Free speech, war crimes and money

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For several weeks now, the Guardian newspaper in the UK has been lambasting Ken Livingstone for publicly mentioning that Hitler helped Zionists in the early 1930’s. According to the comments of many Jewish commentators, they think that by talking on this matter, Livingstone is encouraging a belief that Zionism and the Nazis were somehow in cahoots. They are, as a result, asking that Red Ken be expelled from the Labour Party.

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Personally, I think those Guardian commentators need to remember a famous comment by Voltaire:

‘I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to my death your right to say it’.


In other words, we must value free speech more than eradicating unpleasant comments. Free speech doesn’t just refer to the right of people to say popular things, it is a right for people to say whatever they want to say. Some jewish and secular people in the U.K. may be offended by Livingstone’s comments but he is stating a well-documented historical fact; Hitler did do a deal in the early 1930’s that helped Zionists settle in Israel. Whatever the implications are of this event, it did happen.

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It is extremely important in this country that people are allowed to openly make comments, even if the factual basis of those comments are disputed by some, without fear of serious punishment. Noam Chomsky ended up in a scandal when he said that a Holocaust denier should be allowed to speak without being criminalized. When others told Noam of their shock that he would ally with such a view, Chomsky patiently explained that he did not agree with what the man said; he was standing up for any person’s right to free speech, whatever he or she says. When censoring become legitimised, or laws are brought in that reduce human rights, those laws are inevitably used in the wrong way. When the U.K. government recently introduced a law allowing government departments to snoop on people, they loudly stated that the law would only be used to combat terrorism. Six months later, it was found that local councils were using to it to spy on families suspected of giving the wrong home address for school placements! This is clearly a minor misuse of such powers but there are other, much darker effects. Once censorship and human rights are eroded in a country, for any reason, that society inevitably becomes a dark, oppressive place.
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'The Day After Roswell' - book review Part II

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After writing my recent review of 'The Day After Roswell' by Philip J. Corso, I remembered two more interesting things in the book that I didn't cover in my first review. Neither of them are actually about U.F.O.'s or aliens, which, I think, shows how much stuff is present in Corso's book; it really is a treasure trove of thought-provoking material.
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First off, in between the hard-to-believe alien stuff in Corso's book, Corso also touches on an oddity in America's space exploration programme; why haven't the United States put a base on the moon? I wrote an article on this subject a while back. In the article, I described some of the military benefits of having a base on the moon and why it is a major mystery why the United States or Russia still don't have a base on our moon.

In his book, Corso discusses, at length, the U.S. military's interest and plans in setting up a moon base, a plan hatched in the late fifties and designed to be completed by the mid-sixties. Corso makes it clear that General Trudeau, his commanding officer, was involved in a plan to land on the moon and then establish a base there, with the moon landing being simply one step in a larger process. The reasoning laid out in Corso's book is more extensive than my comments in my article, which not surprisingly for a major U.S. military project, but the essential premise is the same. The moon is the high ground and anyone who establishes a base on it will have a huge military advantage. Corso dedicates an entire chapter to the project and adds an appendix with photocopied briefing documents, detailing what became known as Project Horizon. But, as we all know, there is no moon base. Corso explains why; his answer is logical but it involves UFO's, so its veracity is a matter for debate. Read More...

'The Day After Roswell' by Philip J. Corso - book review

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A few months ago, I began a fresh look into the U.F.O. topic, as a result of aimless youtube wandering. It was a very interesting experience. After watching several of the Sirius Disclosure testimonies, I was amazed at the number of testimonies from respected professional, educated, senior people, including a Rear Admiral, stating that U.F.O.’s do exist but that the secret services and military sections of the major governments of the world have been hiding the facts from the general population for the last seventy years (or more).
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Following on from that surprising claim, I sought out and read ‘The Day After Roswell’ by Colonel Philip J. Corso. This book is about the United States' military’s encounters with U.F.O.’s since the Second World War and, in particular, Corso’s own involvement. By his own, account, Corso was very much in the thick of it. He received artefacts from crashed alien spacecraft and passed them on to private defence contractors so that they could examine the advanced technology and replicate it, thereby developing valuable new technologies. All of this was done in secret and, according to Corso, was responsible for huge advances in key technologies on Earth. It’s astonishing stuff and I can imagine many people would simply reject it as a lie. But is it?

Let's be logical

Corso' book is certainly official 'kook' territory but, before judging and sentencing it, let’s think rationally about the likelihood of its key assertions. Firstly, it's become clear to all of us in recent years that the intelligence agencies and militaries of the world are definitely hiding things from their citizens. After Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about the N.S.A. and G.C.H.Q.’s email and phone snooping, along with a whole host of recent scandals in which the western military and spy establishments ignored laws, due process, peoples’ lives and other rather important things, it’s pretty much a ‘given’ that our spooks are hiding stuff from us.
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'Command and Control' by Eric Schlosser - book review

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This week, I've been reading Eric Schlosser's 'Command and Control', an extensive and comprehensive non-fiction book that looks into the history of nuclear weapon safety in the U.S.A. since the Second World War. Schlosser wrote the excellent 'Fast Food Nation' and this book is just as thorough and just as alarming. Schlosser's book makes it clear, using an exhaustive list of events, that it's pretty much a miracle that a nuclear weapon didn't accidentally explode in the United States in the last sixty years.
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I'm a supporter of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and so I was keen to read this book to be as knowledgeable as possible on such an important subject. I came to the decision, several years ago, that I would rather be killed by a nuclear weapon than be even partly responsible for dropping one on millions of other people. There are many visceral examples of what such a nuclear strike would do in books and television, from an excellent passage in the book 'Doomsday Men', that I recently reviewed, as well as the harrowing and brilliant series 'Threads', made by the BBC (when the Beeb was being brave). I heartily recommend both items, but be aware, the Threads programme pulls no punches at all.

'Command and Control' is a thick wedge of a book. Schlosser exhaustively reports on the history of nukes in the U.S. and the cold war. To be honest, there were sections that I skipped, as page after page of descriptions of missiles and strategies can get dull. Fortunately, the book switches between this history and the recounting of a particular event; a disastrous accident that occurred at a Titan II missile silo. Schlosser's account of the accident is riveting. His writing reminded me a lot of Stephen King's 'The Stand', with the same approach of giving each character's back story, before narrating what happened to them during the accident. I wouldn't be surprised if Schlosser starts writing fiction soon, he's certainly prepared the ground.
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Doomsday Men and Dr Strangelove

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Here's a quick book review of a book I've just finished called 'Doomsday Men' by P.D.Smith. The book is all about the history of atomic research, from Madame Curie onwards, and how it became used to build the ultimate military weapon, the hydrogen bomb and its fictional but apocalyptic dark sibling, the radioactive 'cobalt bomb'.

I enjoyed the book. It was pretty clear from early on (in fact, P.D.Smith admitted as much himself) that the author had been writing a biography of Leo Szilard, an admirable and brilliant Hungarian physicist who had to leave his home in Budapest when Nazism and anti-Semitism emerged in central Europe. He ditched up in London and finally emigrated to the United States. Unlike other brilliant Hungarian physicists who ended up playing a major role in the development of atomic power and the atomic bomb (such as Von Neumann and Edward Teller), Szilard was a compassionate and ethical man. Read More...

A military moon

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A moon catapult

One fun thing about writing science fiction is looking at what’s happening now in the world and extrapolating. Sometimes though, you don’t need to extrapolate and come up with far-fetched ideas. Instead, you can work out what could already present but hasn’t been made public. This is science-fiction drifting close to a technical analysis; it's a fiction only in the sense that it hasn’t been proved. By comparison, science-fiction that speculates on a possible distant future is plausible fiction; it will probably never happen, but it’s still interesting.

This article is aimed at the former category and it’s to do with our moon.

Much has been written about the recent burst of activity in moon exploration by our planet’s major powers. The Chinese currently have a robot on the moon, nicknamed ‘Jade Rabbit’ which is attracting huge interest among Chinese citizens as it explores and analyses the moon’s surface. India is also investing large sums of money in visiting the moon and according to this Daily Telegraph article, both China and India plan to land people on the moon in the next ten years. The United States, who have already been to the moon, are talking about a new programme of exploration and there are reports Japan also wants to be involved.

An interesting question to ask is; why are they all doing it? It’s true that a country gains a lot of kudos if it completes a successful mission, but it’s a very expensive endeavour. According to this NASA website, it costs about $500,000,000 to send a robot to the moon. Another way of estimating the cost is per kilo of payload. According to some science websites, it costs about two million dollars for every kilogram you put on the moon. In other words, if you want to put a bicycle on the moon (probably a folding one), you’ll need to spend about twenty-million dollars. These prices don’t include all the efforts put into developing new technologies, the cost of failed missions and other related issues.

Along with the sheer expense, there is also the unedifying fact that the moon has already been landed on and it’s not an exciting place; it’s a dead, airless lump of rock. No nation is going to stay up into the small hours to see a robot land on the Sea of Tranquility. But there is a possible and very viable reason why the big nations of our planet, particularly the emerging superpowers, are racing to put robots, people and eventually bases on the moon, and it’s do with height.

In the history of warfare, height has always been of huge importance. Tribes soon noticed that attacking downhill is a lot easier, and more successful, than attacking uphill. Millennia later, as soon as people could take to the air, they used airborne craft to gain a new height advantage, bombing and strafing their enemy on the ground. When both sides had airborne craft, those craft that could climb higher gained a crucial advantage. The latest stage in this war of altitude has been the development of satellites for reconnaissance and communication, which all major nations now have. More recently the technology to knock out those satellites has been developed, with successful tests by more than one superpower showing they can knock out their own ageing or erratic satellites, and if push comes to shove, someone else’s. This satellite stage in the war of altitude is now a crowded, well-established territory. To gain a singular advantage, someone has to take the next altitude step; the moon.

A base on the moon has several strategic benefits. Firstly, it’s a super-satellite. There are a huge number of commercial and military satellites currently orbiting the Earth. They are extremely vulnerable, delicate devices. As popularised in the recent movie ‘Gravity’, there are so many satellites orbitting our planet that the destruction of just a few could release so much debris that a chain-reaction could break a huge number of the satellites currently in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. It is also perfectly possible, as mentioned earlier, for ground-based lasers and rockets to knock them out individually. By comparison, an installation of communication or reconnaissance equipment on the moon, protected by some sort of screen, would be far harder to knock out. The moon therefore becomes an ideal back-up location for military communication and reconnaissance hardware.

But this article focusses on a second and more dramatic use, that makes full and devastating use of the moon’s position as the ultimate high ground.

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Earth is big and, as a result, it has a strong gravity. By comparison, the moon is smaller and has less gravity, roughly one-seventh of Earth’s. If someone on the moon wants to attack a spot on the Earth, all they need to do is to throw a moon rock hard enough to leave the moon’s weak gravity well. The rock will then pass into Earth’s gravity well and fall down it, finally striking its appointed target on the Earth’s surface. This process is like a giant on a mountain tossing a boulder on to a fertile valley below. This is a kinetic weapon, as the damage it causes is entirely down to the speed at which it strikes the target, due to the extreme height from which the object has fallen.

To make such a weapon work on the moon, the attacker needs ammunition - rocks - of which the moon has loads, and some means to toss those projectiles in a guided way, in order for them to hit their intended target. Previous science-fiction stories have explored this idea, such as Robert Heinlein’s ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’, in which rocks coated in iron are launched from the Moon, at Earth, by an electromagnetic cannon. Although Heinlein’s book was a masterwork of speculative fiction, wrapping such rocks in iron as a way to propel them is a dated method and unfeasible. Iron is heavy and rare on the moon. There is a better alternative and it involves more modern technology, that of lasers and solar power.

To launch a rock from the Moon to the Earth, you need a) a power source of some kind for the launching and b) something that launches the rocks out of the moon’s gravity. The first requirement, power, can be supplied by solar power. The moon can receive the full intensity of the sun’s rays, uninterrupted, for long periods of time, making this an ideal spot for solar power generation.

The next thing needed is something to launch the rock. Lasers can carry out this task. A possible mechanism is as follows:

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On the far side of the moon, a solar array is installed on its surface, along with a robot and several lasers. The solar array charges up the robot. The robot then digs a rock out of the lunar surface and places the rock in a harness hung from poles above the ground, placed in the centre of a circle of lasers. The robot retreats and the lasers, powered by the solar array, fire beams at the rock in the harness. The heat of the laser beams on the rock causes material on its surface to heat up and boil off. This emission of gases pushes the rock in the opposite direction to the gases it emits. Using this ‘action and reaction’ effect, the lasers ‘push’ the rock upwards, against the moon’s weak gravity. By altering the intensity of their beams and where they hit the rock, the lasers guide the rock upwards and entirely away from the lunar surface, accelerating it out of the moon’s gravity well. Once the rock is free of the lunar gravity, the lasers are turned off and the rock is left to fall down the Earth’s gravity well until it finally hits the intended target.

There are many practical benefits to investing in this type of weapon. It runs entirely from its own power source. It also has effectively limitless ammo. If it is placed on the far side of the moon, it is not even vulnerable to any Earth-based lasers’ attempts to disable it. It effectively becomes the most powerful catapult ever created, firing its shot from the highest-ever castle, behind the thickest-ever wall. Although the weapon’s location would make communication with it from an Earth-based command centre very difficult, the weapon’s computer could be semi-autonomous, or even receive its instructions from probes located further away from Earth than the moon, for example at one of the Sun’s Lagrange points, that have relayed instructions to it from an Earth-based command centre.

Is such a weapon on the minds of the super-states racing to explore and colonise the moon? I don’t know, but I would very be surprised if none of them have done a feasibility study. The idea isn’t new to science-fiction and recent developments in laser efficiency, solar power efficiency and robotics make it far more achievable than when Heinlein wrote about it, fifty years ago. Knowing what we do about human-kind, it's sensible to believe that one or more super-states will install such a weapon if they think it's worth the cost. Civilisation has followed a logical path for millennia and there’s no reason to think that will change, at least until natural factors bring it to a painful end. I think the moon will be a key piece in our next global war. Someone will establish a weapon on our moon and use this new high ground to devastating effect.

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Note: Thinking about this again, a day later, I'm keen to check through some more of the technical aspects. For example, how big does a lump of rock that's travelled from the moon need to be to avoid being burnt up in Earth's atmosphere? This could be tricky to work out but I'll see what I can do.

Nobody's a hero - ten honest war movies



War is a great subject for a movie. You've got danger, heartache, drama, scenes of great intensity; all the emotions you could wish for. There is, though, the tiny problem that war is a horrible, monstrous event that brings nothing but despair, sadness, pain and loss to everyone apart from psychopaths and people in administrative positions.

A lot of war movies skirt over this problem. They also gloss over the fact that people, in every country, behave in unexpected ways in war. Some people who are supposed to be good behave horribly and some people who are supposed to be bad behave nobly. This is the reality of war, alongside the large amounts of weapons, injuries, death, suffering, atrocities, acts of self-sacrifice and flags. Read More...