The Spechtacle

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Category: Politics

Osprey shortcomings?

A few weeks ago, in one of my rants, I mentioned the fact that I thought the Osprey was a craft conceived by a crazy person. This article is about a patent for a new tilt wing to replace Osprey type aircraft. It is presented as a better idea, in light of the fact that the Osprey has no backup if one engine is fails (or more accurately, if it loses a rotor).

Osprey replacement article

These ideas make my head hurt.

You build airframes based on requirements (one would hope). But which requirement is a priority? How about survivability?

So you put many motors around a circular frame, like a bicycle wheel. You sling the payload underneath. Motors can pivot independently outwards slightly for forward thrust. Their rpm can be regulated. If you lose one or two. the remaining adjust their position on the wheel, to redistribute the load equally. This cannot be any more complicated than a tilt rotor, right?

I’m just saying…

Time to think

Recently, I joined the ranks of the unemployed. I still own a small company, but my day job has finally ended. it is kind of a bummer and kind of a relief. When you work states away from your boss, you don’t get a farewell lunch or plaque. You get a mailing address for returning all your stuff.

I do have more time to think now. Lots of time to ponder my situation, the past, the future, and everything in between.

I hear many people give their opinion of the Wall Street protests. “They want a handout” is a common phrase. If student loans are too high, it doesn’t matter. The students are the ones who accepted them. They have a choice. I hear this over and over. But it skips over the real issues of tuition costs skyrocketing, back breaking loans, and the real possibility of no job at graduation. There are so many issues like this wrapped up in the protests: Tax system unfair – lobbyists have all the power – congress is ineffectual – education costs are out of control – wall street killed our economy, but it did not kill wall street. I could go on and on.

Man, many Americans are just not sympathetic. And if they get their news from FOX, they leave their brain at the door. I just don’t think it is as simple as that.

People in these protests are mad, because they have seen too much in terms of not being fair and a lack of transparency. They have seen their vote amount to nothing. The rich wall street elite have more of a vote. The situation is not fair, and this gets to the hart of the matter. If you can afford a lobbyist, you can buy votes. It’s just that simple. If you are rich, you are insulated, perhaps. But you should at least pay a share of the taxes. A fair share. Of course, we idolize those who beat the system. Well, we did…

If Saddam would have had effective lobbyists, we would be up to our ears in cheap oil. Same with Gadaffi. We’d be swimming in it. Global warming be be damned. But no, we had to go to war. Let’s get physical.

We certainly did not need to invade Iraq. If you still cling to this idea, get help. We had two no fly zones over Iraq, so dangerous we engaged and destroyed our own helicopters on several occasions as a result of mistaken identity. We had every clandestine agency of world wide capability in there looking everywhere. Yet Saddam was creating a delivery vehicle that would hit Europe? Really? So what. Ever hear of the Tokyo fire raids in WWII? The Dresden fire raids? We now have weapons that make these bonfires look like Boy Scouts learning to make fire. We could have gone down this road instead of an invasion.

We did not need to invade Afghanistan either. Make a statement there? Yes, definitely. Something insanely ugly. But we certainly did not need to stay. Now, as soon as we leave, Afghanistan will fold like a house of cards. You heard it here first.

Anyone anywhere who understands our political system, our love of money, our self absorbed character, and our self imposed image of grandeur understands the leverage and power of effective lobbyists.

Unfortunately, you and I cannot afford lobbyists. It is beyond interplanetary for us. And we are invisible to them.

“But who will do all the research and brief our representatives?”. Gosh, maybe they could do that themselves with a staff?

Our political friends in Congress get a pretty good pension for not too much time served. Also, a majority are millionaires. If you are not a millionaire when you enter the Congress, you are almost assured you will be by the time you leave. Inside deals, with information we are not privy to, are made by our representatives daily. Ouch. How about a crumb for the little people?

Or maybe just some intelligent legislation?

Memorial Day in the present

Here we are at another Memorial Day. Pretty much everywhere you will see celebrations of gratitude. Churches will ask veterans to stand for a moment during the service. Parades will be packed with vehicles and veterans of previous conflicts.

I always think of the people who never made it home. Some of them were volunteers. Many were draftees fulfilling their obligation. A few were running from trouble. What they all had in common is that they all thought they would return home. These were young men and women who for the most part imagined their deployment would be a brief interlude in what would surely be a long life. Some believed in the cause of the time, while others just believed in service to the nation, or to go along with their friends and get their obligation over safely. We can all identify with them in some respect. They are all gone. They will not return home alive. Some will not return home at all.

Then I think of current events. I think of all the people deployed to our two fronts. I think about it too long, and I get irritated.

Our nation is good at many things. One of those things is apathy. It is an apathy about the services and their hardships. People are even tired of hearing about the hardships. After all, we are talking about volunteers. “We didn’t make them join the service.” That is true. But we elect our government, and that government influences what happens to our military. And frankly, those we elect don’t get it most of the time. They never served or deployed.

Life in the service is a voluntary life of sacrifice. Even in the best non-conflict circumstances, it can be a difficult life for the service member and the family. You experience dangerous training deployments, high stress situations, and personal strife from long deployments. I know everyone experiences stress in their lives. I am just saying the average service member’s fun meter is usually pegged a little bit more than a civilian.

When you send a person into a shooting war, and they spend some time there, they change. Most of the time, they change a great deal. Don’t take my word for it, do some research. I was never in a shooting war, but I have been around more than a few folks who have. Men and women. They change.

Our manpower numbers are so thin that we are putting our military through an out of control machine of deployments. The same people deploy over and over. You go for months deployed, then a year or so home, then back, then home, and on and on. Change upon change upon change. Over time we have accrued all these professional warriors who like being deployed more than being home. But then we sweep them out like so much dust and dirt. They get therapy in bucket loads, but they are out. Their identity is gone. Sorry, we need the money.

We reduce costs by reducing manpower. It is the quickest way a corporation can raise cash in house. Our Military is no different. “The missions have changed” or “our strategic threats have changed” etc. Sure they have. But while we reduce manpower, we continue to buy unnecessary vehicles, systems, doctrine, and support. I will cite the V-22 Osprey as one example. What madman dreamed that aircraft up? “We need speed, more lift, etc, due to our threats”. Is it cheaper than two helicopters? One Osprey’s fly away cost is 67 million dollars today. The workhorse in Afghanistan is still the Chinook. Fly away cost 37 Million. The Chinook seats more troops, can lift 50,000 lbs which is only 10K less than the Osprey, and is definitely slower. As for the speed issue, the latest Sikorsky experimental helicopter is in the 400 mph range, comparable to the Osprey. My point in droning about all this is we are paying twice as much for more complexity, an unproven over time design, and less troop capacity. Ouch.

Which leads me to the point of all this. Our military is stretched too thin. In 2009, the Army had 548,000 active duty. With a mission to bring in over 80,000 new soldiers per year, the force is 1/7 untrained and unprepared to fight. Since a percentage is always leaving, meaning they don’t fight all the way up until the day they muster out, there is another hefty number not able to fight. Ouch. And since not everyone in the Army is a shooter, but may be a supporter at home in an office, this cuts the availability of a fighting force even more.

Is the answer more brigades? This is the structure the Army is adopting, the modular brigade concept. Brigades cost big money by any estimate. The GAO estimates 3 to 4 brigades and 3 headquarters of approximately 20,000 soldiers (brigades and headquarters combined) would cost about 2 billion annually. There is no free lunch, unfortunately. The Osprey’s cost is at 27 BILLION as of 2008. Think about that. That’s more than a few brigades.

A soldier can be trained to do many many things. They are cheaper, more flexible, and the rate of return is greater for your money. The more you have, the easier it is to do things. A soldier can run, climb, swim, think, and sacrifice. It’s all about boots, especially in today’s up close and personal combat situations. That is the one lesson we haven’t learned from previous conflicts.

So when you see all the nice and impressive vehicles and aircraft at the parade, look close. You will see a soldier somewhere. He or she will look tired, and bored. They have changed permanently, and they are waiting to go back. Because they know it’s coming, and there’s no one else to go.

Reporters and Journalists – check your citizenship.

I watched the Charlie Rose show last night. The show was a rebroadcast of selected interview spots with Robert F. McNamara. In one spot, Charlie Rose asked him why he had not weighed in on the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. McNamara stated he will not comment out of fear of hurting the war effort. He also fears helping the enemy effort. “The current Sec Def has access to information I may not have” he replied. “How can I comment?” (I paraphrase).

This is a journalist quizzing a former statesman. It made me consider my own feelings about reporters, now typically embedded with units of our armed forces. As if combat wasn’t difficult enough.

I harbor no particular fondness of McNamara, aside from finding his interviews interesting. I do not dislike him, but I can see why others might. He was a key figure managing a war that to this day is discussed with emotion as if it were yesterday. I had two cousins in that war, and both returned physically whole. I have a best friend who had an oldest brother. That brother did not return, and his name is on the wall. One only needs to compare lives lived, with lives absent, to feel the gravity of a war’s lasting damage.

I can understand why McNamara refuses to comment. Part of me gets it, and that may be from being in the service. Part of me likewise understands that in a free society, you need open debate about the course of great undertakings that use monstrous amounts of a nation’s resources, and the lives of its youth.

If a reporter was embedded in my squad or platoon, I’d have to ask him or her “ok, so are you an American?” and I’d ask “what is your objective in riding along with my platoon? To report it as it happens; to report a side of war unseen; to personally observe the unrelenting weight of combat and stress?” In other words, you have to choose a side. You are not the Red Cross.

“Have you considered your being here as having a distracting effect on my unit?”

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I watched one hour of 360 where Anderson Cooper, a journalist, was commenting on a politician’s controversial decision, saying “is that leadership?” I had to wonder – what does he know about leadership? I did not ask for his opinion on leadership, and probably never will..

I do not believe journalists or investigative reporters are Priests, owing allegiance to some greater unquestionable good. How close do you have to get to war, to be satisfied it is indeed war? The stress, hardship, sadness and enduring scarring is not new, and it is not news. It seems to be the latest entertainment for a society with so many distractions that boredom of too many choices becomes a license to do and view the previously unthinkable. Reporters serve it up in buckets.

I really have no issue with investigative reporters seeing some worldly ill, and working hard to expose it, so that society can then correct it. But some things are hard enough without a reporter interpreting what just happened. You want to experience war, and be in the “experienced combat and lived” club? Then raise your hand. And even then, you might not get admitted.

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Knock knock – it’s China

You read a lot of press about how China, the waking leviathan, will eventually be the center of gravity for commerce, and leader of economies locked in global competition. Well, that time is now. Surprise surprise.

The latest developments in radio control center around three areas: brushless electric motors, lithium type batteries, and spread spectrum 2.4 gigahertz band radios. More and more modelers are converting their radio systems to 2.4 ghz, and just about everyone has an electric indoor and outdoor airplane and helicopter of some sort. Everyone flying an electric airplane or helicopter has multiple batteries, so they can fly on one while they charge another. Every day another manufacturer of these batteries pops up in an ad in the trade magazines. All promise longer life, more recharges, and safer technology, and most are originating from China. These batteries are not imported and relabeled and resold in the states; they are mailed directly to you from China, where they are manufactured.

Today, I can buy a very good high quality large capacity battery, and get it in about 10 days directly from China. The shipping is free, and the price is already lower than any retailer in the states. And its not just batteries. Everything that has to do with the Radio Control hobby can be ordered online from China. The only downside, the longer shipping time, has to do with customs inspections.

These Chinese manufacturers are also running full page ads in the RC magazines every month. You quickly see that other manufacturers cannot beat the price for just about any item. Many Chinese manufacturers are also opening offices for support in the states. Kind of a different ‘Chinese human wave”.

Well, they might as well get in the game. And it is a truly global game. I recently saved a bunch of money on Frontline flea and tick medicine for our dogs. I ordered it from Australia.

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BS business practices

Why is it that I can sign up for a service over the web, but I have to cancel it by phone? Like Macafee Antivirus, for example. Why is it that I have to make 5 phone calls to Windstream to cancel my satellite service, because the phone disconnects when I am finally transferred to the cancel guru.

Why is it that if there is a dispute on my medical billing, I have to write a friggin letter? A letter. I cannot talk to a human. That might actually result in the health insurance actually working like health insurance.

Why is it that a company will tell me they will automatically debit my checking account, and it will go on automatically forever until I cancel, and it is the only way I can get the service. I can’t pay by the month, I cannot mail a check. And, I of course cannot cancel over the web.

And why are there such things as mail in rebates? Just give me the rebate NOW. Oh, our precious rebate. We can’t possibly do that. Oh but wait, there’s an INSTANT rebate. You do get that now. Well, maybe you can have them get together and birth a “totally instant right now not later rebate”. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll get right on that.

Companies are bullies. Americans are used to making things simple, and keeping things simple. So, companies are betting that the human involved will never get around to doing the crap needed to get the rebate. Statistics bear this out. The only thing close statistically is the number of people who never get around to using their gift cards. The 18 to 25 demographic is the worst. What a surprise.

Why is it that I can go to Home Depot, buy a florescent light for 50 bucks, and if I sign up for their credit card, get 20% off my purchase? Why won’t they just give it to me? Answer: because the credit card is a Home Depot bet that I will use it, run it up, and pay charges that will make their 20% investment in me a wash. They are betting, no, preying on human nature.

So, I don’t get the cards, I forgo the discount, because they can all kiss my ***. What kind of citizen implements a business practice on their own fellow citizens which bets on me falling short, bets on me to be reckless, and bets on me to not be very bright?

Why do the Credit Card companies send thousands of credit offers to my young sons, why are in the least favorable place in their lives to have a credit card? Because the company knows that the younger you are, the more likely you are to spend out of control, and yet stay with their company, and live a long time which will make it easy to keep making payments on the never shrinking debt. Insanity.

Every credit card offer says “you are pre approved” like you are special. You were special I’m sure to the brainless feelingless automated mailing machine that printed your envelope. You are in that special group of a billion people who “exist” on our credit consumed planet. You are NEVER Pre approved. Never. As soon as you fill in the card and mail it in, they pull a credit report. It’s all bull.

Lastly, why do companies offer “buy now, no payments until 2011”?
Why would I want to pay later for something I am using now. If anything, I’d want to do the opposite. Pay in today’s dollars, and get a later model. Are we nuts?

I think these people used to be called “scoundrels” or ‘unscrupulous”.

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An upside to the recession?

Our nation is in the throes of a recession. Most people don’t focus too much on the name. They know that things are not as easy as they once were. My home has lost 17K in value; groceries are more expensive; company implosions are announced virtually every week. People who used to believe they were safe in their jobs are getting an hour’s notice of layoff.

Is there a good side? Not in the short term. Spending money affects viability in business, but since consumers are afraid of losing their jobs, they are saving and not spending. Ordinarily saving is good, but when banks and consumers both not only save but refuse to lend or purchase, that’s very bad. It all goes to consumer confidence, a phrase hardly revered in history, until now.

In the long term, perhaps there is a good side. This may be the perfect opportunity to push through reforms and restructuring of all sorts of government run systems.

As long as I have been alive, I have been warned about my generation overburdening the medicare system, the social security system and the health care system. And, as long as I can remember, there has been a yearning from the citizens for a fix. There have been minor corrections, although far from adequate. The drug plan enacted by the Bush administration is a perplexing donut of absurdity, as all who have analyzed it will quickly attest.

Right now, the economy is the priority. But I wonder if large government run social support systems will be in trouble next? The bailout consists of tax payer money going to various large companies and banks. This money is not a gift from a rich uncle, but rather a loan with strings attached. Fast action is critical, but only effective with close adult supervision by our government.

What better environment to correct medicare, social security, and health care? The citizens will eventually demand it anyway. Fix it now before the crisis arrives. This is the window.

Of the three, health care would be the most difficult, because the government only controls a part of it; medicare. But, this part would be a great model for the rest, as is the present military health care system. Although imperfect, it is a single payer system, across all services.

The people want fast effective action for the economy right now. If it costs two trillion, three trillion, we don’t really care. Fix it, and fix the rest. Fix everything. It has been said before: we put a man on the moon, sent probes out of our planetary system, performed space walks, harnessed solar power and built a viable space station. Surely we can fix something right here on earth.

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The new President

We now have a new and untested President. I watch TV pundits talk about the fact that he now has to act, and not just promise answers as he did in his campaign. They are all inferring that he may not realize how difficult it will be to get things done. While I agree he is a new president, this is not to say that he has no idea how to act, or how to form plans, or how to be in command.

I believe the new President has thought much about being president, not just about the campaign for president. Of course, he did put requisite thought into his campaign, and was the perfect general throughout his campaign. He never wavered, never lost confidence, and never quit. He beat the Clintons, a most formidable opponent, partly because they underestimated his ability. He stuck to his plan, and the rest is recent history.

As I said, I think he has thought about the presidency for a very long time. When I was a Lieutenant in the Army, I mostly thought about being a Company Commander, as a Captain. I thought much about command for years prior to the opportunity. Command is the most important event in an Army career. Command is the job which, if done poorly, will end your career. If done well, your career continues until you make Major. Do other jobs to mediocrity, OK. But do them well, and yet flub command, it’s game over. In this, the Army is merciless.

I think we will be pleasantly surprised by the new President. I think we will see stunning action, possibly radical change, and hopefully that will spark recovery. Look at who he is bringing on board to help him govern; arguably, the best and brightest, with established track records. And, I believe science will return to the forefront of consideration and value by our government.

If the new President falters, it won’t be because he failed to think about how he would act in the presidency. I bet it has been in his mind for years upon years.

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