Friday, April 28, 2006

If It Hadn't Happened in West Virginia ...

... would the news organizations still call the relatives kin?

A Violation of Policy

Unfortunately I need to break from the rules for Haiku Thursday. We've received bad news on two fronts over the last couple of weeks and I promised I blog it.

First, my wife's grandmother DH has been having some health issues. A couple of weeks ago she went into the hospital for a procedure on her colon. The doctors ended up removing a foot and a half of her large intestine. The biopsies have since confirmed that DH has cancer. She finally got out of the hospital a few days ago, and was staying with my sister-in-law (who incidentally is the coolest sister-in-law anyone could hope to have) when DH had a stroke Tuesday, on her 81st birthday. So DH is now back in the hospital. She has stabilized now and the medical staff has begun to focus on treatment. Her spirits seem to be in fine shape, and hopefully she will continue to progress.

The second piece of bad news came a week ago when our friend HF's health also took a turn for the worse. HF suffers from Crohn's disease. She's had it for several years now, but has managed to maintain her health well enough to get married and have two children. (Having the children, especially the second child, was an act of bravery on both HF's part, and her husband BF's part as well. Getting married was a pretty brave act too, considering that he has his own health problems. For all their troubles they've managed to handle everything with humor and grace. Yes I mean you, H.) [She will read that last bit and say "Of course you mean me, dumbass. What else would you expect?"]

However, comma, part of the treatment for the disease requires taking immuno-suppressants. Last Thursday, April 20, routine blood work showed that her immune system had essentially collapsed. The normal White Blood Cell count should be between 4100-8000 WBCs per mm^3. Hers was 360. On top of that, she had contracted an infection that appeared to be shingles. That turned into a staff infection, which required some outpatient surgery to remove. Tests now seem to indicate that she doesn't have shingles, but they don't know what it is. In any event the 'shingles' have now developed carbuncles. As HF said, carbuncle is a cool word, but wow those things are disgusting! Due to the lack of improvement in her health she has now been hospitalized and is being kept in a clean room. (Insert John Travolta Bubble Boy joke here.) [Just to be clear, HF authorized the release of this information. No violations of etiquette or HIPAA have occurred in the writing of this post. Perhaps a violation of good taste, but that's another matter.]

So for those few readers I do have, if you will spare a few thoughts, considerations, positive vibes and/or prayers for DH and HF and their families, we'd appreciate it.

(And yes, HF knows I fall in the agnostic/atheist camp. Nonetheless I promised to put the word out. And besides sending positive thoughts in the direction of various loved ones, I have also taken other measures. This evening I sacrificed a chicken for the cause. One of General Tso's chickens, specifically.)

[Addendum: I managed to not break the rules! Samuel L. Jackson, star of Snakes on a Plane, will not have to make me say "What?"]

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Better Way to Suck the Energy Out of Humor Posts

Wherein I heed someone's admonishment, and also rip off other bloggers' shticks

Bill provides a brief history of series of comedic blogging gold, and concludes with:

4. I suck all the energy out of those posts by creating a numbered list.

I now complete the task I began in Bill's comments, namely to explain how to really suck the life out of this thing.

If Bill had REALLY wanted to suck the energy out of these posts, he should have put his numbered list in a PowerPoint presentation, complete with animated bullet points, embedded Excel tables, pie charts and bar graphs. (Nothing kills interest like a bar graph. Bar graphs killed the Ross Perot Presidency before it even began.) But everyone knows that you can't just put together a one page (hereafter board) PowerPoint presentation (hereafter deck) - a deck requires at least two boards. And once the deck has two boards, it needs both a table of contents board and a title page.

And now that you have four boards, it will be necessary to schedule a review meeting with your immediate supervisor. At this meeting, your deck will be mercilessly shredded, and you will be given a large number of edits.

Once these edits are complete you will meet with your supervisor's supervisor. S/he will also have a large number of edits for you to do, most of which will completely undo the prior round of edits.

At some point during these two stages, you will realize your deck is incomplete. Appendices are needed! You can't have a deck without appendices! Go back and add one week's work to put together a suitably dense and incomprehensible set of appendices.

Now you're ready for the big meeting with the junior VPs. But before you can have a meeting with the VPs, you have to find a time that is open on all of their calendars. This will require the work of several secretaries working for several days. Eventually a time will be found sometime next month - during the time you've scheduled your vacation. Naturally you cancel your vacation.

Finally the big day arrives. You and your two supervisors show up in the executive conference room. (No one will admit it, but the reason for the delay in scheduling was so that the junior VPs could get THIS ROOM. The senior VPs had kept it tied up for the previous month. But this room is great! It overlooks the lake, and the woods on the other side are so restful in the late afternoon sunlight.)

The meeting starts off well enough. You get through the title page with no problems! (This is not always the case. At last year's budget meeting the wrong SVP's name had been on the cover sheet. A whole division of Finance was figuratively crucified and literally RIF'ed before even getting to the table of contents.)

You're quickly waived through the TOC ("Got it."), and now you get to start on point 1! You are feeling flush with excitement, having gotten to actual content! You WILL be successful. You WILL be initiated into the Pharaohs, complete with a car coat and the blood initiation.

But before you can firmly establish a groove, it happens. Some executive draws you down into the appendices before you can get to point number 2, and now you may never get out of the weeds. In fact, you may never even get to mention that there might be points three and four. (The exec would cut you off right after you said "And now for bullet point number two...." with some inanity about how do these bullet points compare to the plan from two years ago to more effectively manage energy draining exercises. You are experienced enough by this point in time to know that if you're going to Hell, you may as well have a road map so as to avoid some of Dante's lesser punishments. There's no need to get drawn into the company's new paper reduction policy and how your list will effect the total paper usage of your division. You may as well get right to some cause-of-change analysis. Having done this, you will unexpectedly be blindsided with a question about how your list will affect the proposed labor management strategies and org-structure changes proposed for the upcoming fiscal year. This being the first time you have heard of these changes, you will have no response. Your supervisor's supervisor will then throw you under the bus. You will be saved, however, when two VPs start arguing about the difference between cost savings and cost avoidance, and the other VPs start perusing their Blackberries. Your job is safe. -- In the spirit of Lubosh Kavalek annotating Timman-Langeweg, Wijk ann Zee 1975, I dedicate this parenthetical comment to XWL, who started this madness, and his hat.)

Eventually, after the meeting had already run an hour past its allotted time, the JVPs will have to abruptly leave when a SVP starts a fire drill by sending everyone a cryptic message that labor negotiations have failed in the Mid-West, and a brain storming session will commence immedeiately. (The mystery is that your company has no locations in the Mid-West.)

Promises (a.k.a. threats) will be made to re-schedule the meeting to finish discussing this matter as soon as time can be found on all the executives calendars. Your schedule will be ignored for this purpose, and since Murphy's Law still applies, the new time (three weeks in the future) will be during the time of your rescheduled vacation.

Eventually the second big day arrives, but right before the meeting starts, it's cancelled. You are now doubly crestfallen, as your wife served divorce papers that morning for having repeatedly ruined her family re-union. But the good news is that your list and PowerPoint presentation have been approved for use: you may now post them on your website! You have now successfully killed any and all momentum in the comedy thread. Long hours have been poured into this project, great sacrifices have been made, your life-blood has been poured into the project, but that sweet feeling of success makes it all worthwhile. Aaahhhhhh!!!!!!


[Afterword: In the writing of this piece, it was necessary to make cuts for story flow, even though to the experienced eye these cuts will have damaged the verisimilitude of the story.

A brief paragraph about footnotes (and whether numbers, lower-case letters, or upper-case letters should be used) was deleted.

A lengthy section about the need to bring in outside consultants had to be cut because of difficulties in explaining the bidding process.

Three paragraphs on the proper editting of appendices was removed purely from boredom.

It also became necessary to remove an even lengthier digression about the need to get approval from the legal department before the presentation can be released to the public. Explaining the ins and outs of this Machiavellian process proved quite challenging. To any proposed action, corporate lawyers instinctively say "No!" In this manner they hope to cover their Merkels in case the company goes belly-up. No one wants to go before Grand Inquisitor Torquemada without being able to attest to the utmost extreme peity.

Therefore getting a legal department to actually agree to anything requires imagination, stealth, fortitude, and trickery. One needs to maneuver carefully, so as to get the attorneys vigorously disagreeing with each other about why they should deny your request. Eventually, one needs to make just the right suggestion to one of the junior attorneys at just the right time so that he will mistakenly take your position and say "Yes." He will eventually be shot down by senior attorneys of course, but this is not the point. (It is important to get a junior male attorney to agree with you for reasons that will become clear.)

Once he agrees with you, but before the senior attorneys shoot him down, it will be necessary to trick him into putting it in writing. To get him to make this mistake, one should send him an email while he is in a staff meeting. Junior attorneys often make the mistake of replying via Blackberry while distracted. Staff meetings are perfect for this purpose.

Once he has put his opinion in writing you can proceed to the next step. A key to the legal group sectretary's desk will be required, so as to steal the signature stamp of the junior attorney. (Never EVER use the stamp of a senior corporate attorney for this purpose. It draws unwanted attention, and it removes the ability of the senior attorneys to scape-goat an underling should anything go wrong. These people draw on Dark Powers, and they're not to be triffled with by a mere corporate functionary ordinaire.)

Obviously, as this brief outline of the cut passage demonstrates, this subject is deserving of its own treatise, and should not be sloughed off in a story about PowerPoint presentations. I hope to give this subject a more proper treatment at some later date.

(signed) SM Icepick
April 22, 2006
Bimini, The Bahamas]


Stab Master Icepick is a noted author, crank, and fringe-dwelling lunatic. He wears an exceptionally large boot (just one) and has written several best selling books including the semi-autobiographical works De-Caffeinated, De-mented, De-Linked: Life as a Guerilla Blogger, and MASTHEAD about his experiences as an itinerant catch-phrase author. He currently lives with his wife and two cats in Bimini, The Bahamas, working on the 2nd revision of his seminal 5-volume work A Little Kink: The Role of Midget Porn in 1980s Network Television.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Yep, We're Sunk.

Fox News Channel reports on some poll results. First a brief bit on the poll itself.

Opinion Dynamics Corp. conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on April 18 and April 19.
It contains the expected results: Bush's approval ratings stink, Congress's ratings are worse, etc. But what struck me was Question Eight and its results. (Full results at link.)
8. Who do you think should have the final say on U.S. military matters -- civilian leaders or military personnel?
Only twenty percent choose civilian leadership, while 54% thought the military should have final say in military matters.

Okay, if the citizenry doesn't believe in civilian control of the military any more, then the days of the Republic are coming to a close. (And if the public simply couldn't parse the question properly, that's just as bad.) I wonder what will come next?

The Funniest Thing About the Day My Father Died

And so, in the years of Our Lord 1988 and 1989, it came to pass that my family and I suffered one blow after another. In that span of time, we went through the following:

  • my mother collapsed from grand mal seizures, and lapsed into a coma for several days from unknown causes (although spinal menegitis was the suspected cause, the tests did not confirm the diagnosis)
  • I quit my job as a switchboard operator at a hospital when I realized that the new girl that I had trained was my replacement (My old boss had left to find a less stressful line of work than office manager at a hospital. The new guy didn't like me because I had one too few X chromosomes. Did I mention my replacement was a buxom young babe? Did I also mention that the new boss was forced out after a few months on the job because he kept trying to boink his subordinates? No? Just as well. I wouldn't want to be accused of gossip.)
  • I spent two and one half glorious weeks as a construction worker (Yes, I can drive a steam roller and a front-end loader! And yes, it's every bit as fun as you would hope.)
  • shortly after Mom got out of the hospital and back on her feet, my brother and I were involved in a horrific car accident that left me with a shattered leg, a broken back, a severe concussion, and other assorted injuries, and left my brother with a busted shoulder, a ruptured spleen, several broken ribs and a collapsed lung (for all of that we were lucky - we should have been dead)
  • I had my leg rebuilt, spent two weeks in a hospital, and several months (years, really) recovering (Using a walker is exactly no fun at all. OTOH, having a brace instead of a half-body cast is a wonderful thing.)
  • while recovering from surgery I experienced bad trips from the morphine injections
  • of course, I had no insurance coverage at the time, it being that kind of year
  • my brother was going through his own difficult recovery
  • I fell in love with my best friend's girlfriend during the recovery (Not being able to do anything about that hurt worse than the other injuries. See, I do have a heart.)
  • my father was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, and had his voice box removed
  • my father was given a death sentence when his doctor decided to ignore a small shadow on a lung X-ray, having determined that it was a dust mote; four weeks later, when they X-rayed Dad again, his lungs were mostly rotten with cancer, which had also spread to his lymphatic system
  • I got to experience Mom and Dad doing their relationship death-spiral thing one last time - one for the road as it were
  • I got fired from my first post-accident job, which I didn't regret a bit; the night I was fired two other people walked off the job because the manager in charge was such a collosal prick; what I DO regret is that when the sumbitch challenged me to a fist fight, I couldn't take him up on the offer - it had only been a couple of months since I had traded my crutches for a cane and my mobility was severely limited; of course, that's the only reason he was willing to challenge me in the first place, because while 5'2" is collosal for a prick, it helped contribute to his being just another little shit of a man, especially standing next to someone that was a full foot taller than he; what I regret most is that I didn't think to break my cane over his skull - I'm getting steamed at myself about that all over again, and that was over seventeen years ago! Getting arrested for assault would have been worth it, he was that much of an ass
  • I missed seeing Dad for the last time by about 15 hours when he died the night before I was to see him for the last time (we knew it would be very soon at that point)
  • I had a bad case of strep throat through all of Dad's services, meaning I didn't get to talk much with his side of the family - that is an opportunity that I hated missing, as I don't know them well, they rarely gather together like that, and as Dad was the one that had died, the stories were mostly about him
  • I ripped open an inguinal hernia while lifting a grocery bag packed with cereal and crackers (which is exactly the kind of luck I usually have)
  • I continued working for a couple of weeks afterwards, before I decided that burning sensation was probably an indication that something was actually wrong (it's every bit as painful as this picture makes it seem like it would be, and consider that a warning)
  • I discovered that it is impossible to wiggle fingers or toes without using the muscles of the lower abdomen; that recovering from an inguinal hernia surgical repair is almost as painful as having the hernia; I also discovered that the phrase "It only hurts when I laugh" is not at all funny when it applies to oneself

But this isn't really a tale of woe. That's merely the setting. This is about how humor shows up in strange times and places, and how I managed a small act of kindness during a really bad day.

Mom and Dad had had a strange relationship through the years, in the sense that they persisted in having one at all. Dad was a drunk, irresponsible with money (his family rarely if ever got anything from his paychecks), and he had the wanderlust to boot. I really have no idea how many places he travelled to, but I know that he spent several years in the early 1970s travelling in Western Europe, at some point he had been in Central America, and I have a sneeking suspicion that he had spent time in the Middle East. (He was planning on going to Egypt for work when he was diagnosed with cancer.) And at some point in the 1960s he was planning to go to Vietnam to teach South Vietnamese citizens how to drive bulldozers. (He didn't make the SE Asian scene because Mom put her foot down that time, and somehow made it stick.) Anyway, all of this made for a very rocky marriage. Married in 1948, they probably should have divorced by 1960 or so. But I can't complain, as I wasn't born until 1968. (I'm only lucky in matters of life and death.) Their relationship was really doomed from the start, but that's a story for another time. Still, they were married until the time he died, over 41 years after taking their vows.

Dad was (oddly enough) living in Orlando when he was diagnosed with cancer. Mom took pity on him and decided to let him move back into the house while things got sorted out - but only on the condition that he stop drinking. About a month into this arrangement, Dad showed up one night too drunk to get out of his car. When he sobered up he found his things waiting for him on the front porch in paper bags. This wasn't altogether unfamiliar! Not long thereafter, he got the news that he was a dead man walking. In a fit of perfectly in-character kindness, my sister's husband decided to take Dad in for the duration. (My brother-in-law is really one helluva good man.) Note that I didn't say that my sister made this decision. If it had been left to her, she wouldn't have taken him in. She had a 12 year-old and an 8 year-old, and she didn't want them exposed to Dad's inevitable drunkenness. (Yeah, Dad had burned all of his bridges, multiple times.)

But my brother-in-law took him in over my sister's objections, so Dad was off to Louisville, which is as good a place to die as any, I suppose. Naturally, it wasn't that easy. A few months after Dad moved to Louisville, my brother-in-law was transferred back to Jacksonville Florida. Moving is never easy, but having someone in the house who is waiting to die complicates matters. Everything becomes more difficult. Finally, the move was organized. But breaking down, moving, and reassembling a household is a major task that requires many days., many days where taking care of the dying just can't be done.

(Looking aback at this, I am amazed by the timeline. It was almost eight months from the original diagnosis until my father died. That's not remarkable. What surprises me now is that he lasted about six months from the time the doctors discovered he was eaten up with the stuff. It had never really occurred to me before how remarkable that is.)

Dad had to go somewhere else for the move. So he came back to Orlando, to live with a friend for the seven to ten days the move would take. He arrived on a Wednesday or Thursday in June of 1989. The combination of my work schedule and my mother's work schedule was such that I wouldn't get to see him until Saturday morning. (I was not driving at this point, and Orlando is not conducive to other forms of travel.) Of course, Dad died in his sleep Friday night.

This isn't a sad thing. This wasn't going to be my chance to see Dad one last time and tell him that I loved him and forgave him his foibles, and have him offer up an apologia for all that never was. No, there was nothing to resolve between Dad and I. Of his three children, I had the warmest feelings for him, and still do. I knew from a young age that he was weak, rather than hateful. I knew that he loved me, but that he would have little or nothing to offer me in this life. I loved him too, in a manner more likened to a father's love of a wayward son, than to a son's expected adoration of his father. Dad and I knew where we stood in each other's affections and words were unnecessary at that point. No, my visit was to be a courtesy call, an obedience to the formalities, the last call.

But early Saturday morning, around 6:15 if I recall correctly, his friend called and told us Dad had died in his sleep. Mom and I dressed and went to see him anyway. During the drive over, on a beautiful June morning, Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World started playing on my internal soundtrack, and wouldn't stop. That song has been a funeral dirge for me ever since.

When we arrived, we spoke with his friend, who informed us that the authorities had been called. The police would be there shortly, as a matter of routine. Dad had passed sometime between 3 and 5 AM, the dying time. We chatted for a while and then I decided to go in and see the body. People had died in my family before, but somehow I had never seen a human corpse. Despite this, it wasn't curriosity that drove me, but just some primal need that I can't articulate. I went into the bedroom where he lay, and saw him in familiar repose: lying on his back, his arms streched out along the side of his body above the sheets, head thrown back, eyes closed and mouth slightly agape - his standard snoring pose. As I looked a him, my thought was, "There is no life here." Something vital was visibly gone, something more fundamental than mere breath. I left him undistrubed, and quietly closed the door behind me, so as not to disturb his shade.

Shortly thereafter, following more solemn conversation around the kitchen table, the police arrived. Two young, uniformed officers arrived, a man who couldn't have been much older than my 21 years (if that), and a woman a little older than that. They came in, asked the standard questions, examined the body, and ruled it a natural death.

At the same time the officers arrived, my brother showed up. He spoke to Mom briefly inside the house, and then we spoke outside. He had been civil in front of Mom, but once we were alone he cut loose. My brother and father had by all accounts never gotten along. (My brother is 18 years my senior, so a lot of their history can never be more than hearsay to me.) My brother could never forgive Dad his faults, or even his virtues. Worst of all, my brother is cut from the same mold. That morning my brother let forth with a stream of great hate and anger, seemingly made all the worse for the object of this invective now being a corpse. It should have been a very sour note, but it wasn't. It was pretty much exactly what I would have expected. How could it have been otherwise, my brother being who he is, and my father having been who he was? My only concern was that he keep this away from everyone else. Fortunately, he had enough self-control to keep it soto voce.

After properly completing the paperwork (I don't remember if anyone other than the police had to do anything), the two young officers took their leave. And then it happened....

I had come back in the house by this time. The young woman let herself out, followed by the young man. Really, he couldn't have had more than two years experience, and I wouldn't have been surprised if it was even his first week on the job. And as he closed the door behind him, he looked me square in the eye, and said firmly, "Have a nice day."

His whole body winced, having immediately realized what he had said. But much like they teach you in a music class, if you make a mistake, keep playing! Don't back up to hit the missed note! So he continued his movement, closed the door and walked away, his body still convulsed in some sort of grand mal wince. (The front door was largely made of glass, so I could see the whole walk to the squad car. He never unclinched.) There was no question that he felt terrible about this horrible gaffe....

And there was no question but that it was riotously funny! His whole body winced! I've never before or since seen the like, not even from the best comedic performers. Such antics as part of a performance always pale next to this man's most natural and human and pained reaction. No one is that good of an actor! It was really the perfect comedic note, struck at precisely right time, in an otherwise dismal day ... month ... year....

And the act of kindness? Why, that I didn't actually laugh in his face, of course. Had I done so, it would have probably made him angry and confused and even more embarassed. And after the unintentional gift he had given me, and purely at his own expense, I just couldn't do that to him. I didn't even crack a smile. (I can be a real stone-face when I care to be, and often enough when I'm not even trying.)

I didn't tell anyone in the family about that incident until much later. Naturally, when I told Mom she laughed. For weal and for woe I am her son, and we share an evil sense of humor. My sister's response when I told her was similar, but she is more quiet than Mom or I. I haven't told my brother. There's really no need to bring this up with him, as I'm sure he'd rather forget the whole thing.

As for that young officer? Should he read this at some point, and recognize himself in the story, please don't feel bad. Your gaffe has been well-received! As no malice was intended, no offense was taken. Dad would have even appreciated the story, and would have winced himself in the hearing. Unintentionally, you provided the only humor of an otherwise miserable day, and wholly at your own expense. And for this, I thank you.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Lesson Learned from The Ten Commandments

Blogging was much harder when it required the Finger of God.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Primary Lesson Learned from The Road Warrior

As of 1981, the Aussies still hadn't learned how to make shatter-proof windshields.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

There's a joke in here somewhere...

...but somehow I feel guilty even thinking about it.

WKRC in Cincinnati reports that Colossus the gorilla has died. I will not think about helicopters and Thanksgiving. I will not think about helicopters and Thanksgiving. I will not think about helicopters and Thanksgiving....

[I am soooo going to Hell for this.]

Sometimes the most telling statement ...

... is the thing not spoken. A job fair was held on the UC Santa Cruz campus on Tuesday April 11th. For the second year running, anti-war protestors "chased" military recruiters off campus:

Four military recruiters hastily fled a job fair Tuesday morning at UC Santa Cruz after a raucous crowd of student protesters blocked an entrance to the building where the Army and National Guard had set up information tables.

Members of Students Against War, who organized the counter-recruiting protest, loudly chanted "Don't come back. Don't come back" as the recruiters left the hilltop campus, escorted by several university police officers.

I put chased in scare quotes for a reason. Here's a comment from one of the recruiters who "hastily fled" the scene:

"The situation had degraded to the point where there was a possibility of injury to either a student or law enforcement officer. We certainly didn't want that to happen,'' said Capt. Will Griffin, one of the Army recruiters.

Notice what's missing? That would be any acknowledgement that the military recruiters themselves were faced with "a possibility of injury." After all, when the time comes for fighting, I'm choosing US military personnel over a mob of angry banana slugs every single time.

Quxxo Watch - Day 57

It's been 57 days since Quxxo started a blog. It's been 57 days since Quxxo put up a new post. We've suffered 57 days of Quxxo's fascist no comments policy. When will this madness stop?!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Most Fun Blog Post of March 29, 2006, and a Proposal to Solve the Iranian Nuclear Crisis

Back on March 29, Dan Drezner had a fun post about a foreign policy paper. (Must have been a slow day for Salma Hayek news.)

Keir Lieber and Daryl Press published an article in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. Their thesis?

For four decades, relations among the major nuclear powers have been shaped by their common vulnerability, a condition known as mutual assured destruction. But with the U.S. arsenal growing rapidly while Russia's decays and China's stays small, the era of MAD is ending -- and the era of U.S. nuclear primacy has begun.

Nuclear primacy is a fun concept.

The ability to destroy all of an adversary's nuclear forces, eliminating the possibility of a retaliatory strike, is known as a first-strike capability, or nuclear primacy. [emphasis added, but not needed]

Several trends are making this possible: the old Soviet arsenal has been in a state of decline since the end of the Cold War, China's modernization projects are proceeding at a glacial pace, and the US arsenal has improved tremendously:

Since the Cold War's end, the U.S. nuclear arsenal has significantly improved. The United States has replaced the ballistic missiles on its submarines with the substantially more accurate Trident II D-5 missiles, many of which carry new, larger-yield warheads. The U.S. Navy has shifted a greater proportion of its SSBNs to the Pacific so that they can patrol near the Chinese coast or in the blind spot of Russia's early warning radar network. The U.S. Air Force has finished equipping its B-52 bombers with nuclear-armed cruise missiles, which are probably invisible to Russian and Chinese air-defense radar. And the air force has also enhanced the avionics on its B-2 stealth bombers to permit them to fly at extremely low altitudes in order to avoid even the most sophisticated radar. Finally, although the air force finished dismantling its highly lethal MX missiles in 2005 to comply with arms control agreements, it is significantly improving its remaining ICBMs by installing the MX's high-yield warheads and advanced reentry vehicles on Minuteman ICBMs, and it has upgraded the Minuteman's guidance systems to match the MX's accuracy.

Lieber & Press's paper is quite interesting, and I recommend it as bed-time reading.

Any American old enough to remember Mutual Assured Destruction (Pooh, this DOESN'T mean you!) has to find the idea of US nuclear primacy a bit heady. "You mean we actually can win one of those things? Judas H. Priest, that's almost as scary as the idea of MAD! And all it will require is the use of a few small nukes, probably not even enough to trigger a nuclear fall, much less a nuclear winter!" (Non-Americans will understandably view this prospect unhappily.)

But here's an even headier thought. US military abilities continue to improve at a fast rate. I posit that it's not inconceivable that at some point in the not too distant future (say two or three decades) the US might be able to launch a non-nuclear first strike capable of destroying any potential enemy's nuclear arsenal. (For those thinking that conventional explosives couldn't possibly destroy hardened bunkers I will simply point out that explosives aren't the only way to deliver a lot of energy to a specific point.)

What does all of this mean? First, that for any nation, possession of nuclear weapons will no longer guarantee that force can't be used against it. There doesn't really need to be a second point.

(Here is an example of this guarantee not being worth much anyway, but no one aside from the combatants and wonks really remembers this kind of thing after it's done. The thought most would have, if they thought of this conflict at all, would be, "Really, this was more of a border skirmish than an outright war." The estimated 4,600 killed in approximately three months might argue the point, if they could.)

So Iran wants The Bomb. They want it for at least one of two reasons: either as a weapon to use in offensive wars, or as a deterrent against military action by other states. (Primarily the USA of course.) And if other nations see this strategy work, then they will pursue it themselves.

How to stop this? Don't. At least, not for Iran. Let Iran continue its development plan. When they finally succeed in developing nuclear weapons, then attack. Show that nuclear weapons really aren't a deterrent. (As a bonus, we should take out Pakistan's arsenal as well.) This will give other nations reason to pause before counting on nuclear weapons as a deterrent, and hence give them less reason to spend the resources to develop them.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Conversational Snippet: American Idol Edition

While listening to Ace murder some damn song or another on American Idol, the following conversation took place.

Wife: How large do you suppose this show's cheese bill is?
Me: I don't know. This seems more like that cheap government cheese....

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Something to chew on...

Surfing the web, looking for trouble, found some! Via Drudge, I saw this fun story:

AUSTIN: A University of Texas professor says the Earth would be better off with 90 percent of the human population dead.

"Every one of you who gets to survive has to bury nine," Eric Pianka cautioned students and guests at St. Edward's University on Friday [March 31, 2006]. Pianka's words are part of what he calls his "doomsday talk", a 45-minute presentation outlining humanity's ecological misdeeds and Pianka's predictions about how nature, or perhaps humans themselves, will exterminate all but a fraction of civilization.

Though his statements are admittedly bold, he's not without abundant advocates. But what may set this revered biologist apart from other doomsday soothsayers is this: Humanity's collapse is a notion he embraces.

Dr. Pianka has given his "doomsday talk" before. During the 109th meeting of the Texas Academy of Science, held at Lamar University on March 3-5, 2006, Dr. Pianka delivered his talk to a group of peers and was very well received, according to Forrest M. Mims III:

Immediately [after the lecture and Q&A] almost every scientist, professor and college student present stood to their feet and vigorously applauded the man who had enthusiastically endorsed the elimination of 90 percent of the human population. Some even cheered. Dozens then mobbed the professor at the lectern to extend greetings and ask questions.

For a positive review of Dr. Pianka's talk at Lamar University, go here.

However, Mr. Mims, Chairman of the Environmental Science Section of the Texas Academy of Science, and the editor of The Citizen Scientist, was not pleased with the lecture:

Let me now remove my reporter's hat for a moment and tell you what I think. We live in dangerous times. The national security of many countries is at risk. Science has become tainted by highly publicized cases of misconduct and fraud.

Must now we worry that a Pianka-worshipping former student might someday become a professional biologist or physician with access to the most deadly strains of viruses and bacteria? I believe that airborne Ebola is unlikely to threaten the world outside of Central Africa. But scientists have regenerated the 1918 Spanish flu virus that killed 50 million people. There is concern that small pox might someday return. And what other terrible plagues are waiting out there in the natural world to cross the species barrier and to which scientists will one day have access?

For now, I'm just going to leave this out here on it's own. I'll come back to this with some more thoughts later this week. Bon appétit!

A New Product...

...with an ad campaign directly targeting XWL.

Vault was released sometime last summer by the Coca-Cola Company, but I just caught one of their ads today. (It would be the first of the ads on this page.) I'm not sure why I thought of X, but I did. Somehow I expect this will bring him back from the edge.