Monday, March 22, 2010

What Do You Do When You Bet the Ranch On A Turn Of the Cards And Lose It?

That's the conundrum that the GOP faces this morning.

It is what one would call a Political Hangover Writ Large.

Of course I'm talking about health care reform and the bill that passed the House by six votes. What's in the bill? I'm sure we're going to learn about it in excruciating detail over the years of its gradual rolling implementation, but one thing's for sure-implementation is going to make turning the Jahre Viking on a dime child's play by comparison.

But those are what we call Details.

The legislative process, or, How We Got Here, is well summarized by a story in Mr. Dooley's Philosophy entitled "Platform Making", written by Finley Peter Dunne 100 years or so ago. It's worth a look see for perspective's sake.

One thing's for sure, though. The GOP pulled out every stop, and handed out markers all over the territory to stop this thing. Whether it was Mrs. Palin's 'death panels' or Chuck Grassley's 'pulling the plug on grandma' or the wholesale mobilization of an army of irredentist teabagger yahoos for street theater, threats of voter revenge in November, calls for a do-over, and the efforts of an army of talk radio fuhrers, they did it all.

They mortgaged everything on the expectation that they could cause the Democrats in Washington to blink. After all, the theory goes, anything resembling a liberal or a Democrat is by nature a waffler who can be bluffed off a flush by a pair of deuces, steely resolve and sufficient amounts of nerve.

It didn't work. The suckers, or so they were perceived to be, stuck to their guns.

If you're part of the GOP this morning, what you need to ask yourself is "What did we create, and what do we do with it now?" Enabling the tea bagger National Lower Intestinal Tract Movement was a strategy that was a part of betting the table and it came up short.

But having brought this hulking, angry, petulant child into being, and thereby enabling every discredited crank, conspiracy theorist, birther, tenther, sixteenther, John Calhoun states' righters, Alaskan Joe Vogler neanderthals, gunslingers and plain old country racists to find a voice and a platform, now the GOP has to figure out what to do with what they gave birth to.

And that's not going to be an easy task, any road. There's no reason to think that whatever passes for leadership in the tea bagger movement is going to suddenly change course, get with the program, and buckle down for the long slog.

After all, when you've hurled a brick through a window and set the house on fire, what's next for you? Another part of the hangover for the GOP will be "How can we possibly have any input here if we arm wrestled and lost? We've burned a lot of bridges fer Chrissakes."

Well. They created this stinking mess and they've got the unenviable task of making with the sackcloth and ashes here for a while.

My old man was a pretty smart guy, and when I'd come home with some mess on my hands that I'd created he'd look up from his Newark Evening News, look over the top of his wire rimmed glasses and he'd say "You bought it-now fix it."

That seems to describe the GOP this awful hungover morning.

Monday, March 15, 2010

We Make What We Make When We Make It, And We Can Call It The Same Even If It's Different

We are, of course, referring to the newly released Vox AC15C, and thereby hangs a tale.

The star-crossed history of the AC series of amps from what we'll call the Vox people is pretty well documented in several nice coffee table books, the most recent by Jim Elyea for which I've yet to scrape up the C-note that it'll cost to get it here.

When the Jennings empire folded after an ill advised toxic marriage to the Thomas Organ Co. in the US-a classic case of brand dilution that many a business school MBA ought to take note of-the manufacture of the flagship model AC30 passed through several owners with a gradual decline in build quality until it was naught but a shell of its former self.

When the Korg people picked up Vox in the mid nineties, they set about rehabilitating the brand, using the signature AC15 and AC30 as leaders for a line of forgettable modeling amps that are suited for lesser tasks, but the AC15 and AC30 retained much of what people bought them for.

When Korg reached the ultimate decision to move production out of the UK, they moved it to a factory in China owned by something known as the IAG group-a vertically integrated facility that actually makes a lot of the components that were used in the AC15 and AC30 Custom Classics as they were known. Although built on a printed circuit and incorporating solid state reverb drive and vibrato, they held true to the original Dick Denney inspired dual chassis build.

According to Denney and Peterson's "The Vox Story" Denney built the prototype AC15 on a standard box chassis but realized that they couldn't take a pounding on the road. Ordinarily the answer would be to build on a steel chassis but because the amplifier is high gain, that presented a risk of undesired hum and oscillation. Denney's solution was to put the power supply on a steel chassis and the higher gain stages on an aluminum chassis attached at a right angle to the power supply chassis-all of which served to reduce crosstalk and made the resulting chassis robust and easily serviceable. Air circulation and overheating was always a problem however.

Apparently there was some sort of a falling out between Korg and the IAG Group, as evidenced by the departure of Steve Grindrod, the designer of the Custom Classics, to employ with Wharfedale, an arm of the IAG Group, and the departure of AC15 and AC30 production to an as yet undetermined production facility.

The new amps are being made with MDF cabinets rather than the Baltic birch plywood of the IAG built amps, no more Wharfedale speakers (fancy that), but what's notable is the layout and construction of the chassis, which appears to be a much more production oriented, reduced labor setup. The two chassis approach is gone, perhaps for good.

Which brings us to the ultimate question: When is an AC15 not an AC15 even though the people who make it and are entitled to the name call it so?

We haven't yet seen gut shots of the new improved AC30C, but if what we see here is a portent, it's going to be quite different.

Photos courtesy of ampaholics and oddjobpeters, whose PM bounced.

Sorry, man, they said you don't exist.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Party's Over But The Swamp Gas Remains

By now,nearly everyone who's had the radio on knows that the Northrop-Grumman-EADS effort to capture the Air Force's future tanker contract has ended not with a bang but a whimper-a snivel, really. A brief recap, maestro.

Very well.

The air force's flying gas station has been the KC135, ever since the KC97 was retired. The KC135s as a generality are getting awfully tired. Deliveries started in 1956 and ended in 1965, and they're a derivative of the B707 civilian airframe-which owed more than a little to the B47 in the picture nuzzling up to a KC97.

Although a number of KC10s were delivered, they weren't a replacement for the kind of work that the KC135 did and as a result a new tanker was called for. Back a few years ago, that looked like the selection was going to be an aerial refueling version of the civilian Boeing 767 which would be leased to the military.

All those grand plans collapsed over the small matter of corruption in high places-in a word, at Boeing headquarters. There were the mandatory beheadings and the occasional prison sentence to serve as an admonition to miscreants but the take home was the stink was so bad the contract was cancelled.

But the need remained.

A new RFP was drawn up for what the air force called the KC-X program and the folks at Northrop Grumman teamed up with EADS to offer a tankerized version of the Airbus A330, a considerably larger aircraft than the 767.

The advantage to the government, it was said, was greater flexibility. In order to satisfy the nativists and flag wavers, it was alleged that a plant would be built to manufacture these aircraft in Mobile, Alabama so that they could be said to be 110 per cent Amurricun.

We here at the Dougloid Towers, of course, never believed that this would happen. Any such 'manufacturing plant' would be little more than a glorified completion center. Green aircraft ferried from the Toulouse Airbus plant would be received, painted and equipped with the requisite aerial refueling equipment and such avionics as the air force did not want the Frenchies to see.

Any resemblance to actual aircraft manufacturing would be purely cosmetic.

The Northrop/Grumman/EADS offering won the competition, but an appeal by Boeing succeeded in sending the entire mess back for regrooving.

When the revised RFP came out recently, Northrop/Grumman/EADS decided to take its dollies and dishes and go home, alleging that the contract had been written with Boeing in mind, and that their entrant could not compete on that basis.

It's probably true, too. Recasting the RFP with an eye toward mission utility demanded it. Granted the Airbus offering would have more cargo space and accommodations for passengers and the like, but that's not really what is needed or wanted when you already have enough in the way of freight haulers anyway-as the air force does.

And of course, there's the issue of cost and escalation. Anyone buying anything from Airbus these days pretty well knows that the sticker price is treated as a point of departure for further negotiations rather than a firm statement of "Yes. This is what it costs and this is what you will pay the cashier. Thank you."

I'm quite sure that that thought has occurred to the Germans as they get ready to take a shower-a bath, really- on the A400M program.

On the other hand, the Germans always wanted to be wearing the financial pants in Europe. Truth be told, they've always sort of had that ambition if the last century was any indication. Many and varied were the pitches for a European economic zone with-you guessed it-Berlin as the center of it all. They came right out and said so between the pages of Signal, which was Germany's version of Yank magazine. The footsloggers on the Eastern front probably didn't pay too much attention to all that-survival and all that, y'know-but the idea's been kicking around Berlin for a while now.

Well. You can't complain too much about getting what you wished for. But nevermind.

At the present, there are dark mutterings in Europe of protectionism and unfair lobbying advantage in Washington, and much of this swamp gas is emanating from-you guessed it-Airbus 'spokespeople'.

The grousing continues unabated, viz: 'a scandalous, unacceptable act', 'regrettable' and so on.

This hypocrisy has been ably documented by the fine folks at Der Spiegel, which also notes that Europe has been more or less guilty of the same things in its defense contracting-in particular, in the field of military aircraft procurement, most notably the A400M debacle.

Fancy that.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Men Running Amok

When I was a small boy, I had a neighbor who'd been a jar-head in the Phillipines before the second world war. One time Mother was having coffee with Louie and his wife and I tagged along.

Louie looked at me and said "C'mere, kid. Let me show you something." He reached into a footlocker doing duty as a coffee table, pulled out a wicked looking knife with a heavy blade, and said "This is a real machete, the kind that village blacksmiths would make out of a leaf spring from a Ford. I took it off a Phillipine rebel who'd been laid out. Y'know, these fellows would run amok as they call it. They'd go crazy and start whacking anyone and everyone with their machetes, and it'd take several of Uncle's best .45 rounds to get their attention-nothing of lesser caliber would do the job like a big assed slug of .45 caliber lead."

The phrase stuck with me, and there it sat until I thought about it a few moments ago on my way out the door to retrieve my phone from the Ford Ranger.

A little Googling produced the following from the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1911 on the subject of amok:

A Malay will suddenly and apparently without reason rush into the street armed with a kris or other weapons, and slash and cut at everybody he meets till he is killed. These frenzies were formerly regarded as due to sudden insanity. It is now, however, certain that the typical amok is the result of circumstances, such as domestic jealousy or gambling losses, which render a Malay desperate and weary of his life. It is, in fact, the Malay equivalent of suicide.

The reason this came to mind was the breaking news story of one John Patrick Bedell, who approached the Pentagon yesterday and, when asked to show identification, pulled out a pistol and opened fire. He didn't get far, and was cut down in a hail of bullets.

What of this Bedell fellow? It seems he was a computer programmer from California and a physics graduate of U.C. Santa Cruz who had an interest in smoking pot, right wing conspiracy theories, and cooking up something he called "information currency", although a gander at the youtube video he posted on the subject is a pedantic migraine producer.

"B-b-but Sparky!" you say, "w-w-where's this all going?"

Simple. This week it was Bedell. Last week it was Joe Stack, a right wing fantasist computer engineer crashing his airplane into an IRS building in Texas over some fancied tax avoider freeman type grievance. Also last week was the case of Ricky Ray Liles, that wild and crazy California gun crank who shot two police officers attempting to serve a search warrant to death and then blew his brains out.

Three white men, running amok, in the space of a few days? Clearly that's what happened.

As Joe Leaphorn, Tony Hillerman's fictional Navajo detective opined, if you believe in coincidence you're not looking carefully enough.

There is a common theme here, and it's right wing teabagger Koolaid in large economy size packages that's getting swigged. I keep coming back to one of Grassley's town meeting teabagger rantfests and some old guy got up and said "Well, the only thing to do is get a gun and go to Washington."

Loose talk, perhaps? Maybe, but the fact that a person's so disconnected as to be willing to get up in public and say such a thing speaks volumes about the madness that's taking hold in the National Lower Intestinal Tract teabagger movement.

It's a stunning reprise of the recently released George Romero inspired flick "The Crazies".