Darwinian Motion

I want you to stop doing whatever it is that you’re doing right now and think back over the last 20 years.

How many times have you heard about kids being allergic to nuts or some shit like that?

Or how about going to visit a medical specialist for important tests and finding out that the office is a “fragrance-free zone”, and then get sent away because you committed the terrible offence of putting on goddamn deodorant when you woke up that morning?

And let’s not forget the endless parades of lawsuits seeking damages against major corporations simply because the plaintiffs lacked any common sense and used the company’s product (in ways the average person would be smart enough not to) and somehow managed to hurt themselves.

In any other species on Planet Earth, these things would result in the animal dying and being removed from the gene pool as a matter of Natural Selection – the #1 rule of evolution: that only the best and fittest examples should live to procreate, thus ensuring continuation and improvement of the species.

We humans (at least the educated type) have long championed the theory of evolution since Charles Darwin set it forth – and yet, we’re actively interfering with and preventing Darwinian processes from taking action inside our own species.

Ignoring Evolutionary actions in the bigger picture is what is leading to global overpopulation, and as we continue to re-order our society around these abnormalities – as opposed to just letting nature play itself out – we are actively damaging ourselves as a whole.

Before you call me a monster who’s in favour of eugenics, let me be clear: I’m not saying we should just stop caring for the sick or those with handicaps.

What I am saying is that we should – for the long-term survival of humanity – stop looking at the individual and start seeing how these people actually fit into our ecosystem.

By encouraging the assimilation into society of those people who would diminish the population as a whole, we are entering into a mathematical certainty where the future has greater numbers of abnormalities.

Of course, medical abnormality isn’t the only threat: stupid people present just as great a threat.

Instead of rewarding sheer stupidity with monetary gains via court settlements, we should be casting scorn at them and making these people social pariahs.

We should stop including warnings on products that any reasonably intelligent person would be able ascertain on their own.

CAUTION: THIS COFFEE IS HOT!

Really? Are you fucking kidding me? You boiled the water in order to expedite the quick release of oils from the coffee grinds, but somehow – in the 15 seconds since you poured the coffee into my cup from the carafe containing more boiling hot coffee – the liquid hasn’t magically cooled itself to room temperature or lower?

CAUTION: DO NOT STICK HANDS UNDER LAWNMOWER WHILE THE ENGINE IS RUNNING!

Wow! You mean that if I were to insert my hand into a space where there are metal blades flying around at 300 miles an hour, I’ll lose my hand or something?

Jesus H. Fucking Christ!

The people who can’t figure these things out on their own should be allowed to simply stupid themselves out of existence to keep them from spreading their mentally deficient genes in the form of children.

But no… we have to plaster everything with bright warning labels loaded with easy-to-understand typefaces and words in effort to keep Donnie Dumdum from drowning in a Porta-Potty – when we would have simply shaken our heads during generations and times gone by and accepted the fact that Donnie was too stupid to live.

As a society, we’ve taken to the assumption that every human on this planet is of the same value: that every child is a special and precious snowflake that should be coddled and protected from the natural deficiencies that Mother Nature visited upon them when, in fact, nature is simply seeking a way to balance the scales – despite humanity spending trillions of dollars to do away with any notion of a scale in the first place.

When we watch the news on television – or read about it in an issue of Time Magazine – we are confronted with scenes of suffering, hunger, sickness, and all-around strife in 2nd and 3rd world nations in Africa and the Middle East… and we’re urged by the talking heads and columnists to feel bad for these unfortunate souls because we’re better off and civilized.

The harsh reality is, of course, that what you’re seeing is a more balanced ecosystem – where the natural attrition of the physically/mentally deficient is let to go ahead with fewer impediments than would occur in our nice and comfy 1st world countries.

*

My View: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

First thing’s first: The Hobbit trilogy is NOT in any way going to be like the Lord Of The Rings trilogy – and that’s okay.

Where the three LOTR films were a tale of direness and doom, the Hobbit films will be decidedly more airy and light… and before you complain, that’s the way the actual book is.

Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a book for younger readers, and as such, you won’t find the darkness and moral terror that the LOTR books brought to the table.

However, even as a “children’s” book, The Hobbit graces 300 pages or so in novel form – and when you factor in material that bridges the 60 years between The Hobbit and The Fellowship Of The Ring from Tolkien’s exhaustively written appendices for the realm of Middle Earth, there’s still plenty of material to craft out each of the Hobbit’s two forthcoming sequels.

Yes… Peter Jackson and the Brothers Warner are milking the franchise for your hard-earned dollars, but as long as the movies themselves are good, who are we to care?

Which brings me to why I’m here: is An Unexpected Journey any good?

Quite.

(BE WARNED, YE WHO READS PAST THIS POINT: THERE BE EXTENSIVE SPOILERS FROM HERE ON)

Again, I must stress the tonal differences between the two sets of movies: this movie might turn off those of you who can only tolerate fantasy genre films if they’re monstrously epic and carry the fate of the world in the balance – because there’s none of that in An Unexpected Journey.

Well… that’s not entirely accurate as there is foreshadowing of Sauron’s return to Middle Earth – mostly in the form of a parley between Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman.

However, for the majority of the film, we in the audience follow the adventures of Bilbo Baggins as he’s enlisted into the Company Of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage from the first season of Strike Back – who’s character in that show had to be terminated at the start of the second season in order for him to play his part in The Hobbit trilogy).

During the opening minutes of An Unexpected Journey, we join Ian Holm’s elder version of Bilbo Baggins at Bag End – his lovely home under a hill in The Shire.

This sequence of the movie actually takes place mere hours before we were introduced to Middle Earth at the start of The Fellowship Of The Ring – and thusly concerns the preparations for Bilbo’s 111st birthday… and naturally brings back Elijah Wood’s Frodo Baggins (in a nice feat of continuity segueing) before his own tortuous adventure began.

Bilbo has finally sat down and put pen to paper in an effort to document his many adventures that have earned him a certain reputation amongst the denizens of Hobbiton – and we see in his eyes a mixture of fondness for the memories and a tiredness that carrying the One Ring around in his vest pocket for 60 years has inflicted.

Quickly, we’re transported backwards in time to find Martin Freeman’s younger Bilbo outside his home and enjoying some quality pipe smoking on a fine morning… only to be distracted by a tall shadow falling over him – a shadow belonging to none other than Gandalf The Grey.

Now, I must take a moment to point out that while Gandalf still looks like he has spent 2,000 years in Middle Earth, the make-up and costuming for Ian McKellan somehow manages to make the wizard look a bit more youthful – I think mostly by making him appear a bit more plump while enlarging his wizardly hat… while attaching a fetching scarf that I don’t recall him wearing in Fellowship.

After a bit of dialogue that goes back and forth between Bilbo and Gandalf – which played out a bit awkward in places, but lifted up by Freeman’s excellent carriage of a confused Hobbit – evening falls and Bilbo sits down to a nice plate of pan-fried fish… only to be interrupted by the arrival of a Dwarf, and another, and another, and another, so on and so forth until Bag End is positively bursting at the seams with dwarven merriment as they proceed to eat poor Bilbo out of house and home.

You see, Gandalf had left a little bit of runic graffiti on Bilbo’s front door before he departed – a rune that seemed to mean something along the lines of “Meeting Place For The Association Of Hungry & Homeless Dwarves”.

After the re-appearance of Gandalf, and the arrival of Thorin Oakenshield (played with great subtlety by Armitage that minces nobility, stoicism, and world weariness), it becomes clear that Gandalf has come to enlist Bilbo on quest for treasure… one that lies under the Lonely Mountain – sometimes referred to as the Misty Mountain – in the former dwarven kingdom of Erebor, which was once the greatest city to ever grace Middle Earth.

There’s one small catch: the city and it’s ridiculously tall piles of gold have been usurped by the fearsome dragon Smaug.

It’s made clear that for their plan to succeed, the company of dwarves (and one  Mithrandian wizard) need someone that could sneak by Smaug… one who possessed a scent that the dragon had never encountered – and since dragons weren’t overly concerned with the halflings who lived in The Shire, it made sense to Gandalf that an adventuresome Hobbit would fit the bill quite nicely.

However, when it was made adequately clear (to great extent by one dwarf) that there was a more-than-fair chance that Bilbo could end up incinerated at some point during the journey to reclaim Erebor, Bilbo decides that he doesn’t want to indulge in childish fantasies that would take him far from home and place him in harm’s way.

At this point, the scene to which I lead this article with takes place… and I must say, it’s quite a marvellous bit of a capella and one of my few bones to pick with the film as the scene is cut short far too short (and I honestly hope that there is a longer recording that will be unleashed at some point in the future… as it is, the version on the current soundtrack CD is precisely the length seen up top).

Needless to say, Bilbo changes his mind and signs his name to the rather lengthy dwarven contract that makes it clear that 1) the dwarves that comprise the Company Of Thorin Oakenshield bare no liability should any harm come to him, and 2) he is entitled to one fourteenth of any treasure recovered on their quest.

And so begins his unexpected journey across the lands of Middle Earth, on an adventure of the likes that very few hobbits had ever been on – one that brings the company into conflict with all manners of creatures: orcs, goblins, trolls, and wargs.

It also brings these adventurers to the Elvish kingdom of Rivendell – the same Rivendell in which we first meet Lord Elrond in The Fellowship Of The Ring – and as with Gandalf, the movie accomplishes the goal of making Elrond seem younger (in spite of the fact that elves don’t age) by having him ride in on horseback after slaying a marauding party of orcs.

It’s here that I feel I should discuss the one issue that seems to have taken over these Hobbit films: the frame rate.

As you’ve probably heard – either with a positive or negative slant, depending on the critic – Peter Jackson filmed this Hobbit trilogy at 48 frames per second (meaning that for every second of movie on the screen, there are 48 separate frames going by) instead of the industry standard of 24 frames per second that has been around for about a hundred years.

What a higher frame rate brings to a film is a level of clarity – some have likened it to looking through a large window while a theatrical group enacts a play based on The Hobbit – that audiences have never experienced before.

A great number of people have said that the clarity is so distracting that they can’t pay attention to the story because they are overloaded with set and make-up details.

Personally, I find that to be total and utter bullshit – mainly because I’m a person who works with filmed media… and since I know what frame rate does, I know it’s advantages.

When you have a movie like The Hobbit, which has an abundance of fast-paced battle sequences and lots of running around,  you get a strobe effect  while the action goes across the screen: it can be challenging for the human brain to make sense of fast moving action at the standard 24 frames per second because it seems that the objects on the screen are stuttering as bits of movement are lost between each frame of film.

Logically, as you add more frames to each second of film, more of the action is captured and then displayed when you play it back at the cinema – which makes a battle between 13 dwarves and an entire city of goblins (which is already pure chaos) seem a lot less like a jittery sequence of photos, and more like the fluid dynamic that it really is.

More frames = more information… and since your brain prefers to make it’s decisions with the most information possible, 48 frames per second (or higher) makes much more sense than the archaic 24 frames that was established with the advent of movies with sound – because it was easier to apply a linear audio track to film that ran at that speed.

Many of you who have HD video cameras at home may have played with the FPS settings on your own – many of these cameras come with a 1080p/30FPS option – and have discovered that higher frame rates actually result in a better picture.

This image clarity lends itself even better to 3D films since your brain has to assemble two different data sets into one image simultaneously for the 3D to work effectively… and you may have experienced the difficulty that 3D movies have when the objects on screen start moving around erratically: you doubly notice that strobe effect that’s inherent to 24FPS film.

Add in the polarized glasses that you wear while viewing 3D films at the theatre which reduce the amount of light that reaches your eyeballs, and the data rate that’s going into your brain drops even further.

So, yeah… there’s a lot to be said for clarity.

And since the technology of today’s cameras, digital cinema projectors, and home HDTV screens all have the capability to show high frame rate video, the traditionalist’s urge to keep filming at 24FPS for no reason other than it’s just the way audiences have been used to seeing movies doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Your average HDTV screen now supports 60Hz – which means it can effectively display video at 60 frames per second!

So I can only hope that the eventual Blu-Ray video release of An Unexpected Journey is at 48FPS without having to pay extra – as the majority of cinemas around the world are only showing the movie at 24FPS… and I can tell you right here, the action sequences were jittery as hell in that format, as I was unable to attend a showing with 48FPS.

Anyway… back to my analysis of the actual movie.

There are great stretches of the movie’s nearly three-hour run-time where not a lot happens – where the scenery and cinematography take the place of narrative… but that’s okay as it gives you plenty of time to soak in New Zealand’s countryside, and to pay attention to all the little things that make fantastical events and characters actually gel in Peter Jackson’s films.

Every now and then, you may find yourself looking at your watch – mostly during dense expository – but rest assured that these moments are far in between… and are only natural when converting Tolkien’s material to the big screen as he was very fond of run-on sentences that could last entire pages.

I’m not a Tolkien nerd by any stretch of the imagination, so I can’t tell you precisely what was in the books that made it onto the screen – or what scenes or characters in the movie were made up by screen writers on the whole/were imported from Tolkien materials outside of the originating Hobbit novel.

What I can tell you is that not much screen time was truly wasted – if any at all.

I can say here – with absolute confidence – that every bit of casting for characters we didn’t already know from the LOTR movies was pitch perfect.

Every actor seemed to live and breathe their individual character, and played off the other people in the ensemble brilliantly.

Every dwarf was splendidly dwarvish… and Martin Freeman was note-perfect as the young Bilbo Baggins – so much so that you couldn’t even imagine another actor performing in his hairy foot prosthetics.

Of course, all of the returning actors and actresses bring their ‘A’ games as well – adding small flourishes here and there to make you believe that their characters are indeed younger… whether it be they are quicker with a smile, or a fit of eye rolling when darkness is suggested to be at hand.

Gollum is once again on the screen, and Andy Serkis is able to flesh the miserable creature out more completely than he could a decade ago: while the LOTR films employed early, Oscar-winning motion capture technologies to bring Gollum to life via Serkis’ physical acting, An Unexpected Journey allowed Serkis to use his own facial expressions this time around (instead of them being purely animated during the previous films) – which really helps bring Gollum’s tortured psychosis to the forefront.

In the end, my only quibbles with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – the frame rate issue, some make-up processes could have been a bit more refined between orcs and goblins, and that maddeningly short song about the Misty Mountain.

On the whole, I give An Unexpected Journey 8.95 stars out of a possible 10.

What’s maddening is that I have to wait a year for the next one! >.<

Thorin Oakenshield

The Battleship Age

As most of you out there know, heavier-than-air flight has only been around for a little more than 100 years – and before that, flying about was limited to balloons.

I don’t know if any of you are avid balloonists, but balloons are neither fast enough or precise enough in their movement to make a good platform for waging war – mostly employed as lookout platforms so you could see your enemy coming before he was close enough to shoot you with his musket.

Heavier-than-air flight changed the rules of war – you could project your military strength fairly quickly and precisely anywhere you wanted to as long as the plane/helicopter had fuel in the tank.

Embarrassingly, it took military strategists and planners a little while to catch on to this notion on any appreciable scale – roughly 20 years after the Wright brothers first sailed aloft into the wild blue yonder above the ground, though they had played with biplanes in The Great War in very picturesque air battles that spawned the likes of the Red Barron.

But those World War One air battles were strictly that – air battles.

The idea of massive ground offensives launched from the air wasn’t something that had been well developed – beyond primitive concepts like the open-cockpit gunners dropping modified mortar shells over the sides of their planes.

Eventually, technology caught up with the desire to kill your enemies on an effective enough scale to start planning air raids and sorties where you could launch a campaign of “death from above.”

One of the most important advances in this area was the aircraft carrier, which has become the modern era’s capitol ship – the most important expression of your military’s might and war-making prowess.

The United States’ ranking as the #1 superpower in the world relies quite heavily on its fleet of carriers and super-carriers (example pictured above) that can mobilize an air force – that’s larger than the entirety of some small countries’ military –  anywhere there’s an ocean deeper than 50 feet.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Up until the early 1940s, the naval powers had another primary weapon – the one ship that was supposed to make you shit yourself when you saw it come over the distant horizon.

The battleship.

In today’s fast-and-lazy culture, you’ll catch people calling any warship that has guns on it a battleship – but the truth is that there’s nothing in active military service for any nation that even approaches the sheer power that a true battleship brought with it.

In today’s navy, the biggest ships – that don’t carry aircraft – are cruisers (9,000 – 10,000 tons)… and the bulk of them are guided-missile cruisers which are designed to strike targets on land from far out to sea.

Next one down on the size-chart would be your destroyer (8,500 tons) – which, as the name implies, is meant to destroy other ships.

Then you have your frigates (5000 tons), which are used mainly for ship-to-ship interdiction or antisubmarine warfare.

After that, you get to patrol boats (1,000 tons) and fast attack boats (500 tons or less) – and both of these are generally used by coastal defense agencies.

You can be forgiven for thinking those 10,000 ton cruisers were pretty hefty, but the pinnacle of true battleship design – the American 890 foot long Iowa-class – tipped the scales at 52,000 tons of deadly intent.

The defining quality of a battleship were their biggest (main) guns… and these were 16″/50 caliber (not .50) canons on the Iowa-class that were able to lob 2,700lb. shell on to a target up to 24 miles away – with the shell leaving the muzzle at 2,500 feet per second.

A proper battleship had at least 6 of these monstrous guns, and 9 in general practice, for attacking other battleships or land-based targets – and it was a really bad day if you found yourself on the receiving end of a battleship’s ire.

Battleships were the ultimate expression of their respective nations’ military power – the way in which an entire country’s people underscored their will to have things happen their way at any price.

Of course, that price was steep – both in the terms of the crew and servicemen who would die during battles, and in the amount of money the individual governments had to spend on their construction (in excess of $1,000,000,000 in today’s dollars).

$1 Billion U.S. dollars is a lot – $80,000,000 in 1940’s currency – and even more considering that at the time of World War II, the world was coming out of The Great Depression where cash wasn’t exactly just laying around.

I should take a moment right now to inject one thought: the American B-2 stealth bombers (above) cost a billion dollars each… which just goes to show how much the military establishment loves inflated prices – $1 billion for 52,000 tons of naval steel vs. $1 billion for 79 tons of stealth air power.

Anyhow, back on track.

The battleship came about as a natural evolution from the primitive ironclad ships that first sailed the seas in the 1860s – starting with France’s La Gloire and then became popular after their use in the American Civil War (beginning with the USS Monitor – whose turret is pictured above –  and the CSS Virginia) – growing from ships that were primarily wooden and were later sheathed in metal plates (clad in iron… ironclad) into ships that were built entirely from steel and pig iron from the keel up.

As much as a battleship was designed to dish out a pounding, they were simultaneously designed to take as much as they gave – with solid iron plating that averaged 11 inches in thickness to nearly 2 feet thick armor that  protected the machinery and men that fired the main guns.

The largest battleships that ever sailed the seas were the Yamato-class built by the Empire Of Japan (above) that displaced 72,000 tons – but weren’t very effective during combat due to their ungainly size: it took too long to get up to speed and then they were hampered by a very large turning radius.

Bigger wasn’t necessarily better, but the Japanese emperor still felt that a truly powerful nation had to have the largest battleships – despite the fact that Japanese aircraft carriers and their air wings were proving to the world that air power was the power of the future… which was evidenced by the attack on Pearl Harbor (pictured above) that drew the Americans into World War II.

(I suppose there could be a joke to be made about the Japanese overcompensating for… the size of their small country?)

By the time the last generation of battleships were commissioned, the writing was already on the wall – aircraft had advanced to the point where they could carry death and destruction many times further than the furthest point where a battleship could fire a shell to.

Plus, as giant metal islands, battleships were very vulnerable to aircraft attack because they were mainly designed to take fire from other surface ships and their thickest armor was in areas likely to take a lateral hit – meaning very little armor was in place to protect the behemoths from bombs and bullets coming down out of the skies.

That, however, didn’t mean that battleships couldn’t make a difference.

You really didn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those 2,700lb. shells, whether you were on a ship (that whole ship-sinking thing) or supposedly safe in a bunker on land – either way, their explosive and kinetic energy were pure hell on Earth.

For this reason, battleships continued on in active military service well past World War II and the Korean War… going on to serve the Americans in both Vietnam and – finally – the first Gulf War (Missouri pictured above in the Persian Gulf).

Why?

A 16″ Mark 8 naval shell only cost between $500 and $1000 (depending on purpose)… which is peanuts compared to $569,000 – $1,450,000 cost of the Tomahawk cruise missiles that TV newscasters became so enamored with during the Saddam Hussein scuffles in the Middle East.

In the end, it became too expensive for the world’s navies to continue upgrading the venerable battleship so that they could continue to fight in the modern era – radar/guidance/fire control systems, missile systems, maintenance of the gigantic turbine engines that consumed 100s of tons of fuel oil per day.

So, now, all of the great American battleships from World War II – save for two that were sold for scrap, and the hulk of the Arizona exactly where she sank – are now sitting as museums, tied up to piers almost permanently (except for the occasional jaunt to dry dock to repair leaks) in what navy veterans hope to be a lasting reminder of the sacrifices made for freedom.

Only one other nation has preserved a battleship: Japan… and they’ve only saved one, and the Mikasa (above) was built in 1899.

It surprises me that the British haven’t held on to at least one of their battleships since the whole British Empire was ruled by naval power, which has given them a partiality to the Admiralty and it’s tools for warfare on the high seas – but their last King George V-class battleship (above), the Howe, was towed off to the ship breakers in 1958.

I suppose it’s a blessing that the American culture is so obsessed with their military and it’s history as it’s the only thing that’s kept 9 of these mighty ships at least partially alive – though a few of them are falling into disrepair (the USS Texas – pictured above – is quite prone to flooding as of late).

A lot of you may not think these throwbacks from a long gone era are overly important once you’ve aged past your school field trip years, but if you live in a free nation, you owe that freedom to the mammoth endeavors your progenitors embarked on before you were even born.

There is a misconception among a lot of Americans that the USS Arizona (above) remains permanently commissioned  – and while that would have been a nice gesture on the part of U.S. lawmakers, the Arizona wreck is maintained by the National Park Service… but does have the unique right to fly the  flag of the United States forever as if she was still an active service ship.

Oh… and that part from the BATTLESHIP movie that came out in 2012? You know… where they fire up the Missouri and go charging after the alien bad guys? Yeah…. that couldn’t happen: no fuel in the tanks, and who in their right mind would keep live ammunition – shells still in firing condition – aboard a museum ship that sees thousands of visitors on a regular basis?

All you need is a bored high schooler goofing off on a tour and wondering what would happen if they hit a shell really hard in a certain area – and then death, carnage, and major problems for a national treasure.

However, please feel somewhat authentic while playing your Battleship board game from Milton Bradley (old school) or Hasbro (new games): back in the old days, those big guns were sighted and ranged by human eyes – a spotter would look through binoculars while you fired on the opposing enemy ship and called out how close each shot was until the shells finally found their target.

Not quite the same as calling out a letter and a number, but still vaguely similar.

Way Out There

That’s where our future lies.

Way the hell out there… beyond the moon… and beyond even Mars.

If you haven’t been paying attention to all the noise being stirred up by the global scientific community – specifically cosmologists and those fields relating to astronomy – and watching all the pleading videos on YouTube from the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, we Earthlings on this blue marble that circles the sun every 365 days are driving our species into the ground because we can’t be bothered to spend tax dollars on endeavors that will eventually lead us away from our home planet.

Every year, this situation gets more dire – especially in these lean years where governments have had to drastically slash their budgets.

You’ve heard of NASA, right?

Yeah, yeah… they were in that movie about the asteroid – they supposedly had a bunch of people just sitting around dreaming shit up!

Well… in reality, I’m sure there are a bunch of people at NASA whose job is to “dream shit up”, but the American agency’s main job has been – since the late 1950s – to further humanity’s understanding of the cosmos by sending humans and robotic probes out into the big black yonder.

In the beginning, there were the Mercury and Gemini rocket programs that put Americans into space after playing laggards to the Commie bastards in the USSR.

And then there was the Apollo program… the one NASA program that has accomplished a feat so complex and daring that nobody has been able to duplicate in 40+ years since: putting a living human being onto the surface of the moon.

Before any of you conspiracy wingnuts try and set the comment section ablaze down below with your lunacy (see what I did there?), be of the understanding that all comments have to approved by me – and not one word of how you think the lunar landings were faked will ever see the light of day on this blog.

Why am I so certain that NASA put Neil Armstrong and the astronauts that followed him onto the moon’s vast plains of regolith?

For one single reason: the Red Soviets never said that the Americans were fibbing.

Why would the Kremlin stand by and let the U.S. of A. boast about landing on the moon if it actually hadn’t happened? Especially when that kind of press made the Soviet space program – which was National Priority #1 during the 1960s – look like a total and utter failure?

It would have been in Moscow’s best interest to dispute the American’s claims if they had definitive proof that NASA was actually filming the moon footage on a soundstage somewhere – but the only thing that came down the wire from the Soviets was a begrudging congratulation.

What made them privy to the actuality of the Apollo capsules heading to the moon? (And no… they weren’t paid off as some nuts insist).

The Russians had deep space tracking facilities just as powerful as the Americans… radar facilities that could track anything in Earth orbit or beyond – all the way to the moon and past it

So, as the Apollo missions unfolded, the Soviets watched with detached fascination on their radar tracking scopes – probably cursing aloud and hoping that each trip to the moon would go horribly wrong so that they could (politely and in political terms) laugh at the American’s bungling of something that they could then claim was easy and that they were going to successfully carry out via their superior scientific apparatus.

But, like I wrote up above, that didn’t happen – and the Commies were forced to eat crow, quickly killing their own moon landing program before it had even gotten off the ground.

So, yeah… humans have walked on the moon… drove around on the moon… played golf on the moon… and looked at porn while on the moon.

If you need more proof, check out the Mythbusters episode regarding the so-called Moon Hoax: Adam and Jamie thoroughly debunked all the most popular “theories”.

Okay… I’m gonna get this blog entry back on track.

Like I was saying before I went off on the wingnuts, space exploration – and human space exploration specifically – has gone off the rails almost globally due to the lack of political will to spend big money on things Joe Public had begun to take for granted.

The average person out there – who hasn’t studied the various doings of NASA, the ESA, JAXA, and other space agencies around the world in any depth beyond the 20 second blurbs on the nightly news when a space shuttle launched – kinda assumes that human space flight is routine, fairly easy, and is already half-way to Mars.

Sorry, space cadets: humans have been stuck in low Earth orbit for the past fortyish years since the Apollo program concluded – the farthest we’ve gone off the face of the planet is to service the Hubble Space Telescope…  570 kilometers straight up, or 350 miles for our Imperial measurement friends.

The moon is  385,000 kilometers away.

In the waning years of his presidency, George W. Bush tried to build himself a legacy by commanding NASA to start planning for humankind’s return to the moon before foraging outwards to Mars – something that the American people could surely get behind in the way that they embraced John F. Kennedy’s vision of man going to the moon for the first time.

However, elections came to America.

At first glance, Barrack Obama was good for NASA since he was science-friendly… and maybe Bush’s Orion/Constellation program would have maintained forward momentum if a class of representatives hadn’t been elected to Congress that were more interested in nickel and diming important federal prorgams in order to service that 1% the Occupy movement loves to hate.

Unfortunately, NASA’s budget kept getting scaled back in the years that followed Dubya’s departure (and even while he was still Commander In Chief)… cut down so much that Obama was forced to take a scalpel to the American space program – paring away costly items that Congress just refused to pay for.

The costliest of these items being human space flight beyond Earth orbit – whether that be to the moon or to Mars.

On paper, not all is lost: Obama has endorsed sending humans to an asteroid or a Martian moon by the year 2030… by which time the Chinese Commies will have set up a permanent base on our own moon.

You see, only the Chinese are taking human space flight seriously in the here and now – aggressively pursuing space flight at a rate of speed that would almost put the 60s space race to shame.

Of course, the Chinese have more money than they know what to do with – we buy nearly all of our consumer goods from them, after all.

I suppose it also has to do with the fact that they don’t spend a dime on basic human needs – but I digress.

So, on top of building entire metropolitan cities from scratch for people who won’t move to them, Beijing has spent billions of yuan on building rockets, space capsules, and other space-related infrastructure that will put them on the moon within the next decade.

You might be saying “So what? What does that have to do with me?”

I’ll tell you what: humankind needs a new home… and that home will be out there – first amongst the planets in our own solar system, and then out among the stars you gaze at every night.

This isn’t some panicky prediction based on environmental concerns (though our rapid depletion of natural resources here on Earth is certainly making a good case for it) but simply based on the fact that Earth will eventually run out of space for our massive populations.

If we – as a species – want to continue growing our masses without check, then we are going to need new places to put our children/grandchildren/great grandchildren/etc. so that they can thrive in environments capable of supporting them.

…And we can’t allow the Communist Chinese to control that stellar high ground – not when the individual human lives under their control mean so little.

The last thing we need is abysmal-pay sweatshops on the moon.

No.

Just no.

We need to band together as a species on united human space exploration front so that all of the ground that humankind can travel to will be open and fair to all.

I know that may sound like a rehashed speech from a Star Trek episode, but it’s true: when humankind’s destiny is clearly out into the cosmos, we all need to get behind that destiny to make it happen.

We need to speak up and force the people we elect to office to spend tax dollars that will help us into the future… instead of spending money on the same old crap that we’ve done for a 100 years or more: big business and a military to pursue the interests of big business.

Big business is only interested in pacifying the masses with goods and services… and the military’s only interest is in how to kill the masses.

Those two things do nothing to preserve our species – a species that has barely existed for a million years… which is inconsequential when taken in context with the actual age of Planet Earth.

We will certainly be our own undoing if we don’t get ourselves off this planet – not all of us, of course… but a number that will ensure our survival in case something untoward should happen to our homeworld (cataclysm, environmental collapse, alien invasion, etc.).

The only way we will do this is by spending money on human space flight… no matter how small in scale it may seem at first.

The  313,286,000 people who live in the United States Of America (minus the native population) didn’t all arrive on the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria with Christopher Columbus – they got here by being the children of those who immigrated to North America in the years after Columbus “discovered” the New World – an expedition of discovery that was paid for with money from Spain’s tax coffers.

Exploration on a grand scale is done by nations (and currently with the help of private companies).

Those nations now need to spend the money necessary to send our species way out there.

It’s our only real chance to make sure our species… well… lives long and prospers.

The Frayed Ends Of The Nuclear Cord

For all it’s faults (byproducts that have to be sequestered for half a million years, for instance), nuclear energy is amongst the best ways to generate electricity known to mankind at this time – discounting any future advances in fusion or solar power generation.

Nuclear doesn’t generate the greenhouse gases that spew forth from coal and natural gas power plants… isn’t effected by cloudy days or winter seasons like solar… has no problems when the air is still and fails to turn the windmills… and it doesn’t reroute entire aquatic ecosystems like hydroelectric dams.

But yes… there is that need to protect humankind and all our friends in the wild kingdom from the nuclear waste on scales of time that are longer than civilization has existed on the face of the planet.

Regardless, nuclear energy’s benefits are vast and every facility constructed to harness the power of the atom is a boon to society as it generally means there are less coal-burning plants toxifying the air we breath.

The problems with nuclear energy fall into two categories: environmental, which I’ve touched on above… and political, which I’m going to talk about below.

Nuclear reactors can be harnessed for electricity generation, yes… but they also can be used to create fissile material like plutonium or enriched uraniums that are necessary to create an atomic weapon.

Generally speaking, the technology required to build a nuclear power station is only affordable to nations that are more or less responsible enough to be trusted with any nuclear weapons that they might create – countries with governments that subscribe to the reality that deploying such weapons in anger would not be in their best interest.

Even the two most volatile neighbor countries that have nuclear weapons – India and Pakistan – realize that exchanging atomic potshots at each other would never be a small, localized engagement… that other nuclear powers greater than their own would most likely intervene with punishments of either military or political varieties.

With India being aligned with the Western superpowers like the United States, Great Britain, and France (don’t laugh… nukes can be dispatched from Parisian bunkers), a marginal country like Pakistan – who’s alliances aren’t clearly defined – would likely be struck with thermonuclear warheads carried by ICBMs or cruise missiles fired by New Delhi’s friends in the event Pakistan somehow came out on top.

The biggest check in the nuclear weapons business is that both the United States of America and Russia have enough nuclear weapons to end human civilization as we know it (or possibly altogether), with China, Great Britain, and France following behind them… and this is clearly enough to discourage smaller countries from developing any sort or atomic weapon.

There would assuredly be dire consequences for launching any sort of nuclear attack – no matter how much you hate the guy you’re pointing them at.

However, reality isn’t a universal concept in some corners of the globe.

There are a few governments that are so removed from society that they have become pariah states – the ones that nobody ever invites to the New Year’s celebrations at the United Nations, and ones that are perfectly happy with their status.

In the context of this discussion on smashing atoms, I’m focusing purely on the communist nation of North Korea and the middle eastern country of Iran.

Both countries eschew the global community (and the realities embraced by it) and have created unto themselves their own version of reality… one that generally places themselves at the center of the universe and deludes the ruling parties into thinking they’re untouchable/invincible.

In the case of North Korea, Kim Jong Il and his buddies (I use ‘buddies’ loosely since there isn’t a person in the country he wouldn’t shoot – including family members) rule the land in an almost empirical manner that really hasn’t been seen since the great dynasties of history: it’s taught to every North Korean child that Kim Jong Il is in fact a God.

In fact, North Korea barely qualifies as a communist state, and it can be argued – I’d imagine quite successfully – that it’s more in line with the leadership of Egypt’s pharaohs… just without the bountiful empire: North Korean citizens are probably the poorest out of any of the developed nations.

Kim Jong Il is so crazy that even his biggest (read: only) supporter at the United Nations, China, keeps him at arm’s length… and even then, they barely touch Pyongyang with their fingertips while wearing eight gloves on each hand.

The fact that this nutbar has access to nuclear weapons is entirely indigestible – and quite hard to fathom when you take into account that North Korea has no real money to speak of to pay for any sort of research program… but I suppose you can afford just about anything when you don’t actually have to pay the people who work for you.

Kim Jong Il is a god, remember? Don’t do what he wants and he’ll smite your ass… and probably your entire family while he’s at it.

If there’s any consolation, it’s that his atomic weapons are very basic and shoddily constructed: when testing them, they have a tendency to fizzle – more of a runaway nuclear chain reaction than an actual detonation.

These North Korean atomic bombs are barely in the same class as those deployed by the United States against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II… and nowhere near as advanced as even Pakistan’s.

But even the most rudimentary nuclear weapons are devastating… either through their explosive force (see photo below) or through the mass radioactive contamination of the target area.

Click Me
Click Me

In  terms of instability, North Korea is like the guy who was arrested for killing his neighbor because he though the neighbor was telepathically raping his wife.

Nothing said by Kim Jong Ill or his government makes any sense, and North Korea has no qualms about threatening anyone with total and complete destruction… promising a war that will end Western civilization – despite lacking any way to follow through on these threats, even when including the estimated 5 to 8 nuclear weapons that Pyongyang possesses.

The North Korean military may have one of the largest standing armies on the world when compared to it’s national population, but the equipment they are outfitted with is barely any more advanced than it was during the Korean War in the 1950s – at best, it’s equivalent to Soviet designs from the mid to late 70s.

This irrationality is alarming for two reasons:

1) Technically, North and South Korea are still in a defacto state of war since the Korean War ended in a cease-fire treaty – a truce that’s been in place ever since… if only barely on some occasions – and that war could pick up at any time, and that becomes more and more likely as North Korea becomes more and more impoverished.

2) Pyongyang has made no secret of it’s willingness to help political entities that have similar designs to destroy the West… and has routinely shipped weapons and military equipment to those ideological comrades, and it’s not a stretch of the imagination that North Korea would share nuclear weapons technology – or even a finished atomic bomb – with those same comrades.

The only silver lining in the North Korean situation is that ships leaving North Korean waters are some of the most scrutinized vessels afloat: any tub that can carry anything bigger than a refrigerator is fair game for random inspections by South Korean and American naval assets – which makes shipping nuclear weapons, fissile material, or technology to create either of those things by water not really a winning strategy.

This of course doesn’t rule out shipping illicit weapons by land or air…. but similar searches are carried out against trucks leaving North Korea by Chinese and Russian agencies (how effectively, nobody in the West can say for certain), and all air cargo from North Korea is thoroughly screened at airports abroad.

There is only one destination outside of North Korea that North Korean ships and aircraft are welcome – and it also happens to be the other rogue nation with nuclear ambitions: Iran.

I’m sorry, Tehran… were you hoping I’d forgotten you?

Nope.

In many ways, you’re worse than those nutjobs in Pyongyang – mainly because, even though you’re batshit crazy, you’re also very focused on the destruction of those you hold in ill regard.

In Iran’s case, that’s most notably Israel.

There isn’t a day that goes by that Iran’s puppet government and it’s religious masters don’t call for the total destruction of the Jewish state, and it works on a daily basis towards that goal by funding terrorist organizations that operate in Palestinian territories.

If that wasn’t problematic enough, the Ayatollah also sends money to terrorist outfits – including Al Qaeda – that attack other Western nations that are allied with Israel.

And while the Ayatollah isn’t necessarily as committed to destroying the West as Osama bin Laden was, his plans call for weakening the resolve of Israel’s allies by hopefully making it more bother than it’s worth to the United States, Britain, and others.

It’s this fanatical devotion to destroying every single Jew in the Middle East (and everywhere else in due time) that makes Iran more dangerous.

While North Korea is more reactive – as in it puffs itself up and makes threats when it perceives itself to be threatened – and can be calmed down with offers of candy (financial and food aid), Iran is completely proactive in it’s plans… spending nearly all it’s money on weaponry and armed forces.

It should be noted than Iran has a lot of money to use for it’s own military and the funding of terrorism around the globe, and that money comes from the export of oil to the countries that need it – both the export of Iran’s own oil assets, and money from neighboring countries’ oil sales who are agreeable to the Iranian way of things… primarily certain factions inside Saudi Arabia.

While Western nations don’t conduct a lot of oil business with Iran, countries like Russia and China don’t make that distinction and gladly take any oil Iran can send their way to fuel their own economies.

Russian and Chinese weapons technologies have also readily been made available to the Iranian government, and this is why the Iranian military possesses weaponry that’s equal to the West’s technology of the late 1980s to mid-1990s.

You may not think weapons circa 1989 to 1995 would be all that dangerous to Western targets using weapons made in this millennium… but keep in mind, those Iranian weapons are equivalent to what the U.S. defeated Saddam Hussein with in the first Gulf War – so they aren’t to be ignored by the wise.

With all that oil money, Iran has been able to afford a fairly modern nuclear energy program – one that Tehran insists is for purely peaceful purposes and that they’re not at all interested in making fissile material for making atomic weapons.

You know what? Put a kid in a room with both a dart gun and a target to shoot at, he’s going to shoot those darts at the target the second you turn your back – no matter how much you tell him not to, and how much he denies his intention to do so.

The fact of the matter is that Iran has far more centrifuge units required to enrich uranium than are needed for the modest civilian-purposed nuclear reactor that Tehran claims is the only beneficiary – and these enrichment facilities are spread far and wide throughout the country, with some of them located underground in hardened facilities that would be problematic to destroy.

If you’re producing far more enriched uranium than you could possibly use in your nuclear electricity generation reactor(s), then that surplus uranium has to go someplace… and the two options that come to mind aren’t acceptable: a covert weapons program, or for export to other political entities that also have covert nuclear ambitions – Al Qaeda, for example.

The nuclear situation in Iran puts Israel – and by extension it’s Western allies – in a bind: while Iran potentially acquiring nuclear weapons capability is completely unacceptable, unilaterally attacking Iran in a pre-emptive strike would be heavy-handed and most likely to ignite a war that would spread like wildfire across the entire Middle East – and the forces of the Western allies are already exhausted from a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Which leaves Israel to act on its own – and one must also keep in mind that Israel has an arsenal of nuclear weapons of it’s own if the situation got out of hand.

However, while Israel might have enough thermonuclear devices to level Tehran and a few other Iranian cities, the fact is that Iran is the 2nd largest country in the region… and Israel is the smallest, and therefore extremely susceptible to being destroyed in a single nuclear strike.

There’s also the small matter of delivering those nuclear weapons to Iran as – as far as anyone in the West knows – all of Israel’s nuclear devices are in the form of gravity bombs and not mounted on long-range missiles, meaning that Israeli attack planes would have to fly through potentially hostile Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, or Iraqi airspace before even getting to Iran.

The same holds out for any non-nuclear intervention raid Israel might want to stage against Iran in hopes of derailing the Iranian nuclear program like they did when they pounded Saddam Hussein’s atomic facilities into dust back in the 1980s – there’s just too much territory to cover from Israeli airfields to targets in Iran unless those Israeli pilots commit to a one-way suicide mission… and I wouldn’t put that past the Israeli people as they know the value of sacrifice and are a hardened people after decades of being under attack from all sides.

And yet… all the logistics of attacking Iran pale in comparison to the destructive potential of either the Islamic Republic Of Iran Army, The Army Of The Guardians Of The Islamic Revolution (the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard), or any other Iranian military body – or any paramilitary body the Ayatollah deems satisfactory enough to share with – possessing nuclear weapons when they are ideologically tuned towards destroying Israel and the Western world.

The situation is untenable and will need to be resolved prior to Iran developing nuclear weapons technology – and that time isn’t all that far into the future.

Am I being an alarmist?

No.

Everything I’ve said here is absolutely true and cannot be argued by anyone outside North Korea and Iran.

The world has been under the illusion up until now that only the big players could afford nuclear weapons, and to be honest, global opinions should have changed once India and Pakistan developed the Bomb.

But we’ve fooled ourselves into complacency again… that we can send strongly worded letters to Tehran and Pyongyang and they will simply throw up their hands with a smile, saying “Well…  it was worth a try, right?” before packing their whole nuclear infrastructure up in crates and shipping it to Russia for disposal.

Without total regime changes in North Korea and Iran, localized or global nuclear attacks aren’t just probable – they’re an almost forgone conclusion because both countries stand today as spiteful (in Pyongyang’s case), hateful (Tehran), and wholly irrational states.

Kim Jong Il and his son to follow him will continue to develop their primitive atom bombs into more effective hydrogen bombs by working their researchers to death at gunpoint while the citizens throughout North Korea – who depend on the government – starve to death in the streets (while Pyongyang’s resident god drinks Hennessy and collects expensive toys).

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his boss, the Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will continue on their path to nuclear weapons while they continue to hate on the Jewish people and deny the Holocaust – which was the reason the state of Israel was formed in the first place from land ‘donated’ from the surrounding Arab states – in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.

To me, that’s the sure sign of Tehran’s insanity and the reason they can’t be trusted: to completely deny the Holocaust when it was thoroughly documented by both the Allies when the camps were liberated, and by the Nazis themselves with their meticulous records of the methodical extermination of the Jews who they deemed as sub-human… and the continued existence of facilities like Auschwitz  and Dachau to remind humanity that the Holocaust was real.

It’s the equivalent of Ahmadinejad looking up and telling the world that the sky is in fact purple and that we’ve been duped by the Jews into thinking it’s blue… which I’m pretty sure he’s already claimed once or twice in his hateful stand-up comedy routines at the United Nations headquarters.

Folks… these are people who can not EVER be trusted with the nuclear genie.

You should be alarmed… you should feel a sense of panic.

These people aren’t going anywhere and won’t change their ways unless we make them.

And believe me… they’re not going to blink when we send them angry emails from the United Nations’ Gmail account.

.

The Popularity Of Hatred

Has anyone noticed that since the interwebs became the primary communication tool for the human species that, as a society, we’ve all taken a turn towards the mean side of things?

And I’m not talking about the cyber-bullying swarms out there, but more about how quickly we jump on a bandwagon that’s draped with a banner proclaiming WE HATE ________________.

How is it that we’ve gone from a culture of the individual to a culture of joiners?

Where did we stop thinking for ourselves and switch to the blithely ignorant masses?

I present to you three cases of group hating:

1) Everybody hates Nickelback.

2) Everybody hates AVATAR.

3) Everybody hates Uwe Boll.

But when you boil everything down with facts, only one of the above bares out to be true.

Let’s start with the first item… about how everybody on the planet hates Nickelback according to the sentiment of the internet.

Fact: According to Pollstar, Nickelback is 6th on the list of touring bands last year.

Fact: Nickelback sells an average of 6 million albums per release.

And yet everybody online claims that they’re worse than the Black Plague – which makes no bloody sense when you take into account the cash they rake in since obviously a lot of people are buying their CDs, going to their concerts, and snapping up their merchandise.

Their Facebook page has 3,753,664 fans – nearly as many as Jay-Z.

If the internet hatred mills was correct, Nickelback would have a hard time booking third rate bars in nowhere towns like Buttfuck, Idaho – and that simply isn’t the case.

Alright, now on to the second item: the universal hatred for James Cameron’s AVATAR.

Despite being relatively new to the cultural awareness,  AVATAR still racks up the kind of seething hate that Nickelback does when you tour around the web’s various message boards, site forums, and self-styled movie review depots.

They poke fun at the CGI… say the story was ripped off from other movies… call Sam Worthington wooden, etc.

Ready for the facts?

FACT: Avatar is the highest grossing movie of all time.

FACT: Avatar won a number of Oscars.

FACT: Despite the potentially enormous cost, 20th Century Fox has said okay to 2 more sequels to what is apparently the most hated movie ever.

Finally… on to the lats group.

Everybody hates Uwe Boll.

No… really… everybody does.

Uwe Boll is a movie “director” based out of Germany who buys up movie properties and then proceeds to destroy that property with completely inept, incompetent, idiotic, moronic, senseless movies that could be written and directed by drunken raccoons who had figured out how to turn on a camcorder someone left outside.

Boll’s reign of cinematic terror was enabled for a long while by a peculiar tax benefit that guaranteed any movie production to – at the bare minimum – break even so that no money was lost by any party involved… which meant that no matter how shitty your movie was, you’d still make your money back.

Needless to say, this removed Uwe Boll from the end consequences of his playing movie director – there was no danger to him or the people he bilked into investing – which would normally be something along the lines of being banned for life from anything resembling a video camera.

Five of his “films” are on the list of 100 worst movies ever over at RottenTomatoes.com

So… the internet loves to rage – and really, that’s no surprise to anyone who reads the comments on any randomly selected YouTube video.

Haters gonna hate.

The problem with “Haters” (those people who hate certain things for no discernible or logical reason) is they skew the internet society’s view of things and issues  – preventing someone new to the scene from trying something that they might actually enjoy by making that person feel they’ll be somehow unpopular by doing so.

Now… before anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog says “but you hate a lot of things!“, let me remind you that I always explain my particular dislikes – mainly because I don’t want to be seen as a Hater.

In the end, I think the problem of Haters is due to the “quick hit” mentality of the Internet Generation where people what the information they’re seeking fast – a deterioration in the type of objective thought that would have normally been engaged when confronted with a supposed fact… but that would take too much time in the Google age.

It’s surprising how an entire school of thought (or lack thereof) has spread from the redneck population to more than 1/6th of the world – and will continue to saturate the internet consciousness for the foreseeable future… or at least until it becomes cool again to think.

Wait… nevermind.

It’s never been cool to be smart.