Signaling virtue, or just ignorance?

With PTC1/Alex on the prowl I didn’t have a chance to comment on this, but the City of Savannah posted this photograph last week to signal the start of Pride Month. Notice anything? Yep. The Ukrainian Flag is backwards.

How to signal your ignorance.

Sadly, ignorance/incompetence isn’t just limited to the City of Savannah … here’s a screen capture from a Pentagon briefing a week or so ago. The fact this briefing was for Defense Industry contractors looking to cash in on the $40 Billion windfall masquerading as aid puts this firmly in the “you can’t make this stuff up” realm …

Assistant SecDef for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia Laura Cooper (left), Defense Secretary (center), Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (right), with upside down Ukrainian Flags.

The Savannah thing is absurd. The Progress Pride flag I understand (it’s a domestic policy issue, the City has an advocacy office and well known positions, etc.), but why is the City displaying the Ukrainian Flag? Did the City put together a policy justification for why the City Government, as representatives of the Citizens of Savannah, should be signalling its support for either side of this war? Does the Mayor, anyone on the City Council, or anyone in City Government have the necessary background and expertise to understand the situation, or are they just jumping on a popular bandwagon? And even if this was a carefully thought through policy, didn’t anybody bother to look up how to properly display the Ukrainian Flag? Ten seconds on Wikipedia would have done the trick. The blue band is on top if flown as a flag, and on the left if displayed as a banner.

As any reader of this blog knows, I strongly feel the situation in Ukraine is a tragic mess, one we bear significant responsibility for starting and inflaming. I think that sending weapons in to this conflict is dangerous, and ultimately causing more harm than good. Expressing support for the present Government of Ukraine by flying its flag is not as simple as some might think. I have to wonder if the Mayor of Savannah is aware of what senior officials of the Ukrainian Government have said about people of color (much less, given the Progress Pride flag now displayed in the rotunda, the LGBTQ community). Almost certainly not.

But that’s not really the point of this post. If you do feel that support of the Ukrainian Government is justified, at least fly their flag right side up.

As for the Pentagon, I don’t even know where to start. Whenever I have been involved in activities at this level annoying but essential protocol officers were scurrying around making sure flags were right side up, seating was correct, and that I didn’t cause yet another international incident by asking for ketchup at a state dinner thrown by the President of France like that first time. That the DoD official responsible for Ukraine didn’t instantly recognize the problem is simply unbelievable, and for the SECDEF to be seen surrounded by upside-down flags is a major national embarrassment.

This is sadly yet another symptom of how US Diplomacy has collapsed over the last thirty years. This 2020 RAND corporation study (link) describes elements of that decline, but I think there is a deeper problem with the overall level of education in the US, ignorance about the rest of the world, and the self-centered, “exceptionalist” view of that world. Fẹmi Akọmọlafẹ, a journalist from Ghana, wrote the following recently comparing the competence of foreign diplomats from the major powers:

Western officials, on the other hand, attack the world as haughty, naughty, ill-mannered, ill-educated, uncultured, provincial, and narcissistic imbeciles. They lack the elementary decorum necessary to engage peers in respectful manners. Ok, superciliousness, fueled by racist arrogance, might partly explain why they behave so, but we cannot discount the possibilities that they simply lack the education, the culture, and the home training required for civilized behavior, especially in encounters with other cultures. The question needs to be asked how the Collective West ended up with the current gaggle of clowns holding positions of responsibility? … It didn’t use to be like this. The West was once great. I should know; I studied there.

Harsh, but an interesting perspective. A key difference between the US and some major countries is that in the US the top levels of the State Department are political appointees. Having watched career US diplomats first hand, there are some fantastically knowledgeable people working in that field, able to balance US interests with an understanding of history and a concern for the legitimate interests of other peoples. But unfortunately that does not extend to political appointees, who by and large lack those skills and tend to view everything through the lens of domestic politics. It’s a complex problem (yeah, I say that a lot), and one a serious President and Congress would try to address and find a better balance between political accountability, the ability of a President to direct foreign policy, the long term interests of the US, and the essential skills, knowledge, and experience that only comes from years – even decades – of experience.

PS – Please don’t use this space to debate the Progress Pride or Pride flags and domestic policy issues. Such posts will be deleted unless they are respectful and relevant to the Ukraine/Foreign Policy realms.

Wait, it’s not Palm Sunday?! Well, it’s complicated …

For the Western Churches that trace their lineage back through the Roman Catholic Church, today (10 April 2022) is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. But for roughly 30% of the Christian World, Palm Sunday isn’t until next week (17 April). Why is a fascinating story that involves astronomy and geophysics, politics, and theology. Here’s a few notes for those who are curious …

A Roman Kalend (Calendar) stone …

At the time of Christ, the calendar in use was the Julian Calendar. Julius Caesar himself ordered it into use in 45 B.C to clean up a number of issues surrounding the old Roman calendar. His new calendar was designed with the help of Greek astronomers (who were among the best of the time) and by any measure it was a big advance, more closely matching the actual length of the time it takes the Earth to go around the Sun, which is 365.24219 days. The Julian Calendar is pretty close to that, 365.25 days. It did that by having a year that is 365 days for most years, but inserting an extra day in the month of February every four years. The problem is that over time, even that .00781 of a day adds up, so the calendar “drifts” by about one day every 128 years. They were aware of the problem but figured they could fix it later, Of course, like many problems politicians say will get fixed later, later never came, possibly due to stabby senators …

By the 1500’s that drift had added up to nearly 10 days, causing the calendar to be out of sync with the seasons and causing problems with the calculation of the date of Easter. So Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar developed. It’s not really that different from the Julian Calendar, but tweaks things by making the average length of the year 365.2425 days (only .00031 days off, or one day of drift every 3225 years). It does this by dropping the leap year sometimes:

Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400. For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not leap years, but the years 1600 and 2000 are.
– US Naval Observatory FAQ.

In the Catholic world, the Gregorian Calendar came in to use in 1582. But while Gregory XIII was still called Pontifex Maximus, he was no Pater Patriae or Imperator like Julius … and by then the Western World was fragmented. The Roman Catholic Church had split off from the Eastern Churches in the Great Schism of 1054, and the Protestant Revolutions of the 1400’s had caused a major fracturing of Western Christianity. Most Protestant countries rejected the new “Papist” calendar even though it was technically more accurate, and more in sync with the seasons. The Orthodox Churches simply ignored it as just another Papal heresy to add to the increasingly long list 😛 . However, over time, the Protestant countries created their own, so called “Improved Calendar” that just happened to be identical to the Gregorian Calendar, so under whatever name by the 1700’s most of the western world had adopted the Gregorian Calendar. In the early 1900’s, most nominally Orthodox countries had adopted a split system: a civil calendar based on the Gregorian calendar, but the religious calendar and thus the calculation of the dates of Nativity (Christmas) and Pascha (Easter) stayed on the Julian Calendar.

So the situation today is that the Western Churches (Catholics and Protestants) use the Gregorian Calendar to calculate Easter, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Macedonian, Antiochian, the Orthodox Church in America, and so forth) use the Julian Calendar to calculate Pascha (Easter).

Today there is a 13 day difference between the Julian and Gregorian Calendars. Because Pascha/Easter are calculated based on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (on 20/21 March), that means the dates sometimes fall on the same day, but in other years can be up to a month apart! In 2016 Easter was March 23rd on the Gregorian Calendar, but Pascha was on May 1st Gregorian (April 18th Julian). This year (2022) they are only a week apart.

Nobody really disagrees with the fact the Julian Calendar has drifted, and the Gregorian Calendar is more accurate. Why haven’t the Orthodox Churches updated the calendar? Worse, why have some (like Constantinople) switched for the daily calendar but not for calculating Pascha? A key reason it remains unsolved involves the way the Churches are governed and how councils that can decide that sort of thing are convened. The Orthodox Church suffered two major disruptions in the early 1900’s, the Communist takeover of Russia (which is the largest Orthodox Church in numbers), and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and rise of the secular Turkish regime. The situation in Turkey has become even more complex, and the Orthodox Church there nearly destroyed by the increasingly oppressive Islamic forces under Erdogan. There have been some attempts at convening a council but some complex politics have gotten in the way such as the growing Schism between Istanbul (Constantinople) and Moscow, and interference in Church affairs by secular authorities. But that’s a long. complicated mess … but the bottom line is in the Orthodox world, where things move slowly anyway, the mechanisms to fix things like the calendar problem aren’t working.

So that’s a bit of history. To wrap up, here are “Leonid and Friends” doing a fantastic cover of Chicago’s classic, “Does anybody really know what time it is?” This group is amazing – the musicians are scattered across Russia and Ukraine, working together even during COVID and the ongoing conflicts. They also did a session with Arturo Sandoval doing a trumpet solo on “Street Player”. Well worth exploring …

Flirting with Armageddon: is #Ukraine leading to nuclear war?

Yesterday a Pew Research poll was released that indicated a stunning 35% of those polled, roughly equal percentages in each political party, said that the US should intervene in Ukraine even if it risked a nuclear war (link to poll). Indeed, many politicians are advocating policies that could easily lead to a nuclear confrontation with Russia such as a “no fly” zone or even direct military intervention by NATO or NATO countries individually.

I had a short discussion with Nate Hagens about this subject on his excellent podcast, “Frankly …” (link to podcast). This post is some additional background and thoughts to support that discussion. I hope you’ll give it a listen if you have time, and read on and consider that we may well be entering, and living through, the most dangerous period in human history, on par with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

For someone who came of age in the 1980’s and studied nuclear war professionally this poll is nearly unbelievable. I am afraid that both the general public and our leadership have forgotten what the consequences of a nuclear war might be, and how one might start. Sadly this is not a uniquely American phenomena. Even the German Green Party, founded in large part as peace party opposing nuclear weapons, has essentially abandoned their opposition to nuclear weapons. Green Party co-leader (and now German Foreign Minister) Annalena Baerbock said last December “We stand by our responsibility within the framework of NATO and the EU and also for nuclear participation;” the removal of nuclear weapons from Germany is no longer a key demand.

In America I suspect three main forces are at work that have mitigated concerns over conflicts escalating into a nuclear exchange, and obscured the potential impacts of a nuclear war:

  1. Americans have been insulated from war, and are seeing the war in Ukraine as they haven’t seen recent wars, especially the impact on civilians of urban warfare. Such imagery was deliberately downplayed during US interventions in Iraq and recent wars such as Libya, Syria, Yugoslavia, or the nearly daily slaughter in Yemen taking place even today, much less the ongoing carnage of the eight year long civil war in Donbas that, according to Russia, this “Special Military Operation” is trying to bring to an end. These heartbreaking images are provoking an emotional reaction and pressure to “do something” without fully considering if that “something” is making things worse, or potentially leading to catastrophe.
  2. I suspect the leadership of this country is wrongly thinking that nuclear weapons are more manageable, and that the nuclear threshold is not a bright line, but that a nuclear exchange can be kept tactical or even limited without becoming strategic (tactical, limited, and strategic are terms of art described below). This is primarily due to the availability of lower, selectable yield weapons (even sub-kiloton devices) in concert with precision delivery systems. That, in concert with doctrines (plans) for their use, has lowered the threshold and, in the minds of US planners, created multiple thresholds that can be managed.
  3. Americans have forgotten what a nuclear war might be like. The days of movies like “The Day After” or “War Games” are 40 years ago, much less the “duck and cover” exercises of the 50’s and 60’s, and after 1991 and the “end of history” and the fall of the Soviet Union, a general nuclear war became an abstract concept. When we think of nuclear weapons at all, it is as as one-off terrorist devices or a couple from a rogue state, not a peer-on-peer conflict.

I don’t want to start another argument on how we got here, and if or how responsible the West is or isn’t for the betrayal and tragedy of Ukraine. You can read my other blog posts on that if you haven’t already, starting at this link. The first point above, that this conflict is being played up in ways comparable or worse conflicts have not, is also way too complex to delve in to here. Let’s just look at points two and three because they are the most immediate issues. I have discussed the problem of the lowering of the nuclear threshold before, and the deployment of the W-76-2 warhead on our nuclear missile submarines (link). That post also discusses the schools of thought around nuclear weapons employment (MAD and NUTS) and a critical aspect that seems to be missing from the discussion: how Russia will react. One flaw I have seen repeatedly over the last two decades of dealing with Russia (as well as other countries) is the implicit assumption that their priorities and worldview are the same as ours. Often they aren’t.

Three terms of art need to be defined here. In simple terms, a “tactical” nuclear weapon (or use of a nuclear weapon in a tactical context) means battlefield use, targeting only direct combatants. It has the potential to change the battle space fairly radically; an adversary can no longer mass forces as those become a convenient target. It also can change the geography of the battlefield with cratering and residual radiation that makes movement difficult. A “limited” nuclear exchange is generally assumed to mean somewhat wider use – strikes deeper into an adversaries territory at key logistic sites, airfields, or ports, but avoiding (as much as possible) targets where large numbers of civilians might be directly harmed, but of course “indirect” harm becomes increasingly a factor. A general or strategic exchange is what most people think of as a nuclear war – with large, 200 kiloton or greater devices employed against entire cities, with the goal of destroying the target society.

The problem is, of course, that the lines between these three general levels are pretty gray in places, especially when it comes to a theoretical US(NATO) vs Russia conflict. Very few Russian aircraft, for example, have actually entered Ukrainian airspace; they are using standoff weapons and even artillery and surface to surface missiles are firing from inside Russia itself. Consider that in order to be effective any intervention in Ukraine by the US would require striking inside Russia itself. Some of these sites would be difficult to neutralize using conventional weapons, and the temptation to use one of the new generation kiloton or smaller weapons would become enormous as US casualties mounted. Even a conventional weapons strike inside Russia would, according to Russian doctrine, trigger strikes on US bases in the US in reply (it is unreasonable to think the US could hit Russian territory without them responding in kind, yet that is what some US planners assume!). And they have a number of weapons systems capable of doing that, either conventionally or nuclear.

Shortly after becoming President, the Reagan Administration conducted a highly classified exercise that has only recently become somewhat public. Known as “Proud Prophet 1983,” it had a profound impact on President Reagan and his team. What this war game discovered was that every scenario attempting to limit a nuclear conflict ended up in a general, strategic exchange at some point. In other words, tactical use led to limited use and from there a general nuclear war ensued. It so disturbed the administration that they changed their public rhetoric around the confrontation with the Soviet Union, and ultimately help lead to the INF treaty and a stable end to the Cold War. You can read more about “Proud Prophet” and its impact here on Wikipedia. It’s a fascinating story, one that is even today not well known or told in its entirety. The point here is that it is hubris to expect we can prevent a tactical nuclear exchange from escalating into a general exchange.

Castle Bravo test, 15 Megaton thermonuclear test in March, 1954.

As for how bad a nuclear conflict might be, and why nuclear weapons are different, this summary by MIT is worth reading. Even a limited nuclear exchange would prove catastrophic for our societies, and potentially the entire planet. I fear the hard lessons of the Cold War with respect to both the impacts of nuclear wars, and how to manage conflicts in a bi-polar or multi-polar world, have been forgotten. No matter how terrible you think the situation in Ukraine has become (and make no mistake, the suffering of civilians in urban war zones is utterly horrific – I know, I’ve been in them), they pale in comparison to the impacts of even a tactical nuclear exchange. We must also consider that such an exchange would probably unravel what little stability is left in global supply chains, the financial system, international relations, and so forth. The consequences are to an extent unforeseeable – but almost certainly horrific.

In conclusion, even assuming that everything that is being said about Ukraine in the western narrative is true, our leaders should be acting in such a way as to avoid a nuclear confrontation. The consequences of even a limited nuclear exchange with Russia are just too extreme. I suspect that is why Biden has so far said a no-fly zone is off the table, but unfortunately he is playing a dangerous game by giving in to pressure (and prolonging the agony of Ukrainian civilians) by continuing to provide lower levels of weapons, support, and the hope of future intervention. If you fully accept the US version of events, or believe it is a bit more complex and nuanced doesn’t matter at this point: we have to deescalate and avoid a nuclear conflict.

Deescalation does not mean “allowing further Russian aggression”. Assuming you accept the US position and “narrative”, it makes a lot more sense to do something we never actually did in Ukraine: draw a very bright line and say “no farther,” and putting substantial US forces on the line. Of course that line already exists: the existing NATO countries, and those deployments are underway. An “Iron Curtain 2.0” will descend, with a “Cold War 2.0” along with it, and it won’t be good for either side, but strategic stability would return with it.

So as upsetting as the imagery and narrative from Ukraine is, realize a nuclear conflict is nearly infinitely worse. Make sure our leaders know that must be the priority.

Of #Maus and Men

Watching the controversy over a Tennessee school board banning the comic Maus, I find myself wishing people would spend half as much bandwidth on opposing actual F’ing Nazis as they do expressing outrage over fictional ones. Where was the outrage over scenes like this, the US Military Attache to the Embassy in Ukraine, acting in her official capacity, rendering honors at a memorial to the fallen members of a neo-Nazi militia?

What an embarrassment.

That’s not to say the school board’s actions aren’t worthy of comment and reconsideration. The “graphic novel” art form is an interesting approach that certainly will engage this upcoming generation. But a number of serious academics have criticized the work over the animal metaphor, with the depiction of various nationalities as different animals. Some of these depictions are potentially offensive, such as the use of pigs for Poles, and some argue that the work plays into the Nazi stereotype that various nationalities and religions are different species, not just variations with a common humanity. There are other adult themes and subtexts regarding family that have also been noted by critics. So like many issues in modern America, I think this controversy isn’t quite so straightforward as it seems. Given these and other factors, I would certainly want to be careful about the age of students exposed to it. High school (Juniors and Seniors) should be of an age to be able to discuss the work, and I think it could be a good part of an “interdisciplinary” approach in the Arts, English, and History classwork, especially if these other issues were discussed. But like everything in education it should be as part of a carefully structured curriculum designed to teach kids to think, and prepare them for a complex, nuanced world.

And here is where the school board apparently went off the rails: far too often administrators and politicians avoid difficult subjects and controversy by restricting or banning them rather than creating a framework for using them. I suspect that the outrage over banning Maus is overblown and this wasn’t part of, as the author alleged, an attempt to whitewash Holocaust history. I doubt the Board thought it through much beyond “Oh, bad words and nudity, this subject makes us uncomfortable, fetch the banhammer!” Not everything is about some deeper issue, and making it more than that without solid evidence is a disservice to the victims of the Nazis.

Still, it is interesting to compare this controversy to a similar one playing out in the Seattle schools this week, the dropping of “To Kill a Mockingbird” from their required reading list. In that case, the argument is remarkably similar, yet one those pushing for the use of Maus might well agree with without realizing they have switched sides. To quote from one of the members of the board,

“It’s a very difficult book and a lot of thorny subjects are raised, and we felt that some teachers may not feel comfortable guiding their students through it,” Gahagan said. “It deals not only with racism, but it reflects a time when racism was tolerated. Atticus Finch, of course, is in everyone’s memory the great hero of the book, but in fact he was kind of tolerant of the racism around him. He described one of the members of the lynch mob as a good man.”

KSL.com

Wow. In my world, that’s exactly what we call a “teachable moment.” And any teacher “not comfortable guiding their students” on this needs some retraining or another career. As I often rant, the problem with the Nazis, or KKK, or any odious group isn’t that they were some kind of alien evil, it is that they are all too human. Virtually every human organization that was what we would call evil had good and bad aspects, and typically had people who participated in them who were not irredeemably evil. With a bit of generalization, Americans love to see things in black and white. But the world isn’t that simple. Why did men who were clearly moral and ethical on many levels, like Thomas Jefferson, or Robert E. Lee, enable or support slavery? How did someone like Erwin Rommel, or Werner von Braun become a Nazi? Many of the people who were instrumental in triggering and supporting the civil rights movement were, like Atticus, complex, doing the right thing while holding views that today would be considered repugnant. Likewise, those who participated in lynch mobs were often “good” family loving people in other contexts. Why? What makes them different?

If you don’t read their works and fictional accounts that relate that complexity, and study – in context – their life and times, you will never know. And never recognize it when your own government makes common cause with evil for expedient short term gain, or your organization that is trying to do good, by either protecting children or educating them, resorts to the kind of book banning and demonization without cause that the Nazis exploited in their rise.

The first place to look for signs and symptoms of toxic ideologies like Fascism isn’t out the window. It’s in the mirror. That seems to be the real lesson here.

Earthquake in #Haiti yesterday

There was an earthquake in Haiti yesterday, continuing to add to the misery in that often forgotten country on our doorstep. At least two dead and dozens injured

click to embiggen.

I’m not seeing much in the US media about this. I guess Joe Biden’s latest SOB gaff, or the latest horse race political analysis, or the insane situation in Ukraine buried the story. It’s hard to know what to say about Haiti and the situation there other than to sigh in despair.

Kazakhstan on the Potomac, #January6th

I’m not sure that I need to add much to what I wrote last year regarding the events of 6 January 2021. Those who argue it is a “false equivalence” to compare the 2020 BLM or 2017 protests against Trump’s election might want to review the data (not an easy task since sources on both sides are so biased). I would gently suggest it is a “false dichotomy” to suggest the two are not equivalent in significant ways. I’ll repeat what I wrote last year:

People with legitimate concerns that could and should be addressed within the normal political process are being encouraged by opportunistic elements to distrust the system and go outside the process to use disruptive, even violent protests to apply pressure to the system.

I’m not interested in scorekeeping over who caused the most damage or which group is the greatest threat to and/or savior of “democracy”; what interests me are the motivations and how the divisions driving the protests are being exploited for short term political gain by the political parties. And it is in that respect that both parties in the US are crassly manipulating their bases to keep them artificially enraged at each other, distracting them from the real threat to society: an entrenched political/media/economic system that feeds on outrage for votes and profit.

Biden’s speech this morning may, on the surface, seem more “civilized” and “Presidential” than a typical Trumpian rant, but in terms of accuracy, intent, and desired impact there is little to choose between them. The goals are the same: perpetuate “us (who are righteous) vs. them (who are evil)” worldviews. Disrupt, divide, and use the the ensuing divisions and outrage to advance policies that would otherwise not readily garner majority support.

Look familiar?

So what does this have to do with Kazakhstan? Everything, as it turns out. These tactics have been applied around the world by the US since the end of the Cold War, especially in the “Color Revolutions” in the Arab world, and in the former Soviet Union such as Ukraine, and now Kazakhstan. In all of these cases existing societal and economic divisions (often legitimate, but also in some cases less so such as Islamist or ultra right wing movements like Nazi elements as in Ukraine) were exploited to try to trigger a change of government or support for elements (savory or not) who favored US policies.

I’m absolutely not saying that US politicians are consciously or deliberately replicating the tactics used by the US State Department and Intelligence communities. Rather, it is a result of the sad fact that these tactics are rooted in how the political leadership in the US thinks and is trained, not some deliberate conspiracy. Nevertheless, the end result is that both are using dangerous strategies of inflammatory social rhetoric in order to create and exploit societal divisions for short term political or strategic gain with little concern as to the long term damage to the target society, either domestic or foreign.

It needs to stop.

The Chinese Hypersonic Vehicle Test

(Note for tropics watchers – nothing active anywhere, nothing expected in the next five days.)

There was a surprising flood of media attention over the weekend about a Chinese hypersonic missile test supposedly conducted a couple of months ago …

Hmmm … single source report echoed in multiple places?

So, is this what it appears? Was US Intelligence “surprised”? Let’s see what Bender has to say:

It is unimaginable that there was any surprise over this within the community – if any analyst was surprised, they should be fired. Immediately. In fact, any journalist who did not immediately ask “how is it possible to be surprised by this??” should also be sacked. And any editor who would let such a headline through to distribution without more context and questions should be sacked. While the USIC isn’t what it used to be, it’s not that utterly incompetent, so obviously there is something else going on. Let’s look a little deeper …

Hypersonic weapons systems are a hot topic right now. The phrase covers a lot of territory, from short range anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles to land attack weapons and ICBM based systems that can hit targets anywhere in the world within minutes. Hypersonic refers to the speed – generally to be considered hypersonic is to fly faster than Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). At the high end (literally and technically) are a class of vehicles that fly into space and return. These can range from boost-glide vehicles to vehicles that combine boost-glide with supersonic combustion ram-jet engines (SCRAM jets). There are a lot of technical aspects and considerations in how vehicles are designed, and how altitude and velocity are traded for maneuvering, avoidance, and range.

The first hypersonic boost-glide vehicle was designed in … the early 1940’s. The Silbervogel (“Silver bird”) project was part of the advanced weapons development associated with the V-2 rocket development. After the war, the designers came to America and these concepts were used in everything from the X-20 Dynasoar project (one of the sad, great “what if” projects in history) and the Space Shuttle, as well as modern similar projects like the X-37 today. In terms of weapons development, there were numerous cold war era projects with varying degrees of classification that I will leave to the interested reader to Google so I don’t get in trouble. The Soviets and now Russians have developed and tested – and in recent years deployed – hypersonic boost-glide and fractional orbit bombardment systems such as Авангард (Avangard) that are on combat duty, as well as an array of other hypersonic weapons such as anti-ship and land attack missiles (Циркон, кинжал).

What about the Chinese in particular? Well, the DF-ZF boost-glide vehicle was deployed by the Chinese military and declared operational on … October 1st, 2019. Two years ago – with known tests years before that. They too have hypersonic anti-shipping missiles such as the DF-21, which was supposedly operational as early as 2010.

So even based on public information it’s inconceivable any serious analyst would be surprised by the existence of this thing, therefore there is something else going on aside from the obvious fact that the journalists writing the above news articles are clueless and gullible. While the US has had multiple hypersonic weapons projects over the years, there is an impression it has been lagging well behind Russia for some time. The AGM-183A has had testing problems and is not in deployment, while the Prompt Global Strike program also seems (at least in public) to still be mired in development, although the common hypersonic glide body was successfully tested last year.

So, this isn’t really new. It’s obviously a placed leak for some reason, Why? Probably several reasons: First, at least on paper (and probably in reality) the US is behind in hypersonic weapons system deployment. That is in fact a serious strategic problem, especially for the Navy, as it renders most large navy assets (like Carrier Battle Groups) extremely vulnerable. It also has the potential to negate most of the existing anti-missile systems like the Patriot and render close-in defense systems ineffective. So it makes sense to play up the red threat to get Congress to shovel some more money into these programs, after the huge amounts always already shoveled into these programs, hopefully this time to get some practical results.

Second, there is increasing nervousness over the situation with Taiwan, and the potential for China to move to reassert sovereignty over the island. The “correlation of forces” is already pretty unfavorable for the US to be able to defend the island, so again it makes sense to push potential threats to try to get more funding, redirect assets towards the West Pacific, etc.

And globally China is increasingly asserting itself, with projects not only across Asia but in Africa and Central/South America. So as a strategic threat, China is clearly number one.

In summary, this seems to be an incremental test by the Chinese. If it did in fact miss by “two dozen” miles as reported, that is actually a pretty significant failure in many ways. It makes me wonder about the capacity of systems like the DF-ZF, and how advanced their development really is. For the flood of articles to hit the press this way is a clear indication of an agenda. That’s potentially the real story, and it is distressing that the “news” media doesn’t have the depth to see it.

In defense of the explorers (#Erikson, #Columbus)

October 9th was Leif Erikson Day, and October 12th is Columbus Day. In recent years it has become fashionable to denounce European explorers, Columbus in particular, with monuments being removed across the country. In my view this is a mistake, creating a false perception of history for short term political purposes, while ultimately perpetuating and aggregating the racial and ethnic divides these actions claim to be trying to heal. OK, now that I’ve angered half of my readers, let’s see if I can annoy the other half … 😛 … but please read on and consider. It’s a long post, but it’s a complex subject.

First, perhaps I’m a bit biased, but in the absence of older records it seems Leifr Eiríksson actually discovered America, rather than blunder into it looking for something else as did Columbus. Leifr heard about a new land from Bjarni Herjólfsson, who had been blown off course and seen it but not made landfall. Leifr bought Bjarni’s boat and deliberately retraced the voyage for the purpose of finding and exploiting that land, setting foot in what is now Newfoundland.

Leifr Eiríksson discovers America …

There are stories of earlier contact from Europe going back to Roman times, but if such contact existed (and it possibly did), they left little trace and no solid records. And of course there were many rich, complex, and fascinating (as well as utterly horrific) civilizations here. I do agree it’s somewhat dismissive to imply that if it was unknown to Europeans it needed to be “discovered” so it’s probably better to say Leifr was the first European to discover America, but of course it’s complicated. As far as we know, the indigenous peoples migrated here across the land bridges that existed at the end of the last ice age. There were certainly explorers among them – but we do not know their names or motivations. Indeed, there have always been “explorers” among us, going back to our early, pre-human ancestors, those who looked to the horizon and wondered what was there, and left the familiarity of their homes to find something better, or different, or just because. But as far as we know the major migrations were of the “let’s follow that herd of food” variety rather than the deliberate “let’s collect supplies, organize transportation, head out into the unknown and go find a new thing.” Again, no disrespect, but it’s not the same thing. (And, of course, this discussion is limited to the discovery of North America by Europeans – there were amazing explorers in the Pacific, the Middle East, India, and Africa throughout history).

The celebration of my ancestors like Leif is absolutely not to disparage Columbus – of course his explorations resulted in a permanent exchange between the hemispheres and radically changed the course of history. The Norsemen got here first, but their settlements were not permanent, in large part due to the rapidly worsening climate – but that’s a different post.

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A Blatant Lie, and the potential consequences

Unlike most hard-core partisans or overly cynical observers, I’m reluctant to accuse a politician of outright lying. Usually politicians manage to find some shred of truth in which to wrap their falsehoods, and many statements are assumption dependent, so you while you can often say something is wrong or false, you have to be careful about saying something is a lie, which goes to intent. Accusing a politician of lying is also inflammatory and doesn’t help the public discourse. But there is little room for nuance here: President Biden lied when he said Afghanistan was “never about nation building.” It was *always* about nation building, and he was an integral part of developing that policy.

The proof is easily seen in the October 2001 Bonn Agreement, which was the key legal basis for our intervention. That agreement is cited in UN Security Council Resolution 1386 and other documents authorizing the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and specifically says in the list of requests, to …

Urge the United Nations, the international community, particularly donor countries and multilateral institutions, to reaffirm, strengthen and implement their commitment to assist with the rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction of Afghanistan, in coordination with the Interim Authority;

Multi-billion dollar legislation such as The Afghanistan Freedom Support Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-327, S. 2712) that was passed by Congress on November 15, 2002 and signed by the President (Bush II) on December 4, 2002 went through Biden’s senate committee. While many of the press releases have been lost or scrubbed from official USG web sites, some are still out there in various forms such as as at this State Department release from 2003, at a reliefweb link. Note the extensive list of reconstruction and capacity building projects. Resource inventories were made, roads and buildings constructed, institutions created.

from “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan”, U.S. Dept. of Defense, June 2008

So it seems the intervention was explicitly about “Nation Building” from the very beginning. Of course it was; the problem with Afghanistan all along was that it had no functional central government that could prevent groups like Al Qaeda from using it as a base. Biden, as a Senator and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in 2001-2003, knew this. As Vice President during Obama he was involved in many of the additional capacity building efforts (aka “nation building”) during that period, such as the creation of a US style Central Bank system. Unless he is becoming senile (which would be a different, perhaps worse concern), there is little room to wiggle here: he lied.

Before someone points to all of Trump’s lies, that’s sort of irrelevant. He didn’t campaign on being a reality based leader. Even Trump’s followers admit he has a sometimes difficult relationship with the truth, so when he said something that was clearly false, it’s not like he ever actually promised to tell the truth. Most rational people had no hope or expectation that Trump would be truthful; and, of course, the media has been harping on Trumps “lies” for years. With Biden there may not have been a lot of hope, but there was an expectation of some level of honesty with respect to the big things. And the really sad part is Biden didn’t have to lie about this. He could (and should) have just concentrated on how the current situation got out of hand, and left the big picture of why the nation building didn’t work to a more appropriate occasion. But I guess he (or his speechwriters) just couldn’t resist trying to shift the blame. It was an opportunity to be a statesman. He failed.

I’ve been a bit surprised at the negative coverage of Biden’s performance this last week (even CNN has been harsh), we’ll see how long this new media fairness remains. But fair or not, the collapse of the US intervention in Afghanistan, and the President’s clearly self-serving and misleading statements have made a bad situation in the US worse: mistrust of politicians.

Over the last 20 years I have done numerous flights for Veterans Airlift Command (aka “Hero Flights”) taking wounded vets and their families back and forth to specialized medical treatment (since our Government can’t be bothered to do that), not to mention suffering the effects of TBI’s myself partly due to service in places like Afghanistan and Iraq nearly 40 years ago. It’s nice people say “thank you for your service,” but what those who serve in the military/foreign service/intelligence world really want and deserve is for their sacrifice to mean something. They want the world to be a better place because of what they – and more importantly those who lost their lives – went through.

The betrayed feeling among military veterans has been building, and the last 72 hours poured gas on it. Biden’s speech Monday obviously didn’t help. Will that have political and social impacts? I don’t know, but it certainly could both directly and indirectly. The Soviet involvement in Afghanistan has often been cited as one of the elements in the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the bitterness of the Afgansty (Afghan Vets) were an important social factor in that collapse. The state of Afghanistan on their departure is arguable; the Soviets certainly made a better job of it than the US has. The Soviets left in 1989, the government didn’t fall for three years, whereas our client state fell before we were even out of the country. In the Soviet Union, the impacts at home due to the perceived loss of credibility and treatment of veterans, coming on top of the mistrust created by events like Chernobyl, were all factors in destroying the credibility of the Party and when the economic stress of reform hit home the system collapsed.

Is COVID America’s Chernobyl? Is Afghanistan America’s, um, Afghanistan? As Mark Twain is alleged to have said, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.”

Somehow trust in our key political institutions must be restored. I’m not sure how that can happen given the deep endemic corruption in both political parties, fed by the ratings driven media system. But ultimately it’s up to you, the voters, to not stand for having leaders like Trump and Biden on the ballot – much less in office. Politicians won’t change until they are punished more for being misleading than they are for being honest. Demand the truth – not just from the other side, but especially from your own, and be adult enough to realize that often you won’t like it.

Massive #earthquake in #Haiti

As if Haiti needed any more misery … there has been a shallow 7.2 earthquake south of Petit Trou de Nippes in Haiti:

Click to enlarge.

Model estimates are that nearly 8 million people are at risk, with 1.5 million living in structures that are in partial or total collapse. Strong aftershocks are in progress, with one only 30 minutes later that probably collapsed many additional structures …

No tsunami risk, fortunately. The political chaos in Haiti will almost certainly mean that there will need to be a truly massive intervention to prevent a further catastrophe. Sadly, given what happened last time, I am not optimistic, and the long suffering people of Haiti are in for a lot more misery.

As a reminder and warning, when disasters hit in places like Haiti a number of well-oiled fund raising machines kick in with heart rending stories to cash in on your generosty. Make sure when you contribute, it’s to a reliable organization – and some of the big names actually have poor reputations. Sadly not that much of the money contributed for the 2010 earthquake actually did any good. I like Doctors without Borders, and there are some good religious based organizations like the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). If you have doubts about an organization check Charity Navigator. If you can help, please do, but be careful …