mm231: mudge deserves some topical credit

December 23, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’re not a news organization here at Left-Handed Complement nor do we aspire to be.

But, we can be quick. We posted the following at approximately 8:05pmCST on Wednesday, 19-December-2007, in response to that day’s news of the fire in Dick Cheney’s ceremonial offices in Washington.

mm226: Tricky Dick’s burn bag blew out of control…

… tell me you didn’t think of that!

White House Office Building Catches Fire
Blaze May Have Started in Utility Closet

By Allison Klein, Debbi Wilgoren and Michael Schmuhl

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; 3:11 PM

The historic Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House caught fire this morning, and D.C. firefighters broke windows and doused the second and third floors with water to extinguish the two-alarm blaze.

At an afternoon news conference, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said security concerns prevented them from saying exactly where or how the fire started.

So here’s a member of L-HC’s blogroll blogroll2 The Raw Story, pointing out that we were hardly the only curmudgeonly comedian on the story:

rawstoryinvestigates

Post columnist jokes: What was Cheney trying to hide with that office fire?

Nick Juliano  | Published: Friday December 21, 2007

Conspiratorial wheels started spinning in plenty of people’s minds this week when a fire broke out in Dick Cheney’s ceremonial offices. The vice president is known for his penchant for secrecy, and between destroyed CIA tapes and missing e-mails, the government he helps run hardly lacks precedent for getting rid of potentially incriminating evidence.

For one Washington Post columnist, Wednesday’s fire sparked reminders of an abandoned plot from the Watergate era, when a young Cheney was cutting his teeth of government service.

“Arson might seem a bit far-fetched to folks outside the Beltway, but it would not be the first time a small conflagration was planned by a White House official,” writes Al Kamen Friday in his “In The Loop” column. “We recall that Watergate burglary mastermind G. Gordon Liddy plotted firebombing the Brookings Institution — ‘as a diversion,’ he writes in his memoirs — to get into the security vault and steal Daniel Ellsberg’s Vietnam War papers.”

Is it a joke?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Raw Story | Post columnist jokes: What was Cheney trying to hide with that office fire?

Remember how we finished up the other day?

… in advance of impeachment, right?

I know there’s only a year left, but you have to send a message to the evangelicals and the neocons that they’ll remember, and you can’t get to George III until you remove his even worse alternative.

We’ve had occasion to make this point previously: the only scenario for which impeachment is really practical eerily mirrors the situation in 1973, when the vultures started circling around our first nefarious Dick; the Senate and Congress couldn’t seriously consider impeachment of Nixon with slimy Spiro Agnew ready to succeed.

They got Agnew on tax evasion charges from his Maryland governorship days, and then the path toward Nixon’s impeachment was clear.

Thus it could be for George III.

Maybe our present Dick is feeling some heat… and feels compelled to do some inflammatory housekeeping.

Faithful reader heard it here first, or at least could have, as early as 8:05pmCST on 19-December.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm230: Stem Cells; Insurance Scum; Overtreatment!

December 22, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Yes, fan, it’s a Health/Medical edition of SASB!

shortattention_thumb2 ©

We begin with a doubly frightening topic: Cancer combined with cancerous Stem Cells. This story hit NYTimes:

nytimes

Scientists Weigh Stem Cells’ Role as Cancer Cause

By GINA KOLATA | Published: December 21, 2007

Within the next few months, researchers at three medical centers expect to start the first test in patients of one of the most promising — and contentious — ideas about the cause and treatment of cancer.

The idea is to take aim at what some scientists say are cancerous stem cells — aberrant cells that maintain and propagate malignant tumors.

Although many scientists have assumed that cancer cells are immortal — that they divide and grow indefinitely — most can only divide a certain number of times before dying. The stem-cell hypothesis says that cancers themselves may not die because they are fed by cancerous stem cells, a small and particularly dangerous kind of cell that can renew by dividing even as it spews out more cells that form the bulk of a tumor. Worse, stem cells may be impervious to most standard cancer therapies.

Not everyone accepts the hypothesis of cancerous stem cells. Skeptics say proponents are so in love with the idea that they dismiss or ignore evidence against it. Dr. Scott E. Kern, for instance, a leading pancreatic cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said the hypothesis was more akin to religion than to science.

“…more akin to religion than to science.” How fitting when stem cells are the topic!

Of course these are one’s own, cancerous stem cells in question.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Scientists Weigh Stem Cells’ Role as Cancer Cause – New York Times

Here’s the telling quote:

“Not only are some of the approaches we are using not getting us anywhere, but even the way we approve drugs is a bad model,” he said. Anti-cancer drugs, he noted, are approved if they shrink tumors even if they do not prolong life. It is the medical equivalent, he said, of mowing a dandelion field.

Cancer patients and their families are desperate, so promising drugs can get expedited approval, even if, as noted, they don’t prolong life.

It would be spectacular if this stem cell related research might yield an effective, more permanent treatment.

Now, let’s get angry together…

shortattention_thumb2 ©

For some time now, we’ve had Esoterically.net/weblog as a member of L-HC’s blogroll blogroll2. The subtitle has changed since we originally captured it, Life is too short to live it as a Republican,” but the blog continues to highlight the important issues. Here’s one also from Dec. 21 that set me off:

esotericallynetweblog

Health insurance screwup

Published by Len Dec. 21, 2007 at 17:50 under General, Politics

I hope the Sarkisyan family wins their lawsuit and is award millions and millions of dollars. It is time for these $7.00/hour clerks at the insurance companies to stop playing doctor.

Family to Sue Insurer in Transplant Case

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The family of a 17-year-old girl who died hours after her health insurer reversed a decision and said it would pay for a liver transplant plans to sue the company, their attorney said Friday.

Nataline Sarkisyan died Thursday at about 6 p.m. at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. She had been in a vegetative state for weeks, said her mother, Hilda.

Len updated the post with a link to a more complete analysis definitely worth the detour.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Esoterically.net/weblog » Health insurance screwup

Tragedy is tragedy, but the absolute worst ones are those that were preventable: Katrina, the I-35 bridge, and now Nataline Sarkisyan are all examples of bureaucratic failures caused by a deliberate policy of undercutting the public good in the service of private political agendas, in the first two examples, and shareholder profit, in poor Nataline’s case.

U.S. healthcare needs fixing, and here’s a story pointing to an unexpected cause, and potential fix.

shortattention_thumb2 ©

This week, NYTimes published its list of top economics books as chosen by its columnist, David Leonhardt. His No. 1 book is one I’d not encountered shame on me!

nytimes

No. 1 Book, and It Offers Solutions

By DAVID LEONHARDT | Published: December 19, 2007

In 1967, Jack Wennberg, a young medical researcher at Johns Hopkins, moved his family to a farmhouse in northern Vermont.

“Overtreated” by Shannon Brownlee, above, diagnoses the big flaw in medical spending.

Dr. Wennberg had been chosen to run a new center based at the University of Vermont that would examine medical care in the state. With a colleague, he traveled around Vermont, visiting its 16 hospitals and collecting data on how often they did various procedures.

The results turned out to be quite odd. Vermont has one of the most homogenous populations in the country — overwhelmingly white (especially in 1967), with relatively similar levels of poverty and education statewide. Yet medical practice across the state varied enormously, for all kinds of care. In Middlebury, for instance, only 7 percent of children had their tonsils removed. In Morrisville, 70 percent did.

Dr. Wennberg and some colleagues then did a survey, interviewing 4,000 people around the state, to see whether different patterns of illness could explain the variations in medical care. They couldn’t. The children of Morrisville weren’t suffering from an epidemic of tonsillitis. Instead, they happened to live in a place where a small group of doctors — just five of them — had decided to be aggressive about removing tonsils.

But here was the stunner: Vermonters who lived in towns with more aggressive care weren’t healthier. They were just getting more health care.

That last bears repeating: Vermonters who lived in towns with more aggressive care weren’t healthier. They were just getting more health care.”

As you’ve doubtless heard, this country spends far more money per person on medical care than other countries and still seems to get worse results. We devote 16 percent of our gross domestic product to health care, while Canada and France, where people live longer, spend about 10 percent.

So, we’re overtreated, but undercured. Part due to our fee-for-service system; part due to our own ignorance of medicine’s true costs when we ourselves are the patients; part due to that byzantine health insurance system” that dazzles and confuses us, and lets Natalines die rather than pay.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

No. 1 Book, and It Offers Solutions – New York Times

As Leonhardt makes clear, the true value of this book is that it has clear and achievable recommendations for reforming our sick healthcare system.

When it’s back in stock (ah, the power of the press!) we ought to buy copies for every senator, congressperson and presidential candidate.

So, that’s our Health/Medicine edition of SASB shortattention©. Stay healthy!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Note!: the links to Amazon.com used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. It’s an artifact of Sequitur Service©. Deal with it.


mm229: Writer’s diarrhea, continued

December 21, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

(… the opposite of writer’s block, right?)

Our wonderful host, WordPress.com, lets us know on its Statistics page what were the leading posts on one’s site for the day, and the day just past. They even provide a link that allows one to learn how many cumulative hits a particular post on one’s site has received over its life.

We mention this because for the first time someone actually was listed as having read post “mm167: Writer’s diarrhea” from 11-October-2007.

So I reread it; damn! I’m good! 😉

Odd that this popped up when it did; it’s the rare post on the topic of blogging; now that WordPress can show how in the Categories listing on the sidebar many times “blogging” has been used as a category, one can learn that it’s been called out here in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© only 15 times in 240+ posts. And of course, I’m certain that constant reader knows that clicking on any category will bring up all of the posts for which the category has been invoked.

So, I reread the entire category; damn! I’m consistently good! 😉

Most days we try not to be too self-referential or navel-gazing, within the constraints of course of the entire concept of blogging, which is built on self-reference and navel-gazing, and the often much too intimate sharing of one’s quotidian banalities.

Ahem. So here we try not to spend too much time in such pursuits, attempting rather to peg the day’s post on one or more external hooks, external being the zillion page world wide web. Once pegged, then one is permitted to be self-referential and navel-gazing, because it’s now in an external context.

No secret that among the zillion blogs out there (WordPress.com says that as of this writing it has 2,020,627 blogs with 71,011 new posts today, and they’re just one good sized corner of the ‘sphere, and I do mean good — love you guys!), there are predictable concentrations of subject matter: religion, politics, the politics of religion, the religion of politicians, etc. This nanocorner has even been known to indulge its political side once or twice (hence the name of the place, (Left-Handed Complement, you know) one supposes).

So yesterday I was harvesting promising stories for potential future posts, and I found this one, on a site that MUDGE is distinctly undercredentialed to be reading, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Fascinating to me that before I even went to look for my own entries on the topic of why we blog, and why we choose to read certain others’ blogs, someone came to WordPress’s notice, and mm167 showed up in the stats. Meant to be, I guess.

chroniclehighered

The Polarization of Extremes

By CASS R. SUNSTEIN

In 1995 the technology specialist Nicholas Negroponte predicted the emergence of “the Daily Me” — a newspaper that you design person-ally, with each component carefully screened and chosen in advance. For many of us, Negroponte’s prediction is coming true. As a result of the Internet, personalization is everywhere. If you want to read essays arguing that climate change is a fraud and a hoax, or that the American economy is about to collapse, the technology is available to allow you to do exactly that. If you are bored and upset by the topic of genocide, or by recent events in Iraq or Pakistan, you can avoid those subjects entirely. With just a few clicks, you can find dozens of Web sites that show you are quite right to like what you already like and think what you already think.

Actually you don’t even need to create a Daily Me. With the Internet, it is increasingly easy for others to create one for you. If people know a little bit about you, they can discover, and tell you, what “people like you” tend to like — and they can create a Daily Me, just for you, in a matter of seconds. If your reading habits suggest that you believe that climate change is a fraud, the process of “collaborative filtering” can be used to find a lot of other material that you are inclined to like. Every year filtering and niche marketing become more sophisticated and refined. Studies show that on Amazon, many purchasers can be divided into “red-state camps” and “blue-state camps,” and those who are in one or another camp receive suitable recommendations, ensuring that people will have plenty of materials that cater to, and support, their predilections.

Credit for finding this article goes to the consistently phenomenal and charter member of the blogroll blogroll2 Arts & Letters Daily, a regular read long before we ventured into the scary practice of creating content (derivative though it may be frownie_thumb[1] ) rather than simply consuming it.

Of course, Cass Sunstein’s focus is on those Web 2.0 sites that tailor content to the scourings of past choices; Amazon.com still represents the ultimate commercial application: you bought this, other folks who bought this bought that, we think you might like the other.

There are news aggregation sites that do the same, picking up on what you click on, and presenting you with more of the same. Thoof.com is an extreme example, and Mixx.com an even more recent and slightly more high minded one.

In Sunstein’s observation, backed by the Colorado experiment cited, once one finds oneself with like-minded people in such sites, reading like-minded bloggers, that mass of like-mindedness tilts one further toward the extreme end of whatever spectrum is on the table.

The Internet makes it exceedingly easy for people to replicate the Colorado experiment online, whether or not that is what they are trying to do. Those who think that affirmative action is a good idea can, and often do, read reams of material that support their view; they can, and often do, exclude any and all material that argues the other way. Those who dislike carbon taxes can find plenty of arguments to that effect. Many liberals jump from one liberal blog to another, and many conservatives restrict their reading to points of view that they find congenial. In short, those who want to find support for what they already think, and to insulate themselves from disturbing topics and contrary points of view, can do that far more easily than they can if they skim through a decent newspaper or weekly newsmagazine.

And the person with moderate views leaning in one direction continues to read, the leaning’s become a tilt, which reinforced by continual one-sided content, becomes polarization.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Polarization of Extremes – ChronicleReview.com

Thus far, 7½ months in, we don’t feel too polarized, except maybe on a few choice topics: Bloomberg for President, One Laptop Per Child, UAVs, web conferencing (boy am I overdue there!).

Covers a spectrum, one hopes, of interests and political positions, nothing too middle of the road, but nothing extremely polarizing either.

We’ll endeavor to remain open minded. Tell us if we’re not, won’t you?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm228: Toothpicks — Good to great to gone

December 20, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We journey from the future: nanotechnology (mm227) directly to the past and our stomach-churning present.

Thanks to the always wonderful (and never consulted sufficiently) Arts & Letters Daily, we were directed to an entertaining article in a(n embarrassingly) new to this writer publication, The American, detailing the history of the lowly, unglamorous toothpick.

Faithful reader may recall that the history of technology is one of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s abiding interests, but I had never paid much attention to the toothpick in any way, much less thought about its origins and provenance. Turns out to be most fascinating, and highlights what was absolutely world-beating about American inventiveness and marketing prowess. And lowlights what is manifestly frightening about what’s happened to factories and their well paid jobs in the past 40 years.

theamerican

The Glorious Toothpick

By Henry Petroski From the November/December 2007 Issue

Filed under: Culture, Lifestyle, Public Square

The humble mass-produced toothpick is a paradigm for American manufacturing: inspiration, invention, marketing, trade, success, and failure. HENRY PETROSKI explains.

Image credit: photograph by Geoff Spear.

Glorious ToothpickThe plain wooden toothpick is among the sim­plest of manufactured things. It consists of a single part, made of a single material, and is intended for a single purpose, from which it takes its name. But simple things do not necessarily come easily, and the story of the mass-produced toothpick is one of preparation, inspiration, invention, marketing, competition, success and failure in a global econ­omy, and changing social customs and cultural values. In short, the story of the toothpick is a par­adigm for American manufacturing.

Early wooden toothpicks were found objects, each fashioned ad hoc from a broken twig or stalk with a pointed end. Often, the other end of the twig was chewed until its fibers separated to form a primitive toothbrush called a chew-stick. Some cultures, like the Japanese, developed rigid rules about how such sticks were held and used.

In medieval Portugal, a cottage industry developed to produce straightforward hand­made toothpicks, and these splints of orange­wood gained a reputation for being the best in the world. Toothpicks made in the Portuguese tra­dition were common in Brazil in the mid-19th century when Charles Forster, an American work­ing in the import-export trade, found them being crafted and used by natives there. It was a time when the manufacture of just about everything was becoming mechanized in America, and Forster believed that toothpicks could be mass-produced in New England at a cost that would allow them even to be exported to Brazil and compete with the handmade kind.

Not a mechanic, Forster found an inventive genius in Boston who was mechanizing the manufacture of shoes, which used wooden pegs that the inventor had created machinery to produce. Forster envisioned that the peg machine could be modified to manufacture toothpicks.

Once his machinery was producing toothpicks by the wagonload, he needed to sell them. He built a market in Boston (where folks were accustomed to whittling their picks themselves) by sending out paid shills to demand them at general stores, or dine at restaurants and then ask for a toothpick, which of course the stores and restaurants never thought to stock. Then Forster would come along, with inexpensive smooth, uniform toothpicks for sale. From Boston, the use of cheap machine-made toothpicks very quickly became an artifact of American culture.

The Glorious Toothpick — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Toothpicks are no longer manufactured in Maine; some comparative few in Minnesota (still a few trees there, one supposes) but mostly now in China and Southeast Asia, from inferior wood, although you still can find them with the Forster brand. But the use of toothpicks has declined in most Western cultures, as awareness of better tools for dental health has become widespread.

The toothpick is emblematic of the cataclysmic changes this country is realizing, as the manufacture of all types of products, sophisticated big screen high definition televisions as well as toothpicks, have rapidly moved offshore toward cheap labor. Now the big business in many small towns is the local state prison, which fill to overflowing with petty drug users serving federally mandated terms all out of proportion to the nature of the crime. Ugh.

And the shells of those old factories, that once cut and sewed cloth for America’s apparel; that once cut and scored cardboard to make the boxes that shipped the dresses; that once housed the machine tools that forged the machinery that once populated all of those factories: the rehabilitated shells of those old factories deep in the hearts of our big cities and small, are now the trendy loft homes of the young and trendy.

Lately of course, due to the communications and information revolution largely invented and financed here, and whose growth was fertilized through creative marketing here, even service jobs are migrating toward increasingly sophisticated yet in Western terms low priced centers like Bengaluru and Manila.

Which brings us back to nanotechnology, and other technology of the future. Get busy, engineering and scientific and financial and marketing geniuses, ’cause we can’t afford those 65-inch big screens and those $5,000 per month loft leases on a McDonald’s paycheck.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm227: Nanotechnology: The future is now — is it safe?

December 19, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Nanotechnology. The gee-whiz technology of our future. Tiny robotic surgeons, injected into our bloodstream, repairing damaged organs and scouring clogged arteries. “Fantastic Voyage” made real.

That nanotechnology hasn’t arrived quite yet. But, The Economist, the best magazine on the planet, explored today’s nanotechnology in a recent issue, and raised some rather unsettling questions. Because, as it happens, nanotechnology has arrived in a big way, as it were, and once again, we may not be aware of its implications.

A little risky business

Nov 22nd 2007 | From The Economist print edition

The unusual properties of tiny particles contain huge promise. But nobody knows how safe they are. And too few people are trying to find out

Illustration by Bill Butcher

WAVING a packet of carbon nanotubes accusingly at the assembled American politicians during a hearing last month in Congress, Andrew Maynard was determined to make a point. The nanotechnology expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC, had bought the tiny tubes on the internet. They had arrived in the post along with a safety sheet describing them as graphite and thus requiring no special precautions beyond those needed for a nuisance dust.

Dr Maynard’s theatrics were designed to draw attention to a growing concern about the safety of nanotechnology. The advice he had received was at best uncertain, and at worst breathtakingly negligent. For a start, describing carbon nanotubes as graphite was rather like describing a lump of coal as a diamond. Graphite is made of carbon, just like the nanotubes, although the tubes themselves are about 1m times smaller than the graphite that makes up the “lead” in a pencil. Carbon nanotubes may be perfectly safe, but then again, they may have asbestos-like properties. Nobody knows. Indeed, industry, regulators and governments know little about the general safety of all manner of materials that are made into fantastically small sizes.

Let’s start with a level set: turns out that nanotechnology is more than the tiny machines that I’ve always been led to imagine that the field encompasses:

In the past few years the number of consumer products claiming to use nanotechnology has dramatically grown—to almost 600 by one count. Patents are rapidly being filed (see chart 1). For a product to count as nanotechnology, it does not need to contain a tiny machine—though some seers imagine that as the field’s ultimate aim. It is enough merely for some of the material to have been tinkered with at a small scale. Often that can involve grinding down a substance into particles that may be only a few nanometres big—a nanometre is a billionth of a metre—about 100,000th of the thickness of a sheet of paper. These particles can also be engineered into shapes that provide some functional property, like rigidity. The variety of shapes includes rings, shells, wires, beads, cages and plates. The particles and shapes can also be incorporated into other materials to bestow useful properties on them.

Examples are cosmetics and sunscreens, where ground up nanoparticles of titanium oxide can block ultraviolet rays but remain transparent.

Problem is, that while scaling known elements into tiny sizes can improve their functionality in tremendously useful ways, it might also increase toxicity, by making the particles much more reactive than in their normal state. Because nanoparticles can thus be more reactive, and are so infinitesimal, they could breach the body’s normal defense against invasion and perhaps accumulate to possibly toxic levels in the organs.

Concerned yet? You might become more so when you learn that there is no clear consensus in industry or among government regulators regarding the amount of risk, or even whether there is risk at all, in the growing use of nanotechnology, even for those products meant to be applied to the skin of, or consumed internally by humans.

Meanwhile, commercial application of nanotechnology is increasing:

Meanwhile, nanotechnology is becoming part of the global economy. It could help produce trillions of dollars of products by 2014, ranging from face creams to computer chips and car panels, according to Lux Research. The risks from these products will often be very low or non-existent. In the computer industry, for instance, making smaller and smaller features on the surface of a chip is not likely to involve much risk to computer users. Motorists probably have little to fear from carbon nanotubes being embedded into a car door to make it more crash-resistant. Yet what happens to such products at the end of their life remains a question.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The risk in nanotechnology | A little risky business | Economist.com

MUDGE is all for pushing the envelope, creating breakthroughs, reaching for Mars. But in our haste toward the future, the risks involved should be given more than lip service, or remain in the hands of organizations whose priorities are conflicted.

Or else we won’t be able to blame the next health scare on China.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm226: Tricky Dick’s burn bag blew out of control…

December 19, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

… tell me you didn’t think of that!

White House Office Building Catches Fire

Blaze May Have Started in Utility Closet

By Allison Klein, Debbi Wilgoren and Michael Schmuhl

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; 3:11 PM

The historic Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House caught fire this morning, and D.C. firefighters broke windows and doused the second and third floors with water to extinguish the two-alarm blaze.

At an afternoon news conference, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said security concerns prevented them from saying exactly where or how the fire started.

White House Office Building Catches Fire – washingtonpost.com

… in advance of impeachment, right?

I know there’s only a year left, but you have to send a message to the evangelicals and the neocons that they’ll remember, and you can’t get to George III until you remove his even worse alternative.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Technorati Tags: , ,

mm225: A shared obsession is a most satisfying thing

December 18, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of military aviation

seventh in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

Many of the above links refer wholly or in part to UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles. So one might imagine that MUDGE is somewhat taken with the concept, and one would be correct.

But, this is not solely the byproduct of some feverish boyhood-hatched hobbyist daydreaming; this is mainstream, folks. The first link above referenced a fascinating story on UAVs at war that appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Mentioned during the Wright Brothers post that it had been my intention to use Orville and Wilbur as the jumping off point (as it were) for a large scale story we’ve been accumulating regarding this intriguing development — remote controlled aircraft at war. But, that post took off in another direction (aiw), and we hangared the UAV for another day.

Then, casting around this evening for tonight’s topic (last night’s wrote itself — one gets spoiled), I finally arrived at the best magazine on the planet, The Economist whose print edition I confess that I’ve fallen a bit behind in reading.

And there, in their Technology quarterly, a couple of intriguing aircraft stories, including a well written (of course) analysis of the most common UAV, Predator.

Unmanned and dangerous

Dec 6th 2007 | From The Economist print edition

Aviation: Unmanned aerial vehicles are a vital tool of modern warfare. Once-harmless drones are now deadly attack aircraft. Where did the technology come from, and where is it going?

 RNLA

DUSK falls over Baghdad and Kabul, and the Predators take their places in the skies overhead, ready for action. Western soldiers prefer to fight in the dark, when their night-vision gear gives them the advantage over insurgents. They know that with drone aircraft scanning the ground, with unblinking eyes able to see by day or night and radars that can see through cloud, they “own the night”.

For the Predators’ pilots, however, it is still bright daylight. Sitting in cramped metal containers in bases across America, they fly their machines by remote control from thousands of miles away, via satellite links. The video from the drones is gathered in a makeshift operations centre in the Nevada desert and distributed to leaders in the Pentagon and commanders on the ground. In the Predator operations centre, one screen monitors the weather around the Arabian Sea (Predators do not like rain or high winds), another shows the location of each aircraft on a map, and a third projects a mosaic of video images from each plane. One image shows a house under close observation in a palm grove in Iraq; another shows a road being scanned for hidden bombs. A laptop computer system known as Rover allows troops on the ground to watch the footage, and will soon let them mark out targets.

After a useful history of the development of UAVs that begins, of course, in Britain in the 1930s (much inventive military technology either originated or was perfected in England, including that oh-so-American entity the modern aircraft carrier, whose offset deck and steam catapults are English imports), we arrive at Israel in the 1980s.

Ultimately it was Israel, not America, that revived the use of drones in warfare. It had seen at first hand in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war the damage that modern air defences can cause. In the 1982 Lebanon war, the clever use of small Israeli-built UAVs (incorporating technology developed in America’s disappointing programmes) helped win a startling air campaign in which Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries in the Bekaa valley were destroyed and up to 100 Syrian jets shot down against no losses for Israel. In carefully choreographed moves, drones were used to spy on the Syrian defences, fool their radars and gather the electronic intelligence needed to destroy them.

Unlike America, which sought to operate large UAVs at long distances through hostile air space, Israel’s drones operated from its own defended territory, and real-time video was transmitted through short line-of-sight data links. Israeli UAV technology became all the rage in the Pentagon, especially after the American navy lost three aircraft over Lebanon in 1983. Predator is in fact derived from a design devised by a former Israel Aircraft Industries engineer.

Before providing you the link, need to share this wonderful diagram.

predatoreconomist

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Unmanned and dangerous | Economist.com

As The Economist points out UAV technology is evolving rapidly beyond primitive (in technology terms) Predator, which is tricky to fly, greatly prefers good weather, and gulps down huge swaths of commercial satellite bandwidth.

Such aircraft as Reaper and Global Hawk are already flying, with improved size, payload, range and autonomy (Global Hawk famously flew non-stop US to Australia, and that’s just scratching the surface of its accomplishments — check this out!)

The Wright Brothers started flying kites; now pilots control their high flyers with invisible strings, or just with strings of program code. What an awesome circle this makes, in just over 100 years.

But, what are the flyguys going to do with all that surplus “right stuff” if callow 20 year olds in Nevada perched in front of consoles are doing all the flying and war-winning?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE