30 August 2005

Off the air to burn the Man

I'm on the way out the door to wend my way out to Burning Man. So no posting for the next week.

I leave you with this quote from Hakim Bey's The Temporary Autonomous Zone, a manifesto unknown to most Burners but essential to understanding what the event is about. If Larry Harvey is the James Madison of Burning Man, then Bey is its John Locke, and T.A.Z. is analagous to Two Treatises on Government.

Uprising, or the Latin form insurrection, are words used by historians to label failed revolutions — movements which do not match the expected curve, the consensus-approved trajectory: revolution, reaction, betrayal, the founding of a stronger and even more oppressive State — the turning of the wheel, the return of history again and again to its highest form: jackboot on the face of humanity forever.

By failing to follow this curve, the up-rising suggests the possibility of a movement outside and beyond the Hegelian spiral of that “progress” which is secretly nothing more than a vicious circle. Surgo—rise up, surge. Insurgo—rise up, raise oneself up. A bootstrap operation. A goodbye to that wretched parody of the karmic round, historical revolutionary futility. The slogan “Revolution!” has mutated from tocsin to toxin, a malign pseudo-Gnostic fate-trap, a nightmare where no matter how we struggle we never escape that evil Aeon, that incubus the State, one State after another, every "heaven" ruled by yet one more evil angel.

If History IS “Time,” as it claims to be, then the uprising is a moment that springs up and out of Time, violates the “law” of History. If the State IS History, as it claims to be, then the insurrection is the forbidden moment, an unforgivable denial of the dialectic — shimmying up the pole and out of the smokehole, a shaman's maneuver carried out at an "impossible angle" to the universe. History says the Revolution attains “permanence,” or at least duration, while the uprising is “temporary.” In this sense an uprising is like a “peak experience” as opposed to the standard of “ordinary” consciousness and experience. Like festivals, uprisings cannot happen every day—otherwise they would not be “nonordinary.” But such moments of intensity give shape and meaning to the entirety of a life. The shaman returns—you can't stay up on the roof forever— but things have changed, shifts and integrations have occurred—a difference is made.

I'll see you when the uprising is over.


Update: It turns out that Hakim Bey is a creepy pædophile. Allow that to colour your reading of a his essay in the same way that antisemitism informs T. S. Eliot or slaveholding colours Thomas Jefferson in your mind.

Shuttle

I'm a sucker for the magic of space exploration — sending both robots and people — but the space shuttle program is exactly what's wrong with NASA. In A Rocket To Nowhere, Maciej Ceglowski explains why.

Future archaeologists trying to understand what the Shuttle was for are going to have a mess on their hands. Why was such a powerful rocket used only to reach very low orbits, where air resistance and debris would limit the useful lifetime of a satellite to a few years? Why was there both a big cargo bay and a big crew compartment? What kind of missions would require people to assist in deploying a large payload? Why was the Shuttle intentionally crippled so that it could not land on autopilot? 1 Why go through all the trouble to give the Shuttle large wings if it has no jet engines and the glide characteristics of a brick? Why build such complex, adjustable main engines and then rely on the equivalent of two giant firecrackers to provide most of the takeoff thrust? Why use a glass thermal protection system, rather than a low-tech ablative shield? And having chosen such a fragile method of heat protection, why on earth mount the orbiter on the side of the rocket, where things will fall on it during launch?

Taken on its own merits, the Shuttle gives the impression of a vehicle designed to be launched repeatedly to near-Earth orbit, tended by five to seven passengers with little concern for their personal safety, and requiring extravagant care and preparation before each flight, with an almost fetishistic emphasis on reuse. Clearly this primitive space plane must have been a sacred artifact, used in religious rituals to deliver sacrifice to a sky god.

As tempting as it is to picture a blood-spattered Canadarm flinging goat carcasses into the void, we know that the Shuttle is the fruit of what was supposed to be a rational decision making process. That so much about the vehicle design is bizarre and confused is the direct result of the Shuttle's little-remembered role as a military vehicle during the Cold War.

By the time Shuttle development began, it was clear that the original vision of a Shuttle as part of a larger space transportation system was far too costly and ambitious to receive Congressional support. So NASA concentrated on building only the first component of its vision ...

It's long and fascinating. I'd already been convinced that the Shuttle was a mess, but if I hadn't been, this article would have convinced me.


Update: @vruba at Tupperwolf has a related thought about the Shuttle.

Think of the Space Shuttle. Its basic technical design was silly. Both its fatal accidents were caused by problems that came from its byzantine liftoff configuration. If there were a problem at a certain point in the ascent, the plan was to reverse through its own exhaust plume. It was late, overbudget, and missed its turnaround time promise by a factor of five.

But its advocates knew it was the Shuttle or nothing. Their predecessors had sustained the Apollo program for more than a decade upon the firm assurance that getting white men to the moon, the moooon, should be budgeted under the heading of defending freedom. Of course, Congress eventually crunched the numbers and worked out that it wasn’t actually killing any Viet Cong whatsoever. The Shuttle people used a cleverer ruse: they spread its construction, and thus federal money, throughout the country. It had parts made in every state. I have no idea what’s in North Dakota or Maine that gets people into orbit, but they found something. And so Congress never wanted to cancel it, even when it was clearly the wrong idea. The Shuttle’s political engineering was a model of simplicity and reliability.

(Also, I would bet you a pound of fine medium-roasted Sidamo coffee beans, with notes of wine, marmelade, and blueberry, that defense and intelligence people were quietly pulling hard for the Shuttle well into the ’90s.)

29 August 2005

Rock me like a hurricane

NOLA.com is still blogging through the hurricane.

Fingers crossed for New Orleans. Hang tough.

28 August 2005

T Shirt

As a rule, I don't like t-shirts with words on 'em. But I might make an exception.

26 August 2005

Metaphilia

There needs to be a word for "this is the sort of thing you'll like if you like this sort of thing." Metaphilic, perhaps?

I bring it up because Digby at Hullabaloo hits one out of the park with a post for the hardcore politics junkies. He starts by chewing on a Gary Hart op-ed on the Iraq/Vietnam comparison ... talks about Democrats' hangover from the McGovern Miscalculation ... and then spins into some deep thinking about why the mainstream media seemed to have it in for Hart, Clinton, and Gore. Too twisty and complicated to quote. Very metaphilic.

And if you go there, you should follow his links. Mighty.

Whaddaya mean by fact?

Someone has constructed a website of "facts" about Vin Diesel like this one:
Vin Diesel is powered by the tears of the Chupakabra.
Um, okay.

25 August 2005

Popularity

Via Atrios, I learn that Cenk Uygur has done a little math with poll results.
George Bush’s approval ratings are at 36%. Those are pre-coup numbers. That’s when a politician in a third world country becomes so unpopular that a couple of generals decide to show him the door. Nixon at the height of Watergate was at 39%, three points HIGHER than Bush is right now. And people despised Nixon.
...
Bill Clinton approval rating when he left office was 66%! On the day of his impeachment (12/19/98), when supposedly regular Americans were disgusted by his actions, his approval rating was even higher. It was 72%.

I know some present day Republicans are a little science and math challenged, so I’ll help you with the math: 72 is exactly twice as much as 36.

Don't tell W, though. You know what kinds of things he gets up to when he feels a need to buoy his popularity.

24 August 2005

Burn baby burn

Burning Man is next week. I'll be there starting Wednesday morning.

I just got the word from the Tortoise that our camp will be between Bipolar and Catharsis @ 6:30. I'll also be paying a visit to the Man at 11:00 in the morning each day ... or rather, each day that I motivate.

I'll be the guy dressed a bit like T. E. Lawrence.

Up, up ...

If you care, you probably already know that Bryan Singer has abandoned the X-Men to direct the only film that would justify such treachery ... Superman Returns. It's gonna be great.

Serious film-and-comics geeks should check out the production's video blog which is full of chocolately goodness about the production. There are a few spoilers, but not too bad --- the main thing we learn is that the sets are gorgeous.

If you're only a film geek, and have a soft spot for celebrity pop culture weirdness, go there just to check out blog entry #7, "The Call." I won't spoil the reason why.

23 August 2005

Folktales

It's been kicking around the web for years, but it occurs to me that some of my readers who might be interested have not yet read the fascinating article Myths Over Miami.
Captured on South Beach, Satan later escaped. His demons and the horrible Bloody Mary are now killing people. God has fled. Avenging angels hide out in the Everglades. And other tales from children in Dade’s homeless shelters.

22 August 2005

Yuppie feti

Some of my readers may not be familiar with Joe Bob Briggs, drive-in movie critic extraordinaire, who may be the greatest living American satirist. Yes, his central schtick is reviewing really, really bad movies. And yes, he truly loves really, really bad movies.

But also, nearly every one of his reviews starts out with some biting—and very funny—social commentary. And his free-standing essays outnumber his movie reviews.

He's also the author of my single favourite pro-choice debunking of the pro-life movement, included in his 1990 collection The Cosmic Wisdom of Joe Bob Briggs. As a service to the world, I am reprinting it here.


Yuppie Feti

Now that the Fetus Fans have won their court battle, I'd like to suggest some measures we can take to make the next eighteen years sufferable. You don't have to worry about any time after the next eighteen years, because by then entire armies of feti will be swarming across the country, and they'll be able to vote. Of course, many of em won't make it. By that time the death penalty will apply to six-year-olds and up, and many of these orphaned feti will be killing one another, in a kind of retroactive birth control.

Anyhow, here's what I think we should do. From now on each fetus should be registered. In the past all you had to do was say, “I don't want no fetus in my bod.” What we should have women do now is go down to the post office as soon as they get pregnant, get a computer number for the fetus they don't want, and then go over to the courthouse steps, like you once did when you went there to say, “I will no longer be responsible for my wife's debts.” Only this time you say, “Come get this here fetus.”

No takers?

The county agent searches the crowd for a moment, looking for volunteer parents.

The next day somebody gets a call:

“Mr. Randolph C. Bisselman? Glad I caught you. We have a homeless fetus here and we've run a random computer matchup from a list of Pro Life activists. Congratulations! We'll be sending over Fetus No. 4789542. You might want to write that number down for your records. And I'm sure that your political, social, and religious views will shape this young fetus into a fine human being. By the way, if you'd like to view the fetus, we'd be happy to order a sonogram as soon as we locate the mother. She works, you know.”

Wouldn't this work? Why not? I am not being facetious. Let's look at all of the possible objections.

1. “That child is not my responsibility.”

It's not this lady's responsibility either. She wanted sex, not a baby. In fact, this lady can't even pronounce “responsibility." If she gives birth to the baby, she'll probably only change its diapers once a week. This lady is the kind of lady who should have children taken away from her. Surely you don't want her to do the job?

2. “Okay, it's the government's responsibility.”

You think the government is gonna take this fetus to McDonald's or buy it a GI Joe with a kung-fu grip? We got to have a human being here.

3. “Okay, a social worker should do it.”

Most of em are gone—spending cuts. I've got a sister in Little Rock who runs a privately supported foster home. She's full all the time, tending all the little yard monsters she can handle. And so is just about every other foster home. Nope. We've got to have some individual human beings.

4. “I don't have the money.”

You've got more money than the mommy.

5. “I have my own kids to take care of.”

Kids adjust to anything. It's your attitude we've got to work on.

6. “It's not fair.”

Now you're talking.

7. “A baby is a full-time job, and I'm not ready for that commitment in my life right now.”

Excellent.

8. “At the very least I should get some money from the government for the time I'll spend raising that baby.”

Point well taken.

9. “Nobody can do this to me!”

Very good. Very very good. You've finally reached the emotional point of view of a poor single woman who just found out she's pregnant.

Don't worry, though, we'll all pitch in, help you out, buy the fetus a baseball bat. You just think you don't want it. Later it'll become the most precious thing in the world to you, because of what the two of you went through together. Trust me.

21 August 2005

S for Suess, I guess

Thanks to Indigo's poem which I blogged a while back, Isomeme reports:
I'm hearing T. S. Eliot in a head-on collision with Dr. Seuss:

I would not dare to eat a peach
I would not walk upon the beach
I could not hear the mermaids sing
I could not see the love you bring

I say it now without a pause
I should have been a pair of claws!
Hmmnn. Is "Prufrock" the most alluded poem in modern English literature? "The Raven" probably beats it out, but combined with Suess, the pair might come out on top.

Memento

Via Brad Plumer, I learn that the Village Voice has an article on cheating on exams.
Scientific equations seem to be the most popular at the moment, students opting for tattoos with the most long-term value and breadth of application. Tattoo parlors consulted for this piece all cite inside-arm tattoos of the quadratic equation as the street favorite, with full-stomach tattoos of the Periodic Table of Elements as the second, though infinitely more painful, most popular option.
... which gets me thinking “Maxwell's equations in the differential form are both conceptually elegant and æsthetically beautiful,” but ...
“Science is sexy,” says Colin Klein, a college student, “but it's also very useful.” Klein's tattoo, a multiplication table that covers his entire body, took 10 years and over $500,000 to complete—you do the math.

But not all tattoo cheaters are in it for the long run. “Down my left arm I got a list of 30 adjectives,” explains Simon Moerder, a student at a well-known American university who's using tattoos to take the GRE at the end of the summer. “Down my right arm I got another list of adjectives—except they're antonyms. So when the test people look at my arms, they see art. But when I look at my arms, I see answers.”

... bloody hell, they're just pulling my leg. But I really do know someone who's thinking about getting one of these.

20 August 2005

Factcheck squared redux

Close readers of my blog may recall that I dissed FactCheck.org for dropping the ball about Social Security. The Decemberist lays a mighty smackdown on them, if you're interested.
Is factcheck.org politically biased? I don't know, but my guess would be that it's not. The problem is that they get played, and I think the GOP has been more aggressive about playing them. If you set yourself up as the last word on the truth or falsehood of ads, you will immediately be the addresse of a lot of spin. Factcheck obviously wants to respond quickly, and they want to respond with clear assertions of truth or falsehood, unlike many of the newspaper "ad watch" projects which are so mealy-mouthed that a reader winds up more confused after reading it than before. But trying to fulfill those two goals, its far too easy to read the first spin that comes in on the fax, conclude that it sounds persuasive, and run with it.

Newspapers make errors, blogs make errors, political ads stretch the truth and make errors. But to have the credibility to be the ultimate arbiter of truth in political discourse, factcheck.org has to be impeccable. They have to limit their assertions to things that can be said with certainty and they need to at the very least correct their errors immediately. Factcheck.org has forfeited the opportunity to play that role.

It breaks my heart, a bit: the site was a good idea.

19 August 2005

The opposite of the intended effect

Via Billmon's excellent comments around Cindy Sheehan, I learn that the Boston Globe reports on chemical weapons in Iraq. There's a little reminder:
The Bush administration cited evidence that Saddam Hussein's government was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction as the main justification for the invasion. No such weapons or factories were found.
But the lede of the story is this:
US troops raiding a warehouse in the northern city of Mosul uncovered a suspected chemical weapons factory containing 1,500 gallons of chemicals believed destined for attacks on US and Iraqi forces and civilians, military officials said yesterday.

The early morning raid last Monday found 11 precursor agents, ''some of them quite dangerous by themselves," a military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan, said in Baghdad.

Combined, the chemicals would yield an agent capable of ''lingering hazards" for those exposed to it, Boylan said. The likely targets would have been ''coalition and Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi civilians," partly because the chemicals would be difficult to keep from spreading over a wide area, he said.

Boylan said the suspected lab was new, dating from sometime after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Emphasis mine. Didn't want you to miss how much safer this invasion has made us.

18 August 2005

Jelly donut

It turns out that JFK's German was fine, and he did say what he meant after all.

17 August 2005

Social class

Brad Plumer has an incicive comment about how social class connects to one's work — and wriggles out of the over-simple idea that higher income equals higher social class.

One way to define class — and this is hardly an original thought — is to look not at income but at power. Power in the workplace. Power in the world. The working class, from this point of view, can be defined as those who do their jobs under strict supervision, have little control over what they do or how fast they do it, and have no power over anyone else. Notice I picked this definition somewhat deliberately; these are precisely the sorts of people who, under labor law, can join a union. Obviously the definition's not hard and fast. I'm in a union, after all, because at work I technically get no input into the Mother Jones budget, and have precisely zero authority over any other employee. So that's the law. In practice, though, I do have the ability to hire, promote, and fire interns, I get to work at my own pace, and have wide discretion over what projects I want to pursue. So I'd put myself in the middle class, even if I make far less, income-wise, than many who would be considered working class. Intuitively, this classification makes far more sense than calling me “working class” and, say, a well-paid, unionized electrician “middle class.”

I like this. I have a tendency, when talking about class, to avoid talking about “middle” class for this very reason, and refer to “working” versus “professional;” I break things up into poor, working poor, working, professional, intellectual, upper professional, aristocratic.

16 August 2005

Is Iran next?

Having heard rumblings that the neo-cons in power are unsatisfied with the debacle in Iraq and want to also invade Iran, one wonders where the troops for that are supposed to come from.

Via Justin Logan, American Conservative magazine has a disturbing answer.

The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing --- that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack --- but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.
Several senior Air Force officers are apparently cowards who are failing their country.

15 August 2005

Ideograph idiocy

Via Christa Faust, I learn of Hanzi Smatter, a blog "dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters (Hanzi or Kanji) in Western culture." It's a strangely fascinating object lesson in dumbth, particularly around folks getting Kanji tattoos that mean unintended things --- or that are "typos" that mean nothing at all.

Which of course makes me think of J-List's famous "stupid foreigner" t-shirt.

14 August 2005

Bias

Quiz time: which paranoid lefty blogger wrote this about the vulnerability of the press to right-wing think tank propaganda?
Journalists are, perforce, generalists; they have limited time and expertise and are always confronted by what I call the tyranny of the blank page or the broadcast slot. Whether they are ready or not, the paper is coming out tomorrow morning and the news is going on at six p.m. They’ve got to fill so many column inches, or so many minutes of airtime. Period.

And, being rational people, they want to fill those pages and minutes with the least effort, and at the least risk to themselves. If they can come out looking good as well --- looking like they have mastered their topic, gathered new and provocative insights, or clearly advanced the public debate --- they, and their bosses feel that they’ve had a good day.

But there are other, less obvious, things, that you need to grasp if you are to put yourself in the journalist’s shoes .... to most journalists (and, indeed, to most people) the value of ideas is far from self-evident. That, and not the supposedly left-wing bias of the media is, in my view, the single biggest obstacle to effective communication ...

Really, guess. Then come read the answer... Why, it's from a primer on media relations published by the right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation.

You may want to read the whole thing.

13 August 2005

Anecdotal evidence

So reading Focus On The Family's list of seven signs of gender confusion in young boys, I see at least five of these signs when I was a kid. I have lived in San Francisco for the last eight years, so I've had every opportunity for any lurking homosexuality to surface.

And yet, strangely, I am heterosexual.

I can only conclude that Focus On The Family has no fucking idea what they're talking about.

Many others agree.

12 August 2005

Today's quote

Seen in large letters in the Old Navy store window:
Fit in
Stand out
Says it all, doesn't it?

Touched by his noodly appendage

Following up on my earlier post about the growing religion of flying spaghetti monsterism, I offer you FSM supplies. And the original FSM page is full of new stuff. Like this ...
"As a scientist, I'd like to say that the currently accepted scientific theory is evolution. But, some competing ideas have been proposed, such as ID and FSMism, and discussion to include one should include the other, as these ideas are equally valid." -- Mark Zurbuchen, Ph.D
... and much much more. Not to mention that my study of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has also turned me on to study of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

Remember to ask yourself: WWFSMD?

11 August 2005

Stranger than science fiction

Marxist science fiction writer Ken MacLeod blogs his experience at this year's World Science Fiction convention.
Ever the sucker for space movement memorabilia, I bought badges of Gagarin, Koralev, and a pioneer cadre of cosmonauts from the Russian fans' table (manned by the same guys as ten years ago, selling the same commie kitsch). Their Worldcon bid is for Moscow 2017.
Follow me down the hall of mirrors: this SF writer's factual account of a real event in the science fictional sounding year of 2005 reads like a piece of science fiction someone might have written in 1985.

10 August 2005

What George denied us

A while ago, I plugged Darth Vader's blog. It seems the Dark Lord of the Sith has made his last post, and it is a triumph, tying the whole story together.

My son said, “I know there is good in you. The Emperor hasn't driven it from you fully. That was why you couldn't destroy me, that's why you won't bring me to your Emperor now.”

....

Through the fabric of the Force I could feel him reaching out to me, his hand open. It just about broke my heart. Only Shmi Skywalker knew love that pure, and I felt her spirit stir within him to my horror and shame. I took hold of the railing, fearing I would fall.

And then I felt the slithering tentacles of Darth Sidious' mind descend upon my consciousness, encircling my wounded heart and cooling it. A voice in my thoughts asked me what destiny of chaos I would have the galaxy face if not for the strength of the enduring New Order. My spirit suffused with a dark light, and my leg began to feel normal again.

I turned around to face my son. “You don't understand the power of the dark side. I must obey my master.”

Luke made his appeal again, stepping up to me and searching my lenses with his eyes. “I feel the conflict with you, let go of your hate!”

Poor fool, if only he knew. Innocent as a junior temple youngling, he parroted the dead preachings of an extinct order of loveless charlatans. If only the difference between dark and light were so simple as not being afraid. He cannot conceive of the fear he must know if he is to face the burden of the true Force.

I swear, it even manages to make poetic sense out of Shmi Skywalker's virgin birth. If you have any love left for Star Wars, check it out.

09 August 2005

Lasershark

The good people at The Onion, America's Finest News Source, have seen fit to kill their archives, so it's hard to find this little gem. A buddy of mine was good enough to rustle it up for me, so I hereby make it available to the world.

By Now, The Uzbekistanis Have Discovered The Disappearance Of Their Orbital Platform

Ah, I see we're all here. Well done, everyone. I was confident you could all get to this odd corner of Argentina by noon GMT, and you did not disappoint. Although I'm distressed that two of you were forced to risk exposure by using commercial flights. However, as you'll soon see, identity-containment is not our primary concern at this time.

Gentlemen, Mei-Ling, we are in crisis as of seven minutes ago, when space station UCCCPZ-5476-43-B failed to crest the horizon over Gdazny. Even if our adversary's NKVD-trained orbital-warfare officers have been uncharacteristically slow on the uptake, we must assume that the Uzbekistanis have, by now, discovered the disappearance of their Rasputin orbital kinetic-energy-weapon platform.

Please, everyone, quiet! We may be in a godforsaken backwater, and this may be a tent, but it is my operations center, and I will have silence. I will explain this to everyone once, understand? As we speak, the vital details are being burst-transmitted to your comlinks --- for Klaus and Morgan, to your implants. For now, unless I indicate otherwise, please assume the worst. It's that bad.

Yes, operatives, it has come to this. Six weeks ago, the decision was made to open the Prometheus Dossier. Certain individuals felt that the Uzbeks were too ... unstable, politically and financially, and could not be allowed to retain possession of certain leftover Russian toys. The European space agencies were very helpful in allowing us use of crucial resources and facilities, and there you have it. The Fader and his men intervened personally, and now we hold the high ground, if you will. But it was a risky project, and it has brought us to the brink.

At approximately 0515 Greenwich, a French AUGUR/CASSANDRA-class low-Earth-orbit meson-resonator operated by an adversary agency detected disturbances in the Earth's magnetosphere above the South Pole. This is not unusual, given the nature of certain international sub-indigo-clearance projects being carried out below the remaining Ross Ice Shelf, but it alerted someone it should not have, and a message was sent to the Uzbeks. Though several selfless anti-communications personnel gave their lives in the attempt, we could not intercept the transmission. But they do not know where we have moved Rasputin. We think they're searching exotic circumlunar orbits at the moment. Which is uncomfortably close to the truth, but it's a big sky.

So. If we are to avoid the biggest debacle since Barcelona, we must act quickly. Samandrea, you will compile a roster of anything with unfired retro-rockets in near-earth orbit. It does not matter what company, government, or international organization claims ownership; just get the damn list to Broadbranch in Emergency Acquisitions, cross-referenced with time-to-orbit for the following vectors. Also, get that idiot Alexei to estimate the survivability of a quarter --- no, make that a half-kilo of weaponized plutonium entering the atmosphere in all possible insertion patterns for the orbits in this sitrep.

And let's have some coffee. A threat to civilization as we know it is no reason to neglect civilization as we know it, as your uncle would say. How the hell that buzzard dealt with this sort of thing happening every day during his tenure I don't know, God have mercy on his soul. There are days I wish he were still in charge, and I were still a station-keeper in Halifax. Not that I'd want to be in a coastal city if we screw this up.

All right. Technically, I'm not supposed to ask, but do we have any survivors of Project Yggdrasil in this room? Don't give me that look, Molyneaux! Allegations of mutiny and cannibalism were never proven, and they may be the finest zero-gravity combat elements in the Western world. Ben? Quinn? Sidney? I thought so, not that I ever would have asked. Why, Mr. Rosewood, you old coot, I never would have thought it. You are all promoted two ranks as of this moment, unless that would put you above me. Sorry, Quinn.

Congratulations to all of you. Now get to the scramjet at the helipad. You're expected at the Buenos Aires facility within the hour, where you will be issued Gauss weapons, fitted for extravehicular BDU packs, and rotated through circulatory-fluid replacement and augmentation by 0300. I hope you didn't have big breakfasts, gentlemen. You're deploying, rather vertically, within six hours. Godspeed. I wish I were going with you.

Mei-Ling! Get off that damn phone!

Right. I want the short list of equatorial nations who owe us favors and a geographical abstract of any relatively uninhabited tracts of land that are at least 12 miles long east-to-west and situated well above sea level. Evacuate the locals from each and every one of them, minimizing collateral losses. Don't look at me like that! If we did Laramie, we can do this.

Good. Now, Sergei, get at least one of your trained crisis-salvage crews to each of these locations and tell them that a high-speed cargo, hot in both the thermal and radioactive senses, will be arriving in a big hurry within, let me see, 18 hours. They need to have it on the trucks before sunrise local time. For those few who don't know Cyrillic, make sure you issue them cards showing the Russian designations for radioactivity, high magnetism, and xenotechnology.

All right. Everyone else is standby. Those with family in Western capital cities, please see the psych officer. Everyone else grab some sleep. It's going to be a long night.


This article reprinted in full without permission for the purposes of discussion and review, as permitted by Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976

08 August 2005

Corruption

The next time you hear neo-cons braying about the "oil for food scandal," claiming that the corruption in the program is proof that the UN is hopelessly corrupt and hypocritical, reflect on the story of the Coalition Provisional Authority.
At the end of the Iraq war, vast sums of money were made available to the US-led provisional authorities, headed by Paul Bremer, to spend on rebuilding the country. By the time Bremer left the post eight months later, $8.8bn of that money had disappeared.
Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. What does that say about the US and our Iraq policy?

07 August 2005

Gasguy

MKB points me at My Life as a...Gas Station Attendant, which is indeed a magnificent example of the beloved True Tales of Service Industry Adventure genre of blogging. My longtime readers may remember my plug for this sort of thing before.

Consider this from the Gasguy's post "Vision."

I have just been in the presence of a mystic, a sage who wants nothing because he knows that he already has everything, who lives by his needs and gives of the little that he has. I feel a sense of wonder and awe that an angel has been sent into my convenient store, and a twinge of envy that when this man dies he will melt away into Nirvana, stroll unassumingly through the back door of heaven, while I’m busy being reborn 40,000 more times or rotting in Purgatory or whatever while I work out why I assumed initially that he was a vagrant. My hell, as Peter Gabriel once wrote, will be a big hell --- and I will walk through the front door.
Lots more great stuff there. Joe Bob says check it out.

06 August 2005

Hiroshima

At 8:15 a.m. on 6 August 1945, sixty years ago today, a nuclear weapon was used against human targets for the first time.

My country did it. We are the only ones who have used nuclear weapons to kill. My country.

The city of Hiroshima was the target chosen because it was relatively untouched by previous bombing, and so the effects of the nuclear explosion would be more dramatic. Around 80,000 people died immediately from the effects of the blast, and much of the city was leveled. It is hard to say exactly how many more died from radiation aftereffects; at least again as many, and probably more.

I want to hold that dark thought.

There is a range in which reasonable people can differ, talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I think that it would have been better for humanity if the Bomb had remained a weapon that we had deemed too terrible to use. In our world of nuclear proliferation today, the symbolism would be a deterrent that might help give even the most passionate warriors pause.

But I can respect people who believe that that dropping the Bomb was the better of two bad options. They say that nuclear weapons preëmpted a catastrophically bloody invasion of Japan to end the Second World War. Six decades later, we still haven't used up all of the Purple Heart medals — for injuries in line of battle — which we manufactured in preparation for that invasion.

Lefties like me often argue that neither an invasion nor the Bomb were necessary. The Japanese were close to surrender. The US was stupid to insist on “unconditional surrender,” since this implied to the Japanese that we would kill the Emperor — which we didn't even end up doing. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were really about sending a message to the Russians that we were willing to use the Bomb.

There are good reasons to think this, but it's impossible to be sure. Even a serious historian cannot know the final truth of what might have been. And there are good reasons to think this critique may be wrong. Via DeLong, I learn that the Weekly Standard has a long and fascinating article about some of the new scholarship on the question that casts doubt on those classic lefty critiques, based on newly-available information from both sides of the war, including the code-name “Magic” briefings which US leaders had about decoded Japanese message traffic.

Were the Japanese close to surrender? According to the Weekly Standard article, they weren't, and the US knew it.

The intercepts of Japanese Imperial Army and Navy messages disclosed without exception that Japan's armed forces were determined to fight a final Armageddon battle in the homeland against an Allied invasion. The Japanese called this strategy Ketsu Go (Operation Decisive). It was founded on the premise that American morale was brittle and could be shattered by heavy losses in the initial invasion. American politicians would then gladly negotiate an end to the war far more generous than unconditional surrender. Ultra was even more alarming in what it revealed about Japanese knowledge of American military plans. Intercepts demonstrated that the Japanese had correctly anticipated precisely where U.S. forces intended to land ...

Would a guarantee of protection for the Emperor have made surrender possible? Again, the Weekly Standard article suggests no.

... when Foreign Minister Togo informed Ambassador Sato that Japan was not looking for anything like unconditional surrender, Sato promptly wired back a cable that the editors of the “Magic” Diplomatic Summary made clear to American policymakers “advocate[s] unconditional surrender provided the Imperial House is preserved.” Togo's reply, quoted in the “Magic” Diplomatic Summary of July 22, 1945, was adamant: American policymakers could read for themselves Togo's rejection of Sato's proposal — with not even a hint that a guarantee of the Imperial House would be a step in the right direction.
....
Because of [Under Secretary of State] Grew's documented advice to Truman on the importance of the Imperial Institution, critics feature him in the role of the sage counsel. What the intercept evidence discloses is that Grew reviewed the Japanese effort and concurred with the U.S. Army's chief of intelligence, Major General Clayton Bissell, that the effort most likely represented a ploy to play on American war weariness. They deemed the possibility that it manifested a serious effort by the emperor to end the war “remote.” Lest there be any doubt about Grew's mindset, as late as August 7, the day after Hiroshima, Grew drafted a memorandum with an oblique reference to radio intelligence again affirming his view that Tokyo still was not close to peace.

If all that was true, was dropping the Bomb the right decision? I still say no, but I can respect people who think it was the best we could do — if they still recognize the horror of it, the step into evil that it represented. To quote the Tao Te Ching XXXI again, this time Stephen Mitchell's translation:

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

The important thing for us to today, looking back, is that we must not dismiss the moral weight. Arthur Silber at The Light of Reason argues that this element of how we tell the Hiroshima story is very, very important.

Referring to American leaders, the Chicago Tribune commented: “Being merciless, they were merciful.” A drawing in the same newspaper pictured a dove of peace flying over Japan, an atomic bomb in its beak.

Make that image real to yourself: a dove of peace — with an atomic bomb in its beak. And then make real the image of a parent beating his young child over and over with a belt, and insisting all the time: “I’m doing this because I love you! I’m doing it for your own good!

Do you see the connection now, and why there are no more important issues in the world than these? Well over 200,000 people were killed by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and almost all of them were, intentionally and by design, innocent civilians. Make no mistake: these were war crimes, if that phrase has any meaning at all.

And yet we tell ourselves, even today, that we were “merciful,” that we did it for our own good (to shorten the war) — and that we did it even for the good of the Japanese.

If the first denial is allowed to continue and is never challenged, you will be prepared to deny anything — and you will believe the most monstrous lie in the world. You will even believe that you will save the world by destroying it.

Silber talks again and again on his blog about how this madness is a danger.

So I mourn, with sorrow and great compassion, as we should lest the madness consume us.

05 August 2005

Propaganda

Oh yeah. Let's go.

Via Amygdala, whom I should read more often.

03 August 2005

Labrynthine

Via Miriam bat Asherah, a cartoon that would run on the Borges Channel if there were such a thing.

02 August 2005

Insurgency

Via Mark A. R. Kleiman, an excellent long overview of the current problems in Iraq in the New York Review of Books.
There is, in fact, no Iraqi insurgency. There is a Sunni Arab insurgency. And it cannot win. Neither the al-Qaeda terrorists nor the former Baathists can win. Even if the US withdrew tomorrow, neither insurgents nor terrorists would be knocking down the gates to Iraq's Presidential Palace in Baghdad.

Basically, the military equation in Iraq comes down to demographics. Sunni Arabs are no more than 20 percent of Iraq's population. Even in Baghdad—once the seat of Sunni Arab power—Sunni Arabs are a minority. To succeed, the insurgency would have to win support from Iraq's other major communities—the Kurds at 20 percent and the Shiites at between 55 and 60 percent. This cannot happen.

I've been guilty of seeing the insurgency as a nationalist anti-occupation movement myself. But I think that's a result of sticking too close to the Vietnam analogy.

But a Sunni Arab insurgency is not really comforting news. It points to how there is no strong Iraqi national identity for us to support; instead, there's a complicated set of tensions between the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs, and the Shi'ite Arabs that cannot be reconciled. And the majority Shi'ites are uncomfortably cosy with Iran.

There are two central problems in today's Iraq: the first is the insurgency and the second is an Iranian takeover. The insurgency, for all its violence, is a finite problem. The insurgents may not be defeated but they cannot win. This, of course, raises a question about what a prolonged US military presence in Iraq can accomplish, since there is no military solution to the problem of Sunni Arab rejection of Shiite rule, which is now integral to the insurgency.

Iraq's Shiites endured decades of brutal repression, to which the United States was mostly indifferent. Iran, by contrast, was a good friend and committed supporter of the Shiites. By bringing freedom to Iraq, the Bush administration has allowed Iraq's Shiites to vote for pro-Iranian religious parties that seek to create—and are creating —an Islamic state.

It's a long article, but worth reading through.