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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Me neither.........
NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Reveals Clues About Saturn Moon 


December 12, 2013

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is providing scientists with key clues about Saturn's moon Titan, and in particular, its hydrocarbon lakes and seas. Titan is one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system, and the only place other than our planet that has stable liquid on its surface.

Cassini's recent close flybys are bringing into sharper focus a region in Titan's northern hemisphere that sparkles with almost all of the moon's seas and lakes. Scientists working with the spacecraft's radar instrument have put together the most detailed multi-image mosaic of that region to date. The image includes all the seas and most of the major lakes. Some of the flybys tracked over areas that previously were seen at a different angle, so researchers have been able to create a flyover of the area around Titan's largest and second largest seas, known as Kraken Mare and Ligeia Mare, and some of the nearby lakes.

"Learning about surface features like lakes and seas helps us to understand how Titan's liquids, solids and gases interact to make it so Earth-like," said Steve Wall, acting radar team lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "While these two worlds aren't exactly the same, it shows us more and more Earth-like processes as we get new views."

These new images show Kraken Mare is more extensive and complex than previously thought. They also show nearly all of the lakes on Titan fall into an area covering about 600 miles by 1,100 miles (900 kilometers by 1,800 kilometers). Only 3 percent of the liquid at Titan falls outside of this area.

"Scientists have been wondering why Titan's lakes are where they are. These images show us that the bedrock and geology must be creating a particularly inviting environment for lakes in this box," said Randolph Kirk, a Cassini radar team member at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. "We think it may be something like the formation of the prehistoric lake called Lake Lahontan near Lake Tahoe in Nevada and California, where deformation of the crust created fissures that could be filled up with liquid."

A creative application of a method previously used to analyze data at Mars also revealed that Ligeia Mare is about 560 feet (170 meters) deep. This is the first time scientists have been able to plumb the bottom of a lake or sea on Titan. This was possible partly because the liquid turned out to be very pure, allowing the radar signal to pass through it easily. The liquid surface may be as smooth as the paint on our cars, and is very clear to radar eyes. The new results indicate the liquid is mostly methane, somewhat similar to a liquid form of natural gas on Earth.

"Ligeia Mare turned out to be just the right depth for radar to detect a signal back from the sea floor, which is a signal we didn't think we'd be able to get," said Marco Mastrogiuseppe, a Cassini radar team associate at Sapienza University of Rome. "The measurement we made shows Ligeia to be deeper in at least one place than the average depth of Lake Michigan."

One implication is that Cassini scientists now can estimate the total volume of the liquids on Titan. Based on Mastrogiuseppe’s work, calculations made by Alexander Hayes, of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., show there are about 2,000 cubic miles (9,000 cubic kilometers) of liquid hydrocarbon, about 40 times more than in all the proven oil reservoirs on Earth. As Cassini gets closer to northern summer in the Saturn system, mission scientists look forward to potentially the most exciting time for weather at Titan's northern hemisphere.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the US and several European countries, built the radar instrument.

[I wonder if anything can live in that? I mean, that’s a LOT of liquid and its rich in all kinds of interesting chemicals. I wonder….?]

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Just Finished Reading: The Avant-Garde – A Very Short Introduction by David Cottington (FP: 2013)

As a complimentary volume to my recent read on Modernism you could hardly find a better book than this. What’s more book of the recent VSI books seemed to be spookily linked to my other holiday read on consumer and counter culture. I did feel a definite shiver of coincidence (or just the Theory of Large Numbers maybe?).

Typically with these things the author had some fun (and no doubt a modicum of pain with definitions – placing the Avant-Garde within the Modern Art ‘movement’ and attempting to distinguish it from other forms of modernism. As with many attempts of definition it was only partially successful and may have just muddied the waters a little. Human cultural endeavours such as art are hard enough to keep within defined boundaries without adding the complication of what work or artist (or period of the artist’s work) that is – or is not – inside the Avant-Garde depending, of course, who is (and when) doing the defining. It’s all rather messy and complex – a bit like the art itself….. I’m looking at you Jackson Pollock.

Funnily, and rather tongue in cheek, there’s a very detailed and complex chart on page 104 with dates and many arrows pointing all over the place which attempts to show how each area of art – Cubism, Surrealism, Bauhaus, Dadaism, Futurism and some of the lessor known varieties of Modernism – all fit in together (if you could accurately draw such a chart as if detailing the evolution of Whales or Mice). Of course being the Avant-Garde and, by definition, on the cutting edge of artistic impression the artists themselves constantly felt the need to push the boundaries of what is art (a very good question in itself) further and further until the public and the critics howled in protest – as some of them actually did! It was often only when such a reaction greeted an artist’s exhibition that they knew they were on the right track. It was even sweeter when other artists said that one of their colleagues had gone too far this time and was to be expelled from their particular little group for unorthodoxy!

I did enjoy my little forays into the unfamiliar territory of modern art history and criticism. It’s not something I would normally read about so I just had to jump in with both feet. OK, they’re ‘only’ VSI books but still I learnt a fair bit but mostly learnt not to be afraid of the subject quite as much as I had been previously. No doubt I’ll investigate a few of the books recommended in the bibliographies and surprise myself (and you?) a little more.      

Monday, October 26, 2015

Just Finished Reading: The Rebel Sell – How the Counterculture became the Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter (FP: 2005)

This was one of those all too rare books that confounded my expectations – in a good way! I was expecting the authors to explain how our culture (basically western Capitalism) co-opts rebellion and repackages it in such a clever way that it hoodwinks the masses into believing they’re rebelling whilst actually making lots of money out of bamboozled idiots. Although the authors mention this ‘theory’ in passing they give it little more than very short shrift indeed.

No, what the authors put forward is something quite different and actually a lot more disturbing in some ways. What they contend is that the counterculture and the dominant culture are not only one and the same thing – that in fact what is referred to as the counterculture doesn’t actually exist – but that the so called counterculture in fact is one of the main drivers behind the power and continued expansion of Capitalism into even more markets across the globe. Although I wasn’t 100% convinced by their arguments it did give me more than enough food for thought to look at things through a new set of eyes.

The authors contend that there is a component in human nature that makes a small percentage of people want to stand out from the rest – in effect to be more ‘cool’ than those around them. To do this they must in some was distinguish themselves from others – they move to particular areas, wear certain clothes, listen to certain music and so on. They’re often the early adopters of all things later seen to be cutting edge and often initially invent, manufacture or develop much of what makes them distinctive. Before you know it they are not only recognised as cool within their own tiny community of other cool people but are perceived as cool by those on the leading edge (rather than the bleeding edge) of culture. This is when Indy bands become increasingly popular and your kids start wearing black make-up. With a growing population of cool and semi-cool people the demand for this year’s cool items increases and (as we all know) if there’s a big enough demand for something then someone will make money out of suppling it. At this point it starts to become less cool, less exclusive and less distinct as more and more people buy into it. It becomes mainstream – counterculture has become consumer culture. Long before this happens the cool people have found something else to make them distinctive and the cycle repeats itself again and again. The counterculture, which was always actually part of the innovating, risk taking, cutting edge capitalist mainstream culture provides the driving force behind capitalism itself with constant change, constant recycling of the old and constant planned obsolescence.

It’s not capitalism cannily co-opting rebellion for its own repackaged use. Its capitalism doing what capitalism does – finding new markets, discovering needs and then fulfilling them. It is human nature – looking for novelty, wanting to stand out from the mass, needing to be cool (or appearing to be cool or at least not uncool!), demanding to be individualistic and distinctive and (finally) getting quickly bored and looking for the next craze that drives the whole process forward. It’s a very interesting thesis and in many ways makes a lot more sense than a sort of global conspiracy to take the sting out of rebellion by pulling the Che T-shirts over people’s eyes. Each chapter ended with a bibliography and I intend following up on some of the author’s recommended reading. I think there is much investigation and much mussing to be done before I decide if their hypothesis is correct which, on refection, I think it probably is. Recommended for anyone who wants a different perspective on things and who likes to look at things in a rather unexpected way.        

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I forgot (yet again)....

My Blog was 10 years old on October 16th. That's quite a milestone considering how I feel about on-line life and social media in general. But I'm having fun, I've made a few far flung friends and I'm constantly finding things that make me think 'I should Blog about that' so I'm going to be around for a few years yet. So continue watching this space...!

Cartoon Time.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Only in Japan....
Hubble Space Telescope Sees Evidence of Water Vapor Venting off Jovian Moon 


December 12, 2013

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter's moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon's surface. Previous scientific findings from other sources already point to the existence of an ocean located under Europa's icy crust. Researchers are not yet certain whether the detected water vapor is generated by water plumes erupting on the surface, but they are confident this is the most likely explanation.

Should further observations support the finding, it would make Europa the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. The findings were published in the Thursday, Dec. 12, online issue of Science Express, and reported at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. "By far the simplest explanation for this water vapor is that it erupted from plumes on the surface of Europa," said lead author Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "If those plumes are connected with the subsurface water ocean we are confident exists under Europa's crust, then this means that future investigations can directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa's potentially habitable environment without drilling through layers of ice. And that is tremendously exciting,"

In 2005, NASA's Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Although ice and dust particles subsequently have been found in the Enceladus plumes, only water vapor gases have been measured at Europa so far.

Hubble spectroscopic observations provided the evidence for Europa plumes in December 2012. Time sampling of Europa’s aurora emissions measured by Hubble's imaging spectrograph enabled the researchers to distinguish between features created by charged particles from Jupiter's magnetic bubble and plumes from Europa’s surface, and to also rule out more exotic explanations such as serendipitously observing a rare meteorite impact.

The imaging spectrograph detected faint ultraviolet light from an aurora, powered by Jupiter's intense magnetic field, near the moon's south pole. Excited atomic oxygen and hydrogen produce a variable aurora glow and leave a telltale sign that they are products of water molecules being broken apart by electrons along magnetic field lines. "We pushed Hubble to its limits to see this very faint emission. These could be stealth plumes, because they might be tenuous and difficult to observe in the visible light." said Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne in Germany. Saur, who is principal investigator of the Hubble observation campaign, co-wrote the paper with Roth. Roth suggested long cracks on Europa's surface, known as lineae, might be venting water vapor into space. Cassini has seen similar fissures that host Enceladus' jets.

Also like Enceladus, the Hubble team found the intensity of the plumes varies with Europa's orbital position. Active jets have been seen only when Europa is farthest from Jupiter. But the researchers could not detect any sign of venting when Europa is closer to Jupiter. One explanation for the variability is these lineae experience more stress as gravitational tidal forces push and pull on the moon and open vents at larger distances from Jupiter. The vents are narrowed or closed when the moon is closest to the gas giant planet. "The apparent plume variability supports a key prediction that Europa should tidally flex by a significant amount if it has a subsurface ocean," said Kurt Retherford, also of Southwest Research Institute.

Europa's and Enceladus' plumes have remarkably similar abundances of water vapor. Because Europa has roughly 12 times more gravitational pull than Enceladus, the vapor, whose temperature is measured at minus 40 degrees Celsius, does not escape into space as it does at Enceladus. Instead, it falls back onto the surface after reaching an altitude of 125 miles, according to the Hubble measurements. This could leave bright surface features near the moon's south polar region, the researchers hypothesize. "If confirmed, this new observation once again shows the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to explore and opens a new chapter in our search for potentially habitable environments in our solar system" said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut who participated in Hubble servicing missions and now serves as NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "The effort and risk we took to upgrade and repair Hubble becomes all the more worthwhile when we learn about exciting discoveries like this one from Europa."

[They really need to get submarine probes to these moons. Melt through the ice and get searching for life in their (presumably) massive oceans. I think finding fairly complex life – fish maybe – is much greater on places such as Europa and Enceladus than on Mars. I can easily foresee bacterial life on the Red Planet and maybe, deep in caves, some sort of plant life but complex animals on Mars is, I think highly unlikely. But fish on Europa or Enceladus? That’s a real possibility.]

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Just Finished Reading: Networks – A Very Short Introduction by Guido Caldarelli and Michele Catanzaro (FP: 2012)

Networks are everywhere – and not just in places you expect to find them like the Internet (which is a network of networks). You find them in social networks – which existed long before Facebook – transport networks represented by roads, railways, airports, living networks which we recognise as ecosystems and even things like terrorist networks which we have become all too familiar with. This brief (114 page) volume goes a pretty good job at casting its eyes over the whole lot without losing focus, dumbing down or piling on the technical detail to bamboozle the na├»ve reader – like me.

OK, I was familiar with many of the author’s real world examples but I was certainly less familiar with Network Theory and the science of Network Topography that can be used to isolate and diagnose otherwise intractable problems: why are some systems/networks so robust to attack whilst other seem fragile and apparently fall apart after a minor nudge? How can we make critical infrastructure more resilient to future disruption (accidents, global warming events, terrorism) without breaking the bank in the process? Is it possible to target a few individuals (in a terrorist network for instance) or a few critical assets (in an enemy state) to produce effective results out of all proportion to the level of force used. Can we use Network Analysis to save lives and improve the world around us?

It seems, certainly from this work, a young field of exploration open to very interesting and powerful possibilities. I’m definitely going to check out some of the recent pop science books on the subject and then maybe move onto more of the hard stuff (I always knew that the VSI books are ‘gateways’ into more hard-core fare), so watch this space. If such things interest you then this could be a good place to start reading up on the subject. The book is basically a quick overview of the field but with enough ‘meat’ to make you want more. What else can you ask for from an introductory book?  

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Favourite Movies: Divergent (2014)

Of course when Divergent came out I’m sure that many, like me, rolled their eyes and thought ‘here we go again’ with another teenage girl rebel saving the world. I mean, hadn’t The Hunger Games a few years earlier done all this before? Well, yes… and No. It certainly had elements in common (have you noticed that films like this tend to come in clusters even when you take the copycat element into account?), attractive teenage girl [check], only just realising that something isn’t quite right with the world [check], discovers that she has the power to affect the world around her [check], and attract boys [check], become popular [check] and threaten to destroy the society she grew up in [check] seemingly without a whole lot of effort or understanding of what she’s actually doing [check] whilst agonising over her place in the world [check] or whether the boy she likes really likes her [check].

OK, I’m both paraphrasing and being more than a little sarcastic here because (obviously as it appears in my Fave Movies list) I actually liked this movie quite a lot. It starts small, within a single City (Chicago) and within a small community within the city – the Faction of Abnegation. We learn that the Factions had been set up after a terrible war as a way of bringing much needed stability (this is actually explained much better in the book) and we learn that Beatrice is about to take part in her choosing day when she becomes an adult by choosing her Faction. Part of that choice is influenced/determined by a series of test to tell you your aptitude. Unfortunately (except for the plot) Beatrice doesn’t fit any defined Faction completely – she’s Divergent, someone not easily controlled and therefore a threat to the society built on the principle of stability above all else (of Faction before Blood). But Beatrice (now ‘reborn’ as Tris) goes with her heart and chooses the warrior Faction – Dauntless, both a very brave but potentially foolhardy decision especially with what’s coming. Unknown to her (and many others) a rebellion has been brewing – the Faction system is crumbling and a military coup, led by the intellectual Faction called Erudite, using soldiers in Dauntless is about to take place aimed at destroying Tris’s previous Faction, Abnegation (along with her parents). Tris finds herself in the right place at the right time and with the right skillset to become a pivotal player in the events as they unfold – both hiding and utilising her Divergent properties.

There’s quite a lot going on in this movie (and more so the book) than a simple adventure fantasy or post-apocalyptic teen romance. Obviously it’s about growing up and making your own way in the world and recognising who you are outside the family. It’s about growing up and taking responsibility for your own actions. It’s about rebellion and standing up for what is right, it’s about making tough choices and dealing with the consequences. At its core the film is about being different – and the fear that generates in larger (older) society. But it’s about the positive side of being different – about being skilled, about challenging rigid authority, about standing up for your rights and what you believe in. It’s about knowing you’re different and having the courage to accept it, about being comfortable in your own skin.

Of course it helped that I liked the cast – especially Tris (played by the ever cute Shailene Woodley), Christina (played by the sassy and highly likable Zoe Kravitz) and the love interest Four (played by the hunky Theo James). I must also mention Ashley Judd (who I have long admired) who played Tris’s mother and I must admit they really looked like mother/daughter in the scenes together. This film works on multiple levels and you can put as much (or as little) thought into it as you wish – guess which one I did? I enjoyed the 2nd film too and am looking forward to the 3rd and I must get around to catching up with the books too!  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Texas university students in dildo protest over gun law

From The BBC

12th October 2015

Texas students are planning to hang sex toys from their bags in protest at a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons on university campuses. "You're carrying a gun to class? Yeah well I'm carrying a HUGE DILDO," Jessica Jin, organiser of Campus (DILDO) Carry, wrote on Facebook. About 3,000 people have signed up for the protest, which is planned for next year when the law takes effect. Gun rights supporters have criticised the rally on the group's Facebook page.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott enacted the campus carry law in June. Under the law, university presidents are permitted to create so-called "gun-free zones". "The State of Texas has decided that it is not at all obnoxious to allow deadly concealed weapons in classrooms, however it DOES have strict rules about free sexual expression, to protect your innocence," wrote Ms Jin, a student at the University of Texas at Austin. "You would receive a citation for taking a DILDO to class before you would get in trouble for taking a gun to class. Heaven forbid the penis," she added. Some students at the Austin University have appealed to University President Gregory Fenves to impose limits on the new law. Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the university, said last week he was resigning over concerns about his personal safety.

Supporters of gun rights have argued that mass gunmen target "gun-free zones" such as university campuses and cinemas so they do not meet resistance when they commit their crimes. Others say encouraging armed civilians to engage an attacker could lead to more chaos and deaths. A student was armed during a recent college shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, but he did not use his weapon. He was not in the building where the shootings occurred, and he also said he feared police could have mistaken him for the gunman, putting his life in danger.

Gun rights supporters have flooded the protest's Facebook page, mocking the organisers. "A grand example of the decline of value in American university education," read one of the responses. "As a parent I feel more comfortable with my children having a weapon on campus rather than a dildo," read another.

[I did have to double check the date on this BBC report to see if a 1st April prank had slipped through the new a bit early (or late) this year! I mean, how fucked up is that? It’s OK to carry a deadly weapon but not a plastic imitation of a penis! If it wasn’t so crazy assed this would have had me chuckling for weeks. All I will say is: Go for it Jessica. All power to you girl!]

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Just Finished Reading: Modernism – A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Butler (FP: 2010)

Now I’d be the first to admit that Art of any kind, and never mind Modern Art, is a little outside my comfort/knowledge zone in the reading about it department. So I have to admit that I did struggle more than a little with this book despite its paltry 102 pages.

Concentrating on works from 1909-1939, some of which I knew and others I already liked (most notably Guernica by Picasso - finished in 1937), I actually managed to learn a great deal about artists I’d never heard of before pushing the boundaries of art (not just painting) in all directions both sides of WW1. So impressive was this outpouring that some commentators at the time blamed Modernist thought and the Avant-Garde in general for provoking the Great War. Maybe another look at it would see WW1 as part of the energetic energy of the New (Modern) Age?

The philosophy of Modernism centred around change, technology, speed and the urban environment canonising machines and just about anything that called the existing bourgeois values and standards into question attacking anything that smacked of traditionalism. Largely from the Left politically, though not exclusively as evinced by the Italian Futurists who closely associated with Italian Fascists, much modern art was vilified both in Germany and Italy as decadent and much was publically (and regrettably) destroyed during WW2.

Giving rise to artistic styles as diverse as Cubism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Bauhaus, and Neoclassicism and producing artists as varied as Henri Bergson, Berthold Brecht, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, T.S Eliot, James Joyce, Wassily Kandinsky, D H Lawrence, Rene Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky and Virginia Woolf this was an artistic movement the like of which had never been seen before and which is still reverberating through cultures across the world and still with the power to shock, awe and amuse in equal measure. Some of it I regard as junk, some I look at with stunned incomprehension and others I look at or listen to with feelings of transcendent joy. If you want to know more about the phenomena of Modernism I suggest that this is a pretty good place to start with lots of ideas to follow up.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Just Finished Reading: Drone Theory by Gregoire Chamayou (FP: 2015)

This is a strange little book (a mere 227 pages not including notes) and wasn’t at all what I expected. After reading two previous books on the use and abuse of Drone technology I was expecting more of the same. I was pleased that this was far from the case. Where my previous two reads had concentrated on the legality, morality and (to a lesser extent) the technology of Drones this book addressed the philosophy aspects of Drone use. Now this in itself came as a bit of a surprise – as I’d never really thought of Drones as generally philosophic issues. I suppose that I should have, considering that I have an MA in the subject but it’s been a while and I’m out of practice (at least that’s the excuse I’m sticking to).

Starting off with a standard look at the history of tele-operated machines and the introduction of Drone technology into warfare, the author quickly delves into the theoretical aspects of the whole enterprise and presents an intriguing example of the vagaries of moral indignation. Do you remember a few years ago when someone offered virtual hunts to anyone online – where you could ‘drive’ around a real hunting zone and ‘hunt/kill’ animals via remote control over the Internet? Well the protests quickly brought that idea to an end. How inhumane and frankly creepy people said. Whereas doing effectively the same thing with Drones and hellfire missiles hundreds or thousands of miles both from the US and any recognised warzone is just fine and dandy. People, as it’s been said before, are strange!

Then there are the questions, so many questions. If a soldier/contractor ‘flying’ the Drone has absolutely zero risk whilst in combat them what exactly is s/he doing? Without ‘skin in the game’ how exactly are they fighting? Is it combat or simply killing when the designated enemy cannot fire back under any circumstances? Are the pilot’s soldiers or assassins? If those targeted cannot fire back then can they reasonably be called ‘enemy combatants’? If they cannot engage in actual combat how can they be combatants? Also if we are not actually at war with the people we’re attacking how can they be the ‘enemy’? Is it legal to be ‘at war’ with non-state actors such as the Taliban or other groups? Is such a thing even possible (never mind being at war with a technique such as ‘terror’)? But if they’re not a recognised enemy and are not capable of being combatants then how can we in all conscience target and kill them? But is it OK to target their leaders, known bad people who organise others to do very bad things? Without anything that might be called adequate oversight, without the possibility of challenge, without recourse afterwards (unless it can be proven – posthumously – that they were not ‘insurgents’ or ‘combatants’), often without adequate intelligence or consideration of who else dies in the strike (or the famed ‘double-tap’ where a second missile kills those coming to the rescue of those hit in the first strike – a war crime by the way). Consider that the KILL radius of a hellfire missile is 15 meters so anyone in a targeted house will probably die as well as those passing close by outside. What price a high value target kill?

That’s before we get onto the even more bizarre idea of a signature strike (as opposed to a personality strike when the identity of the target is generally known). In signature strikes the hellfire lands on individuals who are suspected to be ‘dirty’ by their unusual behaviour which ‘fits the profile’ of known bad guys. So they have no real idea who they’re targeting but their behaviours (calculated by a classified algorithm) flag them as potentially dangerous. Seconds later the danger is gone in smoke and a wide debris field.

Full of disturbing ideas, uncomfortable questions, twisted definitions, word play, moral and legal conundrums and convoluted justifications this was (at least to me once I knew I needed to bring my philosophy head into the briar patch) a fascinating, gripping and unusual look at the Drone issue which continues to raise its head around the world. It’s an issue that isn’t going to go away anytime soon especially as more and more countries get in on the act. Wait for the first Chinese, Russian or Iranian Drone kill of dissident elements either in their own country or in others. Wait for the first effective hacking of an Allied Drone which results in Allied casualties. Wait for the first Drone strike on US soil by US authorities. It’s all coming and it’s going to make the future very, very interesting. I think I’ll be reading more military philosophy in the future. Recommended to anyone who wants their mind bent just a little and who enjoys plenty of food for thought.  

Translated from the French by Janet Lloyd.  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Ben Carson says guns may have stopped Holocaust.

From The BBC

9th October 2015

US Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson has sparked controversy after suggesting the Holocaust may have been avoided if people had been armed. "The likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed," he told CNN on Thursday. An anti-Semitism monitoring group says linking US gun control to the Holocaust is "historically inaccurate". Mr Carson is polling second in the Republican race behind Donald Trump. The retired neurosurgeon drew condemnation last month for saying a Muslim should not run for president because Islam was inconsistent with the US constitution.

During the CNN interview, Mr Carson was asked about part of his new book, A More Perfect Union, where he wrote "through a combination of removing guns and disseminating propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance". He was then asked by CNN presenter Wolf Blitzer: "Just clarify, if there had been no gun control laws in Europe at that time, would six million Jews have been slaughtered?" Mr Carson said he doubted Hitler would have been able to achieve his goals if Germans had been armed at that time. "I'm telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first," he added.

The Anti-Defamation League, an anti-Semitism monitoring group, has previously said that drawing comparisons between the gun control debate in the US and the Holocaust was "historically inaccurate and offensive", especially to Holocaust survivors and their families. In 1943, armed Jews in the Warsaw ghetto fought the Nazis. Jews killed about 20 Nazis, but about 13,000 Jews died in the uprising.

Ben Carson's comments come days after a mass shooting at a college in the US state of Oregon, in which nine people were killed. Speaking after the attack, Mr Carson said: "I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, hey, guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can't get us all." Survivors and relatives of gun attacks in the US have described his comments as insensitive. Mr Carson has defended gun rights as a bulwark against government tyranny and said that mass shootings are a mental health issue.

[Ah, the sound of people who know nothing about history and who have a tenuous relationship with reality. If Jews in Germany had carried handguns, rifles and shotguns during the Holocaust they would have been able to fight off the combined might of the German armed forces who conquered the vast part of Northern and Western Europe in a matter of months handily beating every army they faced. Really? With no training, no logistics, no heavy weapons and (probably) no co-ordination they could have beaten the best equipped and most effective fighting force on the planet? I suggest that the outcome might have been quite different. Also, if armed citizens exist to counter-balance the States military capability I don’t think Mr Carson has been keeping up with developments. I’m sorry, but this isn’t 1776 or even 1789 anymore. A citizen army would be useless against any kind of organised military response today. But then the US gun lobby do like their myths…..]

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Proof that dinosaurs and humans co-existed.....

Just Finished Reading: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (FP: 1947)

When their son is killed fighting in France a decision is made, Otto Quangel and his wife Anna will resist the Nazi regime that had brought them and others so much pain. But direct opposition is both futile a deadly leading only in one direction – to the concentration camp and the executioners block. They need to be more subtle than that, more indirect. After giving it considerable thought Otto decides on a plan. He will write out anti-Nazi propaganda on ordinary postcards and leave them in the stairwells of busy office buildings. As they spread throughout the population, being passed from hand to hand, they will create a groundswell of opposition and shorten the horrible war they are embroiled in. So it begins, a campaign that lasts three long years leaving the police and Gestapo without a clue of who is leaving the cards or what they hope to gain from their defiance.

At the end of this rather chunky book (at 568 pages) are two additions – one outlining the real story which inspired the author to pen this late 1940’s German classic, and the other telling the tale of the author himself in all its tragic detail. The one point of this narrative that really struck me was the length of time it took him to complete the book: less than a month! When you read something of this quality (and length) it seems incredible that he could have written it that fast. When you find out that the author was actually dying at the time – he died before the book was published – it becomes somewhat understandable but somewhat more impressive.

One of the reviewers (which you might be able to read on the cover above) calls the book ‘extraordinary and redemptive’. Considering almost ever main character failed to reach the final page still alive this could be a hard case to make – except that Otto, Anna and several other characters, despite what eventually happened to them, never actually gave up on their convictions and went to their ends with heads held high and with their integrity in tact no matter what the authorities did to them. But this is certainly no book for the faint of heart. You will, like me, get attached to several of the characters and feel their pain (and their fear) as they try to get through the war relatively intact – both physically and (more important) morally. Bad things happen – both to bad people and the good ones too. Rather inevitably, considering the times and the place, there is more than a little unpleasantness, especially where the police and the Gestapo are concerned. I don’t need to go into any great detail for you to know what I mean. Then, again inevitably, there is the position of the Jews in early 1940’s Berlin. Again I don’t need to outline some of the incidents that occur within these pages. The historical record itself is full enough of the facts to need them repeating here.

Whilst certainly not a cheery book this is incredibly well written. Though dealing with the minutia of daily life in Berlin during the first half of the 1940’s it is never dull and is populated with realistic characters, petty criminals, retired judges, confused and frightened Jews, sadistic bullies, idealistic young resisters, finally repentant police inspectors and, above all, the Quangel’s who are at the heart (in more ways than one) of the whole thing. This book will grip you and leave you haunted by the events seemingly unfolding before your eyes. It won’t be a pleasant journey that’s for sure but it will be worthwhile. Highly recommended and a deserved 20th Century classic.

Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann.