December 7, 2012

Is this the epitaph for Canada’s F-35 plans?

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:56

At the National Post, Kelly McParland offers two interpretations:

Ottawa is finally owning up to the fact the F-35 jet fighter purchase program is dead in the water. The Prime Minster’s Office insists the decision has not been made yet, but that’s reportedly just a formality. The killer was the cost: the government just couldn’t keep pretending it could deliver the jets for $9 billion plus expenses; it was more likely to be around $30 billion (which, curiously enough, is roughly what Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said they’d cost. Probably just a lucky guess. We’d ask him, but the Tories have duct-taped his mouth shut). The half-full view is that Ottawa bought into what seemed a worthwhile fighter, only to have the program unravel, and it’s doing the right thing (if a bit belatedly) in admitting it. Half-empty view is that the Tories totally mucked up the whole operation and were too pig-headed to look at alternatives from the beginning. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice.

The odds against the RCAF ever getting their hands on the F-35 have been getting longer for a while: “GAO latest to attempt to shoot down the F-35” (March), “F-35 and the “bubbling skin” problem” (March), “David Akin: The F-35 fiasco is now a boondoggle” (April), “The F-35 program is “Military Keynesianism”” (April), “The F-35, the “supersonic albatross”?” (April), “The F-35 is “unaffordable and simply unacceptable”” (July), “The F-35 program in the cross-hairs” (November).

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:28

My weekly Guild Wars 2 community round-up at GuildMag is now online. This is the 52nd edition of the column, and I’m still confident that it’s the most comprehensive regular link collection for Guild Wars 2 fans. We’re in waiting mode now for the next big event (Wintersday) beginning next week.

Revisiting Pearl Harbour

Filed under: History, Japan, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:38

In a History Today article from 2001, Dan van der Vat looks at the actual history rather than the film treatments of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941:

To recount what actually happened blow by blow, as in the exhaustive Tora, Tora, Tora!, is one thing; to use the event as the backdrop to an avowed fiction, as in From Here to Eternity, is equally legitimate. But to play fast and loose with history by presenting fiction as fact is at best confusing and at worse dangerous — especially when the event is still within living memory, affects current policy and needs to be understood by the young if the lessons of history are to be truly learned.

On Roosevelt’s ‘date that will live in infamy’, six Japanese carriers launched 350 aircraft to immobilise the US battlefleet at the very moment talks were due to resume in Washington. The Americans knew Japan’s propensity for surprise attack (Korea in 1895, the Russians’ Chinese enclave at Port Arthur in 1904, Manchuria in 1931, China in 1937). They were forewarned by their Tokyo embassy of the inclusion of Pearl Harbor in Japan’s war-plans, and they intercepted signals exposing its intentions. Yet the Japanese achieved strategic surprise. But their strategic blunder in not bombing repair facilities and fuel dumps spared the US Navy the crippling embarrassment of having to withdraw 2,200 miles eastward to the continental West Coast.

[. . .]

Initial American reaction to Pearl Harbor included not only rage at Japanese duplicity but also incredulity based on racism. Many witnesses insisted they had seen swastikas on the bombers; surely the Germans must have been behind such a sophisticated stroke. Inability to cope with the reality of America’s most spectacular lost battle led to a flourishing conspiracy industry which sprang up within hours of the bombing.

Even today, extreme revisionists claim that British frogmen came in on the midget Japanese submarines that almost gave the game away by trying to attack before the bombers. That at least one batch of intelligence intercepts from 1941 has not yet been released is taken as proof that they must conceal the ‘smoking gun’ the revisionists so stubbornly seek to this day.

Update: MHQ has the story of the most effective Japanese spy who reported on the comings and goings of US Navy ships at Pearl Harbour:

At 1:20 a.m. on December 7, 1941, on the darkened bridge of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, Vice Admiral Chui­chi Nagumo was handed the following message: “Vessels moored in harbor: 9 battleships; 3 class B cruisers; 3 seaplane tenders, 17 destroyers. Entering harbor are 4 class B cruisers; 3 destroyers. All aircraft carriers and heavy cruisers have departed harbor….No indication of any changes in U.S. Fleet or anything unusual.”

[. . .]

Astonishingly, such critical intelligence was not the work of a brilliant Japanese superspy who had worked his way into the heart of the fleet’s installation. Rather, Takeo Yoshikawa, a naval officer attached to the consulate and known to the Americans, had simply watched the comings and goings of the fleet from afar, with no more access than a tourist. He made little effort to cloak his mission, and almost certainly would have been uncovered if American intelligence had been more on the ball, or if America’s lawmakers had recognized the mortal threat Japan presented. Instead, he raised little suspicion, and his observations helped the Japanese piece together an extraordinarily detailed attack plan, ensuring its success.

No, we’re not running out of phosphorus (phosphate) and potassium (potash)

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:58

The most recent outbreak of the-sky-is-falling, we’re-at-peak-whatever panic mongering is debunked by Vaclav Smil:

Jeremy Grantham, a well-known presence in the financial world, recently published a World View column in the journal Nature in which he concludes that, “simply, we are running out” of almost all commodities whose consumption sustains modern civilization. There is nothing new about such claims, and since the emergence of a vocal global peak oil movement during the late 1990s, many other minerals have been added to the endangered list. Indeed, there is now a book called Peak Everything. What makes Grantham’s column – published under the alarmist headline “Be Persuasive. Be Brave. Be Arrested (If Necessary)” – worth noticing, and deconstructing, is that he puts his claims in terms more suitable for tabloids than for one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious scientific weekly magazines.

His direst example is “the impending shortage of two fertilizers: phosphorus (phosphate) and potassium (potash). These two elements cannot be made, cannot be substituted, are necessary to grow all life forms, and are mined and depleted. It’s a scary set of statements…. What happens when these fertilizers run out is a question I can’t get satisfactorily answered and, believe me, I have tried.” Well, he could have tried just a bit harder: an Internet search would have led him, in mere seconds, to “World Phosphate Rock Reserves and Resources,” a study published in 2010 by the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

This detailed assessment of the world’s phosphate reserves (that are the part of a wider category of resources that is recoverable with existing techniques and at acceptable cost) concluded that they are adequate to produce fertilizer for the next 300 to 400 years. As with all mineral resource appraisals (be they of crude oil or rare earths), the study’s conclusions can be criticized and questioned, and the statement by the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative is perhaps the best document of that kind. But even the most conservative interpretation of IFDC’s assessment shows that phosphates have a reserve/production ratio well in excess of 100 years, higher than that of many other critical mineral resources.

US student vocabulary tests show disappointing results

Filed under: Education, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:49

At the Wall Street Journal, Stephanie Banchero reports on recent tests of vocabulary that show US students are not as well-informed as expected:

U.S. students knew only about half of what they were expected to on a new vocabulary section of a national exam, in the latest evidence of severe shortcomings in the nation’s reading education.

Eighth-graders scored an average of 265 out of 500 in vocabulary on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the results of which were made public Thursday. Fourth-graders averaged a score of 218 out of 500.

The results showed that nearly half of eighth-graders didn’t know that “permeates” means to “spread all the way through,” and about the same proportion of fourth-graders didn’t know that “puzzled” means confused — words that educators think students in those grades should recognize.

Most fourth-graders did know the meaning of “created,” “spread” and “underestimate.” At eighth grade, most students knew “grimace,” “icons” and “edible.”

The new vocabulary test was embedded in the biennial national reading exam, known as the NAEP. Last year’s scores were in line with those posted in 2009, the first time vocabulary scores were broken out, but the latest results are the first to be made public. Experts noted that the results mirror the performance on the national reading test, which has yielded fairly static scores for a decade.

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