Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Virtue of Force


The media is running all sorts of shows about Hurricane Katrina. Sensing that people are growing tired of reports that focus only on suffering, the MSM has begun the predictable blame game, beginning as always with an attempt to blame President Bush for every failing, whether federal, state, local, or meteorilogical. I note that countless stories of heroism, self-sacrifice and hope have been ignored by the networks. No one seems to have noticed the hundreds of resue missions runs this week by each and every Coast Guard crew, saving thousands of people who otherwise would still be stranded on their roofs, or worse. No one seems to have mentioned that the hospital staffs, after seeing their children and crtical-care patients evacuated to Houston and Dallas hospitals, themselves chose to stay and help the injured, working without relief or adequate supplies and equipment for days on end. No one seems to have paid attention to hundreds of Louisiana and Texas citizens who took it on themeslves to drive down the major roads with chainsaws, chains and other equipment needed to clear the roads of major debris, so National Guard troops and relief supplies could make it to the victims. There are Emmy-class stories here, stories which would uplift and encourage people, if the networks would just bother to see them.

There’s been a lot of complaining this week, from the victims and from a lot of what Michelle Malkin calls “armchair first-responders”. Polipundit readers with experience have tried to explain how successful the actual effort has been, but the facts are competing against an entrenched desire to pursue a story which drives the emotions, and the emotions chosen by the media to build on, are anger and envy. Others try to avoid dwelling on the negatives, but are overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the disaster. The first task, reaching people to get them out, was complicated by the destruction of bridges and roads, and the flooding of New Orleans by Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf wave brought in by the Hurricane. The resistance by gangs and criminals to assitance has also cost lives and brought even more misery on the victims. And the local authorities charged with maintaining order and practicing the emergency plans, have for the most part deserted their duties in favor of taking care of themselves. It’s no coincidence that when the National Guard brought in significant numbers of armed force, the relief finally began to go where it should.

A lot of attention has been focused on New Orleans this week, and given the number of victims there, that’s right. But people might consider that Mississippi got hit just as hard as Louisiana, and Biloxi as hard as New Orleans, but there has not been the looting, the violence, and the selfishness in Biloxi that we have seen in New Orleans. Granted, the flooding in New Orleans has made things very bad in sanitary terms, but the plain fact is, that Biloxi has done a great deal that we would all hope to see in our own towns, if such a disaster were to hit us. For all the attention given to it, New Orleans is the exception, not the rule. I might be wrong, but a friend reminded me this week that in Mississippi, regular people have guns. In New Orleans, only the police and criminals do. It’s a fact that the Left will never admit out loud, but there is a virtue to Force, when it’s properly used.

Friday, September 02, 2005

How It Happened


No one likes to see people suffering, so it’s not surprising that along with people stepping up to send aid and coordinate workers, there are others who can do nothing but complain and spew bile. It happens every time there’s a disaster which claims lives, and everyone realizes this is big.
There’s a lot of attention on the relief efforts, so I won’t go into them here, except to ask everyone to give what they can, and to remember that everything matters, especially right now. At the company I work for, hundreds of employees have been allowed paid time off to help work at the Astrodome. They came back to tell stories of people who now have absolutely nothing, not even a change of clothing. Their property is gone, their homes are gone, their workplaces are gone, the banks and schools and churches they went to, all are gone. In many cases they are separated from family, with no way to know if their relatives are even living or dead. It has been a very long time, since the United States of America had to address such a national emergency, a true crisis.

The jackals are already out in force. The looters in New Orleans are proving that the dregs will rise up whenever they have the opportunity, stealing, even raping and murdering innocent. That is why we are sending 40,000 additional troops to New Orleans. The bitter partisans are also already sniping at the relief effort, doing nothing for the victims while standing in the way of the people trying to get the job done. That is why I am writing this article, in my own small way trying to answer reasonable questions and explain how things got to this point.
The first reasonable question for anyone to ask is, why was Katrina so different from other storms? That really comes down to timing, the course of the storm, the history of disaster management, and the scale of the whole thing. Most people forget that there is a sort of fatigue factor in Hurricane seasons. Katrina was the twelfth named storm of the season.

Tropical Storm Arlene started up June 8, but did little more than dump rain for a few days.

Tropical Storm Bret began June 28, and petered out over Southeast Mexico.

Tropical Storm Cindy began July 3, made landfall near New Orleans on July 5, and settled into a Tropical Depression over Mississippi on July 6.

Hurricane Dennis began July 4, reaching wind speeds of 150 mph, making it a Category 4 Hurricane. Ominously, the National Weather Service notes that Dennis is the earliest (in the season) Category 4 storm in the Caribbean on record. Twenty-four people died in the Hurricane, which ravaged Haiti and Cuba before smashing into Florida. Yet news reports at the time remarked that the damage and death toll was less than expected, setting an expectation which would prove dangerous later. Dennis dwindled out on July 12, indicating that a major storm could last more than a few days during this season.

Hurricane Emily began July 11, reaching wind speeds of 155 mph, a deadly Category 3 storm as it ravaged Venezuela and moving up to Category 4 as it headed through Jamaica. Emily killed two people as it moved along the Yucatan peninsula, and finally stalled over Mexico and Texas. Vicente Fox credits the low loss of life to early evacuation efforts along Mexico’s northern coast.

Tropical Storm Franklin began July21, but while it reached wind speeds of 70 mph, Franklin stayed away from land and died off the Northeast U.S. coast, well off-shore.

Tropical Storm Gert began July 23, making landfall over south Mexico on the 24th. The importance of Gert, was it was the record fifth named-storm in July.

Tropical Storm Harvey began August 3, dumped a lot of rain on the Bahamas, but did little else, as it headed out to the mid-Atlantic.

Hurricane Irene began August 4, reaching top wind speeds of 100 mph. Irene made a long trek from about 735 miles off the coast of Africa, all the way across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, alternately weakening and gaining strength as it approached. On August 14, Irene became a Hurricane but was already moving away from land. Irene fell apart over the cold north Atlantic waters as she moved away from Bermuda towards Nova Scotia.

And Tropical Storm Jose began August 22, dying less than a day later in the Southwestern Gulf of Mexico.

So, because there were eleven storms in the Caribbean during 2005 before Katrina, there was a kind of fatigue, a 'been there, done that’ assumption. Also, since the three August storms before Katrina were less dangerous than expected, a false optimism prevailed.

Now, look at the biography of Katrina:

August 24: Tropical Storm Katrina forms from a Tropical Depression crated just one day earlier, gaining strength faster than most storms do.
August 25: Katrina kicked in the door to say hello to Florida, killing 3 and knocking out power to more than a million people. This, as a Category 1 Hurricane. Katrina swept out west to the Gulf of Mexico.

August 26: Media breathe a sigh of relief as Katrina appears to weaken slightly, and is expected to turn North and make landfall as a Tropical Storm over Florida’s Panhandle.

August 26, 5 PM: The National Hurricane Center (NHC) announced a shift in the projected path of Katrina. Now at risk are the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, and states upland from its path.

August 27: Against expectations, Katrina is upgraded to Category 3, and appears to be homing in on the Louisiana-Mississippi coastline. New Orleans is predicted to receive about eleven inches of rain from Katrina. The Mayor of New Orleans suggests a voluntary evacuation of the city, but the recommendation is largely ignored, according to the press. USA Today quotes Fred Wilson, who said “"The only dangerous hurricanes so far are the ones we've been drinking," President Bush also ordered a state of emergency for Louisiana in anticipation of the need for Federal assistance, and ordering FEMA to be prepared to assist.

August 28: Katrina reaches Category 5 strength, about 250 miles South of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with sustained wind speeds of 175 mph. The Mayor of New Orleans orders a mandatory evacuation of the city. Mississippi emergency authorities track the storm, but order no evacuations.

August 29, 630 AM: Katrina made landfall in Plaquemines Parish Louisiana, just South of Buras, as a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds. A wall of water approximately 20 feet high crushes the Gulf Coast along a line more than two hundred miles broad.

August 30: Katrina weakens to a Tropical Depression near Clarksville, Tennessee.

USA Today published an interesting story, noting that New Orleans has been hit many times by major storms. In 1998, New Orleans was ordered evacuated, and the Superdome was used to house refugees, just as it was this time.

The response was, contrary to media reports, immediate and direct. The biggest obstacles were apparent immediately; distribution and communication. Many people have asked why the rescuers could not get to New Orleans since the media did, but the media went in ahead of time and simply camped out there. When the storm hit, it wiped out access to sea and airports, as well as most roads, including I-10.

Katrina came up faster than expected, did not go where expected, and hit harder than expected, taking out the infrastructure which is generally used by emergency services. The plans in place for refugee housing did not include provisions for the total collapse of the levies and the number of victims. It should be noted that no exercise in disaster management is possible for this scale of disaster, nor has anyone responded to a disaster on this scale in less than a week (in the days following the Tsunami disaster in 2004, the first ten days were devoted entirely to removing people by ship and helicopter, a task which was never fully completed, and providing water and food to the refugees, which began to take effect only a week later. The Red Cross reports that the death toll reached 120,000 before any relief arrived) .

The first responders, as always, were local. In this case, however, the fire and police stations had generally been destroyed as well, so that resources were unavailable even to the people trained to be the first providers of relief. With the roads impassable, county and even state agencies were crippled. With no radar or tower communications, aircraft in the area were limited to helicopters and line-of-sight search procedures, which were used extensively during this first week of rescue. The response has been significant, apparently ignored by the media in preference of driving a story of outrage rather than hope. As an example, here in Houston Mayor Bill White took charge of opening the Astrodome to refugees and coordinating the necessary procedures to open vacant apartments for refugees. The Medical Center sent effectively all of its LifeFlight and other medical aircraft to Louisiana to move critically injured patients, including more than a hundred infants and critical-care patients in the first two days after Katrina struck. All Texas schools have opened their doors to the children of refugees, and dozens of local churches have set up shelters, provided clothing and food and showers, and in two specific cases I know, are already planning for long-term relocation and/or rebuilding of homes and businesses. Almost thirty thousand victims from Katrina are already in Houston, and local businesses have begun drives to collect supplies and employment opportunities for hurricane victims. This in less than a week, and Houston is hardly the only city doing this. Not that you will hear it from the MSM.

There's more to say, but for now that's quite enough.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Back In The Saddle Again


I was watching MSNBC today (along with all the other news networks; it’s kind of a blur when you try to watch five news stations more or less simultaneously), and I saw an interesting interview.

Folks may remember the effort last year to raise money for Tsunami Relief in Asia. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton worked hard and long to raise awareness and money, and they did a bang-up job.

Well, as of today they’re doing the same thing to help raise money to help the victims of Katrina. Whatever one thinks of the politics or policies of Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush, their assistance in this effort is a class effort and and shows the kind of cooperation and common goals this nation best displays.

Thank you, Misters President.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tragedy In the South

Please pray for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Carrier? Casino? Boo-Boo? The Strange Tale of the Varyag


During discussions about what happened to submarines from the old Soviet navy, the talk turned to the fate of the Varyag, a CTOL (Conventional Take Off/Landing) aircraft carrier built by the Soviets just before the regime fell down and went splat. The Varyag was a follow-up to the Kuznetsov, and neither was exactly a rousing success.

This was due to a number of factors, including sharp declines in military spending and the inability of Soviet pilots to land on the deck while underway. When studies were finally done to apply the carriers to Soviet Naval Doctrine, it was discovered that the carriers could neither operate alone, nor could sufficient ships be allocated to create carrier groups. With the replacement of Admiral Gorshkov by the far less influential Chernavin, surface ships were dropped to second-tier attention and submarines took the lion’s share of development resources.

The problem for the Soviets was, they had committed to two CTOL carriers; the Kuznetsov (originally dubbed the 'Leonid Breshnev', then the 'Tbilisi') and the Varyag. The long-term planning, once considered a trump card in USSR strategy, prevented the use of the resources for anything else, and there was precious little alternative use for a carrier. By the time the decision was made to not pursue the full deployment of the carriers, both were more than half-done, and there was no choice but to continue to a point where the vessels might be either deployed if they caught the favor of a future Kremlin, or else sold for badly-needed revenue. To conceal the lack of completion, both ships were regularly covered in tarps and netting as if protecting a valued asset. The Russians handed over the Varyag to Ukraine in 1992, and decided that for the Kuznetsov, the best hope for a good price was to create an image of an effective capital ship. The Kuznetsov was deployed to the Mediterranean in 1995, where it had a nasty habit of running into its escorts, and the Kuznetsov was brought back to port in 1996.

The ruse worked at first. China and India engaged in a bidding war for the Kuznetsov, which India won in 1998 with a bid of $700 million US, the estimated price for completing the necessary work on the Kuznetsov. For a ship appraised at $2.4 Billion US, this seemed like a bargain. As the Indians inspected their prize, however, they found reason to doubt their purchase. The engines already needed replacement, and the Russian attempts to develop a working catapult system produced a system which failed often, and the rudders were insufficient for the ship’s mass. India renamed the ship the INS Vikramaditya, and plans to launch it into service in 2008. Rumors of extensive and expensive refits surround the delay from the initial planned deployment.

There is a site devoted specifically to the adventures of the Varyag, but they mostly focus on history and photos. It appears that the Chinese used French commercial satellites to get a better look at the Varyag, and so understood the condition before buying the ship. The Chinese bought the Varyag for the equivalent of $20 Million US, then towed the Varyag to a dockyard at Dalian, where there have been all manner of rumors, but little work on the ship. China collected the Russian STOL carriers Minsk and Kiev as well, which were sailed into Chinese waters and used for a variety of purposes before being permanently docked as attractions in coastal amusement parks in 2004.

The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) does not consider Dalian to be a true naval base, and if the pace of work is any indicator (to say nothing of the fact that the shipyard is making no effort to hide the 'Varyag' from satellites), the Chinese do not really know what to do with it. The Varyag started construction in 1985, with something less than top-priority given to its work. The work stopped completely in 1992, when Russia turned the carrier over to Ukraine, who immediately began trying to sell the thing. The fact that the Varyag was incomplete, and that the installed electronics were stripped by the Russians before handing over to the Ukraine, was kept hidden from the outside world.

Robert Karniol, the Asia/Pacific editor at Jane's Information Group (subscription), told United Press International on June 17 that "The Varyag is not capable of being turned into a viable aircraft carrier; it'll end up as scrap or a tourist attraction somewhere."

So, what is the fate of the Varyag? Given the fate of the Melbourne, Kiev, and Minsk before it, the lack of repairs to the ship, and the complete lack of interest in building the necessary escort vessels for it, I suspect the Chinese will study the Varyag intently for some time, after which it was be, as promised, made into a casino for Shanghai. What the Chinese can learn from the Varyag remains to be seen.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Soviet Subs: Where Are They Now?


Remember the Soviet Navy? Ever wonder what happened to all those ships and submarines? Well, the Russians have converted a lot of the ships to commercial freight, and dry-docked most of the rest, but I wondered about those subs, especially the missile boats.

Richard Lugar, who is Chairman of the Senate Foreign relations Committee, wrote an editorial this week for the International Herald Tribune, observing:

“The United States has been working for more than a decade to dismantle these missile submarines through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Operating largely out of view, the program has dismantled 28 missile submarines carrying 543 missiles capable of hitting America with thousands of warheads. The program plans to destroy another 12 submarines with 169 missiles in the years ahead. At the moment, two Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarines are being dismantled. The Typhoon, the largest submarine ever built, can carry 20 missiles, each with 10 independently targeted warheads. Just one submarine was capable of striking 200 targets with a total explosive force greater than all the bombs dropped in World War II.”

“While the United States has been concentrating on ballistic missile submarines, its allies have tackled the general-purpose submarines that Russia has retired but cannot afford to dismantle. Although unable to fire ballistic missiles, these subs pose serious environmental and proliferation concerns because of their nuclear reactors, the possibility of conventional weaponry remaining on board, and the risk of sinking. The nuclear material could be used in a "dirty bomb," and a nuclear accident could have devastating effects on energy development, food supplies, ocean habitat and indigenous peoples.”

“Of the 193 strategic-missile and general-purpose nuclear submarines retired by Russia, 94 have already been dismantled. Of those awaiting destruction, 55 boats remain floating at the docks or moored off shore.”

“Norway, Britain, France, Germany and Japan are currently dismantling 37 submarines at locations throughout Northwest Russia and in the Far East.”

As Lugar observes, this is a good start, but there is a strong need for vigilance. The tragic loss of life in the Kursk disaster in 2000 highlights the risk which Russian sailors accept in even normal operations. Also, a quick count of the handling shows that seven submarines “retired” by the Soviets have not been accounted for. This is a concern, when one considers that countries purchasing submarines from Russia, or making offers since 1995 include China, Egypt, India, Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Even if the old boomers are not to be had, any of these countries would gain a strategic dimension to their fleet by adding an Akula-class or Pantera-class to their fleet, and several of those nations would strongly desire the threat to American Aircraft Carriers which these hunter submarines represent. Where the old Soviet Union was cautious because of fear they might provoke a war by attacking a carrier, starting a war by sinking a carrier would be a lofty goal for some of these nations.

So, chalk that up to one more thing the Bush Administration has gotten right so far, although there’s clearly work still to be done, and caution must be applied to the optimism. Somehow, I don’t think we would have seen a President Gore, Kerry, or Clinton paying heed to the danger here the way Dubya has.

A Great Game


Imagine this situation: You’re Naeem Lourens, brought in to pitch in a bases-loaded, no-out jam. You’ve never pitched at this level before, and your first game at this championship is with television cameras and reporters from all over the world watching you. You don’t sweat the pressure, but strike out the first batter, get the second to pop up, then strike out the third batter swinging to end the threat.

How about this one? You’re Jurickson Profar, and as you return to third on a throw coming to home, you see your teammate is running there from second. One of you is likely to get tagged, so you both back off from 3rd, forcing the fielder to decide whom to go after, so at least it’s harder for them. When they try to tag you coming home, you slide under the tag and give your team the lead.

Or, how about this? You’re Ty Turpak, and your team is down by three runs in the last regulation inning. With men on second and third, you drop a perfect bunt and the runner beats the tag at home to score the first run in what becomes a game-tying rally.

Or how about this? You’re Michael Memea, coming up in the extra inning after your team came back from 3-1 and 6-3 deficits to tie the game. You figure on a fastball, you’re right, and you drive the ball into the stands for a game-winning walkoff Home Run to win the game.

That’s pretty good baseball, right? Now add this factor: None of the players I mentioned has finished Middle School yet. Yes, I’m talking about the Little League World Series Championship Game, which the U.S. Northwest Team, from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, won 7-6 over the Caribbean Team, from Willemstad, Curagao (Netherlands Antilles).

None of the players, coaches, or officials in the Little League World Series receives a salary or prize money for the Championship (although sponsors do give the players prizes like games, school tools, and scholarships), so we’re talking an especially pure version of Baseball, the kind all too many of us forget about. Also, this is only the second LLWS Championship game to go extra innings, and the first to be won with a walk-off Home Run.

Way to go, both teams. Great game.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

A Lingering Question


I've been reading up on the old Soviet Union, and I've noticed a few things. In short order, the USSR basically put up the 'Change in Management' sign in 1989, and a few years later (particularly after the first Gulf War). Along the way there, however, the USSR had collected a lot of toys, the kind that totalitarian regimes like to get. Besides tanks and planes and lots and lots of guns, and naturally the world's largest collection of nuclear warheads, the Soviet Union put a lot of rubles into their navy. Subs, in particular. No less than six new classes of nuclear submarines were put into production during the 1980s, to say nothing of the twelve classes introduced in the 1970s.

The USSR basically did three things with its materials: They negotiated with the USA and England to get rid of the worst of their nuke stockpile, they tried to convert their industry to commercial use, and they sold a lot of the rest. The continuing attempt in particular to find a buyer for their first CTOL carrier, the Kuznetsov, is both funny and tragic. But I've hit a real wall trying to find out what happened to all their nuke subs.

This is more important than it might appear at first. While the more modern subs would be likely to stay in the navy, and the nuclear weapons would be removed, there's still the question about dozens of fast, agile submarines which could even now be in the service of North Korea, Iran, or half a dozen other countries.

I wonder who one asks to find out...