Friday, April 17, 2015

The cost of leading from behind

The New York Times has suddenly noticed that policies have consequences. Of course, America's declining influence is less the product of a "government so bitterly divided" than it is the conscious choice of Barack Obama and the Democratic left, abetted in no small measure by libertarians like Rand Paul.

You don't get to influence the direction of the world when you're leading from behind.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A bit of history recovered

This splendid bit of late-1930s industrial artwork is the "cap" on the pilot's wheel of the B-29 Enola Gay. Looking for all the world like the horn button on an automobile of that era, it went missing in the 1950s or thereabouts, when an Air Force veteran was wandering through the "boneyard" at Davis Monthan Air Force Base outside Tucson, Arizona. According to family legend, he spotted Enola Gay, climbed aboard, and liberated the cap as a souvenir, on the assumption that the historic bomber would soon be scrapped. (My father went to work at Davis Monthan about that time, his job to design and build the crates that would enable airplane parts to be freighted to wherever in the world they were needed.)

The gentleman's son eventually put the cap in a shadow box of World War II souvenirs, but not until his granddaughter attended a class at Boston College on the subject of Hiroshima was the connection finally made. The story is nicely told in today's New York Times by the instructor in that class, Ted Gulp.

Enola Gay -- otherwise complete! -- is on display at the Udvar-Hazy annex to the National Air & Space Museum, very much worth a visit at Dulles airport outside Washington DC. There's bus service from the main museum on the Mall. Quite apart from the emotional impact of seeing the world's first atomic bomber, it's marvelously modern aircraft for something that came off the drawing board in May 1940 -- "a millionaire's airplane," as a B-29 pilot once described it to me.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Amazon in exile

During the Vietnam War, hundreds if not thousands of young American men relocated to Canada to avoid the draft. Now we have the spectacle of Amazon's Jeff Bezos doing much the same thing. Britain's Guardian newspaper has revealed the site of the company's new testing ground for drones, and it's not located in the UK as we had been led to believe, but less than half a mile north of the U.S. frontier in British Columbia.

Yes, this is what we have come to -- a regulatory state that Americans must flee in order to get any productive work done. More than three thousand citizens turn in their passports every year (and pay a substantial "expatriation" tax) to free themselves from the Internal Revenue Service. And one of the country's premier businesses has been forced to establish "an airstrip-in-exile," as the Guardian phrases it.

Jeff Bezos's dream is to be able to deliver packages within half an hour. To do this, he would use drones, but the Federal Aviation Agency treats drones like aircraft, requires an operator to have a pilot's certificate, won't let the thang fly out of the operator's sight or above 500 feet, and so on and so forth. Exceptions will be granted after a lengthy review--and the FAA just recently granted Amazon such an exception. But the company had already abandoned the device in question and moved on to a more sophisticated one. To test it, Amazon decided to take advantage of the “permissive culture on the Canadian side of the border,” again in the Guardian's words.

Canada! Permissive culture!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

America's new ally

Six years ago, Israel was America's best friend in the Middle East. (Or is it the Near East? I never can quite sort that out.) Now we have swapped Tel Aviv out for Tehran, not only promising to lift actual sanctions in favor of a promised reduction in Iran's quest for a nuclear bomb, but enlisting it as an ally against Islamic State. Israel, meanwhile, has become a pariah state, rather like South Africa in the days of apartheid.

The difference of course is that with Israel, the United States was the strong partner who provided military and diplomatic aid to a beleaguered nation. With Iran, the shoe seems to be on the other foot.

I don't know how it strikes the Israelis, but somehow the new arrangement does not make me feel more secure.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

That well-known newspaper

Sometimes it is hard to tell the satirical newspaper Onion from the well-known establishment paper in New York City. This morning, the NYT is worried that -- are you ready? -- that Germanair crash will cause people to worry . . . about mental illness! About prejudice against pilots suffering from depression!

The bodies aren't even buried yet, and the editors worry about stigma. As a thought experiment, imagine how shocked -- shocked! -- the New York Times would be if Guns & Ammo published a similar "analysis" after the latest school shooting, fretting that it might lead to prejudice against gun owners.

Monday, March 30, 2015

That Germanair pilot

I usually have no patience with the secondguessing that follows most tragedies, from the Pearl Harbor attack to the crash of an airliner. Everybody and everything gives out signals, so there's not much point in hoo-hawing after the quirks in the man who turns out to be suicidal or the nation that attacks without warning. But to have a commercial airline pilot who was treated for suicidal tendencies! That is indeed an astonishment. What in the world was the German airline administration thinking, that neither it nor Mr Lubitz's flight surgeon (medical examiner) was able to pick up on that?

Privacy laws, I'll bet. We now privilege an individual's self-esteem more than his society's wellbeing.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


It is snowing again.

Saturday, March 28, 11:43 a.m.