The cognoscentii will know what I'm talking about

>> Saturday, October 31, 2015

Look, I don't know.  But if I had to guess?
Look, I know Adam Driver--an actor I'm unfamiliar with, ironically, since half his filmography is apparently either in my Netflix queue or in my mental "I still need to see that sometime" list--I know that "officially" he's some guy named "Kylo Ren."  And there's photos of him on-set in costume and an entire line of toys.  I know.
But I also know that J.J. Abrams spent, like, a year, almost a year, something like that, telling everyone that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing a guy named "John Harrison."
I know that his writers kinda goofed and said they were bringing back a classic Star Trek villain the fans would be glad to see again, the entire Internet collectively said, "Cool, but I hope it's not Khan, because that would be stupid."  And the writers and Abrams said, "It's totally not Khan.  It's a guy named 'John Harrison.'"  And the entire Internet collectively said, "Who the fuck is John Harrison?" and the Trekkies/ers/ites all said, "Fifty years of Star Trek, there's never been anyone named 'John Harrison,' much less a 'classic villain' named 'John Harrison,'" and the collective said, "Oh hell, it's Khan, isn't it?"
And Abrams said, "It's not Khan."
Then there were set photos of Benedict Cumberbatch stalking around dictatorially, and in a holding cell, and doing various other things, and the Internet said, "Are you sure he's not Khan?  No, hang on, this is definitely Khan, right?" and Abrams said, "It's not Khan.  Stop asking if it's Khan, Benedict Cumberbatch is playing John Harrison and not Khan."
Then the movie came out.  With Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan.  Though, to be fair, they do call him "John Harrison" during the first half of the movie, up until the dramatic reveal (oops, spoiler) where the camera closes in on Benedict Cumberbatch responding to Kirk and Spock asking him his real name and he hisses, "My name is Khan!"  Not that there's any reason the movie ever offers for him to be going around under this pseudonym, since this is an alternate timeline where there's no reason for anybody in the movie to treat Khan differently than he was treated in "Space Seed," the 1967 original series episode where Khan is introduced; in that episode, the Enterprise finds Khan adrift in space in suspended animation, the crew wakes him up, and (realizing almost immediately who he is) treat him with... amused benign indifference, apparently figuring, "What can a guy who's been asleep in a can for two-hundred years do?"  (Not much, contrary to what you think: in both "Space Seed" and Star Trek II--The Wrath of Khan, Khan only accomplishes anything when the Enterprise crew slacks off and does things like hand him the ship's instruction manuals or forget to turn on the ship's shields; whenever they start bringing their actual game (any game, not necessarily even their A-game), they defeat Khan by doing things like turning his ship off or flying under him.  Dude's kinda like a toddler: mostly harmless so long as you keep an eye on him, but leave him unattended with a Sharpie for five minutes and there'll be Hell to pay.)
I also--possibly unlike some people, I don't know why--I also have a long memory.
Long enough, anyway, to remember that before J.J. Abrams did Mission Impossible III and became the big-name film director he is today, he was a screenwriter and script doctor who in the early-2000s wrote a script called Superman: Flyby for one of Warners' attempts to reboot the Superman franchise.  Brett Ratner was going to direct, or McG; both of them were attached to the project at various times, and it burned through a lot of money before being scrapped and Warners' went with what became Bryan Singer's for-better-or-worse love letter to Richard Donner, Superman Returns.
But at some point during preproduction, Abrams script for Flyby leaked online, and got thoroughly and even-more-thoroughly trashed by Ain't It Cool News and other Internet geek sites, because Superman: Flyby was written as if the author didn't really know much about Superman, or even have any interest in Superman beyond the fact he'd been given a fistful of cash to write a movie about some guy named "Superman."  It was kind of a Greatest American Hero thing played straight, where this alien gets sent  to Earth from his unexploded, just fine planet with a magical suit which allows him to do Kung-Fu so he can fight another alien calling itself "Lex Luthor."
I also remember that when Abrams eventually responded to the dire response his Flyby script got, it was kinda whiny and petulant.  I wish I could find the article online, but it looks like it'll take more work than I feel like putting into it.  He kinda missed the point of the backlash, though, saying his ideas should have had a chance because they might have been interesting, which could be true except "interesting" and "good" aren't synonyms; and he seemed to have a kinda crazy notion that maybe if his ideas were going to get rejected by fans, they should have been rejected by fans after Warners spent hundreds of millions of dollars filming, marketing and distributing the thing, instead of being put out of its mercy early and gratefully.
(I never watched Lost, so all I can say about that is that I have friends who are still angry that the show's creators, including Abrams, apparently spent years telling everyone that the show would come together in a way that made sense and that the people on the island weren't dead, and from my friends' complaints I take it that (1) it didn't, and (2) they were.  If you know what they're talking about, feel free to take it under consideration.)
So I don't know anything, except that I do know that J.J. Abrams hates, hates, hates advance fan speculation and Internet nerds because he feels they burned him with Superman, and so much that he was willing to lie to them on Star Trek.  And so I think he's more than capable of casting Adam Driver as a minor or minor-ish character, and letting a few misleading photos of him in a misleading costume leak out, or having him and another actor playing characters who aren't what they seem to be and one occasionally stands in for the other; actually, I'd go so far as to say that I think Abrams is perfectly capable of hiring an actor who doesn't appear in the film at all, who just shows up in costume for set photos for a disinformation campaign, if Disney would let him do it... which seems like something that could go either way, frankly.
So I don't know.  I'm probably wrong.  But I'm not asking the question everyone's been asking since that poster came out, because I don't know that he isn't.  Sure, okay, probably not.  Except, thing is, if I had to guess, if you pushed me to guess, I might just guess he is.
I think I just want it on the record that I'm probably wrong, but I also won't be surprised if.  So that when, if happens, and I say, "Kinda saw that one coming," and you don't believe me, I can pull up a blog post from Halloween to say, "No, see, I said this would be totally consistent with J.J. Abrams post-Superman: Flyby M.O.."  And if I'm wrong, which I probably am, you can razz me, I guess, even though I'm pretty soft on this.


A year ago today, this happened.

>> Sunday, October 25, 2015

Love you, Scatterkat.  Happy anniversary, babe.


Ryan says neigh

>> Thursday, October 22, 2015

Yes, that's right, this was real news, or as real as news gets these days, and not an Onion piece.  The Prime Minister of Israel--you know, the country founded in 1948 as a Jewish state in the aftermath of the Holocaust--the Prime Minister of Israel told delegates to the World Zionist Congress that Hitler didn't mean to kill all those Jews, he only wanted to deport them, but then a big, mean Palestinian (Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1941) told Hitler that if the Jews were deported they'd end up on his doorstep and he didn't want them, either, and so Hitler asked what he ought to do (because he had no idea, apparently), and al-Husseini said Hitler ought to kill them and the thought just hadn't even occurred to Hitler but he decided to take al-Husseini's advice and I guess that's why it's okay to build Jewish settlements on the West Bank and a two-state solution won't work.

You need a minute or two to digest that?  'S'okay.  Take your time.  We'll still be here.

Right, so I'm reading this article, and--this is great, this is actually the good stuff, here--and this happens:

An advertisement from something calling itself, "Public Advocate of the United States," accusing Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin of being a well-hung gay man (possibly carrying or wearing a prophylactic, which is a good thing and to be encouraged).  Which may or may not be some kind of euphemism.  I'm not sure where they got this idea--
Image via Gawker.
--hey!  No, no, no!  Now you're just stereotyping.  Yes, there's a popular stereotype that homosexual men are body-obsessed and work out all the time, but so what?  There's also a stereotype that gay men dress well, so take another look at that goddamn backwards baseball cap.
I kid, I kid.  It's utterly absurd, of course, but says a great deal of how batshit crazy the country is and how Ryan's initial gut instinct to turn down the Speaker's position if offered was.  I mean, I'm not at all sure what the "Homosexual Lobby" is (if it isn't the waiting area between the main exit and floor area of a gay club, at least), or why they need a "Trojan horse," but even assuming purely hypothetically that the "Homosexual Lobby" is a thing and they're engaging in some kind of political ninja-sneaky-shit, the idea that Paul Ryan is their guy is just kind of absurd.

Besides, if Ryan is a Trojan horse for anything, it's Objectivism.  If he's elected Speaker, he's going to bore the country with three-hour speeches about looters and try to convert everyone to atheism while trying to wife-swap with everyone in the whole damn House on principle.  Duh.  Times are gonna be great again for R.J. Reynolds and Amtrak.  Everybody else may be a little fucked, but it'll be their own damn faults because it always is.

I don't know, folks, I just don't know.  I've always tried (usually unsuccessfully, but still--) to take the broad-minded, historical approach and remind myself that things have always been crazy and weird and kinda, well, bad.  Yet I don't recall another era when the news looked so completely like something that was just made up on the fly by somebody who didn't care and wasn't even trying very hard.  Paul Ryan is a gay lobbyist, the Prime Minister of Israel says Hitler wasn't that bad (at least not to start with).  Although I've been an atheist since I was a teenager, it makes me wonder if there really is a God--a lazy, insane God with some kind of attention-deficit problem, or possibly a God who has decided to troll the universe.

There's a nutty, pretty useless hypothesis out there that suggests that we're all part of a computer simulation because if you figure that eventually some real species is going to invent the ability to model an entire universe, your odds of being in a model universe are greater than your odds of not being in a model universe, so statistics.  It's basically useless, though perhaps entertaining, because not only is the hypothesis basically untestable, but it doesn't change anything even if it's true.  Even if we're inside a simulated universe, it's indistinguishable from a real universe, so whatevs.  Besides which, isn't it most likely that the creatures simulating us would themselves be simulations, so it's, what, turtles all the way down or something like that?

But I mention it because I suppose there is one way it's testable, which would be if the code was so buggy that after a few gajillion processing cycles it just started turning out implausibilities like Donald Trump and daily school shootings and so on, and these bugs were somehow manifest to the simulations "observing" the program from within.  Basically, you know, if we all woke up one morning and realized we were inside Windows 8.  Which could have already happened.

Or maybe the notion disproves itself: would you let the universe run so badly for so long without bringing up a task manager and killing all those errant processes?  Of course not.  Hell, at this point with the whole thing freezing and crashing you'd probably curse and shrug and just CTRL-ALT-DEL the damn comput


An open letter to Mrs. Betty Rawlings

>> Wednesday, October 21, 2015


From:     Mrs Betty Rawlings. (
Sent:    Wed 10/21/15 12:56 AM

Foreign Payment Department
South Africa General Board & Compensation Reserve Team
4 Castle St Paarl, Cape Town, western came, South Africa.

I am Mrs. Betty Rawlings, I am a US citizen, 48 years Old. I reside here in New Braunfels Texas. My residential address is as follows. 108 Crockett Court. Apt 303, New Braunfels Texas, United States. am thinking of relocating since I am now rich. I am one of those that took part in the Compensation in South Africa many years ago and they refused to pay me, I had paid over $52,000 while in the United States trying to get my payment all to no avail.

I decided to travel down to western came, South Africa with all my compensation documents and i was directed to meet Barrister Mahatma Gandhi who is the member of COMPENSATION AWARD COMMITTEE, I contacted him and he explained everything to me. He said whoever is contacting us through emails are fake because the Inheritance/Compensation Law clearly states that the beneficiary/recipient is exempt from paying any out of pocket fees or charges to receive said funds.

Barrister Mahatma Gandhi took me to the paying bank for the claim of my Compensation payment.Right now I am the most happiest woman on earth because I have received my compensation funds of ( $1.5million USD ) Moreover, Barrister Mahatma Gandhi showed me the full information of those that are yet to receive their payments and I saw your name and email address as one of the beneficiaries that is why I decided to email you to stop dealing with those people, they are not with your funds, they are only making money out of you.

I will advise you to contact Barrister Mahatma Gandhi You have to contact him directly on this information below.

Name: Barrister Mahatma Gandhi

You can call me for more informations +27-625-749-194

Listed below are the name of mafias and banks behind the non release of your funds that I managed to sneak out for your kind perusal.

1) Agent Davis Morse
2) Mr James B. Comey
3) Mr Ibrahim Lamorde
4) Ms Carman L. Lapointe
5) Mrs Sherry Brubio
6) Bar James Morgan
7) Bar Anderson Brown
8) Bar Harry Cole

The only money I paid after I met Barrister Mahatma Gandhi was just $500USD for the delivery charges, take note of that.


Once again stop contacting those people, I will advise you to contact Daniel Williams so that he can help you to deliver your funds instead of dealing with those liars that will be turning you around asking for different kind of money to complete your transaction.'

Thank You and Remain Blessed.
Mrs Betty Rawlings.
This email has been protected by YAC (Yet Another Cleaner) http://www.███.██

Dear Mrs. Rawlings,

I doubt I have too many regular readers of Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Midgets anymore because I no longer have regular posts for them to read these days.  But whatever readers I have are surely disappointed that I hardly ever type up open letters to fine, upstanding, helpful citizens such as yourself anymore.

This is largely your fault.  I'm sorry.  That's a terrible way to begin a letter, but we might as well get it out of the way.  It used to be that I'd get lots and lots of really amusing and inspirational letters, and now it just seems like I get the same one, more or less.  And it's a challenge to be interesting or creative facing a wave of such dull banality.  These days it's all a variation on a few basic themes: ATM cards, couriers, a newsworthy plane crash, and don't trust anyone else sending me e-mails about my funds.  These days, most of you are devouring yourselves, the lot of you writing me scam e-mails about how the other scam e-mails I got were scams.  Very meta, but in a very tedious way.

And yet, Mrs. Rawlings--Betty, may I call you Betty?--you've found a way to break through my apathy!  I was going through the junk e-mail folder, and I opened your missive in a vain hope that it would be amusing enough to be fodder for the blog, and what do I find?  Well, the same dull appeal, except--


--except that you're offering me the services of a famous dead lawyer.

Now that, that, is a good one.

I have, after all, largely admired Mr. Gandhi's work on civil rights in South Africa as a very young man at the turn of the 20th Century, and (of course) his far-more-famous efforts to secure independence of his homeland, India, from the grasping colonialism of the British Empire.  His efforts would be laudable enough under most circumstances--I have that silly post-Enlightenment regard for autonomy and independence and all that--but that Mr. Gandhi favored nonviolence and civil disobedience as his tools for convincing others of the righteousness of his cause makes him especially heroic to someone like me, who has long agreed with the Isaac Asimov character who said, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."  

On the one hand, it isn't hard to imagine Mr. Gandhi, advocate for the downtrodden, taking a stand against Internet con artists.  On the other hand, it's just impossible to imagine, since the poor man was murdered in 1948 by a Hindu nationalist opposed to Pakistani independence.

Now, given my sensibilities (or lack of sense), one might assume that we'd move on to the possibility that Mr. Gandhi has been resurrected from the dead, has returned to the legal field, and struggles every day to preserve the vegetarianism called for by his religious beliefs with the infamous compulsion of some species of undead to devour brains.  (Considering Mr. Gandhi's experience with fasts, I don't believe this would be a problem for him at all, actually.)  But I happen to know that Mr. Gandhi, after his assassination, was cremated, and his ashes scattered not just at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna, but all over the world.  This, it seems to me, is a small obstacle to bodily resurrection.

It's possible that Mr. Gandhi is available as a wholly spiritual advisor, the common belief that attorneys have no souls notwithstanding.  That only raises even more questions, naturally, since Mr. Gandhi (you say) has an e-mail address through a Yahoo account, one that references his honorific "Mahatma" instead of, say, his actual name (Mohandas).  Do ghosts frequently have Yahoo accounts?  Were "mgandhi@yahoo" and "mohandasg@yahoo" already taken?  Is he able to work a computer keyboard by telekinesis or does he have to possess someone to check his inbox, and, if the latter, how does he reconcile ghostly possession with his philosophical and religious outlook?  (Speaking of which: does he use Microsoft Outlook?)

Does Mr. G. hobnob with other famous dead lawyers?  Is he in contact with Clarence Darrow, for instance?  Do they tell variations of dead lawyer jokes featuring themselves?  (Q: "What do you call five thousand dead lawyers?"  A: "You're right, it is getting crowded in here."  Q: "What's the difference between a dead skunk in the middle of the road and a dead lawyer in the middle of the road?"  A: "You shouldn't be so hard on Mr. Adams, 18th Century hygiene wasn't what it is today and frankly he just can't help it."  Etc..)

To be honest with you, the answers to these questions would probably be worth much more to me than five hundred dollars, which I'm sure I would just feel obligated to send to a credit card company.  So if you can address yourself to these, Mrs. Rawlings, I would appreciate it so much.


R. Eric VanNewkirk (Esq., so dead lawyers are of personal
interest as I'm likely to become one someday)
Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Midgets



Soundtrack for the weekend

>> Friday, October 02, 2015

Lots and lots of rain expected 'round here, thanks to that Hurricane Joaquin sneaking up on us.  It would have been nice if we'd gotten it in little bits all through the summer instead of all at once right now.

If you're on the east coast, keep your feet dry.  Keeping your feet dry's important, hey?


Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire

>> Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A pathological technology is a triumph of emotional infatuation over reason, logic, and the unpleasant facts of the real world. Such technologies usually center around objects or processes that are physically huge: the airship Hindenburg; an H-bomb blast; a particle accelerator that’s 54 miles in circumference; a starship that would hold thousands of people. All of these things came with grandiose ambitions driven by emotional, romantic, starry-eyed mindsets or utopian spells: Zeppelins were revered by the Germans because of their otherworldly, cosmic, and sublime dimensions; particle accelerators are intended to reveal the innermost secrets of nature, giving us access to knowledge so arcane as to border on the religious. And as for starships, well, what could be more romantic than traveling to the stars?

A further characteristic of pathological technologies is that their proponents routinely underestimate their costs, risks, downsides, and dangers. The Hindenburg was an immense vessel, longer than the U.S. Capitol building, but it was filled with more than 7 million cubic feet of inflammable and explosive hydrogen gas, a fact hardly emphasized in its advertising brochures. Traveling to the stars may sound glamorous, until you realize that if the starship’s velocity were as great as that of the Voyager I spacecraft, which is now receding from us at 38,000 miles per hour, it would take 73,000 years to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

This is dumb.  I don't know what to make of it.  It's an excerpt adapted from a book, Monsters: The Hindenburg Disaster and the Birth of Pathological Technology, and it's possible something has been lost in the shrinkage.  Except to find out, I'd have to read the whole book, and I'm concerned the rest of the book might be that dumb, and life is short and someday I will die and that day isn't as faraway as it was yesterday.

Perhaps this would have been a perfect book to read when I was in college, and had loads of spare time for books that might prove to be dumb, and death was very far away and not something you thought about because you were twenty-two and the parts of your brain that think about death are mostly preoccupied with thinking about sex, and people you could have sex with, and how you would have sex with the people you could have sex with if you could have sex with the people you could have sex with.

Mr. Regis says that the poor Hindenburg was an example of pathological technology because it was full of hydrogen.  Of course, it wasn't supposed to be.  It was supposed to be full of helium, but the United States was unwilling to sell any under the 1927 Helium Control Act.  To say that the engineers who built the Hindenburg were underestimating the dangers isn't quite right or fair: they were quite aware of the dangers, and decided that the benefits offset the risks.  This isn't necessarily an irrational--or "pathological"--decision: planes, trains and automobiles are loaded with explosive fuel and can fail in all sorts of catastrophic ways, but the modern world is built around them.

The deadliest accident in aviation history, the collision of two Boeing 747s on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport on Tenerife in 1977, resulted in 583 fatalities; that's nearly seventeen times as many people dead, and did you even know about the Tenerife Airport Disaster?  (You might have.  I didn't.  I had to look it up.)  Let's be honest and callous: the Hindenburg "disaster" looms large in the public imagination while the Los Rodeos accident is the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, or the question to a Jeopardy! answer.  Nearly as many people on Hindenburg's final flight died as did in the worst bus crash in American history.  (Twenty-seven fatalities in Prestonsburg, KY, in 1958; did you know that one?)  Hell, the Hindenburg wasn't even the worst airship disaster ever: seventy-three people went down with the U.S.S. Akron in 1933, 96% of the passengers and crew and more than twice as many lives lost.

But Hindenburg went out spectacularly, in an iconic ball of flame, and just happened to do so in front of four film crews, a gaggle of print reporters and one infamously hyperventilating Chicago radio announcer.  Trans-Atlantic flight was still a novel enough thing for each arrival and departure to still be an item.  And the newsreel producers were anxious for stories with good visuals, radio producers abhorred the great vacuum of the aether, and big-city papers often had two or more daily/nightly editions with column-inches to spare.

That isn't all, though; the unfortunate fact is that Hindenburg died after a decade's worth of airship disasters, including the previously-mentioned Akron crash.  Heavier-than-air flight was, meanwhile, pun inescapable, taking off.  So that was that.

But it needn't have happened.  Probably.  There's still that notion that Hindenburg may have used rocket fuel for doping, but set that aside.  She wasn't supposed to have hydrogen in her belly at all, and the engineers made a good-faith effort to avoid that.

One reason this interests me is because airships are interesting, and that's probably why Mr. Regis is writing his whatever-you-call-that with the unfortunate hook about "pathological technology"; but another thing is that helium is kind of interesting, and there's this intersection of science, tech and politics in the story.  Helium is a noble gas and the second-lightest element in the universe after hydrogen, and that two-fer--nobility and lightness--makes it a bit marvelous there's any in the Earth at all.  Hydrogen is the lightest element and shouldn't be around here either, except it's an atomic slut and attaches itself to nearly everything.  But all the helium flies off into space, except for what has gotten trapped inside of the Earth's crust during radioactive decay--when radioactive elements undergo alpha decay, they spit out a helium nucleus (a.k.a. an alpha particle) and when this happens deep in the ground the poor little thing can't take to the sky like it really wants to.  This is how the United States ended up with a monopoly on helium in the early days of 20th Century: underground helium leaked out when we were drilling for oil, since the underground helium produced by radioactive decay winds up swimming around in natural gas.

When the United States realized how much of it we had in our natural gas reserves, we decided we should keep it, and the 1927 Helium Control Act mandated the keeping of a national reserve and established limits on how much could be sold abroad.  Actually, you know, we wanted it for our own airships, because that seemed like a viable technology at the time, not a "pathological" tech; the Germans used zeppelins as strategic bombers in WWI, and airships possessed cargo and maneuvering capabilities that airplanes and helicopters wouldn't be able to match until the next World War.  So your science is that helium is incredibly rare, your tech is that it seemed incredibly useful, and your politics is that its potential at the time was as a strategically important natural resource that only one country could produce at the time.

(The punchline to all this being, of course, that nobody thinks helium is a rare substance that only exists trapped underground, built up from millions of years of radioactive decay, and everybody just seems to think it's something you can fill up birthday balloons with and inhale if you want to sound funny when you talk.)

The rest of the quoted passage above is similarly dumb.  I didn't mean to go on and on about helium and Hindenburg, and how it wasn't really that bad, it only looked bad, and history and stuff.  I don't get the rest of it.  For instance, I have no idea what the deal is with picking on the Superconducting Super Collider, which was an expensive boondoggle to be sure but had no risks worth mentioning unless we're talking, I don't know, about construction site accidents like a crane falls on somebody or a tunnel collapses.

And what's the deal with starships, which we don't have and are nowhere near having, and nobody is seriously trying to build right now?  It's a nice dream, and I adore Star Trek, but the observation that Voyager I would take 73,000 years to get to Proxima is interesting, not novel.  It's why SF fans debate over whether putting physics-defying FTL ships into a story is "cheating" (or not) and why there are proposals for "generation ships" that would carry the long-distant-descendants of an original crew into space, as well as talk about and research into human hibernation.  I can't make out what's pathological about fantasizing about space travel, although that could be a symptom of the disease (a social disease I share with thousands, if not millions).  "Proponents," anyway, are fantasists, whether they're explicit fantasists (i.e. science-fiction authors and futurists) or are scientists advocating for or conducting the research that might lay the foundations for a human project that's actually plausible--and affordable, with acceptable risks--in some far-distant future era.  Either way, I have trouble thinking of scientific idealists as "pathological."

If you go through to the link to the full excerpt from Monsters, an interesting and funny thing happens.  The piece is about Operation Plowshare, the American project to try and come up with peaceful uses for nuclear weapons.  Plowshare ended up being a bad idea, because nuclear explosions end up having secondary effects that are, ironically, a bit less manageable than the primary results; that is, the pressure wave, thermal radiation and ionizing radiation are all gone very quickly, but the residual radiation--material that becomes radioactive from neutron activation--ends up a long-lingering, dangerous mess.  The interesting and funny thing is that you wouldn't know this from the piece at Slate, which takes it for granted that you'll think blowing things up with nuclear weapons is Inherently Bad (And No Good Can Come Of It), and so in the context of other things that aren't necessarily bad ideas at all like airships, supercolliders, and starships, you find yourself feeling oddly sympathetic with that awful little Hungarian physicist that Dr. Strangelove was modeled after.

There's an old episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets a gun, which he then proceeds to do various insane things with, like opening jars and trying to use it as a television remote control (turning the TV off with a pistol works better than trying to turn it on, for some reason).  Which I mention because it's hard to deny that Dr. Edward Teller was Homer Simpson, only with H-bombs, in that regard.  Hence, Operation Plowshare.  But the thing about this is, why is it a bad idea to dig a canal with an H-bomb, or blow out a tree stump, or turn off your television.  Homer Simpson is a little more obviously stupid with his pistol because (1) we have a bit more familiarity with firearms after several centuries and (2) The Simpsons is an animated comedy program and it's safe to presume that any idea suggested, or course of action taken, by any of the characters is a possible seed for humorous shenanigans.

But it's not necessarily obvious that a nuclear weapon is a bad thing; that is, it's not unreasonable to wonder if you can do anything with a nuclear explosive that you can do with a chemical explosive, only bigger (or smaller, depending on how you look at it--maybe a nuclear device can give you the same bang as a stick of TNT but in a smaller, safer package).  It ends up being unreasonable because of  neutron activation, but since a fusion explosion generates fewer neutrons than nuclear fission, there's still some point in considering the idea.  Eventually, you conclude it's a bad idea; though, unfortunately, it might take some experimentation to confirm that conclusion, and that's where Operation Plowshare ends up being a dangerous and threatening fiasco.

But conventional explosives are useful and dangerous, and it isn't fundamentally unreasonable to consider alternatives, is all.  Nuclear explosives turn out to be a lousy alternative, but the piece at Slate doesn't really tell you why, it just assumes you'll share its assumption that nuclear bombs are bad--that is, that you'll share the author's prejudice and guffaw and nod about how stupid someone would have to be to imagine you might replace a few million tons of dynamite and gunpowder with a few pounds of plutonium.

I could put it this way: reading "What Could Go Wrong?", I ended up comparing Ed Regis and Edward Teller and deciding the weird little man who knifed poor Robert Oppenheimer in the back and spent the years of my childhood trying to get Ronald Reagan to militarize outer space was the relatively reasonable-sounding one.  Can't really do justice to how weird that feels, personally.  Dr. Strangelove is a little unfair to Teller to the extent that mashing-up the Jewish refugee from fascism, Teller, with any number of physicists ostensibly "de-Nazified" by Operation Paperclip after WWII (including the rocketeer Wernher von Braun) is really very unjust; on the other hand, the title character's excitability over dubious propositions seems an apt portrayal (one can easily imagine Edward Teller trying to figure out whether the A-bomb would ignite all the oxygen in Earth's atmosphere--this was a moment of real concern during the Manhattan Project, and Teller's the one who satisfied everyone it wouldn't happen--with the same feverish intensity the Peter Sellers character brings to computing how many females will need to be relocated to the tunnels at the end of Dr. Strangelove, and even imagine Teller being slightly disappointed by the calculation that the Earth won't burn).  Teller was really a bit awful, especially when the dour little doombringer is set next to Manhattan Project alumni like the doubting, tragic Oppenheimer or the bongos-pounding, practical-joking jester Richard Feynman.

I get that if you're going to write yet another book about the Hindenburg, you need some kind of a hook, and "pathological technology" is nicely euphonious even if the meaning is dubious ("pathological, technological" even sounds like something a white rock star in the 1980s--I'm hearing the late Michael Hutchence here, in "Need You Tonight"/"Mediate" mode--would say during an ill-considered attempt to "do that rapping thing I read about in Rolling Stone"; or maybe Sting, yeah, I can kind of hear Sting doing something with that, or a snarling Roger Waters; anyway).  (Also, I just noticed some nice rhyme in "nicely euphonious even if the meaning is dubious," albeit in more of a Tim Rice vein, possibly; a backing choir singing it on a chessboard or while Jesus is being crucified, I guess.  Accidental, though, didn't mean to do it.  The rhyme, I mean.  I've heard the crucifixion was deliberate, but it was well before my time.)  I lost control of this paragraph somehow.  I ought to start over.

I get that if you're going to write yet another book about the Hindenburg, you need some kind of a hook, and "pathological technology" is nicely euphonious even if the meaning is dubious.  But I suppose I'm of that old school that thinks technology isn't anything except what it's used for.  Even if you don't like the primary or intended purpose of a technology, it doesn't mean there's no legitimate use for it; as much as I dislike guns, I admit they're useful for putting venison in a stew, and I do like a good venison stew.  It's probably good policy to limit the numbers of nuclear weapons in the world, but I can think of peaceful uses that might be at least discussed and perhaps merit keeping a few lying around somewhere--Project Orion is an interesting idea, at least, aside from the legal objections to it, and we might need to do something about a space rock o'death sometime, for instance.  I can't really bring myself to say that airships are an inherently bad idea, and not just because of the romance of airship travel between the wars: it does seem to me that a lighter-than-air transport could be useful and efficient in some contexts where a stable aerial platform might be called for or where air travel is desired but the speed (and fuel consumption) of a jet plane isn't required.  I'm willing, anyway, to think about it, and maybe these technologies are obsolete as astrolabes, but I wouldn't simply take the idea for granted.

The whole thing just seems pretty dumb to me.  Is there a point in reading the book to make sure, or should I just do what I'm faulting Regis for and make some grand assumptions?


Quote of the day: Life moves on, and creatures change edition

>> Wednesday, September 02, 2015

I know it’s hard to look at her without cringing, with those overdone smokey eyes and that $2 merkin of a wig, but LOOK ANYWAY. I’ve seen Porky the Pig’s drag show many times, and let me tell you something—you’d need at least 200 Denises to match the fierceness and slay-bilities of the West Village’s very own Miss Porque Chop. But who are we kidding? Denise isn’t even close to the hardest hog to beat. You can find more glam in the meat counter at Whole Foods.

- Definitely Not Miss Piggy,
Jezebel, September 1st, 2015

Look, I know it's hard when a beloved celebrity couple breaks up, people, but we need to be adults about this.  Sometimes, you know, a pig and a frog just... grow apart.  It's sad, but it happens.  He's not the banjo-playing amphibian she fell for, she's not the little pork dumpling he used to know.  They meet new barnyard animals or... uh... well, like, I don't know, like crazy... monster... weird... whatever some of those things are... or....  Anyway, they meet new... whatevers, and they move on with their respective lives.  And we should respect that.  We should not judge.  We should love them for all their faults and wish them well, and not spew hateful misporcine invective at anyone.

Let me just add as a personal note to the author(ess) of the above quote, should (s)he come across this post: I notice that you claim to be, "someone with no affiliation with Miss Piggy or those who represent her whatsoever," and of course I have no reason to doubt your word, "Definitely Not Miss Piggy."  But on the off chance that you should have some sort of contact with Miss Piggy--should you, say, run into Miss Piggy on the street and introduce yourself as the author(ess) of a blog post about Miss Piggy--could you relay a message to her from so many of us.  Could you tell her that we love her dearly, and while she may not be ready to hear it, we hope she will understand that a refusal to take sides is not the same thing as siding against you her.  We don't approve of his infidelities, but we still have a fondness and admiration for his talent, and our lingering affection causes us to wish for him the best just as we wish the best for Miss Piggy.    She might consider, too, that it is often better to be unhappy apart than miserable together, and that--though I'm sure she doesn't want to hear it--what will be will be; Que Sera, Sera, as Doris Day once put it; if Miss Piggy and Kermit are meant to be together, it will happen in its time without being pushed, but if they are meant to be separate, no matter how much they love one another, it may be best for them to cherish the memories of happier times and to see if the bitterness will fade enough for the two to find some measure of happiness as colleagues with a history and legacy together, if not (better still, we hope) happiness as good friends.

Good luck, Miss Piggy, and know that you are loved.  Wherever you are, I mean.


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