January 31, 2006

Media Extravaganzae

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:48 am

One guy clearly has been looking at Escher a little too closely.

The other has been listening to Ray Nagin.

Or reading the Garfield Randomizer too many times.

But in any case, I’d like to point out that one nice thing about using a Mac is that the browser has a bug that keeps me from hearing the music related to this depiction of a particular person’s desktop wallpaper. You know, the number one fan of this site. I’ll take nominations on who that guy is since I wasn’t inclined to pick on anyone in particular.

Maybe Dorkafork. He’s the one who posted all those spoilers about that “24” show.

Hair Color Update

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:46 am

What Hath Den Beste Wrought?

Well, the link to Metafilter for the Blonde Joke has garnered more hits for one post than pretty much the rest of my entire blog combined. Maybe I shoulda redirected it to USS Clueless’ Strategic Analysis post, or Tubgirl, or something.

In any case the joke has gained at least a dozen links on the chain, each with many branches, and mapping the whole meme spread and the variations in the setup would be an interesting network analysis problem. Most of the links are Anglospheric, but the Scandanavians jumped in quickly with a translation of the joke and we were off and running.

I have found no links to German blogs for the joke. They’ve been shy of such things ever since the war (“Wenn ist das Nunstrück git und Slotermeyer?”).

The Counterrevolution

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:39 am

Ralph Peters has a cover story in the Weekly Standard (hang on, Mountain Philosopher! Don’t tune out yet!) that takes an argument that many have made about the military’s acquisitions path and makes it much more eloquently than some of the previous arguments.

From Iraq’s Sunni Triangle to China’s military high command, the counterrevolution in military affairs is well underway. We are seduced by what we can do; our enemies focus on what they must do. We have fallen so deeply in love with the means we have devised for waging conceptual wars that we are blind to their marginal relevance in actual wars. Terrorists, for one lethal example, do not fear “network-centric warfare” because they have already mastered it for a tiny fraction of one cent on the dollar, achieving greater relative effects with the Internet, cell phones, and cheap airline tickets than all of our military technologies have delivered. Our prime weapon in our struggles with terrorists, insurgents, and warriors of every patchwork sort remains the soldier or Marine; yet, confronted with reality’s bloody evidence, we

simply pretend that other, future, hypothetical wars will justify the systems we adore–purchased at the expense of the assets we need.

Stubbornly, we continue to fantasize that a wondrous enemy will appear who will fight us on our own terms, as a masked knight might have materialized at a stately tournament in a novel by Sir Walter Scott. Yet, not even China–the threat beloved of major defense contractors and their advocates–would play by our rules if folly ignited war. Against terrorists, we have found technology alone incompetent to master men of soaring will–our own flesh and blood provide the only effective counter. At the other extreme, a war with China, which our war gamers blithely assume would be brief, would reveal the quantitative incompetence of our forces. An assault on a continent-spanning power would swiftly drain our stocks of precision weapons, ready pilots, and aircraft. Quality, no matter how great, is not a reliable substitute for a robust force in being and deep reserves that can be mobilized rapidly.

There is, in short, not a single enemy in existence or on the horizon willing to play the victim to the military we continue to build.

I am disinclined to agree with Peters on these things, because he’s an intel guy, not an acquisitions guy–but he gets strategy, and his argument resonates with me because I read too much not enough Heinlein as a kid.

If you load a mud foot down with a lot of gadgets that he has to watch, somebody a lot more simply equipped — say with a stone ax — will sneak up and bash his head in while he is trying to read a vernier.

The good Commander Salamander, a B-52 buff (pun intended), may enjoy the Peters article.

January 30, 2006

I Have Found The Perfect Stateroom Mate For Vigilis And The Armchair Generalist

Filed under: — Chap @ 8:48 pm

Three to a stateroom, see. And one needs to pay attention to the personalities of the people who live in such close quarters.

Via a tip from the Rev. Sensing, here’s another submarine blogger, author Mike Lief. It may take a while to scroll down to the submarine posts because of all the posts about law and politics.

I’m gonna enjoy seeing these guys at the end of the deployment. Now how in the world do I update the map?

Al Qaeda And ASW

Filed under: — Chap @ 6:01 pm

Colonel Sensing groks the connection between antisubmarine warfare and anti-terrorist warfare, in a two part series (part one is here). I need to expand on his comments a little.

Finding what and who to shoot is the hard part of the kill chain. You have to find how your enemy disturbs its environment. Detections are fleeting; many false positives appear for every real positive, and false negatives are rampant. A “flaming datum” (explosion) is sometimes the first indication that the enemy is within the area.

I mentioned this as one of the very first posts on this blog, reporting on an Institute of Peace consortium from 2002.

In World War Two we were losing a grunch of ships due to German submarine attacks. The improvements in equipment and tactics were essential to beating the submarine threat, but there were big problems with getting those improvements built and implemented.

One problem was cultural. The accepted way to not get hit by a submarine was to leave port at speed and continue the run at ahead flank, as fast as you could, and get there as quickly as you could. The concept of waiting to assemble a group of ships, then lumbering at the slowest ship’s speed, staying together, and zigging all the time, was strongly opposed by operators and leaders. Convoying was Just Not Manly, and implementing convoys was an institutional change that required a leader to ignore the best advice of good experts who were passionately concerned that the convoy method would kill our boys. Both sides of the argument thought they were doing their best and were convinced of their argument. Institutional change is hard, and conceptual grasp of the new is harder. Two examples of this might be, say, 9/10 thinking for those who think this war is a law enforcement issue, or some of the resource battles we’ve seen among people who advocate as though perfect force protection is better than faster offensive action.

Another problem was getting to the point where we could grasp the concept of what we were really concerned about. The top admiral was Ernest King. He invented an entire fleet out of thin air, the Tenth Fleet, that didn’t have a ship. What it did have, however, was geeks. Lots of them. The Center for Naval Analyses was most of the Tenth Fleet, a place where among other things they invented operations research, a mathematical tool that helped figure out how to optimize the problem. The group’s analysis and recommendations had to have King himself be the leader pushing the implementation, because otherwise who would listen to the geeks?

Along the way to winning the Battle of the Atlantic, problems big and small popped up that were counterintuitive to people. One guy noticed that the ships with anti-aircraft guns weren’t reporting successful attacks, so he directed the expensive weapons be removed…until someone pointed out that (1) successful attacks would also mean sinking, so the reports would be falsely skewed, (2) airplanes don’t like to get shot at and would avoid attacking those ships, and (3) the goal was to get stuff to the fight (logistics), not get aircraft kills, so scaring away an enemy plane can be a success. The correct answer was actually to leave the guns on there.

In our current conflict others have arrived at the same conclusion as Sensing. I see the kind of thinking common to ASW and counterterror has been put in some of the right places. One of the bigwig intel guys got his start in ASW and came at the problem from that direction. A series of groups learning about networks taught a group of folks to build a network analysis tool that nabbed several in the deck of cards. Others work on connecting dots in seemingly dissimilar places (an Al-Qaeda group trained by the IRA in Colombia? Philippine terrorists moving to the Middle East? Financial and moral support by a Florida college professor? Is the enemy team in Chechnya connected to Bangladesh bombs somehow?).

The common thread results in this: Look for how the enemy disturbs the environment in which it lives and operates. Get counterintuitive. Change the operational and intelligence culture. Improvise, adapt, and overcome. They are both hard skills to master, but the results of not doing the work correctly are not exactly optimal.

Weingarten Was Right

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:21 pm

In the article linked below, Gene Weingarten very eloquently discusses the origins of humor. His thesis had a little anecdotal evidence to support it last night…

So, after the doctors put three liters of saline into my wife and three quarters of a liter into my son (that’s at 200ml/hr, with me holding on to the little fella the whole time sitting in a chair built to prove Mies Van der Rohe was a sadist), they bundle wife and child into a wheelchair to make it to the car. On the wheelchair ride the movement is too much for my wife, holding our son, and she barfs into a bag.

Eleven month old son, who has finally become calm after needle sticks and cold IVs and fever and sick, regaining about seven percent of his body weight in water, is awake enough to see her get sick up close and personal like.

He laughs his little head off.

Wife was not happy about this–but we’re at least happy to know he’s finally got his smile back for a brief moment.

Yup, Weingarten was right. Humor comes from pain.

January 28, 2006

Speaking Of Good Writing…

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:41 pm

En Revanche talks up an article so well, and criticizes it so incisively, that I’m now going to have to read some socialist boomer writer’s work. (Boomers. Eh. Always with the boomers.)

You know, guys who like Counterpunch and Z Magazine. Without even any bourbon.


Gene Weingarten’s Best Work?

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:02 pm

One of the great things about the Washington Post was the three pages of comics. One of the others was Gene Weingarten’s work. Gene’s the guy who hired Dave Barry; he’s been around for a while, writing good humor columns.

This article, however, is another thing entirely. Reviews are coming in sounding like movie reviews. Lileks says things like “should be taught in J-schools” and “Pulitzeresque”. Barry calls it a “great read“. Hugh Hewitt says it’s an amazing piece of writing.

I would only say don’t read just part of it. Stick with it and read to the end.

You will not have wasted your time, I think.

(If you liked that, there’s an online chat with Weingarten where he wrestles with some of the journalistic issues raised. You may need Bugmenot.)

Update: Okay, I just have to pile on. In the discussion noted above, Weingarten mentioned that an expense he claimed for the article was his second favorite expense account. Of course, somebody had to ask him what number one was…

Need Some Urdu In A Hurry?

Filed under: — Chap @ 11:48 am

Much like the Iraqi Arabic site I mentioned a while back, the military-affiliated LingNet has rapidly built a tool for folks that need some Urdu in a hurry.

Like, perhaps, someone working on post-earthquake Pakistan recovery.



Public Affairs

They’ve been pretty quick about bringing these things up and maintaining them. The only more thorough list I’ve seen in one place is the “pointee-talkee” sheets we use for being airdropped in a random place–but those pointee-talkees are pretty limited in what they can express, being a sheet of paper with pictures and phonetics and that’s about it.

Another initiative makes a heck of a lot of sense in a fast moving situation: a telephone helpline for translation services. Not so useful for grunts on a patrol, maybe, but could be–give a guy an Iridium with a speakerphone…

January 25, 2006

Joel Stein

Filed under: — Chap @ 8:40 am

Yes, I read the column.

Yes, it was in the Early Bird and was emailed to me by more than one person.

Yes, it got a reaction from the active duty folks here.

Lileks is entirely too nice because the author is in his line of work. He missed the opportunity.

Hewitt has about the right tone, I think.

My opinion? Not that it matters much. I would say, though, that the response á la Little Green Footballs of “at least he’s honest” is kind of sad. We don’t say “at least he’s honest” about other people who say such things.

Not that I’m not angry at the guy’s words. It’s just sad, is all.

Update: As usual, Lex has a better take than me.

January 24, 2006


Filed under: — Chap @ 9:26 pm

You know the story already: 1960s, the draft, tonsures, nervous Germans, the Beat Club, feedback and a rock banjo, the biggest tambourines I’ve ever seen. If not, I have a good blonde joke for you instead and you should pretend this post never happened.

Here’s what they did decades before Sonic Youth: invent feedback. Here’s some noise they made–if you’re into, say, Britney and that’s it, then this might take some getting used to.

Here’s the video: truly nuts, weirdness that would make Captain Beefheart tremble, and a freaking hit record. (There’s even a documentary.)

And when I retire from my job I hope I can rawk like these guys did after not seeing each other for about 35 years…

January 23, 2006


Filed under: — Chap @ 10:14 pm

Hit some magic button and disappeared a three page post. Argh.

The post was about this long link, which I found when looking through Venona. There are many intel lessons to be learned there.

But I lost the post and am done typing tonight.

Something I Could Get Smart On

Filed under: — Chap @ 9:46 pm

I read this article by Jonah Goldberg and it does not match some of the things I hear on other web sites. But I do know that some of those things, like where the Rosenbergs were guilty, are to me pretty much settled.

That Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty is no surprise to those who’ve looked into the case (though some die-hards claim Vanzetti was merely a co-conspirator after the fact). But that didn’t stop the martyrdom campaign. Their execution was used to galvanize everyone from establishment liberals to the very, very hard left. Josef Stalin publicly lamented it. Protests erupted in the capitals of Europe and across the U.S. A young Felix Frankfurter staked his reputation on their innocence. Sacco and Vanzetti became props in a passion play about the evils of the U.S. in the 1920s, and the myth endured.

What is amazing is how familiar this story is. Much the same thing happened with Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the convicted Soviet spies. Alger Hiss, a goliath of the East Coast liberal establishment, was a spy. Yet he was backed by liberals who considered anti-communism, at a minimum, gauche.

This pattern fits my worldview pretty well. Many of the things that seemed true when I read my Zinn in high school don’t seem to match up, any more, and what Goldberg mentions includes many that don’t. Any folks, like the Philosopher or the Generalist, care to beat down any of the issues Goldberg states as settled? I’m not looking for the standard “libruls vs. wingnuts” deal, I’m talking real thinking. I’ll take any good sources of fact…

January 22, 2006

Got Nothin’

Filed under: — Chap @ 7:39 pm

All blogged out. Hit that archive…when’s the last time you looked at the first month of posts?

I thought not.

January 19, 2006

What’s At Stake With NSA/FISA

Filed under: — Chap @ 8:43 pm

This Wall Street Journal article popped up in the Early Bird (DoD-only restricted link here) today. It’s subscriber only but is an outstanding characterization of the absurd nature of some of the rhetoric around the New York Times’ “exposé”.

And to correct an oft-cited misconception, there are no five-minute “emergency” taps. FISA still requires extensive time-consuming procedures. To prepare the two-to-three-inch thick applications for non-emergency warrants takes months. The so-called emergency procedure cannot be done in a few hours, let alone minutes. The attorney general is not going to approve even an emergency FISA intercept based on a breathless call from NSA.

For example, al Qaeda agent X, having a phone under FISA foreign surveillance, travels from Pakistan to New York. The FBI checks airline records and determines he is returning to Pakistan in three hours. Background information must be prepared and the document delivered to the attorney general. By that time, agent X has done his business and is back on the plane to Pakistan, where NSA can resume its warrantless foreign surveillance. Because of the antiquated requirements of FISA, the surveillance of agent X has to cease only during the critical hours he is on U.S. soil, presumably planning the next attack.

Even if time were not an issue, any emergency FISA application must still establish the required probable cause within 72 hours of placing the tap. So al Qaeda agent A is captured in Afghanistan and has agent B’s number in his cell phone, which is monitored by NSA overseas. Agent B makes two or three calls every day to agent C, who flies to New York. That chain of facts, without further evidence, does not establish probable cause for a court to believe that C is an agent of a foreign power with information about terrorism. Yet, post 9/11, do the critics want NSA to cease monitoring agent C just because he landed on U.S. soil?

If you can, read the whole thing. It is an op-ed, clearly, but does put forth points I’d have liked to make, and does so clearly and effectively.

Rob’s clearly concerned about similar issues as Enrevanche and a few other folks. I’m more worried about leakers and efficient killing of bad guys before they get to us; they’re more concerned about civil liberties they perceive as lost, particularly with the character of the current administration. If this book is any indication of the profession of one of them, then that one guy may want to seriously consider a different job…

Least Compelling Clemency Argument This Week

Filed under: — Chap @ 7:08 pm

…is from the father of one John Walker Lindh.

“In simple terms, this is the story of a decent and honorable young man embarked on a spiritual quest,” said Frank Lindh, swallowing back tears at times during a speech at the Commonwealth Club, a nonprofit organization.

John Walker Lindh, now 24, was captured by American forces on Nov. 21, alongside the Taliban. Frank Lindh said his son thought he had been rescued by U.S. soldiers until he was taken into custody and tortured.



And it might just be worthwhile to remember that Lindh was captured not “alongside the Taliban”, like he was an innocent bystander or something. He was captured fighting with the Taliban.

I’ll tell ya what. We’ll give Lindh clemency, by giving the clemency letter to Mike Spann and letting Mike deliver it to him.

Oh, wait. The guys “alongside Lindh” killed Mike.

Never mind.

Until now, his parents have mostly maintained a public silence about the case, hoping to avoid a media barrage that could be detrimental to their son. But on Thursday Frank Lindh shared baby pictures and other photos of his son during the presentation and said he is proud of his child.

Proud, he said.

I’d use other words.

January 18, 2006

Woo Yay

Filed under: — Chap @ 4:45 pm

Was waiting for the results of a bureaucratic initiative.

Said results were positive. Happy dance to commence ASAP.

Details are sketchy but will be filled in when available–it involves the next job. Might take a few weeks to get details, much less figure out whether I can report them or not. But things are looking up.

(Could I get more vague than that? Probably not…)

January 17, 2006

Underway On Nuclear Power

Filed under: — Chap @ 9:28 pm

Bubblehead sends me off on a research project: did the USS Nautilus fudge its famous message to the world?

To find his uli. Man. (I’m putting my response here so I don’t have to type all this into Blogger’s comment box.)

The answer? Well, sorta. But not really.

The source for this quote is Francis Duncan’s Rickover: The Struggle For Excellence. I met the author once, and he was pretty darn knowledgeable–and Duncan was an NR guy at the time of the sea trials. I quote from p.139:

Once clear of the pier, Wilkinson ordered the engines “All back full”.

Then it happened.

The scream of metal scraping metal filled the engine room. It came from the starboard reduction gear–not part of the nuclear plant but vital to the operation of the starboard propeller. Quickly informing Wilkinson, the chief engineer shifted to electric propulsion. The ship was fitted with electric motors for emergency use. They ran off turbogenerators driven by steam from the reactor plant, so the Nautilus was still operating on nuclear power.

Prudence required returning to the pier, but Rickover refused. Everyone watching from the waterfront, every person lining the riverbanks, and every reporter scanning each move of the ship would realize something had gone wrong. And soon the entire nation would know. He proposed, once the ship was safely headed downstream, to start the port main turbine and steam the port propeller, leaving the starboard propeller free to spin. While Wilkinson maneuvered the ship, Rickover sped below. The trouble had already been found: it was a loose screw scraping against the metal casing. It was easily fixed. When the submarine was at the mouth of the Thames and about to enter Long Island Sound, Wilkinson sent a message to the commander of the Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet: “Underway on nuclear power”, words that became part of naval history.

They eventually found a lot of problems with screws on that boat, and changed fabrication methods a couple of times.

And no, I don’t get paid no stinkin’ bonus for the uli. Life’s not fair, I tell ya.

I Found The Video

Filed under: — Chap @ 9:08 pm

I hear the Naval Academy’s got a new training video for harassment.

Via Rodger, we find a copy of the video here (Windows Media, yeah go click it).

CDR Salamander has been following the results of the training closely.

Yup, sounds about right.

January 16, 2006

Another For The Graduation Speech Collection

Filed under: — Chap @ 8:39 pm

I kinda liked Steve Jobs’ graduation speech. It got some good points across.

…much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

A slightly less impressive, but still interesting, one is by Guy Kawasaki.

Remember these ten things: if just one of them helps you helps just one of you, this speech will have been a success:

#10: Live off your parents as long as possible.

#9: Pursue joy, not happiness.

#8: Challenge the known and embrace the unknown.

#7: Learn to speak a foreign language, play a musical instrument, and play non-contact sports.

#6: Continue to learn.

#5: Learn to like yourself or change yourself until you can like yourself. #4: Don’t get married too soon.

#3: Play to win and win to play.

#2: Obey the absolutes.

#1: Enjoy your family and friends before they are gone.

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