Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rising Sun, Falling Skies out on March 25

My first book, Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II, comes out on March 25, 2014 -- just 5 days from today.

Here is what people are saying about Rising Sun, Falling Skies:
"In the Pacific War’s first months, elements of four navies, Dutch, British, American, and Australian, fought a delaying action against superior Japanese forces as heroic as it was hopeless. Cox brings an attorney’s incisiveness, a historian’s comprehension, and a storyteller’s passion to this compelling account of the Java Sea campaign. Rising Sun, Falling Skies commemorates not a defense but a defiance: a forgotten epic of character and honor." -- Dennis Showalter, author of Armor and Blood: The Battle of Kursk: The Turning Point of World War II, Patton And Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century; Hitler's Panzers: The Lightning Attacks that Revolutionized Warfare, and many, many more.

“A seminal work about a long neglected part of World War II in the Pacific… richly detailed with accounts from the men on both sides of the conflict who fought desperate struggles in 1942 either as conquerors or defenders." – Mike Walling, author of Forgotten Sacrifice: The Arctic Convoys of World War II and Bloodstained Sea:The U.S.Coast Guard in the Battle of the Atlantic, 1941-1944.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Latest columns for IVN on The Missing Jet™ and Ukraine are up.

My latest post for Independent Voter Network, titled The Jumbo Jet of Damocles, is up. Take a wild guess as to the topic.

My laptop issues had prevented me from posting an earlier column I had on IVN about the ethnic issues now broiling in Ukraine. It's slightly dated now, but if you want to check out the background on Ukraine, you can check out my column The Tangled Remnants of Empire.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Worth a thousand words

I periodically have people ask me why I, a straight guy, love ballet so much and why I insist on dancing it on a regular basis. To me, at a basic level, it is because ballet is the perfect combination of intellectual challenge, physical workout, and artistic expression, all in one package. But, really, ballet is so much more than that, and dancers male and female are in reality very talented and tough individuals who deserve much more respect than they are generally given.

Take this picture, for example.

This picture was posted on the Facebook page of Lovin' Ballet & Dance. There was  no identifying information about the dancer or the production, so I cannot tell who she is or of what this is a performance. What I can tell you is that this is a picture of an absolutely amazing performance, and is basically a thousand-word essay as to why ballet is such an incredible endeavor.

For starters, look at the dancer's face. Look at her eyes. Remember, ballet allows no vocalizations, so only the dances, outfits, gestures, facial expressions, and eyes can be used to convey the plot of the ballet and what is going on on stage. So, she has this tempting gaze, this alluring smile, but with a hint of mischief or even deception involved. Her right arm -- which as a girl friend of  mine pointed out is heavily muscled, moreso than most men, in fact - is beckoning, probably to a male performer on stage. The image she gives is one of a siren --  the Odyssey's Sirens? The German Lorelei? -- in the process of luring someone to at best a fate that will not be what he expects or hopes.

Now, look at the dancer's feet. She is doing all of this facial expression and gesturing sous sous en pointe. Right on the boxes of her pointe shoes.

This one pose is just a masterpiece of art when you look behind it all. Whoever this ballerina is, she is one hell of a performer. I wish her well.

Friday, March 14, 2014

I will be on Civil Discourse Now tomorrow

Talking about the book. Here is the information from co-host Matt Stone:
TOMORROW on the BIG SHOW: You've heard about it for ages, you've anticipated it, you've pre-ordered it on Amazon. Jeffrey Robert Cox's book Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II is finally out later this month. We'll be talking about it for most of the show.

We'll also cram some political candidates into the show as well.

Join us at Foundry Provisions, Saturday, at 11am-1pm or tune in via or the Indiana Talks app from on your Apple or Android device!"

Flight 370, where are you?

In addition to the unfolding crisis in Ukraine ... and Venezuela ... and Syria ... the world has been transfixed by the bizarre and increasingly ominous case of Malaysia Air Flight 370. CNN gives a pretty decent account of the known activities of the missing Boeing 777-200ER. The plane left Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 am local time on Saturday, March 8, headed for its intended destination of Beijing, and then:
Around 1:30 a.m., air traffic controllers in Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with the plane over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. The plane's transponder, which identifies the aircraft and relays details like altitude and speed to controllers, stops transmitting.
A senior Malaysian air force official said Tuesday the flight was hundreds of miles off course and traveling in the opposite direction from its original destination. It was last tracked over over Pulau Perak, a tiny island in the Strait of Malacca at about 2:40 a.m., over an hour after air traffic controllers in Subang lost contact with the aircraft.
At the news briefing Wednesday, however, Gen. Rodzali Daud, head of the Malaysian Air Force, and other officials said it wasn't yet clear whether the object that showed up on military radar flying over the sea northwest of the Malaysian coast early Saturday was the missing plane.
Adding to the puzzle, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the plane may have continued flying for four hours after its last reported contact. The newspaper attributed the information to two unidentified sources who were citing data automatically transmitted to the ground from the aircraft's Rolls-Royce-manufactured engines. A senior aviation source with detailed knowledge of the matter told CNN's Richard Quest on Thursday the Wall Street Journal account was incorrect. The paper later corrected its story, saying it was satellite data, not engine data, that drove the belief the plane continued to fly.

Scheduled flight path and points of lost contact and last contact with Flight 370. (CNN)
When the initial reports came in that Flight 370 had gone off course, I had thought -- hoped? -- this was a situation like Oceanic Flight 815. At worst -- and this would indeed be bad, because of the 239 poor souls onboard -- a Flight 19 situation. But when the information came in that the plane's transponders had been intentionally turned off and the plane had flown off course, but between known, pre-set navigational waypoints, far darker scenarios started emerging.

Flight 370 has not been seen since. On its face that's bizarre, but perhaps not unexpected. Most of Malaysia consists of dense jungle (albeit not impenetrable jungle, as the British found out to their dismay in World War II). Judging by the radar contact off Pulau Perak at 2:40 am, the redirected 777 would have flown closest to Kota Bharu and Alor Star (both with World War II British airfields), before heading out over the Strait of Malacca. Considering the time of night and the area over which it flew, there would have been few visual witnesses to the plane's flight.

Once over the Strait of Malacca, the missing 777 might have been free to go anywhere. Its suggested course would have taken it over the Indonesian island of Sumatra, specifically northern Sumatra, a region called Aceh, While Indonesia has a central government based on Java and many well developed areas on Java, south Sumatra, and Bali, many of the outlying islands and dense jungle areas of Borneo and Celebes are only loosely governed. Aceh is one of these areas. Historically, dating back to the times when the Dutch ruled the islands, Aceh has been a fairly lawless area, remote, with a strong separatist bent. It is one reason why the Strait of Malacca is constantly plagued with pirates. I can't say whether the Indonesian central government even has radar coverage over Aceh. Banda Aceh, the major city, is not that big. There are likely hidden airfields in the jungle, either built by the Japanese in World War II or by the Dutch beforehand -- the Dutch were foresighted enough to seed Indonesia with airfields before World War II, and then shortsighted enough to neither defend them adequately nor base appropriate aircraft on them, so that the Japanese got far more use of the airfields than the Dutch did. See the now-infamous "Kendari II" airfield -- still in operation -- on Sulawesi for an example.

Another theory making the rounds is that the plane somehow landed on a remote field in the Indian Ocean, perhaps in the Andaman Islands north of Sumatra. The international airport in Port Blair is big enough to handle a 777, but the island officials insist such a large plane could not have landed there without anyone noticing. The Andamans were home to Japanese bases in World War II; the Imperial Japanese Navy's heavy cruiser Haguro was ambushed and sunk by British destroyers in the final weeks of the war during an operation to resupply the islands.

None of which does anything to answer the question of what happened to the plane. As CNN describes it, "The flight has turned into one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history, befuddling industry experts and government officials. Authorities still don't know where the plane is or what caused it to vanish." Based on the fuel on board Flight 370, this is the range of the 777:

Range of Flight 370 based on its fuel load. (CNN)
That is a lot of territory to cover. And you see it right -- it could conceivably have reached Pakistan. And that's assuming it did not stop in, say, Aceh, and somehow refuel. Ominous.

And the ominosity -- is that a word? -- gets worse:
An Indonesian terrorist organization that a senior defense official said this week posed a “serious transnational threat” has previously been caught planning hijackings in the region where Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared.
U.S. military assets participating in the search and recovery efforts confirmed they were asked to relocate to the west side of Indonesia in the Indian Ocean as pings indicated the plane turned away from its route to China and turned back over the Malaysian peninsula. ABC News also reported Thursday that the data-reporting system on the flight shut down before the transponder, from 1:07 1:21 a.m., raising suspicions that the plane was at the hands of someone nefarious.
Gee, ya think?
Jemaah Islamiyah has long had designs on roping Malaysia and the Philippines into an Islamist state along with Indonesia, and was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government after the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing. The group has traditionally used Malaysia for fundraising and as a home base for trainees fresh from the Af-Pak region.
JI plotter Mas Selamat Kastari, who escaped from custody in Singapore in 2008 and was recaptured in Malaysia the following year, was accused of orchestrating a plot earlier in the decade to hijack a plane out of Bangkok’s airport and crash it into Singapore’s airport.
Jemaah Islamiyah had been considered a shadow of its former self in recent years, but the terror group’s name has been occasionally dropped on Capitol Hill as a jihadi movement getting a new lease on life in a post-Osama world.
“Indonesians are the first — are for the first time going overseas to fight, not just to train, which has given rise to concerns that this conflict may breathe new life into the group Jemaah Islamiyah, which analysts previously considered to be moribund,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a Syria hearing last week.
The scenarios, as explained by John Hinderaker at Power Line, are not hopeful:
1) The plane may have crashed into the sea, due to pilot error or running out of gas (the Payne Stewart theory?). Initially there were thoughts that this could be an instance of pilot suicide along the lines of the Egypt Air crash, but it seems unlikely that a pilot who intended to crash his airplane into the sea would fly it for four hours first. If the plane did crash into the Indian Ocean, most likely accidentally–or possibly as a result of a Flight-93 type passenger revolt?–debris will eventually be found. 
2) The hijackers may have prepared a place, perhaps on an island in the Indian Ocean, possibly in eastern Pakistan, to land the airplane, and they may have landed it successfully. This would not be easy: a Boeing 777 needs a runway around two miles long. But it may be possible. If that is the case, then why haven’t we heard from the hijackers? If they are terrorists (e.g., radical Muslims) they may intend to use the airplane in a terrorist attack and will not reveal themselves until they have an opportunity to do so. It has been speculated that the hijackers might have been criminals rather than political terrorists, and their objective may have been to land the airplane safely, and then ransom the plane and the more than 200 passengers. On this scenario, however, they would want to get the ransom underway as soon as possible, and we presumably would have heard from them by now. 
3) The hijackers may have prepared a place to land the airplane, but failed to land it. If the airplane crashed while attempting to land, the debris will eventually be found, and its location along with other evidence (i.e., a nearby landing strip) should make it apparent that this is what was going on.
Unfortunately, my bet is on Number 2. I have this nightmare that the passengers have all been murdered and the plane is now being prepared for use in a dirty bomb or EMP attack.

A simple truth

Thursday, March 13, 2014

New laptop, new blogging

One of the reasons posting has been so slow over the past several months has been my laptop computer from which I've always done the vast majority of my blogging. It was a 10-year old Dell with Windows XP. But for the last year or so it has had a miserable time getting on the web. When I wrote my latest column for Independent Voter Network, it took me literally two days to write it simply because my old laptop kept locking up on  me when I tried to get a news article to reference. I could still use it for court, but barely. Even Microsoft Office was starting to have issues with it.

So, this week I was finally able to get a new laptop. It's an ASUS Transformer T300LA. Not a perfect design, but it is a very good design, and it can switch between laptop an  tablet when I need it. Quite happy with the computer itself so far.

What I am not happy with is Microsoft. Because I do so much word processing and share so many files with clients and publishers, I had to get Windows and Office. I was thus forced to get Windows 8. After using it for about a half hour, I decided that if there are computers in Hell, they use Windows 8. This operating system is nothing short of an abomination, an insult to Microsoft customers. It's almost as if Microsoft took all the comments made by Windows users and decided to do the exact opposite. It is not user-friendly. It is not intuitive. Most of the time you can't even tell what you're doing on it or what processes are working in the background, because the user interface won't tell you. I "upgraded" to Windows 8.1, but it is only marginally better.

Then there is Microsoft Office 2013. It's not bad per se. The format is different, but I'm normally able to adjust to it and I've had little trouble doing so now. In fairness, though, I've had Office 2013 for a year now on my main computer, so I'm kinda used to it.

However, there are some major, major annoyances with Office 2013. For one thing, when you try to save a document, it defaults to the "SkyDrive," which Microsoft recently renamed the "OneDrive." It's Microsoft's Cloud-based application, for which they plan to charge at a later date, I'm sure. Except, most people want to save their documents to their computer or its LAN and not to the Cloud. At the Solo and Small Firm Conference last summer, we had a CLE session that said lawyers had to be very careful about saving anything to the Cloud, because it could compromise client confidentiality. But Microsoft wants to push the damn SkyDrive. And so your save location defaults to the SkyDrive. Now, you can change the default location, but Word will still try to ram the SkyDrive down your throat with its big icon compared to your small default save location icon.

A far, far worse problem is the color. In older versions of Windows you could change the color scheme. I've never liked having a white screen, as my eyes are very sensitive and a white  screen all day tends to be very hard on them. So, I'd change the screen to light blue, light green, pink, gray, light purple, or something like that. In Office, you used to be able to change the color, at the very least use the colors to which you set Windows to run. In Office 2013, you cannot. You are allowed to change the color of the borders from white to light gray or dark gray. Crayola won't be running in fear of that kind of palette. It's not an issue on my main computer because it has Windows 7, on which you can change the colors. You can use the Windows 7 colors to override the Office 2013 colors. Not Windows 8. Windows 8 has nothing in the way of color options for applications, so the only color choice you have for Office 2013 is blazing white. I have checked out the tech forums and message boards, where, it is safe to say, the users have been outraged by this change in Office. But, well, Office 2013 has been out for more than a year, as has Windows 8, and so far Microsoft has made no effort to allow color changes in Office.

This is what I was talking about earlier when I said the free market had failed with Microsoft. Microsoft is almost at the point where it hears what its customers want -- and proceeds to do the exact opposite. Because, hey, it's Microsoft! Who are these mere mortal customers to tell it what it should do?

At least, that was Steve Ballmer's attitude when he decided to create Windows 8 to leverage Microsoft's dominance in computer operating systems to dominance in tablets and smart phones. Consumers have revolted against Windows 8 and driven Ballmer from the top spot at Microsoft. Hopefully, the new management will be more responsive to the needs of consumers.

But when they refuse to do something as simple as allow the customer to change the color of the program, when they had allowed the customer to do so before, it is not encouraging as to the future of this once-great company.

In any event, with a new, more capable laptop, I should be able to blog much more often now.

"[V]oter fraud is just a GOP myth."

So says Glenn Reynolds, dripping with sarcasm. And he has every reason to be sarcastic.

First, from Florida, there is the case of one TV station finding 100 people who voted who were legally ineligible to do so:
The investigative piece was aired this week by an NBC affiliate in southwest Florida that actually tracked down and interviewed non U.S. citizens who are registered to vote and have cast ballots in numerous elections. The segment focused on Lee County, which has a population of about 620,000 and Collier County with a population of around 322,000. The reporter spent about two months digging around the voter rolls in the two counties and the discoveries are dumbfounding.
In that short time, more than 100 people registered to vote in those two areas were proven to be ineligible by the reporter. A Cape Coral woman, eligible to vote in elections, was tracked down through jury excusal forms that verify she’s not a U.S. citizen. A Naples woman, who is not a U.S. citizen either, voted six times in 11 years without being detected by authorities. A Jamaican man is also registered to vote though he’s not eligible. The reporter obtained his 2007 voter registration form, which shows the Jamaican man claims to be a U.S. citizen. Problem is, no one bothers checking to see if applicants are being truthful.
Incredibly, election supervisors confirmed on camera that there’s no way for them to verify the citizenship of people who register to vote. The only way to detect fraud is if the county offices that oversee elections receive a tip, they say, and only then can they follow up.  As inconceivable as this may seem, it appears to be true. Election supervisors in counties across the United States have their hands tied when it comes to this sort of voter registration fraud. They neither have the resources nor the authority to take action without knowledge of specific wrongdoing.
In an effort to remedy the situation, Florida Governor Rick Scott launched a program a few years ago to purge ineligible voters from registration rolls. The Department of Justice (DOJ) was quick to sue the state to stop the purging because the agency claims it discriminates against minorities. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has colluded with the DOJ in Florida and the head of the group’s local chapter says purging voter rolls disproportionately affects the state’s most vulnerable groups, namely minorities.
That's right. Documented evidence of ineligible voters having voted. And Rick Scott's efforts to fix it are being blocked by Eric Holder's Justice Department. Charming.

Then, there is the mummy in Michigan who voted:
How could a dead woman vote?
The mummified remains of a Michigan woman whose death went unnoticed for six years appear to have turned up last week — along with a vote she supposedly cast from beyond the grave.
A contractor found the body in question in a garage last Wednesday after the $54,000 in Pia Farrenkopf's bank account dried up and her house in Pontiac, outside Detroit, went into foreclosure, according to local media.
Authorities say they think the remains belong to Farrenkopf, whom they believe died in 2008. But the mystery turned even murkier Monday.
Voting records show that Farrenkopf voted in Michigan's November 2010 gubernatorial election, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Farrenkopf, who would be 49, registered to vote in 2006 but did not vote until 2010, and that the vote may have been an administrative error, they revealed. Otherwise, the ghastly discovery may have uncovered something politically nefarious.
Gee, ya think?

Yeah, we don' need no stinkin' voter ID.  No way it could have prevented this.