First Man in Space – April 12, 1961

Yuri GargarinCertainly a milestone in human exploration worth noting. Yuri Gagarin: First Man in Space

Yuri Gagarin was a 27-year-old fighter pilot in the USSR Air Force, when he made a 108 minute orbital flight in the Vostok 1 spacecraft.

A month later Alan Shepard would make a suborbital flight to be “The First American in Space.” (Such distinctions were important to people during the Cold War, though ignoring the Soviet’s accomplishments seems petty at this distance.)

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was born March 9th, 1934 in Klushino, Russia. He died at the age of 34 on March 27th, 1968 when his fighter jet crashed.

There is a statue of Gagarin in London, near Admiralty Arch.

The Bureaucratic Failures that Lead to the Attack on a German Christmas Market

The 19th of December, 2016 was for Germany, a bit like 9/11 was for the USA. Before that date, they were mostly in an “It can’t happen here,” state of denial. Berlin Attack: “An Attack is Expected” | ZEIT ONLINE

Zeit produces long articles, and this no exception, but it is an interesting look at how the German federal system works – or in this case didn’t work.

The German authorities knew a lot about the Tunisian Anis Amri. Actually, almost everything. Nevertheless, shortly before Christmas he was able to commandeer a truck in Berlin and kill twelve people.

A total of 56 people were injured in that attack, and some of them are still in hospitals.

How the police in various states (Lands in the German parlance) knew about Amri, and yet didn’t manage to stop him, in the face of crimes committed, false statements made to authorities and more. He was identified as a threat, at least by one police department, and yet nothing was done.

As for that denial…

With the Berlin attack, a phase of relative comfort came to an end in the Federal Republic. While bombs exploded in the United Kingdom, Spain, France, and Belgium, and terrorists shot or ran down people down with trucks, Germany was until then spared major Islamist attacks.

Arthur C. Clarke (16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008)

Some fun facts about Sir Arthur Charles Clarke…. He is probably most well known as the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey. (He is credited on the screenplay with Kubrick as well as on the novel. Both were written concurrently.) This was based loosely on a short story by Clarke, entitled “The Sentinel.” And a few other of his short stories.

His most notable contribution to the real world is his 1945 description of geostationary communications satellites which he described in the September 1945 edition of Wireless World. (A British publication.) At the time the article was published (“Peacetime Uses for V2”) it was considered to be “not feasible” based on cost. It was in fact less than 20 years before it became a reality when the first geostationary communication satellite, Intelsat I, was launched on April 6th, 1965. The orbit – at 35,786 kilometers above the equator – is known as the Clarke Orbit.

The 2nd interesting idea for the real world that he floated is the space elevator. Pretty much what it sounds like. If we ever develop the technology to build the cables, it will drastically reduce the cost of putting something in orbit.

As an author and observer of human nature, he developed three laws, which he is famous for.

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The third law has been done to death in science fiction.

Castle Bravo

On March 1, 1954 in the Marshall Islands, on the Bikini Atoll, the US fired the Castle Bravo thermonuclear weapon. Less than 2 years after the Ivy Mike Shot proved that a hydrogen bomb was possible, the Castle Bravo device was the first thermonuclear weapon small enough to be carried by an aircraft. (The Ivy Mike shot had depended on cryogenic equipment making the device weigh 80 tons or more.) This opened the door to the 2nd stage of the Cold War.

The Castle Bravo shot was the first detonation of a dry thermonuclear bomb. It was also a complete catastrophe.

Officially it was Operation Castle, Bravo Shot. (For whatever reason there was no Alpha Shot in Operation Castle.

Scientists working on the shot had used a lithium-6 isotope but also included a lot of lithium-7. They calculated that the lithium-7 would be inert, and that the resulting explosion would be in the 6-megaton range. They were completely wrong.

The explosive power of the Castle Bravo shot was 250 percent ABOVE expectations. In other words, instead of the 6 megaton explosion they expected, they got 15 megatons. The base – built to conduct nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands – was destroyed. The shot crew were trapped in their bunker by high radiation. Several islands – where no one was even supposed to know what was going on – had to be evacuated. The people on those islands suffered for a long time as the result of radiation exposure. A Japanese fishing crew was exposed and at least one death from radiation exposure occurred. This lead to an international call for an end to atmospheric testing.

Remember this when scientists tell you that they know exactly how bad (or how good) something is going to be based on their equations, but in the absence of observation. They often get it right, but not always. “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” (Yogi Berra)

It isn’t surprising that A Capella Science has a take on nuclear weapons. (That does mention Castle Bravo)

Sherman Sacks Columbia

William Tecumseh ShermanSherman captured Savannah, Georgia shortly before Christmas of 1864, after cutting a swath of destruction across that state. After spending some time Savannah, Sherman moved his army into South Carolina. Sherman began his Carolina campaign on February 1st. By the 17th, he had captured Columbia. Sherman sacks Columbia, South Carolina – Feb 17, 1865 – HISTORY.com

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, and Confederate batteries opened fire on the Federal garrison of Fort Sumter in April of 1861 to get the festivities started. So the Union soldiers were particularly delighted in bringing war to South Carolina.

The troops under Confederate General Wade Hampton abandoned the city leaving it open to Sherman’s troops. The Union soldiers set fire to city – many after getting drunk.

Sherman wrote:

“Though I never ordered it and never wished it, I have never shed any tears over the event, because I believe that it hastened what we all fought for, the end of the War.”

About 2/3 of the town burned before the flames were extinguished, but Sherman set more fires – to all the government buildings – three days later before they marched out of Columbia.

News Flash: Trump’s Immigration Policies Look More Like Bush’s than Obama’s

OK, exactly how does this qualify as shocking, they way it is being portrayed in the media? Federal agents conduct immigration enforcement raids in at least six states

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant advocacy group, said that the wave of detentions harks back to the George W. Bush administration, when workplace raids to sweep up all undocumented workers were common.

So in other words, after the hiatus in law enforcement that was characterized by the Obama administration, it is more-or-less business as usual.

And if you are in this country in violation of immigration laws, you are not “law abiding;” you are breaking at least one law, and probably a slew of immigration laws.

The Memorial to 9/11 Victims You’ve Never Heard of

teardropOfficially it is To the Struggle Against World Terrorism, (In Russian, Для борьбы против международного терроризма) but is is usually known as The Teardrop Memorial. Sometimes, though less often, it is called the Tear of Grief. (Click the image for a better view.)

The names of the victims of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center as well as the names of those who died in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center are engraved around the plinth.

It was designed by a Russian artist, Zurab Tsereteli, and presented as an official gift from the government of Russia to the people of the USA. President Clinton had to make some remarks at the 2006 dedication. (I think the Bush Administration wasn’t too happy about the Russians at that time.) And for reasons I can’t uncover it seems to have a lot of people convinced it is an urban legend.

It stands at the end of the former Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey. Jersey City turned down the memorial when a gaggle of local artists complained that they hadn’t been asked to design a memorial. (No one asked Tsereteli, as far as I can tell.)

The art community hates it. The general public seems to like it.