unixronin: Galen the technomage, from Babylon 5: Crusade (Default)

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unixronin: The kanji for "chugo" (Duty/loyalty)
Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 04:09 pm

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." — Winston Churchill

Seventy years ago, an outnumbered RAF was facing off against the Luftwaffe in the skies of south-eastern England.  Through courage and sheer dogged determination, they broke the back of the massed aerial assault and denied Nazi Germany the air supremacy over the Channel that was vital to the success of the planned Operation Sealion.  Had Operation Sealion launched as planned, Britain's defences would likely have been overwhelmed, and Britain would have fallen or been forced to surrender.  With no bridgehead from which to launch an Allied counter-attack, the D-Day invasions could not have been launched in the form that they were, and the course of the Second World War would likely have been very different.  In light of the Luftwaffe's failure to gain air superiority, however, Operation Sealion was cancelled.

Britain observes this day, September 15, as Battle of Britain Day.  It has now been seventy years.

Never forget The Few.  We all owe them a debt beyond measure.

unixronin: Dogbert - Demons of stupidity (Fear The Stupid)
Thursday, August 3rd, 2006 05:53 pm

The BBC reports that X-ray fluorescence techniques have just enabled the reconstruction of some original texts written by Archimedes and others.  The parchment contains works including the only Greek version of On Floating Bodies known to exist, the only surviving ancient copy of The Method of Mechanical Theorems and of a mathematical puzzle called the Stomachion, as well as treatises on the Equilibrium of Planes, Spiral Lines, The Measurement of the Circle, and Sphere and Cylinder.  These are important and groundbreaking texts, several of which form the foundations of areas of modern mathematics.

So why were these writings lost in the first place?

The original texts were transcribed in the 10th Century by an anonymous scribe on to parchment.

Three centuries later a monk in Jerusalem called Johannes Myronas recycled the manuscript to create a palimpsest.

Palimpsesting involves scraping away the original text so the parchments can be used again.  To create [the] book, the monk cut the pages in half and turned them sideways.

[...] Myronas also used recycled pages from works by the 4th Century Orator Hyperides and other philosophical texts.

Destroying and recycling the writings of Archimedes, among others, to create ... a book of prayers.  It's enough to make you weep.  One has to wonder what other wonders of knowledge have been lost or destroyed through the centuries for no better reason than so that some pious fool who did not understand (or did not care) what he was destroying could scribble paeans to the ineffability of his chosen deity.

unixronin: A stone griffon (Weltschmerz)
Sunday, July 2nd, 2006 06:39 pm

This, too, is a day late.  Britain's Daily Mail carries an article about the first day of the Somme offensive, ninety years ago yesterday, when the whistles blew and seven hundred and fifty thousand men went "over the top" into No Man's Land.  Nineteen thousand of them died on the first day, of fifty eight thousand British casualties on that day; one Canadian regiment was reduced to a third of its strength in the first half-hour of the offensive.  More than seventy two thousand of the dead of the Somme have no known graves, and are commemorated on a single monument at Thiepval.

When the abortive assault was over, four months later, the British Expeditionary Force had suffered four hundred and twenty thousand casualties, the French two hundred thousand, the Germans an estimated five hundred thousand ... all for an advance that at no point along the front exceeded twelve kilometers.

unixronin: The kanji for "chugo" (Duty/loyalty)
Tuesday, February 7th, 2006 04:31 pm

Ever heard of Lysenkoism?

Let me enlighten you.  Trofim Denisovitch Lysenko was a Soviet apparatchik, one of the darlings of Josef Stalin, with a "career" running from the late 20s to the mid-60s.  During this period, he almost single-handedly destroyed the sciences of genetics and biology in the USSR, as well as crippling the Soviet agricultural system through the implementation of agricultural methods that owed more to Stalinist rhetoric and ideology than to any actual study.  His reign of destruction in Soviet science and agriculture finally came to an end in 1964 when Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov denounced him in the General Assembly of the Academy of Sciences as "responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular, for the dissemination of pseudoscientific views, for adventurism, for the degradation of learning, and for the defamation, firing, arrest, even death, of many genuine scientists".  Science under Lysenko was guided not by theories derived from careful observation and tested by controlled experiments, but rather by what theory best supported the ideology of the State regardless of whether it actually made sense.  He asserted, for example, that grain could be made to grow in exceedingly cold environments simply by soaking it in ice-cold water before planting in order to acclimate the grain to the cold, and went to far as to declare that it was unnecessary to fertilize or weed crops - crop plants were good Communists, and would grow fast and strong without additional care, out of a sense or proper proletarian responsibility, if simply read to from the Communist Manifesto.  Lysenkoism, combined with Stalinist collectivism, caused a crop famine in the USSR in the 1930s in the course of which millions starved, and Communist China failed to learn from this example by applying Lysenkoism themselves, resulting in their own massive crop famine in the 1950s.

It's now 2006, and Soviet genetics and Soviet agriculture still have not fully recovered from Lysenko.

Why is this relevant?

Before I answer that, let's look at some of what's happening in NASA right now

  • The Terrestrial Planet Finder -- delayed indefinitely.
  • The Space Interferometry Mission -- delayed by three years ... for now.
  • Additional telescopes for the Keck Observatory in Hawaii -- cancelled.
  • The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy -- delayed indefinitely, all funding halted.
  • The LISA gravity-wave detector and the Constellation-X black hole study mission -- delayed indefinitely.
  • The Mars Sample Return Mission and Mars Telecommunications Orbiter -- delayed indefinitely, if not cancelled.

What do all of these programs have in common?  They're all solid basic science, the kind of science that NASA still does superlatively well.  And they've all had their budgets gutted to pay for projected cost overruns of 3 to 5 billion dollars on the continued attempts to keep the Shuttle flying until 2010 -- at which point, supposedly, NASA Manned Space is to have a replacement flying, one of whose major design considerations is apparently that it keep the contractors who supplied the Shuttle program employed.  (You'd think we'd have learned by now that the Shuttle is a deathtrap, and that NASA Manned Space has no idea how to fix its inherent problems.  But the budget calls for at least 17 more flights of a Shuttle that has already killed 14 good astronauts.)

Yeah, you read that right.  We can spend $80 billion (in the most recent budget; $230 billion to $300 billion overall) and counting on an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, in justification of which the Bush administration falsified intelligence, repeatedly lied to the nation and the UN, and changed their story almost with every change of the weather.  But when NASA Manned Space tries to follow a directive from the President, NASA has to scrape the bottoms of its own pockets for loose change and even delay or cancel its own programs to find the money.  And what's this all for?  George Bush's vain boast to make a manned return to the Moon by 2015 and a manned mission to Mars by 2020 (which won't be until long after he's out of office, so if or when it fails, he can look innocent and say it wasn't his fault).

But it doesn't stop there.

Ever heard of Jim Hansen?  He's a top US climatologist.  His view of global warming, however, contradicts the official Bush-Cheney party line.  Because of this, his research has been basically gagged by the administration, and interview requests for him have been administratively denied by George Deutsch, a fresh-out-of-journalism-college public affairs officer appointed by George Bush, apparently as a quid pro quo for working on the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Hansen said the administration wants to hear only scientific results that "fit predetermined, inflexible positions."  Evidence that would raise concerns about the dangers of climate change is often dismissed as not being of sufficient interest to the public.

Sound familiar?

But wait, there's more.  The most recent news out of NASA Space Science features Deutsch again.  This time, he is ordering that every use of the phrase "Big Bang" in educational material for public release must be followed by the word "theory", because the Big Bang "is not proven fact, it is opinion".

“It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be[,] to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator.”

So says Deutsch, who then goes on to say that this is "more than a science issue, it is a religious issue", and that if NASA simply does honest science without making due allowance for compliance with religion, NASA has "failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

And there's the whole point of this discourse.  Religion, according to Bush's appointed apparatchik, is now "factual information", while science is merely "opinion" that should not be allowed to question or contradict it.  You can find plenty more examples in other fields of science, particularly the biological sciences, if you look -- and of course, George Bush has already gone on record as stating that he feels "intelligent design" should be given equal time alongside evolutionary theory.

Welcome to the new Lysenkoism.