This Turkey Can Fly, Sort of

January 17th, 2017

The F-35 fighter program is in trouble. The plane is a turkey. Although it can fly, it has a host of problems and the program is billions of dollars over budget. I can only hope that the Canadian government comes to its senses and cancels Canada’s participation in the program.

The operational performance of the aircraft is a complete joke. The plane’s “objectionable or unacceptable flying qualities” while breaking the sound barrier are just some of the many flaws plaguing the aircraft including overheating problems and cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could lead to compromises of F-35 data.

The most telling sign in the Pentagon’s report is that the agency admits to ignoring many of the upcoming development tests, instead shifting focus to the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOTE) process that begins in August. By rushing through the development tests, the agency will place more emphasis on the operational testing process, which could end up causing even longer delays.

Russia’s American Coup

January 16th, 2017

This Maclean’s column sums things up neatly. For my US readers, Maclean’s is a Canadian newsmagazine, equivalent to Time or Newsweek.

Some of the most important moments in history happen fast, like a flash of lightning. A tank crosses a border or a prince is assassinated and everyone knows the world has changed, even before the sound of thunder rolls over them.

Other epochal shifts are more subtle and incremental. In 18th-century England, very few people would have known what a Spinning Jenny was, and fewer still would recognize what the automation of weaving meant for the world.

For the last two years we have been living through one of those less obvious historic transformations. It didn’t happen all at once, it’s still not over, and even now we can’t say how deep or far it will go. But it happened, moment by moment, until we woke up in a cold day in December and realized that Moscow had effectively installed the next president of the United States.

A Path Best Not Taken

January 14th, 2017

A friend has taken several walking vacations in Britain – I think she has actually walked across the island from east to west, although not all at once. I came across this article and sent her the link, with the suggestion that it’s probably best avoided. I’ve always wanted to visit the south coast of England, but I think I’d stay off the Broomway.

The Broomway

The Long View

January 12th, 2017

I’ve been a fan of Edward Burtynsky’s epic landscape photography for some time and have seen a couple of major exhibitions of his work, the latest at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg, astutely paired with an exhibition of Ansel Adams’ landscapes. Burtynsky is one of the most accomplished and important photographers of our era and the New Yorker has a profile of him that goes into depth on his career and how he works.

Like Watkins, Burtynsky has built a reputation on ambitious projects that double as tests of stamina. “Oil,” a six-pound book published in 2009, contains a decade’s worth of work, exploring the effect of crude upon the earth. He started his most recent project, “Water,” in 2008, and it took five years, and travel to ten countries, to finish. Burtynsky shot mesmerizing vistas of mountain reservoirs, desiccated lakes, agriculture, and suburban sprawl. He also joined with the filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal to co-direct “Watermark,” a documentary that combines his stills from the series with cinematography. “I see myself as a filmmaker in training,” he told me. The storytelling in “Watermark” is low in exposition and high in visual splendor. In one shot, the frame is filled with the body of a worker; as the camera pulls back, we see that he is facing Xiluodu Dam, on the Yangtze River—one of the world’s tallest dams. Over the course of a minute, the shot subverts our sense of scale. As Burtynsky put it, “That thing just keeps getting bigger, and the guy is just diminishing and diminishing.” The scene ends in a terrifying panorama of engineering that reduces the sole visible person to insignificance.

Such imagery can be potent, but it can also attract criticism. Paul Roth, who curated “Oil” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, told me, “There have always been people suspicious of Ed: ‘Is everything going on in the world really fodder for your aesthetic?’ ” Where Burtynsky’s epic industrial landscapes are least successful, they convey beauty and immensity without being intellectually engaging. “They run the risk of becoming mere pretty pictures,” Artforum noted in 2002, citing a series he once made of shipping containers stacked, like colorful blocks, in a shipyard. Over the years, greater skepticism has been voiced about what is, arguably, a less problematic issue: Burtynsky’s inclination to depict toxic landscapes in visually arresting terms. A critic responding to “Oil” wondered whether the fusing of beauty with monumentalism, of extreme photographic detachment with extreme ecological damage, could trigger only apathy as a response. Paul Roth had a different view: “Maybe these people are a bit immune to the sublime—being terribly anxious while also being attracted to the beauty of an image.”

In fact, throughout his career, Burtynsky has used his camera to create painterly abstractions as often as he has to create sublime imagery. While working on “Water,” he wrestled with the sprawling and complex nature of the subject, and found himself seeking higher and higher vantage points. In India, he used a hydraulic pole to shoot an overhead view of a religious festival on the Ganges that attracts tens of millions of people. Eventually, he left the ground entirely, using helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes. As he drifted upward, his images became flatter, stranger: visual puzzles.

When SpaceX Made History

January 11th, 2017

It’s been about a year since SpaceX successfully landed it’s first stage booster back at Cape Canaveral. As part of it’s TV series, Mars, National Geographic has created this short video covering the launch and landing. Even if you’ve already seen the landing video (and who reading this hasn’t?) this is worth watching  because it follows Elon Musk. The coolest part is probably seeing what seems like the entire SpaceX staff lose it when the landing occurs.

Reading News in the Age of Trump

January 10th, 2017

In critical times, critical thinking becomes more important and part of that is reading critically and trying to understand the accuracy of what you’re reading. This is especially true with the rise of social media as a primary source of news. On Reuters, Peter Van Buren offers some advice on how avoid being taken in by rumours, false news, and slanted articles.

Another test you can apply is if the information being handed over fits the “is the juice worth the squeeze” test of credibility. For example, a source claims Candidate X had a police officer beaten up after she ticketed his car. Would a candidate really risk headline news that he ordered a beating of a cop just to retaliate for a minor traffic ticket? Careful readers also have to ask themselves whether they want to believe such a thing badly enough to overlook its improbability.

Similarly, is what you are reading consistent with other information on the subject? Does the new info track known facts, what intelligence officers call expectability? Overall, the further away from expectability a story stretches, the more obligation to be skeptical. While anything can have a potential explanation, falling back on “it might be true” or “you can’t prove it’s not true” are typical enablers of bogus news, or misleading and inaccurate reporting.