OTS Comes to Aerospace

There’s an article over at Forbes on one comapny’s manufacturing military jet aircraft using off-the-shelf components:

So when Rhode Island-based Textron and its partner AirLand Enterprises unveiled an off-the-shelf strike and reconnaissance jet late last year, no one was certain the idea would fly. The Scorpion—a low-cost, two-seat, twin-engine, subsonic jet built largely from commercially available parts—is designed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR for short) as well as light strike missions. It’s not quite a fighter jet and it’s certainly not an ISR drone, but it packs the pared-down capabilities of both. Designed and developed in secret over just two years, the Scorpion defies the general expectations of what a military jet should be—expensive, super-capable, and years in the making. The $20 million Scorpion is inexpensive to buy and operate and just capable enough to be effective.

Most countries in the world don’t face threats from high tech enemies. The threats they face are distinctively closer to home. And jets have a certain cachet that turboprop aircraft just don’t have. The market for the Scorpion may be surprising high.

People talk about the technology revolution but they generally don’t recognize where the real revolution has been. It’s been in building things from standardized, and, importantly, off-the-shelf components. Those are the reasons you can afford to buy a personal computer or a smartphone and they’ve now come to military aircraft.

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Measuring Change in Cuba

Writing at The Atlantic Jeffrey Goldberg considers how we would know if liberalizing our relations with Cuba is successful or not?

Here is my modest Plaza de Armas test: If, in two years, the booksellers on the plaza are selling books about something other than Che, and if they’re making actual money selling more of what they want to sell, then the argument that engagement leads to openness will look credible. I’m not expecting anything close to perfect freedom—I’d be surprised, in two years, to find Marco Rubio’s memoir for sale on the plaza—but I’ll go looking for some proof that change is actually happening. Internet connectivity, the release of political prisoners, the establishment of non-government newspapers—these are bigger tests. But the plaza test will be telling nonetheless.

Here’s my yardstick. If Cuban-Americans start travelling to Cuba in significant numbers to visit family members there, bringing with them consumer goods and stories of their lives in the United States, and those Cuban families start taking notice, the policy of liberalization will have been a success. IMO that’s the greatest danger to the present Cuban regime and we should keep our eyes open for pushback from the regime on it.

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Credit Where Credit Is Due

I suspect that the editors of the Washington Post don’t appreciate the irony of the caption on their editorial, “Obamacare deserves some credit”. It will need it since that’s how it will be paid for: on credit.

Returning to the meat of the editorial there is no doubt that the PPACA is responsible for the reduction in the number of people without healthcare insurance:

The percentage of Americans without insurance dropped by 5.3 points in the last year, the Urban Institute found this month , because of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and health-care exchanges. The mellowing of health-care cost inflation, on the other hand, seems to have predated the ACA. Though some cost-containment measures might begin to bite in coming years, the law was more a coverage expansion policy than a cost-control policy.

As to whether it’s also a contributing factor to improvements in hospital care or the slower rate of increase of healthcare costs, it’s just too early to tell. We don’t have nearly enough data to draw those conclusions.

The great challenge in the years to come will be to determine whether more people with insurance translates into more and better care or whether more and better care translates into better health. That’s what the Oregon study called into question: the relationship between insurance and health. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

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Lowell Steward, 1919-2014

Another of the Tuskegee Airmen has died:

Former Tuskegee Airman Lowell C. Steward, of Oxnard, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in 1944 for his actions during World War II, died Wednesday at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura.

He was 95.

Lowell Steward Jr., of Sylmar, said his father passed away peacefully with several members of his immediate family at his bedside. He had come down with a cold on Sunday evening at his Oxnard home that quickly turned into pneumonia, Lowell Jr. said.

There are fewer of these brave and proud men left each year.

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As Plain As the Nose On Somebody Else’s Face

Obviously, most Americans are ungrateful, racist, partisan hacks incapable of noticing the economic boom that’s as plain as the noses on their faces:

The Battleground Poll of 1,000 likely voters, sponsored by The George Washington University, found that 56 percent believe economic conditions are getting worse or are poor and staying the same. Asked how anxious they are about current economic conditions, 77 percent of likely voters said they’re very or somewhat worried about the economic climate.

At the White House, some of Obama’s top advisers described conditions as decidedly less bleak, expressing optimism about economic progress during the president’s final two years in office, whether a Republican-led Congress collaborates with him or not.

Hasn’t the stock market been booming for the last few months? Doesn’t that prove that the U. S. economy is in fine shape?

Of course, the stock boom could be explained by everyone else’s economies being in even worse shape than ours. I guess that’s thoughtcrime. The world’s tallest midget as it were. Or maybe all of that prosperity just isn’t trickling down to three quarters of Americans. The ingrates. Serves ‘em right.

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Selling the Rope

There’s a wisecrack attributed to V. I. Ulyanov, “Lenin”, that a capitalist will sell you the rope you will use to hang him. The media are full of umbrage over the apparent North Korean hacking of Sony’s film division and the subsequent pulling of an offensive comedy by Seth Rogen and James Franco scheduled for release next week:

The U.S. will have to respond in some way, likely in concert with our ally Japan. (Sony is a Japanese company.) This isn’t just an economic loss for Sony, it’s a threat to all American corporations, businesses and individuals.
Was Sony lax about its cybersecurity? Probably. But the company doesn’t deserve all of the financial losses, class-action lawsuits, and humiliation with which it has been hit.
The truth is that there isn’t any kind of cybersecurity that could keep a company safe from each and every hack.
The Internet was designed for openness, and as the pitfalls of this design become more and more expensive, all Internet users will have to make choices balancing openness with security. Smart security design may be the next big Internet boom — not because consumers demand it, but because businesses do.
As for “The Interview,” we urge Sony to release it for home video, at least. The movie deserves a viewing — and North Korea doesn’t deserve to win this fight.

There appears to be evidence that North Korea was, indeed, behind the hacking and blackmail:

Washington (CNN) — U.S. investigators have evidence that hackers stole the computer credentials of a system administrator to get access to Sony’s computer system, allowing them broad access, U.S. officials briefed on the investigation tell CNN. The finding is one reason why U.S. investigators do not believe the attack on Sony was aided by someone on the inside, the officials tell CNN.
The revelation is part of what is behind the government’s conclusion that hackers operating on behalf of North Korea were responsible. The government is expected to publicly blame the reclusive regime as early as Friday. The hackers ability to gain access to the passwords of a top-level information technology employee allowed them to have “keys to the entire building,” one official said.

and there have been some vague threats of a proportional response. Pat Lang has some ideas on that subject. In fine Jacksonian form he declaims:

If it is established that the North Korean government and/or its agents attacked Sony then I say, let slip the dogs of cyberwar. Hacking? You like hacking and destructive cyberwar activity? Hah! We will burn your servers into piles of smoldering kimchi !!

My preference would be for the U. S. to offer bounties to people who can produce evidence that they’ve brought down North Korean servers. A sort of market-based system for cyberwarfare.

There’s an irony in the hacking. The U. S. did invent the Internet after all. North Korea’s Internet connections run through China and Russia. Germany hosts servers for North Korea. If we’re not carefully explaining the implications to North Korea’s patrons, we’re making a serious error.

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Different Experiences

I don’t have as much time to comment on the Obamas’ remarks on their own experiences with racism as I wish I did. I think their relating of their experiences constitutes what somebody or other referred to as a “teachable moment” that I wish more would heed. I’ve seen quite a bit of smirking about them in the right-leaning blogosphere and punditry.

The reality is that many black folk experience events differently than white folk do. I don’t know what happened at Target that day but I have no doubt of the reality that Mrs. Obama experienced it as she said she did—as racism.

Young black men experience their encounters with the police differently than I, an old white man, do even when the same things happen to us. So there are two distinct things going on: some of their encounters with police are actually different from mine and even when our encounters are the same they experience them differently.

One size does not fit all. There’s no single solution to both of these issues and both need to be addressed.

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Bad Management at Sony

The editors of the Wall Street Journal’s view of the reaction to the hacking of Sony and the subsequent threats is similar to mine:

Capitulating to the threats of North Korea’s department of global propaganda—and the U.S. government now believes Pyongyang was behind the Sony attack—will not be remembered as a profile in Hollywood courage, and will set a precedent for further bullying of a notably weak-kneed industry.

When you’re defending billions of dollars worth of intellectual property, spending a few tens of millions to do it sounds like a pretty good bet to me. That it didn’t to Sony’s management signals that Sony’s motion picture division has a serious management problem. They’ve relied too much on lobbying the federal government as their first line of defense and there are some threats from which the federal government cannot protect them.

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Cuba, Yes or No?

The editors of the Washington Post have come out against President Obama’s announced plan of measures to normalize relations with Cuba:

On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.

As part of the bargain, Havana released Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was unjustly imprisoned five years ago for trying to help Cuban Jews. Also freed was an unidentified U.S. intelligence agent in Cuba — as were three Cuban spies who had been convicted of operations in Florida that led to Cuba’s 1996 shootdown of a plane carrying anti-Castro activists. While Mr. Obama sought to portray Mr. Gross’s release as unrelated to the spy swap, there can be no question that Cuba’s hard-line intelligence apparatus obtained exactly what it sought when it made Mr. Gross a de facto hostage.

[…]

The Vietnam outcome is what the Castros are counting on: a flood of U.S. tourists and business investment that will allow the regime to maintain its totalitarian system indefinitely. Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life.

The experience with China should be enough to call the notion that political and economic relations will necessarily impel political reforms, an argument I’ve been seeing quite a bit of lately.

I’ve thought that we should be normalizing trade relations with Cuba for decades. I guess time will tell just how significant President Obama’s announcement will be. There isn’t a great deal that the president can do without Congressional cooperation. He can announce it and he can direct State Department personnel to go there but he can’t fund an embassy or consulate in Cuba and he can’t liberalize trade with Cuba without cooperation from the Congress.

We’ll see whether the whole thing is just a photo op or not. This move is another example of something I’ve criticized the president for in the past: he’s not laying the groundwork for future progress. Poking a stick in the bull’s eye is not a good way to encourage cooperation from the bull.

Update

The editors of the Wall Street Journal make a good point:

We should stipulate that 20 years ago these columns called for lifting the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. We did so to assist the impoverished Cuban people and perhaps undermine the regime.

But we also stressed that “no U.S officials have to dignify Castro’s regime by sitting down at a negotiating table” with Cuban officials: “The whole point is to continue to oppose Castro’s government while allowing succor for Cuba’s people.” Mr. Obama’s approach will provide immediate succor to the Castro government in the hope of eventually helping the Cuban people.

Photo ops are easy. Diplomacy, especially diplomacy that actually advances your interests, is hard.

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Hey Kids!

You can block the release of a major motion picture using tools you probably have around the house. Just

  1. Hack into the computers of the studio who made the picture. It’s easy. They don’t do much to prevent it.
  2. Release some embarrassing information about the studio and its execs. There will be plenty of it. And you can get your very own copies of movies that haven’t even been released!
  3. Send some vaguely worded threats in broken English.

And before you can say “Pink Flamingos” the movie will be withdrawn!

I’m guessing this is a pretty good time to be a sales rep for a company selling security solutions and a pretty bad time to be a studio exec. Under the circumstances I suspect that this will not turn out to be a loss that’s covered by insurance although it will probably be litigated for years. Which means it’s a pretty good time to be a lawyer who works for motion picture studios, too.

It certainly sets an intriguing precedent. It’s hard to think of a movie that’s been made over the period of the last half century that hasn’t offended somebody.

Update

You can even prevent movies from being made:

XCLUSIVE: The chilling effect of the Sony Pictures hack and terrorist threats against The Interview are reverberating. New Regency has scrapped another project that was to be set in North Korea. The untitled thriller, set up in October, was being developed by director Gore Verbinski as a star vehicle for Foxcatcher star Steve Carell. The paranoid thriller written by Steve Conrad was going to start production in March. Insiders tell me that under the current circumstances, it just makes no sense to move forward. The location won’t be transplanted. Fox declined to distribute it, per a spokesman.

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