Saturday, January 08, 2005

@#$@^% AWESOME!

Okay, okay. So I'm drunk on two-water--well, one-water--grog. I admit it. But Firefly is AWESOME. I remember, while reading critical reviews of science-fiction, about the relationship between westerns and science-fictions. In particular, Star Trek was supposed to be some great Space Western. Well, the folks who did Firefly really took the whole western theme to heart. Firefly IS a space western, with the guns and the accents and the music and EVERYTHING, mixed in with great humor. And oh, how I weep that it was on Fox, the people who never advertise anything decent (Millenium and Space Above and Beyond springing to mind) and then cancelling it after a small number of episodes if the bloody advertiser response is not great enough, damn their soullless hearts. 'Cause I went and bought Firefly and have just watched the first episode and MY GOD, it's WONDERFUL. Go thou forth and buy it, it's incredible!

"Hathcock". "Hancock". Coincidence?

Blackfive, from whose blog I got the information about the teddy bear drive, also has a link to an article about a Marine Corps sniper who took out an insurgent from 1,050 yards away. Magic most grim & deadly.


The Bonhomme Richard is hard at work.
In support of Operation Unified Assistance, multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (BHR) (LHD 6) delivered more than 7,000 pounds of humanitarian assistance Jan. 7 to disaster stricken areas of Sumatra, including Banda Aceh and Blagpidie.
There's a nice picture at the site of U.S. Marines helping to pack huge crates of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) for the victims of the tsunamis. My favorite part of the article is this:
To uplift the spirits of the local population in the hard hit Banda Aceh area, BHR’s culinary specialists worked around the clock Jan. 6, with all ovens full speed ahead, to bake more than 22,400 cookies for the people around northern Sumatra.
This is awesome -- not only are the Navy recipes for cookies really good (I have gained 10 pounds since being onboard, alas), but there's just something special about cookies. When we're at sea, the ship often has to refuel and take on supplies. On deployment, that's every three days or so, usually, depending on what's going on. It's traditional for the ships to swap stuff, usually by tying it in a plastic bag to one of the fuel hoses: some ship's hats or coins (coins are very popular), photos, that sort of thing. We usually made up a huge box of cookies, which we'd triple-wrap in plastic and send back to the ship as a thank-you. Reading about the Bonhomme Richard's cookies made me remember this. "Let them eat cake, huh?" Detractors might scoff, but I think instead that it's more like hugging someone you can't reach. The military can seem cold and distant, but it's these sorts of things -- the cookies, or the teddy bears that Gunny Sergeant Mike got together to send to the children of Iraq -- that remind you that the military is a group of human beings who, minus the occassional person who doesn't care about anything, really do care about the people they're helping or defending.

If Only It Could Really Do This

Citroen C4 - TransformerI'm sure you've already seen this, all you hip people who regularly browse the sites devoted to cool commercials or who are on the cc: lists of all of the well-connected people at work. I don't look around as much as I should, and not too many of the people I work with forward me much of anything (except uncool things like watchbills), so I ran into this for the first time quite recently. If you haven't seen it, check it out -- it is really neat. Richard Eriksson talks about it and has links to an article about how the video was made, as well as a link to the effects studio that made it, The Embassy. It doesn't look like they've made much, but this one is a real standout. I love the little details, such as the sidepanels shifting as the arms move and the fact that the animation is carried through a shaky man-on-the-scene cut in between the steadycam and static camera cuts. It makes me happy. Enjoy!

Who Benefits?

Ah, modern America. I'm waiting for an oil change at Hall Honda and they've installed Web access in the waiting lobby. I love these guys.

Anyway, I wanted to comment about the new (and inevitable) reporting about the possibilities of the US either causing, or failing to forewarn countries about, the tsunami. James links to some good articles about the whole brouhaha.

First off, I checked out the link on Natalie Solent's article on the "biased BBC" website. It's a BBC article, and say what you will about the BBC, but I think it's cool they allow for the readership to post comments (whether they actually read, think about, or heed those comments is another question). I was disgusted by the article, but heartened by the comments, most of which were along the lines of "this is bull*$#$", pointing out such matters as the fact that the US might, just possibly, do environmental and oceanographic surveys before placing an extremely expensive Naval base somewhere so as to mitigate the effects of wind & weather. It's nice to see that the majority of commentors believe that this is all nonsense. But why does the story come up? Natalie talks about scientific ignorance, and I think that's exactly it: the people who are talking up these conspiracy theories are ignorant of what modern technology is capable of -- to them, the US has this magical ability to communicate; therefore, a failure to communicate must have been intentional.

Let's work this all out: the National Oceanographic people see evidence of this massive earthquake. "Hey," they say. "Big earthquake. We should start telling people." Here's your question: how? Natalie stated it best in her article: "I'm a scientist! Get me the President of Indonesia!" So you're going to use the phone? Okay. How does the information get from NOAA to the people who need it, such as all those fishing villagers and tourists on the beach?

It's easy to get a warning to a Naval Base. Any Naval Base in the world is furry with antennae and fat from all the communications equipment. Communications is absolutely central to military activity -- hell, if something goes down, we have to know about it right away. How do you think we got aid on the way so damn fast?

But to tourists & villagers? How long does it take to get emergency information to the average citizen in the US who has everyday access to what -- for the majority of the world -- is high communications technology? How long did it take the people in the Twin Towers to find out that something was going on, and then to start evacuation? And the majority of them still weren't out by the time the towers came down, which (as I recall) was hours later.

The tsunami travelled at 500 miles per hour. How could we possibly have gotten word to all affected governments in its path in time, and even if we had, how could we (and they) have possibly gotten people out of the way in time?

Yes, the US has access to a dizzying array of technological and communication marvels. This is true. But the fact that we can't employ them doesn't mean that we have some agenda that leads us to let a quarter of a million people die. The technology has to be there on the other side for this to work.

Al, in Brazil, left this comment in the BBC article:

It IS ODD. And I don't think its anti-US sentiment but something a lot more worrying about all these conspiracy theories. What if it isn't just paranoia after all? Should we be scared? Who profits? (With anti sentiment, fear, or else?) Please do approach these questions. Thank you.
Well, I think what's clear is that it's the news outlets' advertisers who profit from this sort of uncritical thinking, because sensation draws readership like an ant trap draws ants.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The One That Got Away

On a lighter note, I have a sea story to relate.

We pulled out of Naval Station Norfolk a while ago. This involves setting the sea & anchor detail -- people whose watches related to the sometimes tricky proposition of pulling away from a pier and getting through restricted navigational waters until we're far enough out to sea to have some "breathing room". The spots in the rivers and bays around here are marked with buoys to indicate navigation channels, and we (mostly) stay in those channels (unless we're in a nice deep bay and some other unnamed ship decides to almost run into us and we have to kick up to full speed and zoom around it, not that that recently happened or anything). I am on the sea & anchor detail -- my job: man one of the M-2HB .50 caliber machine guns we have set up to deter small boats from attacking us. In an ideal situation, we're not shooting anything; instead, we gun watchstanders act as additional lookouts, reporting close contacts up to a central monitoring point. It's a pretty long sea & anchor detail to get out of Norfolk -- about 3 hours. In nice weather, it's great. In winter, especially when it's raining, well, it sucks. But hey, it's an adventure, right?

So anyway, we got underway, and there I was, standing topside (outside) in about 15 layers of clothing. It was actually really nice outside, but the wind was still cold, so I was glad for the fabric (MOM: THANK YOU FOR THE SILK THERMAL UNDERWEAR!). We came across a gaggle of fishing boats, and most of them were outside the channel in their little boats. One, though, was either on the edge of the channel or slightly inside it. So he was fairly close to where we were going to go -- not so close as to cause us to worry about collision but, as I said to my partner at the time, "oh, man, we're gonna swamp that guy with our wake". So we steam by him, and see the reason why he's not getting out of our way: he's got a net on a pole and is trying to catch a fish he's hooked that's this big <makes classic 'fish-that-got-away' size sign with hands>. He tries for it once, misses. Tries for it again, and at this point our wake has hit his boat and sets it to rocking. He misses again and the fish is gone.

"OHHHHHH!" He throws up his hands and yells, in that classic frustrated voice. We've been watching this whole scene, too, so we throw up our hands and yell in sympathy too.

The guy thumps back on his back in his boat, slapping his hands to his face, then gets up and yells, "HE GOT MY LURE!" I do the Italian hand-waving thing and yell "OH NO!" in sympathy -- my partner busts out laughing. So I turned to him and said, "Dude!" But the guy on the boat was laughing too, and we all waved at each other as the McFaul pulled away.

People used to wave at us when we sailed on by, I'm told. I don't see it that often; it makes for a rather chilly feeling when coming or going. I wonder what people think, when they just watch as we go by: are they worried we'll shoot them? Do they think we're all baby killers? Are they just hung over and not in the mood? I don't know. But that was a really cool moment (except that it was a shame that the guy lost the fish -- it really was this big). It's nice to make a connection with the folks we're serving out to sea, out to sea.

Half-Masted Flags

Ever since the tsunami disaster, all the ships at Norfolk Naval Base (and the base) have half-masted their flags. It's a way to show respect for those who have died, and to indicate that the service is in mourning for their loss We went to another installation, one with a crane, and they'd rigged their flag to hang from the crane hoist with a weight on the end to keep it stable. And they'd lowered the flag to half-mast; too

Some cynical people (or the UN) might say that we're only mourning for the Americans (or Westerners) who died. But I know better.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The US Navy Just Keeps Getting Stingier and Stingier...

The story's actually a couple of days old now, but I want to post about it anyway.
Twelve ships from the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command will support the United States' relief effort for victims of the tsunami that devastated South Asia Dec. 26.
TWELVE! Check out this pic of the USNS Ranier (warning, it's very huge). See that spot sort of in the middle, where there's an opening in the railing of the ship, and there's a sort of slightly curved, darker grey thingie overhanging that opening? That's a RHIB -- a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat. Seats 18 people in good weather. This should give you a good idea of the scale of this thing.

In addition, there are several articles on the above-linked website that talk about how the whole Abraham Lincoln Strike Group is being sent south to help. I'd already talked about the cost of sending the Abraham Lincoln alone; here are the other members of the STRIKEGRU:

The Lincoln Carrier Strike Group will deploy with the following San Diego-based ships: the cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67), commanded by Capt. Joe Harriss; and the destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65), commanded by Cmdr. Don Hornbeck. Other ships deploying with the Lincoln Carrier Strike Group include the Everett, Wash.-based destroyer USS Shoup (DDG 86), led by Cmdr. Alexander T. Casimes; the Pearl Harbor-based attack submarine USS Louisville (SSN 724), under the command of Cmdr. David Kirk; and the fast combat support ship USS Rainier (AOE 7), based in Bremerton, Wash,.
This is on top of all the cash we're donating. So I don't want to hear any more lip out of the UN about us being stingy. As for "moral authority", well, my response is in keeping with most of the blogs I've read so far:


Gotta run -- don't want to be late for watch.