Sputnik

The Space Age began sixty years ago, October 4, 1957, when Russia put a beach ball-size chunk of metal into orbit in earth’s atmosphere (Newsweek, Sky & Telescope, Space, Space again).  It’s funny to think how insignificant that accomplishment seems now, yet how momentous it was at the time.  I suppose the most significant accomplishments and threats of our era, from the moon landing to North Korea’s ICBMs can trace their origins to this Russian orb.

***

I also want to follow up on my last post, which didn’t seem to come out quite right.  I think I was trying to say something like this:

Perhaps there’s no single one factor to blame for this gun violence. However, there is a common denominator, and that is a war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex that has invaded almost every aspect of our lives.

Ask yourself: Who are these shooters modelling themselves after? Where are they finding the inspiration for their weaponry and tactics? Whose stance and techniques are they mirroring?

In almost every instance, you can connect the dots back to the military.

We are a military culture.

We have been a nation at war for most of our existence.

Or, like this:

Americans do not merely engage in violence; they are also entertained by it.

I was just too lazy to get it right.  So, please take a look at those articles.  They’re a bit more ambitious.

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In other news, it seems that Santa Claus is (or was) real after all (Daily Sabah, BBC).  Now I wish I had been better this year.

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Las Vegas

Two nights ago I watched Expendables 3 on Netflix.  Last night I watched the news unfold as a bunch of wonderful people lost their lives.  The Expendables franchise is fairly well conceived, I think.  It’s a simple formula–show what’s left of the pool of aging action heroes engaging in witty banter, then show a massive body count, then repeat the cycle.  After a few cycles, you have a movie.  After a few movies, you have a franchise.  The bizarre thing is that it’s not all fiction.  In real life if you aim an automatic weapon at a crowd of people and fire, lots of them die.  The problem is, they’re not bad guys and they’re not pretend.  They’re you.  They’re me.  They’re just people going about their business.

So now, once again, we start the familiar cycle that follows these events.  Gun opponents will seize the ‘opportunity’ to make the obvious point that U.S. gun culture facilitates these kinds of mass shootings.  Gun advocates will go on a shopping spree in fear that the government will finally crack down on their Second Amendment ‘rights’.  And no one wants to admit that no matter how many current gun laws get enforced, and no matter how many people in the crowd are legally carrying guns, every now and then somebody clever and weird snaps and a lot of good people die.

It’s tempting to suggest a connection between the glorification of mass violence in the entertainment industry and the mentality of folks who commit mass murders.  When I was a young child, I chased a girl I was playing with with a hammer.  I was going to bop her on the head with it.  I knew it wouldn’t hurt her because I was an avid Bugs Bunny fan and I knew that she would just get dizzy and see birdies fly around her head, then shake her head and be fine.  I had seen it in cartoons dozens of times.  Thank god my mother was there to stop me and explain the gravity of what I was trying to do.  I remember another time, watching Bugs Bunny with my mom, when she told me never to shake a baby the way Bugs Bunny was doing.  I remember being struck with the thought that it never would have occurred to me on my own that this was a bad idea.  Did Stephen Paddock, firing a machine gun from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, think he was Sylvester Stallone the way I, as a kid, thought I was Bugs Bunny?  Did James Holmes think he was the Joker?  And no, I don’t think censorship of the entertainment industry will prevent mass violence.  Crazy people will always find some source for their crazy ideas.  But, I don’t let my kids watch Bugs Bunny; and, I should probably stop watching the Expendables.

And, I’m really sad to see Tom Petty go.  Somewhere, somehow, I do hope he’s running down a dream.

Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis just landed in Afghanistan and was greeted by a volley of mortar fire at the airport (FOX, CBS, RT, in, CNN).  Granted, the attack came late and, even had it come on time, probably would have failed to down the plane on which he arrived.  What I find telling, though–and absent from the news reports–is any discussion of how the Taliban knew that Mattis was on the plane.  It seems to me that’s the kind of information one would keep from one’s enemy–if one could.

I know this is just a trip by SecDef Mattis, but it causes me to think about Afghanistan again and wonder how things are going over there.  They seem to be going like this (NYT)…

afghanistan_taliban_map_large5

…which makes me wonder what exactly the U.S. administration hopes to gain by continuing this losing war, other than having an excuse to train its troops and buy and test weapons.  I also find it interesting that media sources seem to all use maps like this generated by the Institute for the Study of War , which seems to be a fairly gung-ho proponent of military expansion.  If this is the map we’re getting from the folks trying to sell the war, how much worse is the real situation on the ground?

Rocket man and the dotard

It’s difficult to imagine that the leaders of North Korea and America could show significantly more antipathy toward each other than they do at present.  There is, unfortunately, room for escalation of tensions.  North Korea is currently threatening to detonate a hydrogen nuclear bomb in the earth’s atmosphere (NBC, BBC, The Atlantic, Business Insider).  It’s been about  37 years since anyone has thought to do something this stupid.  As regrettable as it would be to lose the millions of humans who live in Seoul and Tokyo, a neutralized North Korea does have a sort of appeal to it.

The end of the world

Just because the world didn’t end in 2012, that doesn’t mean it won’t end next Saturday.  According to a ‘viral video,’ this is the likely outcome of the weekend.  This is why it is so important to avoid things with virus-like qualities, especially videos.

Instead of worrying, though, I say we should celebrate the life of the guy who kept the world from ending in 1983, when it very nearly did.  Stanislav Petrov should have annihilated life on earth as we know it, but he didn’t (NPR, BBC, NYT, RT).  It was his job to monitor Soviet airspace against incoming U.S. nuclear missiles and, should he happen to notice any, return fire.  One day, he noticed some.  Fortunately, instead of the barrage he was trained to look for, he only saw five incoming missiles.  ‘Hmm,’ thought the brave Ruskie, ‘why would the Americans start a war with only five?’  ‘Hmm,’ he then thought, ‘we have a new radar system that hasn’t really been tested too well.’  Hmm, ‘ he then thought, ‘I have about ten minutes to decide what to do.’  And so he did nothing.  He didn’t even report the blips on his screen.  And so we’re still alive.  And today he died.  And Saturday is just around the corner.  I guess it’s time for someone else to step up to the plate.  Because, even if Nibiru doesn’t get us, someday the war may not be imaginary.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Multiple rocket launcher systems fire during the Zapad-2017 war games in Belarus
REUTERS

Houston, we have a problem

Donald Trump has acknowledged the disaster that is flooded Houston and even visited the area to reassure the populace.

“To the people affected by Hurricane Harvey, we are with you every single step of the way. We will help you recover, we will help you rebuild, we will support you today, tomorrow and the day after.”

He said that on August 25th, so I suppose the offer has run its course by now.

Several sources have noted the irony that Trump managed to rollback Obama’s efforts to fortify America’s infrastructure against just this sort of flooding just days before Hurricane Harvey struck (The Hill, Gears of Biz, Business Insider, Jalopnik, CBC).  In fact, Trump did this before Obama’s executive order even had a chance to come into effect, so it appears the move was mostly symbolic.  It seems as if nothing is as important to Trump as undoing everything done by Obama.

Here are the executive orders, for those who like to read such things.  Obama’s:

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Executive Order – Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting and Considering Stakeholder Input

EXECUTIVE ORDER
– – – – – – –
ESTABLISHING A FEDERAL FLOOD RISK MANAGEMENT STANDARD
AND A PROCESS FOR FURTHER SOLICITING AND CONSIDERING
STAKEHOLDER INPUT

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to improve the Nation’s resilience to current and future flood risk, I hereby direct the following:

Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of the United States to improve the resilience of communities and Federal assets against the impacts of flooding. These impacts are anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats. Losses caused by flooding affect the environment, our economic prosperity, and public health and safety, each of which affects our national security.

And Trump’s (skipping to the end where he gets to the point:

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Presidential Executive Order on Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure

EXECUTIVE ORDER

– – – – – – –

ESTABLISHING DISCIPLINE AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW AND PERMITTING PROCESS FOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to ensure that the Federal environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects is coordinated, predictable, and transparent, it is hereby ordered as follows:

 

Sec. 6. Executive Order 13690 of January 30, 2015 (Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting and Considering Stakeholder Input), is revoked.

 

This flood business is expensive (Houston Chronicle, The Hill, weather.com) and hard to insure against (Houston Chronicle, LA Times).  Some say the troubles in Houston are due to the lack of regulation.  Others disagree.  Others note that much of the flood damage occurred outside of the designated flood zones.  FEMA and other such agencies have certainly given the matter plenty of attention.  Unfortunately, flooding seems to be a problem that will only get worse.  And America has an administration determined not to prepare for it.

Sebastian Gorka

Now that most of the people I’ve come to recognize have left the Trump administration, it seems the B-players are now joining the exodus.  I had never heard of Sebastian Gorka until I found out he was gone (NYT, theblaze, WP).  And, I only just barely found this out, given his departure amid both a hurricane and a Friday night bad news dump.  He claims he resigned (even writing a letter as evidence), but the administration says otherwise.  It seems he’s going back to Breitbart from whence he came, joining his buddy Steve Bannon.  Was this latest ouster a further attempt to play down the Charlottesville fiasco?  Was it due to Gorka’s opposition to the Afghanistan ramp up?  What’s going on this time?  Come to think of it, the Afghan war is pretty stupid, isn’t it?  20170824_Afghanistan

Kinda makes me wish this guy had stuck around–at least long enough to get to know him.