Friday, May 26, 2017

Book Review 389: Fighter Pilot's Heaven

FIGHTER PILOT’S HEAVEN: Flight Testing the Early Jets, by Donald S. Lopez. 223 pages, illustrated. Smithsonian

When I was about 8 years old and just beginning to read newspapers, I knew the names of more test pilots than I did big league ballplayers. The test pilots were on page one, the ballplayers were not.

These once famous men have since dropped entirely out of the script of popular culture, except for Chuck Yeager. There was a time, though, when every informed American knew names like Iven Kincheloe.

The record-setters flew out of Edwards in California, but there were many more test pilots that I didn’t know about. These men did opertional testing for the Air Force and the Navy. The Air Force men were based at Eglin in Florida, in those days a desolate, uninhabited backwater in northwest Florida.

Don Lopez, a fighter ace who had been making war in China, was assigned to the flight test squadron even before World War II ended, and the big excitement was the arrival of the first jets, notably the Lockheed P80 Shooting Star.

The P80 seems tame today, with an engine thrust less than a tenth of an F16’s and a top speed of a poky 550 miles an hour. But in the late 1940s they were amazingly fast, and Lopez and his fellow pilots spent many weekends showing off the P80 at community events.

“Fighter Pilot’s Heaven” doesn’t make any big revelations but is rather a memoir with funny stories. Like the attempt to make the P51 Mustang more comfortable on long flights by replacing the seat with a hammock.

The hammock was slung on 4 hooks. The flight surgeon who came up with this idea forgot that fighters do aerobatics. When Lopez went upside down, some of the grommets slipped off their hooks and Lopez found himself unable to lift himself by his butt to rehook them or to shake the remaining grommets off.

As a result he couldn’t see out of the cockpit nor fully control his plane.

He managed to wrestle himself into a crouched position and get down, claiming to have been the only pilot to have landed a Mustang “standing up.”

Not all the stories are so amusing. Many of the test plots were killed, some by the inherent hazards of testing technologically novel equipment but more by the foolhardiness of the pilots.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Hawaii-Hannity connection

This one is for Hawaii journalists, who will know the background.

It turns out that Sean Hannity had help in flogging the fake story about the killing of Seth Rich: Malia Zimmerman, once Hawaii Reporter.

The Washington Post reports she is not responding to attempts to interview her about her part in the fake news, described as

The story, published on May 16 by Fox reporter Malia Zimmerman, contained specific details of what had been done and what had been covered up, citing a “federal investigator” in reporting that Rich “made contact with WikiLeaks.”
If you can dish it out, you'd better be able to take it, too.

When I was reporting, I was more than once surprised -- by David Shapiro, then the managing editor of the then Honolulu Star Bulletin, for one --  by news people who refused to be interviewed about their reports.

My policy was open door. Anybody could call me and ask how I got a story, and I'd tell him. And quite a few did.

It seemed to me then, and still does, that if you expect people to talk to you, you'd better be ready to talk to them.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hey, Rube!

Remember when George Romney visited a foreign country and his career was ruined when he said, "When I came back from Viet Nam, I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get."

Younger readers may not remember, it was a long time ago and American politics was different then. Recall also that the brainwashing was done by lying, corrupt American generals; some things haven't changed.

What Romney clearly meant was, they tried to brainwash me but I saw through it. Republican Party infighting was dishonest and ruthless in those days, something else that hasn't changed. (Recall, from that same time, the savage attack by Prescott Bush on Nelson Rockefeller on the occasion of his remarriage, another career-ending attack.)

Now, Wilbur Ross isn't a politician at the level of Romney or Rockefeller. He isn't a politician at all. But he is a member of Whiny Baby Donald's Cabinet.

Presumably he sometimes offers WBD advice, and perhaps WBD sometimes acts on it.

That is a scary thought.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Medical miracle

Well, maybe not a miracle, but bizarrely interesting.

But one particular gentleman really inspired Wartinger. The man rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and then passed a small stone. Then he did it again and passed another. And then another. “That was just too powerful to ignore,” Wartinger said. “I'd been hearing these anecdotal stories for a couple years, and then I thought, okay, there's really something here.”
If you plan to do this, Dr. Wartinger found that you get the best results from riding in the last car.

Although only a preliminary study, Wartinger suggests this method might save big bucks.

I wonder what a screen of rodeo bronc and bull riders would find. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The view from the north

Land of the Morning Calm -- until the Americans came
Korea began the unbroken string of American military defeats that shows no sign of ever ending. (If Flynn and McMaster are examples of our best military leadership, that says it all.)

In the London Review of Books, Bruce Cumings rehearses the history of the Hermit Kingdom, though not as far back as he could have done. Most Americans know the name of Perry who "opened" Japan but not one in 10 million can name the American who "opened" Korea. (R.W. Shufeldt, in 1882, although the U.S, Navy had been bombarding what was then called Corea and killing Coreans since about 1870.)

After 1945, the Americans pursued the same policy in Korea that it did in Germany, China and Indochina: leaguing with fascists in the name of anticommunism. In Korea, it could not use the Japanese fascists so it used their Korean collaborators.

A vital figure in the long Japanese counterinsurgency effort was Kishi Nobusuke, who made a name for himself running munitions factories. Labelled a Class A war criminal during the US occupation, Kishi avoided incarceration and became one of the founding fathers of postwar Japan and its longtime ruling organ, the Liberal Democratic Party; he was prime minister twice between 1957 and 1960. The current Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo, is Kishi’s grandson and reveres him above all other Japanese leaders. Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Abe on 11 February when a pointed message arrived mid-meal, courtesy of Pyongyang: it had just successfully tested a new, solid-fuel missile, fired from a mobile launcher. Kim Il-sung and Kishi are meeting again through their grandsons. Eight decades have passed, and the baleful, irreconcilable hostility between North Korea and Japan still hangs in the air.
Although supporting fascism cost America a great deal in Vietnam, in the long view it could be argued that it turned out OK in Germany, the Philippines, Turkey, Indonesia and South Korea. All eventually adopted at least semi-real democratic governments.  In 2017, though, it does not look as rosy as once it did.

Iran, the Philippines, Turkey and -- perhaps -- Indonesia are not models of democracy (despite the elections this weekend in Iran).  But Korea is the example, above all, of the proposition that maybe it would have been a better idea to have supported democrats, however messy that appeared at the time.

It is not merely that by supporting fascists the United States became morally responsible for several genocides; according to Cumings, the toll in Korea was of Rwandan proportions.

There is a strange gap in Cumings' narrative. He says

 After the Americans left in 1948 the border area around the 38th parallel was under the command of Kim Sok-won, another ex-officer of the Imperial Army, and it was no surprise that after a series of South Korean incursions into the North, full-scale civil war broke out on 25 June 1950.
As too few of us know, the United States was making war against communist states in the late '40s: in Ukraine, China, Korea and elsewhere. To do so in Korea, using South Korean surrogates, was especially reckless, since the South Korean government had no military of its own (only a constabulary of about 8 divisions) nor any American backup.

The Soviets and the Chinese had no option for direct retaliation, but the North Koreans did, and they used it.
After the Chinese routed the American-South Korean invaders of the north, and were pushed back in turn, the US Army had to acknowledge it was beaten. It then turned to a campaign of pure slaughter.
17 of every 20 buildings -- most necessarily of no military significance -- in the north were bombed, and unnumbered Chinese and Koreans were shelled along the inactive front lines.

The code name for the policy --it cannot be called a strategy -- was significant and meant to be: OPERATION KILLER.     

Under these circumstances, it is unsurprising that the North Koreans consider that any and all American policies are aimed at regime change, or that they might be prepared to go to any extreme to counter them.

Liberals made fun of Trump when he said, who knew health care could be so complicated. They might want to examine their consciences (if they have any in this area)  when it comes to policy in the Land of the Morning Calm.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Even the 99% cheat

Forsooth! According to UBS -- which ought to know as it is one of the crookedest banks in the world -- people looking for auto loans are hyping their credit scores.

Golly! I wonder where they ever got the idea to do that?
The report raises questions about one of the key arguments for investors not worrying about consumer credit, and car loans in particular: borrowers’ credit scores are broadly rising, and have been higher for recent auto loans than they were before the financial crisis. Those scores have been climbing while auto lenders loosen many loan terms, including allowing longer payback periods, the strategists wrote.

“Everything but credit scores have been eased in lender underwriting,” Mish said. “Loan terms are stretched out, interest rates are aggressive, but there may be an over-reliance on credit scores, and that’s the danger.”
The story at Bloomberg says:

A growing number of borrowers have searched on the Internet for “credit score,” signaling that borrowers may be getting better at figuring out how to game their credit scores, the strategists said.

That despite the fact that every time you inquire about your score you get dinged by the rating agencies.

I expect the combination of rightwing economic idiocy and Whiny Baby Donald incompetence will generate a crash; perhaps not a big one.

Maybe auto lending is where the crack will open. 

And perhaps the bloom is fading on WBD's stock bouquet, if today's 370-point stock dive indicates anything. Bloomberg also worries that old, rich Americans are not spending their dough.

Get out the tiny violin.

Free Kurdistan

Apart from celebrating the delectability of greasy pork, RtO's consistent purpose has been to advocate a free and independent Great Kurdistan.

This would require breaking up Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Two down, two to go.

Breaking up Turkey looks like a better and better choice, all on its own.

Are there any despots left that Trump hasn't stroked?