American Historic Moments; Then and Now

Don Troiani- “The Last Salute” HAP

Our friend, Practically Historical, reminds us that 154 years ago today General John B Gordon (seven times wounded, including 5 Minnie balls at Antietam) by order of General Robert E. Lee, surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, to General Joshua L. Chamberlain (won the Medal of Honor at Little Round Top at Gettysburg, wounded six times, nearly mortally at Petersburg, and cited 4 times for bravery) of the Army of the Potomac.

As the Army of Northern Virginia marched past the Army of the Potomac, Chamberlain ordered the Army to “Carry Arms” (the marching salute) in respect, and at Gordon’s order, the Confederates responded. Chamberlain described the scene:

At the sound of that machine like snap of arms, however, General Gordon started, caught in a moment its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse’s head swung down with a graceful bow, and General Gordon dropped his sword point to his toe in salutation.”    Gordon truly understood the significance of the gesture, “Chamberlain called his men into line and as the Confederate soldiers marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes—a token of respect from Americans to Americans.”

There is a lesson there for those who would destroy the heritage of the Confederacy. At least 300,000  Americans died upon those fields to (amongst their reasons) to destroy chattel slavery in America. At the end of it, they respected their opponents enough to salute them in honor, and the Confederates enough to return the salute. Without a worthy enemy, there is no honor, and so far no more worthy enemy for American arms has ever appeared than American arms. Both sides fighting for freedom, even if their definitions differed. When you denigrate the Confederates, you also denigrate the forces that fought them and freed the slaves.

And so with salutes and honors, and with terms that meant no proscription lists and no hangings, America’s hardest war ended.


Then there is this:

That is the first ever photograph of a Black Hole, something so dense that even light cannot escape. So how can we take its picture? It’s complicated. Here’s part of the explanation.

And this:

Both of those are some seriously good explaining of a subject that is quite hard to understand.

But how did this happen? A badass stem professor, of course. In fact, a Cal Tech professor with a doctorate from MIT, who graduated from West Lafayette High School. And back in the day when she was in high school used to work with her dad’s colleagues, professors at Purdue. Professor Dr. Katie Bouman. Her dad is Charles Bouman, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Purdue. Wonder what dinner conversation was like in their house.

She explained in a TED talk what she was trying to do a couple years ago as well.

And it worked, as the picture above indicates. Pretty cool, essentially turning the entire Earth into a camera.

This is a very big deal, confirming relativity amongst other things, and another major major accomplishment for American science. I’m not a huge fan of government subsidizing stuff, but I’m not sure that any corporation would really see the point of this research, although I’ll bet there will be commercial benefits derived from it. Most corporations these days are insanely short-sighted about research. Hammer and Rails reminds us:

The combined budgets of NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Health (NIH) are just over $63 billion for FY 2019. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that the US’s 2019 federal budget is $4.746 trillion, the three major scientific foundations and government institutions that allow for such ground breaking scientific research account for just under 1.5% of the federal budget.

For just 1.5% of our budget, we’re able to fund the great work of Dr. Bouman, along with other great scientists at Purdue, the Big Ten, and beyond. While Dr. Bouman didn’t go to Purdue (I guess I can’t blame her for going to MIT instead), her connections to the university allowed her to cultivate her passion in the STEM fields, and it shows that the impact of Purdue continue into interstellar space.

Congrats to Dr. Bouman, former President Córdova, and all the researchers involved in the Event Horizon Telescope.

Yep, and MIT had a couple things to say, as well. First, they noted how important women in Stem are to our success in space.

As noted in the comments to the Tweet above, all these women, and all of us men, as well, follow in the footsteps of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron who wrote the first algorithm. And this:

That Was Close!

Welp, my internet went down quite early this morning, and I just got it up. But I’ve nothing prepared, so…

I’ve had this in my files waiting for an opportunity to share it. It’s one of the great stories in the development of America in the last century. So enjoy!

All Aboard! Trains Aren’t Planes!

Salena Zito has some thoughts about getting there by train. They’re good thoughts.

PITTSBURGH — For nearly a quarter of a century, Amtrak’s Capitol Limited route has taken me from my beloved hometown to Washington, D.C. Sometimes for fun, almost always for work, the experience is never the same.

And if you are a rail lover, it is always about the experience.

There is only one train that leaves the Pittsburgh station every day, and that is at 5:20 a.m. (which means your alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m.). Thanks to sharing the line with freight, that almost always means a 20- to 90-minute departure delay. Then there’s the nearly eight-hour trip, twice what it takes me to drive there. Flying would only take an hour.

So why ride the rails? For starters, there’s the joy of looking out your window to swaths of the countryside you’d never see if you were flying over them or cruising along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

There are miles of old industrial sites in places like Braddock and McKeesport, Pennsylvania, some filled with ghosts of the past. If you are curious enough, you look up what they were as you pass them by and learn something new about the cities and towns that built this country, as well as the people who built it.

You also see a remarkable amount of them being reused or repurposed as new companies chase the ghosts away. Rebirth among the ashes is the story of America.

She’s right. My annual trip to Philadelphia was made by train for years before I gave up and started flying. Getting on the train at 1 am (if it was on time) and the overall 36 hours just got to be too much, especially since I too know about that 5:20 am stop of the Capitol Limited in Pittsburgh – I was getting off to catch the other train out of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvanian. Why? Because Amtrak couldn’t be bothered to re-install a switch that would have allowed a New York Section on the Capitol, which those of us old enough would undoubtedly have called the Broadway Limited. Rail riders are a traditional lot about some things.

It also ended up costing more than flying first class, and so just not worth it, and the layover in Chicago isn’t what it used to be, as the city declines into anarchy. But I miss it, and the great thing is the beauty of Pennsylvania, never seen in the old days. Ms. Zito also has some complaints with changes at Amtrak, and she is right.

Last Monday, when I boarded the train for the first time this winter, I discovered the warm, buttery grits were no longer an option, replaced by a tub of yogurt and granola — in a box. Dinner now came in a box. So did lunch. Gone were the crisp white tablecloths, and gone were the people who always cheerfully made whatever meal you wanted.

My first reaction was: If I were to want to be treated the way I am on an airline, I would take one. I took to Twitter and Facebook to express my disappointment in my best mom tone.

A call to Amtrak at first met deflection. As is the norm with spokesmen these days, they declined to talk and tried to insist I put my questions in email.

The crisp, white tablecloths and the jobs have not returned. In fact, a month ago, employees held a small rally in D.C. to protest the dining service changes and the threat of outsourcing some 1,700 union food and beverage jobs.

Change is inevitable. Change is important. But it is often spurred by erroneous assumptions.

As Peggy Noonan commented on Twitter: “Amtrak’s new management thinks trains are planes. A lot of us are on the train because we don’t want to be on the plane.”

Notably, Amtrak’s new president, Richard Anderson, is the former chief executive of Delta Air Lines. There are a lot of things about rail service that can and should be modernized. But there are also some that shouldn’t.

Boy, are they both ever right. One of the only really good things about taking the train is the diner. The food quality has declined ever since Amtrak took over from the railroads. But that is even worse than the airlines feed you, at least in first class, and a lot of people in the diner are in the sleepers (the diner is included) and decent food (if not exactly the duck l’orange of the PRR) is expected. And as Ms. Zito notes, the people you meet. Over the years, I’ve met some fascinating people on the train, in the diner, and in the club car. That doesn’t happen when you fly.

And that’s important. I like trains, even for long distance, if time isn’t a factor, as she states usually you can drive quicker, and with flying, even going from Nebraska to Philadelphia via Dallas doesn’t even compare. For me, it’s a close enough call, that the demise of dining car service likely means I’ll not return. I cannot really justify tax money being used for them either.

They need to compete, they can’t compete (maybe barely with buses) on time. They need to give us something we want. They could reduce costs perhaps in the club cars, which are a bit of an overpriced joke but bring back the tablecloths and good food in the diner. In fact, instead of removing them, they should have improved them. That was one of the ways the railroads competed – the quality of food and service. The old song says, “Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer”. No more. Here’s another airline executive, having killed the romance of flying, doing the same to our trains. Sad, and stupid.

I can overlook a fair amount, but if you drive passengers away, your subsidies are not going to be far behind. We don’t really need long-distance rail in America. We subsidize it because of history and memory, and to show off our country, but it’s better to show off the good stuff, not that we can do box lunches worse than anyone in the world.

The Fires This Time

The wildfires in California seem to be getting worse, and maybe they are. Why? Ila;ways suspected the answer and here it is. from Bill Croke in The American Spectator.

In August, 1910, a huge fire burned three million acres (destroying whole towns and taking 87 lives) in Washington state, Idaho, Montana, and adjacent Canada. This has come down to us as “The Big Burn,” the title of a 2009 book by Timothy Egan, which chronicled the disaster. At the time, the United States Forest Service (USFS) was in its infancy and its first director, Gifford Pinchot, was appalled. Consequently, it became the policy of the USFS that all fires were to be extinguished as soon as possible. Over the decades this has left us with today’s conundrum, a century of fire suppression that has in turn given us catastrophic blazes costing life, property, and treasure.

In pre-Columbian North America fires started by lightning or by resource-minded natives kept forests and grasslands in a healthy state. For instance, on the Great Plains grasslands were burned so new growth would attract bison. In the forests, the ground and understory were kept clear for the benefit of wildlife and better hunting opportunities. Lodgepole pine actually needs heat from fires to open up closed pine cones, thus releasing seeds that aid reforestation.

While I was a college student in the late 1970s, I had a summer job performing trail maintenance and cleaning campgrounds in the Plumas National Forest in California. I participated in the “mopping up” operations of two small wildfires that summer “on the Plumas,” the same national forest that was the origin of the recent Camp Fire, the 153,000 acres blaze that incinerated much of the town of Paradise, California, killing 88 people and destroying 18,800 homes and businesses, or in the nomenclature “structures.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “Seven of California’s 20 most destructive fires and five of its deadliest have occurred in just the last thirteen months.” During that time the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma and Napa counties (which killed 22) and the Carr Fire near Redding held the most destructive honors until the Camp Fire superseded them with its near total destruction of Paradise, a town of 26,000 people. So what has changed in forty years?

Any of us who grew up in farm country will likely recall the overwhelming urge of farmers to burn off the ditch banks, to be rid of various weeds, as well. It was good to best practice when I was young and practiced to this day.

Commercial logging on federal public land hardly exists nowadays. Forest service timber sales get stuck in what is commonly called “analysis paralysis,” sometimes for years when the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process allows them to be approved at all. Environmental groups routinely file lawsuits to further stall the process. The Northern Spotted Owl controversy of three decades ago is illustrative of that. According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, timber companies harvested 2 billion board feet from USFS sales in the state in 1990; in 2015 the figure was 55 million. Even “salvage sales” in previously burned areas are contested to the point where the trees lose their market value because they begin to rot after a couple of years. Consequently, most timber harvesting occurs on private land. For instance, Sierra-Pacific Industries (SPI) is the largest private landowner in California.

The result of three decades of this neglect is vast areas of the western national forests that are choked with undergrowth and deadfall (downed trees lying on the forest floor). In California alone, roughly 130 million trees are dead due to bark beetle infestations (though this plague is noted throughout the mountain west), leaving swaths of fire-prone brown on otherwise green mountainsides. Periodic drought that afflicts the West adds to the likelihood of bad fire seasons because beetle-infested trees are simply dead fuel. Whatever one’s view of climate change is, all this is nothing new. Drought has always been a factor related to the health of western forests.

Which is a shocking waste of resources. It goes to show why environmentalists are amongst the worst stewards of the land one could imagine.

President Trump’s recent tweets blasting the “gross mismanagement of the forests” sound generalized and may reflect his understandable ignorance of detailed western forest management, but in his own simple way he is right on the mark. There are two ways to accomplish the president’s calls to action.

“Prescribed” burns are done in the winter months. In the Sierra foothills, for example, there is little or no snow cover, yet in a normal year the soil is wet from regular rainfall. Temperatures are also cooler, humidity is higher, and wind usually absent. These fires are set and monitored for days and weeks as they slowly burn away brush on the ground over a specific area.

“Thinning” projects are commercial endeavors that harvest smaller trees from around mature ones, opening up the forest floor and removing a source of fuel that would produce a “ladder effect” in the event of a forest fire. This causes those smaller trees to send a fire up into the forest “canopy,” thus producing “crown” fires that destroy the entire forest. Thinning allows a future fire to move through a forest merely singeing the thick bark near the ground of mature trees, but not killing them.

These are the fires this time. Policy changes in the modus operandi of the public lands agencies emanating from the Trump administration might improve what is now an intolerable situation.

Or not, since it seems to be another instance where an ‘elite’ sets itself against common sense and often to people’s detriment. But we will see.

A Boondoggle in Hoosierland

From James Taylor at American Spectator.

Under a renewable energy proposal from Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), Indiana consumers would face a 12 percent electricity rate hike, which will cost the average household more than $100 per year in additional electricity costs. NIPSCO is justifying its renewable power rate hike by asserting renewable power saves consumers money, but there’s absolutely no truth to these claims.

Indiana ranks seventh in the nation in coal production and generates 68 percent of its power from coal. Together, affordable coal and natural gas generate 95 percent of Indiana’s electricity. As a result, Indiana electricity prices are substantially lower than the national average. National electricity prices are 10 percent higher than in Indiana.

Unfortunately, NIPSCO wants to put an end to these low prices. It is proposing to shut down two perfectly functioning coal power plants that provide much of NIPSCO’s low-cost electricity. In their place, NIPSCO wants to build expensive wind and solar power equipment and battery storage for when the wind isn’t blowing or the Sun isn’t shining. NIPSCO claims transitioning from affordable coal power to wind and solar will save consumers money, but at the same time that it makes these unfounded claims, NIPSCO is proposing to hike electricity rates 12 percent to pay for the renewable energy “savings.”

NIPSCO is a government-protected monopoly utility, with Indiana state government guaranteeing NIPSCO a profit of approximately 10 percent for every dollar it spends. Accordingly, NIPSCO has a financial self-interest to engage in costly business practices. Building expensive new power facilities, even when existing facilities are working perfectly well, is one of the most effective ways for NIPSCO to ramp up its spending and guaranteed profits, and it does so at the expense of consumers, many of whom will have no knowledge that their electricity bills are about to rise substantially.

In return for NIPSCO receiving guaranteed profits on its expenditures, the Indiana Utility Regulation Commission (IURC) must approve any NIPSCO major investment proposals. In its filing with the IURC, NIPSCO claims its proposal to shut down its coal power plants will save consumers more than $4 billion.

More at the above link.

Which it won’t, not least because windpower installations rarely last beyond 20 years, solar I don’t know, but doubt they are any more durable, and with current technology, batteries won’t last a decade.

It’s pie in the sky bullshit, dreamed up to placate the left, which many of the executives of these companies are of anyway.

But a blast from the past for me. NIPSCO was part of my growing up. As I’ve said, my dad ran a Rural Electric Coop, one of those local associations formed when companies like NIPSCO wouldn’t extend their lines out into the country (mostly farms in those days). Those coops had a love/hate relationship with the privately owned companies. Bought power from them, sometimes even shared poles, but fought like brother and sisters about everything, especially the price of power. In the field, we cooperated fine, which is normal.

So as it happened, dad knew the guy that built NIPSCO from a pretty small municipal water company to the electric and gas utility for most of northern Indiana. Knew him and respected him, and it was returned. They often opposed each other, but each knew the other would fight reasonably fairly.

When I was in my early teens I came by dad’s office one day (most days, really), his secretary waved me off, he had a visitor, not uncommon. I went and amused myself in the shop. A half hour or so later here came dad with a guy in the nicest suit I’d ever seen through our pretty neat but not sparkling shop. He was the CEO of NIPSCO, and the three of us spent a couple hours sitting on shop stools, shooting the breeze. He was a pretty interesting guy to talk to, much more of an office guy than dad was. Learned quite a bit that afternoon. Never forgot how nice he was to me, and how complimentary to dad, either.

Doesn’t happen much like that anymore, that respect for the opposition, the world has changed, and not for the better. Hard men, but fair, now we have soft men (boys really, more than I was at 13) but completely willing to employ any means to win, fair or not. And mostly, that’s what is running our government and our companies, even our unions these days. Running it all, right into the ground.

This deal? Par for the course. Good deal perhaps for the shareholders, certainly for the management, crap for the customer.

No better, no worse than any other alternative energy scheme, really. It’s all the same.

SIOP

Let’s do a bit of not so long ago history. If you were paying attention in the sixties and seventies you may have heard the word SIOP. Well, not really a word, it’s an acronym for Single Integrated Operating Plan. Sounds pretty innocuous really, like how New Tork intended how to coordinate 5 bus companies or something.

It’s not, It was the cookbook for the end of the world, at least as we know it. It was the United States plan for nuclear war (and to win that war) against the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.

The most fearsome plan in man’s long history of military plans, except perhaps the mirror image plan written in the Kremlin Within a day, it would have turned the Soviet Union into a smoking radiating ruin, and perhaps the US and Canada as well.

But it wasn’t all bombers and submarines and ICBMs. It was a real military plan, made by some of the smartest officers that the US Air Force and Navy could find, not to mention brilliant civilians.

One of the perhaps important things was reconnaissance, both before the strikes and battle damage assessment. That was the job of the Blackbird, the SR 71. The plane that flew so high, it’s pilots wore astronaut wings, so fast that it really was faster than a speeding bullet. So amazing that its performance records, now decades after it went to the boneyard, are still classified.

Here, from The Thin Pinstriped Line is what part of its job was.

Striking the Soviets – the role of the SR71 in the SIOP

SIOP – a simple acronym whose four letters referred to the innocuous sounding ‘Single Integrated Operational Plan’ (LINK). Had this plan ever been delivered then it would have heralded the most violent conflict in human history, as the United States delivered a nuclear attack onto an opponent. A masterpiece of analysis and data, crunching numbers, images and assessments to produce a coherent war plan that enabled the USA to overwhelm an opponent.

The plan began in the 1950s as the US sought ways to fight a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and represented a coherent effort to work out the best manner to employ the nuclear arsenal appropriately. Simply put it identified which targets needed to be hit by what type of weapon, and in what sequencing order to overwhelm the Soviet Union, China and other allies in a single strike. In its initial format it would have seen over 3200 weapons delivered across Eurasia, and had it gone to plan, the attack would likely have killed over 285 million people in a single day.

This initial overwhelming brute force attack was quickly revised in 1962 into a more nuanced strategy of nuclear escalation, allowing the President to approve a variety of strikes against different targets from the Soviets own missile fields to command centres to finally all out general war. In various forms and policy evolution the SIOP continued until 2002 when it was replaced by a different plan.

This grim introduction is necessary to consider the role of the SR71 Blackbird and A12 reconnaissance aircraft in providing timely warning to policy makers during the build up to a general war. As was discussed in Part 1 of this series, these aircraft were to play a vital part in informing military planners about the state of the world.

Documents held on the US national archives (LINK) to the history of the CIA Office of Special Activities have cast light on this critical role, and how for a considerable period the SR71/A12 force played a critical part in informing the US authorities. This second article is about this role, the challenges it faced and the problems policy makers had with it.

Wartime Role

During the mid 1960s as the US introduced the SR71 platform to service, a considerable amount of planning work was done to work out how many aircraft would have been needed to meet the various requirements its users had. This work was carried out to ensure that sufficient aircraft were purchased to meet any conceivable need throughout the service life of the aircraft.

This work was complicated by the fact that there were two entirely separate platforms to consider -the SR71 and the A12. The A12 was a civilian (e.g. CIA) manned airframe funded and operated by the CIA specialising in photography and also employing supporting unmanned drones. The SR71 was a military manned aircraft intended to collect intelligence across a variety of spectrums and firmly under USAF control.

As budget cuts hit in this period, considerable work was done to assess how to rationalise two very similar airframe types and deliver continuing capability. The CIA files show how options papers were staffed, incredibly similar to those familiar to many long suffering staff officers today, looking at different options, costs and capabilities for the force.

Officials concluded that there were four main roles for the force:

  • Strategic Reconnaissance in Peacetime – general targets across the globe
  • Force Mobilisation Reconnaissance  -general targets in China and India
  • Reconnaissance for a general war crisis – against Soviet / Chinese
  • SIOP Reconnaissance – against Soviet Union ahead of delivery of the SIOP.

Keep reading Striking the Soviets – the role of the SR71 in the SIOP. Lot’s more fascinating stuff and very well presented.

%d bloggers like this: