Wednesday 30 June 2004

You Live and Learn

For much of my life, I have been agin Communism, Marxism, and all associated baggage. I still firmly believe that the Marxist Labour theory of Value is not merely false, but demonstrably and easily shown to be completely bogus (Labour theory of Cost is another matter). There's also no doubt that in the last century, tens of millions of people died as the results of deliberate actions by Communist regimes, mainly under Mao and Stalin, but also under others. Closer to home, I've worked alongside a man with a passion for engineering, a man of great natural ability who just wanted to architect stuff that was the best possible - yet who had been denied a place at University because his parents were Academic Bourgoisie, and the Workers and Peasants (or rather, their self-appointed representatives) didn't want the growth of an Intellectual class. His place likely went to some politically reliable but thick-as-two-short-planks student who could parrot the Party Line, but who didn't care two hoots about the people who were going to use his creations, nor that they were shoddy and unreliable. That was the standard way of doing things in the late-and-unlamented DDR (East Germany).

And yet... consider this from Socialism in an age of Waiting :
Like the SPGB (Socialist Party of Great Britain) , and as indicated in the very name of this blog, we're waiting for the majority of workers to come to the conclusion that socialism is worth building and worth fighting for (and only then actually get on with the task). However, unlike the SPGB, we don't think that there is nothing worthwhile that anyone can do in the meantime to shorten the age of waiting. The obvious fact that the world is - on the whole, and even taking into account all its enduring horrors and injustices and inequalities - a better place, for many more people, than it was in 1904 seems to us to show that some progress is possible even within (some forms of) capitalism. We'd even argue that such progress - albeit it is limited, distorted, corrupt and, often, made for the wrong reasons by the wrong people - itself contributes to the eventual building of socialism, by educating and galvanising those who will build it (yes, comrades, Kautsky is worth re-reading). To be even briefer: we accept the doctrine of the lesser evil, and the definition of politics as the art of the possible; the SPGB don't.
Then again, they're the genuine article, a Marxist party that has not changed its stance or diluted its principles over the years - and that has to make them a whole lot better than all the pseudo-left sects put together.
This is Marxism? Well, yes it is. But nothing remotely like the odious doctrine I loath and detest. It is very... human. It recognises facts, reality, that exists despite what doctrine says. It even gives some credit to people who the author believes are deeply wrong. OK, we differ radically on methods: but I see a kindred spirit when it comes to the results we're aiming for. And I too have a grudging respect for people who have tried to keep their idealism alive, despite tha fall of so many of their dreams.

Now I'm not a Socialist. Except in the late 19th century sense of the word, where I may fit. I worship the Gods of Individual freedom, of opportunity to do either well or badly, and the concept of ownership of property. But not to the exclusion of basic humanity. To the Randites who say 'taxes/charity from those with ability and drive, to those without the ability or who are just bone idle is the path to destruction', I say 'It's my money, I worked damned hard to earn it, those who paid me got a lot more value than they paid for, so how dare you tell me what to do with it!'

Yes, I believe strongly in Capitalism, a Free Market, as a very good means of maximising total wealth generation. But I also recognise that there are Natural Monopolies that inevitably destroy the 'Perfect freedom' of the market, some intervention is required in some sectors. To me, this is self-evident, just look around you. Not all monopolies are bad, but power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and monopoly is a form of power.

I also recognise that there's such a thing as Bad Luck. I want equality of opportunity - anything else is unjust. Equality of outcome is another matter, some people will make stupid or malicious choices, and if they get no punishment, or worse, get rewarded for this behaviour, then obviously they'll continue it. But some people are just victims of circumstances, and what is taxation and a social security net but a form of insurance that spreads the risk? Or at least, that's what it would be in a perfect world.

I've seen people who, through no fault of their own, and despite their best efforts, have been put in parlous states. I've also seen people who, given great opportunities, have pissed it all away and have ended up destitute. Funnily enough, in my personal experience it's the latter who always scream the loudest for handouts from those 'more fortunate', most of whom were a lot less fortunate, but worked harder and played less, sacrificing immediate pleasure for long-term gain.

But the punishment of Poverty should only be confined to those who brought it on themselves, and not to succeeding generations, nor innocent victims of circumstance. Moreover, unless you live in a society which is too poor to afford subsidising a few drones, starvation is a punishment far too severe. On the other hand, I can't help feeling that when charitable organisations refuse to take Black and White TVs because to donate them to the poor would show disrespect, that things have gone too far the other way.

Does this political ramble sound incoherent? Well, that's because the situation isn't cut-and-dried and simple. To continue:

You don't make the poor rich by making the rich poor, and having a class of people with more money than sense turns out to be useful to society as a whole - they get to risk their wealth on chancy propositions that, if they turn out well, can benefit everybody. Wealth doesn't always 'trickle down', but it tends to, especially if given a bit of encouragement.

As an example, Carmel and I sometimes attend a bash called the Black and White Ball. What passes for High Society in Sydney, the Movers and Shakers, the Filthy Rich, and a lot of perfectly ordinary people attend. The Governor-General is usually there, along with a band from the Army. It's in aid of the Royal Blind Society, and some of the donations made during the night exceed my combined salary for a decade.

For some people, once you have more money than you know what to do with, earning it no longer becomes psychologically satisfying, but finding a good and worthwhile cause to spend it on does. There's Competition in seeing how greatly one can contribute to the Common Wealth. Hence the X-prize, and SpaceShip One. Hence the many Libraries and Universities subsidised by the Filthy Rich.

This is not universal : there are still plenty of people who still own the first dollar they ever made, and who are playing the game of "Whoever dies with the most toys, wins". But even they often end up paying for artisans (accent on the Art) who often create buildings and other objects of lasting beauty. Not always, but enough so that the rest of us don't man the barricades and put them up against the wall in Bloody revolution. Those who persist in selfish money-grubbing tend to be pitied and despised by their peers, they have the cash, but can't buy respect. Again, some sociopaths are immune, and in many of the world's poorer countries, this phenomenon is unknown : there, wealth equals respect, or at least power, or at least fear. Only relatively well-off societies can afford to be blase about wealth.

So here I am, a Right-Wing Death Beast, wholly in favour of Thatcherite 'People's Capitalism' (though I prefer to call it 'The Workers Employees owning the means of production'), completely enthralled by capitalism as a good, proven, way of running an economic system (yet wanting a safety net to make sure no-one starves even if they deserve to, and to give not-too-unequal opportunities to all). Certainly no Socialist - except where socialism is neccessary for justice tempered with mercy. From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs, but with the massive surplus after basic needs are satisfied distributed by the people who created it, as they see fit, because it's theirs.

As I've lived and learned, I've moved further to the left, having seen far too many people who have 'slipped through the cracks' of Capitalism. Yet everything I've seen about what passes for the left here has confirmed my view that it's very often populated by people bound up with Doctrine, who loudly proclaim their Love for Humanity while not actually doing anything constructive to aid a single Human being. In fact, they're more often Destructive than not, preferring a facade of caring rather than the far more messy and complicated reaching out and helping people, especially Black or Brown people living in remote countries. The triumph of style over substance, words over deeds. Capitalism meanwhile is too often afraid to admit that the Poor might not actually deserve to be that way, that the increase in total wealth might not help those who need that wealth get any of it, or even that this is not a good state of affairs. Yet the historical record shows that in the more affluent countries anyway, under Capitalism the poor are only poor relatively, not absolutely, and are growing less absolutely poor as time goes by.

One thing I disagree with the author of Socialism in an age of waiting on though :
All due praise, then (and, in a few cases, with all due reservations regarding differences over interpretation) to such blogs as A.E. Brain, Black Triangle, Daily Ablution, Hak Mao, James Hamilton, Mick Hartley, Oliver Kamm, Last Superpower, Lileks, Normblog, Semi-skimmed, Tim Blair, Who Knew? and anyone else who's willing and able to keep on exposing the pseudo-left, and holding them up to the hatred, ridicule and contempt they so richly deserve
Just look at the incoherent ramble that is this article. I may have the will, but compared with James Lileks or Norman Geras, my writing ability is not up to it. Nice of him to say so though. Colour me Chuffed.

Monday 28 June 2004

The Secret of Box Office Success

First, tell a Big Lie, or better yet, dozens of 'em, with just enough truth to give some verisimilitude. Or just fake that.

Second, Ratings are not legally binding in the USA, so to hell with them. Why not boast about it.
From the Michael Moore Site

Third, Beat up any critics.

If you have to steal stuff - no matter.

Hey, it worked for Josef Goebbels.

From the Great Man Himself :
The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win.
Note that this is a cached copy - inconvenient statements must be purged from the pages of history as soon as possible.

Personally, I won't be contributing to this particular multimillionaire's coffers. But lots will. He's laughing all the way to the bank.

Run Away!

How fast is a Swarm of Killer Bees? A Killer Whale? A Velociraptor? A Duck (A Duck?)?

Figure out your chances of running away from various threats by reading the article The Reality Of Running Away From Stuff.

Not mentioned is the velocity of an African Swallow (9.5 m/sec). But you knew that.

Saturday 26 June 2004

Hit by the Dreaded Lurgy

Currently taking quantities of Cold & Flu tablets, hot lemon & honey etc. More later.

But in the meantime, here's today's useless factoid (From The Australian):
From the Bantu language of Tshiluba, ilunga means a person ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.
Not many people know that.

As for the "Dreaded Lurgy"? Any Aussie or UK readers will know what I'm talking about, but those in the USA probably won't. There's an etymology of the phrase over at the ABC.

Thursday 24 June 2004


While wading through Dean's World, I came across an interesting little site - the Virtual Mind Reader.

And here's an interesting paragraph:
On the other hand, Americanism as an ideology is determined by capitalist interests which lead to the resurgence of White Supremacist ideologies. For one thing, a minority of warmongers and apologists brings about the final subjugation of the Middle East, beginning with the $90bn invasion of Iraq. As Norman Mailer pointed out, the unstated purpose of this war represents the repudiation of international law in order to bring about this calamity brought to us by a horrific onslaught, known as Shock and Awe. Nevertheless, the Pax Americana of the future leads our attention to an oil war masquerading as an endless crusade against "terrorism."
It's interesting because it was produced by a mindless machine that just parrots stock phrases and glues them together, the Lefterator. But unlike other mindless machines parroting stock phrases and gluing them together, it doesn't get paid 6-figure sums.

Wednesday 23 June 2004

Spot the Genuine Smile

Today's interesting URL : Over at this BBC site, there's an interesting psychology test. Try to pick the genuine smiles from the false ones.

Found via the EMS blog, Things That Go SPLAT!.

Rumsfeld Approval

No, this article is not about how popular or otherwise he is. It's about what interrogation techniques he approved at the infamous Abu Ghraib jail.

Now many commentators, including the highly respected and influential Normblog, have suspected the worst. Given the evidence so far, and America's less-than-untarnished record in the past, that's not surprising. I'm sure my Favourite Marxist is far more familiar with some of the shamefully dirty tricks pulled by fanatical anti-Communists during the Cold War than I am. I certainly haven't had the courage to commit myself 100% to saying he's wrong in his suspicions. I would never have believed the Abu Graib pictures had I not seen them, and once bitten, twice shy.

But now more evidence is in, enough for me to stop fence-sitting, or, if you prefer, waiting till I know enough to make an informed decision.

From CNN :
The memos to and from Rumsfeld show that though the water-boarding technique was on a list of requested aggressive tactics, Rumsfeld did not approve it, officials say.

The list of requested aggressive tactics included:
  • Convincing a detainee that death or severe pain could be imminent for him or his family
  • Exposure to cold weather or water
  • Use of a wet towel or dripping water to induce a perception of suffocating.
  • Mild, noninjurious physical contact such as grabbing someone's arm, poking them in the chest or light shoving.
Only the fourth tactic -- mild, noninjurious physical contact -- was approved.
I think that puts things into their proper perspective.

On a different but related matter, one issue is, that it's by no means clear that the strictures of the Geneva Convention apply, or should apply, to the prisoners who were at Abu Ghraib. For example, the victims - and I use that word advisedly - shown on the photos were not 'Illegal Combatants', 'Terrorists' or 'Enemy POWs'', they were common-or-garden Crims. Thieves. At worst, Kidnappers-for-ransom. It's not even clear whether they were convicted, interned pending trial, or just plain interned having been caught-in-the-act. Some may even have been wholly innocent of any wrongdoing, though given the publicity of the event, and that no-one has credibly claimed innocence, this is unlikely. But irrelevant, anyway.

The Geneva Conventions do not apply to normal Criminal prisons. Nor should they, enemy POWs should be treated far better, they've done nothing dishonourable. The norms of simple human decency though most definitely should apply, no matter what. Under the less-than-peaceful and rather chaotic conditions at Abu Ghraib, with MPs who were criminal prison guards in civilian life, the conditions for criminals should have been pretty much like any US penitentiary. And I'm very much afraid that they were.

The problem is that there are four categories of internees, who should be treated quite differently both as a matter of Law and as a matter of Right.

First, there's the enemy POW, who should be accorded the full protection of the Geneva Accords, with no shilly-shallying of moving prisoners around to avoid ICRC inspections. They certainly shouldn't be put in with criminal prisoners.

Then there's the common-or-garden Crim, who should be treated with as much human decency as is practicable under the circumstances (which may not be much, in some cases). Some will be so sociopathic that they can't be treated as anything other than dangerous beasts.

Thirdly, there's the 'militant', the Terrorist or other "illegal combatant" who has forfeited all rights under the Geneva Accords. Customarily, they have been summarily executed. What the Law says is that they should be treated as POWs until a properly constituted tribunal has determined that they are indeed 'Illegal Combatants', in which case pretty much anything goes, consistent with basic humanity. Feeding them into plastic shredders is right out (though until quite recently, this was legally OK too, a horrid thought), but shooting them is fine. The Guantanamo Bay detainees are in this category.

Finally, there's what I'll call the 'Nuremberg' internees, those civilian or military personnel thought to be guilty of 'Crimes Against Humanity', be it waging aggressive war, genocide, or other matter most properly dealt with by an International Court of Justice.

In practice, timely intelligence from POWs and Terrorists can save lives. There's a big temptation to torture such prisoners in order to find out when and where your own troops are to be ambushed. Such a temptation should be discouraged very strongly indeed, and should result in a Court Martial of the people concerned. But.... I'm not saying it's wrong under every circumstance. Consider an actual case, where an officer watched while his men beat a prisoner(a terrorist), took out his pistol, fired it next to him , and threatened him that the next bullet would be in his head. The Terrorist immediately gave information that saved many people's lives, civilians and military. The interrogator was Court-Martialled, and cashiered.

This is how it should be. Any commanding officer not willing to flush his career down the toilet to save his own men is not worth spitting on. He's an unavoidable casualty of war, but at least he gets to go home safe in wind and limb.

Of course, circumstances alter cases. Had the terrorist not confessed, the officer would not have been justified in, say, shooting him in the knee. Had the internee been a genuine POW... then the officer concerned should have gotten a hefty jail sentence, but I for one wouldn't be certain he'd acted dishonourably, even though committing a War Crime. And where does Torture begin? Is a light smack to a toddler's hand when he reaches for a boiling kettle 'Torture'? How about a temporary 'removal of priviledges' in a prison when one crim smashes a window in a fit of rage? What about threatening a suspect with a more serious charge if he doesn't confess to a lesser one? What about imprisonment itself?
How do we stop from sliding down the slippery slope till we reach the oubliette where lurk the rack, the branding-iron, and the thumbscrew?

One touchstone I have when deciding this is, does the act corrode the soul of the actor as well as the victim? But even then, there are graduations, it's not a binary yes/no, there are degrees. Some form of coercion or punishment is neccessary for society to function. The question is, how do we restrict that to the absolute minimum required, and who judges what that minimum is? I wish I knew. Until then, we'll have to cobble along with maximum-security prisons that are hellholes where the vicious and thuggish only get to prey on the other vicious thugs cosily and comfortably away from public attention, and other such circumstances none of us like to think about, but which we rely on for our own safety.

If someone kidnapped my soon-to-be-three-year-old son Andrew for vivisection, and refused to say where he was being held... yes, I'd threaten his kids, but wouldn't actually flay them in front of him, or indeed, harm them in any way. There are limits. I'd have no qualms about introducing the perpetrator to a bouquet of Dendrocnide moroides though as his starter-for-ten, and take it from there. Someone would have to fit his artificial limbs, wipe his eye sockets, change his colostomy bag etc. all services he'd need if he was a bit slow in talking. (Are you nauseated yet? I am.) I'd plead guilty to aggravated GBH afterwards of course, but alas, with no evidence of contrition.

We all have a little bit of Uday in us. And if there is a God, I pray to him that my bit remains deeply, deeply buried. 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Evil' as they say. So spare a thought for the jailers of some of the people in Iraq and elsewhere. For some, these disturbing moral questions aren't hypothetical.

Tuesday 22 June 2004

Between the Lines

SpaceShip One LandedThanks to CNBC (who covered the take-off live, unlike CNN and BBC), CNN (who covered the separation live, unlike CNBC and the BBC), and BBC World (who along with the other two, covered the landing live) I got to see SpaceShip One complete her mission. Took a bit of channel-surfing from 2330 to 0130, but we got there in the end.

Congrats to all concerned.

From The Australian:
Mr Rutan said some "risks" had been taken in the design of SpaceShipOne - a winged, bullet-shaped white rocket-plane that weighs about three tonnes - but that most of it had been the same as he first thought of it in 1999.

"There were three or four times during the flight when everybody (in mission control) ... I saw those people emotional."
Reading between the lines, in addition to the weight of a pilot and several passengers, SpaceShip One carried two extra things. Big Brass Ones.

From CNN :
SpaceShipOne damageThe spacecraft returned safely, but control problems revealed after the flight forced Melville to cut it short and use a backup system to keep SpaceShipOne under control.

He said trim surfaces on SpaceShipOne -- movable surfaces on the craft's wings -- jammed during supersonic flight. The craft rolled 90 degrees twice during its vertical ascent and veered more than 20 miles off course in a few seconds.

"Right at top, I tried to trim the nose up, that's when I had the anomaly and had to switch to backup," he said. The craft peaked at 328,491 feet (100.12 kilometers), just 408 feet (124 meters) above the international boundary of space, according to Scaled Composites.

The trim surfaces were reconfigured for landing and then remained unused as Melvill guided SpaceShipOne back to a comfortable landing.

"It was a pretty smooth ride after that," he said. "I headed back to Mojave as fast as I could without reasonably hurting anything."

A loud bang Melvill heard during the flight appeared to be a nonessential part of the composite airframe buckling near the rocket nozzle. The slight indention in SpaceShipOne's exterior did not affect the craft's performance.
BIG Brass Ones.
Rutan said he would not speculate about the problems until technical data had been reviewed, something he expected in the next few days.

"The anomaly we had today was the most serious safety system problem we've had in the entire program," he said. "The fact that our backup system worked and we made a beautiful landing ... makes me feel very good."

Melvill, who has tested Rutan's planes extensively, reaffirmed Rutan's engineering skills and commitment to safety.

"That's why we are so good at what we do," Melvill said. "We cover all the bases."
Or as someone once said when talking about spacecraft avionics:
"The question for software developers is not, 'Are you paranoid?', the question is, 'Are you paranoid enough?' "

The last word I leave to Burt Rutan:
"The new private space entrepreneurs have a vision. We do want our children to go to other planets."

Monday 21 June 2004

SpaceShip One

SpaceShip One/White KnightIs due for it's first sub-orbital mission in three hours time.

If all is Nominal (which is space-talk for 'going well') :
After one hour of flying, at an altitude of 15km, the "Knight" will release SpaceShipOne, which will ignite its rocket engine and begin a vertical rise.

The rocket will burn for approximately 80 seconds, propelling the craft straight up at a speed of about 3,500km an hour, or about three and a half times the speed of sound, to a height of some 50km above the planet.

Once the rocket's fuel has been spent, the craft will continue upward for some three minutes to reach 104km, a height at which it will lose speed like a spent bullet.

During this time, the pilot will feel weightless as do astronauts in space.

The zero-gravity effect, lasting three minutes, will continue until SpaceShipOne returns to about 60km.

The pilot will gradually take control again and from 25km altitude, the craft will glide for about 17 minutes back to a landing at Edwards Air Base.
I'm not superstitious. But I am crossing fingers.

Saturday 19 June 2004

Signs You're Getting Too Cynical

When viewing the pictures of yet another Human Sacrifice by the Al Qaeda cult, your first reaction is : How long will it take for claims to be made that his Orange Jumpsuit indicates it was all an American Plot? Like last time.

How long will it take for Mossad to be blamed? Like last time.

How long will it take for claims to be made that it was all done in Abu Ghraib prison? Like last time.

Food for Thought

From the Washington Post :
John Pistole, the FBI's executive assistant director for counter-terrorism, said the FBI views the war against terrorism as a "generational" one that may not be won until future generations in the Muslim world are weaned away from radical anti-American views.

"It may be tantamount to a hundred-year war," he said.
More like the Thirty Years War, but yes.

Friday 18 June 2004

Space Patrol

Galasphere 347Time for a short trip down Memory Lane...10..20..30..40 years... to 1963.
I grew up with a TV show called ...can you guess... 'Space Patrol'. Now a lot of people did, in the UK, in the USA, in Germany and Japan. Different shows though.
No less than four television series bear the title (though in the case of the German Raumpatrouille and Japanese Hopper Uchu Patrol, these are translations) and a number of totally unrelated items also come under that name.
Space Patrol Merchandise
The one I'm talking about had the following Introduction:
This is Earth - the year 2100. New York is the headquarters of Space Patrol and men from Earth, Mars and Venus live and work there as guardians of peace.
New York 2100

Now even at the age of 5, I wasn't particularly impressed with the quality of the Puppetry. The Robots in particular were totally unconvincing, having the strings visible didn't help. But I was, and for that matter still am, impressed with the sets. The cityscapes in particular.

The Science of 'Space Patrol' was rather better than most of its successors. Remember, it was made in the early 60's, before we had more than the merest inkling what conditions were like on other planets. As the BBC site says :
Eager that 'Space Patrol' should be educational as well as entertaining, Roberta Leigh enlisted the advice of astronomer Colin Ronan to make sure the science in her fiction was as accurate as any television SF could be. So instead of unfeasibly short trips, the crew of Galasphere 347 entered a 'freezer unit' for journeys to Uranus or Neptune that could take months, and Contamination Control ensured germs were not spread from planet to plane.
Like Star Trek, but rather earlier, the World of 'Space Patrol' involved all branches of Humanity, regardless of race, creed, colour (though the series was in Black and White), and planetary origin. The Venusians looked almost Elfin, the Martians... looked and spoke like Babylon 5's Londo Minari, but without the fanlike hairdo. And the amount of Male Chauvinist Piggery was less than average, though still excruciating by today's standards.

Like 2001:A Space Odyssey, but again rather earlier, the scale of the Solar System was brought home. Expeditions to 'Jupiter and Beyond' took months to complete, and the crew were put into suspended animation for much of the voyage.

We could do a lot worse than to produce a children's educational/entertainment show which lived up to these ideals today. But hopefully with better production values. And on that note, may I present.. the cast. From Left to Right : 'Joe' the Jovian, Colonel Raeburn, Marla (his Venusian Secretary who actually ran the place), Larry Dart (Commander of Galasphere 347), LondoHusky(the Martian), Slim(Venusian), Cassie (the daughter of..), Professor Haggarty (Irish predecessor to Hiram Hackenbacker, aka 'Brains'), Gabbler(an annoyingly loquacious Martian Parrot), and an anonymous but ubiquitous Robot.

Space Patrol cast

Thursday 17 June 2004

Breakthrough in Teleportation

This story is a Big Deal. So is this one.

Simply, we're now able to copy an atom, duplicating everything about it except its position and velocity in a new atom somewhere else. The original atom's characteristics get changed in the process, it is no longer the atom that it was.

Some Mini-FAQs:
  1. Is it FTL?
    This article says not, but I can think of ways around it. Working from dumbed-down-for-journalists stories rather than the Maths, I can't say. There's reason to think it may be.
  2. Is it affected by Distance?
    Again, without looking at the Maths, I don't know, but there's strong evidence to think that it isn't.
  3. Is it a Star Trek-like transporter?
    No. But this article shows that such a thing is not impossible due to quantum uncertainty. Of course the engineering involved is non-trivial, it may take a significant time (which is Engineer-speak for saying 'Only when Hell Freezes Over') and could mean Billions of years.
  4. So what is it good for?
    In the immediate future -
    • Making quantum computers a LOT faster. Timescale : a decade or two. This is the big area of interest in the publicity at the moment.
    • Absolutely Secure Communication. This hasn't been mentioned, but my bet is that Quantum Entanglement will be used in the very near future (<10 years) for military-grade communications that would be difficult to jam, impossible to intercept without anyone knowing, and guarded by the Laws of Physics rather than the ability to compute really large numbers. (Good job, as Quantum computers will be really good at doing this)
    • The effect is absolutely independant of intervening stuff, such as planets, stars, parsecs-of-lead etc. Without examining the Maths, I'm not sure if it would be affected by one part being inside a Black Hole's event horizon, but an intervening Black Hole would have no effect.
Diagramatically, this is what happens, courtesy of the BBC:


The next few centuries should be interesting. It is looking increasingly likely that before a thousand more years has passed, neither humanity nor civilisation as we know it will exist in any recogniseable form. I'm not talking about the relatively minor differences between, say, Middle Kingdom Egypt of 4000 years ago and today, or even the difference between Homo Erectus and today. Something far more strange and wonderful.

Time to start saving if I don't want to miss it.

The Lessons of History III

From the Herald-Sun :
I know Big Brother hardly represents a cross-section of normal Australians, yet the following conversation between two of the inmates rings a big, booming bell of warning -- not least because one of the two, Wesley, was the captain at his private boys school in Queensland, and the other, Ashalea, is in the education business, even if only as a part-timer in a kindergarten.

Wesley: Ah, 1991, was that the year that the Berlin Wall came down?

Ashalea: What wall?

Wesley: The Berlin Wall.

Ashalea: Where's the Berlin Wall?

Wesley: You don't know about the Berlin Wall?

Ashalea (giggling): No.

Wesley: In Berlin there used to be, like, a communist country and there used to be a big wall between East Berlin and West Berlin, where, like, the people on the West, I suppose, couldn't come to the East, or was it the other way around, because the East was where the rich people lived and the West was where the poor people lived.

I've written before about the decline in the knowledge of history among the young, thanks largely to our schools, so it's perhaps not surprising that even a private school captain or a kindergarten worker don't understand what the Berlin Wall was -- physical proof of the imprisonment of a whole people by a tyrannical communist regime.

Not for nothing did Monash academic Mark Peel, author of A Little History of Australia, warn a national inquiry into teaching history to the young: "Indeed, their sense of the world's history is often based on intense moments and fragments. The 20th century is largely composed of snatches, moments that rarely gel into a longer narrative".
Nor should it surprise anyone that anti-war activists can be manipulated with historic falsehoods, such as the lie that America was a close ally of Saddam and sold him weapons of mass destruction. It's not surprising that they can be so anti-Israeli, either, not knowing how Israel was born, and the wars it's had to fight for its very existence.

It's not surprising they can be anti-American, not knowing of the tyrannies the United States fought and the debt we owe it from World War II.
Who needs a Ministry of Truth, when so much that's contradictory to a currently fashionable world view can be conveniently forgotten?

A Couple of Guys, a Girl, and an Armadillo named 'Widget'

Armadillo WidgetThat's the team at Armadillo Aerospace.
Armadillo Aerospace is a small research and development team working on computer-controlled hydrogen peroxide rocket vehicles, with an eye towards X-Prize class vehicle development in the coming years.
For what they've been able to achieve so far, just have a look at the video (7 Mb) of a rocket vertical take-off and landing. From the accompanying news release :
Analyzing the telemetry told us the following:
The auto-land worked perfectly. I had tried several algorithms on the simulator before settling on this one, and it behaved exactly the same in reality, which is always a pleasant surprise.
There's still an awfully long way to go: obviously, thesting the larger version, a vehicle capable of more than 15 seconds of flight, to get it to a decent altitude and back. Then there's the problems of re-entry. But one of the major hurdles has already been overcome, one that many teams spending many millions of dollars haven't always been able to clear before. The team may be small, but they're not just Rocket Scientists, they're real Pros.

As for the X-prize itself?
I think Space Ship One has good odds of success in the single-person-to-100km flight. I only see two real issues they may hit: The extended burn above the atmosphere may run into some control issues as the nozzle ablates, which will be hard to correct with only cold gas attitude jets. This would be a fairly benign failure, with the pilot just shutting off the main engine if he can’t hold the trajectory. The dangerous part of the test will be the reentry with a significantly bigger drop than the previous test. At this point, I hope Burt has everything work[ed] out and he is able to make the X-Prize flights soon, because our prospects are pretty dim for getting everything working perfectly in the big vehicle in five months and having permission to fly it. I certainly don’t want the insurance company to keep the prize money. If Space Ship One crashes, we will probably throw ourselves at an attempt, but it will be a long shot. No, I don’t think any of the other teams are close.

Useful Phrases

in Amun! iw minb m to-iHow to say Oh My God, There's an Axe in my Head in 102 different languages.

For example, in Middle Kingdom Egyptian (shown at right).

Or in Klingon : toH, HIvqa' Qun'a'wIj! nachwIjDaq 'obmaQ tu'lu'!
(pronounced [ TOKh, HiV-KA KROON-A-WiJ! NAch-WiJ-DAK OB-MAKR TOO-LOO])

You never know when it might come in handy.

Wednesday 16 June 2004

Heroin for Therapeutic Use

File this one under 'Brain Links'. It's about the human central nervous system, and specifically, the response of it to a certain alkaloid.

Janet Albrechtsen writing in The Australian makes an unimpeachable case for removing the blanket ban on Heroin.

Her father died of cancer, and was in pain throughout his illness. Pain that wasn't always relieved (or in the current phraseology 'managed') successfully using Morphine or other analgesics.
It is true that morphine is a derivative of heroin, otherwise known as diacetyl-morphine. But heroin is more soluble, entering the body faster, absorbed quickly into fatty tissue like the brain. Heroin users talk about feeling a "rush". After that initial euphoria, heroin causes an alternately wakeful and drowsy state.

I don't want junkies determining drug policy but that they favour heroin over morphine suggests that the terminally ill might also prefer it. Euphoria is the wrong word for those dying of cancer, but if heroin can offer any kind of relief, mental or physical, why not offer it?
At one time in my life, the pain centre in my brain was so over-stimulated I was having minor epileptic fits. Fortunately, Pethidine (Demerol, Meperidine) worked sufficiently well for me. One shot of 750 mg would stop the fitting, and after another I'd be able to communicate coherently rather than just gasp, at least for about two hours. Eventually my immune system kicked in and I got better - as happens sometimes. That was over 25 years go, but it's not something you easily forget, or wish to remember.

Right now, the husband of a friend of mine has small-cell lung cancer, which has spread widely, including into his bones and spine. Given enough Morphine to make the pain bearable, he becomes a Zombie. If legal, pure and good-quality Heroin was available, he'd have a far better quality of life in the time he has left - and also be able to look upon Life as something worth living, and hence increase his chance of survival.

But where he's living, it's not available. Had he been in the UK, a doctor could have prescribed it. Now it's too late for any change to legislation to help him, he'll either stage a miraculous recovery in the next few months (miracles happen, even one in a million shots happen to somebody) or he won't. But he won't be the last person to get SCLC, nor to suffer agony because of it.

So in the name of Humanity, the total prohibition of Heroin should be repealed. The arguments against - that it would increase illicit use - are at best hypothetical, and given the availability of illegal, impure and often poisonous stuff on the streets, more than dubious.

Tuesday 15 June 2004

Thought Control

Not control ofthoughts, but by them. From the ABC :
Four volunteers have managed to control a video game using thought alone, according to US researchers.

With some electrodes placed on the surface of their brains, the volunteers simply had to think the word "move" to play the simple video game.

Eric Leuthardt, a neurosurgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St Louis who worked on the study, said: "We are using pure imagination. These people are not moving their limbs."

The findings add to work being done at several centres and are aimed at finding ways to help people control computers or machines using brain power alone.

Potentially, people paralysed by disease or accidents could use such devices to work, read, write and even move around.

Dr Leuthardt says the study tested four patients with epilepsy.

"These electrodes are placed on peoples' brains on a routine basis for seizure localization," Dr Leuthardt said.

The patients have their skulls opened and the electrodes placed on the surface of the brain to find out where their seizures are originating, so the connections in that area can be cut in the hope of a cure.

"We piggy-backed our study on that," Dr Leuthardt said.
Writing in Monday's issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering, Dr Leuthardt and Daniel Moran, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University in St Louis, said the patients learned in minutes how to control a computer cursor.

"It took six minutes of training and they all achieved control in less than 24 minutes," Dr Leuthardt said.

"After a brief training session, the patients could play the game by using signals that come off the surface of the brain," Professor Moran said.

"They achieved between 74 and 100 per cent accuracy, with one patient hitting 33 out of 33 targets correctly in a row."
"You can't keep wires directly from the brain to the outside world indefinitely because of the increased risk of infection," Dr Leuthardt said. "We have to create a wireless system."

Dr Leuthardt and Professor Moran centred about 32 electrodes over the sensory motor cortex of the brain and a region called Broca's area, which is associated with speech.

The pair did their work on a small amount of money - about $20,000 for the whole study, they said.

"We really built this from matchsticks and paperclips," Professor Moran said.

Monday 14 June 2004

Al Qaeda In Their Own Words

One question that's commonly asked about Al Qaeda : what exactly do they hope to gain by some of their actions? Things like bombing oil pipelines, schools, trying to disrupt industry in islamic countries, massacring Americans and Jews whenever they can, and in general making the world a nastier, more ignorant and impoverished place.

They're doing it for the good of our souls, bless them.

Here's some words about an Al Qaeda equivalent of Mein Kampf, 'The Future of Iraq and The Arabian Peninsula After The Fall of Baghdad', authored by The Late Yussuf al-Ayyeri, one of Osama bin Laden's closest associates :
"It is not the American war machine that should be of the utmost concern to Muslims. What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy." ... Al-Ayyeri argues that the history of mankind is the story of "perpetual war between belief and unbelief." Over the millennia, both have appeared in different guises. As far as belief is concerned, the absolutely final version is represented by Islam, which "annuls all other religions and creeds." Thus, Muslims can have only one goal: converting all humanity to Islam and "effacing the final traces of all other religions, creeds and ideologies."
If established in any Muslim country for a reasonably long time, democracy could lead to economic prosperity, which, in turn, would make Muslims "reluctant to die in martyrdom" in defense of their faith.
Democracy and Prosperity are anathema to their philosophy, which relies upon poor, ignorant and politically powerless masses to die for the Cause.

As for the provenance of the book, as Amir Taheri said in the New York Post:
The book is published by The Centre for Islamic Research and Studies, a company set up by bin Laden in 1995 with branches in New York and London (now closed). Over the past eight years, it has published more than 40 books by al Qaeda "thinkers and researchers" including militants such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's No. 2.
And how is this Caliphate to be established? How is the world's population to be persuaded to follow Islam? From the Frontispiece of another document, an Al Qaeda Training manual :
- * - The confrontation that we are calling for with the apostate regimes does not know Socratic debates..., Platonic ideals..., nor Aristotelian diplomacy. But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing, and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun.
Islamic governments have never and will never be established through peaceful solutions and cooperative councils. They are established as they [always] have been
by pen and gun
by word and bullet
by tongue and teeth
And by psychopathic megalomaniacs.

Had more people read 'Mein Kampf' and actually believed what was said in it, rather than it being dismissed as obviously exaggerated rhetoric, the world would have been spared tens of millions of dead. It's always revealing when evaluating any group to read not just what their enemies say about them, but what they say about themselves. Just don't make the mistake of thinking it's all talk.

Al Qaeda is a cult. A Death Cult, one that believes in Human Sacrifice. How else to describe the Nick Berg Decapitation, to the shouts of 'Allahu Akbar', 'God is Great' throughout the whole business? It wasn't a political statement, it was a religious service.

In most ways, Al Qaeda is to mainstream Islam what the People's Temple was to mainstream Christianity.

Except the analogy fails in one crucial respect. You don't hear sermons being preached throughout Christendom on the Saintiness of Jim Jones, or the merits of drinking Flavor Aid as a route to Salvation. Islam has a big problem there, one that only Muslims can solve.

Personally, I'd commend Jim Jones' recipe for Grape Flavor-Aid to all members of Al Qaeda - it's Halal, after all. It may not give the drinker much benefit, but it would sure help the rest of us.

Sunday 13 June 2004

Friday 11 June 2004


Duck-umentaryToday's interesting URL : from, I present Die Duckumenta. For those hard-of-German, just click on the various rooms to ente 'Raum 1' etc.

Though 'Raum' in German is actually Space, 'Raumschiff' is 'Spaceship'. And for that matter, 'Duck" is 'Ente' in German. And you thought it was just a typo...

Bugs In Space

University of Tennessee microbiologist Gary Sayler and his colleagues have developed a device that uses chips to collect signals from specially altered bacteria. The researchers have already used these devices, known as BBICs, or Bioluminescent Bioreporter Integrated Circuits, to track pollution on earth. Now, with the support of NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research, they're designing a version for spaceships.
What BBICs offer, explains Sayler, is a low-cost, low-energy way to detect pollutants. They're tiny: each BBIC is about 2 mm by 2 mm, and the entire device, including its power source, will probably be about the size of a matchbox, and they monitor their surroundings continuously.

NASA is interested in sensing contaminants because spaceships are tightly sealed. Unseen fumes from scientific experiments or toxins produced by molds and other biofilms can accumulate and pose a hazard to astronauts. BBICs can be crafted to sense almost anything: ammonia, cadmium, chromate, cobalt, copper, proteins, lead, mercury, PCBs, ultrasound, ultraviolet radiation, zinc--the list goes on and on.
And yet another small step in the convergence of biology and silicon.

Wednesday 9 June 2004

An Infinite Number of WebMonkeys

Thanks to Utterly Boring (yet again), here is the Random Website generator.

It should give you some ideas on how to create web pages of your own. Unleash your inner WebMonkey.

Tuesday 8 June 2004

The Lessons of History (Part II)

Or rather, the absence of Lessons of History.

From the West Australian :
Nearly 80 per cent of young West Australians have not heard of D-Day, according to a straw-poll on the eve of the campaign's 60th anniversary.

A survey of 100 people aged 16 to 25 by The West Australian reveals widespread ignorance, with only 22 able to identify D-Day as a major military campaign of World War II.
The survey did not surprise Curriculum Council director of curriculum Mark Brown, who said it was more important for young people to have a broad understanding of how historical events shaped society than to recall specific events.
Not explained is how anyone can achieve such a broad understanding without knowing at least the most major events in the first place. Now I don't believe Mr Brown should be shot. But he certainly should be fired.

Hat Tips all over the place, Garath Parker, via Niall, via CurrencyLad's comment at Tim Blair's site, and inspired by Sasha Castel.

Monday 7 June 2004

Jimi Hendrix, Baghdad Style

It's an 11 Mb movie file, but worth it.
Star Spangled BaghdadAnother soldier asked me to bring him an amp for his electric guitar. We ended up on the roof of the Palace as Kiowas buzzed around, celebratory AK fire rang out and the minaret speakers tried to compete with his speed metal version of The Star Spangled Banner. For me, that performance, done in full battle rattle against a Baghdad sun, is the definitive image of Gunner Palace.
- Gunner Palace

Sunday 6 June 2004

Ronald Reagan, RIP

I'll quote two comments. The first appears on Tim Blair's site :
As one of those (I was born in East Germany) whose country was freed from the grip of communism and who consequently gets to enjoy life in a liberal democracy, I would just like to say one thing: Thank you, President Reagan, for your efforts in bringing about the end of communistic regimes all over Europe - You made a difference in this world. Rest in peace.
The second is on The Daily KOS :
It is about love of country and priciples, none of which Reagan stood for. Also, it is good that it happened now, so Bush can't use it for the election.
Humanity vs Inhumanity.

Our Friends, the French

From the ABC :
Fewer than 50 per cent of French people think France has a moral debt to the United States 60 years after the Allied D-day landings, according to an opinion poll published on Saturday.

The poll of 1,000 people on May 25 and 26 showed 48 per cent of respondents thought France, which was liberated by US and other Allied forces during World War II, had a moral debt to the United States. Fifty per cent thought it did not.

The poll was published by Le Parisien newspaper hours before US President George W Bush was due to arrive in France for the anniversary of the D-day landings on June 6, 1944.
And from The Australian :
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the first German leader ever to take part in the D-Day commemorations, has said the momentous events on the beaches of northern France also represented a victory for Germany.

"The victory of the allies was not a victory over Germany, but a victory for Germany," Schroeder said in a letter due to be published in a German newspaper tomorrow.

The German leader said he regarded his participation in the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings due to take place tomorrow as "a great honour for my country and for (German) democracy".

He added in the letter, to be published in the weekly Bild am Sonntag, that Germany could commemorate the events with "its head held high".

He said that no one expected Germans to feel guilty for the crimes and the genocide created by an indescribable regime. But he said: "We are responsible for our history."

Saturday 5 June 2004

The Lessons of History

This is an article I've just written over at The Command Post. It's for a mainly American Audience, but you don't have to be American to get the point.

Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Most readers will at least have some basic idea of what that day was, though it's likely that at least some won't.

A thoughtful and intelligent reader, HullBreach, wrote about a previous historical article :
I'm going to have to poke around a bit, I'd like to learn more about what went on. I remember talking about the time leading up to WW2 in my College history classes, but there was never any king of Anti-war movement mentioned. Only an “uneasyness” about going to war in Europe again. Very interesting.

I wonder if I’ll tell my kids about something like this some day.
That last line makes him perceptive too.

Looking about me, at the many good-intentioned and well-meaning folks who truly do believe that Bush=Hitler, that it's All About Oil, and as Maureen Dowd said in the New York Times :
World War II had such stark moral clarity in history that it’s almost irrelevant in providing lessons about conflict in a grayer time. seems that recent History is something that hasn't been taught all that well. Back at the end of 2002, I talked with a Leftie of my acquaintance who, while reviling George W. Bush as an Evil Moron, saw World War II as an unambiguously moral and just war, that no-one of any sense could possibly have criticised.

It is for these people that I present the following, a re-write of a lengthy response to HullBreach.

Pretend it's 1941.

In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, Charles A. Lindbergh claimed that the "three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration". Soon afterwards Gerald Nye argued "that the Jewish people are a large factor in our movement toward war."
Here's a slight re-write so you can gauge the impact of this at the time :
In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, Astronaut Neil Armstrong claimed that the "three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the Israelis, the Neocons and the Bush administration". Soon afterwards Senator Edwards argued "that the Likud Neocons are a large factor in our movement toward war."
Strong Stuff. So what was the extent of opposition to any military move against Hitler? What was 1941's ANSWER? It was the America First Committee. Never heard of it? Must have been some radical fringe group, right? You think there's been opposition to a morally dubious and probably illegal Iraq War, compared with wholehearted US support versus Hitler?
From a Charles Lindbergh site :
America First Committee, founded in September 1940, was the most powerful isolationist group in America before the United States entered World War II. It had over 800,000 members, who wanted to keep America neutral.
That's EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND members, at time when the USA's population was much less. By today's terms, it would be over a million, and some.

But what about the rest of America? Surely at least 50% of people supported war against the Axis? From the Houghton-Mifflin Companion to American History : Isolationism
But in 1940-1941 many still supported the noninterventionist America First Committee. Isolationists failed to block proposals by the Roosevelt administration to aid victims of Axis aggression with methods short of war. Nonetheless, 80 percent of Americans opposed any declaration of war against the Axis states.
80 PERCENT. You think opposition to the Liberation of Iraq is high, with between 50 and 30 percent against it?

Roosevelt managed to secure a conscription act - the Selective Service and Training Act - on the 16th of September, 1940, at a time when France had just fallen, and it looked like England would soon follow. But a year later, in 1941, with Hitler blitzkrieging Russia but with England saved by the Battle of Britain, it was renewed.... just. From the Washington Times :
In 1941, it wasn't much different. Despite German, Italian and Japanese aggression on three continents, the American public showed no appetite for war. On August 12, 1941, legislation to create the Selective Service to facilitate military conscription was bitterly debated and passed the House by one vote.
One Vote. The difference between the US being able to engage in Operation Torch in Africa and defend Guadalcanal in the Pacific in 1942, and... not.

But surely the Palestinian Flags that appear in every anti-war demonstration show that there's something new, Islamic Americans flocking en masse to criticise Bush the Warmonger? Cries of 'Allahu Ackbar' and 'Down with Bush' echo at each demonstration. And CAIR has how many thousand members? Well imagine if the CAIR-led parades were led by a full EIGHT THOUSAND wearing face-masks and Hezbollah gear. From an article on the German-American Bund :
Actual membership figures for the G - A Bund, are not known with any certainty, but reliable estimates place membership at 25,000 dues paying members, including some 8,000 uniformed Storm Troopers. The G - A Bund carried out active propaganda for its causes, published magazines and brochures, organized demonstrations and maintained a number of youth camps run along the lines of the HITLERJUGEND (Hitler Youth). ...A February 1939 rally of the G - A Bund in Madison Square Garden drew a crowd of 20,000 who consistently booed the American president and chanted the Nazi Heil Hitler. The G - A Bund closely cooperated with the "Christian Front" organized by the antisemitic priest, Father Charles COUGHLIN.
And that leads me to the Michael Moore of 1941, Father Coughlin. But he was far Moore(sic) popular than Michael, even Michael Jackson.
...some observers claimed that Father Coughlin was the second most important political figure in the United States. It was estimated that Coughlin's radio broadcasts were getting an audience of 30 million people. He was also having to employ twenty-six secretaries to deal with the 400,000 letters a week he was receiving from his listeners.
Think about it for a minute. How many Media Superstars, let alone TV political commentators, regularly reach audiences of this size every week today? And how many get such a deluge of letters, many containing donations to the Anti-Bush, Anti-Neocon, Anti-War cause? But surely Father Coughlin was relatively moderate . No Bush-Hating Moonbat. No "it's all about OIL.
Coughlin's opinions became more extreme. In September 1940 he described President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "the world's chief war-monger". The following year he wrote in Social Justice: "Stalin's idea to create world revolution and Hitler's so-called threat to seek world domination are not half as dangerous combined as is the proposal of the current British and American administrations to seize all raw materials in the world. Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most - the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination."
Again, I'll re-write so you get at least a glimpse of what it must have been like at the time.
Moore's opinions became more extreme. In September 2003 he described President George W.Bush as "the world's chief war-monger". The following year he wrote in "Who Stole My Election?": "Bin Laden's idea to create a world Caliphate and Saddam's so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction are not half as dangerous combined as is the proposal of the current British and American administrations to seize all the Oil in the Middle East. Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most - the Bush-Blair combination or the Bin Laden-Saddam combination."
Sound all too familiar? As if these words came from yesterday's paper?

After Pearl Harbor, the American People united behind Roosevelt though. As Maureen Dowd said :
Although conservatives compared Saddam to Hitler, America did not have to be persuaded with “actionable” intelligence before confronting Hitler. That dictator was an individual weapon of mass destruction.
..and Congress declared War on Hitler on December 8th. Except they didn't.

Congress only declared war on the Japanese - and astoundingly, the vote wasn't unanimous. Arguably Hitler's greatest mistake was to declare War on the USA on December 11th. It's entirely possible that despite Roosevelt's pressure to go to war against Germany, that the Congress would only have supported a war against Japan.

Because Hitler had no more a part in Pearl Harbor than Saddam had in 9/11. In fact, from the evidence now available, rather less.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

And those who can remember are condemned to teach those who can't. Now there are many, many differences between then and now: for example, the US dead during training for D-Day exceeded the total US killed in Iraq and Afghanistan up to now. (743 were killed by a German torpedo attack on a single day in May 1944). Hundreds of thousands of people, many of them civilians, were killed during the Liberation of France in 1944. And France had less population than Iraq and Afghanistan combined do today.

But as for the Anti-war movement against that 'obvious weapon of mass destruction', Hitler, then there are many striking parallels. The major difference was that in 1941, many Republicans were Anti-war simply because a Democrat was in the White House, rather than the reverse.

UPDATE : And to prove that the problem of history being taught poorly isn't confined to the USA alone, just go visit Sasha Castel for a post on that very subject.

UPDATE : And in Australia, Gareth Parker reports some shocking ignorance about D-day.

The Real situation in Iraq

From some e-mails by someone in the US Marine Corps (USMC).
It is always a quietly thankful moment when you see a guy who has been wounded or who you think was wounded and he turns out to be ok. Mike was actually embarrassed about the whole thing and shrugged off any mention of it as he feels like he is not "doing enough" right now.

We only were able to talk for a short time and I swear that within a few minutes I had forgotten about the whole thing until we shook hands when I had to go. He turned to leave and I saw the zipper of staples on the back of his head. He was going back to work.

You would be very proud of the Marines as they have been able to switch gears from intense offensive operations back to what we call "stability operations." Stability operations simply translates to getting out into the countryside and teaching Iraqi Police and soldiers how to do their jobs. More importantly, our priority is just making contact with them and trying to instill a sense of confidence and pride in what they are doing. As I have shared with you over the past 15 months or so, it is hard to imagine trying to establish a police force or "national guard" (the equivalent of what we are working with) out of a population that has never even seen such entities as we understand them. If you said National Guard in Missouri, most people would think "the guys who show up when there is a flood, blizzard or tornado to help people." Or maybe after 9/11, that guy at the drug store who left for Iraq for a year as part of an engineer unit.

Here, they simply have no paradigm of what such a force is. We have to sit down and go over the most basic principles of protecting the people by being there to help when there is a crisis on one hand and getting out on night ambush to keep the muj out of the village on the other. As a whole they did disintegrate or worse during the April fighting. I have heard a lot of false exaggeration about the fact that the Iraqi Army would not stand and fight with the Marines in Falluja or the Army in Baghdad. Nonsense.

I could tell you stories of individual heroics of Iraqi soldiers. One specific example is of an Iraqi SgtMaj who came into our lines during the first days of fighting in Falluja. He made his way through the mujahadeen and risked being killed by us to tell us that he was concerned about the ICDC (Iraqi Civil Defense Corps) armory in town. He knew it was only a matter of time until the muj went for the armory to take the weapons. Honestly, I would have thought that they had already done it as the police stations and every other good piece of ground seemed to be occupied by the muj by that time. In short, he wanted to let us know that he was going back into the town to get the weapons. The Marines asked him if he wanted us to help. No. He only wanted us to take the weapons from him when he came back through. This guy took a couple young Iraqi soldiers with a truck and drove back through our lines into the hornets nest of Falluja. He went to the armory, emptied the weapons and ammo stored there and brought it back out through the fighting to us. We expected him to want to stay with us or to move on to Baghdad or some other safe area. He refused and stated that he was going back into the city as that was where his duty was. Not a coward by even the most cynical standard.

We had a group that showed up shortly thereafter. You have probably heard about them as they came out of Baghdad and on the way were ambushed a couple of times. By the time they made it here only 200 of 700 were in their ranks. I know that the public story is that they folded after a couple of days of fighting and disintegrated. They actually made it through three days of fighting. Not just taking a few rounds, they held through accurate machine gun fire, mortars and multiple assaults. They also moved forward and occupied positions on the Marines' flanks. After three days, we pulled them out. The Marines will tell you that they did a hell of a job.

The Marine Corps has been around for 230 years. We have many battles and history under our belts that instills in the Marines a profound sense of duty and tradition. Further, the culture has made peer pressure into a positive art form. Words like "selflessness" are not only used but are taught to every recruit. Show me another place in our society where a 20 year old guy worries more about letting his buddy down than his own well-being. This is true across the board. There are probably a few other places left that instill this but not too many where it holds together when the rubber meets the road.

The Iraqis had none of this going into Falluja. In fact they had and continue to have just the opposite. They live in a world of terror. For decades, Sadaam played one neighbor against another, one tribe against another, one sect of Islam against another and one race against another. Therefore there is never a sense of safety to the Iraqis even within their own tribes. Here if you join the police or the army, you are eventually approached by the terrorists and threatened. If they think you are a leader, they tell you that they will kill you and your family. The orders are simple, look the other way when you are on duty and leave when the terrorist show up. If you don't they will kill you and probably your family.

Imagine that young guy who joins the ICDC or police. He may be somewhat of an idealist when he gets out of our initial training but when he shows up to his unit, the muj have already infiltrated it and immediately make it clear that there is no hope of survival if he does not do exactly what they say. For good measure and effect, they regularly assassinate Iraqi policemen and soldiers just to make it clear that they will kill them on a whim. The guys that were in place prior to April lived in that world. We are working against it still. Without the tradition and culture of the Marine Corps and constantly thinking that their very presence next to us may get their families killed, I am amazed they made it for an hour much less than three days. We decided to pull them because this place needs young patriots. It does not need us to put them into a position where they will be ground down in intense combat or maybe to be killed when it is over. Hopefully they can be a nucleus for tomorrow's leaders. Time will tell.
In another email, I will share with you what I think is going to happen this summer. It will be a tough pull. However, we are prepared. We get reports of impending muj attacks on Marine positions and I am amazed at the universal response - "Good, that means we don't have to try to find them tonight."
Having worked alongside some of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children I would have been amazed if their response had been anything else.
There is plenty of fight left in the guys. On a lighter note, the Iraqi people are coming back more and more to approach the Marines. When they are in private, they regularly tell us that we cannot leave and that they "need" us to stay. Of course they cannot say that publicly for reasons above.

I will close with something that was on my mind this morning when I punished myself by watching CBS news. I saw the anchor come on and just before he spoke, I told my rack mate "Lets see what the opening line is going to be...." Sure enough before he said anything else, he said "It just keeps getting worse and worse...." Yes, he was talking about Iraq. Honest to God we laughed at him. I'm not kidding. It is getting to the point where the Marines are getting past their anger at the talking heads and are laughing.
...we are now in a life and death struggle with an enemy who wants nothing more for us to leave so that they can bring their own brand of terror to the same people. Our biggest failings have been that, as a coalition, we have not been able to overcome our own-ham handed actions and horrible mistakes/crimes and simply convince the Iraqi people that we do in fact want to leave them a free and prosperous country where there is hope. The most successful way to do that is to continue to go out and show them every day and not to cut and run. And you know what? It is working. People are coming to us and talking to us even in the face of Abu Garayb and in the real threat of their own death.

Inside this country right now, there are extremists who have set up courts where in one room, they try Iraqis and in the next they kill them minutes later. Not fantasy - reality. Again, the death sentence? Accepting payment for damage we have done in fighting or in an accident. Taking a job working on a coalition base. Having a brother who has done his job in the police or ICDC.

Are people so naive as to think that if we left, things would get better? The country would implode and thousands of people would be killed.
Mark "Troops home by Christmas" Latham, please note.
When the dust settled, a more dangerous Iraq would emerge and we would be even more hated throughout the world. It is that simple. We came here to help these people and at the same time to make the world a safer place for free people everywhere. If we leave too early, the people will suffer horribly and the world will have taken one giant step backward. Maybe we are slow on the uptake but it is pretty clear here what the right thing to do is and it is not to abandon the people to the terrorists.

I understand that some people are simply frightened by the violence - for good reason. To them I would say, hang in there. I see people every hour of every day that make me sure we are strong enough to be successful. To people that say our agenda is anything other than what I have written, I say that it does not matter because the young men and women doing the heavy lifting are doing it for the right reason and at the end of the day, the Iraqi people will benefit. They may never like us while we are here as there are thousands of years of culture that separate us. The fact that we are not popular does not change our moral obligation.


From Chris DeBurgh :
Took a train from Paris to the ocean,
Found a small hotel by the coast,
As we walked along the beaches of Normandy,
We came to Juno, Omaha and Gold,
And whispered a prayer for the boys,
Who said goodbye to it all.

I've not the words to adequately thank those who took part. I'll leave it to some survivors to say what they went through in their own words.

Friday 4 June 2004

The Wiggles On Tour

The Wiggles In ConcertAs the insanely proud father of a not-quite-three-year-old boy, I've had to become familiar with many new concepts I hadn't dreamed existed only 5 years ago.
No, not just how Chernobylly toxic a nappy can be. Nor just how many ways there are to break what I'd always considered reliable electronic equipment. VCRs (Plural). TVs (plural). Phones (Plural). A DVD.

I'm talking about things like the Teletubbies. And the Wiggles.

Today, at 12:30, we poled up at the Theatre Royal, in Canberra. Which is part of the same building complex as the Canberra Casino by the way, and also where I'd helped give a paper on xtUML in Agile Development for the National Simulation and Modelling Conference SimTecT 2004 last week, but I digress.

No, today we came to watch Andrew's first Rock Concert, starring The a-four-mentioned Wiggles. Plus Captain Feathersword, Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wags the Dog, and Henry the Octopus. (Details are important when you'll be three in July).

When I finally rejoined the rest of the Family, having spent a frustrating time trying to get a parking place - and repeatedly giving it up when someone with a desperate look on their face and two toddlers in the back looked at me pleadingly - I was confronted with a 2500-seat theatre absolutely packed with harried parents and toddlers at warp factor 6. I looked around me and one word crossed my mind ; 'Pandemonium'. But despite my being 20 minutes late, the curtains were still closed, and ten minutes later the din had dropped to a dull roar. The event organisers knew the vagaries of Toddler Scheduling, and had allowed a good half-hour for latecomers like me.

Then the curtains opened....

About 20 minutes through the show, Carmel and I looked at Andrew, looked at each other, and shared a single thought : "It doesn't get any better than this."

All the parents knew all the words to such numbers as 'Big Red Car', 'Hot Potato', and a score of others. I include myself. That's scary.

The show was (obviously) for kids. But there was a short piece, when Captain Feathersword did a snatch of a musical number in the style of the Teletubbies, then in the style of Johnny Farnham, then Cold Chisel, and finally and hilariously, Brittney Spears. These people have talent - and their Finale rendition of the Classic Daddy Cool hit 'Eagle Rock' was as good as you'd find anywhere.

Production values, and for that matter the vocals were at least as good as the last show I can remember : 'Jesus Christ, Superstar', with Jon English and Marcia Hines in starring roles (and BOY that dates me).

If you happen to be the owner and operator of a child between 2 and 6, I can only say 'Highly Recommended'. They'll be touring the USA in August.

Thursday 3 June 2004

All This and World War II

All This And World War IIOver at The Command Post you'll find a rarity : two back-to-back Op-Ed columns by me, both dealing (though in different ways) with the Iraq war, and World War II.

In the first, by the unsubtle technique of changing just a few placenames, the truly woeful state of post-war media coverage is exposed. But there's another interpretation : the situation in Germany in 1946 was truly dire, with widespread starvation and near-starvation. The New York Times reports were, on the whole, not too inaccurate in painting a picture of Doom and Gloom. Yet it all turned out well in the end.

In the second, I tried to remind people (if they ever knew) just exactly how strong the Peace movement (usually and inaccurately called the 'Apeasement' movement) was in the USA in 1941. Or at least, up until December 7th. The continuing Anti-war demonstrations, and quality of the arguments against involvement in Iraq, are pale shadows of those of over 60 years ago. Given the enormities committed by Josef Stalin's murderous regime, and the decidedly un-free millions ruled by the British and French Empires, the Allied cause was far less visibly beyond reproach than the Coalition's today.

After Pearl Harbor, the Allied cause became even more dubious. 'Unlawful Combatants', even if American citizens, were tried by military tribunals and executed within a week. Innocent civilians were slain by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands. But few would argue the moral righteousness of the Allied cause today. Few who have studied what means and technologies were available to the Allies at the time would say that the methods were obviously and unneccessarily harsh, though those methods would neither be appropriate nor justifiable in today's environment.

Oh yes, the title of this post? From an all-but-forgotten movie from 1976. A good idea amateurishly executed, it deserves a re-make, even though it tries to banish the Spectres of Auschwitz and Treblinka by singing 'Give Peace a Chance'. Much like the 'America First' Committee in 1941, or the Anti-War factions today. But unlike today, at least the Appeasers and Peace-At-Any-Pricers weren't attempting to purvey their shoddy and devalued intellectual wares in 1946. Many looked at Dresden and Hiroshima, and asked if it was all worth it. Today, we look at the Abu Ghraib photos, and ask ourselves the same question. And if that doesn't offend your sense of proportion, nothing will.

The Case That Must Not Be Named

Cthulhu Case ModNo, this isn't the result of some nameless horror of a Virus that's infecting computers all over the Internet.
It's just something that someone with far too much time on their hands has, er, created. Spawned, rather.

I give you... The Case That Must Not Be Named.

This was done over the course of about 10 months, sometimes working daily, sometimes letting a couple of weeks lapse. Cost to do this was not recorded for two reasons.
One: It's a work of art, and you can't put a price tag on art.
Two: I didn't want to scare myself.
Ars Gratia Artis. Ea Cthulhu Ftaghn!

And while we're on the subject of Squamous Abominations from the Murky Deep, like the 'Ea Cthulhu' Shoggoth Prayer, from the Musical A Shoggoth On The Roof, here's Byakhee.
Byakhee, Byakhee, now heed my call
I've done the spells; I've cast them all;
Out of Tartarian darkness appear
And fly me right out of here!
But my personal favourite is the Prologue : Tentacles.

Wednesday 2 June 2004


From the irrepressible Tim Blair comes a link to a blog by a Sydney Taxi Driver.

After a quick shufti, instantly added to my 'Just Plain Good' blogroll.

Go read his post I'm Right, You're Dead
Then read his post Bloody Aussies.

Tuesday 1 June 2004

A Staple Diet

The Virtual Stapler.

And although it's still several months to International Talk Like A Pirate Day, there's a pun in the Talk Like a Pirate Song that's too awful to keep for that long :
- And you! WHAT are ye doin' with that salmon?
- I'm grillin' it on a hunk o' cedar, what d'y'think?
- Ye CAN'T do that in a JAPANESE STIR-FRY, ye bilge rat!
- Oh HO! Ye never heard o' "wokkin' the plank"?
Age has mellowed my propensity for punslinging. But not my proprinquity, penchant or passion. I can still recall when me good mate Spider Robinson and I inadvertently clashed words... I'm not kidding when I say that a large, filled room emptied within 30 seconds, and we both looked at each other and said 'Where'd they all go?'. No-one had screamed (OK, there were a few loud groans), chairs weren't knocked over (OK, maybe one or two), they just...ran. Fast. For any available exit.

And for all the SF fans reading this, please go over and have a look at Spider's latest post in his diary.
...the first [Heinlein Prize] was, by unanimous vote of the judges, awarded posthumously to Virginia Gerstenfeld Heinlein, Robert's widow, who had just passed away a few months earlier, and under whose stewardship the Heinlein estate had multiplied in value five times since Robert's passing. It presently serves as the main foundation for the Heinlein Prize Trust, which intends to give away half a million dollars a year to whoever does the most that year to advance commercial manned spaceflight, from now until the money runs out. (The principal purpose of VARIABLE STAR is to help keep that pot full.)
Bob James, being an archives veteran, had some of the best stuff. Okay, one quick example: he described a treatment for a Robert Heinlein screenplay entitled, swear to God, Abbott and Costello Move to the Moon. No, really.

And then, a few items later, someone--I believe it was Bob, but I'm not certain--happened to mention that he'd come across a full, detailed, outline for a novel, complete with character sketches and other notes, which Robert had set down in 1955, but never got around to writing. My ears grew points.

And from somewhere in the back of the room, a woman's voice called, "You should get Spider Robinson to finish that book." And there was applause. Immediately on my left sat the man who controls the copyright to all Heinlein material.

So that was a good day.

So I went home, and received a copy of Robert's outline and notes, and loved them, and wrote two sample chapters and a proposal and a title (Robert had put down seven possible titles, but even he didn't like any of them much), and they were all approved by Art Dula, and in the fullness of time the book, to be known as "ROBERT A. HEINLEIN'S VARIABLE STAR by Spider Robinson", sold to Tor for the proverbial six figures.
And there was much rejoicing.