Friday, March 16, 2007

Evil Spirits and Other Things

I get so busy writing the other blogs on this site I forget about this one. That’s something I’m going to work to remedy. After all, the purpose of a blog is as much to catch one’s everyday thoughts and feelings, and that is especially true of this blog. It is its major purpose.

The news that Mayan Priests were going to purge their temple of “evil spirits” after George W visited it this week kept me in good humor all week long. I’d like it a whole lot more if they wouldn’t stop there; there’s plenty of other “evil spirits” hovering around our Capitol in Washington, D.C. to get rid of. They could probably make it a lifetime goal to cleanse the place; but I suppose that would tear them away from their own people too long. Besides, you can’t blame them for leaving us Americans to solve the problem; we did create it by electing all of them, after all.

Guess there is another point of view than that of the Conservative Right in this country, after all.

It will take decades to undo the damage to U.S foreign relations caused by the Bush Administration.

The battle for the rights of us everyday guys to fly in the skies of this country continues. I spoke with a friend of mine who was concerned about the user fee proposals Bush has circulated through Congress, proposals that the airlines are backing to shuffle off on general aviation more of its own mismanaged costs of doing business. Having dealt with airline management twenty years ago on the other side of an FAA user group, I can tell you that the airlines do not care for general aviation and wish it would go away. That has not and will not change; nowhere is there a better example of how money corrupts than in their attitudes toward use of the skies and how they can sometimes influence Congress. I’ve never been able to figure out why it is that pilots are so politically apathetic, reacting often only when it’s too late to do something. I’ve been trying to figure out how general aviation pilots could stage some kind of boycott, but the only ways I can come up with so far would make us more villains than victims in the public eye. Part of the problem is there is already the perception that most aircraft owners are “fat cats” anyway. But then most people aren’t privy to the sacrifices most owners make (like giving up other vacations or selling a truck or even a home) to keep their airplanes flying. Mechanics and FBO’s at controlled airfields really need to be lobbying against this; they can expect their traffic to dry right up if pilots are charged user fees to fly into their field.

Switching gears to Iraq…

If you’ve read anything I’ve written here at all, then you now I predicted that the war in Iraq would prove to be disastrous to the United States. Unfortunately, most of what I said about the war has proven to be true. I also said that once we had committed to it, we had to stick in to win; the problem, of course, is that it doesn’t look like a military victory is possible there. At some point in such a situation if a political solution doesn’t take shape, then we’ve got to decide when to bring the troops home with whatever honor we can.

That said, I don’t agree with Democratic proposals that publically call for bringing the troops back this year or early next. It’s not that I think such proposals don’t need to be examined; it’s that I think they have no business being made public. As much as I hate to agree with Chaney on any subject, he’s right when he says that such deadlines encourage the insurgents to simply wait us out, though such a tactic is probably the unfortunate truth of the situation no matter what we do. It is the job of the Democractic party to keep the Republicans honest; it is not their job to sabotage the war effort by playing politics with it.

By the way, for all you future politicians and presidents out there, the major lessons of Iraq, Viet Nam, and Afghanistan are these:

(1) Americans will respond vigorously when directly attacked. We have no qualms about going anywhere and doing whatever it takes to defend ourselves.

(2) American support of a war based on political goals rather than a direct attack will rightly be weak, so don’t plan on waging a war that will last more than a few years or count on Congressional and popular support lasting longer than that.

(3) Don’t assume your military forces are so almighty they can handle anything. Plan wisely, or the enemy will prove you wrong.

(4) Once you go in with a military, go in with as single focus: to win. We didn’t do that in Afghanistan which is why the Taliban are resurgent and Osama Bin Laden still hasn’t been caught. Our mission was NOT accomplished there; it hasn’t really even begun.

(5) Don’t assume the rest of the world thinks like you do and wants the same things. They don’t. Freedom belongs to those who want it not necessarily to those who need it.

Turning the Tide?

The IED (Improvised Explosive Device) has been the insurgent’s weapon of choice. But now there is a weapon to combat the IED, and it has the potential to reshape the dynamic of the Iraqi conflict, and perhaps turn the tide in America’s favor.

A company named Force Protection is hand-making armored vehicles specifically designed to combat the IED. A troop carrier named “the Cougar” and a larger crane-equipped vehicle called “the Buffalo” are slowly being deployed in the Iraqi conflict. So far, there have been no casualties among the troops who have been riding in these vehicle who have hit IED’s; needless to say, our government needs to do everything it can to speed up production and deliver these vehicles into Iraq, and Baghdad specifically, as fast as they can.

It’s too bad it’s taken four years to develop these vehicles and get them delivered, but there is still time for them to make a major impact in the conduct and outcome of the war.

It’s true the insurgents will try to find some way to defeat them, but that may be harder for them than first appears. The obvious solution is to target them with heavier weapons. But weapons of that magnitude will slow them down tremendously, be hard to camouflage when in place, and make their hiding places immediately visible and targets when used. A little more air cover will take care of that tactic relatively quickly.

The technologically superior power does not always win. Good tactics and surprise (or confusion on the enemy’s part) can offset that advantage. Still, technology can and often does make the difference between winning and losing; and these vehicles appear to be in that category of “making a difference” for much the better.

Switching Gears to the Space Program…

Having a goal to reach by a deadline is a good thing unless it forces you to take shortcuts that compromise safety or arbitrarily ends a program short of its goals. That’s why I’m having a hard time understanding NASA Administrator Griffith’s rigid insistence that the shuttle program will be shut down in September 2010 regardless of where the program is.

The current problems with hail damage with the external tank will be solved, but it’s looking more and more that even the mid-May launch date may be optimistic. We’ll know more after a meeting next week. No matter what the next launch date is, it’s a fairly sure thing that some flights will slide later than desired. Managers’ choices will then become to either compress the number of flights left into a tighter schedule , to terminate some missions altogether and sacrifice some long term objectives, or extend the 2010 arbitrary deadline and complete the entire ISS build-up. The option that makes the most sense to me is that last one. Orion probably will not fly as soon as NASA had hoped (due to budget cuts), so ISS must be put into god enough shape to stand the empty abyss of time that will pass before Orion does fly.

I don’t share the opinion of many of the “outlanders” that the space shuttle was a mistake. Indeed, ultimately, the shuttle will have proven to have played a decisive role in manned spaceflight history and, at some point, another winged vehicle that treads the space between earth and orbit will become a necessity, whether it’s operated by NASA or some company whose name we do not yet know.