Monday, April 27, 2009

Pirate Hostage Rescue Email

The other day I got an email - as apparently did most of the internet - proporting to be the "inside story" of the SEAL's engagement of the Somali pirates holding Captain Richard Phillips.

At the time, I thought the email had a ring of truth, but not a ring of complete truth. Although the jargon and atmospherics of the email sounded right, some of the facts didn't fit the timeline as we know it.

That made this email a little more interesting - maybe from an authentic source who nevertheless didn't have all the facts, but got some of the info second hand from a legitimate firsthand observer.

I really don't know, but the media's reaction has been as interesting as the email itself. The MSM mostly sprang to the immediate defense of the President, insisting the email is bogus.

It may be bogus - some of the assertions in the email don't fit the public narrative. For example, the email said there were several opportunities to engage the pirates before April 12th, including the first time Captain Phillips jumped overboard from the lifeboat on the 10th. The Navy has said the SEAL snipers did not arrive on the Bainbridge until the 11th. The NBC article, linked above, emphatically declares the email to be bogus in the headline, then goes on to say it may have been written by someone involved, but who didn't really know all the high-level discussions and coordination that took place. That's a bit different from totally bogus.

On the other hand, there is a heck of a lot of spin going on in both directions. There is a very good article from Bill Gertz discussing a lot of this stuff. It doesn't exactly contradict the email but instead offers a number of tantalizing new clues. Gertz' article suggests there were TWO water HALO jumps into the area, first with a group of SEALS redeployed from Kenya on the 10th, then another group from Virginia Beach on the 11th.

Gertz also quotes an "unnamed official" (presumably in Washington) who confirms the main theme of the contentious email, namely that the guidance from the NCA was "we would prefer a peaceful solution but you are authorized to shoot "if Captain Phillips life is in danger".

Gertz' sources also disputed the claim that the SEALs missed a chance to shoot when Phillips jumped overboard on the 10th. Apparently that is true, as that apparently happened shortly after midnight on the 10th, and the first group of SEALs did not arrive until later in the day, if those proported facts are correct. His primary source for the article is retired-Marine-General-now-National-Security-Adviser Jim Jones, whom I really do believe is a straight shooter.

So the famous email looks to be not entirely correct, but not entirely incorrect as it portrayed the coordination over 8000 miles of the "modified peacetime ROE" allowing the Navy to engage the pirates. The bigger question is why should a situation of this type require the direct intervention of the President of the United States, and the deployment of special people from Virginia Beach to take a couple of 35-yard shots? Various other narratives have now claimed that Captain Phillips jumped overboard a SECOND time, providing the snipers an excellent opportunity and justification to shoot as they trained their guns on the Captain in the water. With the Captain in the water, why do y0u even need snipers at 35 yards? Why not use rail-mounted miniguns and reduce the lifeboat with pirates onboard to splinters? Answer: because it isn't special enough.

There is, of course, ample precedent for Navy ship captains to deal with pirates on their own authority, without any further fanfare, and every ship in the Navy (and probably all US flagged merchants) should have sharpshooters on board capable of making a 35 yard shot. (Certainly they did in the 19th century - what happened?)

Ultimately this whole story is about the shortcomings of 2nd generation institutions in a 4th generation world. What scares me is that otherwise sane and sensible folks like Jim Jones think its all just fine.

Where's a Cop When You Need One?

Sometimes it truly sucks to be me. After suffering the slings and arrows of New England's roadways all week, where does my wife decide we need to go this Saturday?

That's right, New Yawk Citay. Queens, to be precise.

Another drive with the escapees from the dipshit asylum. Only this time worse, because all the New Yorkers who never had good skills to start with, but now are even rustier because they only drive on weekends are on the road because... it's the weekend.

So, after suffering, the One Speed Wonder, the Tandem, the Back and Forth Speeder, and so on, I encountered a new one. Yes, that's right folks, something even I had never seen before, despite racking up over 750,000 miles in my twenty some years of driving.

We were in the situation that's a perfect set-up for the Weaver - the right lane is one long traffic snake for miles and miles, moving at about 63 mph. The left lane is the same, about one car length of distance between each car (if that), moving at about 67. When we got to the top of a hill, I could see this was the case for about two miles ahead.

I'm maybe 500 meters past the crest of the hill when I see something in my left-hand side mirror. A black BMW, driving on the shoulder (both shoulders are very wide here) popping up over the crest of the hill, going a good deal faster than us. Now, I see shoulder-as-passing-lane travel like this all the time when traffic has slowed to 20 mph - some dipshit always wants to do that. But never have I ever seen it when traffic is going that fast.

The shoulders of the road here are chock full of debris - dust, cigarette butts, pebbles, stones, broken headlights and other detritus from past accidents, dirty diapers, what have you. So the fucknut is doing about 75 on the shoulder, just past the "Wake Up, Shithead!" rumble strips. He's got a cloud of dust that looks like a mini-tornado is flying down the road, and as he passes us the "clink, clink, clong!" of rocks and broken brake lights are inducing all kinds of FOD on my paintjob. But he's got his 4-way flashers on, so that must make it OK.

I'm hoping that DOT didn't put any road construction signs up in the next half mile, or there's going to be a chain-reaction pile up right in front of my grill. Fortunately there isn't, and the idiot passes me and the next 6 or 7 cars as we crest the next hill. As I begin to get a view of the cars in front of me, I see a familiar gray paint job and distinctive, but low, silhouette on the roof of a car about 10 cars in front of me. Just then, my wife says "isn't that a cop up there?".

Oh yes, it was. This guy flies past a State Trooper doing his "gotta go" routine. My God, I have rarely seen justice so sweet and swift. The irritation of all the times I've been following a One Speed Wonder at 40 in a 25 muttering about cops and timing was just erased in that one instant.

About half a mile later we see the guy pulled over, and I swear the cop car is still rolling forward as the cop has his door open and is jumping out of his seat. It's a big, bald, UFC-looking Trooper, too, and his left hand is doing the finger jab from 30 meters away while he's yelling like a lunatic at the driver of the BMW to stay in his car (Captain Fucknut has his door open, too).

We were about an hour from our destination, and I was laughing all the way to Queens. Hell, it's been two days and I'm still laughing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

And Another Thing...

Nathan reminded me in the comments to my last post that I forgot a few types of asshole Yankee drivers. I hit (not literally, though it was a close thing) a few of them this morning. Here are the main ones I missed, starting with Nathan's example:

The Can't Read the Merge Signs Moron: A mile back the DOT starts with the "right lane closed ahead signs. Prudent, non-dickead drivers start getting over right then. Certainly by the time you get the 800 meter warning ("lane closed in half a mile"), everyone should be over in the non-closed lane. But no, some asshole has to fly by in the lane that's closing at 80 mph, then try to merge right at the last possible moment, slamming on his brakes and causing all the non-dickheads on the road to go from 60 to 35 as the lead car avoids the asshole's antics. The resulting slowdown in the clear lane causes marginal dickheads who were on the fence about driving responsibly to take the low road and merge at the last possible moment, too. I'm all for having random stealth tire spikes spread out from somewhere between 100 and 400 meters from the actual merge to discourage the last-minute Lucy's of New England's roadways.

The Weaver: related to the guy above is the dickhead determined to do 90 when both lanes ahead are bumper to bumper at 60 mph for as far as you can see (which is often over a mile at the tops of hills). You, good driver, are in the fast lane doing about 62, slowly, oh so achingly slowly edging past the morons in the slow lane doing 59. Mario Andretti decides to pass you on the right when he sees that the 2 car length gap open up between the car ahead of you on your right and the car behind it. But Mario apparently can't calculate speed and distance worth a shit. He flies past you only to push on the bumper of that car you are slowly edging past. If you are any kind of good driver at all, you're trying to maintain at least one car length of distance between you and the car ahead of you, and that's when the Tragedy of the Commons whips out the giant purple schlong and decides to have its way with you, because Mario zips right in that spot with about 6 inches to spare, causing you to hit the brakes and slow down to 58, sending a ripple effect back about 3 miles of cars behind you. One day, when I'm old, retired, and don't give a shit, I'm going to buy a rusty F350 with a snowplow attachment and clear the road of these dickheads.

Finally we get to the cluefuck sadly not confined to New England. The One Speed Wonder. I'm on the local roads at 5:00 AM. You'd think people up at that hour would savor their sleep, get up, if not at the last possible moment, in at least the penultimate possible moment, and get the fuck on with what they've got to do. But some geriatric cluefuck has always got to be up taking his car for a walk at that hour. It's fishing season up here, there's lots of them on the road these days. We're in the 50 mph zone. He's doing 40 and I'm cussing a blue streak in time to the Zach Brown Band, just waiting for the Ultra-90 commercial to come on the radio. Then we hit the 35 mph zone. Still going 40. Then we get to the 25 mph zone. Still 40. At this point I slow down, because I see far too many cops in that zone at 5:00 AM (at that hour speeding is not really a safety issue, the schools and businesses are not open at that hour - that is pure revenue generation right there). But is there a cop when Captain Clueless brings the good ship Not Paying Attention through the school zone? Nope. Never. Once again: retirement, F350, snowplow.

Enough said.

Monday, April 20, 2009

CIA Torture Memos

I saw admitted on the news (Fox) today for the first time that waterboarding is routinely practiced on our own aviators and special operations personnel in training. Waterboarding, of course, was a major political issue in the campaign and for the current administration, who has banned use of the practice against terrorists for the purpose of obtaining information to prevent future terrorist attacks. The media made much of the fact that waterboarding was used against Abu Zubaida and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - and no one else - as revealed in the recently released CIA memos on interrogation policy. No word on whether President Obama has also banned the routine waterboarding of US military members.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Musings on Piracy

Several times I've started posts about how the US Navy (and most of the other 2nd Generation Navies of the world) are adrift without a good intellectual framework for adapting to the 4th generation world. But every time the post gets to be too grumpy and starts to drift itself, and I sh^tcan it.

But, as faithful readers probably know, I am fascinated by modern piracy and the tactical and operational problems it presents. Is it really that difficult a problem? Or are we constrained by our own out-of-control institutions?

The Barbary War of 1801-1805 was our first experience with Islamist piracy, when our country was brand new and our Navy was comparatively weak. Despite that weakness, there was broad bipartisan support for confronting the pirates, even though the European powers were simultaneously seeking accomodation. At that time, despite our relative weakness, the US Navy and Marine Corps distinguished themselves well beyond their apparent capability.

Today, we don't have that problem. We can find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze (to use the current jargon) to our heart's content. The pirates aren't hard to find, and there is probably a lot more going on with them than we currently admit. (As an aside: as long as I can remember, it has been a consistent theme that there is ALWAYS more going on than we admit.)

We have the technical ability to eliminate the pirates in the blink of an eye - their bases are easily located with Google Earth, and in fact there are Google Earth overlays complete with aimpoints showing the key nodes of the pirate infrastructure available on the internet.

But we can't do it, for reasons having nothing to do with the pirates, or our military prowess. We can't do it because the media will punish the politicians if they make such a decision.

It took me a while to appreciate this fact, because we take it for granted because we are all so conditioned to view the world through the lens of the mass media.

In generations past, this was not a factor. In fact our ancestors could not even have comprehended the idea that a problem this obvious could be hosed up this bad. In this case we have every possible tangible advantage on our side: total technical and military dominance, as well as centuries of legal precedent and customary international law, that should permit us to do anything we darn well please to eliminate the pirate threat.

Yet we remain impotent, because if our leadership - even the Annointed One - were to take decisive action to eliminate the threat, the mainstream media would portray us as the bad guys, and the pirates as the helpless victims.

Such is the nature of the Fourth Generation.

So what do we do? The answer is obvious but subtle: we do it, but we don't let on what we're doing. The answer to a fourth generation problem like piracy in a fourth generation world is a fourth generation solution. Actions against the pirates should be clandestine - that is to say, completely hidden.

Such activities are usually coordinated and approved as CIA-managed covert action, but that is not the only way. However they are done, the actions against the pirates should be accomplished in secret, and denied. Because the media is an active participant in fourth generation conflict (usually pursuing their own agenda, not clearly aligned with other factions), almost any highly assymetrical engagement must be hidden from them.

I saw this little list elsewhere on the internet and thought it was too true to be funny, and it illustrates how most things go these days:

Phases of the Operation:
1. Enthusiasm
2. Disillusionment
3. Panic
4. Search for the guilty
5. Punishment of the innocent
6. Praise and honor for the non-participating

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Capt Phillips Rescued

Breaking news this evening: Capt Richard Phillips was rescued from the pirates holding him on one of the MAERSK ALABAMA's lifeboats.

Apparently what happened is that the lifeboat holding the pirates and Capt Phillips was taken into tow by the USS BAINBRIDGE, and with the lifeboat under tow, one of the pirates was persuaded to come over to the Bainbridge to "negotiate". Probably once onboard the destroyer, the pirate (now reported as a 16 year old boy) was likely persuaded to give some information about the pirates remaining on the lifeboat.

The precise details are still emerging, and probably many of them will not emerge, but it looks like the USS BOXER transferred several probable SEAL snipers to the Bainbridge. Meanwhile President Obama authorized the use of deadly force against the pirates, reportedly only if Captain Phillips life was immediately threatened.

Once in position on the Bainbridge, the snipers waited for clear shots on the three remaining pirates. It is not certain precisely what transpired, but the snipers simultaneously engaged all three pirates, reportedly killing each with a single head shot. Subsequently the SEALs boarded the lifeboat and found Captain Phillips unharmed.

I'm very pleasantly surprised at this bold and successful action. The pirates were apparently surprised as well, protesting that previously they had only wished to hold hostages for ransom, not to hurt anyone, but now they would attack Americans and Frenchmen on sight. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Friday, April 10, 2009

L'audace, l'audace, toujours de l'audace

The French have consistently adopted a different policy regarding piracy against French vessels from most of the international community patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Somali coast.

At least three times in the last year, the French government has acted quickly and decisively to free hostages taken by pirates aboard French vessels.

The most recent action was a qualified success - four of the five hostages were rescued unharmed, but the captain of the pirated sailing vessel was killed. He had earlier been quoted writing in his blog, "The pirates must not be allowed to destroy our dream."

This vessel, the S/V Tanit, had been escorted for much of its transit by French naval helicopters, but the helos warned the Tanit that they could not watch out for them around the clock, and the situation was particularly perilous. Nevertheless, when the Tanit was taken (on Tuesday), the French wasted no time in mounting a rescue operation (yesterday).

This compares to the US Navy, who have "monitored" the drifting lifeboat containing Captain Phillips of the MAERSK ALABAMA and a bunch of now hungry and desparate pirates. "Monitored" is apparently a pretty loose term, because when Captain Phillips managed to escape his captors, jump overboard, and attempt to swim away last night, the US Navy did nothing to assist him.

There are four pirates with rifles in the lifeboat, shadowed by a US Navy destroyer a few yards away. Was the destroyer (the USS BAINBRIDGE) not looking when the Captain jumped in the water? Why did they not vaporize the pirates (perhaps using the miniguns or 25mm chain guns they have on the rails for this purpose, or perhaps more precise sniper fire) when the pirates fired on the Captain in the water to compel his return to the lifeboat?

Of course I was not there and don't know exactly what happened, but it really looks like the Navy wasn't paying close attention to the situation. As unbelieveable as this sounds, it wouldn't surprise me. Perhaps more likely, someone on the destroyer watched the whole evolution, but had no authority to take any action to help Captain Phillips without routing a chit through his department head to the CO, who would have then sent a message to the Commodore, who would then convene a VTC with NAVCENT, who would have to coordinate with CENTCOM, who would have to get a JAG review from the Joint Staff and OSD, before doing anything to help out the hostage swimming for his life.

Compare this situation to the French, who have consistently launched a coordinated operation to rescue their people within hours, every time French citizens have been taken.

Mackubin Thomas Owens at the Naval War College makes a compelling case, based on traditional international law, that we are screwing the pooch yet again:

We need to return to an important distinction first made by the Romans and subsequently incorporated into international law by way of medieval and early modern European jurisprudence, e.g. Grotius and Vattel. The Romans distinguished between bellum, war against legitimus hostis, a legitimate enemy, and guerra, war against latrunculi — pirates, robbers, brigands, and outlaws — "the common enemies of mankind."

The former, bellum, became the standard for interstate conflict, and it is here that the Geneva Conventions and other legal protections were meant to apply. They do not apply to the latter, guerra — indeed, punishment for latrunculi traditionally has been summary execution. Until recently, no international code has extended legal protection to pirates.

So first, we should revive that distinction. When they are caught, they should be hanged. Second, I'm not the first to suggest that we should use force to wipe out the pirate lairs. Under the old understanding of international law, a sovereign state has the right to strike the territory of another if that state is not able to curtail the activities of latrunculi.

Most of these principles are still extant in international law, although the current incarnation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a mess. This mess is, in part, due to the failure of the drafters of UNCLOS III to take the threat of piracy seriously. Another big part of the problem is they were a bunch of bureaucrats and sea lawyers with a serious progressive agenda and a bad case of the "be a victim" mentality.

Piracy is not a minor or isolated problem in 2009. It is not confined to Somalia and it's getting worse in a lot of places. Check out this excellent map showing global pirate attacks so far in 2009 alone. You can drill down and get actual incident reports from the individual data points. Want more? Download this Google Earth overlay to get aimpoints for nearly all the pirate bases and infrastructure in Somalia.

The stubborn determination of many among us to be victims, and make victims of the rest of us, baffles me. There are many in the international naval and maritime community who overtly state its easier to pay ransom than to defend yourself, because "you might hurt the ship or some of the other crew".

The piracy problem isn't really that hard to solve. But it's nearly impossible without a spine.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Arrgh! I love pirates! Unfortunately the pirates I love are not quite the same as the ones who are getting all the media these days:

The romantic, swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean do still exist - I've met and swashed buckles with them. Unfortunately, the pirates getting most of the action these days are not quite so romantic:

Actually these guys look a little more swashbuckling than I expected when I googled pictures of them:

Recently these guys have really made a name for themselves, despite the (supposedly) intense international effort to keep them at bay.

It's been really hard lately to sympathize with the good guys in the pirate war, because the good guys have behaved so much like Governor Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean:

Audacity seems to be prohibited by the sea lawyers who control the world's navies these days, not to mention the merchant lines.

There was a truly dramatic, even audacious, incident yesterday, however, when the heroic crew of the US-flagged MV MAERSK ALABAMA managed to overpower an armed boarding party of pirates, only to have their Captain taken hostage by the retreating buccaneers. There is a story that Captain Richard Phillips surrendered himself to protect the rest of the crew. It's a little fuzzy at this point exactly what happened but it appears certain that Captain Phillips is undoubtedly an old-fashioned hero.

The bigger question is why ships continue to steam unprotected and defenseless through waters that the whole world knows, at this point, is infested with pirates? Also why, with many, many naval vessels, from many countries, operating in Somali waters, the pirates still operate with relative impunity. The excellent navy blog Information Dissemination (the very term makes me cringe) has a very good discussion of the difficulty of the situation.

The arguments do not impress me, however. This isn't really a complicated problem. The core of the issue is the "be a victim" mentality that infests all mature bureaucrasies. Information Dissemination sums it up succinctly:

The United States Navy looks incapable of stopping the piracy problem off Somalia under the current policy, but the US is not alone. The entire worlds naval power collected to fight piracy off the Horn of Africa is equally incapable, and that reality should give our national leaders pause. Piracy is not a strategic threat to the United States, although the side effects of ongoing successful piracy actions can develop into one. The real problem is that the former fishing community of a failed state is achieving continuous tactical success against the worlds largest naval powers, and the naval powers of the global community led by the United States Navy surface warfare community is not only powerless to prevent it, they claim their powerless status, and don't seem to care how powerless they are.

The US Navy has every reason to figure this problem out, because any adversary of a major naval power has a clear tactical example in the form of Somalia piracy for how to conduct a successful commerce raiding strategy against a major maritime power. The complete absence of alarm in the United States Navy surface warfare community that appears to accept being incapable of dealing with this problem should give political leaders serious concern.

The unwillingness of the good guys to tolerate, much less promote, audacity in the war against the pirates is just plain depressing. The Maersk shipping line has a distinguished and honorable history. They are not a bunch of cowards or wussies. There is no international law, convention, or sanction preventing them from defending themselves on the high seas. It is only the bureaucrats and sea lawyers who go on television and say "merchant sailors aren't trained to defend themselves with weapons". They are capable, apparently, of defending themselves with their bare hands against desperate Somalis armed with fully-automatic rifles, but can't be trusted with a few shotguns?
“Use of armed crews who didn’t sign up to fight is a bad idea,” says Giles Noakes, chief maritime security officer for BIMCO, an international association of ship owners. “The industry believes very strongly that it’s not for the companies to train crews to use firearms and then arm them…. If you open fire, there’s potential for retaliation. Crews could get injured or killed, to say nothing of damage to the ship.”
It's all evil, stupid bullshit, and it is so disgusting I can't stand to even think about it. Merchant sailors not trained to use weapons? Ever hear of the Battle of the Atlantic? Half a dozen shotguns could prevent probably 95% of all pirate attacks.

At this point we know where the pirates come from, how they operate, and where they can be found. The world's navies and political leaders, however seem incapable of little more than hand-wringing and excuses. The US Navy's staff responsible for this sorry situation, the Naval Forces Central Command HQ in Bahrain, is an embarrassingly incompetent failure, from the top to the bottom. They make excuses that they aren't allowed to take action by their political leadership, when the truth is they are incapable of planning and executing an operation to walk across the street for a schwarma.

So while the Somali pirates may not be quite as appealing as Geena Davis, they do fit the historic stereotype of the bold seagoing brigands of centuries past. They have way more in common with their 18th and19th century counterparts than we appreciate so far.

We should be splattering them across the waves on sight, which would quickly teach them that sailing under the black flag is ultimately a bad choice, in the tradition of Woodes Rogers, Chaloner Ogle, Stephen Decatur, and David Porter. Instead we've been teaching them that crime does pay, and pays especially handsomely on the high seas, so we're only seeing more and more of it.

Cars, Trains and Feet

Jim has a recurring feature “Things That Chap My Ass”. I’m generally a bit less irascible than Jim, but my posterior gets rubbed raw on a regular basis, and this rant has been percolating a long, long time. You see, I have a really long-assed commute, and I rub elbows with John Q. more before 8:00AM than most of you do all day, unless you’re in retail. And if you’re in retail – my deepest sympathy to you. So, let’s itemize the irritants, shall we? The things that apply the industrial belt sander to the ‘ol cheeks, as it were.

This item might seem unrelated to commuting, but the very first irritant that chaps my ass in the morning is my Motorola Razor. See, my commute involves a car (sharing the road with some of the craziest assholes to find a driver’s license as a prize in a box of caramel popcorn), a train where my attention is forcibly focused on America’s poor passenger rail infrastructure (as well as its burgeoning obesity problem), and my own two feet traveling through one of the highest profile terrorist targets in the word (not to mention the fact that I walked over this piece of real estate only an hour before it did its Mt. Redoubt impression).

So, the wife likes to know I completed each leg of the journey safely. Hence the need for a good phone. Which the Razor ain’t. Let’s start with the battery system. We bought 2 Razors about 3 years ago. Right out of the fucking box one charger worked with both, and one with only one phone. Then I got a Crackberry for work. The Crackberry took the Motorola charger just fine. The Razor was not quite so compatible with the BB charger. “Unauthorized charger?” WTF is that? Do 12V converters need a security clearance, now? I didn’t realize HOMESEC was reaching that far. And how come a phone with about 10 times the functionality of the Razor takes both chargers? And how come third-party car chargers don’t trigger the “unauthorized charger” error?

What’s worse is that as the thing has aged, it’s started acting up. Sometimes when I turn it on, I get an “unauthorized battery” error. WTFF? The battery has not been out of the phone since I bought it. Now the damn thing won’t charge on any charger until I turn it on and off a few times. If the phone powers up, how is the battery unauthorized? If you’re going to put in all sorts of useless shit to try to get me to by your name brand charger when I forget mine in some third world hotel room, at least make sure your shit is compatible with itself. ALL the fucking time.

Earth to Motorola: Microsoft’s business model only works when you have a near-monopoly. The word for today, or at least the word for the day I purchase my next phone, is Nokia.

But I’m not done with the phone. Now let’s go to the USB headset interface – which by the way, is also the USB interface for the charger – you can’t use both at once. I resisted a Bluetooth headset for a long time, but the fucking marketers at Motorola decided to try to force Razor users to get one, because there is no 3mm jack on the Razor. You have to use this USB dongle in order to use a wired headset - and the dongle has a huge bulb like a colonoscopy bag. In fact that’s a pretty good metaphor in more ways than one. And fuck you, Motorola if you thought I was going to buy one of your pieces of crap. I got a Jawbone.

The phone also comes with a speakerphone option – which is good given the problems with the headset interface. But both phones seem to have a random number generator built in that determines the speaker and microphone volume levels. Some days it’s great, some days I have to shout, even at full volume. And guess what else? I keep the phone on “vibrate” all the time, but if I have to adjust the volume for the speakerphone, it adjusts the volume on everything, ringtone and all. And guess what else? Oh you know this POS only gets better. Adjusting the volume on the speakerphone while in vibrate mode shifts the ring mode from vibrate to audible tone. I often forget that, until it rings in the middle of a meeting.

We won’t even talk about the user menus, and the fact that the most-used functions are often buried several layers in. OK, I can’t help myself - when you go to the “Contacts” section of your phone tools, what are you most often doing, adding a contact, or trying to reach an existing one? Unless you are a teenager with a severe case of hormone poisoning, I’m guessing the latter. So why is the default screen “Add Contact”?

When Jim rules the world and I am Commissar for Technology Enforcement, some Motorola engineers and I are going to have a little talk. And that dog and pony show is going to involve topics like “Listening to your customers”, “Too many useless features”, “The new requirement that you use the devices you design for 2 years” and “The Commissar’s favorite negative reinforcement tool – the Tabasco and sriracha enema”.

At least the POS was “free” with our Verizon contract.

Now, that we’re done with the phone, let’s continue to follow my journey chronologically, shall we? I get in the car and turn on the radio. Ah, the soothing sounds of Country music. Punctuated by news I need, such as which road has been blocked by New England dipshit motorists driving while Jersey and getting a crash course (hah) in basic physics. All well and good. Except wait, we get to the next thing that chaps my ass about my commute: local radio.

First on the shit list are the dirtbag, small-time marketing firms who create radio spots for local businesses. You guys suck. If you didn’t suck, you’d have an office on Madison Avenue. But I really don’t care about your lack of talent. What makes you really step up from Hooverville to industrial, turbine-powered vacuum pumping is your two-bit, carnival ride, attention-getting gimmicks. Sirens? Really? What mustachioed dipshit in a cheap, polyester suit sporting burn holes from cigars that smell like rolled-up, used Dr. Scholl’s inserts came up with that one? Let me clue you in on some economic reality – local radio survives on two things – long commutes and people who work in jobs where they can’t have earphones. Otherwise, CDs, MP3s and satellite radio would have ground it into the dust. Therefore, pretty much all of your audience listens to the radio in the car at some point in the day, even if they also catch you at work. I’ll ask again: sirens? Seriously? You thought it was a good idea to piss people off before telling them how the dealership extends a hand to people with bad credit? I mean, with that line I’m thinking that my good credit is going to be subsidizing some deadbeats if I shop there, but if you’ve already pissed me off by making me look for a cop or an ambulance in the rearview, the only way I’ll visit that shithole dealership is if I have a howitzer in tow. Don’t tempt me.

And while we’re on the subject, to my local radio station: don’t think I didn’t notice when the law firm whose building you operate out of was interspersing its name through the celebrity station endorsements so it sounded like they were endorsing the law firm. I guess someone’s agent heard, too, because you cut that out right quick. But you still badger the stars who are willing re-dub their songs to your local prejudices. No, I don’t think that Montgomery Gentry are pissed because the Yankees lost. I’ve heard the song on other stations, and I like the local flavor “Bengals” lends to the song. Not to mention that the overdub is not flawless and it sounds like they hiccupped. And substituting your call letters for the word “radio” in every song where the lyrics mention listening to the radio is plain fucking irritating. Your call letters don’t scan with the rhythm of “radio”. Ever.

One day when I’m rich and famous I’m going to buy your station and make you all sign 5 year, poison pill contracts, with a clause about having the station’s broadcast pumped into your office all day. Quality control, see? About six months later I’m going to switch the format to an eclectic mix of slash metal, modern rap and 70’s easy listening. And Yani. Don’t forget fucking Yani.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, what is with the high number of lowlife advertisements? We’ll start with the bail bonds company. The only time I hear these ads is on the morning commute, about 5:00 AM. I have not figured this one out. Why? Because 5:00 AM is well past the time that someone’s been picked up for disturbing the peace or DUI and I don’t think they have radios in the drunk tank. So these ads are either for relatives so fed up with the loser in question that their outsourcing their pick-up duties, or it’s for people who are planning to get into trouble this weekend. Either way, I’m not happy they listen to the same station I do.

But the real sandpaper on the cheeks administered by the ads on this station comes from Ultra-90. I hear the ads on my morning commute. I hear them on my evening commute. I hear them on Saturday when the kid is pestering me to find a station playing “Cowgirls Don’t Cry”. News flash – when I’m home there is another Country station I can pick up. You’re violating the first rule of radio – don’t make me want to hurl the receiver out the window.

All you need to know about Ultra-90 is contained in this review. I pretty much figured the lay of the land out from what the company did not say on the radio ads, but allowing one of your DJs to become their local celebrity endorser goes beyond money grubbing well into not serving the interests of your listeners as required by your FCC license. AM formula? PM formula? Exactly the same ingredients? Fire the DJ and grow a conscience. Otherwise, when I buy your station, guess what’s going to be the only item on the company cafeteria menu?

OK, the radio is on, ready to alert me to traffic problems. What next?

Now we’re on the road with the cream of the New England driving crop. I know people who have left Rhode Island (reputed to be some of the worst drivers in the nation) for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has a lot of drivers moving in from New England, and quite responsibly will not allow you to pick up one of their licenses without retaking the written exam. These people I know, professional people, from Rhode Island, failed the PA test the first time they took it. That just about says all you need to know about getting a license in New England. Makes you think about the term “Masshole”, doesn’t it? Now do you see why I’m firmly convinced that the franchise for driving licensure in New England is outsourced to a certain subsidiary of the Frito Lay company?

Seriously, at a busy intersection in Rhode Island recently, I actually watched someone come to a stop in the left lane a full 10 meters before the stop line. This is a “T” intersection,. And the only choices at this juncture were turn right or go straight, and the left hand lane had only one choice – straight. This fool puts on his left turn signal, then when the light changes, he proceeds to pull a U turn across 2 lanes of opposing traffic (who were already in motion because their light goes green with the opposing left turn green arrow before our light turns green). The screeching of brakes, it was incredible.

But back to my commute: I’ve just pulled out of the driveway. Where now? Oh yes, on the local roads, where I begin my day. It’s dark when I begin my day. And so we run into the all high beams all the time guy. If you can see the tail lights of the car in front of you, turn off the fucking high beams, asshole. Related to this is the guy driving the truck he uses to haul stuff about twice a year and his damned halogen fog lights. Poorly aimed fog lights. These people are the reason I’m shopping for one of these to mount on my car.

Then we run into the “no headlights in town” guy. It’s dark. Or twilight, which is worse. There are not THAT many streetlights in our town. You are driving a gray minivan. Turn your fucking lights on or I’m going flag you down and jump start your genitals, am I clear?

Then, we get to the gas station, on the days I forget to fill up the day before. And we invariably have the pickup truck taking up 2 bays at the busy gas station by the highway entrance – the only one open at that hour in my podunk town. Listen, dick, the guys who really need those trucks, they are almost always courteous about keeping the other bay open. Your bed liner does not have a scratch on it. Your truck has no company logo. You have a King Cab. So I’m betting you don’t really need that monster to haul your family around, you just want to be able to drop “my truck” into casual conversation. Of course you have a set of fog lights mounted on your bumper. And you never pay at the pump. One of these days when you’re in line to pay on a cold fucking day, I’m going to pop open your door, pry up the mesh covering, and drop a week-old squid down your defroster vent. Have you ever been exposed to a putrefying squid? People won’t hear you coming down the street, they won’t see you coming down the street, they’ll SMELL you coming down the street.

Now for the highway. Most of the irritants on my commute occur on the finely-maintained highways of New England.

Oh, let’s do the maintenance before we catalog the ways in which my fellow drivers piss all over the manual. “Work zones” that have not seen a piece of construction equipment in 6 months need to stop, and stop now. I realize that the Feds had a start date attached to their grant, but they also expected a that “work start” involved just a little bit more than setting up the orange signs to double fines in the area. And when the State Road crew is actually on the job, they have the work ethic of a union steward on retirement day.

How about this? When a project runs late and over budget, we get to tie the project manager to a light pole in the area. For every day and every dollar a project is over budget and over time, every driver who uses that route to get to work gets one good swing at the boss. That will put an end to this creative bookkeeping right quick.

And speed limits. Why in the FUCK would you put a 40mph zone on a three lane fucking highway? Why? There are no more exits per mile on that stretch of highway than in the previous ten miles or the ten miles after, so what gives? Lawmakers who mandate ridiculously low speeds on three lane expressways need to be forced to commute to work via Interstate in a fucking golf cart.

OK, I think I’m done with roads, now for the drivers. Like I said before, the majority of the irritants on my commute come in the 45 minute stretch I spend on New England’s lovely interstate system. Let’s chronicle the major sub-types of shithead, shall we?

The cut off drivers in the entrance lane asshole. Most of New England drives while Jersey, and the biggest asshole Jersey habit is riding in the right lane right over highway entrances while people are trying to get on. All through New England, the entrance lanes are far too short for the job they have to do, by at least 50%. So, if there is room, good drivers (read drivers not from around here) get over into the left lane if they see cars coming onto the ramp. New Englanders, however, will sit in the right lane, causing the pokey pickup (see below) to come to a FULL FUCKING STOP in a lane that’s too short to get up to speed even if you come out of the final tight S bend the highway engineers put on the ramp because the project managers could not be bothered to secure the appropriate rights-of-way for a proper exit ramp as fast as you possibly can (which is usually about 40 mph). This is a perfect trifecta of dipshittery (designer, pickup, and Jersey jerk on the highway), but I think we can handle this problem. Once again, when I am Commissar for Technology Enforcement, we are going to have systems installed in all automobiles in New England. This will involve radar and cameras. When those systems detect that the driver of the car is pulling a Jersey, a sign and loudspeakers will pop up out of the roof. The speakers will play Dennis Leary’s “I’m an Asshole” loud enough to wake the dead, and the sign will display the lyrics. This will last for 24 hours, whether the engine is on or not, and the timer will reset itself if the driver pulls another Jersey move. If the system detects the driver is the pickup coot, a sign will pop up saying “Too Timid and Senile to be Allowed on the Road.” THEIR loudspeakers will blare “Rusty Chevrolet” by Da Yoopers, which is funny the first time you hear it, but not so much on the 100th repeat.

The back and forth speeder. Jeezus H Christ on a chrome plated pogo stick, what in the fuck is wrong with you? You climb up my ass when I’m doing 75 in a 65, then, when I get over and let you pass, I meet up with you a mile later doing 60 in the fast lane. Put. The. Phone. Down.

The “match your speed” guy. Closely related to, or often the same person as the previous asswipe. Doing 63 in a 65, then when you go to pass, they catch sight of you in their peripheral vision and suddenly you are both going down the highway at an insane speed. Then, once he knows he’s going to lose the race, he’s back to 63. Dude, you’re joining the state lawmakers in the golf cart.

The afraid to pass the semi guy. I’m following at 4 or 5 car lengths down the highway, you’re doing 72, and I’m OK with that. If you were not in front of me, I’d be doing 75, but I’m not going to pass you for a lousy 3 mph. Then we go to pass the semi and you are down to 60. Seriously, what’s the most dangerous place on the highway? It’s right behind or right beside a semi. So why prolong the pass? I know there’s a Jersey barrier on your left and a swaying rig full of gasoline on the other side, but pretend you’re in the Death Star trench or something. The longer you stay in that situation, the more likely it becomes that when you get to heaven, God will be saying “That was awesome, I saw the fireball from up HERE”. Pass and get the fuck on with your drive.

The tandem. Related to the previous jerk is the asshole doing 66 in the fast lane, when the guy in the right lane is doing 65.5. Pass the motherfucker. Seriously. I’m still a car length behind you, but I can’t see the headlights of the guy in back of me. Shit or get off of the pot.

The pokey pickup. See, where I’m from, pickups are often the hot rod of choice. People soup them up, they put monster truck tires on them, and they drive them fast. Pull the slow semi passing routine on Sothern roads and some good ‘ol boy in a facsimile of Big Foot is going to leave tire tracks on your roof. But north of that Manson-Nixon line, all of a sudden every pickup is driven by a senile old coot in a John Deere cap with no particular place to go. Get. It. Up. To. Speed. Swamp Yankee.

The gas-saver. I actually met one of these at a party once, and it was all I could do not to punch him. Since 55 mph is 10% more fuel efficient (so says one study) than 65, they toodle along trying to reduce their carbon footprint. News flash – that study is old. I actually have one of those instantaneous gas mileage computers in my wagon, and its tubocharged engine is most efficient at 66 or 67, or so says the computer.

And I’ll clue you in on a little basic engineering knowledge that you would have picked up if you hadn’t decided to major in English and take the easiest electives that didn’t get you up before 10:00 AM, thereby avoiding anything useful you could have gotten out of four years of college: what optimizes a single-body system does not necessarily optimize a system with a lot more moving parts.

Let me explain the concept behind stoplights to you. No, seriously, I don’t think you’ve ever thought about what a stoplight means beyond a red light that doesn’t let you get to where you’re going as fast as you’d want to. Have you? I didn’t think so. A stoplight is actually the most common mechanism for optimizing a complex system that you are likely to encounter in your conscious life.

If it was all about you, - if you were the only one on the road - we’d eliminate stoplights and let you run straight through town. But other people need to get where they are going too, and in order to cut down on accidents, we accept inefficiency in any individual journey to optimize the OVERALL efficiency.

Similarly, when you are toodling down the interstate at 55 (or 50 because you don’t know how to push the accelerator enough to maintain speed going up a fucking hill), that semi behind you has to swing out into the left lane at 60 mph if he wants to stay on schedule. But then he drops to 53 going up a hill, making everyone else slow down behind him. Then speed up as the semi pulls in front of you traffic slowly gets unfucked from your little display of moral superiority. Every ounce of gas up and down the whole highway that’s wasted because people who will actually be missed if they don’t get where they are going have to speed up and slow down around your rolling hazard zone? That gas is added to YOUR carbon footprint, not theirs. And God forbid anyone get into an accident because of your shitheadery – THAT carbon usage will get you the title of Bigfoot for the rest of your life.

If you’re that concerned about your footprint, carpool and eliminate some trips, dickhead. I HAVE to be on the road, and sleep is not just nice to have, it’s a safety concern, so I’m not getting up half an hour earlier to poke on the Interstate. The footprint you should be worried about is mine, on your ass.

Finally, we get to the Rhode Island habit of poking on the entrance lane, all the way to the end of the lane, and still entering the 65 mph zone at 40. Look, asshole, that pedal on the right hand side? It’s called the accelerator for a reason. ACCELERATE. Or stay on the local fucking road.

Jeezus I met every one of these dipshits on the road this morning. I’m sure I missed a few subtypes, but that’s what the comments section is for.

Now we get to the commuter rail station. PATH and other commuter rails in the NY metro area are owned by the respective states, but they outsource their actual operations to Amtrak. So you can imagine how efficient they are. I once had a commuter train completely forget my stop. A Local. Supposed to stop at all stops. All I got was a half-assed apology. I really didn’t want to go to Princeton anyway, but my boss wasn’t having any of THAT. Fortunately, she was on the same train, so everyone believed my story.

So, let’s get our tickets, shall we? In typical Amtrak fashion, only one window is open and every day-tripping senior citizen is in line asking 100 stupid questions (seriously, the first time you’re heading into NYC by train is when you’re 68?), so I head right to the automated ticketing machines. And I run right into the gauntlet of yuppie assholes.

OK, dude, you’ve got your suit, you’ve got your wing tips, you’re all ready for that big presentation at the main office in the City. What you don’t have is common courtesy or a fucking clue. Stop trying to look important, stop asking the guy traveling with you, who is similarly blocking the other machine, where the fucking coffee is. That big pink and brown sign back there? Yeah, the one that says Dunkin’ Donuts? That’s where the coffee is, dipshit. No, there is no Starbucks in this station.

And stop trying to loudly talk business at 6 o’fucking clock in the morning. You’re in front of the ticket machines. That means you don’t really belong in the city. You’re attached to some branch office. How do I know? Because the people who belong in the City have monthly rail passes. I don’t belong in the City either, but when I’m done buying my tickets I get the fuck out of the way so the line of people behind me can complete their transactions. Get your ticket, get your caffeine, and get the fuck out of my way. Yuppie bastard.

Now we get on the train. It’s run by Amtrak, so the seats are uncomfortable (and narrow, but we’ll get to that in a moment), at least once a month the lights go out in my car, and at least once a week there is a car with no AC in the summer (and the windows don’t open) or no heat in the winter. The trains sometimes sway like Axle Rose on a bender because the tracks aren’t level, and they don’t police their yards – I was once on a train that hit a parked car.*

I get on the train, though, I have to. More self-important yuppie bastards. Talking on the phone. Add the day-tripping teenagers and private-school commuting teens being, well, teens, and sleep is pretty much impossible. So I break out the lap top.

I must give out “pervert vibes” or something, because the skinny hot chick never sits next to me. Oh no. Well, in her defense, she probably gets hit on a lot. Most of them have regular seatmates they sit with every day. But, as an episodic commuter, I come face to face with the fact that America has an obesity problem, and much of it is resting on my right thigh during my commute on the train. Seven times out of ten I get the guy with the BMI of 45. I’m not kidding about the number – BMI is deceptive when you have a lot of muscle, but believe you me, these people are not hiding muscle underneath that bulk – I lived in Japan and I know what the physique of a sumo wrestler actually feels like sitting next to you on the train. (Yes, they wear those yuukata when out and about, I was always afraid the little cloth belt was going to come undone and the commuter car would get flashed). These Americans are not sumo wrestlers. More like Jell-o wrestlers. Take that metaphor anyway you’d like. My elbows aren’t just tucked into my ribs – there is no room there. My elbows are in front of me and my body is doing some sort of mutated impression of a T. Rex. while I type.

And don’t start on the halitosis. I’m not talking about coffee breath. People, brush your fucking teeth before you inflict yourself on the public.

Finally, we get to NYC. Penn and Grand Central stations are full of non-New Yorkers at 8:00 in the morning. How do I know? Because one New York habit of which I thoroughly approve is their fast walking pace. I spent my first 18 years in the sticks. I walked fast because if I wanted to get anywhere on foot, it was a loooong walk. The first city I ever lived in was Moscow, USSR. People did not have cars, they walked or took the Metro, and they walked fast, especially my peers just out of their hitch in the Army. So I walk fast. So do New Yorkers. NY commuters do not, and the main stations are full of bottle necks – stair cases from the lower tracks, escalators, and wide, grand lobbies than narrow into little passageways. Real new Yorkers fly through them. The under-caffeinated drones in my way do not. Get to work, people. Or the new Commissar for Technology Enforcement is going to make a power grab to include walking in his definition of “technology”, and the enforcers are going to be armed with cattle prods.

Yeah, by the time I’ve finished my 2 hour 45 minute commute and get into my office in time for my 8:30 meeting, I’m in a fine mood. How about you?

* The car was parked parallel to the tracks in a place it was not supposed to be. The driver was not on the tracks, but forgot that trains are generally a bit wider than the tracks themselves. This was in the yard of the final stop for this trian, my stop. I was literally 2 minutes form my stop, maybe 10 minutes by foot. And we sat there. And sat there. I swear, if I ever catch the driver of that car, he's going to be entering a golf cart a school bus demolition derby.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rental Car Reviews: Chevrolet Cobalt

I'm done with Hertz... another week, another dirty, smelly, raggedy Cobalt. I complained about it at the counter and the agent didn't offer me any alternative. The car, when I found it, was gross. It had what appeared to be bird droppings on the dashboard. I went back inside to the counter to complain more specifically, and all the agents pretended to be busy and determinedly avoided me. They apparently recognized why I had come back. When I turn the car in, I know they won't ask me whether I was satisfied with the rental - they never do, unlike most of the other rental companies. In the future I'll rent from Enterprise, or National. No more Hertz.

Bottom line up front: The absolute bottom of the automotive food chain.

Usually I rent from Enterprise - generally good service, fairly new, clean cars, good prices, and you can print out your receipt online, which is a big plus.

The Prius the other day came from Enterprise. They called it an "upgrade", but since I had asked for a compact car, I didn't really think so, but it was a novelty.

Routinely Enterprise gives me a 2- or 3-class upgrade. Not long ago I was in Salt Lake City with skis - I had reserved a compact (as always), and they saw the skis and gave me a totally duded-up Explorer for no extra charge. If you're renting a car, I recommend Enterprise.

It regularly surprises me how simple stuff in business sometimes eludes seemingly large, smart companies. Enterprise is an example of a good business - giving me a nicer car when they have them sitting around costs them essentially nothing, and now I'm giving them free advertising that will live forever in Google's cache.

On the other hand...

When I fly United (about whom I don't have much good to say either, but they own the only flights in some of the routes I fly), I usually rent from Hertz because I get double miles for the rental. I don't know if Hertz has gone to crap everywhere, but it looks that way to me.

I don't remember the last time I got a car from Hertz that had less than 25000 miles on it, was clean, and didn't smell funky. Even thought they usually have a lot of really fancy cars sitting around, they seem to always give me the crappiest car they have available. Not sure what the point of that might be. And they seem to charge more for it. The rentals are almost always on the expense account or I wouldn't be renting from Hertz. If it was coming out of my pocket I'd do something else.

I usually get a crappier car than I realized was even out there. This time was no exception. Hertz gave me a Chevy Cobalt with about 29000 miles. It was dirty, the carpets were badly stained, and it smelled really strange. It had power nothing - well maybe power steering, but I'm not even sure about that. It was loud, it had weird vibrations, and it used a surprisingly large amount of gas for such a small car.

While I realize this car may not completely represent General Motors' product line, it really seemed to symbolize their situation - a cheap economy car that wasn't very economical and offered a hell of a lot less for the money than most of their competitors. As I was driving it, I kept thinking "this is what the Federal government is throwing away my future to preserve". I kept picturing those $75-per-hour UAW workers assembling this rolling piece of FOD and thinking about moving to Australia, where I could purchase the 60th-anniversary Land Rover Defender 110 brand new for about 45K.

(Defender 110s in the United States is a discussion for another time... I want one, but I'm not willing to pay 7-8 times the global average to have one here in the States.)

The Chevy Cobalt seemed to have essentially nothing to recommend it. The one I drove looks (from brief Googling) to be about $15K new. I can scarcely imagine a worse value. You can have a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic for the same money, and the difference in terms of value and quality is more than 100% - it's so dramatic you can't even characterize it. I can think of no more obvious example of what's wrong with GM than the fact that the Chevy Cobalt costs the same as a Civic or a Corolla. Had you told me that was true before I started writing this post I wouldn't have believed it.

If they are the same money, why is Hertz renting Chevy Cobalts? Especially raggedy, stripped-down, bad-smelling Cobalts? There's something going on there that isn't consistent with my understanding of the free market.

I used to think Hertz was associated with Ford. Ford's various small cars are far superior to the GM equivalents - and Ford didn't take any bailout money. While I used to be an actual GM fan and didn't like Fords, the situation has completely reversed in the last 20 years or so. I've driven several small Ford rental cars, and had no significant complaints, although they weren't Corollas or Civics either.

But in recent history I've gotten a steady stream of dirty Chevys, Kias, and Hyundais from Hertz, vs. Fords, Chryslers (who I'm kind of contrarian and positive about), and various quality Japanese models from Enterprise. (Also I don't want to dis Hyundai - some of their latest cars are very good, but the ones I've gotten from Herts were crap.)

We need to let the free market work: crappy products at crappy prices should be allowed to fail in the marketplace. The fact that we're artificially preventing this from happening makes me want to go live in a cave.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I'm kind of hoping that the Japanese shoot down that NORK missile. US saber-rattling in the area will come to no avail because of Chinese counter-measures. Japan, on the other hand, can take the moral high ground. Not to mention this is no time for the US to re-open wounds inflicted by Bush by throwing its weight around.

I share some concerns about resurgent Japanese militarism a generation or two from now, but it's time for countries other than the US to pony up some capital for their own defense. The militaries of Western Europe are a joke. Not the individual soldiers or units, but their ability to project power (sometimes even within their own territory) - they are wholly dependent on US logistics, as the Tsunami relief effort clearly showed. Japan maintains a maritime security force that can project power beyond its borders, and is much closer to potential hotspots than what is left of the European navies (excluding the UK).

I'm not terribly enamored of the way the Japanese handle their own Imperialist history - the Germans were required to re-apply for admission to the human race after WWII, whereas the Japanese were not, given Stalin's quick occupation of Sakhalin. A divided Japan would have not have served Western interests at all. But the interment of war criminals in Yasukuni Shrine still galls.

I have a personal interest in the enmity between the Chinese and the Japanese - I've lived in Japan and speak Japanese (as does my wife), but my father-in-law is a former KMT soldier who fought them on the ground in Northern China.

I think my father-in-law's attitude is quite instructive. Before the War, his family did business with the Japanese, in fact he had a Japanese godmother. He still speaks Japanese to me when my Mandarin fails. However, he spits every time he sees the Imperial flag (the one with the sun's rays). I think the time to put the emotions of WWII away and ask Japan to take a more active role in the defense of the PAC rim has come.

Nothing will stop the regime in Pyongyang faster than public demonstrations of impotence, and a Japanese intercept would do that quite nicely.