Wednesday, July 31, 2013
THE BAROQUE COMPUTERS OF THE APOCALYPSE
The Second World War demonstrated the devastation that could be caused by even conventional bombing...and was capped by the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the intensification of the Cold War and the first Soviet atomic bomb test...and the Communist aggressiveness demonstrated by the outbreak of war in Korea...air defense of the United States became an issue of very high priority.
During World War II, the British had been successful with their innovative network of radar stations linked to command centers at which the positions of friendly and enemy aircraft were plotted continuously and orders issued to fighter squadrons and antiaircraft gun sites. In the postwar era, though, the increased speeds of combat aircraft, combined with the utter devastation that could result from a single failed intercept--one plane, one bomb, one city--drove the view that something better than manual plotting would be required.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
BEST OF THE BRACKETS
Last month, I mentioned GE's 3-D printing contests. The company says it has already received hundreds of submissions for one of these contests, the Jet Engine Bracket Challenge, and has posted some of them as a slideshow. Presumably, there is some sort of structural logic (at least in the opinions of the submitters) behind the weird appearance of some of these designs.
The top 10 submissions will be fabricated and load-tested. The objective is to create a bracket that is at least 30% lighter than the one currently in use.
More broadly, GE seems to be attempting to establish a network of useful contributors among the “maker” community of hobbyists and small-scale enterprises.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
To be built near Sandersville, GA. 850 megawatts, supercritical boiler, extensive equipment for reduction of SO2 , NOx, particulates. mercury and sulfuric emissions.
It takes a certain amount of courage to embark a project such as this one, given that we have a president who has declared war on coal:
“If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can, it’s just that it will bankrupt them.”
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Fund manager John Hussman applies this lullaby to the current state of the stock market.
Be careful out there.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Thursday, July 18, 2013
WHEN LAW YIELDS TO ABSOLUTE POWER
Three years ago, I reviewed the important and well-written memoirs of Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars. I think the state of affairs in America today makes it appropriate to re-post some excerpts from the review and from the book.
In 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, Haffner was working as a junior lawyer (refendar) in the Prussian High Court, the Kammergericht. He was comforted by the continuity of the legal process:
The newspapers might report that the constitution was in ruins. Here every paragraph of the Civil Code was still valid and was mulled over and analyzed as carefully as ever…The Chancellor could daily utter the vilest abuse against the Jews; there was nonetheless still a Jewish Kammergerichtsrat (high court judge) and member of our senate who continued to give his astute and careful judgments, and these judgments had the full weight of the law and could set the entire apparatus of the state in motion for their enforcement–even if the highest office-holder of that state daily called their author a ‘parasite’, a ‘subhuman’ or a ‘plague’.
In spring of that year, Haffner attended Berlin’s Carnival–an event at which one would find a girlfriend or boyfriend for the night and exchange phone numbers in the morning…”By then you usually know whether it is the start of something that you would like to take further, or whether you have just earned yourself a hangover.” He had a hard time getting in the Carnival mood, however:
All at once I had a strange, dizzy feeling. I felt as though I was inescapably imprisoned with all these young people in a giant ship that was rolling and pitching. We were dancing on its lowest, narrowest deck, while on the bridge it was being decided to flood that deck and drown every last one of us.
Though it was not really relevant to current events, my father’s immense experience of the period from 1870 to 1933 was deployed to calm me down and sober me up. He treated my heated emotions with gentle irony…It took me quite a while to realize that my youthful excitability was right and my father’s wealth of experience was wrong; that there are things that cannot be dealt with by calm skepticism.
Monday, July 15, 2013
A REPORT FROM ST PETERSBURG
(Russia, not Florida)
Hopefully she'll post pictures at some point.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
SAINT ALEXANDER OF MUNICH
Alexander Schmorell, who was a member of the anti-Nazi student resistance group known as the White Rose, has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
Schmorell was of German nationality but Russian ancestry. Deeply religious, he had strong artistic and literary interests–his favorite author was Dostoyevsky—and was studying to be physician. He met Hans Scholl in 1940, and in mid-1942 collaborated with him on the initial White Rose leaflets. Later that year he served as a combat medic on the Eastern Front, and what he saw there reinforced his already-strong anti-Nazi convictions.
Following the arrest of the Scholls and Christoph Probst, Schmorell attempted to escape to Switzerland, but was betrayed by someone he thought was a friend, a woman named Marie-Luise: “Alex’s picture and description had been all over the place by now, and she felt that she had no choice but to report him, if not to save her own neck, but to save her unborn baby’s,” according to the post at the above link.
I love Russia’s endless steppes and breadth, the forest and mountains, over which man has no dominion. I love Russians, everything Russian, which cannot be taken away, without which a person simply isn’t the same. Their hearts and souls, which are impossible to grasp with the mind, which can only be guessed at and sensed, which is their treasure, a treasure that can never be taken away.
Alexander Schmorell was executed by the Nazi state in July 1943. Shortly before he went to the guillotine, he asked his lawyer to tell Marie-Luise that he had forgiven her completely.
A moving description of the canonization ceremony here.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
APPROPRIATE READING AND VIEWING FOR OBAMA'S SURVEILLANCE STATE
McClatchy Newspapers has obtained information about an Obama administration initiative called the Insider Threat program, under which federal employees are required to report “suspicious” behavior by their co-workers. The program is aimed at stopping leaks and security violations. According to the article, the program is not limited to defense-related agencies, but includes a wide range of Federal departments including the Department of Education and the Peace Corps. Federal employees and contractors are asked to pay particular attention to the lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors – like financial troubles, odd working hours or unexplained travel – of co-workers as a way to predict whether they might do “harm to the United States.” The FBI’s insider threat guide lists “a desire to help the ‘underdog’” as one of the alarming behaviors managers should watch out for in potential leakers. Those who fail to report such “high-risk” behaviors, according to the McClatchy article, could face penalties, including criminal charges. What the legal warrant for such criminal charges might be, I can’t imagine, but this administration does not appear to worry overmuch about legality when it wants to apply intimidation.
Writing in Forbes, James Poulos says:
For left-leaning writer David Sirota, training the attention of little brother on the intimate details of his fellow worker’s “lifestyles” and “attitudes” smacks of McCarthyism. For me, I’m picking up Stalinist vibes. It’s not just the state’s effort to burrow into the spaces between humans that keep us human. It’s the effort to assert state control over all aspects of time in addition to space — not just the present, but the future, hoovering up the metaphorical breadcrumbs trailing back from what we will do and who we will be to what we’re doing and who we are.
I would urge everyone who has not already seen it to watch the movie The Lives of Others…set in East Germany during the era of Communist totalitarianism…to get an idea of what the fully-developed surveillance state looks and feels like from the inside and what it does to human beings. Also read Anna Funder’s excellent book Stasiland…I reviewed it here. For a science fiction view of the technologically-enabled surveillance state, see Poul Anderson’s short story My Name it is Sam Hall, which I reviewed here.
If Obama read Stasiland, he evidently thought it was an instruction manual. If he read Sam Hall, he probably thought it was an IT development plan. And if he saw The Lives of Others, he must have thought it was a training video.
It is increasingly clear that when Barack Obama spoke about “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” one of the transformations he had in mind was the constraining of human liberty on almost every possible dimension.
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
Appeasement, American-style: At the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, inmates were unhappy that the treadmills provided for exercise were “Made in America.” So they were replaced with treadmills made in Muslim countries. And even worse: since detainees objected to the sight of the American flag, it is no longer raised at Guantanamo anywhere the inmates can see it.
Sunday, July 07, 2013
In 2008, Michael and Xochi Birch sold Bebo, which is some kind of social networking company, to AOL—for 850 million dollars.
Things didn’t go too well, and in 2010, AOL sold Bebo to a private equity firm for 10 million dollars.
Things continued to not go so well, and Michael Birch has bought the company back–for 1 million dollars. He doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to do with Bebo now, but plans to have fun trying to reinvent it.
I think what often happens in such situations is this: if a company is so clueless about its market that it fails to eitherdevelop internally the product for which there is a critical emerging need…or to acquire the product externally before the prices go out of sight…then it winds up paying an exorbitant price. The price will be one that makes sense economically only if the acquiring company is able to obtain truly stellar results on its new property…but typically, the same cluelessness that led to the product shortfall in the first place will also lead to an inability to successfully integrate or even effectively manage the acquisition.
Thursday, July 04, 2013
SHALL IT BE SUSTAINED?
On July 7, 1941–five months before Pearl Harbor–this poem was read over nationwide radio. The title I’ve previously used for these posts is It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.
This is Independence Day,
Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
Whatever happens and whatever falls
Out of a sky grown strange;
This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
The day of the parade,
Slambanging down the street.
Listen to the parade!
There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
The Fire Department and the local Grange,
There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
There are the veterans and the Legion Post
(Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
Good-humored, watching, hot,
Silent a second as the flag goes by,
Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
All of them there and all of them a nation.
There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
By somebody the Honorable Who,
The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
Will read the declaration.
That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
That’s our fourth of July.
And a lean farmer on a stony farm
Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
And walked ten miles to town.
Musket in hand.
He didn’t know the sky was falling down
And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
By kings or any such.
A workman in the city dropped his tools.
An ordinary, small-town kind of man
Found himself standing in the April sun,
One of a ragged line
Against the skilled professionals of war,
The matchless infantry who could not fail,
Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
But first, and principally, since he was sore.
They could do things in quite a lot of places.
They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.
He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces
The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.
Benet’s poem ends with these words:
We made it and we make it and it’s ours
We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained
But shall it?
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
One of the many tragedies of the World War II era was a heartbreakingly fratricidal affair known as the Battle of Mers-el-Kebir.
I’ve written before about the defeat of France in 1940 and the political, social, and military factors behind this disaster. Following the resignation of Paul Reynaud on June 16, the premiership was assumed by the First World War hero Philippe Petain, who immediately asked the Germans for an armistice. With an eye toward revenge, Hitler chose the Forest of Compiegne…the same place where the armistice ending the earlier war had been executed…as the venue for the signing of the documents. Indeed, he insisted that the ceremonies take place in the very same railroad car that had been employed 22 years earlier.
The armistice provided that Germany would occupy and directly control about 3/5 of France, while the remainder of the country, together with its colonies, would remain nominally “free” under the Petain government. (One particularly noxious provision of the agreement required that France hand over all individuals who had been granted political asylum–especially German nationals.)
Winston Churchill and other British leaders were quite concerned about the future role of the powerful French fleet…although French admiral Darlan had assured Churchill that the fleet would not be allowed to fall into German hands, it was far from clear that it was safe to base the future of Britain–and of the world–on this assurance. Churchill resolved that the risks of leaving the French fleet in Vichy hands were too high, and that it was necessary that this fleet join the British cause, be neutralized, be scuttled, or be destroyed.
The strongest concentration of French warships, encompassing four battleships and six destroyers, was the squadron at Mers-el-Kebir in French Algeria. On July 3, a powerful British force under the command of Admiral James Somerville confronted the French fleet with an ultimatum. The French commander, Admiral Jean-Bruno Gensoul, was given the following alternatives:
(a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans.
(b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment.
If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile.
(c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans unless they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies — Martinique for instance — where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated.
If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours.
Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty’s Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German hands.
The duty of delivering this ultimatum was assigned to the French-speaking Captain Cedric Holland, commander of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal.
Robert Philpott, a trainee gunnery officer on the battleship Hood: ”Really it was all very peaceful. Nobody was doing any firing; there was a fairly happy mood on board. We all firmly believed that the ships would come out and join us. We know the French sailors were just anxious to get on with the war. So we didn’t think there would be a great problem.”
André Jaffre, an 18-year-old gunner on the battleship Bregagne: ”Our officer scrutinizes the horizon, then looks for his binoculars and smiles. What is it, captain? The British have arrived! Really? Yes. We were happy! We thought they’d come to get us to continue fighting against the Nazis.”
Gensoul contacted his superior, Admiral Darlan. Both men were incensed by the British ultimatum: Gensoul was also personally offended that the British had sent a mere captain to negotiate with him, and Darlan was offended that Churchill did not trust his promise about keeping the French fleet out of German hands. Darlan sent a message–intercepted by the British–directing French reinforcements to Mers-al-Kebir, and the British could observe the French ships preparing for action. All this was reported to Churchill, who sent a brief message: Settle matters quickly. Somerville signaled the French flagship that if agreement were not reached within 30 minutes, he would open fire.
It appears that one of the the options in the British ultimatum–the option of removing the fleet to American waters–was not transmitted by Gensoul to Admiral Darlan. Whether or not this would have made a difference, we cannot know.
As Captain Holland saluted the Tricolor preparatory to stepping back into his motor launch, there were tears in his eyes. Almost immediately, Admiral Somerville gave the order to fire to open fire.
continued at Chicago Boyz
Because the Civil War isn’t over. Its images, dreamlike, stay with us—young boys lying face-down in cornfields and orchards, and Robert E. Lee on Traveller. And Lincoln, dead in the White House, and the sound of crying.
The Civil War disturbs us, all these long years after, troubling our sleep. Like a cry for help, like a warning, like a dream. And we pore over it, trying to break the code, its meaning just out of reach.
Monday, July 01, 2013
THE EVENTS IN EGYPT
Check out this photograph of protesters against the Morsi regime in Egypt.
The demonstrators maintain Morsi has become a power-hungry autocrat who is intent on making the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt’s permanent ruling party.
They also blame the Obama administration and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson for propping up Morsi and facilitating the Muslim Brotherhood’s power grab.
“We are very critical of the Obama administration because they have been supporting the Brotherhood like no one has ever supported them,” Shadi Al Ghazali Harb, a 24-year-old member of Egypt’s Revolutionary Youth Coalition, told the Washington Free Beacon on Friday afternoon during a telephone interview from Cairo.
The White House is “the main supporter of the Brotherhood,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the American support this president would have fallen months ago.”
Well, yes. So he does. What is bizarre is that Obama hasn’t just tolerated the Brotherhood’s rise to power, he has abetted it. It would be defensible to argue that we have little power to influence events in Egypt, and, moreover, attempts on our part to exercise influence are likely to backfire; therefore we should stand aside and do nothing. But why Obama would consider it a good idea to put America’s thumb on the scale on the side of the Brotherhood is beyond me.
The ( Coptic) Pope politely informed her that his spiritual authority over the Copts does not extend to political matters.
Regardless, many Egyptian activists are condemning Patterson for flagrantly behaving like the Muslim Brotherhood’s stooge. Leading opposition activist Shady el-Ghazali Harb said Patterson showed “blatant bias” in favor of Morsi and the Brotherhood, adding that her remarks had earned the U.S. administration “the enmity of the Egyptian people.” Coptic activists like George Ishaq openly told Patterson to “shut up and mind your own business.” And Christian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris—no stranger to Islamist hostility—posted a message on his Twitter account addressed to the ambassador saying “Bless us with your silence.”
The post at the link notes that:
Among other things, under Morsi’s rule, the persecution of Copts has practically been legalized, as unprecedented numbers of Christians—men, women, and children—have been arrested, often receiving more than double the maximum prison sentence, under the accusation that they “blasphemed” Islam and/or its prophet. It was also under Morsi’s reign that another unprecedented scandal occurred: the St. Mark Cathedral—holiest site of Coptic Christianity and headquarters to the Pope Tawadros himself—was besieged in broad daylight by Islamic rioters. When security came, they too joined in the attack on the cathedral. And the targeting of Christian children—for abduction, ransom, rape, and/or forced conversion—has also reached unprecedented levels under Morsi.
Yet Obama’s ambassador attempted to dissuade these persecuted Christians from protesting against their persecutors!
More at Pam Geller’s site. Note the picture with the sign saying “Obama Supports Dictator Morsi.”
It is hard to avoid the feeling that Obama is more sympathetic to radical Muslim organizations and regimes than to the millions of more moderate Muslims who would prefer modernization and civil liberties rather than strict shariah and violent aggression against other faiths. Whether or not that has truly been his intent, it is certainly the way his policies have worked out in practice.