Archive for the ‘ Media ’ Category

Unintentional Hilarity

I’ve often wondered about those Grandmothers you see in the stands at NBA games, dancing and singing along to the blaring sounds of the Village People classic YMCA. Do those sweet old ladies really understand what the song’s lyrics are all about? And if they did, would they really be singing along?

The NBA’s Milwaukee Busks have a dance team, composed of attractive young women, known as Energee.

Not to be outdone, a group of older local resident have started performing at Bucks games. Their “team name”?  I’m not making this up:

Most Milwaukee Bucks fans are familiar with the “Energee” dance team, which performs several times during every game, but what about the “Seniorgee” dance team?

Word of the Day: Procrustean

Procrustean

adjective

Marked by arbitrary ruthlessness and disregard for special or extenuating circumstances.

In Greek myth, Procrustes was a son of Poseidon with a stronghold on Mount Korydallos, on the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis. There, he had an iron bed in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night, and where he set to work on them with his smith’s hammer, to stretch them to fit. In later tellings, if the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly because secretly Procrustes had two beds. Procrustes continued his reign of terror until he was captured by Theseus, travelling to Athens along the sacred way, who “fitted” Procrustes to his own bed.

Procrustean is a useful word to describe many of the “mandatory minimum”, “zero-tolerance” policies of modern-day American institutions. A grade-school that suspends a nine year old for carrying a tiny plastic raygun in violation of its “zero tolerance” policies is an example of “procrustean” policy run amok.

Eyes in the Skies (On the Prize)

I read a story on the Huffington Post last week, in reference to an Israeli reconnaisance drone. The author made the claim that these UAVs could “allow their operators to read a name badge 40,000 feet below, at night.”

I’ve had a passing interest in the science of astronomy and optics for some time, and a little back-of-the envelope mathematics told me that this was absolutely impossible. (See my HuffPo comment for more details.) The short answer is that in order to see, and read, half in high letters from eight miles away requires a lens far bigger than could be carried in a single-engined aircraft.

No 48" telescope lens here...

What was interesting was that the author of the HuffPo article actually followed up my comment – acknowledging the correctness of my math, while assuring me that his source for the information was indeed qualified. He went on to speculate that maybe the secret military technology had moved beyond what was believed possible by civilian scientists. (It couldn’t possibly have done so.)

A little more research into the Israeli IAI Heron reveals a couple of potential motives for this “unintentional on purpose” sort of misinformation: The maker of this UAV is actively engaged in selling it to a variety of foreign governments, including India, Turkey, France and Australia.

The physics regarding what an optical surveillance system can, and cannot, do are extremely well established. And while the precise capabilities of advanced military hardware are usually closely held secrets – foreign military establishments employ multitudes of technically smart people who are just as capable of separating the hyperbole from the possible. So its unlikely that the Israelis put out the “read a nametag from the stratosphere” story to fool anyone in the Iranian military.

The Israeli company that makes the Heron has released a series of YouTube videos of the drone, complete with catchy upbeat musical scores. And while these videos don’t make the exact claim about reading nametags, the purpose is pretty clear: They want avergae military tech enthusiasts to become enamored with the drone’s technology. Making it that much easier for military procurement people in say, Australia or France, to justify their purchase. The actualy technological impossibility of reading nametags from miles away notwithstanding.

UAVs have become a huge business in the years since 9/11. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, while spy satellites are very good at locating and identifying military targets (a parked armored division, an airbase, a chemical weapons facility) – they aren’t very good at spying on terrorists. (Two guys talking in a car. A couple of huts in the desert.) And secondly, a spy satellite costs hundreds of millions of dollars to put into service. And sometimes they don’t work at all. An Israel-made drone, bought off the shelf for a few million, suddenly looks like a bargain.

Where have you gone, Jack Ryan?

Its been a few years since Tom Clancy has released a complete novel. And almost as long since I’ve read any of his work. I pretty much gave up after suffering through Red Rabbit (to date the only book I’ve ever actually thrown away) and I remember recoiling in disgust at The Teeth of the Tiger – in which a group of young American patriots go on a murder spree through the capitals of Europe, joyriding in Ferraris and Porsches financed through insider-trading profiteering enabled by a massive quasi-Governmental wiretapping operation. (Oh, and those are the good guys.)

I’d read Rainbow Six not long after it was first published back in 1998, and while not as engaging as some of Clancy’s earlier work – I didn’t recall it being that bad.

I was wrong. Its appalling.

Consider the premise: A group of liberal environmentalists plan to wipe out the entire population of the earth through a genetically-mutated virus, distributed via aerosol sprayed cooling systems at the Sydney Olympic Games. Along the way this group manages to finance random acts of terrorism, including graphic child murder – as well as a virus-testing program that sweeps both homeless alcholics and dim-witted legal secretaries into a secret clinic where they are free to drink and fornicate. Their medical overseers plying them with copious amounts of narcotics and plague viruses. Really.

Clancy is tiresomely repetitive, and boringly cliched in his portrayals. In the Clancy-world people fall into three groups: Military/Cops/Spies/Medical Personnel (apart from medical personnel who are also environmentalists- see above) – all hardworking heroic patriots. Group two: Environmentalists/Discovery Channel/NPR viewers/former KGB operatives/ and random dim-witted ex-Baader-Meinhoff gang members: Vicious, child murdering psychopaths. And lastly, the general population: dim-witted patsies, who rely on a secret army of spies, torturers and murderers to keep them safe from the other group of spies, torturers and murderers.

I hear that Clancy is working on another novel. (Read about it on his blog, in between comments about the quality of the whisky he’s drinking these days.) The strange thing is, I can’t ever remember a serious journalist ever asking Mr Clancy if he ever felt any responsibility for the idea floated in his 1994 book Debt of Honor: You know, the one which ends with a crazed extremist crashing his plane into a landmark American building, killing thousands in the process.

Cheat Sheets

Sarah Palin has been on the national stage for a year and a half now, and she seems no closer to bringing her Aw-shucks political diva act to a close. In fact, she seems more energized than ever.

Like a lot of people, I was hoping that she’d take the drubbing McCain-Palin got in ’08 to heart, and go back to Alaska where the damage she could do to our nation would be decidedly limited. Obviously, we don’t always get what we want. But as the Rolling Stones tell us – sometimes you get what you need.

When Palin got the nod from John McCain in 2008 she was clearly unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency. She had virtually no significant political experience (not that Obama had a hugely long resume in that regard either..) – but most troubling, she very clearly lacked the intellectual chops to take on almost any national office.

Holding an office like Governor would have given Palin, at a minimum, two years to “hit the books” on issues of national and international importance. To finally craft, and master, a worldview that she could present to potential voters in the run up to the 2012 elections. She could use the time to choose and build a team of experts to manage her campaign strategy and message.  Americans are not particularly demanding of their Presidential candidates intellects. Adlai Stevenson, probably for all time, gave “the smart guy” a whiff of political nerdiness. But with that said, Palin’s performance during the campaign was so head-slappingly awful that one had to be either delusional or truly moronic to think that she’d make a good President.

Palin didn’t do that. She reminds me a lot of the worst sort of clients management consultants deal with: those who are so bad, they just don’t realize how badly they need help. So instead of keeping quiet, she has kept herself in the news: A badly reviewed ghostwritten book. A puzzling “quitting” of the Governors office. A self-defeating public fight with the father of her grandchild. A gig on Fox News. And a paid speech at the Tea Party convention.

This endless barrage of quests for attention ought to tell us something about Sarah Palin: She’s desperate for attention. Most probably because, at heart, she lacks self-confidence. She knows, in her heart, that she isn’t as smart as Obama. She ought to know she isn’t as smart as McCain, Romney, Pawlenty, or just about any other national politician.

The Tea Party speech probably won’t be the final nail in Palin’s political coffin. But, factually dubious talking points aside, the biggest tip-off to her eventual doom has to be the handwritten crib notes on her palm. They tell me that whoever is making decisions for Sarah Palin, Inc. doesn’t have a clue. If Palin had referred to index cards for her notes – that would have looked, if not necessarily “Presidential.”

Instead, she came across looking like exactly what she is: the failing student who hasn’t done her homework.