It’s Episode 24 of Trifecta Extra.
George Michael had a rough time of it in the 90′s and much of the Naughts, seemingly trying to kill himself with booze and drugs and anonymous sex. Like Gerry Rafferty before him, it seems he really wasn’t cut out for fame.
He and Wham! partner Andrew Ridgely hit the Britpop music scene in the early ’80s, tailor made for the video age — two good-looking white singers ripping off Motown, and ripping it off well. It’s difficult to imagine now how genuinely excited people were in 1987 for Michael’s debut solo effort, Faith, given how little music Wham! had actually produced. But it was a huge success, generating 25,000,000 worldwide sales and six Top 40 hits.
Production of his followup album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 is where the trouble began.
Michael had had enough of being the pretty poster boy, and refused to allow his face ([snark]or even his rear end from the “Faith” video[/snark]) on the cover. Instead he opted for Weegee’s 1940 photograph, “Crowd at Coney.” He even refused to appear in most of the videos. The album’s biggest hit was “Freedom! ’90,” the lyric of which was Michael’s declaration of independence from MTV, from his record label executives, and a plea to his fans to be grownups. Listen Without Prejudice was considered something of a commercial failure, selling “only” two million copies in the US and eight million worldwide. It would be six years before he released another studio album of new material.
Artistically though Listen was Mission Accomplished as Michael worked on improving his songwriting and orchestration skills. Tonight’s pick, “Cowboys And Angels,” is proof that he achieved both of his goals, with what is easily my favorite single of his.
He could put out an album of this kind of material once a year, every year, and I’d be a happy buyer of each and every one.
Apparently the West Wing is in “meltdown” over Bibi Netanyahu. Noah Rothman explains:
Speaking to the center-left Israeli newspaper, one unnamed source said that congressional Republicans’ decision to invite Netanyahu to speak before an upcoming joint session was an affront to the dignity of the administration. When Netanyahu travels to the United States in March, he will not have the privilege of meeting with either President Barack Obama or Vice President Joe Biden. They will have their revenge against Netanyahu by completely yielding to him control of the national stage. That ought to show him.
According to Haaretz, one official says they have more ammunition to deploy against the leader of one of America’s strongest allies, and they intend to use it.
“We thought we’ve seen everything,” a senior American official said. “But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” [emphasis added]
Someone in the White House has been watching far too many episodes of House of Cards and thought that the casual casting about of petty and impotent threats makes the issuer seem tough and appear in command. In fact, it just sounds juvenile.
We’ve seen lots of juvenile statements from this Administration, perhaps starting with “I won” almost exactly six years ago. The rest of the White House has followed Ditherton Wiggleroom’s less-than-sterling example.
Colorado voters spoke, but our governor wishes he didn’t have to listen:
“If I could’ve waved a wand the day after the election, I would’ve reversed the election and said, ‘This was a bad idea,’ ” Hickenlooper said Friday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
“You don’t want to be the first person to do something like this,” he said.
He said that he tells other governors to “wait a couple of years” before legalizing marijuana as Colorado continues to navigate an unknown, nonexisting federal regulatory landscape for the industry.
“There’s a whole regulatory environment … that really regulates alcohol,” he said. “We’re starting from scratch, and we don’t have a federal partner because [marijuana] is still illegal federally.”
We’re supposed to be a laboratory of democracy, Mr. Governor, and not a mere satrap of Washington. I’d apologize for the inconvenience, but why don’t you try earning your paycheck instead?
The truth, it is revolting.
Another piece of Ukraine for Russia, perhaps:
The Ukrainian army retreated Thursday from key strongholds at the Donetsk airport, an epicenter of fighting in the country’s conflict-battered eastern region, handing a symbolic victory to pro-Russian rebels amid a surge of violence that threatens to further unravel peace efforts.
Tensions in Ukraine have escalated since the start of the new year to levels that NATO’s top commander said he has not seen since summer, before government troops and pro-Russian rebels signed a cease-fire agreement — an accord rendered ineffective by the recent surge in violence.
Is it just me, or does the news coming out of Ukraine (and Yemen, and Iraq, and Iran, and elsewhere) not quite jibe with the President’s State of the Union claims from just the other night?
From Andrew Metrick at warontherocks.com:
Revolutionary technologies, such as the machine gun, aircraft carrier, and stealth, are characterized by large increases in performance per unit cost – gains so great they shift established paradigms. Yet, their revolutionary characteristics are ultimately transitory. The hard truth is that stealth, the cornerstone of American airpower, has entered the evolutionary phase of its development. Evolutionary technologies, which revolutionary technologies eventually become, are characterized by small increases in performance per unit cost. (For more, see Michael Horowitz’s The Diffusion of Military Power and Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma). In fact, evolutionary technologies demonstrate diminishing returns along the investment curve. In the case of stealth, the initial generation of aircraft represented a massive performance increase over existing, non-stealth platforms. However, as the technology matured, continued investment began to see decreasing performance gains and therefore advantage per unit cost.
This declining return on investment is accelerated by the emergence of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) networks creating lethal, sensor-fused operating environments that dramatically raise the threat faced by aircraft.
There’s an age-old technological battle between thicker armor and more powerful weapons to defeat it — and eventually the more powerful weapons always get the upper hand. Think of European knights of the Middle Ages. Armor kept getting thicker and more cumbersome, until the knights could barely move or effectively wield their increasingly massive swords. They required teams to get them into their armor and mounted on their massive Clydesdale horses. Then the crossbow came along, which most anyone could use, and obviated nearly all of it.
At that point, mobility became the prime battlefield advantage, and steel armor was lightened and reduced to cover just the head, chest, and back.
Something similar has happened to the Main Battle Tank (MBT) which evolved after the Light and Heavy and Really Super Heavy tanks of WWII. The ultimate MBT is arguably the United States Army’s M1-A3 Abrams, an evolution of 1979′s M1. The thing is massive, weighing in at over 70 tons, and there’s really no practical way to make it any bigger or give it any thicker or more effective armor. The things are so expensive we’ve only built 9,000 of all M1 varieties in the last 30 years, compared to almost 50,000 M4 Shermans we built during the three-and-a-half years we fought in WWII.
The tank as we knew it — the ultimate armor-vs-armor weapon — is at an evolutionary dead end, and improving man-portable antitank weapons will bring its ultimate survivability into question. What keeps it relevant on today’s battlefield is computer network enhancements, making the tank into almost a mere cog in the information-aware battlespace of the 21st Century.
But please note that the Army hasn’t done any truly serious work on replacing the M1. It’s just that good — and at just that much of a dead end. It’s about as up-armored as anything can get and still move, and so most future enhancements will be further networking improvements. When/if the Abrams does meet its replacement, that new tank is likely to be smaller and lighter, instead of larger and heavier. The next tank, if we build it, will probably serve as the manned, networked hub of even smaller robotic weapon systems, which might use AI to control their own miniature drones, for a near-perfect picture of the battlespace, and the ability to direct lethal firepower on it almost instantly — all with little risk to our soldiers.
Something similar is happening in the skies to fighters and bombers. As I wrote here previously, stealth is like “safety” in the automobile business — it’s a feature that must be baked in by the manufacturer right from the concept stage, or there’s no market for the product. Within a human generation or two, every fighter and bomber built, even by technological laggards like China, will enjoy a serious degree of stealth. And every detection system built will, although perhaps with some struggle, be able to defeat it. Stealth is the armor, detection is the warhead — and it’s a battle stealth must ultimately lose.
So what’s the solution for future jets and bombers needing to reach their targets? I think the answer will be much the same as it was after the introduction of the crossbow: Mobility.
For air forces, that means an initial strike capability of hypersonic missiles, or more accurately kinetic kill vehicles, capable of overwhelming enemy detection systems with little or no warning. Only then would stealthy jets be sent in to do their work, although its likely that the “sixth generation” aircraft designs will be completely (or perhaps just optionally) unmanned. Initial studies of a potential “B-3″ bomber indicate the Air Force will compromise on smaller size, lighter payload, longer reach — and a cockpit where the human pilot might never have enter.
Stealth isn’t going away, and it isn’t even really in decline. But it will eventually take a backseat to newer ways of protecting our Air Force and keeping it lethal.
UPDATE: It took until after my third cup of coffee to realize that exothermic hypervelocity kinetic kill vehicles should be thought of, and eventually given the official name, “Wild Weasels from Outer Space!”
Which would also make an excellent name for a totally ironic New Wave revival band.
“Begin collapsing” is what Conway Mackenzie Inc says will happen to American oil drillers next quarter:
Companies that drill wells and manage fields on behalf of oil producers will be the first to fall after the benchmark American crude, West Texas Intermediate, lost 55 percent of its value in seven months, said John T. Young, whose firm led the city of Detroit through its 2013 bankruptcy.
Oil companies have slashed thousands of jobs, delayed billions of dollars in projects and dropped or scaled back expansion plans in response to the prolonged rout in crude prices. For oilfield service providers that test wells and line the holes with steel and cement, the impact of price reductions forced upon them by explorers will start to pinch hard during the second quarter, Young said Thursday.
“The second quarter is going to be devastating for the service companies,” Young said in a telephone interview from Houston. “There are certainly companies that are going to die.”
You starting to wonder if Saudi’s real target is Obama, for his pro-Iran leanings?
Best estimate is “lots.” Read:
Expectations for the iPhone on Wall Street are high, as hardly a day goes by without another sign that Tim Cook made the right call when he decided to go after the oversized phone market that Samsung once owned.
On Wednesday, for example, Counterpoint Research reported that Apple’s market share in November grew to 12% in China, 51% in Japan and 33% in Korea — Samsung’s home turf.
“No foreign brand has gone beyond the 20% market share mark in the history of Korea’s smartphone industry,” said Counterpoint’s Tom Kang in the company blog.
So it really is true that everybody loves the big phones other than me. But not once when I was slipping my phone into my pocket did I think, “You know what? This could be bigger, maybe even lots bigger.” And don’t get me started on phablets, which seem like either buying a Subaru Brat when you need a full-size pickup truck, or like strapping a grandfather clock on your wrist to tell the time.
What’s the appeal of these beasts?
A black man who was found guilty of murdering two white teenagers execution-style in a vacant Detroit field defiantly declared “black lives matter” Wednesday before being sentenced to life in prison.
Fredrick Young and Felando Hunter were sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole for robbing, torturing and murdering Jourdan Bobbish and Jacob Kudla, who had met up with them in July 2012 to buy drugs, a local Fox affiliate reported.
Young shocked the courtroom when he was given the chance to address the victims’ families, but instead apologized to the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
“I’d like to say sorry to the families of Aiyanna Jones, Michael Brown, Eric Garner,” he said. “And I want to apologize to them for not being able to get justice for their loved ones who was murdered in cold blood.
“And in respect for the peaceful protest, I want to say ‘hands up don’t shoot,’” he said, raising his hands in the air. “Black lives matter — that’s it your honor.”
Young’s life mattered — until he chose to become a killer.
Tyler Durden reports that as oil prices are plunging, jobless claims are spiking — mostly in big energy-producing states like Texas, North Dakota, and Colorado:
Not “unambiguously good” as Shale states see initial jobless claims spiking. Overall initial jobless claims missed expectations for the 4th week in a row, holding above 300k for the 3d week in a row (for the first time since July). At 307k, this week’s print is below last week’s but well above the 300k expectation. However, across TX, CO, ND, PA, and WV, initial claims (1 week lagged) rose to over 75k (from 30k in October)… “crisis has passed”?
Losses like these are supposed to come out in the wash, as money that had been going to the shale oil fields gets redirected to consumer spending. But we’re in uncharted waters here, as energy jobs are some of the few high-paying blue collar jobs left in this country.
I get the feeling the money we save at the pump will be going to buy cheap Chinese crap directly, instead of first going through the hands of an oil worker in North Dakota, but we’ll see.
I’m sure there’s more than one Rolling Stone reviewer jealous of the latest prerogative claimed by ISIL:
According to Daily Mail the musicians’ instruments were confiscated in a raid in the town of Bujaq. The instruments were deemed offensive to ISIS’s fundamentalist intepretation of Islamic law, and they were beaten in a public square with a wooden rod.
However, the musicians got off better than some of their countrymen who have been found guilty of offenses no less innocuous. The incident is the latest in a rash of reported ISIS executions and brutal beatings in recent months over supposed crimes against Islam.
But let us not insult these frustrated music critics because that would be wrong.
I don’t recall hearing anything about this in the State of the Union:
Not long after British Prime Minister David Cameron did the same, President Obama said Friday that he opposes encryption methods that are inaccessible to law enforcement. Rather naively, he advocated that the technology should still exist, but with methods of access for approved entities like police and preferred spy agencies. This is his first clear issue stance on the matter, though it is not necessarily out of step with his previous actions and statements.
Of course, cybersecurity experts collectively groaned at the President’s suggestion of strong encryption that is only accessible to authorities. Taking for granted that law enforcement can be trusted – and, of course, Edward Snowden and countless others have shown us it cannot – there are a host of problems. The basic one is this: if someone other than the person doing the encryption can decrypt the information, then lots of people can do it too.
I question the author’s use of the word “naively.” Obama knows exactly what he’s doing.
Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney plan to meet in Utah this week, as both men consider launching a Republican presidential run.
Fox News has confirmed the private meeting, first reported by The New York Times. The sit-down apparently had been planned before Romney took the surprise step two weeks ago of telling donors he was considering a 2016 bid.
Whether the meeting will be a symbolic gesture — or a chance for the heavyweight Republican figures to try and avoid a bitter clash on the campaign trail — remains to be seen.
I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit.
It’s the only way to be sure.
George Lucas told Cinema Blend in an interview posted yesterday that when he sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, along with the company came some of his ideas for a new Star Wars trilogy. But it sounds like none of them will be part of the new Star Wars universe of movies that Disney will roll out beginning with the seventh installment, the JJ Abrams-directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is set to hit theaters December 18.
When Cinema Blend asked about some of those ideas, he responded: “Well, the ones that I sold to Disney and everything, they came up to the decision that they didn’t really want to do those. So they made up their own. It’s not the ones that I originally wrote.”
That’s what Allum Bokhari sees coming:
The coalition of moderate liberals, sceptical intellectuals, and radical progressives that once stood together against the conservative “moral majority” is beginning to fracture. In the absence of a compelling external opponent, the internal tensions of this coalition are becoming more visible. While it is too soon to say if the revolution is about to consume itself, a number of serious divisions have emerged on the cultural left. And they are becoming increasingly bitter.
Read the whole thing, which includes some necessary and interesting political and cultural history.
But there is one thing Bokhari neglected to mention.
The Democrats of the ’70 to the mid-2000s were a fractured and squabbling bunch, fighting one another over a shrinking pie as the New Deal coalition died off or started splitting the ticket for GOP candidates. But Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy changed all that.
Dean’s Democratic strategy was predicated on three simple ideas:
• We’ll run anybody
• We’ll support everything
• We’ll spend all the money (until it runs out)
The money was the key. Money, especially other people’s money, can paper over a lot of differences.
This was never meant to be a strategy for the long term — Dean just needed enough Democrats on Capitol Hill to pass a bunch of previously unpassable legislation. He also needed a Democrat in the White House to sign it all, and in Barack Obama he got the perfect candidate — with enough contempt for the Constitution, for traditions, and even for political niceties to bring it all together.
But the GOP was given control of the House, effectively derailing the gravy train, which needed constant acceleration to please all the different demands of the Democrats’ various constituencies.
Another, perhaps unintended, result is that the Democrats got the GOP to act like the Democrats of old, squabbling with each other over every little thing. Even if the Democrats do end up in a civil war, as Bokhari thinks, there’s no guarantee that the Republicans will get their act back together.
Joel Zinberg, M.D. reports:
A New York Times/CBS national poll indicates that the ACA has made care less affordable and less accessible. “Nearly half of respondents described the affordability of basic medical care as a hardship for them and their family, up 10 points from a year ago.” More than half said out of pocket expenses had gone up and a third said expenses had “gone up a lot.” A quarter reported care has become so expensive that they are less likely to see a doctor than in the past.
The cost and access issues may explode this spring when King v. Burwell, challenging the provision of ACA subsidies to buy insurance on both the federal and state exchanges, is decided. Only 14 states have established insurance exchanges; 5.4 million citizens of the remaining states obtain insurance through the federal exchange and most receive subsidies. If the Supreme Court finds that the law only allows subsidies on state exchanges, federal exchange enrollees will lose their subsidies and likely their insurance and healthcare access.
By prescribing a generous “essential health benefits” package that many patients neither want nor need, the ACA has increased families’ premiums and out of pocket costs and forced them into narrow provider networks.
But then we have this item from yesterday:
UnitedHealth (UNH) shares were higher in pre-market trading. The largest U.S. health insurer reported earnings and revenue that topped Wall Street views. Revenue rose more than 7% from a year earlier as it benefited from higher premiums and it saw strong sales across all its divisions.
Insurance companies put up a united front to fight HillaryCare 20 years ago, because it was going to put them out of business. ♡bamaCare!!! promised them a captive audience (via the individual mandate) of Cadillac plans (Gold, Silver, Bronze) with the above mentioned higher out-of-pocket costs. Even better, ♡bamaCare!!!’s insurance regulatory scheme permanently protects the established players from any future disruptive innovators.
Needless to say, they’re pretty happy with the new setup.
But do go back and read Zinberg’s whole piece, which also details the new problems faced by Medicaid enrollees.
Details, if you can bear them:
File this under “This Isn’t a Real Headline, Right?” because democratically elected Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Crazytown, is again making waves. When last we left Grayson, he was accusing his soon-to-be-ex wife of bigamy after 24 years of maybe-wedded bliss, as couples do (this after Lolita Grayson accused him of domestic violence, then recanted). But as the bigamy case was headed tomorrow to trial, Alan Grayson was denied his day in court—and of course it was not by an act of God or scheduling conflicts, but rather Lolita Grayson’s leaking breast implants.
As the AP reports, Lolita Grayson went to get checked out for chest pains, only to be told her implants were leaking and needed to be removed along with scar tissue.
Poor thing. First she spends her best years married to Alan Grayson, and now this?
In an announcement on Tuesday night (well, Wednesday morning in Australia), Australian mining giant BHP said it would shut down 40% of its US shale oil rigs over by the end of its fiscal year.
BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie said:
“In Petroleum, we have moved quickly in response to lower prices and will reduce the number of rigs we operate in our Onshore US business by approximately 40 per cent by the end of this financial year. The revised drilling program will benefit from significant improvements in drilling and completions efficiency. Our ongoing shale investment program will remain focused on our liquids-rich Black Hawk acreage. However, we will keep this activity under review and make further changes if we believe deferring development will create more value than near-term production.”
The good news of course, is that the oil will still be there when we need it. The bad news, as discussed here before, is that we find ourselves in the banana republic position where low oil prices could just prove to be a net drag on the economy as a whole.
But I’m loving the prices at the pump.
Last night, ♡bamaCare!!! was the dog that didn’t bark:
“More of our people are insured than ever before,” Mr. Obama told Congress in the opening lines of his State of the Union address.
Mr. Obama alluded to his signature health law of 2010 — a landmark overhaul that’s resulted in years of political friction and three high-profile cases before the Supreme Court — in quick snippets Tuesday night, packaging it as one bullet point in a broader agenda for the middle class.
If Congress tries to touch the Affordable Care Act or other achievements, he said, it will earn his veto.
“In the past year alone, about 10 million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage,” he said early on, garnering applause from half of the chamber.
And that’s all he had to say about that. No promises to fix his broken promises about keeping your plan or your doctor. No talk about fixing the ruinous medical device tax. Just a boast that wildly expanding Medicaid, and mandating & subsidizing coverage, still only covered 1 in 5 or so of the previously uninsured — with crappy, narrow-network, high-deductible plans.
Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have bragged much, either.
Were you aware that Iran cancelled its space program last week? Did you even remember Iran had a space program? War is Boring has a nice writeup of Iran’s troubled launches, but the real lede got buried way deep in the story:
Iran also suffers from a massive brain-drain, with many of its young scientists leaving the country to work in the West. On Jan. 12, the head of Iran’s industrial Basij—the militia overseeing moral purity in research centers and industries—complained that two of Iran’s space scientists had fled to Brazil.
Science is not going to flourish when you have a “militia overseeing moral purity in research centers.”
Low oil prices knocked the wind out of Vladimir Putin’s grand strategy, so Austin Bay ponders what’s next for the Russian strongman:
According to the AP, this week (Jan. 20), Iran and Russia signed “an agreement to expand military cooperation.” Iran and Russia are old antagonists, but given current circumstances vis a vis the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Tehran and Moscow may be following an old Machiavellian adage: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The deal includes counter-terror cooperation, military training and “enabling each country’s navy to use the other’s ports more frequently.”
For years Iran has sought Russian air defense weapons, presumably to thwart a U.S. strike on its nuclear facilities. However, the agreement’s naval port clause attracts my interest. About a third of the globe’s exported oil moves on tankers through the Persian Gulf’s Indian Ocean outlet, the Strait of Hormuz. To spike oil prices, Iran often threatens to close Hormuz. If Iran actually tried to shut the Strait, Western nations have assured Gulf Arab oil producers that they will respond militarily.
Here’s a discomfiting speculation. Putin could complicate a Western response by suggesting Russian warships will defend Iranian ports against all “aggressors.”
Here’s a darker speculation cast as a question. Would a desperate strategist encourage Iran to fight a proxy war against Saudi Arabia or a smaller Gulf Arab producer?
That would certainly send oil prices back up towards, or even past, $100 a barrel.
…and why the American Left is in such a frothy tizzy over American Sniper.
I’m just going to admit right now that Wednesday’s blogging will begin late, and suck early.
In other words, it took a LOT of cocktails to get through SOTU, and I hope you understand.
The sands continue to shift in favor of the Assad regime, as the White House quietly acquiesces to keeping Bashar in power:
Now, the United States and other Western countries have publicly welcomed initiatives — one from the United Nations and one from Russia — that postpone any revival of the United States-backed Geneva framework, which called for a wholesale transfer of power to a “transitional governing body.” The last Geneva talks failed a year ago amid vehement disagreement over whether that body could include Mr. Assad.
One of the new concepts is a United Nations proposal to “freeze” the fighting on the ground, first in the strategic crossroads city of Aleppo. The other is an initiative from Russia, Mr. Assad’s most powerful supporter, to try to spur talks between the warring sides in Moscow in late January. Diplomats and others briefed on the plans say one Russian vision is of power-sharing between Mr. Assad’s government and some opposition figures, and perhaps parliamentary elections that would precede any change in the presidency.
I warned a year and a half ago that the US was becoming the effective guarantor of the Assad regime, and here we are.