Saturday, June 29, 2002

It looks like Jane's Defence thinks that most of the Homeland Alerts are bunk.

To paraphrase.....

"Al-Qaeda's modus operandi is low tech. Convey an explosive to the target and explode it.

"Al-Qaeda and it's cells have had plenty of oppurtunity to source illicit nuclear (or chemical or biological) material, plus the financial means to acquire it. But there simply appears to be no evidence that it ever did so."

Read the whole thing. They make a good case that the ever more hysterical Terrorist Alerts are just a bunch of flummery.

Wann see something really cool? Here's a web page where some high school students are selling paper airplanes that fly by flapping their wings. You send them money, they send you the kit. You put the toy together. They're powered by rubber bands. It's just the thing if your kid is smart and interested in flight.

They have a few models to choose from. Look around and see if you want to buy something.

It seems that a Belgian artist named Wim Delvoye has come up with a machine named Cloaca (Latin for "sewer"). The machine consists of a garbage disposal and six glass bottles linked by rubber hoses. This machine cost a whopping $200,000.00 US.

It works like this. Twice a day a happy meal is ground up in the diposal and sent through the glass bottles. Each bottle mimics a stage in the digestive track. Every 11 hours a turd comes out of the last bottle. The turd has been tested in a laboratory and has been found to be identical to human feces.

The machine is being exhibited at the New York Museum of Contemporary Art (why did I just know that the New York art community was involved in this somehow?). Twice a day visitors are treated to the sight of a machine taking a dump.

Heck, I would have done the same thing for less than $200,000.00 US. And the end result would have passed every laboratory test as well.

Just in is this news story. Naval vessels of the South and North Korean navies clashed. You can find a bit more content at CNN. It would appear that some patrol boats from the North crossed a disputed territory boundry and started shooting. One South Korean vessel was sunk, with four South Korean sailors dead, eighteen wounded and one missing (probably dead).

So what does this mean for the two Koreas? Is it a portent of war?

Probably not. After all, there's been a lot worse. Six years ago North Korea used a submarine to land 26 heavily armed commandos in South Korea. All of the North Korean troops were captured or killed in a few days, but they got in to a couple of gun fights with police along the way.

Serious as this is (a commando group landing on your soil and shootin' people up), the two Koreas didn't go to war then. I'm pretty sure that they won't go to war over this little incident.

So, why did North Korea do this, anyway? Haven't a clue. It doesn't seem as though they have anything to gain. But it could be just an isolated incident, something that a local commander decided to do without asking for permission. That's certainly possible. And N. Korea must be feeling the pressure after Pres. Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech.

We'll just have to wait and see what develops, I suppose.

Yesterday I posted this timeless bit of wisdom. I was talking about how China might just have an AIDS epidemic on it's hands in a few years, with as many as ten million people infected by 2010. Then I talked about the Chinese government's fondness for "traditional medicines" as an alternative to stuff that, you know, actually works.

Today we have this reply from the Chinese gov. They say that they reject the U.N.'s conclusions, and that the problem will be taken care of by their new 5 year plan (the Chinese are rather fond of five year plans. The official line seems to be that the U.N. just doesn't understand China.

Friday, June 28, 2002

Last week I wrote this post where I discussed China's gender gap. Due to the "One Child Policy" and the Chinese culture's bias towards male children, China now has 40 million more males than females.

Toady I came across news that China faces an AIDS epidemic. There might be as many as ten million infected people by 2010.

This isn't really new. As seen by this BBC item, there might be as many as 1 million people who've died of AIDS in the past 15 years. But now the Chinese government has taken notice. They think the problem is so severe that they just opened a website with info on AIDS prevention. Some might say that it's an example of too little, too late. But at least they're trying.

One of the problems that China faces is the reliance on "traditional" or "alternative" medical techniques. From all of the data gathered in a reliable way, it would seem that traditional Chinese methods don't help you live any longer than you would if you didn't bother to seek any treatment at all. But you'll die happier because your house smells better from all of the burning herbs and your chi will be in balance (whatever that means). So why does the Chinese government promote these methods when they're obviously useless in the face of even simple infection?

Modern medicine is a very sophisticated discipline, requiring a great deal of resources and technology. Resources that China doesn't have. Traditional medicine at least keeps the proles happy. Although people in the West who suffer from HIV are now living longer lives with the disease, it's only because of sophisticated drugs and other treatments. China just doesn't have the means to produce the material at the volume needed.

Now we'll see if Megan McArdle will mention this post. If she does then I'm sure that there will be a lively discussion in the Comments her blog.

It seems that Malaysia is putting out the bucks to buy two brand new Scorpene "conventional attack submarines". Considering that subs are used to scout enemy controlled waters, destroy the enemy's merchant vessels, and ambush enemy warships we can see that Malaysia needs these warships because..........

Well, just because, dammit!

Heck, it's their money. Even if there's no real reason for it, they can buy some submarines if they want to.

Take a look at this protective suit that's being developed by the U.S. Army. It's a high tech ABC suit that has many of the features found in the Land Warrior system. This is a necessary part of development, since we have no idea when an enemy will decide to use poison gas.

But does it have to look so retro?

More news from Jane's Defence. A test aircraft modified to carry the Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) weapon system. It's a laser that is supposed to shoot down missiles at their point of launch, hopefully so the missile and the payload fall back to earth on the launcher's territory. Another use for the weapon is to blind enemy satellites and sensor arrays.

This is very interesting because of the way the beam is focused, and the way the power for the beam is generated. It seems that a series of flexible lenses will focus the beam, similar to the way that light entering the human eye is focused (but this lght will be emerging from the "eye"). The energy for the laser will come from mixing chemicals at the time of firing. This means that the system can do away with heavy capacitors and batteries which would otherwise make the weapon too heavy to fly in an aircraft. But it also means that the plane will have to land and take on more ammunition every twenty or forty shots.

The weapon won't be ready for at least another two years. Can't wait to see if it works.

This has been under development for about ten years. I'm certainly interested to see if it actually works. The plane is set to fly, but the laser weapon is still being developed.

From Jane's Defence comes this article about a new (almost) supersonic transport proposed by Boeing. Instead of a large aircraft like the Concorde, the Boeing aircraft will be about half the size. Instead of breaking the sound barrier, the new plane will just bend it a little, cruising at 0.98 Mach.

This is pretty neato stuff. Breaking the barrier produces greater shock, stresses and drag then just coming close. This would mean high-speed transport for about twice the fuel costs that jets now use. But is it worth it?

The author of the article doesn't seem to think so. Neither do I. Traditional jets routinely cruise at around 0.855 Mach (567 MPH, or 907 KPH). The new aircraft would cruise around 652 MPH (1043 KPH). An extra 80 MPH for double the cost of a seat? This would mean that a direct flight from New York to Los Angeles would only take 4 hours and 40 minutes, instead of 5 hours 30 minutes. Is it worth spending twice as much to save 50 minutes?

Boeing thinks that it is. And they think enough people will agree with them to make this a profitable venture.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Many bloggers are talking about the recent court decision where the Pledge of Allegiance was declared un-Constitutional because of the words "Under God". What the heck, I decided to add my own little voice to the debate.

My whole feelings about the Pledge of Allegiance are pretty much summed up in the first two paragraphs of this post by davidmsc. I think that having children swear loyalty to our country or flag is most definately un-American. Smacks of totalitarianism, and it's always made me uncomfortable even if I never thought it was a very big deal.

As I understand it, the words "Under God" were added in the 1950's to catch Communist agents living in the United States (Them Reds are all atheists! We'll just watch and slap the cuffs on anyone who doesn't say the words!). But, no matter how silly the reason for the inclusion, it's now become a tradition and I don't see why anyone should mess around with it. Someone complaining about it now is just as silly as using the Pledge to catch them thar Commies.

Still, the decision against the Pledge is the right one.

Many people are pretty angry at the decision (even the Pres). They're using all sorts of bad language to voice their displeasure. But that's just becuase they happen to be Christians. If a teacher made a pre-school class bow down to Mecca when they got the mats out for nap time the same people would be just as vocal, just as displeased. If school started each day with a pledge to try and heal the damage that White Male Christian values did to Mother Earth the same people would be screaming bloody murder. And that's where the problem lies.

Not everyone is Christian. The guys that are upset are claiming that someone is picking on them, dissing their beliefs. But forcing every child in public schools to take part in a Christian ritual (no matter how small) could very well be discriminating against someone's alternative belief. Forcing children to swear allegiance smacks of totalitarianism, and complaining against the decision based on religious grounds smacks of intolerance (My Christian religion or nothing! The rest of you are nothing but filthy heathens anyway!).

So that's my take on it. It's silly to change it, it's silly to protest the change, and we should just get rid of the whole sorry thing.

A few days ago I posted this tale about how an unarmed American plane in World War II managed to damage and capture a German plane. I ended the post by saying that it was a good enough reason to let commercial pilots arm themselves.

Today I noticed this news article, which states that a House panel approved a plan to allow 1,400 commercial pilots to arm themselves.

I'm wondering how far my influence will go. So today I'm suggesting that they carve another face on Mt. Rushmore.....MINE!!

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

World War II artillery units didn't just shoot some shells into the air and hope for the best. They had to have observers tell them where the enemy was, and then tell the cannon cockers how to adjust their aim when the shooting started.

One of the ways that this was accomplished was through the use of small, unarmed aircraft. The Americans used the Piper Cub, a slow moving plane that could loiter around a battlefield and watch to see where the exploding shells were landing. Obviously, if an enemy fighter plane could spot the small, slow and flimsy observer plane then it would soon be over. The artillery abservers were essentially helpless.

One day in 1945 an American Piper Cub named the Miss Me was circling a battlefield and radioing corrections back to the artillery. Suddenly they spotted a lone German spotter plane doing the same thing for the other side. Pissed off at being a target all of the time, the two man crew of the Miss Me drew their sidearms and dived on the German plane, guns pop pop popping out of the windows.

By some incredible twist of fate they managed to actually hit the German plane. By some even more incredible chance the round went through the instrument panel, causing a small fire. The Germans made an emergency landing.

The Americans landed right behind them. The startled Germans looked up from putting the fire out to see two GI's pointing some really big pistols at them.

The moral of the story? Don't really have one, it's just a neat story. I suppose I could say that it proves that it's a good idea to let American pilots arm themselves.

Monday, June 24, 2002

About three weeks ago Davidmsc posted some thoughts about hunting. And about not hunting. Now I sincerely don't want to offend Davidmsc (not the least because he's one of the few blogs that link to me), but he's been very succinct in stating the arguements that most anti-hunters like to use.

Davidmsc is very honest in stating that he doesn't understand hunting. In fact it's pretty clear that he's against the whole thing. He even goes on to state that he's not against the right of people to enjoy the hobby but he also describes hunting itself as bloodlust, bizarre, something that is boring. Then he points out that he'll be taking pictures of wildlife when he moves to Montana.

Like most people uncomfortable with the idea of hunting Davidmsc focuses on the act of killing. This is the point of the hunt and it's a disappointment if a season should go by without any game being harvested. But the main motivation for hunting is the same as for the most ardent anti-hunter: a love of the wild places.

Most people dream of being able to walk for days without hearing anything except birdsong and the wind. Or to wake up and crawl out of the tent to find that a blanket of snow had fallen during the night, and not a single man made track was to be seen. Those with a great deal with imagination would think about standing on a mountain with the whole world spread out in front of them, watching dark clouds move in and knowing with certainty that they could die if they didn'tt find shelter before the storm hit.

It sounds like an novel from 1900 with a gentleman adventurer risking life and limb in darkest Africa. But it happened in the U.S., and it happened to me. I'm a hunter.

Hunting goes beyond a love of the wild. It's also absolutely necessary to preserve wildlife. There's an image that most people have of wildlife living in idyllic splendor, of magnificent creatures in perfect harmony with their surroundings. This is bunk. Like any other organisms, game creatures will breed beyond their food supply. Weakened by starvation and the stress of overpopulation makes large game animals particularly vulnerable to disease. There's simply no where for the game animals to go, since highways and roads, urban sprawl, and industry all block migration routes. In fact, except for some large Western states there isn't any place where deer CAN migrate. Every time an anti-hunter marvels at the sight of a deer they're ignoring the fact that hunting is responsible for preserving the population of large animals.

But it even goes beyond that. All of these State parks are supported in a large measure by fees that hunters have to pay. Unless an anti-hunter is making a contribution to the State agency responsible for wildlife preservation they are freeloading off of hunters every time they step on public land in search of wildlife to photograph. Even Federal parks and public lands, while not supported by hunting fees, still have to manage their wildlife population exactly the same way that State parks do.

The refrain most often heard from the anti-hunters is that photography can take the place of hunting. The great outdoors can be enjoyed and images of wild creatures can be taken. But consider: how much would it cost to buy a camera, and how much would it cost for lenses and accessories that are necessary to capture elusive game animals on film? It's very possible to outfit a hunter for $300.00 or less. Most of the gear will last for years, if not generations. I happen to own a rifle that was made in 1897, and it still shoots as straight as ever. Many hunters are still using the guns that their grandfathers owned. This means that hunting is a sport that's within the means of practically everyone. That simply can't be said of photography. After all, there's a very down to earth reasons why many low income families hunt and very few are avid photographers.

Does this mean that I think anti-hunters are elitists? Yeah, pretty much. Although I have to point out that it's probably due to a lack of empathy more than anything else. For example, Davidmsc states that he can see the appeal of a hunter eating what he kills because it's "easier than finding a decent restaurant" that serves wild game. But the one thing that he doesn't seem to realize is that game restaurants have prices that have to be seen to be believed, placing a meal featuring wild game outside the means of even a middle class family. A low income family can have a few hundred pounds of meat in the freezer through hunting, and that could mean the difference between having a little meat in the stew for six months or just eating mac-and-cheese. Those that don't understand how hunters can find their sport to be exciting can certainly understand the appeal of feeding the kids.

But the main reason for hunting is to have the oppurtunity to see and do things that most of us never can. Chances are that the majority of us will die in a hospital with tubes stuck in our arms. For many of us it will be a time of sadness, of wondering if we could have done something different with our lives.

Not for me. It's true that I've never done anything memorable, nothing to make the history books. But I've had moments where, if I squint real hard, I can feel a little bit like a real Victorian adventurer.

That's enough for anyone.