February 29, 2016

Midterms Are Upon Us

Posting is, therefore, likely to be intermittent. Here, as atonement, is something to tide you over that seems to cover all bases. 

Artist Unknown, but it appeared recently in Nyan-Type 

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Super Tuesday

Can the Trumpeting be stopped?

No..  I mean...

How 'bout we just put the whole post below the fold. 

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February 27, 2016

Warp Speed

 Instapundit reports that Nicholas Meyer will be executive producer on CBS's new Star Trek Series!

Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home (which Myer directed) were Star Trek at its best and the last that really kept faithful to the spirit of the old series before the deliberate shift in philosophy and tone that was evident in TNG. 

CBS seems to be shooting for the old Desilu magic. 

This could actually warrant some attention. 

UPDATE: Belay my last Meyer's role is not so critical as we were led to believe. So much the better...

...it will make the inevitable disappointment that much more exquisite. 

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Gate Episode 20

In our latest story, Itami and friends go dowsing for adventure, which takes them far, far away from the actual plot. 

Said plot focuses on the the continuing political machinations in the Imperial capital, the efforts of the Japanese government to not exacerbate the situation and a brave little girl who can think on her feet. 

"Well, sir, these may look like mother of pearl, but if you observe them closely you'll note they are, in fact, solid brass."

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Bad Day in Superhero School

Some days, even the best efforts just do not pan out.

The above captures a moment of introspection from this week's Sir Mix-A-Lot tribute episode of Phantom World which, despite a few cute moments and an amusing attempt to get Minase to smile,  pretty much involved the audience doing this for 28 minutes....  

"Oh man, that's just wrong!"

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February 24, 2016

Tornado Warning

Weather just turned exuberantly suboptimal.

UPDATE:  Damage in the immediate area is minimal, but less so in other parts of town.  I got to hear O.D.U.'s tornado siren for the first time last night, when the second wave of squalls passed through.  This is not unheard of here, but tornado season doesn't usually start for another month or two. Note that these storms are absolutely nothing like the monsters that Don deals with. 

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Yay Robots!

Yay! I'm 18 months from retirement.

Yay! I might make it before this replaces me. 

This is really impressive. The ability to get up and cope with a Teamster with a pole represents a genuinely amazing amount of progress and yet leaves me with ever so slightly mixed emotions. Of course this is much more the sort of concern many of us expected in the 21st century that 9th century religious fanatics, so we should count our blessings. 

I'm not going get genuinely worried until they equip it with a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.

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February 22, 2016

Oh...So Marissa is a Necromancer?

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Techweasels Unmasked!

Over in the comments section at one of the cool blogs, Brett Bellmore appears to have worked out one of the many proprietary techniques in the repertoire  of Overton's Window Moving Service. 

 I'm convinced that the modern social media business model makes sense. It just doesn't make financial sense. 
The new business model is to build up a large customer base by being useful and reasonably impartial, and doing it at a loss to attract customers. Then, at some point, when you decide you have enough customers, you take your profit. 
But, not in the form of money. In the form of political influence. You've got eyeballs, you feed them a skewed version of reality designed to effect how they vote. You've got customers who are of the opposite political persuasion, you screw with them, and extract from them the opportunity cost of switching to a different platform right in the middle of an election campaign. 
Sure, your company tanks, customers eventually flee. But not before you've thrown an election. 
The big investors in companies like Twitter don't object to this, because this is the profit they were looking for. They weren't buying future income, they were buying a chance to push politics in a direction they like.

That's pretty much what's been going on

Damnit...If I'm going to live in a futuristic dystopia, I want flying cars. 

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Peace in our Thyme

All is tranquil and quiet inside our spice cabinet.

Elsewhere however:

Iran is preparing to launch another satellite. This is, of course, impossible, since such activities were forbidden by the recent nuclear agreement. Oddly enough,  the Simorgh launcher seems to be very close design-wise to the North Korean Unha launcher that launched a similarly forbidden payload into orbit earlier this year. That could indicate close cooperation with the DPRK on weapons development, which would mean that Iran might be continuing its nuclear program abroad. That's silly of course since such an unlikely development would render the whole Iran agreement nothing more than...


In what is surely unrelated news, North Korea seems to be readying another nuke test.

All evidence points to a Chinese crackup, or an explosion of violence against its neighbors and the United States, or both

Meanwhile, Here is a map of all the cultural heritage sites that have been razed or attacked by ISIS and its affiliates. 

This Foreign Policy Article is behind a paywall, but its headline gives a short, but comprehensive overview of the world situation.

That piece does cover everything but I prefer to leave on an upbeat note and one bright side to all this is that the disappearance of dangerous nuclear material in Iraq is actually pretty low on the threat list. 

UPDATE: As Steven pointed out in the comments section, that missing nuclear material was found...in a gas station in Iraq. 

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February 21, 2016

Slander Refuted

Go now.

Read this.

Read the whole thing.

It defies excerpting.

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Contingency Planning Thread

The Primary results have me so despondent that I'm not going to blog about politics. However, despite the dark implications for our nation, last night's results in South Carolina make it increasingly possible that Takumi Yanai IS in fact a time traveller. Thus, since the fall of the Republic may, in fact, be nigh we need to make contingency plans. The upside of course is That Mr. Yanai has shown us the way to escape the coming darkness, but has warned us that without proper planning Americans will be denied salvation. Also the latest episode revealed that so one might want to wonder what resources one would need to bring through to maintain a tech advantage. Note that repairs would be impossible once the gate closed, so something along the lines of a victorian machine shop would be necessary.

Also general discussion/speculation regarding GATE

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February 20, 2016

I Just Don't Know.

When I first heard about the Apple encryption story I thought that this was a really good thing Apple was doing.  For a good overview of the Apple side of the argument, JC Carlton has an extensive and link rich post on the topic

If the FBI and NSA are so inept that they can’t do simple traffic analysis on the communications or find other means to do the legwork, why has country spent hundreds of billions over decades to build up an intelligence apparatus that apparently can’t find it’s ass with both hands. And what happens to what’s left of our liberties if nothing is secure from the government?


Lois Lerner is FREE today, and that should end the discussion, or so I thought until I read this

  First, the government is not asking Apple to break the phone’s encryption. They are seeking to have Apple turn off an auto-erase function, which (when turned on) automatically erases all the data on an iPhone if there are ten consecutive incorrect attempts to enter the four-digit passcode. They are seeking to have Apple allow the passcodes to be entered electronically — so nobody has to manually type in every possible four-digit combination. And they are seeking to have Apple disable a feature that introduces delays of increasing length as incorrect guesses at the passcode are made.  

Now, Patrick Frey is a prosecutor and prosecutors tend to want to err on the side of getting info and not on the side of privacy, however, he is saying that the issue is NOT as is being presented in the media. 

There is also this

Apple also decided in February 2015 to store local users’ personal data in China. The move was a gesture of good will towards Beijing that other companies like Google, for example, have always rejected for "security reasons”. This is because it is easier for China to request access to personal information that is under its jurisdiction.

I honestly don't know enough about the situation or the ins and outs of the technology to know where to come down on this. I'm strongly inclined to take Apple's side ion the issue, seeing as how our government, especially THIS government cannot be trusted with people's data. The precedent would seem to be troubling to say the least.  But this was a phone known to have been used in a terrorist attack and there is a court order involved. 

Anyway, have at it in the comments.   

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Cunning Plan is Cunning

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Ultimately, the reason we have 'Bulkhead 30'

...and segregated bivouac arrangements....

 is not only about professionalism and efficiency...

...but on a more fundamental level, to prevent bringing down the wrath of the gods on one's officer corps.

From episode 19 of GATE where this awkward misunderstanding at the intersection of local customs and common law precedent has nothing whatsoever to do with the epic and tumultuous events happening far from our blissfully unaware heroes. However, it does precipitate a spirited academic debate about the merits of competing methodologies which indirectly leads to our protagonists developing a new appreciation for the importance of keeping informed on current events.

A few things were established in this episode. 

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February 17, 2016

Phantom World Episode 7

This episode was just a weird occurrence at the school and was pretty episodic.. 

However, unlike most stories that mention a certain thought experiment, they got Schrödinger's cat right! 

Not only that, but our heroines all turn into catgirls for some reason. 

Thus the episode still counts as a win. 
This despite the fact that the "problem" is, regrettably, solved.  (To our hero's credit, he has nothing to do with that unhappy development.) Additionally, this story may tie somewhat into continuity going forward. We'll find out as we are still enjoying this silly, slightly pretentious, but surprisingly enjoyable show. 

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Compare and Contrast

We mentioned yesterday that it looks like the Chinese may be putting their nuclear force on hair-trigger alert.

According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Beijing is considering a small but scary change to the way it stores its nuclear weapons. China may be reversing its decades-old nuclear policy and putting its nuclear weapons on permanent high alert. This would make China's nuclear deterrent more credible, but also heighten the possibility of accidental nuclear war.
The full report from the Union of Concerned Scientists is here. As is typical for them their suggestions all involve the U.S. coming off of a strike on warning status. Of course they also think that GMO foods should be banned so take their suggestions with a grain of (iodized) salt.

What is clear, is that China is engaged in a massive modernization of its nuclear forces. Little in the way of specifics is available, but this excerpt of a report from last year gives a good idea of what's in the works. Note that we have NO arms control treaties with China and no joint inspection agreements unlike those we have with Russia, so there is a LOT of room for surprises, particularly on numbers of warheads. 

Meanwhile in the U.S.A. It is unclear if this is the hope or the change, but it does seem consequential whichever it might be. 

Even before the 10-warhead mega-missile retired, plans were hatched for the Air Force to retrofit MX-like accuracy into remaining land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, called ICBMs.
But that never happened.  Somewhat amazingly, nearly nobody's noticed.

The Minuteman 3 is about 50 percent less accurate than the less old Peacekeeper missiles which were retired some years ago. The minuteman originally compensated for this by having a 1.2 MEGATON warhead. This was, later supplemented by other missiles with 3 smaller warheads, first the W-62, then the W-78. All the Minuteman missiles with the single Big warhead were retired some years ago and when the Peacekeeper missiles were retired, their mid yield warheads (the fairly modern and much safer W-87) were transferred to the much older Minuteman missiles. 

However. The Minuteman missiles were reduced from 3 warheads to 1 each so that they now have about a third the yield of the original Minuteman 1 (and obviously a third the yield they had before the "upgrade"). More significantly, they were supposed to be retrofitted with the much more accurate guidance package of the Peacekeeper missile to compensate for this. However, the Obama administration nixed this along wth several other upgrades to the nuclear arsenal. Thus the ability of these smaller and fewer warheads to deal decisively with a large nation's military is significantly reduced. This is because that while nuclear warheads are very powerful, they still require precise placement to take out a hardened bunker or missile silo, this is especially true with the much fewer and smaller warheads currently deployed.

It gets worse:
Ironically, Carter and the nation's commander in chief, President Obama, may be unaware that the U.S. arsenal cannot actually accomplish what's enshrined in the nuclear-contingency blueprints they've approved, according to defense sources. The promise of greater accuracy for the land-based missiles reportedly helped lay the groundwork for reductions in the 2011 New START agreement between Washington and Moscow, and many have assumed the precision now exists.
It's conceivable, strangely enough, that the Kremlin has already taken stock of the U.S. targeting deficiency. Considerable data about the capabilities of U.S. Air Force and Navy ballistic missiles can be found in open sources and online.

I suspect that neither the word "Ironically", nor the phrase "strangely enough" is being used properly in that quote.  

Note that one of the many hurdles to rectifying this is fears of civil service job security. 
But the ICBM program headquarters at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, also stands to lose jobs and clout if the advanced accuracy technology is adopted. Repair personnel based at Hill keep busy maintaining the old Minuteman 3 mechanical guidance units, which break down once every three years on average.
By contrast, solid state uses fewer moving parts and can run for 20 years between breakdowns, according to Air Force Research Laboratory data.
Oh...what EVER would we do with a reliable deterrent that didn't break down every three years? Perhaps not reducing our 400 single warhead missiles to...less at any given time. 

Of course, it is possible that the old '60s era guidance system is less prone to EMP and hacking and doesn't use the GPS  satellites that would be knocked out swiftly in any nuclear attack, so perhaps commercial off the shelf upgrades are not actually the panacea that the article suggests. The blue-screen of ATOMIC death should be limited to Cherenkov radiation on a CCTV. 

An extensive overview of hypothesized scenarios and effects involved in a China-U.S. Nuclear exchange can be found here. Note that this study is from a few years ago and does not take into recent Chinese developments and assumes that the U.S. actually upgraded the Minuteman guidance to render it effective against hardened targets. 

The calculus in these matters for a totalitarian dictatorship or oligarchy is vastly different than a representative republic. The possibility that a large nation which places a low value on human life might think that they can "take the hit" and deal a death blow to an adversary should not be ignored, especially since the vastly reduced numbers of active nukes in the world mean that a nuclear war today would not be a global extinction event. This, ironically could increase the possibility of these terrible weapons use. As such our deterrent should be as robust and credible as possible. 

UPDATE: And in other nuclear news...

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February 16, 2016

Is a Red Guard in a Grey Suit of No Concern?

One troubling kerfuffle that is getting short shrift outside of right leaning blogs. involves a small time author who got cut by his publisher because his villains motivations were impolitic. This says more about the publisher than anything else, and it would be a non story, if not for the reports of the very pervasive nature of a monoculture in a lot of the publishing industry. 

One argument that I hear regarding stories like this is that it is not news and there is nothing wrong with it because the 'policing' is being done by a corporation and it's not a government doing the censoring, so it's not actually censorship.   

By that logic, the Hayes Code and the Comics Code Authority which were instituted not by the government, but by trade associations and agreements between corporations were just peachy keen. Even the Hollywood Blacklist, though initially a reaction to contempt of congress citations, was not a government pogrom but was initiated voluntarily by the studios. If that sort of thing appeals to you then fine, enjoy your homeowners association and live happily in your chosen dystopia. However, for the rest of us, when virtual monopoly that controls a good chunk of public discourse silences viewpoints the effect can be the same in many ways as a government doing it. The differences can be reduced further when these entities quietly collude with the government in suppressing viewpoints.  Of course, having the government barge in and force these entities to allow the speech they are banning would unambiguously be a 1st amendment violation. However, the situation as it is developing is deeply troubling. Thus it is wise to ensure that people are aware of these things and encourage alternate venues for online socialization and different outlets for publication. 

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Wait. Umm..What?


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News That Doesn't Concern The Trumped-up Trump-Centric Trumpeting of Trumpism by the Trumpen Proletariat

For many of  us who grew up in the later stages of the Cold War, the region known as the Fulda Gap was a tidbit of geography that carried special meaning. Today the Sulwaki Gap seems to be replacing it in the atlas of dread.

Map Via

I momentarily misread this as "Vladimir Putin Wants to Destroy Naruto" and was perplexed, but not alarmed...alas. The article lays out a scenario where Turkey, intervening in Syria, exchanges fire with the Russians and the Russians hit a facility inside Turkey. This is not at all unlikely since the two nations are historical enemies, are currently at cross purposes in Syria and have recently exchanged fire with lethal results. The goal from the Russian perspective would be to destroy NATO's credibility should they refuse to come to Turkey's aid when Turkey invokes article 5 of the NATO charter. If Russian can secure the Hellespont, they will have achieved one of their primary goals of the last 300 years....so their motivation is great, perhaps great enough that the risk of WW3 seems worth it to them. 

That Russia (like China) has numerous domestic problems, does not make the risk of their engaging in ambitious foreign adventures necessarily unlikely. Such circumstances can have the opposite effect. 

The mess in Syria is already disturbingly international in nature. The Washington Post goes so far as to call it a 'mini world war'. While that is certainly hyperbole, the number of nations invested in the outcome of this squalid mess has the potential to widen its reach. 

Elsewhere in the Middle East the Iran Deal so doggedly sought by the current administration appears to be bearing fruit.
"We see signs that countries in the Arab world are preparing to acquire nuclear weapons, that they are not willing to sit quietly with Iran on brink of a nuclear or atomic bomb,"

Pivoting to Asia for a bit reveals that China is putting MIRVs on its big DF-5 ICBMs. This is surprising mainly in that the Chinese seem to be keeping the old missiles in service despite the existence of the new Road Mobile DF-41. Most likely the very large throw weight of the liquid fueled  DF-5 is a factor. The Middle Kingdom also seems to be putting its nuclear forces on an alert footing...this is not a short term mobilization but a larger change in policy regarding how their deterrent is handled. 

China is also equipping its "scientific research stations" on the Philippine reefs it has turned into islands with impressive AAA/ABM missile systems...no doubt for launching sounding rockets. 

Meanwhile...In South Korea...
Won Yoo Chul, floor leader for the ruling Saenuri party, on Monday said South Korea should adopt "peaceful” nuclear weapons and missiles against North Korea’s "fearful and self-destructive” ones.

He said South Korea should be independent from ally Washington’s so-called nuclear umbrella to deter North Korea’s nuclear threat, or reconsider deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, which were withdrawn from South Korea in 1992 under a pact for the denuclearization of the peninsula.  

Fecklessness...the gift that just keeps on giving. 

On the economic front, Kyle Bass, who was something of a Cassandra with regard to the bursting of the 2008 financial bubble is now saying the saying similar things about China...except that he expects it to be far worse than 2008

Silly Cassandra...I'm sure the powers that be would tell us if something were up

In other news...well intentioned hippies should write in English or Spanish...I'm just sayin'. 

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