January 14, 2011

Bruce Arthur continues to bathe Seattle in praise

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:58

Well, sorta:

Three of the four teams that advanced in the NFL playoffs last week did so on the road. The one home team that managed to win was the Seattle Seahawks, who became the first 7-9 team to topple the defending Super Bowl champions. And if Seattle and Green Bay both win on the road, Seattle will become the first 7-9 team to host a conference championship game, by virtue of having won the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of NFL divisions.

If this occurs, by the way, I give up. I will surrender the job of picking NFL games to the coin. You’ll barely be able to tell the difference, really.

[. . .]

By the way, Seattle’s nine losses this season were by 17, 17, 30, 34, 15, 18, 19, 16, and 23 points, which added up to the fifth-worst point differential in the NFL this season, even if you take their playoff win into account. Only Denver, Buffalo, Arizona and Carolina were worse.

And yet with three-quarters of the league lying on various Caribbean beaches letting the bruises heal, here the Seahawks are, two wins from the Super Bowl. Weird? Well, when Marshawn Lynch ripped off that game-sealing, tackle-shedding, 67-yard trample that made the Saints defence look like it consisted exclusively of Canadian pedestrians, it made for the first 100-yard game by a Seattle running back this season.

Up is down, and black is Seahawks blue. At this rate, the Seahawks are going to win the Super Bowl, be collectively elected to form the next American government, discover a universal antibiotic that crushes even the most indestructible of superbugs, and be the first football team to walk on Mars. There, they will defeat a squadron of 14-foot-tall lizard men from a distant galaxy, despite being billion-point underdogs.

Last year’s biggest military developments

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:37

Strategy Page lists some of the most significant military developments of 2010:

* Infantry. Here we saw more evolution, not revolution, in infantry gear. But at least the trends continued to move in the right direction. The biggest change is the equipment that must be carried. Until the 1980s, you could strip down (for actual fighting) to your helmet, weapon (assault rifle and knife), ammo (hanging from webbing on your chest, along with grenades), canteen and first aid kit (on your belt) and your combat uniform. Total load was 13-14 kg (about 30 pounds). You could move freely, and quickly, like this, and you quickly found that speed and agility was a lifesaver in combat. But now the minimum load carried is twice as much (27 kg), and, worse yet, more restrictive. Over the last seven years, this has translated into some dramatic changes in training. In Iraq, troops found they were not in the best condition to run around with all that weight. This was worse in Afghanistan, with all those hills. Plus, the vest constricted movement, and that took time to adjust to. Commanders complained about troops not being properly trained, and that led to a series of changes in basic and unit training. The big change in basic was to condition troops to handle the heavy weights they would be carrying, for extended periods of time. This was particularly critical for non-combat troops (especially those operating convoys) outside of camps (where you usually didn’t have to wear armor and combat gear.) New exercises were developed. Infantry troops got several months of additional training after basic, and had plenty of opportunity to adjust to moving around wearing 14 kg or more of gear. The heavier weight included better armor and equipment (night vision, personal radio, weapon sights), which reduced combat deaths, and made the troops more lethal. But now the troops accept the fact that a lot of essential training takes place in the gym, particularly the weight room. The army and marines have been developing lighter and more comfortable versions of essential gear, but there’s still a need for muscle. This decade of infantry innovation has been noted by other armies around the world, and they are all hustling to emulate this American revolution. Not just to get the gadgets, but to implement the new training methods as well.

* Support. Few pay attention to support functions, especially no one in the media. But here is where big things happen. One of things has been how video games joined the army. Over the last eight years, billions of dollars has been spent on creating several generations of increasingly accurate combat simulators for training troops to deal with roadside bombs, hostile civilians, flying UAVs and new enemy tactics. These sims are taken for granted inside the army and marines, but still seem out of place to ill informed outsiders.

[. . .]

* Naval Power. The U.S. Navy has accepted the fact that is has gotten smaller, and that this process will continue. The navy shrunk by 20 percent in the last decade, to a force of 280 ships. The main reason is the high cost of new ships, to replace those that are wearing out and being retired. In the next decade, the fleet is expected to shrink another 20 percent, again because Congress refuses to provide enough money to replace older ships (only about $14 billion a year, at most, is provided for new ships, and this is expected to shrink.) New ships cost, on average, $2.5 billion each. This is made possible because of six billion dollar destroyers, seven billion dollar subs and eleven billion dollar carriers. This is offset somewhat by $1.7 billion amphibious ships and half billion dollar LCS (a compact, controversial, ship design). The big news is that the admirals are actively brainstorming how to live with a high cost/low income future, not try to magically make it go away.

Waters starting to recede in Brisbane

Filed under: Australia, Economics, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:53

Roger Henry sends another update:

Flood waters have receded far enough today that some serious cleaning up can commence. A semi-organised army of volunteers descended on the various suburbs that they could get access to and just started helping home and shop owners clean up. Tomorrow, an organized army will be available. Some 50,000 people, in two shifts, will be bussed into various efforst to do some serious cleaning. On Sunday it is expected they will do it again. An amazing community effort.

Photo from The Australian

Photo from The Australian

In the long run though things are still serious. Everyone is going to have to pay for the damage and loses, and this includes you guys. Due to earlier bad weather in Oz, global wheat prices are at record levels, the current flooding has almost destroyed the sugar crop thus global sugar prices have almost doubled. Coal shortages will be sending steel prices up so your imports are going to be that much dearer, and so on an do on.

Individuals here have some heart-breaking decisions in front of them. One middle-aged couple we saw, had lost their rented house, their entire possessions, the car — with payments owing — and their jobs. They both told the camera that they were all right. What the Hell. How can they be all right? They are sleeping on the floor in a Church hall wearing donated clothing. Sure, they seemed fit and determined and, one hopes, they will get going again, but they were not all right. There are lots more like them.

Sadly, some looters have come out of the shadows. 18 people have been arrested so far and the cops have reminded potential perps that there is a possible ten year sentence for looting.

Roads and rail are badly damaged. Some pics of exposed rail tracks where miles of it has been washed out. Some major bridges are also damaged. One large, steel structure was visibly out of alignment.

By and large, much like any community does when it has had a kick in the teeth, people are regrouping and getting order restored. It might take awhile, but it will all work out.

It will be very useful if we don’t have to do it all again in the near future.

Some humour in it all. A liquor store had about 500 bottles of wine that had lost their labels. The owner was proposing a lucky dip sale or a blind auction. He had about two dozen volunteers washing, drying, and re-stacking his stock. Didn’t seem to be much fear of any of it ‘walking’.

Update: Here’s an image from the Brisbane City Council, showing the extent of the flooding (flooded areas in yellow, river banks in darker yellow):

Additional information on the flood history of Brisbane at the New Scientist website.

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