Friday, June 29, 2012

The Army Corrects Its Camouflage, and Musings on Mimetics (Update)

I have always had a certain professional interest in camouflage (not so direct since I retired, but I have progeny who still rely on it), and I have been through and seen a number of variations during my previous military career, both in the American services and in the variety of foreign countries I have worked with as well.  So my interest was piqued when I saw that the US Army (the vocation of two of my sons) is finally looking for a replacement system of field camouflage uniforms and associated gear.  Part of the story comes with the admission that the Army royally screwed up the process in selecting the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) for the current Army Combat Uniform (ACU).

Not so effective

Does this really come as a surprise to anyone?  This story on the subject quotes a regular grunt who doubtlessly speaks for us all:
Essentially, the Army designed a universal uniform that universally failed in every environment.  The only time I have ever seen it work well was in a gravel pit.... As a cavalry scout, it is my job to stay hidden.  Wearing a uniform that stands out this badly makes it hard to do our job effectively.  If we can see our own guys across a distance because of it, then so can our enemy.
'Universal' Camouflage Pattern

There is a process for working out these details, but that was waylaid by up-the-chain apparatchiki and arm-chair experts who rushed a supposedly universal camouflage on to the soldiers who had to actually rely on it, wasting some $5 billion on the uniforms and gear.  It was clear from the outset that this pattern, which was supposed to be effective in all climes and places, was targeted primarily at cost savings, not combat effectiveness.  Having to produce only one uniform, not to mention the cost of all the associated web gear and load-bearing equipment, was far less expensive than producing several matching sets that would be more applicable to forests, jungles, deserts and mountain areas.  The one-word explanation for that sort of thinking – if it were actually sincere, and given the technology of the time – is ‘chimerical’, but more on that later.

[Note, May 2014: If you wish to cut to the chase, the Army is finally closing in on a replacement pattern.]

To better understand the problem, first some background.  Our first use of camouflage started in 1942 for limited use, primarily by US Marines fighting against the Japanese in the Pacific.  There were two versions, ‘brown’ and ‘green’, but the issuance of uniforms never really made it into full production before the end of the war.  In a static position, it worked fairly well, but some officers evaluating its use complained that the utility broke down when troops were in motion.  The pattern was introduced briefly into the European theatre by way of the 2nd Armored Division, but was quickly withdrawn due to its dangerous similarity to the designs used by some Wehrmacht units.

US field uniforms reverted to olive drab for some time thereafter, but the general ‘leopard spot’ design, as it came to be known, survived into the 1970s with our reversible helmet covers, giving the Marines endless complaints about the inevitable ‘green side out/brown side out’ mixed signals – requiring that everyone disassemble their helmets to turn the cloth cover over, then reassemble the helmet – that would always come down the chain of command, depending on the level of command (and sometimes from the same headquarters), prior to an amphibious exercise or operation.  As a platoon commander, I quickly developed a determination to ignore all such directives in favor of keeping the green side out until about 30 minutes before launch, and I was never aware of any end result being in favor of the brown, even in areas where there was no green whatsoever (such as the Spanish exercise area near Carboneras).

 US Woodland

One of the major tactical principles for a soldier is that he should always be improving his concealment, and that applies no less to armies as well.  The US military had relied on the basic Woodland camouflage pattern of dark green, brown, light tan, and black since the early 1980s, based on a greener version that was in limited use during Viet Nam, referred to officially as 'ERDL' for its developer, Engineer Research & Development Laboratories, but generally called 'jungle cammies'.  This supplanted the general olive drab 'fatigues' (for the Army) or the identical 'utilities' (Marines) that had existed in minor variations since the 1930s.  The woodland pattern sufficed because of the focus in the 1970s and 1980s on jungle warfare (though waning) and possible warfare in Europe against the Soviets or in Korea, arguably rather similar areas geographically.

ERDL pattern, or 'jungle cammies'

It did occur to some that there existed the possibility of fighting elsewhere (it certainly did to me), so I was glad to find myself at a point in the 1970s – a Marine platoon commander with my platoon – doing long range desert training at the Marine combat training center at Twentynine Palms, California.  Our arrival there was coincident with an experiment in desert camouflage, and as we were about to move into the outback, we were shuffled into a classroom and addressed by a small group (I don’t recollect who they were) to the effect that we were to also do a trial for a set of desert field uniforms.  (Nothing secret or special – like so many situations like this, we just happened to be the troops available when these guys showed up.)  They then handed out utilities (trousers, jacket and boonie hats) that were identical to the ones worn in Viet Nam, except that they were what these gentlemen called ‘light tan’.  We immediately pointed out that they appeared to have a definite pink cast to them.  They hesitated a moment and then agreed that yes, they were pink to some extent, and asked if that were a problem.  A few glances and non-verbal cues led me to reply that no, there wasn’t a problem at all; why did they ask?  They were apprehensive that Marines would object to the color on some quasi-cultural, anti-macho grounds, and were relieved when I told them that we were exclusively focused on what would work, not making a fashion statement.  (At some point, I told them in a friendly way that they had spent too long in college classrooms.)  The tests went well while we were engaged in our primary training mission – we were observed in various situations and at various distances, and occasionally overflown.  As Marines at that time, we were still primarily using our standard M-1941 system of olive green pistol belts, backpacks, haversacks, and the like left over from World War II, and this mixture with the pink(ish) uniform detracted from its effectiveness.  There were times when we removed most of that gear completely (as at a rally point prior to an assault), with best results.  We jointly concurred with the opinion that adding some darker mottling, though larger than the woodland design because of observation over greater distances, would be more effective.  We then turned in the uniforms before we departed.  Everyone seemed satisfied, but that was the last I ever heard of the experiment.

Incidentally, the later standard woodland Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs) were based on the design of the Viet Nam jungle fatigues.  To my mind, the BDU design was a poor imitation, more cheaply made.  Such features on the earlier jungle fatigues as the slant upper pockets of the jacket, its longer length to allow easy use of the lower pockets, the inner pocket inside the left cargo pocket on the trousers, made them superior to the later uniforms, in addition to the fact that I think they were better made.  The BDU's appearance had less to do with effectiveness than with garrison appearance, a mind-set that continues.  Complaints that I hear today about zippers (capable of breaking, difficult in muddy environment) and velcro (very noisy, less effective in sandy environment) on the uniforms would be allieviated by the buttons of the 'jungles'.

While at Twentynine Palms, I stumbled across the first desert camouflage uniform that was already packed away in the system.  This was the six-color Desert Battle Dress Uniform, which was rarely seen up until the First Gulf War.  Besides the (actual) light tan, very pale green, and two tones of brown (one rather too dark, in my opinion), it was overlaid with white-on-black facsimiles of pebbles.  (I assumed that our previous experiment involved some future upgrade to this design.)  I asked how this DBDU design came about and was told that it was based on the desert patterns found in the American Southwest.  I remember replying that if the Mexican ‘Ligera’ Infantry Brigade ever attacked us, then we’d be set, but I questioned the applicability of a standard desert design that was based on American geography if we had to fight in Morocco or Jordan, for example.  In my later career, I saw quite a variety of deserts, including those in the Empty Quarter and the Nafud, as well as the Sahara, and I came to find how incredibly short that estimate came in terms of the great variety of desert terrain that there is.

Desert Battle Dress Uniform camouflage, or 'chocolate chip'

In short order, and especially while I was later entertained as a participant in the First Gulf War when it became widely recognised, the design came to be known as the 'Chocolate Chip' Desert Pattern.

The run-up to that war was intriguing in many aspects, particularly in light of the surprise of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.   Our vaunted logistics system was pushed to extremes to create and funnel the necessary supplies and equipment to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and through what turned out to be the unexpectedly short-lived time of conflict in Operation Desert Storm, supplying a much greater force than our military can field today.  Not the least of these problems involved the ‘discovery’ that our chocolate chip camouflage was insufficient to the task in that area, and that our field gear to accompany it was still almost exclusively the dark olive and woodland colors of the area around the Fulda Gap in Germany.  (As a stop-gap, I was given a chocolate-chip patterned bag with elastic around the opening, to slip over my ruck sack.)  It was during this time that we were also issued a one-of-a-kind desert night camouflage (light parka and over-pants), a two-tone dark sage and dark green checked pattern with a dark form of the pebbles of the chocolate chips superimposed.  It looked intriguing, and we thought it novel that so dark a pattern would work well in the desert at night.  The primary purpose, we were told, was to guard against what we knew of the Iraqi night vision capability.  It turned out that, although it looked cool, it was practically useless as camouflage, both in the visual and infra-red spectra.

Desert Night Camouflage (DNC)

Natick Laboratories, the source of our camouflage systems as well as so many other technologies, rushed a new design to the theatre of operations, but practically none of it was available for actual combat operations.   This new pattern consisted of only three colors (thus making it less expensive to produce): light tan, pale green and dark brown, and was called the Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) with the nickname of ‘Coffee Stain’.  I was aware of the design but didn’t see it in theatre until I was walking along the ‘Highway of Death’ (actually one of two, with casualties highly exaggerated, but that is another story) outside of Kuwait City, some few weeks after the end of hostilities, and encountered a small group of military intelligence reservists who had just arrived in theatre, engaged in digging through some ruined Iraqi military equipment.  They were dressed in the brand new DCU  coffee stain camouflage uniforms, accompanied by a couple of troops in the chocolate chip version.  I made a point after our conversation and my moving on down the road, to turn and look at them from a distance, and I was pleased to see that this new design was certainly more appropriate to the area than the old.

Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) or 'Coffee Stain'

I was also taken by the notion that the ‘light tan’ in the new design likely had the same pink hue that I encountered many years ago – that old experiment had come full circle.  There was also some question about the pale green color as well – after all this was a desert – but I couldn’t discern that it detracted from the camouflage effect.  A few years later, though, I was in the Sahara of southern Algeria and the Western (formerly Spanish) Sahara that has been in dispute between Morocco and the Polisario, as a UN observer in the MINURSO peacekeeping mission.  I traveled extensively throughout the area (probably more than any other Westerner) and occasionally encountered areas of good camel-grazing, with small tufts of pale green, almost sage colored, grass spaced about one every square meter.  When standing there looking down, they appeared sparse indeed, but looking out over an area, they gave the terrain that pale green hue, identical to the one in the DCU uniform that I was wearing by that time.

The use of the DCU carried us through our initial assaults into Afghanistan in late 2001 in response to 9/11, and Iraq in 2003 to clear out the festering remnants of the regime of Saddam Hussein.  Part of the increased energy of this counter-attack against Islamic Supremacists was poured into an update to our camouflage, and that was seen first with the introduction of the new Marine field uniform comprising the new Marine Pattern or MARPAT design, consisting of pixilated borders of colors rather than amoeba-type splotches, divided into a forest version of black, green, and a new ‘coyote brown’ (discovered by the Marine researchers checking through the Ralph Lauren selection at Home Depot), and a desert version of tans and light brown now worn by the Marines in Afghanistan.  A major part of the design included the ability to manufacture both the cloth and ink, as the cloth and printing capability had to be rather advanced to accommodate the design as well as the inherent infra-red concealment capabilities.  Little known in the US is the fact that it was the Canadians who first developed the design and technology (and who directly assisted the Americans in adapting it to our needs), incorporated into their standard Canadian Disruptive Pattern or CADPAT design, with a temperate woodland (TW) and arid region (AR) variations.  (Both the CADPAT and MARPAT designs also have an arctic variant.)

Marine Pattern (MARPAT) forest

Canadian Disruptive Pattern (CADPAT) temperate woodland (TW)

It was the introduction of the revolutionary Marine design that set the Army camo program into high gear.  Initially a design called Desert Brush had held the lead in 2004, but that was forestalled by a new Army office charged with gear procurement, the oddly-named Program Executive Office Soldier.

The defunct Desert Brush design

The word came out to take the colors in consideration at the time, pixilate them like the MARPAT design, and quickly produce the entire Army collection of ACU uniforms and gear.  As explained by Cheryl Stewardson of the Natick Army Research Center:
It got into political hands before the soldiers ever got the uniforms. . . . It was trendy.   If it’s good enough for the Marines, why shouldn’t the Army have that same cool new look?
While this answers the problem of the mismatched gear, the rush to market does partially address the universally bad choice of colors, or the fabric which tends to quickly wear out, first in the crotch.  I believe that the Army was trying to quickly introduce the updated design of the ACU, but at the expense of the unfortunate color scheme of the UCP and a less-than-adequate test of the fabric.

USAF Airman Battle Uniform

The Army wasn’t alone in this rush to the new spring collection, as it were.  The Air Force soon came out with a strange combination of the colors of the UCP but in some version of the old popular tiger stripe design from early Viet Nam, based on the French jungle design of those days.  This new Air Force design is perhaps even worse, but it feeds into the Air Force attempt to try to remind their personnel that they are warriors too.  (I witnessed an example of the Air Force Warrior Program when I visited a remote Air Force Base in the 1980s.  Martial tunes were broadcast at lunchtime as the airman walked to chow.  They told me that they felt that the sentiment was misplaced.)

Navy Work Uniform I

Even worse, though, is the Navy, with its bizarre Navy Work Uniform I (NWU I) in shades of mostly blue and some grey and black.  Why the Navy would want a camouflage uniform on ship or at naval stations is beyond the reasonable observer, and the grim joke is that it makes a sailor harder to detect when he’s fallen overboard.  The general idea, as officially explained, is to have colors that are less likely to show dirt and grime in those work environments.  At any rate, I would hope that they have provided a fire-retardant capability to the uniforms.  The issue of flame-retardant uniforms was an issue after the Kennedy/Belknap collision in 1975, but that slowly died away in favor of a better appearance with polyester uniforms, which would melt into your skin before flames became a more bothersome problem.

The Navy has announced though that it is introducing a NWU II and NWU III (or Area of Responsibility (AOR) 1 and AOR 2, just to be confusing) for operators, primarily SEALs, when down range in a combat environment.  (Other Navy personnel in Afghanistan such as EOD wear DCU for the time being.)  These are in desert and forest colors, respectively, and are somewhat similar to the MARPAT design and coloration.  (Note that authentic fabric has small subtle logos -- like the eagle, globe and anchor for the Marines, or a Navy eagle in the NWU -- printed in varying spots throughout in sort of a 'Where's Waldo?' fashion.  Civilian versions for sale to the general public do not have these, nor do they have the IR cover capability.)

Comparisons of Marine with new tactical Navy designs, with Navy shipboard and Army UCP

Other quick observations on the topic: I was at one time participating in winter training operations at Fort Drum in upstate New York, with our troops split into two opposing forces. We were issued the winter coverall trousers and the winter parkas, both solid white. There seemed to be a natural reaction to wear the parkas but to disregard the trousers. I assembled my troops and pointed out that the snow typically lies on the ground, with green trees above – we would wear the white trousers and keep to the green field jackets. All involved, particularly the opposing force, conceded that to be a far more effective method. And as for the popular Hollywood idea of ninja-like black BDUs, we quickly found that any environment dark enough for black fabric was also dark enough for any pattern. We discarded the idea of black BDUs as a fashion statement, and focused more on the additional idea of tamping down the infra-red signature of our body heat, seen through the increasingly available infra-red options on night vision devices.  (I’m not familiar about recent technology as it regards the NVDs, but we found in the late 1980s that they were less effective in the early hours of the evening due to the residual heat of the day absorbed by the surrounding environment, particularly rocks. We focused on movement during those hours when that would help mask our presence. I’ve been told that that option has been largely corrected. Members of the Taliban and al Qaeda are invited to test it.)

Infra-red view of a NWU I jacket with MARPAT forest trousers for comparison

The pace of change for the Army is accelerating.  Due to the ineffectiveness of its UCP, the Army has now equipped its troops in Afghanistan with a new Multi-cam system by Crye Precision (officially naming it the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern or OCP), incorporating seven colors that more effectively pick up and coordinate with the colors of the surrounding terrain.  I’ve seen US Air Force Pararescue personnel wearing this in training too, and it has been adopted for use by British, Australian, and Polish troops in Afghanistan.  (The Canadians will retain their CADPAT pattern, but will adjust the design of their field uniforms to incorporate some functions of the US ACU, including the mandarin collar, into their Enhanced Combat Uniform.)  This comes far closer to answering the desire for a universal camouflage, but I feel that this idea still falls far short of the mark.  It is now being adjusted to three or four varieties that enhance certain colors to better blend in with different terrains (presumably the jungle, forest, desert and mountain), with a standard color for gear that would coordinate with all the variations of uniforms.

Multicam or OCP

This is supposed to be temporary. The Army is working on the follow-on system, depending on budget, I'm sure, in its Phase IV Camouflage Improvement Effort.  That should be interesting, but I wouldn't hold my breath for that appearing anytime soon, if at all.  But be sure to look for ADS, Hyperstealth, Crye, and the name of Guy Cramer (Canadian, of course – they seem to have cornered the market) in the news on that topic.

And for the next generation?  What about this?

(Additional H/T to OC Tactical)

Update: Strike - Hold! has a similar viewpoint about the plan to update the Army field uniform.

Update: This has been a rather popular post.  I have provided a newer post which expands on thoughts on some foreign designs.

Update:  A new article (10 December 2012) about Guy Cramer of Hyperstealth on his Quantum Stealth material.

Update:  Congress attempts to make sense of our kaleidoscope of combat uniforms.

Update:  The Army seems to finally be arriving at a conclusion.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Supreme Court Rules on Arizona Immigration Law: Strikes Down Most But Upholds Key Provision (Update: Obama Administration Retaliates)

A split decision yields a split result.  One of the two major Supreme Court decisions that have been eagerly anticipated this year was handed down today – the immigration policy within Arizona’s SB 1070 law (the other, more far-reaching decision will rule on ObamaCare, coming probably this week – the Supreme Court wisely will not overwhelm the public with two such decisions in one day).  Chief Justice Roberts sided with Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Breyer.  Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas dissented.  Kagan recused herself.

There were four principle provisions or sections of that law and, as I discussed earlier, the court’s decision struck down two of the sections – 3 and 5(C) – that dealt with making it a state crime to violate federal statutes, and assigning additional procedures on aliens.  I erred in thinking that §6 would be upheld (allowing officers to stop and investigate someone on suspicion of illegal status in the US), tying it too closely with the §2(B) that was the heart of the question (that of investigating the resident status of someone in conjunction with being stopped on suspicion of another offense).  But note that §2(B) was upheld unanimously.

The decision leaves open, and frankly practically invites, further litigation of the law once the state courts begin its application.  The decision was written by Justice Kennedy, with symbolic reference to his swing-vote status.
However the law is interpreted, if §2(B) only requires state officers to conduct a status check during the course of an authorized, lawful detention or after a detainee has been released, the provision likely would survive pre-emption – at least absent some showing that it has other consequences that are adverse to federal law and its objectives….
There is a basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced.  At this stage, without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts, it would be inappropriate to assume §2(B) will be construed in a way that creates a conflict with federal law….
This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect…
The United States has established that §§3, 5(C), and 6 of S. B. 1070 are preempted.  It was improper, however, to enjoin §2(B) before the state courts had an opportunity to construe it and without some showing that enforcement of the provision in fact conflicts with federal immigration law and its objectives.
Not untypically, the dissents provide more interesting reading, particularly considering the sources.  Justice Scalia, for example:
What this case comes down to, then, is whether the Arizona law conflicts with federal immigration law – whether it excludes those whom federal law would admit, or admits those whom federal law would exclude.  It does not purport to do so.  It applies only to aliens who neither possess a privilege to be present under federal law nor have been removed pursuant to the Federal Government’s inherent authority….
The most important point is that, as we have discussed, Arizona is entitled to have “its own immigration policy” – including a more rigorous enforcement policy – so long as that does not conflict with federal law.  The Court says, as though the point is utterly dispositive, that “it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States,” ante, at 15.  It is not a federal crime, to be sure.  But there is no reason Arizona cannot make it a state crime for a removable alien (or any illegal alien, for that matter) to remain present in Arizona….
The President said at a news conference that the new program is ‘the right thing to do’ in light of Congress’s failure to pass the Administration’s proposed revision of the Immigration Act.  Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so.  But to say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.

The Court opinion’s looming specter of inutterable horror – ‘[i]f §3 of the Arizona statute were valid, every State could give itself independent authority to prosecute federal registration violations,’ ante, at 10 – seems to me not so horrible and even less looming.  But there has come to pass, and is with us today, the specter that Arizona and the States that support it predicted: A Federal Government that does not want to enforce the immigration laws as written, and leaves the States’ borders unprotected against immigrants whom those laws would exclude.  So the issue is a stark one.  Are the sovereign States at the mercy of the Federal Executive’s refusal to enforce the Nation’s immigration laws? 
A good way of answering that question is to ask: Would the States conceivably have entered into the Union if the Constitution itself contained the Court’s holding? Today’s judgment surely fails that test. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the delegates contended with “the jealousy of the states with regard to their sovereignty.” … Through ratification of the fundamental charter that the Convention produced, the States ceded much of their sovereignty to the Federal Government. But much of it remained jealously guarded – as reflected in the innumerable proposals that never left Independence Hall. Now, imagine a provision – perhaps inserted right after Art. I, §8, cl. 4, the Naturalization Clause – which included among the enumerated powers of Congress “To establish Limitations upon Immigration that will be exclusive and that will be enforced only to the extent the President deems appropriate.” The delegates to the Grand Convention would have rushed to the exits. . . .

Arizona has moved to protect its sovereignty – not in contradiction of federal law, but in complete compliance with it.  The laws under challenge here do not extend or revise federal immigration restrictions, but merely enforce those restrictions more effectively.  If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.  I dissent. 
Justice Alito added a separate dissent:
The United States’ attack on §2(B) is quite remarkable.  The United States suggests that a state law may be preempted, not because it conflicts with a federal statute or regulation, but because it is inconsistent with a federal agency’s current enforcement priorities.  Those priorities, however, are not law.  They are nothing more than agency policy.  I am aware of no decision of this Court recognizing that mere policy can have pre-emptive force….
It bears emphasizing that §6 does not mandate the warrantless apprehension of all aliens who have committed crimes for which they are removable.  Instead, it only grants state and local officers permission to make such arrests.  The trouble with this premature, facial challenge is that it affords Arizona no opportunity to implement its law in a way that would avoid any potential conflicts with federal law.
Justice Thomas argued in favour of the entire bill in yet another separate dissent, and explained each section in turn:
I agree with JUSTICE SCALIA that federal immigration law does not pre-empt any of the challenged provisions of S. B. 1070.  I reach that conclusion, however, for the sim­ple reason that there is no conflict between the “ordinary meanin[g]” of the relevant federal laws and that of the four provisions of Arizona law at issue here. . . . Section 2(B) of S. B. 1070 provides that, when Arizona law enforcement officers reasonably suspect that a person they have lawfully stopped, detained, or arrested is unlaw­fully present, “a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person” pursuant to the verification procedure established by Congress in 8 U. S. C. §1373(c). . . Nothing in the text of that or any other federal statute prohibits Arizona from directing its officers to make immigration-related inquiries in these situations.  To the contrary, federal law expressly states that “no State or local government entity may be prohibited, or in any way restricted, from sending to or receiving from” federal officials “information regarding the immigra­tion status” of an alien. 8 U. S. C. §1644.  And, federal law imposes an affirmative obligation on federal officials to respond to a State’s immigration-related inquiries.§1373(c).
Section 6 of S. B. 1070 authorizes Arizona law enforce­ment officers to make warrantless arrests when there is probable cause to believe that an arrestee has committed a public offense that renders him removable under federal immigration law.  States, as sovereigns, have inherent authority to conduct arrests for violations of federal law, unless and until Congress removes that authority. . . . Here, no federal statute purports to withdraw that authority. As JUSTICE SCALIA notes, ante, at 12 (opinion concurring in part and dissent­ing in part), federal law does limit the authority of federal officials to arrest removable aliens, but those statutes do not apply to state officers. . . .
Section 3 simply incorporates federal registration standards. Unlike the Court, I would not hold that Congress pre-empted the field of enforcing those standards. “[O]ur recent cases have frequently rejected field pre-emption in the absence of statutory language expressly requiring it.” Camps New­found/Owatonna, Inc. v. Town of Harrison, 520 U. S. 564, 617 (1997) (THOMAS, J., dissenting). . . .
Section 5(C) of S. B. 1070 prohibits unlawfully present aliens from knowingly applying for, soliciting, or perform­ing work in Arizona.  Section 5(C) operates only on indi­viduals whom Congress has already declared ineligible to work in the United States.  Nothing in the text of the federal immigration laws prohibits States from imposing their own criminal penalties on such individuals. . . .
Despite the lack of any conflict between the ordinarymeaning of the Arizona law and that of the federal laws at issue here, the Court holds that various provisions of the Arizona law are pre-empted because they “stan[d] as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.” . . . I have explained that the “purposes and objectives” theory of implied pre-emption is inconsistent with the Constitu­tion because it invites courts to engage in freewheeling speculation about congressional purpose that roams well beyond statutory text. . . .
The Washington Times reported its analysis of the results, including:
During the debate over SB 1070, Mr. Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. both criticized the law as opening up the chance for racial profiling.  But when they sued, they didn’t make that argument, instead confining their challenge to issues of federal versus state power.
The racial profiling challenge could still come later, though, as the law begins to be enforced – something Mrs. Brewer said she expects.
Update:  In a stunning move, within hours of the Supreme Court decision, the Obama administration has announced that it is suspending existing agreements with the state of Arizona over enforcement of immigration laws, and has directed Homeland Security to decline calls from Arizona police that report illegal aliens.  This specifically refers to the Immigration and Nationality Act (1965), §287(g).  Predictably, Governor Jan Brewer was furious:
As though we needed any more evidence, President Obama has demonstrated anew his utter disregard for the safety and security of the Arizona people.  Within the last two hours, I have been notified the Obama administration has revoked the 287(g) agreement under the authority of which Arizona law enforcement officers have partnered with the federal government in the enforcement of immigration law.
Of course, it is no coincidence that this announcement comes immediately on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of the heart of Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law: SB 1070.  It’s worth noting that 68 law enforcement entities in 24 states have functioning 287(g) agreements with the federal government.  But it appears the only agreements eliminated today were those in Arizona, the state that happens to be on the front lines of America’s fight against illegal immigration.  We are on our own, apparently. [emphasis mine]
To feel the full flavour of her ire, read the whole thing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bird Strike Takes Out Jet

A massive case of bad luck: I first saw this a few years ago, but it re-surfaced again today as I was strolling through the internet.

There are a number of examples of this footage that identify the aircraft as a USAF F-16, but in fact it is a Canadian (RCAF) BAE CT-155 Hawk jet trainer.  The incident took place on 14 May 2004 at the NATO Flight Training in Canada (NFTC) programme at CFB Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan (anyone who has been through the area would recognise the terrain).  The automatic voice instruction is male with a slight British accent (the F-16 version has a female voice).

The trainer (command pilot) was Canadian, of course, Captain John Hutt, and the student pilot was British RAF Flight Lieutenant Edward Morris.  You can see the bird at about the 0:06 mark, just as the aircraft has rotated off the runway, and it’s sucked into the port intake.  The automatic warning ‘T6 NL’ refers to the turbine temperature out of limits (T6), which would spike rather quickly with an ‘avian injection’; ‘NL’ refers to the low pressure turbine off the scale.  (Does it sound like I know what I’m talking about?  I understand the concept, but I’m not adept by any means.  If anyone has better information, by all means update in the comments section.)

The heavy breathing is a natural reaction to the incident, from Flt Lt Morris, but despite that, the training and expertise of the crew takes over, with Capt Hutt calmly but quickly (he only has about 45 seconds) to work through the procedure.  They attempt to re-start the engine, twice, to no avail.  Hutt tells Morris and Flight Control (who is a little slow on the uptake) that they will eject.  If it is the same type system that I am aware of, the command pilot initiates the ejection, which also ejects the student (notice that he tells him to prepare to eject, meaning position himself correctly).  Once they are out, the nose drops significantly as there is no more attitude control, and it corkscrews slightly to port before it literally ‘buys the farm’.

Both pilots ejected safely, but Capt Hutt was injured when he struck the ground in a malfunctioned flight seat.  His back injury apparently effectively grounded him.

What impresses me (other than looking at this type of incident from the inside) is how calmly the pilots work through the problem and arrive at the only possible conclusion, and act on it.  Good show.

The Right to Keep and Bear Knives

Eugene Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy (a group web log of law professors) provides some information that you can sink your teeth into about carrying knives, as distinguished from other items that can be used or utilized as weapons within the meaning of the term ‘arms’, as used in the Second Amendment, viz:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

One typically assumes that firearms are meant by the guarantee of the right, but it is not necessarily so limited.  Volokh provides a solid list of the necessary cases that deal with knives and other weapons, and one of the lines that best appeal to me on the topic involves knives being a legitimate implement of war, from the Arizona case of State vs Swanton (1981): “arms” is limited to “such arms as are recognized in civilized warfare and not those used by a ruffian, brawler or assassin”, holding that specifically nunchakus are not so defined.  This argument can be made as a point of Constitutional law as it applies to the needs of a militia, which is a concept recognised in Georgia’s allowance (Hill vs State, 1874) of “swords” and “bayonets” since they are “recognized in civilized warfare”.  Florida takes a more expansive definition in that defense in general should include “anything that a man wears for his defense, or takes in his hands as a weapon”.  Anyone with an interest in the topic should certainly refer to the article.

As a knife in general, I confess that my military background would lead me to prefer a knife with a full tang, being far more sturdy than a folding or ‘automatic’ knife (which I consider more a tool of convenience than a weapon, though a full knife could more easily be used as both).  But like the allowance of ‘open carry’ of firearms in some states, one must also consider the ‘hassle’ effect of the general populace and police who would basically prefer that you not exercise that right, and act on that feeling.

Update:  This is the source for those of you interested in how each state handles possession and carrying of 'automatic knives' (i.e., switchblades).

Public Perception of Veterans Is High, But Stereotypes Persist (Updates)

Results from a recent public survey indicate that the public maintains a high level of trust in veterans, answering that veterans are “valuable assets” to the country. 

Some 86% of respondents ranked specifically veterans who joined since 9/11 highly, in amongst firefighters (94%), nurses (91%), active-duty troops (88%), and doctors (87%).  Veterans tied with teachers and led police officers and small business owners by one point.  In contrast, the poll ranked lawyers at 19%, politicians at 11%, and sports stars and celebrities both at only 5%.

About 64 percent of respondents said they agreed with a statement that "the skills and leadership learned by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan can be effectively applied to our communities."  Only 29 percent concurred with the statement: "the skills and leadership learned by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan apply mostly to military situations." . . .
“The public regards these young men and women as future leaders and as community and national assets,” they said.  “Compared to their non-veteran peers, the public finds them more disciplined, having a stronger character and more involved in their communities.”
The study was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Research Strategies, and sponsored by The Mission Continues and Bad Robot Productions, and sampled 801 respondents throughout the country.

These are encouraging figures, particularly when compared to the figures about veterans after the Viet Nam War.  Interestingly, the questions were taken almost verbatim from a Louis Harris poll taken in 1979.  Even then, veterans still came out on the positive side, but these recent results show a marked increase in public sentiment, even though the current results still rank Viet Nam vets below the 9/11 ones.  It is useful in the minds of the Sophisticati to portray veterans of that era as pathetic victims of the government (particularly after the election of Nixon) and of corporations, and the image of such vets in print and on screen has almost persistently shown them this way.  (A notable and sole exception was We Were Soldiers, that details the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965.  Critics gave it a grudging approval and seemed to be bought off by the fact that the movie showed the North Vietnamese in a positive light.  Some critics condemned it for showing anything about the battle or the war in a positive light.)

Unfortunately, the darker side of the study demonstrates that the public still carries a stereotype of a veteran as being under-educated and scarred by post-traumatic stress.  (Like many others in my field and related areas, I don’t consider it necessarily a full disorder, so I don’t automatically use the PTSD term.)

Survey results indicate that just 19 percent of respondents believed that the vets have more education than their non-veteran counterpart while 53 percent agreed with the statement that a majority of returning vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Over 90% of those joining the military have high school diplomas.  A GED still needs an additional two years of college because, as I recently heard a Marine recruiter tell a prospect, “it shows that you failed at something, and the college experience demonstrates that you’ve corrected that.”  The MEPS commander in Portland, Oregon told me in 2010 that just less than 30% of the national 17-24 age cohort were qualified to join.  Some 60% of male inductees and 70% of the females have some college experience.

Examples abound, though, about the civilian estimation of military education, even close at hand.  My eldest son is in the Army Ordnance Corps (Heavy Vehicles) and is eminently qualified and highly experienced, yet the public perception is that his experience is “too narrow” to fit into a civilian equivalent (not true).  Another son is a combat medic with the Rangers: I have twice been told by people who should know better that “when” he gets out of the Army (the automatic assumption refuses to believe someone would make a career in the Army), he could go to school to become an EMT.  I patiently explain that the very first item in his training is to qualify as a nationally-accredited EMT, then he moves on to other training, including in his case the Special Operations Combat Medic (SOCM) course.  He is thus among the most highly qualified emergency medics in the world, yet according to several civilian EMTs I know who are veterans, he would still have to start over with civilian training were he to apply for a civilian job – the military training is just too suspect.  In higher areas of education, post-graduate degrees obtained through military institutions such as the Armed Forces Staff College, the Command and General Staff College, or the Naval Postgraduate School, not to mention the Army or Naval War College, are looked upon in civilian academia as some worthless facsimile from an alternate Bizarro universe.

The survey also found that 53% believed that a majority of returning veterans suffers from PTSD, but VA statistics show that only 22% of males and 17% of females with experience in Iraq or Afghanistan are diagnosed.  This is an area in which the Therapy Industry has found a lucrative sinecure: press reports publicise how so many more veterans are now diagnosed with PTSD but fail to ask whether this is a function of increased victims or rather a more ready willingness to diagnose simple stress or depression as a full-blown disorder.  There are reports of the elevated suicide rates among the troops, without explaining that the numbers were compared to the general public; if those same numbers were compared more accurately to the civilian population of young males in that age category, the distinction vanished, or even conceivably could be lower.

This became a cause célèbre early on in the two Middle East operations because it fit so nicely into the social and political perspective of the Left.  Some 600 therapists were dispatched to Iraq to seek out victims; if a soldier denied being afflicted, that was a sure sign that he was in denial – a key indicator in the therapists' book.  Diagnoses in theater started rising despite the fact that it is typical for true PTSD to be a delayed onset affliction, so it wouldn’t usually show up until the soldier was taken out of the environment and returned home.  This rush to make everybody a victim, even those who had never seen combat, robs true victims of the disorder from a professional approach that they need.

This rush to judgment, or a snug comfort in previous prejudices, creates a continuance of negative attitudes about returning veterans:
Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 30 percent of veterans ages 18-24 are unemployed – nearly twice the national average compared to their non-veteran counterparts.  Though we could point to transitional program shortfalls as a contributor to this unconscionable figure, we must also ask whether we have actually succeeded in dispelling the negative stigma associated with military mental health, or whether all of the attention has only exacerbated the problem, further degrading the public's perception of today's veterans. [emphasis mine]
One of the unique ideas introduced by the newly United States after their Revolution was the concept of the citizen soldier, a ready militia and standing military drawn from the populace, taking advantage of the fresh perspective of a citizenry fighting for what is right in their eyes, not a lumpen body of troops beholden only to the sovereign.  We have one of the most professional and highly trained militaries in the world, which requires not only our respect but the support and understanding of our people.

Update:  The press is eager to find some sort of military connection to any criminal shooter, and this is one of the most pernicious stereotypes that it perpetuates.  To an enormous extent, this is simply not true, yet it persists.

Update:  And again...

Friday, June 15, 2012

‘Prometheus’: Review

If you are a frequent reader of this humble web log (thank you), then you have noted that I do not often do movie reviews.  More’s the pity – I have been quite fond of movies all my life and would visit them more often if the urgencies and commitments of life did not otherwise constrain me (much as they constrain a more active attention to this web log).  But like most else within these electronic pages, I can slip one in from time to time, and Prometheus is a movie that deserves mention.

David, Shaw, Holloway, Ford, Fifield approach their destination

I am a big fan of Ridley Scott, and I am drawn particularly to his cinematography most of all – he is perhaps my favourite, after the demise of Stanley Kubrick.  His treatment of Gladiator, particularly the opening scenes at the unnamed Battle of Vindobona, must be seen on the big screen to best appreciate its stunning beauty; his dark Blade Runner practically created a new genre of science fiction milieu; Black Hawk Down is a superb treatment (though some parts and characters fictionalized or combined) of the American debacle and heroism at the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993; even his early Legend, an experiment with fantasy, is worth seeing (though Tom Cruise is said to have hated it, and its effects are now somewhat dated) for the mesmerizing portrayal and characterization of Tim Curry as Darkness.  Even his marginal films like the historically challenged Kingdom of Heaven command a viewing for his staging.

But perhaps Scott’s most overall contribution to the movie industry is that he directed Alien, and thereby launched a story line repeated and expanded upon through its series of movies and its amalgamation to the Predator story line (almost teasingly foretold by the scene toward the end of Predator 2, where the protagonist finds himself in a trophy room aboard the Predator space craft – an Alien skull can be seen among other trophies in the background).  Though he only directed the one movie, his vision set the pace and his is the best of the set, except in that rare instance of a sequel competing in quality with the original, in James Cameron’s (Titanic, Avatar) vision of the next movie of the set, Aliens.  (As if the laws of nature scrambled thereby to restore balance to the universe, Aliens3 and Alien: Resurrection were astonishingly bad.)

Scott’s return to the series after some 33 years is to create a prequel to Alien, with the main story line beginning some 30 years before the events of the first movie.  It exists, though, in a separate story line, creating a foundation but not necessarily a direct connection to the first movie.

The movie starts by drawing you into a sweeping transit of remote and sterile mountains and ice before settling into a valley with a raging river, and a hooded figure standing beside it.  The scene seduces you still further when the figure reveals himself to be a powerful yet pale and eldritch form of human, staring at an enormous spaceship hovering almost off-screen.  As the spacecraft ascends to depart, he opens a small container of viscous and bubbling goo which he ingests, with the immediate reaction of tearing his body apart, cell by cell.  He collapses into the river that carries his disintegrating body downstream, and we see that the destruction is carried even unto his DNA, which then recombinates with the local elements.

This then carries us to the year 2089 and an archeological expedition to the isle of Skye, where the two leaders of the group, a young couple with more than a professional interest in each other, find a Paleolithic site of cave drawings, including the figure of a large man pointing to a grouping of orbs in the heavens, and they are overwhelmed with delight at a confirmation at its finding.  We are then swept again to several years further into the future and some untold light-years from Earth, aboard a giant spacecraft named Prometheus.

The crew is in stasis (a familiar technique found in the other Alien movies), cared for by a solitary David (Michael Fassbender) who we see carry out a lonely routine over an indeterminate yet seemingly long period of time.  Among other things, we see David learning a reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European language, and see his interest in the movie Lawrence of Arabia.  David develops a certain fascination with Lawrence (actually Peter O’Toole’s much taller rendition of him) and he focuses on a particular scene from the film where Lawrence demonstrates the match trick.  Eventually, an alarm alerts him that the ship is approaching its destination.  He assists as the rest of the crew comes staggering out of their deep sleep and assembles for the first briefing.  It is an odd mixture of personalities yet carries a resemblance to the same crews we’ve seen before, but this carries with it the fact that some are meeting for the first time, as is carried home by the practically sociopathic reaction of the character Fifield.  The reason becomes apparent with the briefing.

The purported leader of the expedition and corporate representative is Vickers (played with a morbidly fascinating sense of coldness by Charlize Theron), who starts the briefing with a huge, life-sized holographic recording of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), a very old CEO of the powerful Weyland Corporation, which built the Prometheus.  The recording is obviously made before the departure of the ship, and Weyland tells them that he is by now likely dead.  He emphasizes the importance of the mission, and introduces the crew to David (“like a son to me”) and the fact that he is an android (another homage to the Alien series).  Weyland then introduces the two archeologists we have seen before – Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) – now members of the crew, and tells the audience that the two of them have convinced him to undertake this expedition.  He declares them the leaders of the undertaking, at the clear and unsurprised displeasure of Vickers, and then leaves the rest of the briefing to the two as he literally fades away.

Ridley Scott on set with Noomi Rapace

Shaw and Holloway fill in the details: the cave drawing they found is practically identical, though much older by far, to several other drawings found in archeological sites of a wide scattering of ancient civilisations on Earth.  Shaw declares these to be an invitation for us to find those early space travelers, whom she calls the Engineers, and the grouping of orbs in the early pictographs are (somehow) only associated with a quasi-habitable moon circling a ringed planet of a distant star, where they have just arrived.  The crew has been hastily assembled before a rapid departure from Earth, and some (particularly Fifield the geologist and Millburn the biologist, played by Sean Harris and Rafe Spall) are motivated only by the large chance at substantial reward.  The captain, Janek (Idris Elba), is highly competent with a confident sense of leadership, who cares little about the pecking order of the expedition other than the fact that the Prometheus is his ship.

The scene sets up an important element of the film.  Shaw, we know, is a devout Christian, and she is questioned by Millburn (and others throughout the film, including Holloway) about her faith.  In this instance, Millburn practically guffaws with incredulity about her belief that the Engineers could be the source of human life on Earth, declares that this questions centuries of established scientific evolution, and points out that if what she says is true, what does that say about her religion?  She remains secure in her convictions and responds that the question then becomes about the source of the Engineers.  (This echoes the current discussion – for example, when astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle was confronted with the mathematical conclusion that life could not have been a happenstance of coincidentally merging elements and conditions on Earth, his response was that the necessary life-generating substances must have come from some comet that struck the Earth.  The religious response was: Then where did the comet come from?)  A critic from a Catholic site finds the movie “problematic for viewers of faith” but I must disagree – the Bible says nothing about us being unique among the heavens, only that we are beloved of God.  Yet throughout the movie this same theme – where do we actually come from? – recurs again and again.

They soon find that the moon in question lacks a civilisation but they do find an outpost of the Engineers – an enormous dome that is an abandoned relic, and they set out to explore it.  The movie then unfolds in some ways that are predictable, such as the separation of two members who must remain behind in the dome while the rest of the party returns to the ship to avoid an enormous sandstorm.  Some call this formulaic but I find it plausible.  (The same circumstances have happened to me – ‘We know where you are.  Dig in, hunker down, we’ll come get you in the morning.’)  The pace then picks up as remnants of the Engineers and a strange cargo of pods (we know what they are, even if the crew does not) are explored to discern why they were there, and what was their purpose, as the film quickly takes on a horrifically Alien tack.

As I have said, the compelling notion of the film is its staging and sound design, though the editing and some of the story development is choppy.  I saw the 3D version, and it is filmed without the gimmicks that accentuate it.  This gives it a more realistic feel without it being distracting.  (As a personal note: my eyesight challenges me in depth perception, though I have adapted in ways that are oddly beneficial in my military career.  Nevertheless, I find that 3D illusions are inexplicably quite effective with me, and I just can’t get enough of them.  I find the understated use of the technique very satisfying.)  The sets have also faithfully reproduced the original disturbing designs of Engineer technology and Alien physiognomy of Swiss surrealist H R Giger.  It may at times be somewhat overwhelming but stays within the envelope.

H R Giger

The best performance is turned in by Fassbender as David.  I had been unfamiliar with his work up until now, but he clearly is a linchpin of the plot development.  His android is a new technology at this point in time and he gives the sure impression that he is learning as he goes (there is an undertone of Blade Runner here), as opposed to the more advanced androids in future versions, though I have the distinct feeling that his portrayal is based somewhat on the great performance turned in by Lance Henriksen in his two characters in the previous Alien films (the android Bishop in Aliens and Alien3, and Charles Bishop Weyland on which the android is based, in Alien vs Predator) .  Much has been said about how he is fascinated by O’Toole’s Lawrence, and he consciously copies the character in his appearance and mannerisms, but most people seem to miss the significance of the hologram scene he watches early on, and Lawrence’s explanation of the match trick.  Besides adding to the religious undertone of the plot, it appears to give him insight into the human psyche, which he acts upon.

Rapace’s Shaw is also very well done.  Rapace is best known for her role as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish production of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and she turns in another bravura performance here, starting as an idealistic and almost naïve scientist (she tells a dumbfounded Fifield, as they are about to disembark from Prometheus, that since this is a scientific expedition, he will have no need of weapons) but more than keeps pace with one horrifying blow after another.  (Remember that the Alien series has always been a science fiction and horror category, and is not less so here.)  The hook that Ridley Scott provided in the first Alien was that even though the crew knew that there was a monster, they didn’t know what or where it was, until it makes an appearance at the very end.  Scott’s genius is that he is able to maintain that same pace throughout Prometheus.

Theron is solid as Vickers, giving an eerily adept performance as the cold corporate bitch, with a twist at the end (well, maybe two).  Elba’s Janek is a short part but well played.  The disappointment comes with Holloway, who never seems to rise above our impression that he is nothing more than Shaw’s boyfriend, and Pearce’s Weyland is too mechanical in his portrayal of the old man, with make-up that is too plastic and distracting.  Rounding out the cast with good brief portrayals are Kate Dickie as the Scottish medic Ford, and Emun Elliot and Benedict Wong as the ship's engineers.

The plot of this movie, but perhaps even better the plot of the sequel (and there will be a sequel), depends upon minor, almost throw-away comments that crop up, and keep the viewer alert once he is aware of it, like the Lawrence of Arabia scene, or the radio-carbon dating result.  Other steps come more violently, as when David can finally put his dead language knowledge to use, and most of all with Shaw’s sudden need to adapt the medical technology of Prometheus.  I expect that some critics’ complaints will dilute with the resolution of the next installment.

The climax is spectacular, both visually and thematically, and introduces the next question of the quest – Why would an advanced race that took the trouble to create us, now be so bent on our destruction?

Prometheus is highly recommended, except for the weak of stomach at some parts.  This is the most important addition to the series to date, and will stand as one of Ridley Scott’s finest works.