Friday, 31 August 2012

Stockwell Day, Political Quotations, and Politics as Professional Wrestling

Today I read a very well written essay on the CBC news web site. I did not glance at the author's name but, clearly, he identified himself as a fiscally conservative man who believed that people who supported deficit spending were doing no favours for their country. He discussed, in particular, Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama, but he did so respectfully, reiterating that both were charming and one was a friend.

I was surprised to find that the essay was written by Stockwell Day, the former leader of the The Canadian Alliance, a socially as well as fiscally conservative party that later merged with another to form the modern Conservative Party.

I checked a couple of pages of quotations by Stockwell Day to see if the same respectful sanity was on display in the past, and if I had undervalued him. The first such page that I looked at made me think that I had. He said such things as
Judges must be free of political interference or intimidation.
I wish the government and the Minister of Justice would address these legal and constitutional arguments, but they refuse to. They want Canadians to go blindly into their brave new world, but it is not wise for a society to move blindly in any direction.
and, on the old BNA Act remaining a British Act of Parliament until 1982, although it served as the written portion of Canada's Constitution
The thinking was that so long as the British kept our basic documents in their hands and so long as they kept the formal right to change them, changes in our system would be careful and deliberate.
There were also quotations there that expressed socially conservative views against gay marriage and for the place of religion in public life but, on the whole, he sounded thoughtful and sane.

I tried another page, which had quotations both by and about him, and my impression was quite different. He said, for example,
I believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God and every word in it, cover to cover, is true.
The only way that some parts of the Bible can be reconciled with reality is to accept that they are true only as metaphors. A mind that cannot distinguish a metaphorical truth from a literal one is maintaining a wilful blindness.

Day used two logical fallacies against a Mr. Goddard, a lawyer doing the unpleasant duty of defending a pedophile in court.
Goddard must also believe it is fine for a teacher to possess child porn.
The first problem with this is that it is an ad hominem argument. It implies that Mr. Goddard is a bad man because he holds bad beliefs. It is also a straw man attack. He criticizes Mr. Goddard for what he "must" believe instead of what he actually said. In other words, Day was hitting below the belt.

Day also argued that prison violence should be part of the criminal justice system. At least, he seems to do so when he argues that a child rapist and child killer, Clifford Robert Olson, should be held in prison in such a way that he can be attacked by other prisoners.
People like myself say, 'Fix the problem. Put him in the general [prison] population. The moral prisoners will deal with him in a way we don't have the nerve to do.'
Finally, on educational standards, he said
God's law is clear: standards of education are not set by government, but by God, the Bible, the home and the school.
This overlooks that the unavoidable fact that school is an arm of the government.

What do these quotations tell me? I learned that selective quotation can alter impressions. I also learned that being outside the realm of politics (as Day now is, since he did not run for election in 2011) allows one to be respectful to one's political opponents if one is naturally inclined to be so.

The game of politics, however, demands simplification to the point of vilification. Politics is theatre, and a politician giving a speech in the house or quick quotes to the media bears little more similarity to his own personality and beliefs than a professional wrestler bears to the hero or villain that he plays in the ring. Stepping outside the world of politics allows one to breathe a little more calmly and be oneself, as professional wrestlers, after a match, might take off their costumes and go for a beer. It's useful to remind myself of that, whenever I watch either politics or wrestling.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Good Source of Information on the F-35 Purchase

If you go to the Galloping Beaver blog, enter "F-35" in the search box and press the Return key (Sorry, that's the "Enter" key. I learned to type on typewriters, you know), you get a series of articles that have good information on the F-35 purchase. Here's a link to what would turn up, sorted by date.

Some highlights from my reading so far:
  1. Canada intended to get the fighters at their lowest price by having them made at the time of peak production. This was to be in 2016, but changes in the American buying plans puts this off to 2021. (Source)
  2. The F-35 is described by the Americans as primarily a ground attack plane. Not patrol, not air superiority, not reconnaissance. It is complementary, in their minds, to the F-22 Raptor, which is for air superiority. Now, this is interesting because the plan for the armed forces is named "Canada First," but what Canada itself needs is something that will patrol the north, in particular, and intercept anything odd coming that way. What the F-35 is best for is a first-strike aircraft that will come in, blow up airfields and radar stations, and allow other aircraft to take over for whatever comes next. Think of it as primarily a second-generation Tornado. (In this role, despite its age, it is kept and valued. It's going to see fifty years of service in some air forces). In other words, buy this plane if the major role of the RCAF is to do what we did in Libya during the revolution there, or what we did in the first Gulf War.
  3. The biggest argument for the F-35 is political. This is what the U.S. is selling, so we pretty much have to buy. (Article making the argument). 
  4. The secondary argument is that this is a Fifth Generation plane that, thereby, makes Fourth Generation planes obsolete. However, knowledgeable people have called the term "Fifth Generation" simply a clever marketing tool. This is an interesting sentence from the Wikipedia article on Fifth Generation Fighters:
    The United States Navy and Boeing have placed the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in a 'next generation' fighter category along with the F-22 and F-35, as the Super Hornet has a 'fifth generation' AESA radar, modest radar cross-section (RCS) reductions and sensor fusion.
    The only fifth generation capability that cannot be fitted onto at least some fourth generation planes, it seems to me, is a truly low RCS or, in other words, "stealth." However, stealth is a relative term, not some all-or-nothing quality, and is likely to become less useful as countermeasures are developed.

    Finally, the true successor to Fourth Generation planes may be, not Fifth Generation, but combat drones. Even those who want to get fighters for now see drones as part of the present requirements as well as the future. If we spend too much on the current purchase of fighters, of course, we will be locked into justifying it and making do instead of having the flexibility to get the X47B or BAE Taranis and whatever follows them in five, ten, or twenty years.
  5. The Department of National Defence has started down a path of slipshod planning for purchases of major equipment, including helicopters, which the F-35 purchase fits into.
  6. The lifetime cost of an F-35 is not what we have been told. First, we should assume a 33-year life span for the F-35, which is much more reasonable than 20. (For comparison, the current plane, the CF18, has been flying with the RCAF since 1982, making it fully 20 years old. We will begin to receive replacements, it has been announced, in 2016, but only 16 per year. So the CF18 will be over 30 when it is retired, even if there are no delays). Add in the current estimates of annual operating and maintenance costs, and the purchase comes to $45 billion, not $25 billion, not $16 billion, and not $9 billion. That math comes from Andrew Coyne of the National Post. Based on Norwegian testimony, the price is closer to $50 billion right now. (See the bottom of that post). This is the number we should be talking about: over $769 million per plane. (In comparison, the Gripen deal that was offered, including maintenance for forty years, was about $92 million per plane, though this figure does not seem to include operating costs).
We need to start talking about what we want the Canadian Armed Forces to do and then start planning on how it can do that. The whole F-35 debate should take place in that context.
  1. Be able to patrol the North? Naturally. This is becoming a new area of world competition, and the United States, for example, still does not accept that the Northwest Passage is Canadian waters rather than International Waters. Fighter planes that need long runways, easily destroyed, are not the best way to approach this.
    (You know, the Gripen, designed by the Swedes who faced a similar problem, is looking better and better to me as I think about a solution to northern defence. It has short take off and landing, on roads if necessary, refuels and re-arms wherever they land from trucks with a four-man team, with a ten-minute turnaround time, has low maintenance costs, low flying costs, ability to take off when snow is on the ground...).
  2. Be able to participate effectively in NORAD? The Soviet Union is gone, but 9/11 showed the potential of other threats in the air. Since we can't defend all of our vast country on taxes provided by a small population, we still need to partner with our big neighbour, and our big neighbour will still insist, for its own safety, that the partnership remain in place. So, yes, fighters of some sort will be necessary for at least the medium term, though this does not necessitate any particular type of fighter.
  3. Be able to participate effectively in NATO? The three functions of NATO, according to Lord Ismay, NATO's first Secretary General, were "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." These functions are all, demonstrably, less important now than they were when NATO was founded, at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. The Germans no longer have an independent military, but are integrated into multinational units for European defence. Problem solved. The Americans are no longer as needed for the defence of Western Europe. The enemy superpower is gone. Its economy is integrating with the European Union's and will become even more integrated, now that it has joined the WTO. The European Union has more wealth and population than the U.S. We haven't had Canadian Forces bases in Europe since 1992. So membership in the club may have privileges, but specific obligations in terms of equipment no longer apply.
  4. Be able to act quickly and decisively in disasters? Yes, certainly. And the scale of potential disasters is much larger than we can currently respond to. If anyone thinks that the 19,500 regular soldiers of the Canadian Forces could respond effectively when the Big One (a large offshore earthquake) and an associated tsunami hits Vancouver and the BC Coast again, he or she is dreaming. At least, we need hospital ships based on the Pacific coast since vital structures like water pipes and St. Paul's hospital will not survive a big shake. Nor could we rely much on the United States in that case, as they would be busy coping with Seattle and Portland. In case of natural disaster, we would need to think about the ability to move people and material on a vast scale to and from the affected area. (I have an article in progress on other kinds of disasters I'd like to have us prepare for). 
  5. Provide humanitarian aid? Oh yes. It raises us in the eyes of the world and our own population.
  6. Peacekeeping? Yes. After all, it was invented by a Canadian. And John Humphrey, a Canadian, wrote most of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We want to do it, and we want to do it a heck of a lot better than we did in Rwanda.
  7. How about sending Canadians into war zones like Kuwait, Libya, and Afghanistan? I think most people rank that lower than the other purposes. We could, if the government of the day saw fit, commit some of the forces and equipment that we buy for other purposes to aid in a worthy effort to turn back invasion or end a civil war, but the type and scale of those commitments should be defined by what we maintain for other priorities instead of foreign expeditions being the raison d'ĂȘtre of the armed forces. Indeed, of the three roles defined for our armed forces by the Canada First Defence Strategy, the international one is last.
So, what kind of capabilities could the armed forces afford if the cost of our fighter planes were halved, or more than halved? What could it buy, and what could it do, and what could it prepare for, with $25 billion dollars over the next 33 years?

Friday, 24 August 2012

Indo European Languages Originated in Turkey?

I've always liked the idea that the Indo-European language family started in Kazakhstan. I know very little about Kazakhstan, other than that it boasts the world's first, largest, and surely busiest spaceport, Baikonur, and its flag is quite attractive, I think.

Most people put the Indo-European origin here or nearby because of the Kurgan Hypothesis that was proposed in the 1950's by Marija Gimbutas. The Kurgan peoples, she thought, spread "with fire and sword" through Europe starting between 4,500 and 2,500 BC. It is an attractive hypothesis for archaeologists because it ties the spread of the languages to the spread of a material culture.

Colin Renfrew, an English archaeologist, rose to challenge the accepted version with an Anatolian Hypothesis. It puts the starting point for Indo-European languages in the Anatolian Plateau of Turkey and the starting time much earlier, about 8,000 to 10,000 years BC. He tied the spread of the languages to the spread of farming or, in other words, the Neolithic Revolution. He thought that farmers migrated more or less peacefully to fresh farmlands and mixed with the local population.

I mention these theories because a BBC News article says that an article in the journal Science provides some strong support for Renfrew's ideas. The researchers used a mathematical approach called phylogenetics that was developed to trace the origins of a disease, but they used it on the Indo-European languages instead of viruses. The result suggests that the languages spread from Anatolia at about 6,000 to 7,500 BC.

I think that DNA evidence is also beginning to support Renfrew's ideas. A study of the DNA of the earliest German farmers (the original paper is here) suggests that farming groups migrated originally from Anatolia or the Near East, but their DNA is only a small percentage among Europeans now. They may have been only a minority compared to the original hunting population in northern europe, but that would not prevent them from influencing the culture (including the languages) out of all proportion to their numbers.

I expect that new evidence for and against the Anatolian Hypothesis is going to be published in the next few years. When a new consensus settles out, I'm going to read V. Gordon Childe's book The Aryans, A Study of Indo-European Origins (published 1926) and see how close he came, considering the comparatively limited information and techniques that he had.

A last, interesting, point: If you wonder what the Proto Indo-European language was like, the modern language that is the closest to it is Lithuanian.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

"The Patriot" movie

At one point in his career, it looked like Mel Gibson would honour his Australian roots by killing large numbers of English. He made Braveheart in 1995, in which he was a Scot killing English, and The Patriot in 2000, in which he was an American colonist killing English. As an Englishman (well, someone who is half English and half Welsh and was raised in Canada), I must agree that the Scots had good reasons to slaughter my esteemed ancestors. I loved Braveheart. On the other hand, I had a strong premonition that The Patriot was going to be simplistic and offensive propaganda, and avoided it. This happy state ended when my son was assigned the task of watching the film and identifying what details were historically accurate and what were not.

Overall, I would have to say that The Patriot is simplistic and offensive propaganda. It is comforting to know that my hunches were reliable in this case. Here are some of the more unbelievable aspects of the film.

It takes place in South Carolina, which was a slave-holding colony that became a slave-holding state. However, only one slave is shown. The blacks working for the main character, Benjamin Martin, are not slaves, but freedmen. I understand why this unlikely situation exists in the movie: it would certainly complicate a simple narrative of freedom versus slavery to point out that those fighting for freedom were committed to keeping slaves. The refusal to deal with the fact of slavery in this time and place is a lie of omission that is, in my view, offensive.

The story takes place in South Carolina, which is a Southern state, but everyone has a Northern accent. As long as we are going to be inaccurate about the accents, couldn't we let Mr. Gibson's character sound Australian?

Only one reason is given for revolution, at least until the atrocities start, and that is taxation. I understand from my high school Social Studies courses that many of the complaints that led to the Revolution were not related to taxes. First, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 led to much dissatisfaction, because it limited encroachment on Native lands; the Navigation Acts, Molasses Act, and Sugar Act all interfered with economic activities, but were not taxes; then five "Intolerable Acts" led more directly to the first Continental Congress.

The first three Intolerable Acts apply to Massachusetts alone, although other colonies expressed sympathy and solidarity with that colony.
  1. The Boston Port Act, closing the Port of Boston until order was restored and the East India Company had been repaid.
  2. The Massachusetts Government Act, removing the government of Massachusetts from local control.
  3. The Administration of Justice Act that let the governor move trials of government officials outside of Massachusetts.
The others had a broader scope.
  1. The Quartering Act meant that troops could be housed in privately-owned buildings at the governor's pleasure.
  2. The Quebec Act extended the boundaries of Quebec, allowed Catholics to take the Oath of Allegiance, and guaranteed the free practice of the Catholic faith. Many English-speaking colonists objected to each of those points.
 As for the taxes, the Townshend Act instituted taxes but, by the time of the Revolution, almost all had been repealed. Only the tax on tea remained. Then there was the Stamp Act of 1765, which was a widely hated tax.

In short, the "long chain of abuses and usurpations" mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is much more complex chain than a simple objection to taxes levied by an unrepresentative government. I think The Patriot deliberately obscured that fact.

It also obscured the fact that the colonials were not united in the revolution. A large number (20-30%) supported the British. About 70,000 left the United States after the Revolution. However, only one loyalist is shown in The Patriot: a British soldier.

Finally, many of the atrocities shown committed by the British were not known from that war. From what information I can find, the officers generally behaved "correctly," though all war involves atrocities. (Name one that has not. Certainly not Afghanistan nor Iraq, the West's most recent land wars).

In general, it is not worth arguing about details of dress or architecture. I am no expert in them anyway. However, it did strain credulity to see a flag with stars and stripes being picked up in a battle, as that did not exist at the time.

I don't know exactly how I should end this posting. The film made me angry. I felt that my intelligence was being insulted. I felt that lies were being perpetrated about both sides. Even within the category of propaganda movies, it is possible to do much, much better. Take the Chinese propaganda movie Hero, for example. It does not gloss over the fact that the Chinese First Emperor did terrible things and that many people legitimately wanted him dead, but it also showed that his accomplishments were remarkable. It created patriotic feelings without denigrating any other people. It was also gorgeous. If The Patriot intended a similar, ennobling effect, it failed.

Monday, 20 August 2012

A Moral Equivalent of War (Assault Ships as Hospitals)


I am interested in William James' idea of "A Moral Equivalent of War." That is, in a speech in 1906, James promoted the idea of exciting, dangerous, honoured community projects that did not involve killing other people, trampling on their rights, or destroying their homes. His explanation of the concept is much better than any that I could manage.

The world that we live in has its realities, though. One is that we will pay billions for defence but a relative pittance for worthy causes. This leads to an interesting thought: one could pay for the worthy causes using money that is formally allotted to defence. One specific example occurs to me, but a little background is necessary.

Reallocating a Few Billions

Canada's defence spending, $24.7 billion in 2012, is a lot of money, but it represents only 1.4% of our GDP. I have written before on how too many of these dollars are being wasted on the ever-more-expensive F-35 fighter plane. If we bought the very respectable Saab Gripen fighter and paid for its maintenance for 40 years at a price of under $6 billion rather than the F-35 and twenty years of maintenance for $25 billion (and rising), well, we would save $19 billion for other projects.

One such project should be a Canadian Amphibious Assault Ship or two. Such ships combine a number of capabilities that our Army and Navy would love to have. They carry a substantial number of troops at sea, land them, give them air support from helicopters or vertical-landing fighter planes, and often have hospital facilities to look after those injured in the assault. In fact, in 2005, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Rick Hillier, argued for a Canadian Amphibious Assault Ship Project with support from the Minister for National Defence at the time, David Pratt. There were reports in France that Canada was interested in buying two Mistral-class ships (Source, the same Wikipedia article). The project is on hold or cancelled "As of August 2008."

A Mistral Class ship is 16,500 tonnes (empty) or 21,300 tonnes (full load). The French Navy built several for its own use, and the Russian Navy has purchased two, as well. The ship carries up to 16 helicopters and a flexible cargo which could be, for example, 40 tanks and 450 soldiers. It also has a 69-bed hospital. The cost is $420 million to $600 million per ship. (To return to my point about the cost of the F-35, three of those cost as much as one of these ships. Which is the better investment for the Canadian military?)

Now, the Mistral is not the only such ship in the world. For example, the Korean Dokdo class is almost the same size as the Mistral, a little lighter, a little faster, and half the price. On the other hand, the largest Amphibious Assault Ships are the American Wasp class, 40,500-tonnes at full load, which hold 2000 troops and their equipment, have nine helipads, and cost $750 to $800 million each. Each ship also features a 600-bed hospital with six operating theatres. Canada could even afford a few of these monsters if it got a better deal on its planes.

Certainly, Canada has no ship in its navy close to the size of even a small Amphibious Assault Ship. The largest surface vessels are the three Iroquois Class destroyers (5,100 tons each) and the twelve Halifax Class frigates (4,770 tons). Both classes will be replaced starting in 2016, or so we are told, by fifteen ships in a new class called, for now, the Single Class Surface Combatant. There seems to be little public information about the class, but I would guess it to be about the same size as the ships we have. Since even a Mistral is three to four times the tonnage of these ships, you could argue that an Amphibious Assault Ship would be a grandiose, unprecedented purchase, except that it is not. Did you know that Canada once had aircraft carriers? The 16,000-ton HMCS Bonaventure (originally constructed as the HMS Powerful) was the last of these and served from 1952 to 1970. A Mistral ship is not that much larger.

So the first points in my argument are
  1. There is a real military argument to be made for Canada buying one or two Amphibious Assault Ships.
  2. The cost can be easily covered by more intelligent budgeting of resources, specifically new fighter aircraft.
The next phase of the argument gets back to the idea of the moral equivalent of war. The world needs floating hospital ships for disaster relief and also to provide medical services in parts of the world that are chronically underserved. Let us look at those two needs separately.

Disaster Relief

The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami killed about a quarter of a million people, and many more needed quick help. Food and water and shelter had to be provided; disease had to be prevented from spreading. The U.S. Navy's contribution to the first wave of help consisted of a group of ships led by the Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ship Bonhomme Richard, another led by the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, and the 1,000-bed Hospital Ship USNS Mercy.

A Canadian ship could have made the trip from Vancouver to, say, Jakarta (13,300 km) at 18 knots (33 km/h) in about 18 days, if emergency supplies were kept on board or close at hand so that she could set out quickly, once the order was received. That isn't an instant response, but the ship would still be able to help, given the extent of the disaster and duration of the humanitarian need. Once there, it could airdrop food, clothing, and supplies from its helicopters and provide medical assistance for substantial numbers of people.

 Medical Services

Many poor countries have correspondingly poor medical and dental services. A hospital ship can provide efficient services to many people because "ninety of the one hundred largest cities are ports" (Source). The charity Mercy Ships (same source) tries to serve this need with the 16,500 ton MV Africa Mercy, a rail ferry converted into a floating hospital. The ship operates with a volunteer crew, including the medical staff, of almost 500. According to the Wikipedia article:
Its lower decks are a modern hospital with six operating theatres, an Intensive Care Unit, an ophthalmic unit, two CT scanners, x-ray laboratories, and a recovery ward with beds for 78 patients. In addition to the ship's lab capabilities, ship physicians can consult with pathologists in the U.S. via satellite communications.
Fliers are distributed through a port city before the ship arrives. People line up to be treated aboard her. For example,
During its field service in Sierra Leone between February and November 2011, the Africa Mercy crew performed more than 3,300 surgeries, 27,800 general medical and eye consultations, 2,600 eye operations and 34,700 dental procedures. They also trained more than 12,600 people in health care professions, basic health care instruction, agriculture and church leadership. In addition, Mercy Ships increased health care delivery systems by renovating in-country pediatric and general hospital facilities.
The Discovery Channel produced a documentary on the Africa Mercy in the third season of its Mighty Ships tv series. You can currently watch it here to get an idea of the ship's purpose and operation.

What the Africa Mercy does, a government ship could do. In fact the USNS Mercy provides just such humanitarian relief when she is not required in a war zone.

A Moral Purpose on a Military Budget

So, the humanitarian needs are there but, clearly, the Canadian government will not buy purpose-made ships to fill these needs. However, they could justify the purchase of such ships in the defence budget. If we had a couple of Amphibious Assault Ships, one could spend a year on purely military exercises and patrols while the other provides hospital services. Then they could switch duties. The Canadian flag would be shown, good will would be garnered, the military would be stronger, and many thousands of people would be helped.

Friday, 17 August 2012

RSA Animate is Great! What a Way to Present!

I just finished watching an animation about psychology. I watched it with complete and utter attention and retained the points that it made. Here it is:

Now, it turns out that the style of animation used here is called Whiteboard Animation, and RSA, whatever they are, have a whole lot of it. (Well, 16, so far). You can see the videos on the RSA website or on its Youtube channel.

You know, if I were a high school student with a film project or a presentation to do, I'd really throw myself into mastering how to do animations like these. It would lead to very good things.

So, there are various approaches. The simplest is to use a real whiteboard and a real marker along with a normal digital camera. You don't get the hand and marker in the picture, though. Here's how:
 A step up in difficulty gives you the marker and hand. Jeannel King has three blog articles on how she creates these videos professionally. The how-to is here.

The third approach does not actually have a whiteboard at all. Either the hand, the marker, the board, and the drawings are all on Photoshop layers and the animation comes from a screen recorder, or a specialized program like Livescribe Desktop gets used.

A variation on that theme is creating the animation on an iPad.

Now, I use computer graphics clumsily. Anything other than simple cropping and rescaling needs a trip to on-line resources. On the other hand, I think that working to reproduce a good storyboard on a whiteboard could achieve a very good set of pictures that are ready to become a stop-motion animation. That's the next problem to solve. This web page shows how to use free programs such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker to do this. Since I don't have either a Mac nor Windows, I might try typing a few commands into a terminal window to do the job.

Fortunately, the same techniques can be used for more ambitious animations. Check out the sequence with the fruit at around 2:15 in this music video ("Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel) and see if it gives you any ideas.
If you're very, very smart, you might even be able to figure out how to make a video like this one ("Leave It" from the album 90125 by Yes). I believe it is my favourite music video of all time.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Free Symphony Recordings from Musopen Ready

I've written before about Musopen's worthy Kickstarter campaign to hire a symphony orchestra to record symphonies that would then be released into the Public Domain, meaning free to download, listen to, modify, and re-use. After two years of waiting, the music is finally available. Head to the Internet Archive and search for "Musopen Kickstarter." At the moment, at least, the files are zipped folders with the music in either of two formats, one lossless and the other lossy but still high-quality MP3's (320 kbps). The zip archives are 7.5 GB and 2.2 GB respectively. As I write this, I am downloading the smaller of the two.

Update: The zip archive unpacks into these folders:
The symphonies are by the Czech National Orchestra, identified on the Musopen site as "The Musopen Symphony Orchestra." That is fair enough, according to the ancient rule that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Similarly, the string quartets are by the Musopen String Quartet. Bach's "Goldberg Variations" are performed by Shelley Katz. In all, there are 144 music files representing 16 hours 22 minutes of music.

I have also written before about the wonderful music collection that once existed at I learned this week that much of its music has been preserved at the Internet Archive because of the "Wayback Machine," which provides archival copies of the entire World Wide Web. Here is a quotation about that from the Archive's blog:
Much of the collection, from before they were sued into a unrecognizable form, was archived, but frankly is not easy to browse in the Wayback Machine.  Hopefully we will fix that in the future.
One more tidbit from the Internet Archive's blog: the Musopen music, like about 1.5 million other files on the archive, can now be downloaded through Bittorrent. There's a link on each page giving that option as well as a standard file download through the browser. The torrent seems to be faster for me than the other, so you may want to give it a try.

Update 16 Aug 2012: German pianist Kimiko Ishizaka (though the nationality and the name may not seem to match, both are accurate), who released a recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations into the public domain through the Open Goldberg Variations, has a new Kickstarter campaign for another worthy project. She's trying to raise a modest amount of money towards performances  of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier in Cologne, Vienna, London, and several American cities, in which she will polish her interpretation of the work. At the conclusion of the tour, she will record it and release the recording into the public domain. If you would like to contribute, there is a little time left: The fundraising will be complete on Tuesday Aug 21, 8:00pm EDT.

I am grateful for her contributions to free culture so far, and would like to support further ones.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Submarines around China, and Some Thoughts on World War III

There is a lot of activity in the world's navies these days. There is a building boom for hunter-killer submarines, both nuclear-powered (SSN's) and Diesel-Electric (SSK's) in Asia. According to this article
The area most eager to have submarines now is Southeast Asia. Southeast Asian countries have been trying to build up their navies since the superpowers’ withdrawal after the Cold War. The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) operates four Sjoormen-class submarines which were delivered from Sweden in the early 2000s. In 2005, the RSN purchased two Vastergotland-class submarines again from Sweden which will replace some of the Sjoormen-class submarines about 2010. It is reported that Vietnam got two North Korean Yugo-class submarines in 1997. The Indonesian Navy had several submarines bought from the USSR and Poland at the end of the 1950s but decommissioned all of them in the 1970s. It later bought two submarines from Germany in 1981. In 2007, Jakarta signed a US$1.2b billion defense deal with Russia that included the purchase of two submarines. The fact that these navies have submarines must be a powerful incentive for the Malaysian Navy to buy submarines. The RMN’s Scorpene submarines were ordered from France and Spain in 2002. The Royal Thai Navy too came close to joining the submarine club in the late 1990s.
 The other nations in the region are madly buying or building submarines, too.
Japan is in the process of adding six diesel attack boats to its current force of 16. Australia aims to double its fleet of six diesel boats. South Korea is also doubling its six-strong undersea fleet. Two years ago, Vietnam purchased six Kilos from Russia.
In reaction to the number of submarines about its shores, the "Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force" (JMSDF or, more simply, Japanese navy) has been developing sophisticated anti-submarine capabilities. According to Wikipedia:
The JMSDF is known in particular for its anti-submarine and mine-sweeping capability. Defense planners believe the most effective approach to combating submarines entails mobilizing all available weapons, including surface combatants, submarines, aircraft and helicopters.
Japanese interest in anti-submarine warfare must have been confirmed when Japanese warships had to see off a Chinese submarine that intruded on Japanese waters.

What is the reason for this military build up? One reason is that China is exerting its claim on almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring the competing claims of Taiwan, the Phillipines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. The result is that "Tensions have been rising in the region."

  1. Macclesfield Bank is claimed by the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Phillipines and, apparently, Vietnam. Part of it, Scarborough Shoal, was the site of a standoff in 2012 between Chinese fishing boats and the Phillipines navy.
  2. China and Vietnam each controlled part of the Paracel Islands until the Battle of the Paracels in 1974, in which the Chinese military evicted the Vietnamese.
  3. The Spratly Islands have competing claims by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. All except Brunei occupy some of the islands. China, Malaysia and Vietnam have garrisons.
On June 21, 2012, China set up Sansha City to govern Macclesfield Bank, the Paracels, and the Spratly Islands, although all of that territory is disputed and only a portion of it is under Chinese control.

Competing claims for islands and seabeds also strain relations in more northerly waters. For example,
  1. Tsushima is administered by Japan but claimed by South Korea.  
  2. In contrast, the Liancourt Rocks (called Dokdo by the South Koreans and Takeshima by the Japanese) are administered by South Korea and claimed by Japan. In 2012, a treaty to share military information between South Korea and Japan struck those rocks. Japan had repeated its claim to the rocks, so South Korean politicians opposed the treaty.
  3. Both South Korea and China claim Socotra Rock (called Ieodo or Parangdo by the South Koreans and Suyan Rock by the Chinese). South Korea recently built observation posts there which the Chinese navy has since destroyed. 
  4. Four of the Kuril Islands are disputed between Japan and Russia. A visit to the Kurils by Prime Minister Medvedev in 2010 received protests from the Japanese. Since then, in 2011, Medvedev has called for stronger defences on the Kurils. 
  5. The Senkaku Islands (also called the Diaoyu Islands) are administered by Japan but claimed by Taiwan and China. China claims that the Senkaku belong to it because they belong to Taiwan and Taiwan belongs to China. An incident in 2010 saw a Chinese fishing boat colliding with Japanese naval ships.
None of this mess of overlapping and potentially dangerous claims compares with the gorillas in the room, the biggest and most dangerous disputes in the region.
  1. North Korea, according to its constitution and consistent government statements, claims all of South Korea.
  2. South Korea, according to its constitution, claims all of North Korea.
  3. The Republic of China (Taiwan), according to its constitution, claims all of the People's Republic of China.
  4. The People's Republic of China, according to consistent government statements and military preparations for invasion, claims all of Taiwan.
One result of the disputes is an arms race in submarines. On the one hand,
The Chinese Navy is expected to procure 30 more submarines by 2020 and bring the total from the current 62 to 100 by 2030, Hong Kong's Ming Pao daily reported on Tuesday.
On the other (from the same source),
Bloomberg News quoted experts as predicting that Asia-Pacific nations will have up to 86 more subs by 2020. 
In addition to very quiet diesel-electric submarines like the Song class, China has launched long-endurance nuclear-powered submarines such as those in the Shang class and nuclear-missile launchers (SSBN's) such as those in the Jin class.

We may ask, "why submarines?" but one incident probably gives much of the answer: On October 26, 2006, a Chinese Song-class attack submarine surfaced within nine miles of the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. This is easily close enough to have fired its torpedos on the Kitty Hawk, but the Americans had not detected its approach. Some Americans concluded
"The Chinese are building a credible submarine force which will make it very difficult for the US Navy to maintain sea control dominance in or near coastal waters off of China," warned Rear Adm. Hank McKinney, former commander of the US Pacific Fleet’s submarine force.
It seems the Chinese realized that neither the Chinese nor any other navy in the world, nor all of them together, could realistically challenge the American surface fleet. However, an affordable fleet of submarines combined with land-launched missiles designed to strike American aircraft carriers (the DF-21D) and missiles that can destroy satellites in space could make the American fleet stand off outside of the Sea of Japan or the South China Sea. For example, it would have difficulty in preventing an invasion of Taiwan, if China chose to launch one, without resorting to nuclear weapons.

The Chinese submarine fleet may not be able to expand past the number of American submarines, though. It has had to slow down its purchases, and the United States has speeded up.
With the Kilo [a class of Russian attack submarines] purchase complete, Beijing added just two boats in 2007, none in 2008 and two each in 2009 and 2010. It appears that, barring a major reversal of the current trend, the PLAN will acquire no more than two submarines a year over the medium term.
That’s the same submarine production rate as in the United States – though only recently. In the early 2000s, Washington purchased just one submarine a year, on average. A cost-savings initiative launched in 2005 drove the price of the current Virginia-class attack submarine down to around $2 billion apiece, allowing the US Navy to purchase two Virginias annually starting this year.
I cannot think of any region of the world that is more likely to start a Third World War than Eastern Asia. It has multiple disputed territories that have led to confrontations and even short wars. It has an arms race. It has China, which is determined to make its claims stand through economic power, diplomatic pressure, and discreet sabre rattling. It has America, which is "pivoting" its military to the region to counter China's strength, keep the sea lanes open, and reassure its allies. The result may be this (from The Hunt for Red October).

That film was set during the Cold War, when superpower confrontations threatened the world. For a while it looked as though such fears were gone. They are returning.

To see how firm at least Korea is on its claims to disputed land, look at the names of its Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships. These are large vessels (18,800 tons fully loaded, 199 m long) that combine the capabilities of a light aircraft carrier with the ability to land a battalion of troops.

 In other words, these are the craft that would be involved in battles for disputed islands.

The ships are
  1. ROKS Dokdo (named after islands administered by South Korea but claimed by Japan).
  2. ROKS Ieodo (named after islands claimed by both Korea and China but administered by neither).
  3. ROKS Baengnyeongdo (named after the island that is the closest point to the disputed maritime border with North Korea. According to Wikipedia, there have been "several naval skirmishes" between the two countries near the island and the ROKS Cheonan was sunk, supposedly by North Korea, close to this island on March 26, 2010).
  4. ROKS Marado (named after the islands that mark the southernmost portion of Korea).
The ships' names are clear and firm statements that the claims to Dokdo and Ieodo are not negotiable. Thank heaven Japan does not have an amphibious assault ship named JS Takeshima nor China one named Suyan Rock.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Some Thoughts about the F-35 Fighter Plane

For some reason, and I suppose I can blame my father who spent many hours reading a copy of Jane's Fighting Ships from 1938, I am interested in military equipment.

For example, I have somewhat informed opinions about whether Canada should get the F-35 fighter. The short version is that it should not. In 1980 it bought a version of the F-18 instead of a one-engined plane like the F-16 because a vast land like Canada needs a two-engine plane for safety. Since Canada's size hasn't changed, a second engine is probably still as necessary as ever. Need I say it? The F35 is a single-engined plane. Have a look.

In addition, the cost of the F-35 has ballooned. It was originally defended as $9 billion for 65 planes, but the Auditor General has told us otherwise:
His report also showed the department had internal estimates that 65 F-35 jets would cost $25 billion over 20 years, but would only admit to a cost of $14.7 billion. Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino avoided answering questions about the full cost, insisting the jets would be $9 billion, despite months of formal and informal requests.
The cost per plane will only grow as one country after another cuts back on the number of F-35's purchased.  We do have a worldwide recession, after all. This article shows the delays, cutbacks, and cancellations up to April 2, 2012. Even the American military is now saying that any further cost overruns will simply reduce the number of F-35's it buys.

What plane should Canada get instead of the F-35? Well, if the lowest cost for a capable, multirole, generation 4.5 fighter is what we're after, then we were offered a good bargain for the Saab Gripen. (In a brief to the Canadian Parliament, "Saab says they can give away 65 Gripens and maintenance for 40 years. Cost: under $6B." Source here). With prices like these, Canada could afford a larger air force for the 9 billion that we were willing to spend on the F-35. It would also be a stronger air force, based on the the principle that "Quantity has a quality all its own." Here is the Gripen:

If we really want a two-engined plane, the cheapest such plane we could get is also one of the most capable in the world, and stealthy to boot. It is the Russian Sukhoi PAK FA or its Indian version, the FGFA. Unsurprisingly, this has never been evaluated for Canadian use, as I am sure that the Americans would react very badly to a purchase of Russian technology over American. Nevertheless, in a commendable exhibition of independent thought, South Korea is considering its use. Here it is:

The only other two-engine plane on the table, putting aside updates to the F-18 and F-15, is the Eurofighter Typhoon. It isn't very stealthy, compared to the F-35, but it is proven, capable, better than we have, and available for a known price. The Typhoon looks like this:
A comparison of the Typhoon and F-35 is here, one of the Typhoon and Gripen is here, and one of the Typhoon and PAK FA is here.

With prices taken from that comparison site, the price of a single Gripen is $60 million, a PAK FA is $75 million, a Typhoon is $125 million, and an F-35, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, is $148 million. In other words, we could buy two PAK FA's or two and a half Gripens for the price of one F-35.

In terms of capability, from best to worst, the planes rank like this: PAK FA, Typhoon, F-35, Gripen. In other words, the PAK FA is the best choice for capability.

"Capability," in this context, does not even include stealthiness, since only the PAK FA and F-35 advertise that feature.

Some of the Gripen's good qualities are also left out in comparisons of performance. For example, it is designed to land and take off from roads where airports are not available, have a 10-minute turnaround time from when it lands to when it takes off again, and is designed for easy maintenance.

If it were up to me, the PAK FA would be my ideal choice, followed by either the Gripen or the Eurofighter in second place, depending on what tasks the RCAF forsees for itself.  Whatever plane we buy, we must recognize that we cannot afford to replace our 77 serving CF-18's with F-35's on anything close to a one-to-one basis.

Update (August 20)

I was mistaken when I said that the Sukhoi PAK FA and the Typhoon were the only two-engined planes Canada could consider. There is also the Dassault Rafale, which acquitted itself well in several roles while maintaining a no-fly zone over Libya. The price is about $90 million per plane (fly-away cost). Here is a comparison with the Typhoon.

I also misspoke when I wrote that the RCAF should decide what capabilities it needs. Where and when it is deployed depends on the government, of course.

Update (November 26)

Another two-engined plane that should be considered is the favourite of many who comment on the F-35 purchase: the F-18 Super Hornet. This is a new plane that started serving with the U.S. Navy in 2001. Despite many systems that are in common with Canada's current plane, the CF-18, it is a substantially different plane: 20% larger, with a third more fuel, 41% more mission range, and considerable "stealth" from the front or rear. It would, therefore, be a substantial improvement on what Canada has now, but the flyaway cost (according to the Wikipedia article) is a very reasonable $66.9 million U.S. Not much more than a Gripen, really.

Update (August 15 2013)

There's an article on the F35's development called "How the US and its Allies Got Stuck with the World's Worst New Warplane" by David Axe on a web site called "War is Boring." Its thesis is that the US Marines are obsessed with planes that can land vertically because those are the only ones that will allow it to have its own air cover from its own ships, separate from the navy's. Further, it is "obsessed" with having its own air cover because of its experience without any air cover in Guadalcanal, back in World War II. Additionally, the peculiar requirements of vertical landing forced design elements on the air force and navy (such as the wide fuselage) that compromised the plane for their use.

The article is interesting and, in some ways, well-researched, but I thought that the author's negative opinion on V/STOL aviation in general, including the Harrier, was excessive. The US Marines' interest in V/STOL planes is not some dotty obsession that is inexplicable without reference to a trauma back in 1942, as is provable by a glance at the international response to the Harrier V/STOL plane.

As he briefly mentioned, the Harrier was not developed in the United States, but Britain. It was not originally designed for use from ships at all. Wikipedia tells us, "Historically the Harrier was developed in Britain to operate from ad-hoc facilities such as car parks or forest clearings, avoiding the need for large air bases vulnerable to tactical nuclear weapons. Later the design was adapted for use from aircraft carriers."

As he did not mention, Britain, France, Spain, Italy, India, and even Thailand operated "Harrier Carrier" ships similar to the US Marines'. The Russians built a V/STOL plane--the Yak 38 Forger--somewhat similar to the Harrier, so they could operate it at sea. Despite its weaknesses, and because of its unique strengths such as greater manoeuvrability, the Harrier performed well against conventional planes in the Falklands War of 1982, shooting down twenty with no losses. That, too, could have received a mention in the article.

One other significant omission is that Britain contributed £1.08 billion towards the F35 as an alternative to developing a next generation plane of their own. Although other countries contributed lesser amounts towards the fighter, the British, like the Marines, were particularly interested in the V/STOL version. They will use it on the two aircraft carriers they are currently building. The Italian Navy will also order this plane. There is speculation that the new Japanese ship Izumo was designed to take the F35B, if necessary, which would convert it from a helicopter carrier to an aircraft carrier with no structural alterations.

Update 22 Oct 2013: There's an excellent article on the ongoing problems of the F-35 in Vanity Fair, "Will it Fly" by Adam Ciralsky.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Complete Poetry Guide and Workbook is on Sale Now!

I've been away from postings for the last week or so, although I have a good reason. A book that I spent two years researching and writing, plus a while more editing and polishing, is finally for sale. It's called The Complete Poetry Guide and Workbook.  You should be able to order a copy on Amazon, but I will get a larger share of the purchase cost if you buy it direct from on this page. The cost to you is the same either way. Let me tell you about it, though. Here's the cover:

Here is the Table of Contents for the first half of the book, including the page numbers:

Introduction 10
  • Poetry in General 11
  • What is Poetry? 11
  • Poetry Came From Music 13
  • A Working Definition of Poetry 14
  • Barriers to Poetry 15
Poetic Devices 17
  • Poetic Devices of Timing and Stress 19
    • Lines 19
    • Rhythm 25
    • Metre 29
  • Poetic Devices that Repeat Sounds 38
    •  Alliteration 39
    • Assonance 45
    • Consonance 48
    • Rhyme 51
    • Repetition 59
    • Onomatopoeia 61
  •  Poetic Devices of Meaning 64
    • Simile, Metaphor, and Personification 64
    • Imagery 69
    • Symbolism 73
    • Allusion 81
  • Poetic Forms 87
    • Introduction 87
    • Non-Metric Forms 88
      • Prose Poetry 88
      • Free verse 98
      • Alliterative Verse 107
      • Japanese Forms: Haiku, Senryu, Tanka 116
    • Metric, Unrhymed Forms 131
      • Cinquains 131
      • Blank Verse 133
    • Metric, Rhymed Forms 140
      • Couplets and Heroic Couplets 140
      • Tercets 143
      • Quatrains 149
      • Quintains, Especially Limericks 159
      • Sonnets 161
    • Typographic Forms 170
      • Acrostics and Acronyms 170
      • Calligrams and Concrete poetry 177
    • Translation 184
      • What is a Good Translation? 184
      • Why Translate? 186
      • How to Translate 187
    • Sharing Your Work 194
  • Glossaries 199
    • Poetic Terminology 199
    • Examples of Poetic Forms and Subjects 208
Each of the chapters is followed by exercises, graded into three levels of difficulty. The second half of the book is an anthology of 166 classic poems. They serve as examples of forms as well as inspiration for poets and just plain enjoyable reading for everyone else.
I really believe in this project. I hope you'll consider buying it and that you let me know what you think. The next challenge is to distribute it as an e-book.