aircraft get shot down, or damaged, or worn out - the latter very quickly under the stresses of combat. With only 360 Ospreys, what's the USMC going to do when they've had forty or fifty of them rendered inoperative? They won't be able to produce more in a hurry, and couldn't afford them even if they wanted them. On the other hand, they could buy two or three times as many helicopters and
still save billions and billions of dollars. The extra birds could be stored for future use, or used to form more squadrons to increase overall airlift capability, or a combination of these approaches. Either way the USMC could afford to lose a hundred helicopters or more, replace them from its reserve fleet and be able to continue its operations almost unaffected. As I said in my earlier article, fleet size is very important. (The USAF has just been reminded of this with the crash, yesterday, of a B-2 bomber on Guam. There were only 21 of these billion-dollar-plus bombers in the Air Force - so that one crash has just wiped out almost 5% of the fleet!)

Let's look at it from yet another perspective. The US Marine Corps (the primary user of the V-22) expects to spend about $10 billion on a new Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. It will be the primary amphibious assault transport for the Corps. Already the costs of the program have sky-rocketed: unit price for each EFV has risen from an earlier estimate of $12.3 million to - wait for it -
$22.3 million as of March 2007! The only way the USMC can afford them is to slash the number to be purchased from an initially-planned 1,013 to a current total of 573. That's about half as many vehicles as the USMC initially predicted it would need. (As far as I'm aware its need for the original number of vehicles has not changed: only now it can't afford them - so its projected needs will no longer be met by this program.) The "cost bloat", delays and manifold problems of the EFV program deserve an article to themselves.

Looking at the V-22 and EFV programs together, if the USMC had bought the same quantity of helicopters instead of V-22's it would have saved at least $90 million per aircraft. Multiplying that by a planned purchase of 360 V-22's for the USMC (excluding Navy and Air Force purchases), the total savings would have been a staggering $32.4 billion: enough to pay for the entire EFV program more than three times over - or to spend twice as much on it, buy all the EFV's the USMC initially said it would need, buy double the number of helicopters, and
still save about $10 billion!

I'm sorry, but despite its phenomenal performance and technological prowess, I can't support the V-22 program as being in any way cost-effective and an appropriate use of our all-too-hard-pressed military budget. I accept that it's far too late to stop the program altogether: but I still hope that someone in the Pentagon or the Department of Defense will come to his senses and impose drastic cuts. If we bought one-third to half as many V-22's for the Marines, that would still furnish 120 to 180 of them to provide "bleeding-edge" support to amphibious forces: and even though this would drive up the unit cost of those we buy, the money saved would still be more than enough to buy another 360 medium-lift helicopters such as the Sikorsky S-92. At no extra cost this would give the USMC 50% more lift capability in this class of aircraft and a larger fleet to absorb the inevitable losses that military operations will incur.


The past couple of weeks have seen some astonishing developments concerning USAF fighter procurement. A USAF Major-General came out flat-footed and stated that the Air Force still wants 380 F-22's and is determined to get them, despite the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) "capping" procurement at 183. Of course, this immediately led to a very negative reaction from the Secretary of Defense. It appears that some of those supporting the continued procurement of F-22's are carefully "leaking" allegations to the news media that a Deputy Secretary of Defense is biased against the F-22. The USAF has also requested discretionary funding in the next budget to continue F-22 production beyond the DoD limit. Furthermore, it's continuing with projects to expand the capabilities of the F-22 in areas like synthetic aperture radar mapping.

I happen to support the idea of a larger fleet of F-22's to take care of the air superiority mission. However, it's unlikely that they can be afforded as long as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter continues its development. There are serious questions still unanswered about how effective the latter will be. For example, the Center for Defense Information stated in 2006:

. . . the current DOD plan . . . is already costing 84 percent more in the development phase than originally planned; program acquisition costs per aircraft are up 28 percent, and it is all taking five years longer than first thought. Moreover, the DOD plan has already reduced the number of aircraft to be produced by 535 aircraft. The report also notes that there appears to be little promise that the current acquisition plan will not experience even more cost overruns, schedule delays, and production reductions.

Nor is there any promise that F-35 performance will be what was originally promised . . . By 2013 when initial operational testing is finally complete, 424 aircraft will have been produced. As so often happens with such “concurrent” acquisition programs, when the inevitable technical problems are discovered, there will be additional delays and costs to address them.

The GAO recommends that DOD delay most production until after sufficient testing has shown the design can perform at just a basic level, but the Pentagon has rejected that modest, even tentative, recommendation. The unfortunate result would seem almost inevitable.

This is bad enough: but what about the costs? CDI again, in late 2007, as reported by David Axe:

Compared to early cost estimates of $35 million per copy, DOD currently predicts the development and production of 2,458 F-35 aircraft for $299 billion. Each F-35 would cost $122 million. For this reason, the F-35 can already be said to have failed to achieve its primary objective: low cost. Furthermore, the current cost estimate assumes no further cost overruns from the current immature state of the aircraft. We can expect even more cost growth, which is already about three times the original promise. We can also expect more shrinkage in the total number DOD plans to buy; which is, after all, a typical way DOD manages cost growth.

I can't emphasize that last point too strongly. History reminds us that almost every aircraft program the USAF has undertaken in the past few decades has seen its quantities cut as a way to save costs when the budget proved inadequate. The F-22 is a classic example: of over 700 originally planned, the actual purchase has been cut to below 200 (unless the USAF can finagle funds for more, as mentioned above). Of course, the unit cost for the smaller number of aircraft sky-rocketed (due to having to amortize the development costs over a much smaller number of airframes). If you believe that the same thing won't happen to the F-35 program, there's a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC that I'd like to sell you. Cash only, please, and in small bills.

There is an alternative to the F-35, and a very good one, as mentioned in my previous article. The latest-generation F-16 has systems fully as capable as those on the F-35, and is available today for a fly-away cost of approximately $50-$55 million. (Development costs no longer apply, as the USAF completed its purchases of older-model F-16's and ended the program years ago.) They offer the very latest radars, missiles and weapons, and they're available hot off the production line where we're building them for our allies. Further improvements such as the F-16XL's larger wing (providing double the weapons capacity and much longer range, as well as supercruise capability even with an engine of lower power than that in current-production F-16's) and thrust-vectoring have already been flight-tested and proven, and could be incorporated on the latest model F-16's with minimal difficulty and expense. An aircraft so equipped would be at least a match for, and probably superior to, the very latest overseas designs. Furthermore, the enormous cost of upgrading and maintaining the USAF's aging F-15 and F-16 fleet (which is over and above F-35 procurement costs) could instead be applied to the purchase of new aircraft needing much less upgrading and maintenance. Overall, I expect the USAF could significantly improve its operational capability and save an enormous amount of money by canceling the F-35, ordering a large number of new F-16XL's and coupling these with a fleet of up to 400 F-22's.

(Another alternative would be to order the US Navy's very capable F/A-18E/F, but that aircraft carries a lot of extra weight to beef up its structure for the demands of carrier flight. I suspect that the cost of removing this might raise the F/A-18's unit cost to more than an F-16's, and the new aircraft would also mean a whole new support infrastructure for the USAF: so it might not be as suitable and economical a choice as upgraded F-16's.)

There are those who argue that stealth characteristics are vital, indeed indispensable, and that this factor alone is sufficient reason to justify the F-35 program. I respectfully beg to differ. Stealth is important for certain missions, to be sure, but not for every purpose. There are many measures that can be taken to improve the radar cross-section (RCS) of existing aircraft through surface applications, redesign of minor features, etc. The F/A-18E/F is an excellent example of this: despite being 50% larger than its predecessor F/A-18A/B/C/D models, its RCS is an order of magnitude smaller. Radar-absorbent materials can be applied. Furthermore, stealth isn't the be-all and end-all of military aircraft effectiveness. For air-to-air combat and defense suppression it's important, sure: but the F-22 takes care of the first requirement, and stealthy cruise missiles and other weapons can be launched (even by non-stealthy platforms) from far outside the range of enemy defenses to deal with them. When it comes to close air support in the current operational environment in Iraq and Afghanistan, stealth technology has
no relevance whatsoever and is completely unnecessary.

Some advocates of a large fleet of stealthy aircraft point out that potential enemies such as Russia and China are developing their own fifth-generation aircraft with this capability, and we want to have aircraft that can face them in combat and win. They're right - but let's re-examine the numbers. I remind you, as I said in my first article, that
the USA spends more on defense than the rest of the world put together. Even if these nations develop an aircraft of similar capability to the F-22, how many will they be able to afford? China is a growing economic superpower, but even so its Air Force is considerably smaller and less capable than the USA's - at least for now. It'll have the same budgetary problems fielding a large fifth-generation fighter force that the USA is now experiencing. Russia's in an even worse economic situation. I doubt that the numbers of fifth-generation aircraft opposing the USA will be all that great. If that changes, we'll have plenty of warning - and by then the successor to the F-22 and F-35 programs will be on the drawing board. Remember that the F-22 is essentially 1980's and 1990's technology - and no-one else has matched it yet.

The importance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) in this regard is overwhelming - they can go into dangerous situations without risking the lives of pilots. Israel already operates a sophisticated fleet of UAV's that may be more advanced than the USA's, and other countries are racing to catch up. Such aircraft are significantly smaller and less expensive than manned strike aircraft - and they completely remove the danger to human pilots. That being the case, the arguments in favor of the F-35 become even more tenuous. I doubt whether the successor to this aircraft or the F-22 will have a pilot inside.


A few days after my first article came out the USAF announced that it has canceled the re-engining of older-model C-5A's. It will upgrade only the later C-5B models. This will save almost $10 billion, which will presumably be applied to the purchase of new transports, probably Boeing C-17's.

I support this move, and also hope that the USAF will look into buying commercial freighters such as the Boeing B-777F. Such aircraft are cheaper than specialist military transports and are more economical to operate. They could easily handle routine airport-to-airport shipments of freight, leaving the job of battlefield transportation to the C-17 and C-130 fleet. The latter are too small to handle many modern fighting vehicles, and it's to be hoped that a larger replacement in the class of the Airbus A400M or the Antonov An-70 will be considered in due course.

In a related development, the USAF seems reluctant to add the new Joint Cargo Aircraft, the C-27, to its fleet - for apparently good reasons. However, there's no reason why it should operate this aircraft at all. I'd be quite happy to let the US Army operate the C-27 on its own. After all, it's the Army that wants it and will most use it! Trouble is, the USAF wants to minimize the number of aircraft operated by other services, for fear that this would encroach on its "turf". (It tried to achieve this with UAV's, but failed dismally.) Such a dog-in-the-manger attitude is nothing new, but it's counter-productive and completely unacceptable in the light of modern budgetary and operational realities.

In conclusion, let me say this. Right now the USAF wants to buy more F-22's; buy well over a thousand F-35's; re-engine some of it's C-5's; buy hundreds of new tanker aircraft to replace its venerable KC-135 fleet; buy more helicopters; design a new bomber; buy more transports; and so on
ad nauseam. All these purchases are probably desirable - but they'll cost hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars. As a result the USAF's auxiliary budget request to Congress for the next year is two-and-a-half times the amount requested by the US Navy and Army combined! It's mounting a fierce budgetary battle against the other Armed Services. It claims its current fleet is "geriatric" and wants an extra $100 billion over the next ten years to fund all the replacements it says it needs. For the coming year alone its budgetary request totals $143.9 billion, plus an additional extra-budgetary "wish list" totalling $18.75 billion.

Folks, this is insane. Let me repeat that word:
INSANE! The USAF doesn't have a hope of getting all it wants compared to the needs of the other armed services and the state of the budget as a whole.

All over the world defense budgets are under pressure. The UK is currently seeking to slash about $9 billion from its (much smaller) military budget over the next few years. Only 6 out of 26 NATO nations are meeting defense spending targets, and NATO'S defense spending per head and the size of its member nations' armed forces are wildly out of balance across the alliance.

The US military budget is facing precisely the same pressures. According to the Internal Revenue Service, in fiscal year 2006 the U.S. government took in $2.407 Trillion and spent $2.655 trillion. Expenditure was as follows:

  • $955 billion to Medicare, Social Security, and Social Security Disability;
  • $504 Billion to social/welfare programs (including public health);
  • $319 Billion to physical, human, and community development;
  • $212 billion to pay interest on the national debt;
  • The remaining $675 billion of the budget to pay for national defense, veteran's benefits, law enforcement, and general government.

Take a look at those numbers.
Fully $1,778 trillion (67%) of expenditure went on social programs (many of them better known as "wealth redistribution programs"). The demands of those programs are rising steadily. The defense budget has to compete with them - and buying military hardware doesn't bring in votes for the politicians who have to set our budgets. Social programs do.

The budget is a symptom of a much wider problem. No less an authority than the Comptroller General of the United States, Mr. David Walker, has stated baldly that the USA is living far beyond its means and that many of the Government programs mentioned above are unaffordable.

At present the so-called War On Terror and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have boosted military spending. As soon as the US involvement in the latter countries winds down (and note that depending on the results of this year's elections, that might happen sooner rather than later) we can confidently expect military spending to diminish, perhaps substantially. There's no way on earth that the current levels of spending can be sustained in the absence of a meaningful military threat.

All of our armed forces must face the challenge of doing more with less money, and in the process they're going to have to give up a lot of the "gee-whiz" programs they love so much and settle for more "bang-for-the-buck" economics in their purchasing and planning. There have been far too many ruinously expensive programs that haven't delivered. As the so-called "fighter mafia" have pointed out:

Today, we have the smallest defense inventory since 1946. For example, with a spending level considerably higher than in 1985 when the Cold War raged and after Ronald Reagan increased the Defense Department's budget, we have now 10 active Army divisions, not the 17 we had in 1985; less than 300 naval combatants - compared to 542 in 1985, and we have just over 12 active Air Force tactical air wings, not 25.

A major reason is incompetence.

According to the "scorecard" of the Office of Management and Budget on how well U.S. agencies are run, the Pentagon has ranked among the worst since the ratings began. By bad management, don't think of just "waste, fraud, and abuse" and incompetent book-keeping - the measures OMB uses. Add to those the incessant decisions in the Pentagon and Congress that favor bureaucratic and selfish interests, rather than the needs of war. Those latter factors provide most of the explanation for why the Pentagon budget delivers less for more.

I'll conclude with this thought. There is one way in which all the USAF's needs could be met without seriously affecting the other armed services and without increasing its budget beyond what's already envisaged or authorized. That way is to
cancel the F-35 program. Sufficient advanced F-16's could be bought to replace the aging conventional fleet, and enough F-22's could be purchased to take care of the air superiority mission. The funds saved would also be sufficient to accommodate all, repeat, all of the rest of the USAF's "wish list" and probably still leave some change.

I'm not alone in advocating this, but the entrenched forces of bureaucracy and military inertia don't want to hear it. The question is: will the USAF and the politicians have the intellectual honesty and moral courage to admit it and do what's necessary? Personally, I doubt it - and so do others.


Friday, February 22, 2008

The Bureau Of Communication

I love it when I find good ideas like this!

There's an outfit calling themselves The Bureau Of Communication. They've designed multiple-choice forms for a variety of special occasions, including the Declaration Of Romantic Intent, the Official Invitation, and - that staple requirement - the Formal Apology. (Click the picture for a larger view.)

You can send the form by e-mail to your victims friends after customizing it: and if you run out of ideas there's a helpful Archive at the site with samples of what others have sent - although this one has me wondering:


A Hot Wheels plaything - yours for only $140,000!

Somehow this leaves me baffled.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of their Hot Wheels line of toy cars, Mattel has produced a diamond-studded white gold Hot Wheels toy car. It has more than 2,700 diamonds set into it, with rubies for tail lights, and is valued at $140,000.

After touring the USA as part of the anniversary promotions, Mattel says that the car will be auctioned off late this year to benefit the Big Brothers, Big Sisters charity.

I'm afraid that for the life of me, I can't see the point in making a six-figure-value Hot Wheels car for any reason whatsoever. For that price I could pay a custom car builder to make a full-size, fully operational Hot Wheels replica complete with engine, gearbox and flamethrower! Wouldn't that do more to publicize your toys, Mattel? "For our 40th anniversary, we present really Hot Wheels - torching every competitor in sight!"

Ah, well. Perhaps that sort of idea is why I've never been invited to join Mattel's strategic planning committee . . .



Kudos for courage to the customers of the Wieselgrensplatsen branch of Swedbank in Gothenburg, Sweden.

An armed robber walked into the bank today, pulled out a gun and announced a hold-up - only to be jumped by several nearby customers.

Three shots were fired, but it appears no-one was hit. The battered hoodlum was held down by the customers until police arrived to take him into custody.

Full marks for guts, and a hat-tip to all concerned - except the robber, of course.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #9 and #10 - Multiple Doofi

It's been a couple of weeks since we had a Doofus Of The Day post. Never fear. Jesus tells us that "you have the poor with you always" (Matthew 26:11), but He omitted to add that the same applies to doofi. (He probably thought it was so obvious that we didn't need reminding!)

Doofus No. 1 for today is Danny Hyde from Stowmarket, England. This idjit not only decided to drive at 130 mph on England's notoriously speed-unfriendly roads, but filmed himself doing it.

Adding cretinhood to stupidity, he then posted the video on YouTube!

Needless to say, the local police and magistrates were absolutely delighted to receive such co-operation from a self-proclaimed scofflaw. Mr. Hyde has just been sentenced to a four-month suspended jail sentence and 210 hours of community service, and his license has been suspended for 18 months. His self-incrimination played a major part in his conviction.

Our second doofus is also from England. Joy Goodman took a job to stuff junk mail into people's mailboxes. She did so to Mr. Paul O'Brien, but his mailbox seems to have been a little less tolerant of junk-mail-stuffers than most of its ilk. Its flap trapped her finger, allegedly resulting in the loss of her fingertip.

Would you believe that she's now suing Mr. O'Brien for damages? She claims that her injury means she can "no longer do her intricate job".

Well, boo-bloody-hoo to you, ducky!

Mr O'Brien, 44, from Morley, Leeds, vowed to fight the claim, branding it "a joke".

The self-employed engineer said: "When I received a solicitor's letter I thought someone was having a laugh."

"I actually told them they had sent it early - April Fool's Day is still six weeks away."

"I just cannot believe someone who came on to my property uninvited, to put junk mail through my door that I didn't want, can now sue me because she hurt herself."

I couldn't agree more with Mr. O'Brien. In fact, if I had that sort of problem with junk mail box-stuffers, I'd be rigging it with razor-blades, Claymore mines and the odd napalm canister to catch them in the act!

Here's hoping she loses heavily and has to pay Mr. O'Brien's legal costs into the bargain.


Tickling a shark into a trance?

In the Daily Mail we read of a "sharkman", Mike Rutzen, who tickles Great White sharks to induce a trance-like state.

To successfully swim with sharks, Mike has learned to mimic their body language, changing his posture in response to their actions.

He is seen neither as prey nor predator and the sharks happily glide past him, occasionally letting him ride with them by hanging on to their dorsal fins.

It has not always been plain sailing, though - his body bears more than 30 scars from close encounters. But now he has decided to take on the ultimate challenge - as depicted in this picture - the remarkable phenomenon of "tonic immobility".

This is a natural state of paralysis, which animals sometimes enter when faced with an imminent threat.

However, it can be induced in sharks by turning them on their heads and massaging their snouts, close to the eyes.

The effects last for around 15 minutes and has proved a useful tool for scientists wanting to study shark behaviour. Being able to get so close to the Great White, Mike discovered that they do not have beady black eyes, as previously thought, but they are actually a startling blue.

That's all very well . . . when the shark's swimming lazily around and feeling good about life, the universe and everything.

However, when it's hungry and in a feeding frenzy, I suspect it might not be so easy. I've seen them going for seals in False Bay, South Africa. It's quite a sight.

I mean, how would you like to try to tickle a Great White shark when it's doing this?

I thought not . . .

Full marks to Mr. Rutzen, though, for his courage - and a fascinating story. I hope he doesn't "rub the shark up the wrong way" and suffer for it!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The motorcycle from Hell

I love this!

The Daily Mail reports that an Australian inventor has come up with the ultimate motorcycle. It's almost ten feet tall, close to thirty feet long and weighs as much as ten family cars!

Its tires come from a Caterpillar mining truck and stand taller than a man. It has a diesel engine and double chain drive to either side of the rear wheel.

Best of all, from the perspective of motorcycle riders who're fed up with car drivers failing to see them and ramming into them - this bike crushes cars!

Here's a video of it in action.

The largest bike I ever owned was a BMW R100RT, which I'd always thought was more than enough for me:

However, I might be persuaded to come out of motorcycling retirement to have a go on this beast! Wonder how it'd handle the Dragon?

(For those who've never heard of - or never run - the Dragon at Deal's Gap, here's a sampler.)


This is potentially HUGE!!!

EDITED TO ADD: More recent information suggests that this post is inaccurate. See the end of the post for the correction.


Via the Mad Rocket Scientist we learn of a so-called "gravity lamp" that provides up to four hours of light (600-800 lumens, equivalent to a 40-watt bulb) from the electricity generated by slowly dropping weights.

The Gravia lamp was invented by Clay Moulton, who won second prize with it in the "Greener Gadgets Conference" held on February 1 in New York. Details of how it works are shown below - click on the image for a larger view (click on the larger picture again to make it even bigger and more legible).

To my astonishment (and disgust) there were a few snide, negative comments following a news report about this achievement. Those commentators have no idea what they're talking about! They have no conception of just how revolutionary this promises to be!

I've traveled extensively in the Third World. I'll bet there are at least a billion people around the world living "off the grid" with no access to electricity at all. For light they rely on candles, kerosene-fueled lanterns, fat- or oil-burning lamps, and so on. Not only are these too dim to make reading and studying practical (except at the cost of very severe eyestrain), but they're a fire hazard too. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people die every year in such blazes.

Now we have this. A simple idea, needing no batteries, its components estimated to last for up to 200 years, and putting out bright, clean light at no running cost whatsoever!

If anything can revolutionize Third World life, it's this. It'll let youngsters study in the evenings without straining their eyes and risking lifelong damage to their sight. It'll save untold lives through removing a major fire hazard. If it can be reduced in size (say, a one-foot-high lantern producing light for one hour) it can be carried on journeys to light the way. Doctors and nurses will be able to see to perform life-saving interventions. Humanitarian missions can now work late into the evening without worrying about fuel for generators (not to mention transporting the heavy generators and their fuel over hundreds of miles of hostile territory in the first place!).

Even in our rich, modern First World it has untold potential. Holiday homes, camping trips, emergency kits in your vehicle, travel trailers, a source of light during power failures, disaster relief in situations such as Hurricane Katrina; all of these needs can be met. I can see the US armed forces using these by the tens of thousands to provide light in field base camp facilities, mobile hospitals and the like. Heck - why not a low-power coffee brewer for field use while we're at it?

If the inventor can get together with a manufacturer and figure out how to produce this at a reasonable cost (and perhaps in a Third World country as well, at a very low cost) this might be the invention of the century for untold millions of people. Even better, if the same principle for the generation of electricity can be developed further to power other appliances, who knows how far it could go? Perhaps a low-cost notebook computer such as the One Laptop Per Child project? A medical appliance to monitor a patient's vital signs in an otherwise power-less rural clinic? Surgical lamps to conduct operations in low light? A radio for communication in emergency? The possibilities are as endless as one's imagination. Talk about unlimited potential!

Well done, Mr. Moulton, and thank you! I hope the full potential of your idea will be speedily realized. You've certainly got me more excited about the Gravia than I've ever been about any other invention!


EDITED TO ADD: It seems my excitement over this invention was premature. Today it was reported that the invention was impossible according to the laws of nature. In a response the inventor agreed with the criticism and offered to return his second prize for his invention. Details of the challenge and response may be found here below the main article.

That's a real pity: but judging from the inventor's response, I don't think any fraud was involved - just an honest miscalculation. Let's hope that something similarly economical can be devised using alternative technologies.

Hat-tip to Al Fin for following up on this story after I e-mailed him about it. He located the new information, which came out after I'd published my original post.