Saturday, July 31, 2021

Saturday Snippet: Missiles and bombs in the night


Nowadays we're accustomed to taking unmanned aerial vehicles - drones - for granted in combat.  There are any number of makes and models out there, armed with almost anything an Air Force strike aircraft or bomber can carry.  However, only a couple of decades ago, that wasn't the case.  The then-fledgling Predator drone wasn't armed, and wasn't combat-ready at all.  It was largely used as a reconnaissance asset.

The story of how those first Predators were armed with Hellfire missiles, and used even prior to 9/11 to look for terrorists in Afghanistan, is told in the book "Never Mind, We'll Do It Ourselves".  The sub-title is "How a Team of Renegades Broke Rules, Shattered Barriers, and Launched a Drone Warfare Revolution".

The authors tell the story of how a combined USAF/CIA team adapted the Predator for anti-terrorist operations thousands of miles from America's shores, while controlling it from a ground station in the continental USA.  They also modified the formerly unarmed aircraft to carry and launch two Hellfire missiles, from altitudes and attitudes previously undreamt of by the manufacturer.  All this was done just in time for the Predator to come into its own after 9/11, in the battle for Afghanistan.

The initial efforts were conducted on a shoestring, with the team having to make many of their own decisions and fight to get authorization for missions.  More traditionally-minded officers knew nothing about this then-new technology, and didn't want to be bothered with it.  What really changed that was the Battle of Takur Ghar (also known as Roberts Ridge) on March 4th, 2002, when the hitherto almost unknown USAF/CIA project team and their armed Predator drone made the difference between victory and defeat in a bitter struggle in Afghanistan.  Ironically, they were only on the scene by accident, but they turned it into an iconic effort that would dramatically expand the role and capabilities of drone aircraft in future.

I thought, given our current withdrawal from Afghanistan, it might be worth remembering those who fought and died there by recounting one of the early battles that defeated Al Qaeda, before the politicians screwed it up.  Here's how the book's authors remember it - and are unlikely to ever forget it.  There's a fair amount of profanity in this extract, but that's how soldiers talk.  I've decided to leave it in, despite trying to keep this blog family-friendly, because sometimes one has to tell reality like it is.

(BTW, the team's radio callsign during this episode was 'Wildfire'.)


March 4, 2002

“What have you got?” Calls between Alec and I were now always direct. I was in the double-wide, and we were trying to get our arms around the developing shitstorm.

“We’re working our liaison with the Task Force; not much yet,” Alec spooled off as if reading from hastily scrawled notes. In the back of both our minds, we were kicking ourselves for not being able to get into the planning for Operation Anaconda, a significant Special Operations op to clear bad guys out of the Shahi-Kot valley.

“From what we’re picking up, one of the helos took heavy fire on landing—guns, RPGs. They got back in the air but couldn’t hold altitude.”

“Casualties?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“Unconfirmed. But it sounds like somebody fell out when they got hit.” More paper shuffled in the background.

“Thanks,” I said curtly. “Keep me posted.”

I set down the phone and passed the info to the double-wide team, which immediately passed the info to Darran and the team in the GCS.

“We may have a man down at the initial point of attack, and we’re probably the best asset to find him. We’re working the CAOC to get in there, but in the meantime, keep looking around for the needle in a haystack.”

I glanced at the clock. A bare few minutes had ticked by, minutes that felt like an eternity waiting for the gears of authority to give a grudging turn. It was hard to imagine what time felt like on the snow-covered ridge below. Even from this distance, we could see that the whole damn ridgetop was rippling with enemy fire.

I churned through the few facts on hand. Razor Zero-Three now sat in a smoking heap in the valley. The Navy SEALs on board were already humping their way back up the mountain to rescue the man they’d lost—seven miles straight up in deep snow with shit-thin air, with a lot of bad guys in the way. A flash of pride cut through the storm of emotions inside me. “No man left behind” wasn’t just a marketing slogan.

The second chopper, Razor Zero-Four, flew straight into the meat-grinder to drop its own team of SEALs, call sign Mako 30, on the ridge. By the sound of things, the Taliban had a lot more guys on the mountain than anybody expected. A continuous rain of heavy machine guns and RPGs were pushing the SEALs back off the mountaintop.

A Quick Reaction Force (QRF) was dispatched from Bagram Airfield: two more Chinooks loaded with Army Rangers. In the civilian world, cops in trouble call for SWAT, guys who roll in on a situation with no advance planning or knowledge and simply wrestle control by force just long enough to snatch our guys out of harm’s way. A QRF is largely the same thing; we surge in, suppress violently, and extract.

While a part of me was dying to get into the fight, the bigger part hoped that the QRF would end this thing in the next few minutes. For anybody on the ridge bleeding right now, time was life.

I did a quick assessment. Genghis was in the pilot seat. A top-notch F-15E jockey, she was one of my best in a fight. Tall and athletic, Genghis had a boundless love for the outdoors. I was lucky to have her on the team.

Andy was running sensors in the right seat. A young staff sergeant, Andy had learned a lot from Gunny, for better and for worse. He picked up bits of Gunny’s sandpaper charm, but also Gunny’s lethal effectiveness. Both Gunny and Andy had distinguished themselves as able to thread missile shots in through the window of a target building.

Darran was behind and between the two, informally parked on a cheap folding chair. He would be juggling maps and nav charts, working radios in a crunch, and doing anything else that couldn’t be squeezed into the heads-down displays at knee level or the larger heads-up display screens at eye level.

Cliffy wasn’t in the room, but his MacGyver magic was unmistakable. The normal GCS design brought no allowance for the display of threat data and imagery direct to the pilots and sensor operators. Cliffy had wrangled a way to split the threat data streams off, through a repeater, and into the GCS. The factory-original design demanded that threat data—we’re talking in the middle of a fight—be printed off in the trailer and run out to the GCS on paper. Thanks to Cliffy, our pilots could see the fight play out in real time. It was another case of a million-dollar requirement stitched together with zip ties and Velcro.

Big was parked in the second GCS, watching the same feeds that were playing in the live one. That gave us a second pilot to swap when needed and allowed him to be up to the moment on situational awareness.

It was a fluke we were out there in the first place. Task Force Mountain, a 10th Mountain Division team, had been dispatched as part of a bigger effort to clear the remaining Taliban fighters out of the Shahi-Kot valley. It was all hush-hush, but based on the efforts to keep everybody else out of the airspace, somebody was planning a big fight. We were high overhead, transitioning from one collection target to the next, and all this just happened to be on the way. Basically, we rubbernecked into one of the biggest fights in Afghanistan.

On his own initiative, Andy began to scour the bleak mountains for any signs of life. All our sensor operators were great at sniffing out significant activity. He had been searching through the mountains when he came across an inbound Chinook helicopter and decided to follow it. “Hello,” Andy muttered. “Where are you going?”

Andy glanced back at Darran and raised an eyebrow; Darran nodded back. The exchange was just another example of the oddball Vulcan mind meld we had developed working together.

Andy and Chris B. focused on the heads-up display with the MTS video, watching as the chopper rolled into a tight search pattern. Just a moment later, it slowed to a hover above a tall peak. Whatever it was looking for, it seemed to have found it.

Something found it as well. A flash of heat cut across the screen, a streak of white against a background of gray in the monochrome eye of thermal imaging.

“What the fuck was that?” Darran was in the mission-commander seat, leaning forward to stare at the screen as the glowing blob of helicopter thumped down hard on the mountaintop.

“Holy shit,” Genghis snarled, “I think we just lost a chopper.”

Andy zoomed in and out, slewing the camera to find the shooter.

A Chinook looks like an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile with rotors above both ends. As targets go, a hovering Chinook is like the broad side of a barn. The huge ramp door at the ass end of the chopper dropped open, and guys scrambled out, guns firing.

In the ghost-gray of infrared, we saw the explosion of black as the RPG slammed into the Chinook. Through the distant IR view, every rock, shrub, and crevice lit up with the starburst of muzzle flash. The helo lurched, side-slipped, and dropped out of the sky. It slammed down on the snowy peak in a spray of burning debris, the giant rotor blades slowly churning to a stop.

“Probably Razor Zero-One or Zero-Two.” The intercom voice came from the double-wide.

Call signs were a best guess for us at this point, just what we could pick up on radio. We were twelve miles away. Our mission was farther north, our presence here little more than a drive-by. Being there when the shit hit the fan was only happenstance.

That fan was Takur Ghar, a rugged ten-thousand-foot peak jutting up along the eastern edge of the Shahi-Kot valley. This was Taliban country, the kind of rugged stronghold that helped predecessors stand off the might of the Soviet Union years before. Judging from the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) overhead, and the AC-130 that had lapped through just beforehand, whatever was playing out on that jagged spike of rock was a big deal, something to which we hadn’t been invited.

In an instant, Genghis was on it, immediately requesting AWACS clear us into the airspace. It wasn’t budging. “They said they already had assets in the area,” she called out. As best she could, she explained that we weren’t some run-of-the mill observation platform—we had fangs. But despite her pushing, she was told to “stand by.”

This was no SA-3 engagement, no creeping forward a slice at a time like we had done in the past. Respecting US airspace limits wasn’t optional; anything sticking its nose uninvited into the kill box would get that nose shot off, with no care who we were or what kind of good intentions we brought to the fight. Genghis was forcefully pitching our case with the AWACS even higher overhead. What might look to the civilian eye like a commercial airliner with a giant rotating pizza bolted to the top, an AWACS was a command and control aircraft, the all-seeing, all-knowing eye that provided air traffic control across the battle space. It had the final word on what flew through the giant box of sky beneath.

To say that we were not invited was an understatement. We had been emphatically ordered to stay the hell away. The airspace had been declared off-limits, and we respected that boundary. But like any good warfighter we hugged the edge of our assigned airspace and peered intently inside to see what was going on as we flew to our next target.

Time froze for just a second, barely a heartbeat, a moment that felt like it stretched out for minutes. Then reality snapped back with a face-slap of adrenaline and Darran punched up the LNO.

“Ty, grab Eric and Alec, we need to work this.” Ty and Eric were going through changeover at this point. He didn’t have time for conjunctions, and Ty didn’t need them. Keys clattered like a machine gun as he worked with the Predator LNO at the CAOC in parallel.

It was time for me to swap seats with Darran. Alec hit the line first, reading my mind. Watching the same feed we had, he led off with, “Go direct with the ground; you’ve got whatever support you need from here.”

That was exactly what I wanted to hear. With warfighters in mortal peril this was no time to discuss interagency agendas or conflicting mission priorities. On his own authority Alec had just chucked our existing task and committed the full weight of the CIA behind saving American lives.

“We’re reaching out to the CAOC Predator LNO now,” I responded, snapping hand gestures to people around the GCS. No matter what the urgency, barging into controlled airspace in a crisis was a sure way to get shot out of the sky. It’s one thing to play cat and mouse with MiG fighters, but I wasn’t about to have a midair with one of ours. I shifted my focus.

The guys on the mountain continued to take fire. I don’t think the bad guys were all that surprised, I grumbled inwardly. By the looks of things, the bad guys had a pretty good idea we were coming.

Even from this distance we could see damage to both sides of the wrecked Chinook as rounds tore in one side and out the other. The inside of the helo had to feel like a garbage disposal. Bodies scrambled out the wide rear door, guns blazing. Some fought their way to scant cover; others dropped motionless on the edge of the ramp.

Still wrangling for clearance to enter the fight, we could only watch in horror.

Somebody on the ground started calling for air support. Identifying himself as Slick Zero-One, the beleaguered Airman had to split his bandwidth between moving, shooting, ducking, and coordinating an ad hoc air strike on what amounted to his own position. From ground level, he described the primary source of enemy fire as coming from a bunker some fifty to seventy-five meters uphill from the nose of the helo. Stealing glimpses between bullet strikes, he had to see the rise as a gravel wall speckled with muzzle-flash.

Our perspective from on high gave us the ability to provide a more analytic assessment. Absent much of anything for scale we reverted to our “unit of measurement” trick. The Chinook was a known, the fuselage measuring about sixty feet from tip to tail. The front face of the bunker was just over two Chinooks away, a distance closer to forty meters. We could see the irregular line of fighters fanning to either side of the primary bunker, tucked behind rocks or the sparse vegetation.

Almost every US asset in the sky was converging on Takur Ghar. Slick Zero-One engaged a pair of F-15E Strike Eagles that came at a run. I looked at the scene, knowing up front that talk-on from the ground would be an utter bitch. The Chinook was the only real point of reference, and the Eagle pilot would have to engage hostiles that hid within pistol-range of our survivors. The blast radius for the smallest bomb on the Strike Eagle would encircle the entire fight, friend and foe alike.

I pushed thoughts of Donnie from my mind and focused on the problem in front of me. Clearly on the same wavelength, Slick Zero-One was having a bad enough day without rolling the dice on that sort of crapshoot. He opted for gun runs.

Mind you, the guns on an F-15E are no joke. A dedicated killing machine, the Strike Eagle packed a General Electric M61 Vulcan Cannon. The modern progeny of a multibarrel Gatling gun, the Vulcan could spin up and vomit 20 mm explosive-incendiary shells at nearly a hundred rounds per second. In what might sound like a chainsaw revving, a Vulcan could saturate an area with bullets, each one bigger than a man’s thumb. What wasn’t shredded on impact was blown up and set on fire. The Air Force doesn’t fuck around in a gunfight.

It took several minutes to get the Strike Eagle oriented, according to both where to shoot and where emphatically not to shoot. Absent a laser, almost everything relied on Slick Zero-One’s ability to speak under heavy fire, the Strike Eagle pilot having only a glimpse of the target as he sizzled by at jet-fighter speeds. The Eagle rolled in. I could imagine the Gatling gun chewing a line of earth and rock into a trench of sand and gravel. Radio traffic from the ground reported some exposed enemies had been hit or scattered.

But the bunker held, the fire from within undiminished. The Eagle made a second pass, a third, a half-dozen or more with no change. Out of ammo and getting low on fuel, the Eagle had no choice but to break off.

The door of the GCS swung open abruptly. Marcella made a beeline behind Darran and Chris, then dove between Genghis and Andy. Without a word she punched a button, ejecting a tape cartridge with a short whine. Shoving a new tape in place, she turned on her heels and left just as abruptly. The door slammed behind her.

I looked at Darran, confusion on my face. He shrugged back, by all appearance equally baffled. Darran continued to work the Predator LNO to get us into the airspace. By the time Big swapped into the pilot seat, we received clearance into the airspace. He immediately began attempting to contact the ground party, which was difficult because we only had unencrypted radios and they were using encrypted radios.

Finally! I thought. Now maybe we can do some good.

Not much had improved on Takur Ghar. Although the F-15E’s guns had helped to shave the edges off the enemy force, the core remained terribly effective. Even with the best of tactics and training, the crew of Razor Zero-One had only the ammo they carried, firing guns that seemed anemic against the 12 mm Soviet machine guns that pounded their position.

With no relief in sight, Slick Zero-One opted to swing for the fence. An Air Force F-16 Falcon was next in the batter’s box, which like its beefier brother carried a Vulcan cannon. But Slick Zero-One had moved past the notion of winning this fight with a series of base hits; he opted for a Louisville slugger in the form of a five-hundred-pound JDAM, the same weapon that cratered Kandahar’s runways at the start of the war.

No question, spiking a JDAM through the roof of the bunker would obliterate everything inside. The problem was that the blast would also shred the Chinook and everyone hunkered around it. Ending a fight is important, but surviving the ending is the whole point.

The answer, as best as they could reason, was to drop the bombs on the far side of the bunker. Placed properly, the blast would wash over the back of the bunker but come up just short of the Americans.

I thought about Alec’s “Black Widow” and her bug splats, about all the science that goes into predicting where fragments of white-hot steel might go. That game doubled in complexity because we had no idea what else was inside the bunker. Secondary explosions, the kind we might get from, say, a stack of mortar shells, could turn a big explosion into a helluva big explosion. The margin of error was paper thin, maybe nonexistent.

I doubted that Slick Zero-One had the bandwidth for much of the math, but by the sound of things he had a real solid grasp on the concept. He directed the F-16 to drop on the back side of the peak, hoping, I supposed, to send enough of a shockwave through the earth to collapse the fortification. That strategy would put as much of the mountain as he could wrangle between his men and the blast. It was a ballsy move, but he was low on options.

The F-16 rolled in. Much like the Strike Eagle before it, the F-16 delivered its rounds spot on target. We watched the attacks that played out like inverted fireworks, a streak from the sky that burst explosively when it reached the ground. Huge chunks of rock were blown into the air, hot earth vaporized into a thermal cloud. Then the dust settled, and from within the bunker, the gunfire resumed.

A second bomb was dropped, the target point edging closer. Then a third, closer yet. The mud-spatter of rocks and debris rained down across the Chinook.

It was agonizing to listen to run after run, kicking up a lot of dirt. Slick Zero-One was getting punchy trying to call in fires and fight at the same time, having to repeat the same instructions to each new aircraft. He was running on the end of endurance while we were rotating bodies as needed. On a rapid rotation, Troy had just cycled into the pilot seat.

“I’ve got ‘em!” The voice erupted from behind me, just a heartbeat ahead of the rush of fresh night air that flowed through the open door.

I turned to see Marcella once more in the doorway, now holding a piece of paper at head height. A fire burned in her eyes as she stepped in and slapped the page on the desk. “I know where they are.”

I looked down at the page beneath her hand. It was a photograph, a screengrab from Predator’s camera feed she had pulled off the tape. The image was overlaid with hand-drawn notations. Lines of sight, angles. And a red circle on the front face of a pile of rocks. Marcella stabbed a finger in the center of it. “We need to shoot here.”

I winced, tapping a cluster of blobs on the photo. “No, Marcella. Our guys are here, and the bunker is—”

“I know where the fucking bunker is. But they’re shooting at the wrong place.” She shook her head, forcing her calm. “No, not wrong, just … they can’t see things like we can. Look, those F-15s and F-16s have been hitting the same spot with everything they’ve got. Pounding the roof, pounding the back side—it won’t work. The walls and roof are feet, hell maybe meters, of rock and earth. It’s Taco Bell ten times over. We need to put a shot through the front window.”

I looked up at her and blinked. A well-earned rule in warfare is that the guy on the ground, typically the guy getting shot at, has the best understanding of the battle space. As a nation we’d seen time and time again what happened when some REMF, far removed from the battlefield, thinks he or she has a better idea of what is going on. That happened in places like Mogadishu, and we all know how that turned out.

And yet here was an imagery analyst who could fit in a large rucksack telling me that from eight thousand miles away she had a more finite understanding of the battle space than the SEALs and Rangers who were bleeding all over it.

And fuck if I didn’t believe her. Marcella wasn’t a showboat; this wasn’t some midcrisis play for relevance. I’d stand her up against the entire flock of NIMA-nerds that Alec had at his disposal. I’d seen Marcella Marcella identify a truck by its shadow from four miles in the sky. She raised an eyebrow and tapped the circle. “Right here.”

I glanced at the control station. Next to Big at pilot was Joker in the center seat, Andy at SO, and Chris as the backup sensor operator. I pointed her to them. “Brief ’em.”

I turned to Joker. “Get Slick Zero-One on the line.”

What followed had to be one of the strangest combat discussions in history. I had no idea how Slick Zero-One would handle any of it. Here he was, stuck on a mountain in the middle of a helo crash, bullets chipping rocks around his head, and we’re poking him to juggle off secure comms to answer an open line just to talk to us. I felt like a telemarketer from the Twilight Zone, calling the poor guy at the worst moment in his life.

Hi sir, you don’t know me, in fact on paper we don’t exist. But you’re in a horrible firefight right now, and while technically we are eight thousand miles away, we have an unmanned airplane over your head packing a pair of antitank missiles. What’s that? Uh, no sir, we don’t actually use the term “model airplane.”

Once we got past our identity, we explained why the gun runs and bombs had failed and how a Hellfire through the front door would do the job. Remarkably, Slick Zero-One had some knowledge of Predator as a platform, but the Hellfire part was a twist. What we proposed was not going to happen at the far edge of the envelope; it was gonna happen just off the end of his nose.

Now, skepticism is healthy. It is critical in the military and never more so than when you bring explosives to a firefight. Nothing is friendly about friendly fire, and nobody in his or her right mind is comfy with the idea of calling for high explosives to be delivered less than a football throw away.

But if necessity is the mother of invention, getting shot at is the mother of opening your mind to alternatives. Having burned through four manned fighter’s worth of air support to no avail, the relentless barrage made any idea, even a crazy one, seem a little more palatable. Still, even neck-deep in shit, there are limits to how far somebody is willing to make a leap of faith.

Joker cupped his hand over the boom mic on his headset. “Slick wants to take the shot, but his ground commander wants a demo shot on some bush down the hill.”

I scowled. One round of show-and-tell would expend half of the firepower we were carrying. “He understands we only have two missiles, right?”

Joker nodded. “I made that real clear. Slick’s onboard, but the GC says it’s the bush or nothing.”

I cursed under my breath, hating to waste fifty percent of my ordnance on a demo. Still, I couldn’t fault the guys on the ground. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, they were trying their damnedest to save lives. If I were in his shoes, I’d have done the same thing.

Sometimes, while in a fight, we need to make a call quickly, without the normal string of “Mother, may I” permissions. This was one of those moments. I turned to Joker. “Hell, if that’s what he wants, shoot the fucking bush.”

Everyone spun into action. Our load-out carried the usual pairing of two [Hellfire] missiles, a Kilo and a Mike. The former did a better job of punching through armor, while the latter would throw a hell of a lot more violence across an open area.

“Use the Mike on the bush,” I said to Big. With the new sleeve on the K, it was my biggest hitter. We could show off with the jab and keep our roundhouse for when it counted. If we did fire on the bunker, I wanted to turn the inside of that thing into a blast furnace.

Andy swung the optics to a lone scrub bush that clung to the barren slope a couple football fields away. As the crosshairs centered on the straggly plant I asked him “Are you sure we’re all looking at the same bush?”

“Fuck if I know,” Andy replied, pushing the zoom. “It looks like the most prominent one I can see from up here. But I’ve never had a talk-on to a plant before.”

Fair point, I thought. Low scrub was largely IR neutral, pretty much the same temperature as the rest of the environment. For all we knew, we could be aiming at a completely different bush. But there was no time for dragging this out. We ran the shot by the numbers, the bush was a target like any other until the sudden stutter in the video feed as Troy squeezed the trigger and the missile left the rail.

Then came the wait, twenty to thirty seconds as the missile streaked down out of the sky, waiting to see if with millions of dollars we’d been able to build a transnational laser-guided Weed eater. With nothing really to lock on to, Andy had to hand fly the missile into the bush.

The blast of impact was anemic in IR, not much more than a dull flash that scattered a lot of hot gravel. There were no car parts, no fuel tanks, no burning debris. But as the dust cleared, we could see the burning scraps of an Afghan tumbleweed scattered around the impact crater.

Moments later, Joker looked back at me, flashing a thumbs-up. “He wants us to hit the bunker!”

“Great!” I said, more in relief than irritation. It was excruciating to watch Americans under fire, feeling we could help if only given the chance. Only now we weren’t just a chance; we were pretty much the last-ditch hope.

I got Alec back on the line. Making the call on a bush was one thing, but unilaterally slinging a missile right over friendly troops was a different matter altogether. I needed somebody higher up the food chain to authorize a shot that had a chance to end this fight.

Alec was quick to relay the decision. “You’ve been cleared to engage.” He had no need for a “don’t fuck it up” here. He understood just how paper-thin we were slicing it.

“All right, here’s our target,” I said, handing Big the sheet with Marcella’s marked-up photo. The talk-on we were getting from Slick Zero-One was accurate, just not specific. “The bunker fifty feet in front of us” set up the ballpark, but the gap under the big slab of rock was the sweet spot, the Achilles’ heel. All we had to do was hit it.

There was no point trying to explain it to the guys on the ground. The long and the short of it was that we were about to send a Hellfire missile screaming over their heads. Trying to explain it to Slick Zero-One would have been like trying to describe a one-mile sniper shot to a guy in a nose-to-nose pistol battle.

In this case, though, the sniper analogy was a little unsettling. We weren’t a mile away; we were over two miles above a ten-thousand-foot peak. With only fifty meters separating a hit dead-on the enemy from one dead-on our own men, our margin of error was somewhere on the order of one-quarter of one degree. Factor in for the blast and frag radius, and we could cut that margin to about an eighth of one degree. In sniper parlance, a one-eighth minute of angle shot was akin to hitting an aspirin dead-center from a football field away. Miss that shot by just the diameter of the bullet, and good guys die. Add to that freezing cold and high-altitude winds, and a team that had been on-station for the last fifteen hours. But if we don’t take the shot, everybody dies. Nah, we had no pressure at all.

But if anyone around me was aware of the difficulty, it didn’t show. I watched my team perform like it had on every other shot, with skill and precision and no skipped steps and no shortcuts. Nobody was unprepared. It all came down to this.

The optic ball tracked smoothly as Wildfire swept in, and I ran through the final checklist: “Missile Armed. Laser on. Lasing. Confirm Lasing.”

Gun flashes burned from inside the bunker, the massive forked flare of a heavy machine gun centered on the screen.

American voices were on the radio, nearly drowned out by the chatter of gunfire.

“3 … 2 … 1 … Rifle.”

Big pulled the trigger and the missile vanished, nosing up only briefly before seeking out the shimmering ball of laser light that Andy held on the target. Time slowed to a crawl, my entire being focused on the image on the screen. One-eighth of one degree.

Then a black flash exploded, debris and body parts flying through the air. Dust and smoke obscured everything.

From within the haze I heard screaming; raw, ragged voices on the radio. I couldn’t process the words at first, only that they were English—American voices. It took a long moment before my brain latched on to an explosive “Fuck yeah!” Not screaming, I realized, but cheering.

Only then did I remember to breathe. The image on-screen cleared as mountain winds swept away the cloud of dust. The men of Razor Zero-One were standing up from behind their spartan cover, guns shouldered and sweeping the bunker. But the only thing coming out was smoke, trails of black and the occasional spark of loose ammo cooking off. Whatever had been inside was dead.

A roar tore through the GCS, the same torn-from-the-gut cheer that likely was rattling the walls of every structure involved with this process. Dots seemingly scattered randomly across the globe all tasted victory.

It was a short celebration. We’d gutted the Taliban fortress, but a whole lot of bad guys were still clambering around on the mountain. With a much-needed breather, Razor Zero-One had a chance to regroup and address the wounds. The soldiers were low on ammo and battery power. We maintained contact as their two medics worked frantically to stabilize the injured; from the sound of things a couple guys were pretty bad off. Slick Zero-One continued to call in air strikes against the clumps of enemy forces scattered across the mountain.

We had no word on incoming helos and wondered where the evac team was. Joker stayed on the radio with Slick Zero-One, a friendly voice to lend some comfort as the time dragged on.

“We’re freezing up here,” Slick Zero-One said quietly at one point, “and another guy just died. Can you talk to the Army and get us off this mountain?”

Although we were out of missiles, we made the call to stay on-station, circling overhead to provide the best set of eyes. I heard Joker say, “Slick Zero-One, do you need me to take over? We’ll handle it from up here. We’re not leaving you.”

Slick Zero-One seemed all too relieved to have the help. It was pretty apparent that whatever the hell this Wildfire thing was overhead, we had earned our chops with the guys on the ground and with the AWACS as well, it seemed, who were all too happy when we started calling in other air assets to drive the enemy off the rest of the mountain.

An al-Qaeda convoy tried to push its way onto the ridge; it died ugly. Joker had been lining up a pair of F-15Es to do a gun run on the convoy when a Spectre gunship declared itself available. Troy kept our Predator in a perfect ellipse over the battle space while Joker called in fire. Using our Rover feed as a guide, the AC-130 fired what looked like a laser beam of tracer fire, carving trenches in the earth. Running or hiding, if something escaped one round of carnage, Andy picked it up and the cycle would repeat. It was less a matter of clearing the mountain as it was sanitizing it with fire. As I watched the onslaught I found myself doubting that so much as a scorpion could have survived.

“Where the hell are the evac birds?” The question became a mantra in the GCS as the hours slid by. Razor Zero-One was relentlessly demanding medevac, declaring status critical for at least one of the wounded. But with Bagram just over an hour away, we still weren’t tracking inbound choppers.

It came as no surprise that by now, somebody well up the chain of command would be damned curious about their wayward bird and why it wasn’t headed home. For the umpteenth time, I had Alec on the line, echoing Joker’s commitment to the guys on the ground.

“There’s still no word on the evac. Tell everybody whatever you need to, but we’re not leaving ’em alone up there.”

Alec didn’t need convincing, he was shoulder to shoulder with all of us that this mission trumped anything else going on. Fuck the priorities; today we are saving a handful of guys stuck on a mountaintop in the ass end of nowhere. We had unmatched situational awareness and the ability to designate fire on just about anything that moved. If anybody with ill intent even thought about coming up that slope, they’d only live briefly enough to regret it.

I told the crew, “I want iron on the mountain. Let enemies and the friendlies both know that airpower is here.” And by God we rained iron.

The barrage fell into a rhythm with the steady stream of air assets cycling into the battle space. Joker had planes stacked like pancakes: Strike Eagles and Falcons, Navy F-14 Bombcats, Marine F/A-18s. While Andy was buddy-lasing one target, Joker established comms with the next inbound, exchanging the laser codes necessary to allow one aircraft and bomb to tune to the laser illuminating the intended target. This allows simultaneous or nearly simultaneous attacks on multiple targets by a single aircraft, or flights of aircraft, dropping laser guided weapons while limiting spoofing by the enemy. That’s a technical way of saying that we became the express lane for the delivery of American firepower.

To stay at our best, we hot-swapped pilots and SOs, keeping fresh eyes on screens and steady hands on the controls. Joker stayed in place at the center seat, having established himself as an authority presence in the battle space. He had talked so many aircraft into the fight that he had it down to a science. Perhaps as important, he had become a persistent point of contact with the guys on the ground. “We’re not leaving you guys,” he repeated time and again.

We did all this largely on our own authority, side-stepping the CAOC and the interminable delays of asking for permission at every turn. Nobody argued, nobody bitched; it was a group of Americans doing whatever it took, big or small. I couldn’t imagine what sort of voodoo Alec was doing to placate his side of the planet, but everybody backed our play and let us do the right thing, the American thing.

While our ability to remain on station seemed limitless compared to that of our gas-guzzling, jet-powered brethren, our promise to stay to the end was finally challenged by a glowing Low Fuel indicator. Big, now in the pilot seat, turned to me and sadly announced that we had entered the last stage in the evolving path towards bingo fuel. The time had come for Wildfire 54 to head home.

Had this been a manned aircraft, this would be the end of our part in the story. Out of gas was an unforgiving and unbending rule that existed since the dawn of powered flight. But Wildfire had made a promise to these guys, and we didn’t have to play by the rules.

For the last several hours, our second Predator, Wildfire 55, had been winging its way into the battle space. On what amounted to a “3, 2, 1, go,” we executed a Chinese fire drill between the two GCSs, pilots, and sensor operators swapping seats with their counterparts. In just moments, the crew familiar with the fight found themselves at the control of a fresh aircraft with full gas tanks. Like I told Alec, we weren’t leaving these guys, even if we had to jump our crew from one fucking plane to another in midflight to stay on station. And it was good that we remained.

Despite everything we had thrown at the enemy thus far, they remained a tenacious opponent. A second bunker to the south revealed itself and suddenly started lobbing mortar rounds across the ridgetop.

Mortar attacks are a cause for urgency. With the ability to rapidly arc one shell after another, a crack mortar team can zero in on a target pretty damn fast. We weren’t about to give them the time. Reaching for the top card in our deck of available assets, we blinked with surprise when it came up a French Mirage 2000.

That’s not a knock on our coalition brothers; the French flew with distinction. But although this process had become almost business as usual with US air assets, handling a talk-on and potential buddy lase—sharing the laser from one asset to guide the weapon from another asset—with a foreign national in this case, even a trusted ally, was a different matter. The French pilot wanted our laser code; we replied that we’d adjust our laser to match his bomb. It was a short battle, and we weren’t budging. Suffice it to say that the French crew proudly added their fist to the beating that fell on the southern bunker.

The knock-out blow came from yet another Navy Tomcat, the swing-wing fighter made famous in the 1980s film Top Gun. Since the bunker was located considerably farther away from our guys on the ground, we were free to go heavy on the ordnance. The mortar team was loading another round when a one-thousand-pound Paveway II turned the entire pit into a giant steaming golf divot. As chunks of debris and mortarman rained from the sky, I felt a bit of old-school satisfaction that touched me down to my Air Force blue.

For the impossible shot, use precision. For everything else, drop a shit-ton of high explosives.

As promised, we remained on station into the night. When nothing was left to shoot, we were simply a friendly voice in the darkness, a presence overhead. Scott and Gunny were now in the seat, with Will, Steve H., and Rob G. swapping out. We did more rover work with an AC-130, scanning the helo ingress route for threats.

In the spirit of “use every blade in the pocketknife,” Gunny came up with an innovative angle for yet another part of the Predator package. The MTS ball had not only a laser designator, which we had been using to great effect all night, but also a laser illuminator. Invisible to the naked eyes of the enemy, US troops with night-vision saw the illuminator as a powerful spotlight that shone down out of the night sky.

Gunny repeatedly swept the peak, pushing back the darkness. It was less about discovering a threat than it was giving the guys on the ground that extra measure of comfort knowing we were overhead, still watching. In the end, the IR spotlight helped guide in the rescue choppers that at long last arrived to take our guys home. The pickup and exfiltration were uneventful save for the result: Slick Zero-One and his buddies made it off that godforsaken mountain.

At some point, Colonel Boyle asked if the sun had risen in Afghanistan. After untold hours in a darkened GCS staring at infrared camera footage, the question took everyone by surprise. Gunny flipped the camera ball to optical mode and the stark reality of the “morning after” hit home.

Our flight team was exhausted, but we could only imagine what the guys on the mountain had endured—not only the long hours but also getting shot at, crashing a helo, and enduring the bitter cold and loss of brothers. Our exhaustion didn’t seem to stack up.

In the course of what had thus far been the sum of the Predator program, contact with friendlies on the ground had been rare by design. In the jargon of the CIA, “We were never there.” Any awareness at all was more often than not the nameless provision of a laser dot before we disappeared into the night.

But this fight had been different, the unexpected but unforgettable payoff coming in just a few words of radio traffic between Slick Zero-One and the air assets overhead. When asked a question about the status, Slick Zero-One replied, “Talk to that Wildfire guy. I don’t know who he is, but he’s been saving our ass all night.”

Thousands of Americans were killed, wounded and maimed in Afghanistan.  They achieved the initial objective of neutralizing Al Qaeda in that country, and (eventually) of killing Osama bin Laden, but were effectively left dangling by politicians and policy-makers who couldn't figure out what to do next, but didn't have the courage to call a halt to the bloodshed.  We should not forget their sacrifice, and should honor their service and their memory.


Friday, July 30, 2021

Yes, I think that captures it nicely


Found on Gab this afternoon:

I think that sums up very accurately the Government's arrogant, presumptuous, overweening approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and the American people.  Incredibly, it also encompasses the reaction of at least half of all Americans to that overreach.  The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves at the spinelessness of their descendants . . .

Please give that meme the widest possible circulation.  I think it deserves it.


The darker side of publishing a manuscript


I've just finished three days of purgatory, trying to sort out the bugs and problems besetting a manuscript before running it through a publishing program to produce print- and e-book-ready files.  The manuscript is for my wife's third novel, "Going Ballistic", which was published in e-book format last year.

Due to a number of factors, she wrote it over time in segments and sections, using different software packages to do so, then combined them into a single file.  There were immediate problems with the "final" version:  quotes that were sometimes straight (") and sometimes curly (“), the same with apostrophes, double spaces interspersed with single spaces in the text, and some really baffling pagination errors.  We managed to get the e-book version published, but I just couldn't get the print version (which would be in Adobe's PDF format) to typeset properly.  Under the pressure of COVID-19 and related health issues, that had to be put on the shelf for a while.

Three days ago, I tackled the manuscript file.  I began by trying global search-and-replace fixes for quotes, apostrophes, etc., only to find to my astonishment that they didn't work.  I've never found a manuscript before that actively resisted replacing punctuation like this.  It seemed almost to have a will of its own!  For example, when I tried to replace a straight quote mark with a curly one, the curly mark would be inserted after the straight one, but would not replace it, so that I now had two marks.  Also, if I wanted to insert a comma or a full stop or a space, very often the characters would be inserted before the quote mark, even if the cursor wasn't positioned there, and would insert themselves in reverse order to how I typed them.  Weird!

Frustrated, I began on Page 1 and started to do a one-by-one replacement of the offending errors.  Not only was this very slow, but it seemed to upset something in the manuscript and/or program logic, particularly when I altered pagination marks or chapter breaks.  Changes dragged on and on, not taking place immediately, but producing a "working" or "wait" symbol while they were processed.  Routine backups of the file every ten minutes began to take thirty to forty-five seconds to execute, during which time I couldn't do anything else;  and when I manually saved the file, the same delays occurred.  On two occasions, my word processing program (LibreOffice) crashed completely.

It was obvious that hidden code in the manuscript file was messing up the entire process.  I therefore saved the file every few pages.  Every 50-odd pages I copied all its text to memory, then pasted it without formatting into a brand-new file with a new version number.  I saved the old versions as backups, of course.  I'd got to Version 5 by the time I fixed the last error, after many hours of line-by-line editing and replacing.  However, the moment I fixed the last error and copied the text to the final version of the draft, all the weird problems suddenly went away.  Saving became a half-second affair, global search and replace worked as it should, and all the previous complications became merely an unpleasant memory.

I've no idea what could have caused such issues.  I've never had a file behave like that in my life before!  Can any reader suggest what might have crept into a simple DOCX format file that might cause it to (mis)behave that way?  I'm at a loss to figure it out, except to assume that extraneous code had crept in from the multiple programs used to produce the text.  (The original segments were produced in Windows 10 using packages such as Notepad [TXT format files], Wordpad [RTF format] and LibreOffice [ODT format], then imported into and combined in Libreoffice before being exported to an MS Word [DOCX format] file.)

Fortunately, Miss D. has now adopted a different document processor (Jutoh) to produce her manuscripts (sadly, she doesn't like LibreOffice - which I use - or MS Word, and neither of us like Scrivener, another popular standard).  Jutoh produces clean files with no complications - at least, so far.  Thank heavens for small mercies!

As soon as we've checked and double-checked the revised manuscript file, we'll use Vellum publishing software to put out a new edition of the e-book (if you've already bought it, yours should be updated seamlessly), and a print edition as well.  Miss D. is almost ready to publish her fourth novel, set in the same world as "Going Ballistic" and involving one of the characters from that book.  Look for a launch announcement here within a few weeks.  She's also working on a fifth, to complete a trilogy in that setting, involving a character from the fourth book.  She's been hard at work writing, and I've been hard at work preparing her files for publication.  I've also got my own works in progress; I'm preparing to publish a number of them at roughly one-month intervals from the fourth quarter onward.

There's no peace for the wicked, it seems - either of us!


Biden Administration: If we don't like a court order, we'll just stonewall it


It seems contempt for the rule of law may be an integral element of the Biden administration's approach to its duties.

Six weeks after a federal judge ordered the Biden administration to resume selling oil and gas leases on federal land, there’s no sign it has and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland struggled Tuesday to explain why.

“We are evaluating our options,” Haaland told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee amid sharp criticism from Republicans. “There’s a lot of work that goes into moving that forward.”

A Louisiana-based federal district judge issued a preliminary injunction June 15 against President Joe Biden’s order to pause lease sales on federal land and waters so it could be considered in light of its climate impacts. The judge ordered Interior to immediately restart leasing but the agency hasn’t scheduled any auctions or rescheduled sales postponed earlier this year.

Haaland faced withering criticism from no fewer than seven of the 20 senators on the committee amid growing bipartisan frustration with the halt of new leasing in areas that provide roughly a quarter of U.S. oil production.

“The pause is effectively defying the federal judge’s order to continue,” Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, said.

Haaland conceded that “technically, I suppose, you could say the pause is still in place.” But she insisted the agency is complying with the court order and is moving forward on releasing an interim report to guide future leasing decisions ... conservationists argue that greater scrutiny is needed to ensure those auctions comply with federal laws, including of how oil and gas development from newly sold leases will affect climate change.

There's more at the link.

Uh-huh.  Suuuuure, the court ordered us to resume sales;  but we'll do it in our own sweet time, and we'll impose new environmental regulations that make it more difficult - perhaps impossible - for would-be lessors to comply with them and still make a profit.  That'll have the same effect as stopping leasing, because they won't bid on leases they can't exploit.  Sucks to be you, judge - doesn't it?

Some may think this isn't important.  It's just off-shore oil exploration leases, after all - not a matter of life and death.  However, it sets the tone for the entire administration.  If one department can get away with this, why can't another?  Why can't all of them?  What happens when it is a critical matter, such as preventing us from working unless and until we comply with scientifically dubious medical requirements, or taking vehicles off the road if they don't conform to this or that spurious environmental regulation (which may or may not be scientifically valid)?  What then will we say about the importance of the rule of law as an overriding consideration?

When the administration is illegitimate at its core (due to the electoral fraud that allowed it to steal office), we should not be surprised to see that illegitimacy manifesting itself in most, if not all, of its dealings.


COVID-19: Blatant propaganda and rampant dishonesty


In case you're one of the handful of people who hasn't yet realized it, we're being bombarded by utter dishonesty in a coordinated propaganda campaign to scare us all into official compliance.  Government, news media and social media are all collaborating in this effort.  I'll cite just two examples from the very recent past to prove the point.

First, Twitter.  There are dozens (possibly, by now, hundreds) of accounts all tweeting the identical warning about COVID-19.  Here's one user's discovery of what's going on.  The image below shows six almost identical tweets from six different accounts, all saying exactly the same thing in exactly the same words.  If a picture tells a thousand words, this one speaks volumes.  Clickit to biggit.

That's not the only example of identical tweets being repeated ad nauseam by dozens, or scores, or hundreds, or even thousands of accounts.  Dishonest propaganda in plain view.

Next, social and news media.  Remember this article last week?

Dr. Brytney Cobia said Monday that all but one of her COVID patients in Alabama did not receive the vaccine. The vaccinated patient, she said, just needed a little oxygen and is expected to fully recover. Some of the others are dying.

“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections,” wrote Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, in an emotional Facebook post Sunday. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

. . .

For the first year and a half of the pandemic, Cobia and hundreds of other Alabama physicians caring for critically ill COVID-19 patients worked themselves to the bone trying to save as many as possible.

“Back in 2020 and early 2021, when the vaccine wasn’t available, it was just tragedy after tragedy after tragedy,” Cobia told this week. “You know, so many people that did all the right things, and yet still came in, and were critically ill and died.”

. . .

“A few days later when I call time of death,” continued Cobia on Facebook, “I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same.”

“They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.”

There's more at the link.

There's an interesting problem with that article.  Go to the Web site of Grandview Medical Center.  Click over to the "Find A Doctor" page.  Do you see a Dr. Brytney Cobia listed there?  Funny - neither do I.  The only "Cobia" listed is a Dr. Miles Cobia, a neurologist.  In fact, a general Internet search for "Dr. Brytney Cobia" reveals only her article and comments about it - nothing else.  I find that highly suspicious when we're dealing with a medical practitioner.  Surely her practice, or membership of a group practice, should show up somewhere?

EDITED TO ADD:  It appears that the above paragraph was based on wrong information, and/or I misinterpreted or misunderstood the information that was available.  My thanks to the readers who pointed that out in Comments, and my apologies to all concerned.  I've left the original text in place, but struck through, so that others can see what was said and thus understand the comments that were made, but know that it no longer applies.

American Thinker finds that Dr. Cobia's claims are not supported by official data.

Tucker Carlson points out that "this isn't about the science", because the official shibboleth comes apart at the seams when one examines actual, hard data.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

In Los Angeles, officials brought back the mask mandate when COVID cases moved up so slightly it's hard even to measure the rise on a chart. That's the so-called "spike" they cited as justification is barely noticeable on a chart. Do politicians in Los Angeles know something we don't know? We can't be sure. We do know, fairly certainly, the news media are lying about science in order to justify the new restrictions. Why would they want to do that? We have no idea.

But here’s one example: In Florida, the Sun-Sentinel newspaper recently ran this headline. "New COVID cases nearly double in Florida – the worst in the nation." Holy smokes. Better run to Georgia.

And to show how scary this is, they included a chart that shows an uptick in positive test results, and it looked terrifying. But those are the test results. But actually, who cares? What matters is the harm. What they didn't include is the chart showing COVID deaths. I wonder why? Because those are near zero. That’s a very different picture, and it’s the one that actually matters.

It wasn't long ago that all of us understood that. People like Tony Fauci, in fact, told us the goal was keeping people from dying from COVID. That sounded reasonable to everybody. That’s why they said we needed the vaccine. That’s why millions took the vaccine. Now that they have taken the vaccine, politicians have decided that actually, they can’t part with the enormous, unprecedented amounts of power they’ve amassed over the last year, so they’re going to keep ordering us AROUND, regardless of the science.

. . .

Rochelle Walensky is an actual doctor. She's the director of the CDC.  She went to Harvard. She’s never been elected to anything, but in a pandemic like this, her word is law. It’s more powerful than anything Congress produces. She’s her own federal agency. In fact, on a continuum, she sits somewhere between king and God. So read carefully as Rochelle Walensky tells you that COVID is killing twice as many children as influenza.

WALENSKY: I think it’s really important for people to understand that this is not a benign disease compared to other diseases our kids see. If you look at the mortality rate of COVID, just this past year for children, it's more than twice the mortality rate that we see in influenza in a given year.

So, you’re not supposed to question that, and we didn’t really dare to check those numbers, because who are we to check the numbers from an unelected federal bureaucrat when she’s commanding us to obey. So we didn’t, we just took it at face value. 

But a columnist called Phil Kerpen, who’s a columnist and had some free time, decided to check the CDC numbers on what the CDC director claimed on CNN.   

What did he find? He found that the CDC director has no idea what she’s talking about.  

From 2019 to 2020, according to the CDC, a total of 124 children died of COVID. From 2020 to 2021, 213 children died of COVID. By comparison, influenza killed more than 400 children just last year. In fact, that was not an abberation. Influenza has killed far more children than COVID has in each of the past five years. It's not even close. 

And that's assuming the CDC's numbers on child deaths from COVID are accurate, and it looks like they’re not. In a recent report, the CDC itself acknowledges it could be vastly over-reporting the number of children who are dying from COVID. The CDC report states that, when considering everyone who died of COVID, roughly 2.5% of those who died had a co-existing medical condition unrelated to their deaths. But for children under the age of 18, that number is dramatic – over 35% of children who died from COVID had what the CDC calls an "unrelated medical condition."

In other words, more than a third of children who are listed on the official records as dying from COVID had comorbidity that the CDC assures us cannot possibly be connected to COVID. But it appears, upon closer examination, the comorbidities might in fact be related to the deaths of those children.

. . .

This is insane. Who is going to get up and say so? No one so far. Instead, the floor is left to Rochelle Walensky and people like her: manipulators of data and liars.

. . .

If you want us to have confidence in your medicine, then tell us the full truth. But they won’t. They've been telling us for six months the vaccine is perfect. But clearly, in some cases, it doesn’t work.

. . .

The other day, Pfizer's purchase agreement with the Albanian government leaked on the internet. One of many fascinating excerpts from that document, lots of legalese. But between it all, lots of quotes like this:   

"Purchaser acknowledges the long-term effects and efficacy of the Vaccine are not currently known and that there may be adverse effects of the Vaccine that are not currently known."

Reassuring? What are those effects? And why don’t we know? And why can’t we ask? No one is pausing to ask questions at this moment, though. That’s not allowed.

More at the link.

Fake tweets, fake news articles, fake "official pronouncements".  The powers that be are trying to herd us like scared sheep - and those who can't or won't think for themselves are allowing themselves to be herded.

For our lives' sake (literally), we'd better make sure we're not among them.


Thursday, July 29, 2021

Oh - about that inflation thing...


... if you've been wondering how bad price increases are getting, here's an infographic from CNN that puts things nicely (?) in perspective.  Click the image for a larger view.

June's consumer price index, calculated on a year-over-year basis, gives those figures.  If you take the time to calculate the average percentage increase across all those products and services, year-on-year, it comes to 23%.

Twenty-three per cent.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Sure, many of us won't be in the market - yet - for some of those products and services, so some of those increases won't affect us for now.  Nevertheless, averaged across all those sectors of the economy, that's the reality of what we're seeing.  Those who claim that things may get as bad as in the Jimmy Carter years are being extremely hopeful, but they're already out of date.  If this continues, we'll look on the Jimmy Carter years as having been havens of economic stability.

It's going to get worse before it gets better - and it won't get better under this feckless, spendthrift, incompetent, illegitimate, abysmally ideological administration.  Brace yourselves.


The insanity of "woke" medicine


Would you expect your doctor or medical practitioner to treat you according to their preconceived quasi-political notions of what it means to be "masculine" or "feminine", irrespective of your biological sex?  Would you expect them to treat you according to protocols that are not only ineffective for your biological sex, but potentially actually harmful?  You might get that, whether you like it or not, if current trends in the American medical establishment go unchecked.

In two recent articles, Katie Herzog, hosted by Bari Weiss on her Substack page, has tackled this problem head-on.  The first is titled "What Happens When Doctors Can't Tell the Truth?"

I’ve heard from doctors who’ve been reported to their departments for criticizing residents for being late. (It was seen by their trainees as an act of racism.) I’ve heard from doctors who’ve stopped giving trainees honest feedback for fear of retaliation. I’ve spoken to those who have seen clinicians and residents refuse to treat patients based on their race or their perceived conservative politics.

Some of these doctors say that there is a “purge” underway in the world of American medicine: question the current orthodoxy and you will be pushed out. They are so worried about the dangers of speaking out about their concerns that they will not let me identify them except by the region of the country where they work. 

“People are afraid to speak honestly,” said a doctor who immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union. “It’s like back to the USSR, where you could only speak to the ones you trust.” If the authorities found out, you could lose your job, your status, you could go to jail or worse. The fear here is not dissimilar. 

When doctors do speak out, shared another, “the reaction is savage. And you better be tenured and you better have very thick skin.”

“We’re afraid of what's happening to other people happening to us,” a doctor on the West Coast told me. “We are seeing people being fired. We are seeing people's reputations being sullied. There are members of our group who say, ‘I will be asked to leave a board. I will endanger the work of the nonprofit that I lead if this comes out.’ People are at risk of being totally marginalized and having to leave their institutions.” 

While the hyper focus on identity is seen by many proponents of social justice ideology as a necessary corrective to America’s past sins, some people working in medicine are deeply concerned by what “justice” and “equity” actually look like in practice.

“The intellectual foundation for this movement is the Marxist view of the world, but stripped of economics and replaced with race determinism,” one psychologist explained. “Because you have a huge group of people, mostly people of color, who have been underserved, it was inevitable that this model was going to be applied to the world of medicine. And it has been.”  

“Wokeness feels like an existential threat,” a doctor from the Northwest said. “In health care, innovation depends on open, objective inquiry into complex problems, but that’s now undermined by this simplistic and racialized worldview where racism is seen as the cause of all disparities, despite robust data showing it’s not that simple.”

“Whole research areas are off-limits,” he said, adding that some of what is being published in the nation’s top journals is “shoddy as hell.”

There's more at the link.

The second article is titled "Med Schools Are Now Denying Biological Sex".

In 2019, the New England Journal of Medicine reported the case of a 32-year-old transgender man who went to an ER complaining of abdominal pain. While the patient disclosed he was transgender, his medical records did not. He was simply a man. The triage nurse determined that the patient, who was obese, was in pain because he’d stopped taking a medication meant to relieve hypertension. This was no emergency, she decided. She was wrong: The patient was, in fact, pregnant and in labor. By the time hospital staff realized that, it was too late. The baby was dead. And the patient, despite his own shock at being pregnant, was shattered.

To Dana Beyer, a trans activist in Maryland who is also a retired surgeon, such stories illustrate how vital it is that sex, not just gender identity — how someone perceives their gender — is taken into consideration in medicine. “The practice of medicine is based in scientific reality, which includes sex, but not gender,” Beyer says. “The more honest a patient is with their physician, the better the odds for a positive outcome.”

The denial of sex doesn’t help anyone, perhaps least of all transgender patients who require special treatment. But, Lauren says, instructors who discuss sex risk complaints from their students — which is why, she thinks, many don’t. “I think there’s a small percentage of instructors who are true believers. But most of them are probably just scared of their students,” she says.

And for good reason. Her medical school hosts an online forum in which students correct their instructors for using terms like “male” and “female” or “breastfeed” instead of “chestfeed.” Students can lodge their complaints in real time during lectures. After one class, Lauren says, she heard that a professor was so upset by students calling her out for using “male” and “female” that she started crying.

Then there are the petitions. At the beginning of the year, students circulated a number of petitions designed to, as Lauren puts it, “name and shame” instructors for “wrongspeak.” 

One was delivered after a lecture on chromosomal disorders in which the professor used the pronouns “she” and “her” as well as the terms “father” and “son,” all of which, according to the students, are “cisnormative.”

. . .

This hypersensitivity is undermining medical training. And many of these students are likely not even aware that their education is being informed by ideology. 

“Take abdominal aortic aneurysms,” Lauren says. “These are four times as likely to occur in males than females, but this very significant difference wasn’t emphasized. I had to look it up, and I don’t have the time to look up the sex predominance for the hundreds of diseases I’m expected to know. I’m not even sure what I’m not being taught, and unless my classmates are as skeptical as I am, they probably aren’t aware either.” 

Other conditions that present differently and at different rates in males and females include hernias, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and asthma, among many others. Males and females also have different normal ranges for kidney function, which impacts drug dosage. They have different symptoms during heart attacks: males complain of chest pain, while women experience fatigue, dizziness, and indigestion. In other words: biological sex is a hugely important factor in knowing what ails patients and how to properly treat them.

Again, more at the link.

I highly recommend reading both articles in full, and watching Bari Weiss' Substack account for more of them.  Then, armed with that knowledge, assess your medical practitioners from a coldly logical, practical perspective.  Are they treating you for who and what you are, physically and biologically?  Or are they forcing you into an ideological pigeon-hole?  If the latter, I can only suggest that you find another medical practitioner at once, if not sooner.

If these views ever come to dominate medical praxis in the USA, getting older isn't going to be a problem for most of us.  We'll be dead through medical malpractice before we can reach that stage.

(For all I know, that may be part of the plan.  Dead people don't need Social Security or Medicare, after all.  It's cheaper for the state if we die young - and that may be the point!)


Wholesale shoplifting in California - possible solutions?


I note, with growing anger and irritation, that the authorities in California appear unwilling to do anything to stop the epidemic of shoplifting that's plaguing major cities in that state.

Retail thefts have been troubling major cities in recent months, forcing some stores to close their doors or limit operating hours.

Multiple incidents in California have been captured on camera, including a viral video from earlier this month that shows a group of shoplifters dashing out of a Neiman Marcus department store in San Francisco and jumping into idling getaway cars.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, another video that began circulating online last week appears to show two men in the suburb of Granda Hills casually leaving a TJ Maxx store with their arms full of items.

Authorities and retail officials in San Francisco have said that packs of shoplifters have regularly made off with merchandise to be resold.

Shoplifters aren't stealing "one or two items that someone might need to get by," San Francisco Police Department spokesman Robert Rueca told Fox News last week. "Our investigations have shown that there are organized fences where people are selling these products that they steal."

Millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise has been stolen from retailers in San Francisco, California Retail Association President Rachel Michelin told Fox News, adding that the funds from stolen items are ultimately used by crime syndicates.

There's more at the link.

It seems that District Attorneys in that state - backed up by ultra-liberal town and city councils - have decided not to prosecute thefts involving a value of less than $950 or thereabouts.  The result, inevitably, has been an explosion of such thefts.

During the rioting and looting last year, this meme was doing the rounds:

I think it's high time California passed a similar law directed against shoplifters.  If they're on any sort of government benefit, state or federal, at the time of their offense, then after conviction they should forfeit any and all rights to such benefits for the rest of their lives.  Instead, that money should go into a fund to reimburse the victims of their crimes.

Another thing.  District Attorneys and prosecutors who refuse to indict the criminals involved should immediately forfeit their jobs, be disbarred from legal work, and be banned from holding any public office, elected or appointed, for the rest of their lives.

Do those two things, and I reckon the epidemic of shoplifting in California would vanish almost overnight.


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Very useful advice from someone who knows


I have to give a shout-out to the blogger at "Come And Make It".  He's an American living in the Philippines, who writes about life there and its challenges.  In the process, he often comes up with nuggets of useful information that can be really handy in the First World too.  I don't agree with all his views, but he frequently makes me think.

For example, his latest blog post is titled "Cooking Rice And Other Esoteric Prepper Subjects".  Here's an excerpt.

One thing that I have learned the hard way, after living on the tropical island, is the subject of rice.

Parboiled, Arkansas, Jasmine, Basmati, Sushi, Calrose.  There are so many damn rices out there.  How the hell does a white boy summer choose?

So as a guy who has pretty much ate his way thru the rice eating world.  From Stuttgart Arkansas, to Middle East to Philippines.  This is the hard won education I shall impart to you.

Asians including the Indian subcontinent flavor ALL wash their rice before use.  

This is two reasons.  First of all, Asian rice is harvested and dried on the damn highway.  As in ******* asphalt highway with cars driving over that **** at 65mph.  So after the brown rice fresh outta the combine is dried, it goes thru the mill and comes out as white rice.

The funky bits of stones, asphalt, and whatever ******* gots to be washed out of your pot of food.

So enter the rice wash routine.

HOWEVR, even if your rice comes all esoteric organic ******* clean first worlds handling you still gotta wash that rice.

The reason being is that you are washing out the starch from the outer bits of the rice.

This is the starch that makes your rice taste mushy and like ****.

Wash it off.  The Japanese will soak their rice overnight to get rid of that starch, leaving behind a lot more chewy protein.

Second of all.  Acid...  Japanese who have mastered the eating of rice to atomic physics levels, add in a bit of vinegar to their rice and the gourmets add in a bit of sugar too.

Acid will transform your ****** rice into something chewy and delicious.  Not like American style rice that is basically chunky gravy bits of starch.

There's more at the link.

He's not joking about rice being dried on the highway, with trucks and cars driving over it.  I've personally witnessed that in the Third World.  If you look at the foreign, more esoteric brands of rice available in stores like Oriental food markets, just bear in mind, the odds are very good that it was dried in that way - and it may not have been adequately cleaned afterwards.  His advice is worth following.

Another recent article was titled "Long Shelf Life Food Storage".

Chest freezers are handy for storing long term.  However not the things one would typically think about freezing.  Rather your dry goods.

Living on the tropical island, I have had to store many dry goods in the freezer to keep ants out of it. 

Things like Sugar, spices, boullion, cocoa powder, etc.

So I made a list of items that can have the shelf life extended indefinitely by putting in the freezer.

Also if your electricity does go out and you have taken care not to have frost build up in the freezer, likely you will not lose any food even for months of no power.

So here is my list, and it is not exhaustive, rather just to get your mind going.

dried chiles and chile flake
beef jerky
dried cured meats
dried diced onion
powdered juice drinks
veg oil
baking powder
dried fruits and veggies
cocoa powder
chocolate (needs vacuum sealing also)
instant mashed potato flakes
pudding mix
skim milk powder
Dried fish

Many of these things should be vacuum packed and then probably overbag with mylar or wrapped in alum foil then vacuum packed to prevent odors from evaporating.  Many volatile compounds in foods can and will evaporate thru plastic.

Again, more at the link.

In other blog posts he talks about the impact of monsoon rains, the trials and tribulations of running a small manufacturing business in the Third World, his experiences with solar power, bureaucratic inefficiency, institutionalized corruption, and a host of other topics that aren't usually discussed outside that environment.  It's a useful perspective to understand how the vast majority of the world's population lives.

If you haven't looked at "Come And Make It" before, give it a try.  You might enjoy it.


Substack is worth a look for truly independent news and views


I found myself nodding in vehement agreement to an article titled "Substack: Last, Best Hope for Free Speech".

The promise of the Internet was that it would be a sort of Speaker’s Corner open to anybody and any ideas, an unlimited vista of imagination and innovation. In the 1990s it heralded a breathtaking advance for humanity, which had always been constrained by the distribution costs for ideas, which in turn created an oligarchy of information. If you didn’t own one of the handful of newspapers, magazines or television or radio stations in a given city, you had very little chance of reaching much of an audience. Pre-internet, the accepted cliche was, “Never argue with a man who buys his ink by the barrel.” Consider the title by which Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst and Rupert Murdoch were known: “press barons.” The rest of us were their vassals.

So the internet was a democratic revolution. For a while. Today, though, a huge proportion of ideas flows through just a few tightly controlled pipelines owned by the e-barons who rule Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Google. The tech lords simply shrug at anyone who protests when they ban books, movies, newspapers, business bloggers, medical discussions and even a sitting president of the United States, which is what Donald Trump was when he was kicked off Facebook and Twitter. He continues to be banned from both platforms even as a private citizen, although the initial rationale was that he must be prevented from reaching an audience because he commanded the armed forces.

For those whose epistemology boils down to: Let everything be discussed, and may the best ideas win, it’s essential to build a safe haven for  free exchange of ideas. Just in the past few months, Substack has emerged as that platform. To call it a breath of fresh air would be an understatement; it’s more like a blast of pure oxygen after emerging from a coal mine. Legacy outlets such as New York magazine and the New York Times, and even sites built specifically to challenge existing narratives such as Vox and The Intercept, have driven out some of their most talented people, but they’re all having the last laugh on Substack, where they are finding large and receptive audiences — and in some cases are startled to suddenly find themselves among the highest-paid columnists in the United States.

There are Substack newsletters about running, Hollywood, basketball, art, food, wine, money, sex and lots of other subjects, but the platform’s greatest value is in publishing thinkers who challenge the intellectual ruling class.

There's more at the link.

I strive to read widely about issues, and learn about them from both sides of the political aisle.  Substack hosts independent journalists who offer facts and honest opinions about them, with whom I can engage even if I don't share their perspective.  Two of them are Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi, both (IMHO) worth the subscription to view their content regularly.  There are many others, of course;  see, for example, Substack's listing of its most popular news sites and contributors.  You'll find other topics listed at the site's home page under the heading "Who Writes on Substack?"  (I must admit, even without having looked at it in any detail, I'm intrigued by the site named "Affirmation Chickens" and its "positive poultry message".  Why did the chicken cross the road?  To be affirmed?)

I've been looking for a way to fund and support this blog and my writing without appearing to gouge my readers for money all the time.  I haven't used a blog "tip jar" for that reason.  Our recent gun raffles have helped - my grateful thanks to all of you who've supported them.  I'm thinking about some sort of Substack subscription newsletter, allied to this blog but not replacing it, where I could go into more detail about things that interest me, but wouldn't necessarily be useful to casual blog readers.  I could also put up regular excerpts from books I'm writing, discuss the writing world and developments there, and so on.  I don't know whether I'll proceed with that or not, but it's definitely worth thinking about.

If you haven't checked out Substack for yourself, I suggest it's worth a look.  Many of its contributors offer free previews of their work, so you don't have to pay up front to see what's available.  Just click on the "Let me read it first" line on the front page, and many will allow you a preview.  Also, if you'd be interested in supporting a newsletter from me on Substack, please let me know in Comments.  I'd like to gauge the potential level of support.  Thanks!