Friday, July 31, 2009


Help fight illiteracy: Punch someone who doesn't know how to read.

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20, 1969

July 20, 1969 was the most magical night of my childhood.  We were staying at a cottage near Goderich on Lake Huron.  The people in the cottage next door had a TV with bunny ears.  They could get CBC and some Detroit stations on a good night. 

My father and went over around 9PM.  It was a double treat because I got to watch the moonwalk and stay up really late.  We were initially disappointed with the quality of the TV signal and had trouble understanding what we were looking at.  That changed when Armstrong appeared coming down the ladder.  Everyone was transfixed.  We all cheered when he stepped off the lander.  It was very exciting.  In addition, the TV coverage let us know that all over the world, things had come to a stop while a billion people watched the moment on TV.  For the first time, I think, a lot of people felt part of a global community.  This was a high point, not just for Americans, but for the entire race of humans.  Everyone felt like it was their achievement.

After a while, the excitement died down a bit.  Their actual tasks were kind of boring to watch, except every 30 seconds, you'd remember that they were on the moon.  Right now.  This second.  And you'd get excited all over again.

Around 11, my father and I walked the few hundred meters back to our cottage.  On that part of Lake Huron, there is a large cliff over the beach.  The path went along the top of this cliff.  You couldn't see the lake along most of the path because of trees.  But at one point, we came to a clearing.  And there, right in front of us was the nearly full moon.  It looked so close you could almost touch it.  I felt that if I looked hard enough, I'd be able to see Armstrong and Aldrin. 

The moon was low in the sky and a golden color.  Because we were high above the lake, the moon reflected in 10,000 golden shimmers in the water below.  I think it was the most beautiful, magical thing I've ever seen.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Deliberately buried? Huh! 
Dr. Heywood Floyd, 2001 A Space Odyssey

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Apollo 11 blasts off, July 16, 1969.  That's over 6 million pounds of rocket and fuel to get 3 guys and their kit to the moon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


From the always fab Tofutti Break.

Fun Facts To Know and Share

     Photo from Smithsonian

According to New Scientist, trees evolved 385 million years ago, flowering plants 130 million years ago, and grasses 70 million years ago.  For contrast, the coelacanth has been around for 425 million years, crocodiles for 220 million years and the last common ancestor of apes and humans 6 lived million years ago.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Once a web community has decided to dislike a person, topic, or idea, the conversation will shift from criticizing the idea to become a competition about who can be most scathing in their condemnation.
Anil Dash

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Pix

Just shot this near my house.  Used Photoshop to increase the contrast a little and straighten the lines.  Otherwise, it didn't need anything.  I have noticed lately that my hands shake too much for precise framing and low light. I'll need to start using a tripod.
Update: My doctor tells me that tremors are a common side-effect of Prozac.  Whew.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Pix

    Columns outside the front of the US Supreme Court, Washington, April 1995.
    Kodak High-Speed Infrared.

I'm very pleased with this photo.  It gets close to the pure abstraction I like, with a simple structure and lots of pleasant details to sooth the eye.  I never got around to printing any of the photos I took in the mid '90s.  The photos of Washington, Civil War battlefields and Las Vegas haven't been seen before, even by me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


"Only Burnside could have achieved such a coup, snatching one last spectacular defeat from the jaws of victory."
Abraham Lincoln - after General Burnside's final failure.

My Pix

Dunker Church, Sharpsburg, Maryland - mid '90s
Kodak High-Speed Infrared

Should be in bed, but I have an urge to post photos.  Below is the same building in September 1862 by the great Alexander Gardner.



I have no idea where this came from, but its dramatic.


Crossing the Ohio River, 1966 - Danny Lyon


From the always delightful Tofutti Break.  Communism seems to be a hot topic at the moment.  Possibly because 20 years is enough to get some perspective.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Israel, Iran and Nukes

Flight distances via the Saudi option.  Assumes take-off from Negev bases. Israel has 25 F-15 variants with a range of 2,200km and a large number of F-16s with a range of 2,000km.  They have some aerial refueling capability, but not for the 100 planes thought necessary for an effective attack.

As discussed before, some people believe Israel can and should attack Iran to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weapons.  However, proponents rarely deal with the operational realities of such a strike.  The Israeli Air Force is brilliant, but not magic.  They can do no more than token damage to the Iranian nuclear program for several reasons:

A raid would push Israeli planes to their farthest range, leaving very little time to deliver weapons.  There would be no margin for winds, equipment variation, weather or other unforseeable variables.  Here is an article that discusses range in detail.

The route to Iran has to cross either Turkish or Iraqi airspace.  Also Syria or Jordan, but they don't matter.  The Turks have the means to see the Israelis coming, so use of their airspace would have to blessed ahead of time.  In addition, Turkey is a NATO country.  A violation of their airspace by the Israelis would theoretically put them at war with all the other NATO countries.  Not a happy option for anyone. 

Crossing Iraq is even more problematic.  Iraqi airspace is controlled by the US Air Force.  The Israelis can't sneak through unnoticed, and it would be political suicide for the Americans to allow it.   They can't even pretend not to notice.  A 100+ plane strike force passing twice through USAF defenses suggests that anyone can penetrate US controlled airspace any time they want.

Word surfaced today that Saudi Arabia might allow an Israeli overflight.  I don't know if I buy it.  Even if true, it doesn't do the Israelis much good unless the Saudis allow them to land and refuel.  The Saudi route is well out of the way and at least some Israeli planes wouldn't be able to reach their targets.  Also, the Saudis are a conservative bunch unlikely to take such a spectacular political gamble.

But, let's assume the IAF somehow gets to Iranian airspace and have to cross hundreds of miles to reach their targets.  All the time subject to Iranian air defense measures.  These defenses would be concentrated around the targets the Israelis want to hit.  Significant losses at this stage would jeopardize the effectiveness of the mission. Wrecked Israeli planes on Iranian TV would be bad.  Dead Israeli pilots on Iranian TV would be worse.  But worst of all would be Ahmadinejad on TV sitting beside a captured Israeli.  There are enormous political downsides for Israeli politicians. 

For the sake of argument, however, let's continue with our assumptions and say that the Israelis evade or neutralize Iranian air defenses.  Due to the size of the IAF and the range of their equipment, they would not be able to deliver an overwhelming amount of ordinance.  They could probably destroy the Bushir reactor and other targets.  But the most important sites, like Natanz are underground and would require multiple sequenced precision hits from bunker buster bombs.  And even then the damage might not be catastrophic. 

There are various estimates floating around the web of the total damage the Israelis could inflict.  They vary between no delay at all to the Iranian program up to a five year disruption.  The consensus is a 2 year delay would be the best case.  With conventional weapons, they can do no more. 

If they want to deliver a knock-out blow to the Iranian nuclear program, there is only one option, nuclear weapons.  By using a combination of ballistic and cruise missiles, they could completely destroy the Iranian facilities.  The cruise missiles could be launched by submarines in the Arabian Sea and the ballistic missiles go too high to violate anyone's airspace.  As well, these delivery vehicles are almost impossible to defend against.  So nukes would solve all the Israeli operational issues. Obviously, the use of nuclear weapons would  create significant political problems internally and with their allies.

One thing we learned from the Cold War is that people with nuclear weapons get really serious and really rational really fast. If the Iranians did obtain a weapon, the last thing they'd do is use it against Israel because the result would be annihilation.  As soon as the Iranians had a second-strike capability, the prospect of a nuclear war between the two countries would vanish.  Nuclear weapons are only good for one thing, keeping someone else from nuking you.  They can't be used against non-nuclear states for fear of world reaction.  They can't be used against nuclear states with a second strike capability because the result will be a black heap of rubble where your capital city used to be.  What if you attack and some or all of your weapons don't work?  Its just too risky.

But really, its hard to argue with Iran's ambitions.  Given what they've been through and the threats from Jerusalem and Washington over the last 8 years, they'd be fools not to proceed.  And Iran doesn't actually need a warehouse full of completed weapons.  It needs the capability and resources to assemble and deliver several bomb in a short period of time.   If we can live with a nuclear Pakistan, then we can live with a nuclear Iran.