View 839 Thursday, August 21, 2014
“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”
President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009
This is a day book, and I suppose it ought to include a bit of a diary on getting old. It’s going to happen to all of you, at least those who aren’t already older than me, which is not likely to be very many.
One thing about getting older is that everything takes longer. Surprisingly longer. And by everything I mean everything, including trivial tasks and errands, and they all compound to use up your time. You drop things more and it takes a lot more time to pick them up. And of course you forget where things are, or what their names are. But there’s more to it than that. You also tend to ramble.
About thirty years ago I concluded that smoking cost you ten years. I reckon I’m now into the ten years I bought by quitting. A story goes with that. At the time I quit smoking Roberta and I were designing and building my new office suite. It was designed with a high cathedral ceiling with exhaust fans at the peak so that Larry Niven, who continued to smoke, could work in it.
Poul Anderson quit just before I did, and one day a package arrived, of all of Poul’s favorite pipes including some rather expensive ones. This was just before I quit, so I gave them to Larry and got on with building my new office suite upstairs. And just before the construction was complete, Larry quit smoking. That left me with an office designed so that friends could smoke in it, but I didn’t know many people who smoked. Moreover, part of the office suite is a balcony/patio/garden place to sit and keep bird feeders and bird baths, which was intended in part to be another place friends could smoke without bothering me.
As it turned out, I still had a few friends who smoked. One was Bob Bloch, who never quit. Obviously I wasn’t going to make him go out on the balcony. Another was Ginny Heinlein. So I got some use out of my high peak ceiling and exhaust fans.
One of the features of getting old is a decidedly strong tendency to ramble, as the above shows. The key points in the above are that I did quit smoking more than thirty years ago, and I’m pretty sure that’s one reason I’m able to write this. Another is that I have an upstairs balcony patio where I have bird feeders including hummingbird and oriole feeders. This morning when I came upstairs to get dressed and stat the day, I noticed that the two oriole feeders were full of bees. That of course leads to another ramble.
Oriole feeders are different from hummingbird feeders, because orioles have larger beaks, and must perch to feed: they can’t hover. So an oriole feeder has a perch associated with each feeder hole, and the hole is larger than on a humming bird feeder. This doesn’t bother the humming birds at all. Some use the perches and some don’t bother, and bigger holes don’t present them with any problems. Alas, big holes don’t present any problems with bees, either, and they soon find the feeders and enter them through the feeding holes, and drown. Meanwhile other bees come. Soon the feeder is a fuzzy ball of bees, and the birds give up.
The solution is either to use humming bird feeders, with tiny holes the bees can’t get into; but alas that means visits by frustrated orioles. Orioles are rare in Southern California, or at least they certainly have been in Studio City. I first saw them about fifteen years ago, having not seen any at the humming bird feeders for twenty years before that. They’re very distinctive birds. They are also very skittish. But then I found a new kind of oriole feeder, which has large feeding holes, but on the perch there is a plastic part with a ring that has a small hole; this covers the big hole. Sounds complicated, but it’s not.
I’d show you a picture but yet one more time devouring bug has surfaced. My big Lumix camera is ancient but it works just fine. Back when I was doing the column regularly I got the latest and greatest of stuff from vendors, particularly Kingston whom I considered reliable and worth paying a premium for their products because when I first started making my own computers memory problems was a vexing difficulty – difficult to identify and generally irregular. Never had any such problem with Kingston, had that problem with some other brands. By now most memory is equally reliable. Anyway Kingston sent me a Micro SD card with a larger SD card adapter. It worked in the Panasonic Lumix . Still does. Hundreds of pictures on it. I haven’t peeled any off it for about a year I think, but I just took one of the bird feeder. When I put it in the SD Card Reader and plugged in the USB plug, my Windows 7 machine trundled for a moment then told me I needed to format the card in the reader. I know this arrangement worked a year ago, but not now. I tried the reader and card on another Windows 7 system and on a Windows 8 system, and the result was the same each time. It wanted to reformat all my pictures. Now I have to solve that problem, and discovering it took up nearly an hour.
Anyway, here’s the picture. I used my iPhone and mailed it to myself. As you can see there’s a little plastic thing attached to the perch that makes the feeding hole small. When a humming bird lands on the perch nothing happens. When an oriole lands, the bird is heavy enough to move the perch down, moving the small hole guard thing down and exposing the large feeding hole. Orioles get used to this fast.
All of which is a ramble on what happened when I came upstairs this morning and discovered my feeders covered with bees. I rescued them and filled one again hoping that the bees had learned a lesson. I also ordered two new feeders on the theory that the spring system had worn out, and after I did that I noticed that they now sell replacement parts for the hole cover and the paste on flower that surrounds the holes so I ordered some of those. And it all took over an hour. It shouldn’t have taken over an hour, but it sure did.
Yesterday I had to go out to COSTCO. I’m happy enough with my COSTCO hearing aids – indeed more than happy with them – and with the audio technician at COSTCO, but their administrative system sucks dead bunnies. I mislaid the controller device for my hearing aids. Unlike a cell phone I can’t call it so it will tell me where it is. I am sure it’s within 50 feet of where I sit, but that 50 feet of Chaos Manor. I won’t find it until I buy a new one. So I went out to COSTCO and ordered a new one. But that was weeks ago and I heard nothing from them, and phone calls got a voicemail which never was returned, so yesterday I went out there. Turns out the new one was never ordered although I had paid for it. That got the wheels turning again, and I’m sure all will be well in a week or so, but getting to Costco took me over an hour although it shouldn’t be more than twenty five minutes. Nothing important happened, but I managed a wrong turn on a route I have taken for thirty years. Not sure why. I drive more carefully than I used to, for the obvious reason that my reaction times are not likely to be what they used to be. I always pull over into a safe place before consulting my iPhone map. But it makes a half hour trip into an hour.
Just as the search for a way to get my pictures off a Kingston Micro SD card and into a computer is taking up vast amounts of time. (The Mac won’t read the card either). I am using a Belkin High Speed USB 2.0 15-in-1 Media Reader and Writer, and I am sure I have carried and used that device for years. Possibly it has become corrupted, although it’s hard to see what might have happened to it. More likely something wrong with the memory card, or even more likely, the interface that converts the Micro SD into a regular SD card which is what the camera thinks it has in it. So I’ll plug along until I find the answer because I do these silly things so you don’t have to, but I am discovering that the most important thing you learn about getting older is that everything – every doggone thing – takes longer.
I hate commenting on breaking news, but when something like the Missouri situation happens it’s hard to ignore even though the early “news” that comes out is seldom factual, and sometimes it’s bizarre. Early accounts had Brown shot in the back while running away. Two autopsies have said there were no shots to his back. One is in the top if the head (which is what killed him) and most combat veterans will tell you that ducking like that while charging into fire is fairly common. (Running toward people shooting at you isn’t likely to be successful whatever you do, of course.) The officer seems to have sustained some rather severe injuries.
I am not naïve, and I know that there have been police officers who just didn’t care much, relying on the thin blue line to protect them no matter what; but fewer and fewer of those are entering the force, and this chap was a four year or so veteran; not a rookie but not a long time career cop either.
If I had to write a scenario for it now, I’d suppose that the officer was unaware that Brown had recently committed theft and battery in the course of robbery. He was merely telling Brown to get out of the street. Brown of course was aware that he was now likely to be wanted for robbery assault. Why that would result in wanting to get some licks on a cop before going away isn’t known to me, and in fact I’d think it unlikely, but then I can’t think of any reason why I’d do any harm to an armed man; the payoff is pretty low and the consequences can be very high. As Niven says, don’t throw crap at an armed man, and don’t stand next to people who are throwing crap at armed men; primary rules for good health.
The Caliphate has raised the stakes again. I don’t know who is calling the shots for them, but it’s clear that someone is hoping to provoke a heavy retaliation from the United States. They’ve had that journalist for a long time; why bring him out now? Given the Moslem mentality it’s possible that someone believes that Allah will not allow his people to fail, and thus provoking the United States is precisely what is needed to invoke the power of the almighty; but surely that is not the motivation of the leadership of ISIS? It certainly isn’t the motivation of those funding ISIS.
The crisis in Iraq/Syria is tailor made for inviting US intervention to stabilize Kurdistan and our Kurdish ‘allies’, and we no long need to worry about irritating the Turks; it isn’t as if they are our allies any longer. Of all the factions over there, the Kurds are our best prospect as long term associates. I say associate, but it’s probably the wrong word. Ally isn’t a good one either. We have many common interests – including that they continue to resist and be strong – but we have conflicting interests as well. The Kurds have a good reputation for keeping their promises. Richard Lionheart was able to make a stable truce with Saladin that lasted far longer than such things usually do, and there have been plenty of other instances since those Third Crusade times. The Kurdish Sultanate was knocked apart by the Mongols; Elizabeth’s court received a request for military aid against the Mongols, and it was seriously considered, but rejected on financial and logistic grounds.
The situation also makes clear something I have been saying for a long time: the primary mission of air power is to establish air supremacy. The Air Force boasted that no US Army units were lost to enemy air power during the entire Korean War, and that’s very likely true. Of course we did lose some troops to friendly air power, but that happens in war. I note that it’s hard to admit that truth even today after all these years.
But once you establish air supremacy you have to do something with it, and USAF isn’t built to perform that mission, and has few officers who want to. There’s no great advancement in flying a Warthog – and that’s true whether you are Army or Air Force. Yet Warthogs – I use the term as generic for air platforms designed and optimized for support of the field army – are the key to victory in this kind of war. If we could base a couple of squadrons of Warthogs in the Kurd area, and send really good air strike controllers to work with the Peshmerga, most of northern Iraq and a good part of Syria would fall to the combination. The only threat to air support is ground weapons, and the Air Force has the means for taking out much of that; it’s part of the air supremacy mission, and that they understand very well. What the Air Force doesn’t want is the kind of airplanes that are useful only when someone else is flying cover for them. Well, of course there are strategic bombers, but they don’t count; they aren’t Stuka dive bomber substitutes for cannon. They’re strategic bombers and by definition that’s part of the USAF mission. It’s aircraft that can’t dogfight and which come in low and slow – the old P-47 Thunderbolt was great for that – and which can go around busting up supply convoys, trains, infantry columns, that the Air Force doesn’t want. It doesn’t want them because they aren’t big bombers or super hot fighters, and the only way to high rank in the Air Force is to pilot a big bomber or a hot fighter. It’s built into their DNA.
t am arguing the case for a USAAF again. An Amy Air Force designed and built to do close support of and be an integral part of the field army. It needn’t be more expensive than tanks and artillery. The infantry remains the Queen of Battles, and the Cavalry the Knights, but there is room for an Army Air Corps. That’s what wins these asymmetric wars. Look at the early fight in Afghanistan.
Yes, irregulars can make a territory hard to govern; but we don’t need to govern overseas territories. We need them to stop harboring our enemies. The Marines can’t do it all, nor would we want them to. Historically the Navy and Marines respond to emergencies, but it takes the Congress to send the War Department into battle; as it should. But a few regiments of Rangers with squadrons of close support air craft can deny territory to most of the enemies we face. That’s the force we need.
Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.