February 24, 2004

Why not Comanche?

There may be a legion of reasons the Army would like to pull funding from the RAH-66 Comanche program, as was announced today. There may be a myriad of epic backroom politics, a plethora of front-chamber deals, and perhaps even a personal grudge or six involved. I don't know. I, personally, fixate on one aspect of the whole situation: the Silver Bullet Syndrome.

Put bluntly (and the Army has, publicly) we just don't need the Comanche at this time. I am personally somewhat surprised that an Armed Service has apparently decided to give up a 'sexy new' program in order to (they claim) handle the more mundane demands of force integration and readiness, but here we are. I will strike out on a limb and state that personally, I consider this but the first high-profile casualty of the current state of 'continuous sort-of war' that the United States seems to have slid into.

For those not in the know, the Comanche was to be the Army's next-generation 'armed reconnaissance' helicopter. It was to be stealthier than the Apache, faster than the current scout, the OH-54 Kiowa, and armed somewhere between the two. The concept was aired almost twenty years ago, when the demands on Army Aviation were fairly fixed - support the ground force maneuver war doctrine, against a notional large-scale armored and mechanized opponent in the European theater.

Under those conditions, an armed scout made sense. On a fluid mechanized battlefield, the most lethal threats a helo was likely to face were mounted air defense platforms such as the ZSU-23, and perhaps high-tech MANPADS in the hands of infantry - but only at close range. The role of the scout helicopter was to range ahead of the main force, locating targets, calling in fires, and - if necessary - providing emergency fast-moving firepower to augment lighter units. The Apache was the firepower, really; heavily armed, and armored, it was intended to go in harm's way by ambushing oncoming units. Using it to perform interdiction strikes and more offensive sweep operations, as the Army began to do in the Gulf War, was not originally on its agenda.

Fast forward to today. Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the most severe threat to helicopters is not high-tech; it's low-tech. Massed small-arms fire, RPGs and man-portable automatic weapons are by far the most common threat to American helicopters operating in the field. While there are, indeed, MANPADS strikes on helos, they are (so far) exclusively IR guided, line-of-sight shots - against which the vaunted stealth of the Comanche offers no protection. Furthermore, in such operating conditions, two things offer better chances of survival - armor and redundancy, as the Apache has, or massive suppressing fire, which the Apache also has. A large degree of survivability could be added to the existing utility helo fleet through the installation of flare and chaff dispensers, perhaps; but this costs money.

The Army notes another problem. There is no standard aviation unit at present. There is a wild mix of airframes and numbers across the various aviation brigades in the force; Reserve units are still using 1970s AH-1s and UH-1s instead of Apaches and Blackhawks. This means that there is almost no commonality in the logistics tail between a frontline unit and its reserve aviation component.

Basically, the Army is proposing to take the huge chunks of money already allocated to Comanche - $17 billion at minimum, through 2010 - and to refit the existing units with aircraft identical to the present frontline units, as well as to upgrade the existing aircraft with survivability and lethality improvements, and to fund the readiness of the aviation component. This is a fairly radical proposal for American defense procurement. Note that they're not talking about giving the money back, just spending it elsewhere. The base effect would be to ensure that when units are deployed, they would deploy with a common set of aircraft; to ensure that there are additional heavy attack helos (Apaches) to meet demand, and to fund long-lead and marginal spares and training to keep availability up.

This doesn't leave us entirely without scouts; the OH-54D Kiowa Warriors are not all that old, and will be around for some time. Plus, the Apache Longbow upgrades include the addition of a mast-mounted sensor array (MMS) similar to what the Warriors carry; these units will be able to perform the original mission - long-range scouting in a maneuver battle - and purchasing additional units means that they can do so without detracting from the available combat power of the main force.

There are, of course, questions that must be asked. To wit: Why was this decision made now, after the Comanche plant had been built? Is this related to the constant stresses of post-9/11 OPTEMPO and the consequent demands on the aviation forces? Are we really sure that we want to give up the high-tech anti-armor (and, lest it be forgot, stealthy Special Ops strike support) capabilities that the Comanche would have offered? If, in fact, this is due to the increased demands on the aviation forces that the present one-point-five wars are making, why is this shortfall being met by reallocating Army capital budgets rather than by additional outlays for readiness and operations? Coupled with the four service Chiefs' testimony before Congress that none of their services had received any information about special drafts to fund the coming year's operations, this is a pertinent issue. There are rumblings that the Bush administration is planning on delaying any such funding requirements until after the election, which, while legal, borders on the pusillanimous, especially if it leaves our forces in any way compromised. Given the present state of affairs, I do not trust the Bush administration (or, for that matter, the Chiefs of service, albeit for different and more understandable reasons) to tell me, as an American citizen, when my armed forces are being hamstrung for political expediency.

Posted by jbz at 12:57 AM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2004

Please, Mr. Nader

Mr. Nader -

Although it is a dismal set of affairs to consider, we have ended up with a Democratic field of candidates who are being judged overwhelmingly on a single criteria: ‘can they defeat George Bush in 2004?’ Whatever the answer and whoever the winner of this primary fight will be, your candidacy will only serve to distract Democrats at a time when they must band together to defeat an incumbent President who has proven himself worse through incompetent action and lack of both sense and morals grounded in reality than any of them could ever prove to be through dullness or even inaction. Your previous campaign pulled precious electoral votes from Al Gore’s campaign. While I do not dispute your right, or your decision at the time to run, I am asking you now - for the sake of defeating George Bush and cronies, refrain from entering the presidential race in 2004.

Thank you,

Jacob Zimmerman

Massachusetts Democrat unhappy with all his choices - but more unhappy with Bush.

Posted by jbz at 5:24 PM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2004

SquareSoft 0wnz0r3d Me

I carried a package from work to a friend's home today for him, since he was out waiting for the Cable Guy to hook his ass up to the bitstream. He called me and asked if I could temporarily spare $120 to pick something up for him. I said "Sure," since, well, I could. Just as I was about to ask what, I realized what he needed.

The package I was taking him (an Amazon.com box) contained Final Fantasy:Crystal Chronicles, and a link cable for his Game Boy Advance SP. Since SquareSoft and Nintendo are such frighteningly ruthless marketers, FF:CC is the first game that doesn't just allow you to use the GBAs as spiffy controllers for the GameCube - it requires them.

That means for every person who plays (up to 4) you need a $100 GBA. Plus the GameCube. Plus the game. Bastards.

Of course, it'd be much easier to be annoyed with them if the game weren't so damn pretty! I mean, hell, it's just gorgeous. We spent about ten minutes watching the intro, which is rendered much better than 95% of the crap animation on TV anyway, and then dove into the game - and found that you need the GBAs. Each character has 10 different 'management' screens, and rather than taking up the main view, you perform all the management functions on your GBA/controller - which lets you do stuff without pausing the game, and ensures that your playmates and you don't compete for TV real estate at a critical moment during a battle because you forgot to equip that damn Blizzard Magicite Sphere.

These guys, who are much better at this gaming stuff than I, have gone on at length about this game, but here are my impressions from one 3-hr session. First of all, party play is not just an enhancer, it's absolutely unavoidable. For one thing, each player character has different abilities (well, duh, that's normal). For another, they do sneaky things. For example, when he and I were running around our cool brightly-colored world, we both kept our GBAs in 'Radar' mode - where status info and your radar/nav screen are on the GBA during play. It didn't take us long to realize that my screen had the map - and his had the enemy positions on his radar.

Then the next area, it switched.

You are assigned 'bonus tasks' at the beginning of each round. For example, one round I had 'Inflict Physical Damage' (that was easy, I was tanking at the time) and he had 'Open Treasure Chests.' Then the next round, I had (I kid you not) 'Take Physical Damage' and he had 'Pick Up Items.' Then I had 'Don't Pick Up Anything' while he was supposed to hog all the gil. While a divided party might bitch and whine about this, really, all possessions are shared amongst the players (if you're smart) so this didn't really inconvenience anyone - but it sure made play interesting.

For another thing, the world is so hostile (it contains ' miasma', which is icky and hurts you) that the only thing that keeps you safe is your Crystal Chalice. Your party carries this around to collect myrrh. When I say 'party' I mean 'one player therein' - because it's a large basin, and somebody has to tote it around at all times. Not in 'inventory' but taking up your hands. There is a 'safe zone' around the Chalice that all party members have to stay within if they don't want to take damage from the miasma. So you have to coordinate. Not only in position, but the person holding the chalice has to put it down to attack or cast spells. More coordination.

Plus, did I mention it's really, really, really damn pretty? I can't get the incidental music out of my head now, kupo.

I'm gonna lose a lot of time to this one. Luckily I don't have a GameCube. Unfortunately, he does.

Posted by jbz at 1:44 AM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2004

Congratulations Random Gay People

Today I sent flowers. I never send flowers, since it seems an ephemeral way to waste money, but the idea was so…good. This person on LiveJournal posted the notion that ‘hey, we could all send flowers to the same-sex couples waiting to get married in San Francisco!’ Others thought this was a good idea. I came across the notion on BoingBoing, and it tickled my fancy. Sure, the originators and others who live in less liberal states (they’re from Minnesota) are making more of a point, but an unknown couple, waiting to get married despite what must seem like a nation of millions trying to hold them back, will get roses today (or tomorrow morning) from another American. Not me in particular, just another American, one who wants them to know that what they’re doing is important and that the fact that they now can (even if it gets challenged later or otherwise dragged across the coals) is important.

Posted by jbz at 6:00 PM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2004

Burn a peat bog and strain with liquid gold

I guess this is gear-related, if Scotch can be called gear. A fellow monkey, some of his friends and I recently engaged in a comparative taste test and educational survey of single-malt scotches, and I just can't resist blogging the results that I can remember. Heh. We had eleven distillations total, and I bet I won't remember them all.

Glenkinchie started us off. A Lowlands malt, it is a paler gold, perhaps four or five shades darker than straw. Sometimes tagged a 'ladies' drink' due to its mild flavor, this appellation (or, really, snipe) misses the point entirely. The flavor of Glenkinchie isn't in a strong, mouthwatering punch, but contained almost entirely in the nose. Sniffing the stuff won't do you much good; you have to take a sip. Do so, however, with your nose open, and breath out through it...let it have air. There are all manner of slight florals embedded in there, and just enough smoke and peat to let you know you're consuming a fine scotch. The perfume of it is why it's drunk.

Dalwhinnie was second up. A Speyside drink, it is a more traditional Scotch, whose flavors tend heavily towards smoke and malt. This is in no way a bad thing. It is a lighter tone as well, though; so if you are apprehensive of perhaps imbibing the liquid remains of a firepit, don't worry (that happens later). It has a more solid malt base than the Glenkinchie, but in a straightforward way, and not too invasive - the fluid can be drunk in larger swigs without suffering nasal or esophagal burnout.

What came next? Oh yes, the Glenlivet 18. A very, very nice whisky - smooth, with the strong smoke and malt rounded down, burnished to a mellow shine without any real acridity or sharp burn. The strength is apparent if you hold it in your mouth, but at no time does it feel like it's trying to damage you - just educate you, heh. A straightforward flavor, with some less complex florals and herbals, but those serve to accentuate the malt and peat rather than overlay it.

The Glenlivet French Oak 12 was one of the evening favorites. The rough edges of the still-slightly-young Scotch are not so much muted as complemented by the complex wood flavoring imparted by the French Oak finishing. The Scotch is 'finished' - i.e. spends the last year or two, perhaps - in Cognac barrels of French oak from the Limousin region. The resulting woody nose rides alongside the slightly sharp burn of the malt, and together they produce a flavor quite distinctive from the other tipples of the tasting. Highly recommended as a flavorful way to finish a mild but satisfying meal, or to enjoy with a cigar as most Scotches excel with tobacco.

I had never before tasted the Glenrothes Speyside Vintage Malt 21, and I know now what a loss that has been. This spirit came attractively bottled with a label showing its vintage and bottling information and was an amazing rich copper, almost, in color. The flavor was just amazing, and this was judged by our crew the best 'straight whisky' out of the bunch. It has a complexity that you have to hold it in your mouth for several seconds to find, and even then, different amounts will produce different balances of yum. There was a slight vanillin, perhaps from the Sherry Oak casks, and several florals that weren't individually identifiable. Overlaying it was a sharp spicy wood, almost cedarlike without being oily. A very wide taste. I'd walk a damn long way for one of these, and if I had one of my fave stogies, too, well...

Glenmorangie is also a fabulous straight whisky. This bottle managed, even this late in the game, to surprise with a very round and full mouthfeel (that word always reminds me of a friend's Golden Retriever, whose enthusiasm was such that every object brought near her needed to be evaluated for this quality). There was a bit of licorice in this, the color being a middling golden brown, and the nose was brisk. Unlike some of the more subtle whiskys, which had a faint odor, or some of the stronger ones whose aroma was dominated by either smoke or alcohol, this one has an excellent schnozz. I enjoyed just sniffing it for a time, and then rolling it about the mouth reflectively. Despite this, I had to slug the last ounce or so just to evaluate the slam deep in the stomach as it headed for ignition...and I pronounced it good. Others agreed.

The Knockando suffered a bit from being a more subtly flavored brand placed this late in the tasting. I was looking forward to the next one with alacrity, so all I'll say for the Knockando is that I do look forward to drinking it first some evening. Perhaps I'll go investigate that possibility now. Hm.

Lagavulin contains all I might say on this subject.

Extra credit:
Macallan Cask Strength
Royal Lochnagar Grand Reserve

Posted by jbz at 3:01 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2004

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Bush Administration

It's a strange world I find myself reading about these days. O'Reilly is coming close to repenting his steadfast and yammering support for Bush. Russia is announcing that it will be conducting a large nuclear warfighting exercise, stressing its drawn-down forces, in response to a perceived attempt by the U.S. to 'lower the threshold' on the use of nuclear arms in a conflict. The head honchos of the Army, Marines and Air Force are publicly concerned before Congress on the possibility of the Administration pushing off any requests for supplemental funding for the concurrent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until after the election. This would force them to draw heavily on readiness and training resources in order to support what are becoming increasingly politicized and expensive operations. Microsoft announces another critical security vulnerability in Windows that it apparently has known about for a while - oh, scratch that, that's not a surprise.

Even as the Botox-huffing Kerry thunders to what looks like a commanding lead in the Democratic primary, the sad thought lingers: perhaps the only thing that qualifies this man to run for President against George W. Bush in my mind is that he might actually win. Not because he is in any positive way superior, or better; simply that he seems to have not expended enough energy (or has exercised his brain a little too much) to be as absolutely hideously unfit for the job as the current President.

That's an awfully weak reason to garner support for that office.

Stories come in 'suddenly discovering' (now that the media is conveniently able to point to a slew of political weaknesses) that Americans abroad are (gasp) embarrassed by their President! (Where were these reporters when the actual war was being orchestrated?)

I am enough of a romantic to still believe that, were I to actually meet Mr. Bush, I would address him as "Mr. President." I would probably rise when he came into the room. Not because of who he is, but because of the office that he holds. No matter what I think of the man and his policies, I cannot in any good conscience claim that I believe the Office of the President of the United States is something to be embarrassed about. It is a source of pride to me, daily, as is my country. I firmly believe that there is no better option to an inhabitant of this planet who wants to achieve, thrive and survive than the United States - however naive that belief may be.

The current holders of office, and the current direction of the country - these are causes for alarm, objection, civil disobedience perhaps, and certainly frenzied campaigning for change. They are trying, I believe, to pervert and corrupt the system that is the source of my pride. Ashcroft and company's efforts make me nearly physically ill - and yet, I refuse to believe the system itself has been corrupted by their actions so far. It is still correctable. The people who make up our nation can still achieve what their intentions have been written to be, in those documents under glass.

I only hope that they will seize the chance to do so, and that they will expend the effort required to correct our course. With hatred, with admiration, with indifference, with animosity - the world looks to this country just because of what and where it is. With that scrutiny and privilege comes what politicians are fond of calling an 'awesome responsibility.' However, that responsibility is not laid upon their shoulders, ultimately; nor is it laid upon the system itself. It is laid on ours, the people who hold their jobs in our hands, and who (at least notionally) hold our nation's policy in our ballots.

Thus goes my romanticism.

For the nonce, it outweighs my blinder anger at current events. Keeping that true is my daily task.

Posted by jbz at 4:01 AM | Comments (0)

February 9, 2004

"Gimme two faucets, a bench, three grilles, a two-by-eight and one of those freaky slope things."

Yes, I acknowledge, I am a nerd. Hence the dialogue of my Sunday.

"Lemme have two grilles, two benches, a right wing and two one-by-twelve technics, dark grey."

"Um, we need four six-by-sixteens here, not three."

"Does this magnet on, or does it wedge?"

"No, Chris has the faucets and the blue half pins..."

...and so it goes. That is a couple sound bites of a twelve-hour day spent team-assembling the Grand Poo-Bah of Lego - the Everest of Bricks - The Imperial Star Destroyer.

It was actually pretty damn challenging (3,104 pieces!) and not so simple. Imagine a twenty-page section of the instructions involving a few hundred pieces that, at the end, says 'okay, now go back to the beginning and do it again.' That happens frequently. Building it was bad enough; I can't imagine designing this thing. It is composed entirely of angles that are completely unnatural in the Legoverse, requiring all manner of massively cool hacks to work.

The end result, however, makes it alllll worthwhile.

Posted by jbz at 2:26 AM | Comments (1)

February 5, 2004

Speed bleeding feed

I am fascinated with this, which is a neato Java-applet-cum-literary-oasis-avec-fromage-and-digerati. Essentially, it is Cory Doctorow's new book Eastern Standard Tribe, presented to you the net reader one word at a time at user-selectable speed. The ultimate in lazy-ass infoslurping. The epitome of 'feed'. Ideal.

I find myself reading comfortably one click below the max setting. It's sort of like being stoned somewhere you're really not supposed to be, having conversations - you have no way of referring to the previous words, or sneaking peeks at the paragraph shapes in front of you. You just have the flow, which firehoses into your eyes and occasionally leaks in sprays out your ears. All your thoughts about the story have to take place in parallel with the unstopping work of deciphering it, holding the sentence structures in place in your brain's equivalent of an input buffer. I can't shake the image of being buffer overflowed by a frenzied, coffee-pumped cyberwhatsis author.


It has possibilities.


Posted by jbz at 11:55 PM | Comments (0)