Monday, January 31, 2005

Remember the San Francisco 

Gentleman, this is what happens when steel meets rock at high speed.

A few answers I can give for anticipated possible questions:

Q: What's that blue tarp doing there?
A: The Navy wants to provide as much information as possible, consistent with our nation's history of openness, without giving away classified information. Under that tarp is one of the ship's sonar arrays. I'm sure it is extremely mangled as well, but there is no reason to provide open source photographs to whomever may be interested in its shape, size, configuration, wiring, placement, etc.

Q: It says they hit a sea mountain. Why didn't they detect it before they hit?
A: The ship was reported to be traveling at Flank speed (i.e. maximum speed). I will assume the reader understands that submarines (except research vessels) are not outfitted with visual ports as they are of minimal value and degrade watertight integrity. I will also assume the reader understands the principles of active sonar (i.e. ping and listen). Above certain speeds the utility of active sonar is degraded by the fact that the water rushing over the hull is so loud you can't hear the echo anyway. Additionally, fathometers (i.e. depth finders) are tuned assuming a certain speed range. If you go too fast you basically pass the reflected sound before it reaches you. Short answer: there was no way to detect it given the operting parameters.

Q: Well, isn't it on the chart.
A: The reports have emphasized it was an uncharted sea mount, but it is important to understand this in context. Some places in the world have been traversed so much and the depths of the water have been sounded so often that the charted soundings have been checked and verified to the point of near absoluteness (for example, the Mediteranean Sea). Other bodies of water, however, have been relatively seldomly traveled and sometimes not by ships well equipped to accurately determine the soundings. In the Arctic Ocean, for example, the Navy posesses several classified charts since the line of soundings visible clearly indicate the paths our submarines have traversed. Likewise, in parts of the South Pacific an entire chart may have a couple of dozen clear lines of soundings, some literally from Capt. Cook, and the rest of the chart will simply be blank. I haven't looked at the location the accident occurred, but it would not surprise me to see a low sounding density.

Q: If that's the case, what were they doing going so fast? Wasn't it dangerous?
A: I don't know specifically what they were doing other than conducting a high speed transit, a fairly routine activity. If there were circumstances that should have advised against the chosen course and speed the investigation should reveal them. And yes, it was dangerous, but submarining is itself a dangerous and often thankless profession. Comparatively speaking, running at a Flank bell in open ocean is so much safer than any number of other, more fun, things that submarines do it hardly merits mention. My assumption at this point, absent further information, is that the dice just came up wrong for the San Fran on that particular day.

CDR Mooney and his crew lived up to the history of the force, brought everybody home but one and did it on their own power. The Captain has been reassigned during the investigation, as is customary in these cases, but regardless of any possible errors leading up to the event (and I've seen nothing so far to indicate there were any), his peformance in crisis was second to none. One thing that has always defined the submarine force is its brotherhood and cohesion. Chief among the reasons for this is the increadible interdependence of each crew member of every other. Too often when there is a casualty abord a submarine it is an all-hands evolution. While all submariners share the loss of MM2 Ashley, they also know how close San Fran came to going three section with Thresher and Scorpion.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Just Doing My Job Ma'am 

I tire of all the tales about the homophobic DoD hunting down and kicking out its finest just because they're gay, especially when it's not true. In the article by Deroy Murdock, Pentagon's ouster of valuable translators continues, a piece that received the attention of both Instapundit and Evan Coyne Maloney, the only specific case of discharge cited is described below (emphasis added):
"In November, after a year of increasing discomfort, he handed his commander, Capt. James Finnochiaro, a written statement of his homosexuality. Finkenbinder was honorably discharged last month."
OK, let me get this straight. Operating under the very well publicized and known policy that has come to be known as "don't ask - don't tell," Sgt. Finkenbinder decides to "tell" and is then outraged that the the Army responds as it is legally obliged to do. Yes, you read me right, legally obliged. You see, under federal law, it is still illegal for known homosexuals to serve in the Armed Forces. Now before anyone says "see, I told you the DoD was homophobic" let me remind you of one key point. The DoD can set its policy, but only Congress can change the law.

While it may be true that many in the DoD and in the services themselves don't want to open the door wide to openly gay service members, some out of prejudice but most, I believe, out of sincere concern for good order, discipline and force effectiveness, if Congress changed the law tomorrow I have no doubt every branch would almost immediately form working groups to develop both training and programs to make it work. Because that's what the DoD and the Armed Services do, follow the orders of the civilian leadership in the government.

So why, then, whenever you read a story about poor Timmy who got booted out for violating the terms of his contract the disdain, outrage and indignation is always directed at the Army, Navy, DoD, etc? I think it's because of two main reasons. First, for many on the left end of the political perspective, the region most gay-rights activists call home, the "Military" represents all that is evil and scary in the US government. The power, the secrecy, the guns and killing, I mean, they must be the "bad guys," right? This then makes them the well spring from which all bad things politically must have their genesis. The second echoes back the truism I mentioned earlier: the DoD follows orders. As such, when the people they represent and serve hurl ad hominem attacks, they are more like to just take it and move on.

So, my recommendation to all who don't like the "don't ask - don't tell" policy is to stop wasting your time crying about members who do "tell" and then get what was promised when they signed up. And certainly stop trying to present it as if it were a witch hunt or pogram. If you really don't like it, dig in and fight the battle where it can be won, in the legislature. Because from where I stand, if you're not addressing the issue to someone who can do something about it you're just bitching.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Rathergate Report: Lacking Meat or Just the Facts? 

Well, there really is just one topic today, and if we were to witness the Second Coming, complete with CNN 24/7 coverage of the Whore of Babylon's arrival, at least half of the blogosphere wouldn't loose its step in pouring over and analyzing the (too) long anticipated report on Dan Rather's fateful 60 Minutes report.

Many blogs that tend to line up right of the line (or do so quite proudly) are left hungry for more striking findings from the report. For example, Hugh Hewitt uses the term "whitewash" and characterizes the language used as "an abdication by the Panel of the central question." Jim Geraghty (at the now anachronistically-named "Kerry Spot") concludes the investigation "did CBS and the readers of this report a disservice for not addressing [the political bias] issue a little tougher." Interestingly, while I do not regularly read more left-leaning blogs regularly, I did take a quick tour and the only mention I saw of the report was Oliver Willis' use of it to draw a (faulty) comparison between the four who lost their jobs at CBS over a "faulty report" and the fact the no one has lost their in the White House over "faulty intelligence." Go figure.

I'll admit on the front end that I haven't read the entire report, but the parts I've seen seem to be very focused on the facts uncovered. The checking and verification practices normally used to get a story like this to air that were not followed in this case constitute findings of facts. Why those practices weren't followed constitute opinion. I believe the clear decision to try and stick to facts was chosen not only to satisfy their employer (CBS) but also to try and create a document that was, in its conclusions, largely unassailable by both left and right. In short, I see this report not as the final word, but more as an agreed to framework within which all can begin discussion of opinion.

For example, while the report doesn't offer the red meat of a finding of political partisanship so strongly desired, it does offer sufficient agreed to facts that supporting such a claim with this document isn't that difficult. While not directly citing political bias, it does mention "a zealous belief in the truth of the segment [that] led many to disregard some fundamental journalistic principles." What, then could have been the cause for this zealous belief, a belief Dan Rather still has and expresses? Political bias is, of course, the most logical.

Do I think this report is the end-all, be-all wonder of the times? No, but I think it may be the best that could realistically have been hoped for. Personally, I would like nothing better than everyone in the entire CBS news organization that touched the story to be up in front of a grand jury answering for attempted election fraud, but I don't think there is such a crime, nor am I comfortable with a government that can do such a thing. It really is a no-win situation. That is not to say, however, that CBS doesn't loose too. Granted there are lots of people who base their news viewership upon who wears the nicest tie or has the best legs, and nothing that was ever to come from this report would have much affect upon them. But among the informed consumers of news, and especially network news and news programs, this report is just another reminder that these people can't be trusted.

The report certainly isn't perfect, but then again what is?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Slight of Hand, Misdirection and the Art of Rebuttal 

Instapundit notes a recent LAT OpEd, in which Max Boot reviews Osama and Voices of Iraq and levels some well-earned scorn toward the Hollywood establishment that conveniently turns a blind eye toward anything outside of its preconceived model of consciousness or cool. Glenn shows his evenhandedness by also citing Matthew Yglasias' rebuttal, but the real point here is that Matt's argument is largely against a strawman, and not even very strong for having picked his own target.

Matt's direct response to the statement that Max didn't "recall a single Hollywood feminist expressing gratitude to the U.S. military or its commander in chief for the liberation of Afghan women" is to take two specific individuals Max uses as examples of Hollywood feminists (Streisand and Sarandon) and pull out two minor events from Dec 2001 as proof of their patriotism, a matter never even mentioned by Max. Besides, if the best example Yglasias can find of Barbara Streisand's patriotism is that she sang a song for 9/11 victims two months after the event and that she "removed anti-Bush remarks in the interests of 'national unity'" the following month, well, I really wouldn't put that at the top of my resumé. Likewise, noting that Susan Sarandon raised money for the women of Afghanistan, 9/11 victims or even cured the common cold still doesn't do anything to rebut the personal recollection of Mr. Boot when it comes to the chirping crickets heard from Hollywood feminists concerning the role the US and specifically the Armed Forces played in securing women's' rights in that country.

Another strawman set up by Matt is "[t]he notion that the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan in order to help Afghan women," as this is a notion never presented nor even implied by Max's piece. In any event, even though the Allies in WWII did not go into Germany to free the Jews from the Concentration Camps none would deny that this noble event was a direct byproduct of Allied military action. Nor would they seem inclined to cast aspersion or scorn on the liberation simply because it was not the main purpose of the action. Why, then, is the bestowing of human rights upon the women of Afghanistan held differently?

Matt then continues his snipe hunt by defending feminists against yet another strawman argument, that Max somehow implied "feminists are or were unconcerned with the fate of Afghan women." Even if this was something Yglasias dealt with the the winter of 2001-2002, it seems completely irrelevant to Max's statement. Let's look, however, at where Matt directs us.

The Feminist Majority does indeed have articles and interest in the status and welfare of Afghan women prior to 2001. There is, however, a dramatic change in language that happens when they suddenly begin speaking of women's' roles in "post-Taliban" Afghanistan. Unbelievably, their page on forming Action Teams to Help Afghan Women discusses the "restoration of constitutional democracy in Afghanistan" and the "rebirth of a peaceful, stable, and democratic Afghanistan," (emphasis added) as if this was the natural order in that country before the Taliban mysteriously disappeared.

Looking at another prominent feminists group, NOW, shows their history on Afghan women to be equally disjointed. In March 1999 they had a call to action to stop the abuse of women and girls in Afghanistan, only to suddenly begin advocating helping women "rebuild Afghan democracy" in the post-Taliban government. There it is again, the mysterious disappearance of the Taliban with nary a public release or even milk carton marking its passing. In fact, NOW's latest concerning Afghanistan is a complaint that an organization it disagrees with, the Independent Woman's Forum (IWF), received a government grant to help educate Afghan women in democracy.

Matt does a mediocre job of setting up strawmen and throwing rocks at them, even if a few miss wide of the mark. What he does not do, however, is produce a single counter example to rebut Max's recollection.

Where Can We Get One of Those? 

Michael Munger recently wrote of Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor General of Canada, informing those of in the dark that she represents the "Queen's interests." Now, leaving aside for the moment that as far as I was aware Canada no longer owes alegience to the crown, I still was not clear on what practical function these "interests" assumed, so cruised over to the website for her stately manor and discovered the enumerated responsibilities include:
The cited web page even conveniently asks the real question for us: "Many people wonder why Canada has both a Governor General (representing the head of state) and a Prime Minister (the head of government)." While letting us know that "[o]ne reason is that the Governor General can represent all Canadians as a neutral symbol removed from partisan concerns and the daily affairs of government," they never get around to providing any others.

So it seems the people of Canada get a representative that is appointed for them by a hereditary monarch from another country and to whom is given a large estate in which they formally perform the duties of a file clerk all for the small sum of $19M per annum. What a bargain!

Box Office Totals Speaks Truth to Power 

The Powerline gents have at Oliver Stone over his denial concerning his latest flop and the attempt to dump his failure on the doorstep of the "Stupid, Fundamentalist American" mythos. While Stone and producer Borman are quick to decry the lack of sophitication in the States, a quick check of boxofficemojo.com numbers tells a different story:
FilmDomestic (gross)Domestic (%)Foreign (gross)Foreign (%)
King Arthur$51.9M25.5%$151.5M74.5%
Last Samurai$111.1M24.3%$345.6M75.7%

So, looking at revenue we find that even the sophiticated foreign audience thought it was a piece of junk. In fact, compared against similar sorts of films, Alexander did better domestically as a percentage of total sales than even Braveheart, a film that was released in a time of much lower foreign box office expectations.

It seems the "news" just accepted their press release without any research or questioning. Well, I guess that's news after all.

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