On the Syrian air strike, and Tomahawk missiles

… the most difficult thing about deciding what to write about these days isn’t so much that I’ve run out of ideas, but that the number of ideas are so numerous it’s actually hard to decide.

Just a while ago, on top of the usual computer/math stuff I usually write about, there was another technology that caught my interest, and I thought there was at least something to think about on this.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to news that Donald Trump gave the order to launch some 59 Tomahawk Missiles into an airfield in the west part of Syria. The news reported that this ominous act was a spur of the moment thing, done without congressional approval, but despite the egregious violation of protocol, I’ll try to focus at least somewhat on the technology (although the politics is hard to ignore).

Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile -crop.jpgThe Tomahawk is a missile that was at times manufactured by either General Dynamics, Raytheon, or McDonnell-Douglas, with a history going back to the early 1980s, with many improvements since then. It is essentially a guided missile, capable of flying as far as 2500 kilometres. Its “payload” can come in the form of either conventional or nuclear weapons. They pretty much all contain conventional explosives these days. It flies at about 890 km/h, which is slower than the speed of sound (which is 1,234.8 km/h), but still quite fast, owing to an internal jet engine. Most of these are launched from a ship, but they can also be launched from a submarine.

And oh yeah. Replacing the 59 Tomahawks fired earlier this week into Syria is going to cost 1 million dollars to replace. Each. Future costs are projected at around 1.5 million dollars each. And hardly any of the bombs appeared to hit their intended targets. The intended target, the Shyrat Air Base, was fully operational the next day.

Congress, who pretty much hold the purse strings for the government and must approve all spending, might have some legitimate questions to ask regarding spending up to 90 million dollars without asking. Others may ask even more pressing questions, more pressing than money — about dealing with ISIS/ISIL, or about the appearance (and the actuality) of fighting on both sides of the Syrian conflict, or about contradicting what a Trump spokesman has said this week regarding letting Syria do what it wanted (also a surprise statement). Did the missiles save lives? Did the missiles stop the transport of Sarin nerve gas? Did the missiles bring us closer to ending the conflict?

Here is a quote of the first words Trump made to the press of the April 6 attack:

My fellow Americans, on Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the life of innocent men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many, even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.

It is becoming burdensome to use empathy as a scale to judge the mind of Donald Trump. It is becoming more appropriate to judge him on how he appeals to our emotions and plays with them. He does this by communicating in an almost child-like language, but then makes references to “beautiful babies” being “cruelly murdered”, an attempt to wring out as much emotion as possible from the American public in support of the bombing. While propagandistic, it is crude propaganda, which seeks its usual aim of suppressing rational thought.

According to Trump, we must feel for anyone “brutally murdered” on the orders of al-Assad – especially the “beautiful babies” – yet, we also have to be against anyone who attempts to escape such “brutal murder” along with their families and other “children of God”, by emigrating to the United States for sanctuary. Recall that Syria was one of the countries Trump had on his list of banned countries of origin for immigration.

At some point, Congress (and later the taxpayer) will be asked to pay for this ultimately ineffective bombing raid. Wonder how that will play out …?

The flap about flossing

There has been barrels of ink, moles of electrons, and weeks of nighttime talk shows used up over notion that over the past 30 to 40 years, we were all duped. Flossing does nothing for your teeth. All that guilt about not doing it, wasted over nothing. But let’s be precise here. The FDA is citing “lack of strong evidence”, not that it had no effect.

Journalists, with a BS in something that is not a Bachelor of Science, take it to mean that there was some kind of propaganda conspiracy to get us to floss un-necessarily. It is amazing that journalists think we are that stupid. I get stuff in my teeth that I can’t get with my toothbrush, and journalists are leading me to believe that the FDA is telling me that it’s OK to leave it there?

“No evidence” was cited, since, according to the FDA, no one did a serious study. It could have been that the FDA thought that the benefits are self-evident. Do people really need evidence that getting stuff out from between their teeth is better for their oral health than leaving the food stuck in there? The FDA probably thought, rightly, that tax money could be better spent elsewhere.

I don’t often talk about politics, …

If government was always seen as the shadow cast by big business, I guess someone must have felt it was time for big business to be directly at the controls of power.

I feel the need to comment on the Trump rout of the Republican party. I can see that he has resonated with a lot of normally disenfranchised voters: the poor, people of color, religious people, and so on. He was thought of as a clown doing what Sarah Palin used to do, which was pretty much the same thing. Problem is that Trump does it much better than Palin ever did. And by doing so, he lays a blow to the solar plexus of the Republican Party.

But what really intrigues me is that the other candidates are so shocked, simply shocked (to borrow a line from Casablanca), to find that voters are gravitating to a candidate who embodies all of the most misogynist, ignorant, and racist elements of the country. Indeed, Trump’s campaign is also so full of self-contradictions that on a close look, it is difficult to know what he stands for, except it is against whatever traditional Republicans stand for. Even searches for “Donald Drumpf”, his original family name according to HBO’s This Week Tonight is getting more Google searches than any of the competing Republican candidates.

American society has been ripe for just the kind of candidate Trump is. It’s just that no one wants to admit it. I read in The New York Times that Republicans were critical of Trump supporters for not caring about the “traditions” of the Republican party. But in the way that politics has adopted business terminology, the voters, like consumers, are attracted to the Trump “brand”. If we are on the level of “branding” names of people like soap or cars, then voters hardly need to remember the traditions or history of anything. Like their favourite toothpaste, they have a favourite candidate, with no need to go deeper than that. Trump understands this viscerally. He is a billionaire businessman, after all. He just needs to sell himself. The art of persuation wins over functional literacy and discourse of the facts. Propagandists have always known this. Selling himself is something Trump is indeed good at, though critics may pick away at the fact that this-or-that Trump business venture failed, but that misses the point. Trump knows about consumers, about mindless consumption, and about tapping into that mindset.

I predict that Trump is the new face of the Republican Party. And it is no surprise, since he is at the end of a continuum beginning with Ronald Regan, proceeding to George W. Bush, who all preyed on ignorance. From here on in, I predict that the Republicans will need to be more like Trump, not the other way around. It is also difficult to say if Trump will respect the traditions of Deomcracy, or will he just unilaterally fire or imprison anyone who gets in his way.

What gets me is that none of the other candidates in the Republican party are “taking one for the team” and joining another candidate to defeat Trump if they are so shocked by Trump’s victories. It is as if the vote against Trump is being split on purpose as a coronation of Trump. Naw, can’t be. There is too much press, in nearly all news sources, going against that theory. What would anyone high up in the Republican establishment want with a billionaire businessman possibly running the Oval Office, anyway?

Toronto Star’s handling of Rob Ford video was wise

Rob Ford Crack VideoThe Toronto Star saturated this past Saturday A-Section of their paper with news about Rob Ford’s alleged cocaine habit. The video apparently exists, but the Toronto Star took the wise step of not paying the dealers the money they demanded for the video.

A very good reason for not buying the video is that paying these dealers money is benefitting people in the underworld, and providing motivation for others to sell videos to media outlets for other reasons, such as blackmail. It wouldn’t go over well to give money to criminals for a video which pretty much depicts the sellers committing the criminal act of selling cocaine.

The fact that the purchase of the video has gone to crowdsourcing sites says a lot about the fact that sooner or later, the video will be out, and it will be viral. Then, we no longer have to be so cautious about mentioning these things as allegations.

In this video, the Toronto mayor has been alleged to have been smoking crack from a crack pipe, and making various racist and homosexual slurs. Sometimes, the person alleged to be Ford sounded incoherent in his stupor.

When Ford called the allegations “Ridiculous”, he unwisely blamed the Toronto Star for having a smear campaign against him. The credit for breaking the story goes to a blog called Gawker. It had been circulating in the States for some time (even the New York Times website had a blog story on it). The truth is, the Toronto Star reporters saw the footage 2-3 weeks ago, and sat on the story until the last minute, when Gawker broke the story early last week. Hardly anyone remembers that a  day earlier, the biggest story was that of people complaining about the campaign fridge magnets Ford was placing on cars in a church parking lot. No clue was let on regarding this much bigger scandal.

The Gawker fund has, as of this writing, raised $81,993 of its $200,000 target in its effort to purchase the Rob Ford cocaine video. And this is in only a couple of days. A Canadian man by the name of Kerry Morrison is also attempting to raise funds, but was less successful, at only $2,543 so far during about the same time period. Both used Indiegogo as the crowdsourcing website.

Petitions to the U. S. President

I checked out whitehouse.gov and their list of existing petitions. In order to get a response (whatever that manifests itself as), you must have 25,000 signatures (this year, it was amended to 100,000 signatures — here is a recent petition to have that rule rolled back to 25,000 again  — here, too). Here are some petitions that have gone over that limit:

… some on worthwhile issues (in my opinion):

  • Support mandatory labelling of GMOs (over 65,000 signatures)
  • Free access to scientific journals if the research is taxpayer-funded (58,887 signatures)
  • Change all US measurements to metric (33,537 signatures in 1 month)
  • Amend the constitution to get big money out of politics (23,556 after 2 weeks)
  • Don’t veto Palestine’s application for membership in the UN (11,000 signatures since Sept/12 — pretty sad, actually)

… and here are some “interesting” ones:

  • anything to do with actions against the Westboro Baptist Church (usually over 60,000 signatures)
  • Anything to do with actions against Dianne Feinstein (normally over 25,000)
  • Endorse the NRA’s National School Shield Program (36,827 signatures in 1 month)
  • Allow Texas to secede from the Union (100,000 in 1 week last November)
  • recount the election (69,006 signatures so far)
  • don’t regualte premium cigars (36,270 signatures)
  • mint a trillion dollar coin and place it in the Federal Reserve to avert a debt ceiling crisis (over 10,000 signatures in 2 weeks)

… and some ones that, I fear, may not make it past the 25,000 mark:

  • Recognize International “Talk Like a Pirate Day”
  • Get rid of Petitions.whitehouse.gov
  • officially recognize the Sasquatch as an indigenous species
  • ban hammers and baseball bats
  • Save the “Lepty Lew”

Comments on the 2011 G20 Summit I wish I made

The following exchange took place yesterday at the CBC website upon reporting the news that protestor, potato gun hobbyist, and computer geek Byron Sonne got acquitted of all charges related to the G-20 protest held 11 months ago in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Some of this is embellished but you can read the real comment by following the above link.

Hurk opines:
“And what did it cost taxpayers to keep a hardened criminal armed with a potato gun in jail for 11 months.”

A person pseudonamed “ikizoo” replies:

Hey Hurk, have you ever been shot with a potato gun? It hurts like a son of a bitch…I think people who have potato guns are a serious threat to our way of life. I think the government should start a potato gun registry, and require every store that sells potatoes to track who they were sold to. The law should actually cover all tubers since they can be used as potato substitutes, and might even extend to certain hard fruits for that matter.

Can you imagine what could happen if, for example, someone smuggled a potato gun and say 5 pounds of turnips onto a plane?

Such legislation will never be implemented by this government, however, because Mr. Harper is in the pocket of the tuber lobby which represents those who thrive on selling their vegetables to anyone with the money to pay. Potatoes, turnips and yams are being sold to violent schizophrenics, hardened criminals, prostitutes, members of fanatical hate groups, members of drug cartels, and communist groups without any background checks, or criminal record checks of their clients.

There was even a Fox News special report last week on how Canadian spud growers are selling whole bags of potatoes to foreign buyers who will do who knows what with them. Romney has promised to shut down the trafficking of Yams being smuggled across the border, should he become president. This is serious, people, and we can’t turn a blind eye to it any longer. Write to Prime Minister Harper and tell him you want action, now!