Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dogs are the Best People.

Four paws do not make a human, we are bi-pedal. Two limbs do not make a dog, we need four....?
I recently read this thing about ten things you can do to be happier, but I have my own version - - read this: then read mine -
1. Get out of bed.
2. Have a Nanna nap.
3. Stop working so much.
4. Tell your family that they really shit you.
5. Buy a tent.
6. Be nice to all dogs.
7. Say the word "fantastic".
8. Take LSD.
9. Learn to say "sorry".
10. Learn to say "thankyou".

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Boston Bombings - One Man's Action can Change the World.

One man's action can change the world, the actions of two men can ruin the world.

There is currently much contention over the capture of and motives of the Boston Marathon bombers. These two young adults and the idealism that inspired them to commit such an atrocious act will be studied for years to come.

I am particularly interested in an article by Adrianna Huffington and in particular her statement "A lot of the who, what, where and how of the bombing and what led up to it have already been answered and, no doubt, more details will eventually be filled in. The why, however, is the more elusive question. But it's also a crucial one. And the why we need answered has to do with more than just questions about Chechnya and Russia, and the conflict between the two. We also need to know why we have so many disaffected young men in our culture, and what compels them to act out that disaffection in violent ways".

I am amused that some of the lessons of history seem to have not been learnt and if we do not learn of our mistakes from the past then we are doomed to repeat them.

Regardless of ideologies and motivation this act is reminiscent of a previous act of terror in Russia. The names of the people involved have similarities. The Russian Tsarnev brothers launched an attack on the public in Boston in a manner similar to an attack by two young adults on the Tsar of Russia in St. Petersburg on March 13, 1881. On this day, a 20 year old anarchist  named Nikolai Rysakov tossed a bomb under the carriage horses of Tsar Alexander II's procession as his bullet proof carriage travelled along the Catherine Canal heading for the Pevchevsky bridge. The blast did not destroy the carriage and Alexander was determined to alight from his carriage and comfort the wounded. Alexander made the sign of the cross and said "Thank God, I am not wounded" and immediately another man cried out "It is too early to thank God" as he ran towards the Tsar and tossed a bomb between his legs. The man was 25 year old Ignacy Hryniewiecki and he fatally wounded the Tsar.

The trauma of his assassination would define the next two reigns of  his son Alexander III and his grandson Nicholas II. Alexander II had ruled as an anomaly. He had ended centuries of tradition by liberating Russia's serfs and was determined to establish representative government in Russia. His two successors did not reverse the emancipation of the serfs and they turned back every other progressive initiative Alexander II had attempted. Russia returned to absolute autocracy until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1918. Thirty-six years of repressive imperial rule was followed by seventy-two years of Communist dictatorship were the direct consequence of two home-made grenades.

Does any of this have a familiar ring to it? 

This twin bombing of April 15 has been labelled an act of terrorism by President Obama and the South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said: "Either our laws are insufficient or the FBI failed, but we're at war with radical Islamists and we need to up our game." Apparently the FBI may have also misspelt a name and the Tsarnev brothers slipped through the surveillance net. Their surname may be Tsarnaev or Tsarnaeva depending on which reports you read. Tamerlan the older now deceased brother at 26 had already been questioned by the FBI in 2011 and had travelled to Moscow in 2012. The younger surviving brother, Dzhokhar was a dedicated medical student who hoped to become a brain surgeon.

Maybe someone should show him pictures of the carnage he caused so that he can use the experience and new knowledge of how bodies look after suffering from explosive damage in his thesis on brain surgery. But I'm sure that the entry procedure to medical school will be more comprehensive than the FBI screening procedure. He might want to consider enrolling with the aviation training school that offered flight simulation training to some of the perpetrators of the Twin Tower's destruction of 9/11. Jeez, he might even take an advanced spelling course to correct his twittering : "Recent entries on what is reported to be his Twitter feed - @J-tsar - include "I'm a stress free kind of guy" on 17 April and "There are people that know the truth but stay silent & there are people that speak the truth but we don't hear them cuz they're the minority", on 16 April.

But this event will be a bonanza for the conspiracy theorists. Mr. Tsarnaev has already told the BBC that the secret services has framed his sons. Is this an attempt by the authorities to heighten our fear of "acts of terrorism" and seek our approval for the introduction of more screening, bugging and surveillance activities that bring us under more control of "big brother"? We are already living in a new age of the "new world order". There is an article suggesting three possible lines of inquiry and they all involve terrorists. There is a web site airing photographs apparently showing the appearance of a mystery unmarked van and men wearing indistinguishable uniforms before and after the bombings, as evidence of a conspiracy. Tamerlan had been tracked by Russian authorities who had warned the FBI in 2011 that he was a "follower of radical Islam". He may also be linked to a triple murder and has a record of domestic violence. It's fortuitous that allegged terrorists are also so incompetent that they cannot use handtools or check their weapons as it seems like another inconvenient inconsistency regarding evidence that 'Federal investigators are trying to trace the handgun, a 9mm Ruger, that the elder Tsarnaev used in the shootout. Two law enforcement officials said that an attempt was made to erase the serial number on the gun and that experts have been unable to restore all eight digits'.   

 I'm surprised that when considering the recent attention on North Korea, that the brothers have not been linked in some way to that state of political unrest. Maybe the brothers can be linked to any of the groups listed on the Canadian website Currently Listed Entities.

However, the bombing event of 1881 seems to have some similarities. The names Tsar and Tsarnev are similar, as is the ages of the perpetrators in both instances, and the Russian connection. It may have occured 132 years and 1 month ago but it did indeed change the political climate of the world and exaberate social tension until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lisa Miller, writing in New York magazine summed it up well - "Evil may not have a single face, but it can be reliably found within one kind of body: that of an angry man in his late teens or twenties,"  "Angry. Young. Men. The description doesn't explain the motivations behind every notorious bloodbath, but it's a place to start -- perhaps the only place to start."

Maybe it is that angry young men are the only people with the conviction and fortitude to perpetrate such acts. Within their first thirty years of life they have experienced innocence, education, awareness and disillusion, well before the stabilising and potentially demoralising effects of lack of education, divorce, demanding work, unemployment, debt, desperation and instability set in. Maybe these angry young men are the only people who actually follow through with their convictions in an attempt to bring awareness to their own insecurities and the plight of their fellows.

I'm not advocating acts of terrorism nor encouraging conspiracy theories but I'm ever vigilant since the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York in 2001. Too many laws have been passed by England, Australia and the USA that while seeming to protect us from radical thinkers and their actions may actually impede our democratic progress and our individual rights.

It's encouraging to see and hear debate regarding our freedoms and their stricture. It's reassuring to hear words relating to our democracy such as identification, legitimate, intelligence, surveillance, privacy, security and safeguards included in an article with legitimate questions embracing our paranoia.

Sometimes there are things we must do and sometimes there are things we need to do. I think the key to our successful democratic civilization is to find the correct balance between the two.
"The right things to do are those that keep our violence in abeyance; the wrong things are those that bring it to the fore".
Robert J. Sawyer, "Calculating God", 2000
Canadian science fiction writer (1960 - )  

Monday, April 22, 2013

The USS Ponce and Other Ponces.

This is what is on my mind :

The USS Ponce, an Amphibious Transport Dock, is the first ship in the United States Navy to be offically fitted with  a Laser Gun.

In Australian slang a 'ponce' is a title generally given to a person enamoured with false pretentions, that is, a 'poser' or a 'dickhead'. These people are often ridiculed and are considered as a source of entertainment. Their efforts to substantiate the implausible and impossible are often foolhardy and have the potential to inflict damage on innocent bystanders.

US Pentagon officials claim that the new high technology system offers a weapon at a fraction of the cost of traditional arsenal - "such as cruise missiles and rapid fire Gatling guns." (Los Angeles Times). They believe that a shot of directed energy costs under $US1. The Chief of Naval Research, Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder said in a statement. "Compare that that to the hundred of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability."

The USS Ponce was launched in 1970 and in 2012 it was awaiting decommissioning and being sold as scrap in consideration of her age and an accumulation of rust. However, a contract was let for a rush retrofit of the ship and her re-deployment.

I am amused (raflol - in textspeak) that the Pentagon would even dare mention Gatling guns as though they were recently superseded technology. The Gatling gun did not see action until 1874 when it was finally embraced by the US military after its predecessor, the Coffee Mill (invented in 1861) was declared to be "...of no practical value." by the  ScientificAmerican in 1863. Gatling never got rich from government orders during the Civil War, but his gun did later achieve 'iconic status'.

Wikipedia states that the "USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15), an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, is the only ship of the United States Navy that is named for Ponce in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which in turn was named after the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico and European discoverer of Florida."

There are reasons why this re-fitted ship and its new weapon are on my mind. It is a puzzle to me as to why the inventors of weapons of mass destructrion contend that the more destructive the weapons of war, the fewer are its casualties. Their reasoning appears to be that anyone facing the use of these weapons will be inclined to either run away or send fewer combatants to face annihilation, or that the force using the weapon will deploy fewer personel due to the increased destructive power of this weapon. There are also some people on my mind who exemplify the stupidity of this reasoning and each is either ignorant, brilliant or insane.

They are Richard Gatling and Alfred Nobel and they follow in the footsteps of Juan Ponce de Leon and have set the scene for the beliefs of Rear Admiral Klunder.

In 1513 Juan Ponce de Leon discovered the mainland that he called Florida, in recognition of his day of discovery, Easter Sunday (Pascua Florida) and took possession in the name of the Spanish king. As provincial governor, Ponce de León had occasion to meet with the Taínos who visited his province from neighboring Puerto Rico. They told him stories of a fertile land with much gold to be found in the many rivers. Inspired by the possibility of riches, Ponce de León requested and received permission from Ovando to explore the island. As provincial governor, Ponce de León had occasion to meet with the Taínos who visited his province from neighboring Puerto Rico. They told him stories of a fertile land with much gold to be found in the many rivers. Inspired by the possibility of riches, Ponce de León requested and received permission from Ovando to explore the island. (

He returned to Spain and later, in 1521, he returned to conquer and colonize his land, but the fierceness of the natives prevented his success. He was wounded in the encounter and died in Cuba the same year.

Juan Ponce de Leon was one of the many fools appointed by the Spanish crown to search for the elusive city of Eldorado as well as the mythical Fountain of Youth. He was one of the many Spanish and English adventurers sent to the new Americas with the blessings of their countries to discover and monopolise the apparent wealth of the native indians. However, nobody of European descent could understand the tales of the natives and misinterpreted their folklore. In fact, the legend of the city of gold was merely based on native tales of a "man of gold" from beyond the mountains.
(* there is a very good book about this subject, The Golden Man - the quest for El Dorado by Victor W.von Hagen).

There are many fools populating our history, some of whom were convinced they were discovering, inventing and introducing technologies and beliefs that were benefitting mankind. There are two other brilliant people who had they been alive today, would recognize the devastating value of their brilliance.

Alfred Nobel was deeply disturbed that an obituary writer had confused the Nobels in reporting that his brother, Robert, had died and that the article was titled  "The Merchant of Death is Dead". Alfred was the inventor of a product which he proudly named "Nobel's Safety Blasting Powder" and named it 'dynamite', derived from the Greek dynamikos, 'power'. He had found a way to stabilise nitroglycerine, making it safe to transport and store. The inventor of nitroglcerine (which was highly unstable), Ascanio Sobrero, wrote that when he thought "...of all the victims killed...and the terrible havoc that has been wreaked...I am almost ashamed to be its inventor." He fervently believed that his invention was of benefit to mankind in that it would be of use for "the abolition or reduction of standing armies". Alfred left in his will, $9 million for the establishment of a foundation in his name, the Nobel Prize.

Richard Jordan Gatling was another inventor of whom we can all be proud of for finding a way to reduce our numbers. He was the American inventor of the first successful machine gun. He may well have been Alfred Nobel's psychic twin, for he also believed that his invention would shorten wars and reduce the number of casualties. He claimed that his weapon would "supersede the necessity of large armies and consequently exposure to battle and disease." But at least Richard must have possessed a sense of humour - he also invented a Flushing Toilet. Gatling also experimented with guns that were powered by electricity or gas but reasoned that it was difficult to carry a power source onto a battlefield.

One other person who was brilliantly mad and did realise the implications of his interference was Albert Einstein. Earnest Rutherford had speculated that the fission (splitting) of the uranium atom would release energy, but would also release more neutrons. The subsequent chain reaction would continue splitting neutrons and deliver an unbelievable amount of power.Of the atom being split he said: " Could a proper detonator be found it was just conceivable that a wave of atomic disintergration might be started through matter, which would make the old world vanish in smoke". Enrico Fermi later assembled a team of ambitious physicists and bombarded various elements with neutrons to see if the atoms would disintegrate. Fermi later won a Nobel Prize for Physics.   The "Manhattan Project", a massive research effort introduced by President Roosevelt with the director of the laboratory, Robert Oppenheimer, was largely the result of a letter sent to FDR by Einstein warning that German physicists had split the atom and were trying to develop a bomb unlike the world had seen before.

And so now, in 2013 we are living with the legacy left to us by brilliant madmen and fools. Some like Ponce de Leon sought to please their king, some like Nobel, found a way to make a dangerous product more available, some like Gatling were either hopelessly naive or wickedly hypocritical. These genius fools spread their immoral ideas through the channels of moral enterprise.They profess to bring improved technology to benefit men of war but they insidiously encourage the use of tools that offer all men more efficient  ways to kill.

The US Navy say their "consevative" data tells of the cheap cost of  a shot of "directed energy". What their data may not tell them is the real cost of delivering that energy. Are they again faced with the dilemma facing Gatling in being able to deliver the power effectively to the battle zone? Apparently, the installed laser's power can be "scaled" down to provide a "non-lethal"  alternative to ward off threats such as pirates, smugglers and terrorists. The laser does, however, have its drawbacks, testing has revealed it is disrupted by bad weather: Rain and clouds can scatter the beam, as can smoke, sand and dust.

The USS Ponce and its laser will be deployed in 2014. This follows the successful mounting and firing in 2011, when the laser set fire to an empty motorboat bobbing in the Pacific Ocean. However, generally the development of laser technology has been plagued by setbacks. Testing has revealed it is disrupted by bad weather: Rain and clouds can scatter the beam, as can smoke, sand and dust. It is not reassuring that the ship is an old rustbucket and has been saved from being scrapped and hastilty refitted. That the Pentagon did not risk the investment on a better ship should be a warning of their faltering belief in the success of the project. It seems that it is only an amphibious ponce with a laser gun, a floating platform for a new age Gatling gun.

At least now we know we may soon be safer from attack by those terrible 'terrorists' and other hostile seafaring mongrels. As long as a reliable power source can be found and the weather is perfect we will again have another machine of war. Leave it to Uncle Sam and the media to sensationalise the threat of war and our loss of freedom. We live in a virtual state of fear in the new age of paranoia, confusion and technology. When the weather is clear and their are no obstacles in the line of fire, and there is an experienced operator, and there is a reliable power source, and the ray is set at the right intensity, and the number of operating technicians is minimal, and the hardware damage isoptimum, and the casualties are maximum, and the cost is negligable - only then will the Pentagon have the perfect weapon of mass destruction.

And finally, there are two quotations that seem to reflect my opinion:

"The appearance of the machine-gun had not so much disciplined the act of killing - which was what the seventeenth-century drill had done - as mechanized or industrialized it." - John Keegan, The Face of Battle (1976).

"War always reaches the depths of horror because of idiots who perpetuate terror from generation to generation under the pretext of venegance." - Guy Sajer, The Forgotten Soldier (1971).

Fare thee well me hearties, damn the torpedos and full speed ahead.