Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Chasing Alex with the Hurricane Hunters

Have you ever gotten to do something that you never, even in your wildest dreams, thought you’d get to do? You know, like fly right through a hurricane?

53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron

That was my thought as I headed to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS Tuesday night. I had gotten a phone call from TSgt. Tanya King, the NCO in charge of Public Affairs for the 403rd Wing, a US Airforce Reserve command. Part of the 403rd Wing is the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known to the world as the “Hurricane Hunters. Sgt. King asked, “would you like to fly into a hurricane”?

As you might imagine, I jumped at the chance. And so Tuesday night, with classic rock blasting on XM, I headed toward Biloxi about as excited as I’d been in years. At the time the first named storm of the season, Alex, was still a tropical storm, but I had been assured that by the time I got to Keesler, Alex would be a hurricane. And Alex would be the first Atlantic Hurricane in June since 1995 – promising a possibly busy hurricane season.

Heading into Hurricane Alex

Arriving at the airbase early the next morning, I and some media from Houston, San Antonio and Mobile were briefed up on the mission. Alex was officially a Category 1 hurricane and headed for the Mexican coast south of Brownville TX. The mission, call sign Teal72, would be about 10 hours, the tasking coming from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. We’d be doing what they called a “low level investiture” which meant we’d be going into the hurricane at 5,000 ft. They like to go in as low as the storm will let them. The lower the category, the lower they can enter. Since Alex was a Cat 1 hurricane, we were warned we probably wouldn’t see a clear eye what they call the “stadium effect” – as we might have had the hurricane been of a higher category.

Pilot's radar view (left) as Teal72 lined up for the first penetration - a little shaky but we were already in mild turbulence

We’d be flying in a WC130J. These “Super Hercules” are equipped with both the power and the equipment to weather the storms they fly through. They contain palletized meteorological data-gathering instruments which are used to gather real-time information as the aircraft penetrate the storm. The information is then sent by burst transmission to the National Hurricane Center where it is compiled and used to both track and predict the storm’s path and intensity.

At about 10am we went wheels up on the mission, 3 full crews serve the flight because of its duration and the intensity of the activity they are subjected too. Each crew has a pilot, copilot, navigator, weather officer and load master. The load master is responsible for dropping the parachute-borne sensor known as the dropsonde. It measures and encodes the weather data down to the ocean surface and transmits it to the weather officer’s station.

In the eye (Cat 1)

So there we were actually heading toward a real, live, spinning in the Gulf of Mexico hurricane. Granted it wasn’t a Katrina, but for me, Cat 1 sounded like plenty. Our flight route took us along the coast to New Orleans and then southwest over the Gulf to Alex. Along the way we were able to see the seemingly endless sheen of the oil that has been spilled by the DeepHorizon blowout.

About 65 miles away from Alex, anticipation began to build. The first aircraft that had penetrated the hurricane the evening before had to turn back due to radar problems. So this was going to be the first in-depth look at the newly designated hurricane.

A break in the clouds (eye - Cat1)

Sitting on the flight deck watching the operation was fascinating. While it was clear we were in the storm, the flight crew was trying to determine where exactly the eye of Alex was. Using the Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer (SFMR), which the crews call the “Smurf”, they’re able to accurately measure surface winds directly below the aircraft. And using the winds and radar, they searched for the eye. Finally, after some course corrections called by the weather officer and the navigation officer that entailed a series of 10 degree right turns, the far wall of the eye became visible on radar. After that, the co

Heading in for the final penetration (Cat 2)

urse was plotted through the middle of the eye, and the weather officer, using wind data marked the exact center.

Through multiple passes through the hurricane from different directions, they’re able to plot its speed and direction at the National Hurricane Center from data sent by the aircraft.

Surprisingly the ride wasn’t as bumpy as I thought it would be, however, it had its moments. Penetrating the eye wall gave us our most thrilling parts of the ride – certainly everything I wanted and more.

All in all, we made 7 total passes through Alex. A typical mission is 4 passes. Because it was nearing the Mexican coast, the aircraft I was on had its mission extended and the follow on mission was scrubbed. So our Hurricane Hunter followed Alex all the way to the Mexican coast, constantly penetrating and data mapping the hurricane as it moved toward the shore.

Finally, about an hour before Alex made landfall, and running short on fuel, Teal72 turned toward home. 13 ½ hours chasing Alex, about 9 of them in and around the hurricane. During that time, Alex graduated to a Cat 2 and passes 6 and 7 attested to the change. About 15 hours after their day had begun, the crew of Teal72 were done – another long, grueling and successful mission to add to the storied history of the Hurricane Hunters.

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-30

Cambridge PD: Prof. Gates and Sgt. Crowley were both a-holes. http://usat.me?39086876 #

Report: Deficit, debt get worse despite health care law http://usat.me?98442 | I'm shocked–shocked!–to learn this! Again. #

RT @markknoller: Obama: Debate isn’t about big or small government, but responsible government." | "Responsible"? *cough* oil spill *cough* #

RT @markknoller: Obama: There are times when "only government" can do what individuals and business cannot. | By "times" he means "always". #

I just learned that Swedish Match has discontinued Claq Qui. Now I have to go through the tedious process of finding a new snus. #

If we really are in for another contraction, and a massive round of money creation by the Fed, then I suggest these… http://bit.ly/dd4FD1 #

http://bit.ly/ceFZSN The ECRI leading indicator plummets to -6.9, pointing to an economic contraction in the US by the end of the year. #

RT @Heritage Morning Bell: Obama’s Oil Spill To-Do List http://bit.ly/aW47Gt | At this point "Anything" would be a to-do list for Obama. #

http://bit.ly/cZcdel RBS to customers: We strongly believe that [an economic] cliff-edge may be around the corner…Think the unthinkable." #

VA hospital may have exposed 1800 veterans to HIV. http://bit.ly/b5FNQX #

Elizabeth Edwards is inspired by Sandra Bullock. Yeah, Sandra threw the bum out immediately, unlike Edwards. http://bit.ly/am79Jf #

12-foot waves hamper Gulf oil cleanup. Nature gave us 70 days to jump into action. Instead, Obama dithered. http://bit.ly/9VBLZd #

The ADP Employment Change report shows private employers only added 13k new jobs last month. That implies a negative BLS report on Friday. #

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Guantanamo’s lesson for the Obama administration

The New York Times tells us that closing the Guantanamo facility has "faded as a priority." The once adamant insistence by candidate and later President Obama that the facility must be closed to erase the blight on America’s image has now run smack dab into reality. The New York Times prefers to write it off to “political resistance”, implying political foes on the right are responsible for Obama’s inability to close Guantanamo. In fact the Obama Justice Department has been no more successful in determining what to do with the detainees at “Gitmo” than was the Bush administration. That is the problem area that can’t be resolved.

The reality they face is very simple – those incarcerated are very dangerous people whose sole goal in life is to kill as many Americans as they can by whatever means they have at their disposal. Releasing them back into the world would simply allow them to again engage in achieving their goals.

The Obama administration has fretted and fussed over their inability to close the detention center. They’ve installed commissions to study the problem, they’ve explored various possible solutions and none have provided a resolution to the problem of what to do with these detainees.

If you can’t release the detainees, they obviously have to be kept somewhere.  That is the core of Obama’s problem.  His claim that Gitmo is a stain on the image of the United States and is used by our enemies as a recruiting tool presupposes that closing the facility (and, one assumes, releasing the detainees) would remove that stain and the claimed “recruiting tool” Guantanamo provides.

The final attempt at a solution involved Congressional Democrats putting forward a plan to use a closed prison facility in Illinois to house the Guantanamo detainees and allowing the administration to close the detention center there. This idea was certainly met with political resistance when Americans became aware of the plan. Common sense says you don’t move dangerous detainees in an isolated facility off-shore into the heart of your country and provide violent radicals with an opportunity to bring terrorism to America in an attempt to rescue those being held.

But that plan also shifted the debate in a subtle way that many missed. By considering the plan, the administration tacitly admitted that what they saw as a “stain” on America’s image was, in fact, a necessary “stain.” That image, of course, had to do with holding these detainees without trial in an American facility. Its name happened to be Guantanamo. But moving them to an inland prison doesn’t change the image. It merely changes the name and location of the prison. It was clear, at that point, that the administration had no idea how it could close Gitmo safely and remove that “stain.”  The best it could do was transfer the “stain” to Illinois.

So it has chosen to let the closing of the Guantanamo facility “fade in priority.” Another naive campaign promise squashed by reality. The world is full of dangerous people who wish us ill.  The job of keeping us safe falls to the federal government. For an administration which likes to present teachable moments, this should be one for them.

Guantanamo exists for a very important purpose directly tied to the government’s job of keeping us safe. The administration has now explored that point in seemingly every possible way and the facility remains open and functioning. Perhaps it is time they made peace with that fact and turned their concentration toward keeping the citizens of the US safe instead of worrying about imaginary “stains.”

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Michael Gerson Is Better Than You

Oh, and you’re ugly too:

My political friendships and sympathies are increasingly determined not by ideology but by methodology. One of the most significant divisions in American public life is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; it is between the Ugly Party and the Grown-Up Party.

[…]

The rhetoric of the Ugly Party shares some common themes: urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases. It is not merely an adolescent form of political discourse; it encourages a certain political philosophy — a belief that rivals are somehow less than human, which undermines the idea of equality and the possibility of common purposes.

This distinction came to mind in the case of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who resigned last week after the leak of messages he wrote disparaging figures he covered … Unlike Weigel, most members of the Ugly Party — liberal and conservative — have little interest in keeping their views private.

[…]

The alternative to the Ugly Party is the Grown-Up Party — less edgy and less hip. It is sometimes depicted on the left and on the right as an all-powerful media establishment, stifling creativity, freedom and dissent. The Grown-Up Party, in my experience, is more like a seminar at the Aspen Institute — presentation by David Broder, responses from E.J. Dionne Jr. and David Brooks — on the electoral implications of the energy debate. I am more comfortable in this party for a few reasons: because it is more responsible, more reliable and less likely to wish its opponents would die.

Well, not in public anyway.

If I had a nickel for every time some hand-wringing, garment-wrenching, media “elite” rides to the rescue of one of their liberal brethren being caught slurring the political opposition, I could buy the entire archives of JournoList.

I’d even have enough money left over for some popcorn and a comfy chair. Then I could release those archives and watch the stampede of “Grown-Up Party” snobs falling all over themselves to explain how sophisticated they all are for only “urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases” in the privacy of their own chatrooms. It will be uproariously entertaining to hear how talking behind people’s backs is the epitome of class, while publicly challenging opponents is so lowly and juvenile.

You know, Mr. Gerson, being a “Grown-Up” douchebag isn’t much of an accomplishment.

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It took 70 days to accept foreign help on the oil spill?

Why?

Really – I want to know.  Why did the “we’ve been on the job since day one” crowd take 70 more days to decide they should accept some offers of help that began coming in within 3 days of the spill.

(Via Hot Air):

The National Incident Command and the Federal On Scene Coordinator have determined that there is a resource need for boom and skimmers that can be met by offers of assistance from foreign governments and international bodies.

The United States will accept 22 offers of assistance from 12 countries and international bodies, including two high speed skimmers and fire containment boom from Japan. We are currently working out the particular modalities of delivering the offered assistance. Further details will be forthcoming once these arrangements are complete…

The Department has released a chart of offers of assistance that the U.S. has received from other governments and international bodies. The chart is updated as necessary to include any additional offers of assistance and decisions on accepting the offers.

The chart shows a good number of more offers still under “consideration”.

Why?

Why isn’t that equipment and technology already here and deployed?

What is going on with the “day one” crowd?  Why are we still screwing around deciding what offers should or shouldn’t be accepted?

Meanwhile, the red tape continues to stymie efforts to clean up the spill.

Freakin’ amazing.

This vid sort of sums it all up.

Oil Spill Timeline from RightChange on Vimeo.

~McQ

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Consumer confidence dives in June

If you were wondering why the stock market tanked yesterday, look no further than June’s consumer confidence numbers.  Not good:

The Consumer Confidence Index came in at 52.9 in June, a jarring decline from 62.7 in May, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Conference Board, a private research group. It was the biggest drop since February and came on top of several gloomy economic developments in recent days.

Those “gloomy economic developments” of recent days include a 1Q GDP of 2.7%, housing sales that dropped 33% and unemployment numbers that while a tiny bit lower, showed nothing to indicate employers are hiring.  Now consumers are indicating that they’re not willing to buy much of anything at the moment.  That all adds up to bad news for the recovery – if in fact, we’re actually in one.

And the future isn’t looking much brighter:

In another troubling sign, forecasters expect U.S. auto sales to decline for June after growing every month since January. The Conference Board’s report showed that fewer people surveyed plan to make many major purchases, from homes and autos to refrigerators, over the next six months.

Again, not a good sign.  In fact, what it is a sign of is something we’ve all been fearing:

"The more evidence that we get that consumers are losing their confidence and growing more tentative about things, the odds of a double-dip recession start to rise a little bit," said Tim Quinlan, economist at Wells Fargo.

Indeed.  Wait … wasn’t all that stimulus money supposed to fix this?

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-29

Listening to Alex Jones on Opie & Anthony. Wow! EVERYTHING is a conspiracy to this guy! #

Kagan vows to keep politics, judging separate. And you can believe as much of that as you please. http://usat.me?39067172 #

Apparently, "Ur doin it wrong" fails as an excuse for iPhone4 antenna problems, so lawsuits begin brewing. http://bit.ly/bbjoTz #

If China negotiates a trade deal with Taiwan, is that a de facto recognition of Taiwan as an independent state? http://bit.ly/cHg4tK #

Kagan quickly backpedaled from her past call for nominees to speak more openly about their constitutional views. Haha! http://bit.ly/aMbhsH #

Kagan affirms her belief in a "living constitution", i.e., one that means whatever she wishes at a given time. http://bit.ly/cTtJWP #

Democrats seek "macaca" moments on Republicans. They're not even pretending to have plausible policies any more. http://bit.ly/9MRgTb #

Mayors Daley & Bloomberg read Supreme Court's 2nd Amendment ruling, shrug, and say "So what?" http://bit.ly/9KQuSm #

Meat-flavored vodkas? I thought fruit flavors were bad enough. http://bit.ly/cXTb7f #

Consumer confidence plunges in June, as Biden's "summer of recovery" begins. http://bit.ly/azyuxJ #

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Uninformed, ignorant and living 30 years in the past

That’s about the nicest thing I can say about Courtland Milloy’s screed in the Washington Post. Entitled "Tolerance of white militias exemplifies the racial double standard", Milloy tries his best – which is none to impressive – to whip up a little racial hatred and divisiveness.

His two tools to lend credibility to his poorly constructed argument are the Southern Poverty Law Center, which sees a right wing conspiracy and racial hatred behind every corner, and a special Chris Matthews did – Chris Matthews – on Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia.

Matthews special was entitled "The rise of the new right", but there’s nothing especially new about the SMVM. It has been around since at least 2002 and their website openly announces ("On line since 02/02/02").

Apparently the SMVM also saw some potential problems in perhaps, oh I don’t know, 9/11?  And it existed through most of the Bush presidency which, one would guess, would mean race has nothing to do with their existence or they’re wildly colorblind and just didn’t know that George Bush was a cracker.

Milloy claims:

Maybe Obama is just being savvy by not coming down hard on the militia. As Potok said, "There’s a huge amount of anger, and what we are really lacking at this moment is a kind of spark." In an apparent attempt to defuse the tension, Obama does such things as supporting a U.S. Supreme Court decision crippling D.C.’s gun control law and then signs a bill that allows visitors to national parks to carry guns.

Potok, of course, is with the SPLC and while he certainly is correct in pointing out there is a “huge amount of anger”, the implication that it is racially based and found solely on the right is simply unsupportable.  MIlloy is also obviously one of those who believes that only government should have guns.

And speaking of double standards, Milloy somehow forgot to mention the Obama DoJ’s decision not to prosecute a well-known black militia, the New Black Panthers, for obvious (it’s on film) voter intimidation in Philadelphia during the last presidential election.

He finishes with this:

Still, gun advocates keep him in their sights. They show up outside presidential town hall meetings brandishing firearms. When a young black man, identified only as Chris, showed up at one such event with a rifle strapped to his back, white protesters cited him as proof that race had nothing to do with their contempt for Obama.

But they missed the point.

Had the black rifleman showed for, say, Ronald Reagan’s "states’ rights" speech in Philadelphia, Miss., back in 1980, they might still be dredging the Pearl River for his remains.

Really?  From Philadelphia, MS to Philadelphia, PA – we’ve come a long way haven’t we Mr. Milloy.  If this is the best you can muster to keep the fires of racial hatred stoked, it’s going to be a long, cold winter for you, isn’t it?

~McQ

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Second Amendment Decision Cheered By … Democrats?

The follow-up Supreme Court decision to Heller that was handed down yesterday marked a significant point in Second Amendment history. And that has not just gun-rights advocates jumping for joy, but also Democrats:

For them, the court’s groundbreaking decision couldn’t have been more beneficial to the cause in November. Now, Democratic candidates across the map figure they have one less issue to worry about on the campaign trail. And they won’t have to defend against Republican attacks over gun rights and an angry, energized base of gun owners.

“It removes guns as a political issue because everyone now agrees that the Second Amendment is an individual right and everybody agrees that it’s subject to regulation,” said Lanae Erickson, deputy director of the culture program at the centrist think tank Third Way.

A House Democratic aide agreed that the court’s decision removed a potentially combustible element from the mix.

“The Supreme Court ruled here that you have a fundamental right to own and bear arms, and that means at the national level it’s harder – whether it’s Republicans or whether it’s the [National Rifle Association] – to throw that claim out: if Democrats are in charge they’re going to come get your guns,” said the aide. “It pretty much took that off the table.”

Despite the fact that there are a fair number of pro-gun Democrats in Congress, members of the Donkey Party are typically slammed as “gun-grabbers” in close elections. With the decision in McDonald, that issue is basically moot for Democrats running red or purple districts.

The likely removal—or at least neutralization—of the gun issue this fall is of no small matter in the battle for the House and Senate. The Democratic majorities in both chambers were built, in part, on victories in pro-gun states and districts that had until recently been difficult terrain for Democratic candidates as a result of the national party’s position on gun control.

[…]

For congressional Democrats—especially those in seats outside major metropolitan areas where support for gun rights runs high—the ruling offered a chance to assert their pro-gun bona fides.

[…]

John Anzalone, a prominent Alabama-based pollster with a roster of Southern Democratic clients, called it a “win, win, win, win” situation for everyone—and above all, “for conservative Democrats who will be able to use it as a credential that they’re conservative. This is a tough political environment; you’re going to see Southern, Western Democrats use it and stand up for gun rights.”

Unfortunately for the Democrats, gun rights issues weren’t likely to be very high on the list of grievances redressed at the ballot box this Fall. Mired in the middle of the Great Recession, economic issues will be paramount in November, especially on jobs and tax policy.

In fact, although Democrats are cheering the absence of Second Amendment posturing thanks to McDonald, to the extent such issue would have been raised, it would have served as a distraction from the core concerns of voters. Now, with that issue off the table, the Democratic spending policies are cast in stark relief. While out on the hustings, they will be forced to answer for their support of ObamaCare, Stimulus, Cap and Trade, Finreg and the rest of the Democratic agenda that’s done nothing to help the economy, and sure looks like it may have done much to hinder it.

In political time, November 2nd is an eternity away. There is really no telling what might happen between now and then that might influence various elections, whether on a national or local level. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats were wishing they had the distraction of gun-rights issues this Fall instead of being forced to face the economic policy music. It will be a baleful tune.

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Russia is not our friend – part XVII

Russian spies?

Really?

Apparently so, or at least the FBI is convinced that 11 people it has arrested were indeed spies and they were spying for Russia.  Apparently the KGB’s successor, the SVR, just couldn’t help itself and places at least 5 couples in the US in deep cover.

The arrests were made after President Obama had a seemingly warm, back-slapping, hamburger eating meeting with Russian President Medvedev.  We’re told that Obama was not happy with the timing of the arrests (is there ever a good time?), but that the FBI feared their spies were about to bolt.

The arrests came after years of surveillance.  And, according to what has been released, if they weren’t spies, they certainly acted like them:

Criminal complaints filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday read like an old-fashioned cold war thriller: Spies swapping identical orange bags as they brushed past one another in a train station stairway. An identity borrowed from a dead Canadian, forged passports, messages sent by shortwave burst transmission or in invisible ink. A money cache buried for years in a field in upstate New York.

But the network of so-called illegals — spies operating under false names outside of diplomatic cover — also used cyber-age technology, according to the charges. They embedded coded texts in ordinary-looking images posted on the Internet, and they communicated by having two agents with laptops containing special software pass casually as messages flashed between them.

Their mission, according to the FBI, was to “penetrate American policy making circles”, something ordinary Americans have been trying to do for years.

Specifically they were to, “gather information on nuclear weapons, American policy toward Iran, C.I.A. leadership, Congressional politics and many other topics.”

One old KGB general was a little shocked at the size of the operation:

“The magnitude, and the fact that so many illegals were involved, was a shock to me,” said Oleg D. Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general who was a Soviet spy in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s under “legal” cover as a diplomat and Radio Moscow correspondent. “It’s a return to the old days, but even in the worst years of the cold war, I think there were no more than 10 illegals in the U.S., probably fewer.”

I’m not particularly shocked – this isn’t anything particularly surprising at all.  We’re talking about Russia here – a country that still resents the US and isn’t a friend, despite all the smiles, visits and hamburgers shared.

It’ll be interesting to watch how the administration reacts to this.  True, these folks were put in place when Bush was enamored with Pootie Poot, but supposedly the relationship is much closer and has been ‘reset’.

Apparently no one told the Russians that “reset” is supposed to work both ways?

~McQ

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