Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Faith in Numbers

Liz sent me a link to an article in GOOD Magazine detailing the exploits of one Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, whose use of a mathematical discipline known as Rational Choice Theory (an offshoot of game theory) has supposedly been shown to be uncannily accurate (I mean, some of his encomiums are coming from the CIA - how reliable are they?). In the article he also very cagily avoids saying if he's picked who'll become President in 2008.

All of this reminds me of Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series, in which a mathematician named Hari Seldon develops a branch of math called psychohistory, which he uses to determine the future of the Galactic Empire he lives in. Since his findings are deemed subversive, he is kept under surveillance and eventually allowed to exile himself and his followers to a planet on the rim of the galaxy - which Seldon's predictions had shown would happen.

All hunky-dory.

Unfortunately, Asimov finds the flaw in psychohistory, and rams a Mack truck through it. That Mack truck is the being known as The Mule. The Mule is a variable that not even Seldon could have predicted, and as a result the great Plan he devised lies in ruins and takes many years of subtle manipulation to get back on track.

This is the flaw in Bueno de Mesquita's modeling - the unknown variable, the lone wild card that can upset all of his confident predictions. The article points out that after the Madrid train bombings he accurately predicted no terrorist acts within the US. But all it takes is one person, acting alone, and there is no way to accurately predict the acts of individuals. He talked about Kim Jong Il and the North Korean nuclear deal, but can he accurately predict Kim's actions? Kim's an erratic little cuss, after all.

I have a quibble about the choice of the term Rational Choice, as well. Rational-choice theory is also used in criminology, stating that a person will always consider the risks and benefits of an act before performing that act, whether it's buying a car or stealing millions of dollars from people in a pyramid scheme.

Trying to distill human activities (foreign affairs, etc.) into cold, hard formulae also offends my sense of dignity. Predestinarianism is a foolish holdover from Augustine and Calvin; I prefer free will. Based on a careful analysis, you can usually predict what I will do; but sometimes I do things that may surprise you and won't fit into the model. What then?

Quote Without Comment

"The abuse of buying and selling votes crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, this process of corruption spread to the law courts. And then to the army, and finally the Republic was subjected to the rule of emperors."

- Plutarch, Historian of the Roman Republic

Same Sex Marriage - One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Via Pandagon comes this little nugget from country & Western singing 'star' John Rich:

"I think if you legalize that, you've got to legalize some other things that are pretty unsavory. You can call me a radical, but how can you tell an aunt that she can't marry her nephew if they are really in love and sharing the bills? How can you tell them they can't get married, but something else that's unnatural can happen?"

Rich was voicing his opinion of gay marriage when he let this priceless little nugget drop from his mouth (probably with no stopover in his brain for vetting first). He equated same-sex marriage with incest, yet another example of hyperbole, the same type of stupid logical fallacy that ended up with Rick Santorum equating gay marriage with zoophilia.

Unlike homosexual relations, there are good reasons for incest being both illegal and taboo, starting with basic genetics. For those of you playing along at home, here goes:

Thanks to increased mobility, Americans practice exogamy - they tend to marry outside of their own geographical or familial group. This promotes genetic diversity and makes the resulting population more resistant to environmental pressures. On the other hand, endogamy (marrying exclusively within one's geographical or familial group) narrows that diversity, making the resulting population weaker.

Endogamy is also called inbreeding. The ancient Egyptian royal family practiced it, as did the Hapsburg Dynasty. Endogamous relations and marriages resulted in the famous 'Hapsburg chin' becoming so pronounced that King Charles II of Spain was unable to chew his own food (leaving aside the fact that he was prone to diseases and was insane and impotent). His death enabled Louis XIV of France to install his grandson on the throne of Spain, resulting in the Spanish Bourbon Dynasty. Upon such things the wheel of history turns.

To equate incest (which is illegal and taboo under our culture) with same-sex relations is absurd on its face. For starters, same-sex relations are no longer criminal, thanks to the US Supreme Court decision Lawrence v Texas; second, there is no danger of an inbred result from such a pairing. As the Comte de Sade (he's mistakenly referred to as a Marquis) pointed out, sodomy is a sterile act; there are no children produced.

Now to our country, and the delectable irony of John Rich's remarks. A standard joke is that inbreeding is rampant in Appalachia and certain parts of the rural Deep South - with the linkage of country music being their favorite musical genre. It's an unfair and obsolete joke, but still used nevertheless. Further, Mr. Rich (of the group 'Big & Rich') owed his career to contacts within the Nashville music scene, some of whom are gay and probably deeply resented Mr. Rich's statement.

So we have Mr. Rich backpedalling via his spokespersons, and he's most likely lost some of the goodwill he's accrued in The Business over the years.

What do you think?

Half a Loaf

The Florida Legislature, those fucking wankers up in the grotesquely phallic state capitol up in Tallahassee, have finally managed to produce a property tax plan. Granted, it pleases almost exactly no one, and is far less than the crank-crazed House Speaker, GOP Marco Rubio, wanted.

When last we left this nest of greedheads, they were planning Phase Two of the Great Property Tax Reduction, which would guarantee that people would get about $200 a year back, gut municipal and county services, and basically piss everyone off.

Well, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the proposed ballot amendment (things like taxes have to be approved by 60% of the voters, which is a nice way of giving the Legislature the finger if they do stuff to anger us), forcing the various reps, Senators and lobbyists to set up another of their innumerable "special sessions" to hammer out a new bill that might pass Constitutional muster.

The new plan doesn't cause as much grief (doubles the homestead exemption and makes the Save Our Homes exemptions portable) as the original Phase Two, but as the midnight deadline approached the House was faced with a "take it or leave it" option.

They took it, and now it goes to court to get on the January ballot.

But wait! There's more!

Because it treats residents differently from non-residents who own property here, it may violate the US Constitution's requirement of equal treatment. Stay tuned, folks ...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

From Our "Well, DUH!" Desk ...

This neat little article comes to us from the BBC, as a teaser for a two-part series on the Iraq War and the United Kingdom's (specifically Tony Blair's) role in this whole sorry affair.

The article points out the woeful, even criminal, lack of postwar planning on the part of the United States. It seems that no one in the US government gave the idea of "Okay, what happens next?" any thought at all.

According to a textbook I own, Planning in the Public Sector, the State Department had done some planning, coming up with a fourteen-volume set of plans that covered all the aspects of postwar operations. However (I hate that word - it lands in a discussion with a thud like a mass of wet cement) postwar planning was handed over to the Defense Department, who essentially threw out what the State Department had put together and chose to 'wing it.'

So we ended up with incompetents (but good Party members) running things.

So we ended up with a worthless apparatchik named L. Paul Bremer as Viceroy.

So we ended up disbanding the Iraqi Army, throwing roughly 2 million men out into unemployment, giving them a grudge that they could use their military technology on.

So we ended up killing roughly 100,000 Iraqis and now there are 4 million Iraqis dispossessed and exiled.

So we ended up with 4100 coalition deaths, and a butcher's bill on borrowed money that our grandchildren will be hard-put to pay off.

Didn't anyone ever teach Dear Leader and his Cabinet the "Five Ps?"

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

This has turned out to be once of the worst Administrations this nation has ever had. Khrushchev said (I believe) that the United States would destroy itself from within, and it certainly looks like it from my vantage point, folks. And the worst thing is these rubes didn't fall through a portal from another dimension - they're the product of American schools, universities, business schools and were elected by people who should have known better.

I pray before Hecate and Ereshkigal that some day there will be a reckoning.

Words of Wisdom

This is from the body of work compiled by the 13th Century Sufi mystic, Jellaluddin Balkh, or Rumi:

Dance, when you're broken open.
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you're perfectly free.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

GOP Base Planning Session Transcript

(Theme music)

Narrator: Welcome to another episode of REPUBLICAN PLAYHOUSE, the only open theater for Real Americans. When we last saw our two red-blooded American heros, Clem and Ewalt, they were taking a break from the hard work of defending our fair country from their secret base in Ewalt's mother's basement . . .

SCENE: Suburban house, front porch, exterior – DAY

Clem: Know sumpin’, Ewalt?

Ewalt: What, Clem?

Clem: We’re in-TAYNSS-lee ignorant, ain’t we?

Ewalt: (laughs) Yeah, we sure are!

(Both laugh)

Ewalt: Clem?

Clem: Yeah, Ewalt?

Ewalt: What’s “ignorant” mean?

Clem: Dunno – but we’re IT!

(Both laugh)

Ewalt: (sighs) I’m bored.

Clem: You’re SMART ENOUGH to be bored, Ewalt?

Ewalt: Reckon so. Know what we oughta do? We oughta think up sumpin’ to piss off dem hippies, y’know?

Clem: Man, I hate them dirty hippies. They don’t talk like us.

Ewalt: Uh-huh.

Clem: And they ain’t got the everlastin’ love o’ Jeezus in they hearts like we do.

Ewalt: Uh-huh.

Clem: So what d’you think we should do?

Ewalt: Endorse that there OH-Bama fer Prez’dent.

Clem: OH-Bama?! Why, he ain’t no true Amurkan – he’s – he’s –

Ewalt: I know, Clem, but here’s the great part of it.

Clem: I’m listenin.’ Gimme a beer.

(Sound of beer opening)

Ewalt: See, OH-Bama might endanger that true Amurkan, Roo-dee Joo-lee-anni, so if’n we endorse him, none o’ the dirty hippies’ll vote fer him. See?

Clem: Ewalt?

Ewalt: Yeah, Clem?

Clem: We’re gonna need more beer. I’m startin’ to sober up, an’ you’re scaring me.

(Musical sting, with soap opera organ music over Narrator’s voiceover)

Narrator: Will Ewalt borrow his mom's car and get more beer before Clem sobers up? Are these two rubes as ignorant as they seem? Will their scheme to discredit Obama succeed, or will someone look up Giuliani’s skirts and spoil everything? Stay tuned to the next action-packed episode of . . . REPUBLICAN PLAYHOUSE!

(Country-style theme music to croon about the Flag and Baby Jeezus by.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Error Message

I was wrong.

I'll admit it, and the admission depresses me.

Not enough to swallow the business end of my shotgun, but close.

Back in November 2006, I had hoped (Oh! Foolish Hope!) that the incoming Democratic majority would stand firm against the Dear Leader and his merry minions, bring some sanity back into the government and make some of these people accountable for the way they've messed up my country.

Well, here it is almost a year since the election, and I have to admit I was mistaken.

The Democratic Representatives and Senators have shown themselves to be just as, if not more, complaisant and willing to grant Bush whatever he wants.

The polls say it all, but all you have to do is watch the news (preferably out of the UK or Canada - you can't get much from any of the US press combines). We're in trouble, ladies and gentlemen.

We are fighting a war in Iraq for no good reason except for oil, a war that is fought on borrowed money and was started based on lies, bad intelligence, and the most targeted ad campaign since William Hearst started the Spanish-American War.

Our total war against terror has destroyed our moral standing in the world. We have become what we deplore.

We have watched as our government has fallen apart, one branch thinking that its authority trumps all others in the name of "defending the country,' and the other two branches perfectly willing to let this once-great Republic slide into the dustheap of history.

So, I was wrong.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Holy Sheepshit, Batman

Hard on the heels (in relative time) of the revelation by the US Air Force that it briefly - yeah, 36 godsdamned hours - lost track of six nuclear weapons, comes this little story out of the US Navy:

Nuclear sub crew faked inspection records

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Six Navy personnel on board the nuclear-powered submarine USS Hampton have been punished for forging inspection records for the cooling system of the ship's nuclear reactor, Navy officials said Monday.

The misconduct was discovered on September 17 but was made public after completion of an initial investigation.

One officer and five enlisted personnel received a "non-judicial punishment" after other Navy personnel discovered their actions, Navy officials said.

The crew neither maintained inspection records nor conducted the required inspection of the chemical levels associated with the cooling system, the Navy officials said. The crew then went back and falsified existing records to make it appear the work had been done, the officials added.

"There is not, and never was, any danger to the crew or the public," the Navy said in a statement.

A fact-finding investigation is under way, and further action against Navy crew members is possible, a navy official said.

In all, the $900 million vessel's crew is composed of 13 officers and 116 enlisted personnel.

It is not clear if the disciplined personnel were still on board the vessel. The Hampton remains in port in San Diego.


Falsifying records is an old story, no matter if the business you're in is running a Kinko's or the largest and supposedly best-trained military machine on the planet. But there's a huge, staggeringly fucking huge difference between a copier and a nuclear reactor.

A copier is less inclined to give you that healthy glow in the dark if it malfunctions. For the Navy to say that there was no danger to the public or to the crew is a lie. Pure and simple.

Reactor safety is a major problem, as it runs at high temperature and pressure. The fissile material can't blow up, but it can really ruin your whole day if anything bad happens. Skipping safety inspections and then writing false reports can lead to that something bad happening.

You might see a number of people lose their rank and jobs; it's probably a lead-pipe cinch that the captain of the boat will lose his command over this.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Post-Vacation Roundup

Earlier this month, I decided to go on my annual vacation. I had a superfluity of bile that was making me both melancholy and choleric, and rather than purging and bleeding myself I figured that some time away from The Work and The House would do me good.

Did I go back to Germany? No. The weak dollar and the strong euro made that an almost instant decision. I decided to stay a bit closer to home.

For my first week of vacation I repainted my home office, then assembled various pieces of equipment and went camping at Lake Kissimmee State Park. It was cool in the evenings and hot in the afternoons, and rather humid (to the point that I never needed to light a campfire or use my primus stove to cook). While I saw the tracks of various deer, I didn't see any; instead I saw squirrels ands rabbits and could hear wild pigs rooting around after dark.

Still, the silence, broken only by the wind in the trees, was wonderful.

The second week was also the week of my birthday and I chose to stay for four days and three nights at a resort hotel on St. Petersburg Beach, having my needs catered to and relaxing in the sun beside the pool. I went out on my birthday to the Seminole Casino to do some gambling (something I've never done before). After losing $10 on the slot machines, I called a halt.

I also had a massage in the hotel's spa.

My room was very nice (bedroom, sitting room, kitchenette) and one could stand at the balcony railing and watch and listen to the sound of the Gulf of Mexico.

Waves breaking on shore. Ahhh.

The total cost of the vacation was roughly a quarter of my trip to Germany last year, and the whole two weeks have had a most profound effect on my humours.


Now that I've returned, time to see what's been going on.

The Turks gave the green light for their army to invade Iraq and try to put the kibosh on the PKK, but they're willing to give the US a chance to do it. Unfortunately, we rely on the good will of the Kurds (the only real success story in Iraq), and we also rely on the good will of the Turks (because we apparently get about 70% of our supplies through Turkey). A Gordian knot that I'm afraid Bush is intellectually ill-equipped to handle.

South Africa's military was testing a new robotic antiaircraft gun (an auto-firing cannon that could even reload itself) when something, as usual, Went Wrong. Several people died before the cannon ran out of ammunition and could be approached safely to shut it down.

The Florida Legislature ("Bending Voters Over Since 1821!") has found itself at loggerheads over this property tax mess, and a complete resolution will obviously take longer than the so-called 'special session' scheduled for it. Neat idea - stay in session until the work gets done, and stop wasting time with 'special sessions.' Jerks.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Forget the Elephant ...

This is the new symbol of the Republican Party. The Norway Lemming (Lemmus lemmus). Cute little bugger, isn't he?
According to myth, lemmings commit mass suicide by leaping off cliffs one after another into the sea or to a similar horrible fate. Kind of like the Republican members of the House and Senate, if you think about it.
Look at it this way: They've stuck like gum to Their Dear and God-Anointed Leader for so long they are fearful of breaking with him too publicly and risk losing their seats; on the other hand they're just as fearful of clinging to Bush too closely and risking being unseated by a Democratic challenger.
SCHIP's an example. Bush's veto was wrong, pure and simple, and made with so little fanfare he might just as well have climbed into Cheney's man-sized office safe to do the dirty deed. The Democratic leadership wants to override the veto (of course).
Bush has offered one of his famous olive branches, saying he's willing to "compromise" (for which read "Democrats, bend over and let me fuck you again").
All of which puts the GOP in both Houses in a quandary. Their leadership right now is urging them to close ranks and continue marching off the cliff like the good little lemmings they are, while their advisers are saying to override the veto so they can get the votes they need to stay in Washington.
Looks like an easy choice to me, since Bush isn't running for re-election.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Stupid ... it BURNS ...

Presumably (if you listen to the Administration and its paid mouthpieces) Our Dear Leader, George W Bush, is dead set on protecting us poor defenseless American peoples from those rascally and dangerous Moo-zlim Terrists.

Is there any way we can find someone to protect us from the Bush Administration?

It seems that several private firms have been listening in on Intenet and other traffic between terrorist and extremist websites, and have been feeding that data to the Government on the sly. Now I applaud that; it's good to get the jump on people on the quiet - SO LONG AS IT REMAINS QUIET.

What happened was that one of these websites (called, appropriately, SITE) managed to get its hands on the latest Osama video and a translation about two days before it came out. The company emailed the link to two aides in the White House, with a request to please please for the love of all that's holy keep it quiet.

Five hours later it was on Fox News, the propaganda wing of the White House and the Republican Party.

Comedian Ron White opined that "You can't fix stupid." I tend to agree with that, along with Robert Heinlein's dictum that stupidity is the only true sin against nature. The last thing the Bush Regime needs to do is show the American people once again that it and its merry minions are so stupid (How stupid are they?) that they can't be trusted with a box of burned-out matches.

Now, since The Stupid is all over Fox and the rest of the Right Wing Blowhardatron like fleas on a stray dog, I can expect about a week of people "defending the Administration's brave decision to release this information" while excoriating SITE for wanting to keep it to themselves and thereby endanger us.

I have a question now: We are arguably the second most heavily-armed civilian population on this planet (probably behind Israel) - How are we in danger, and from whom?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

They Call Me ...

Usually, when commenting on others' blogs, I use the nom de plume of 'The Wanderer.' I based the name years ago off an old poem (it was also a role-playing character), and one commenter here pointed the literary link out to me (thanks, Peter!). The poem, also titled The Wanderer, is an example of early Anglo-Saxon - that's before 1000 PE, folks.

If you click on the link, you'll see a transliteration of the original Anglo-Saxon on the left, and a modern standard English translation on the right. It's a melancholy poem, describing the feelings of a man cut off from the world he knew.

Sort of how we feel now, here in George Bush's America.

"A wise man must be patient,
He must never be too impulsive
nor too hasty of speech,
nor too weak a warrior
nor too reckless,
nor too fearful, nor too cheerful,
nor too greedy for goods,
nor ever too eager for boasts,
before he sees clearly."

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Strange Dichotomy

Today, for good or ill, we observe Columbus Day, commemorating ...

Okay. Now we get to the good parts.

He was an Italian (from Genoa, I believe) who sailed around quite a bit for business; around the Mediterranean, into the Atlantic as far as the Azores, and even up to Iceland. While he was up there, it is believed he may have heard the tales of Leif Ericsson and his voyage to "Vinland."

When he got back home, Columbus found out that a new map of the world had been published that showed that the Atlantic was a mere five thousand miles wide, and it was a clear shot directly from Europe to the spices and wealth of the fabulous Orient. With Portugal trying to get around Africa to India, and the Ottoman Empire sitting smack on the land spice routes, extracting hefty tolls from all and sundry, Columbus thought he had the answer.

No one in Italy was interested, so he took his show on the road and tried to convince the Portugese (who weren't interested) and the Spanish (who also weren't interested). Disgusted, he was on his way to France when a messenger arrived to ask him to please come back to Spain. The great voyage was on.

By adroit reasoning he reckoned that his map was inaccurate, and that the "Ocean Sea" was only 2500 miles wide. The Spanish royals supplied him with three old, slightly worn-out ships and he raised crews for them.

I won't bore you with the rest. Onward.

The islands Columbus "discovered" were already the property of the Carib Indians (from which we get the words "Caribbean" and "barbecue," and not much else, sad to say). These people were a lot like other indigenous peoples, reasonably content to farm, fish, hunt, raise the kids, raid other peoples' homes for stuff, and practice an occasional bit of cannibalism when the food started running low.

To say that exposure to the Europeans was an unmitigated disaster for the Caribs would be understating the case. The 'explorers' weren't looking for a new land; they wanted to get to Asia and impress the Great Khan of Cathay. The tiny amount of gold the Caribs had inspired the Europeans, so they went looking, and if that meant torturing (relatively) defenseless natives to get information, hey, it was all in a day's work.

Further, the Portugese had discovered the money to be had in the African slave trade (having acquired the idea from African rulers on their way down to the Cape of Good Hope). Wanting to get a cut of that action as well, the Spaniards started trying to enslave the Caribs.

Certain high-minded types thought that the 'Indians' should be converted to Christianity before being enslaved. Unfortunately, the Spaniards gave the Caribs the one thing they didn't know they had, and the Caribs surely didn't want: Disease.

Smallpox wiped out entire villages, because there was no immunity to the virus in the native population; it might be argued that since the Caribs introduced Europe to tobacco and syphilis (which the Spanish called the French Disease, and the French called the Spanish Pox) the honors were even.

While all this was going on, where was Columbus? He, hair prematurely white from stress, was still looking for China (or at least Japan), and steadily became more and more delusional. Just couldn't handle the disappointment, poor guy. He finally died, worn out, in Spain.

As the years have gone by and more and more evidence has accumulated, a dichotomy has sprung up regarding Columbus. Was he an intrepid but unlucky explorer who sought Asia but discovered the New World? Or was he the harbinger of a great wave of genocides that swept through the Caribbean into Mexico and south into Peru?

Actually he's both, but people tend to look at only one facet of a man's life or career. No one is cut from whole cloth, you see. Columbus was an unlucky businessman who guessed wrong; any "discoveries" he'd made were accidental. Most of the time it was his employees who started the chain of atrocities that most Native Americans remember on this day.

So, was he blameless?

Not really.

Could his actions perhaps be forgiveable, given the tenor of his times?


Friday, October 05, 2007


No, NOT me. Don't get your hopes up.

In the previous 597 posts on this blog, I may have mentioned the name Ann Coulter at some point, probably in a less than complimentary fashion. She said something recently, however, that attracted my attention almost instantly. Here it is, in a nutshell:

She wishes that women be no longer allowed to vote.

The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution granted the franchise to all women of voting age in this country, almost doubling the pool of eligible voters (recall that the original framework of the Constitution only granted the vote to white male property owners; it gradually extended that right to others). It took a lot of work by the suffragette movement, and some cooperation from others, to gain this right.

This egregious right-wing "commentator" (first off, are we SURE she's female?) wants to deny herself the right to vote, just to guarantee that the Democrats can't get anyone elected because, to her odd point of view, the Democrats attract more votes from women than they do from men.

Well, let's think about that a moment, Ann my dear.

Taking your hypothesis as true, do you think more women don't vote for Republican candidates because the basic creed of the Republican base is a return to women as subservient brood mares with no control over their bodies? Or is it because the GOP has no regard for issues such as children's health care? Or is it because some women might be afraid that their children will be rounded up, impressed into the military and sent off to fight even more unnecessary wars based on fraud?

Need I remind you, Ann, that you represent yourself as a woman? Here's a taste of what you'd expect if your wishes came true:

"Bitch, get your skinny ass in the kitchen and fetch me a beer, then bend over the coffee table so I can get you pregnant. Work? Your work involves cleaning the skidmarks out of my underwear for no pay or benefits. You want pay? Fine, I'll just slap you across the face five or six times, then break a chair over your head. Now, get in that kitchen."

How's that for a dose of the patriarchy, GOP style, Ann?

Ann, Ann, Ann ... I've seen this level of self-hatred before, recently in the words of a state official in Kansas - a woman, like you purport yourself to be. The problem, I think, is that you have attached yourself like a lamprey to an authoritarian ideology that so blinds you that it causes you to make statements that are so wildly divorced from reality as to be almost funny.

Not funny ha-ha, funny peculiar.

My best advice to you, Dear Ann, is to seek the advice of a psychiatrist and maybe get on some antidepressants before your behavior changes from simple self-hatred to self-destruction. Oh, and put on a few pounds, will ya? You remind me of a scarecrow.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

October 4, 1957 - A Defining Moment (Updated)

Beep …beep … beep …

The Soviet Union knew that the United States was trying to put a mechanism into Earth orbit that year, and the United States knew that the Soviet Union knew it. The Premier of the USSR, Nikita S. Khrushchev, ordered his chief rocket designers and other engineers and scientists to do something that would get the Soviets into space first.

It didn’t have to be very elaborate; not like the half-ton science lab already on the drawing boards. Just something simple to start with. The launch vehicle, the R-7 IRBM, was already built and had passed its firing tests.

Beep … beep … beep …

The finished product was the size of a beach ball, weighing 184 pounds. The Soviet Union’s chief rocket designer, Sergei Korolev, oversaw its installation in the missile and final preparations began.

From a spot on Kazakhstan’s Kyzyl Desert, a spot that would later be called Tyura Tam, the R-7 erupted and rose aloft on a tower of flames, carrying the satellite into low orbit. Its simple radio transmitter broadcast only one thing – a beep, in A-flat.

Beep … beep … beep …

The Eisenhower Administration had known that the Soviets were doing something, so they weren’t really surprised. Hardliners on both sides of the political divide and ordinary Americans, on the other hand, were shocked and panicked; Russia, so recently hammered to its knees by Stalin and the Nazi invasions of the Great Patriotic War, had beaten us into space.

Recriminations followed. People thumped their chests and bloviated from bully pulpits about the Red Menace, Missile Gaps and the necessity of Getting Up There Fast. That last took a while, as our missiles had an unfortunate tendency to fail spectacularly. Our first satellite was a paltry thing compared to the size of the Soviet satellite, but it could do a few more things.

Beep … beep … beep …

The Soviet effort (called Sputnik, or companion) triggered the space race between the superpowers, and soon other nations were joining the party. The advances in science triggered by the efforts gave rise to a lot of the technology we enjoy today (smaller, faster and more powerful computers; lightweight materials technology, etc.) and culminated less than twelve years later with human beings setting foot on Earth’s Moon.

Another reaction to Sputnik was the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), which changed educational priorities to math and science. After all, scientists were required if we hoped to beat the Soviets to the Moon and measure up to President Kennedy’s words to “do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Sputnik didn’t last long, falling to Earth less than a year after launch, but by then the Soviets had launched the first living things into space (among them, a mongrel dog named Laika).

Beep … beep … beep …

Sputnik’s launch was a defining moment in human history. When will the next Sputnik Moment come, and from where?

Beep … beep … beep …

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"No Kidding" Moment of the Day

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Symbols - Seperated At Birth?

Look a bit closely at the logo for the State Department's private army, the US-based mercenary "security" firm, Blackwater:

Red, white and black, with a symbol in the center (I'm guessing it's a bear paw or similar). And now, take a look at another symbol that is part of the West's collective unconscious:

Note any similarities?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Clarence Thomas Should STFU

Everyone hold a pity party for Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Ready? Eins, zwei, drei ...


Okay. You can stop now.

According to his new book, Thomas was less than thrilled by the news that he'd been confirmed as a Justice under the first Bush (that's George HW, the current dweeb's father) Administration. Bush tried to defend his choice of a patently unworthy nominee (who was tapped to fill the spot left by the retired Thurgood Marshall) by saying that we needed another African-American on the Court.

So Thomas was apparently a token, just a sop the GOP tossed to the dreaded liberals to keep them happy. Token he may have been, but his ideology was just slightly to the left of Robert Bork and his penchant for sexual harassment almost cost him the seat. I recall watching the confirmation hearings and wondering why he didn't just quit.

What is unfortunate is that, until he either dies or retires, we're stuck with him; him, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and John Roberts.

Besides, what the hell is he complaining about? He's yet another living embodiment of the Peter Principle, and has reached the highest point his incompetence can take him.

He should just Shut The Fuck Up.