Saturday, September 24, 2005

On a Wing and a Prayer

OK, just one more thing I've been meaining to get off my chest, yet again:

For a fairly long while now, I've mostly lived in close proximity to a hospital with a helipad for the local Flight For Life emergency helicopters. And, since I've long been fairly fascinated with aviation of all kinds, when one of those helicopters flies over, I tend to notice and look, wondering whether it's a news helicopter, or a Flight For Life, or something else. When I do look up, if I find that it seems to be a Flight For Life, I usually indulge in yet another habit that goes back even farther, to hearing conventional ambulances zooming past, and I sort of wish the passenger/patient well. It's the kind of thing that, if I were the religious sort, I'd be silently offering up a prayer on their behalf, but I'm not, so a wish or hope or whatever-you-will is all they get.

But of late, I've been finding myself wishing them well as they fly past, and then suddenly wincing, as I start to contemplate how different it must be for people in certain other parts of the world, and I imagine how, when they hear a helicopter approaching, their first thought certainly isn't of praying for a patient (although they're mostly the type much more inclined to pray than I am), but might rather be something along the lines of a prayer that the helicopter isn't coming to blow up their own home more-or-less at random. It really puts a damper on my wishing for any hypothetical patients when I think about how differently the whup-whup-whup noise must be taken elsewhere.

Of late, to make matters even worse, I read about rescues of victims of Hurricane Katrina, and I'll probably be reading more about Hurricane Rita soon enough. And I have much the same thoughts about those folks. Here in the U.S., that sound connotes hope, rescue, safety, and so forth. Yet elsewhere, that same noise likely strikes fear into one's heart, and the only hope it brings is the hope that it isn't coming for you.

It's just one of those things that brings up the bitterness for me, and the cynicism, and the lack of hope for the entire world, and the human race that currently dominates it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

President Remarks on Hurricane Recovery Efforts

President Remarks on Hurricane Recovery Efforts:
"Here's what I believe. I believe that the great city of New Orleans will rise again and be a greater city of New Orleans. (Applause.) I believe the town where I used to come from, Houston, Texas, to enjoy myself -- occasionally too much -- (laughter) -- will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to. That's what I believe. I believe the great state of Louisiana will get its feet back and become a vital contributor to the country."

OK, I was originally looking for this quote just to read for myself just what he'd so-wittily said about his visits to New Orleans in the past, but now I'm trying to figure out what the rest of that is supposed to mean. Houston will be that very same town (which very same town?), but a better place to come to? And why (given that this was before Rita started threatening the Lone Star State) should it reassure the residents of Louisiana that Houston was going to be the same?

Pardon me now while my head explodes. And watch out for that penguin on the telly, too.

How poor is poor?

Jonah Goldberg, as quoted on numerous blogs (I'm not sure I'm strong enough to go reading Town Hall myself just yet):

Indeed, the underlying assumption of the War on Poverty (and the New Deal) that government should make sure no one is poor is now widely accepted on both the left and the right.

While I can't speak for all Democrats or liberals, just this one, my own feeling is that he's missing a few words there: government should make sure no one is so poor that they can't escape poverty, with or without "bootstraps". And it seems to me there's still a long ways to go before that can be reasonably claimed to be the case.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Copied from my comment at Brad DeLong's blog (and damn, I guess that blows my anonymity here all to hell):

Pacific Views: Who could have predicted 9/11?: From Condoleezza Rice on May 16, 2002: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."

OK, I've always kind of wanted to get this off my chest, so I'm going to spell out just how I was capable of imagining such a thing not too long before 9/11/2001 (not that I suppose many here would call it "inconceivable!", but...):

I was pondering weapons possibilities for the purpose of possibly writing some SF material, which led me to contemplate the question of what, in the broadest sense, makes something a weapon? After some thought, my conclusion was that for the most part, aside from biologicals & chemical weapons, it was the application of energy (always kinetic energy in the old days, in more recent times it could be kinetic or potential) to an area of the target, a small area for maximum penetration, a large area for most widespread damage. Swords, arrows, spears, polearms, maces, warhammers, bullets, cannon, bombs - they all involve application of energy to a relatively small area.
Now, as we all remember from our high school physics classes -right?- kinetic energy is E=mv^2/2 (often expressed as 1/2*mv^2, for reasons unclear to me; mv^2/2 is more direct & mathematically elegant), implying that you have more energy in something twice as fast rather than twice as massive (twice as much energy, in fact), plus a less massive object is likely to have a smaller cross-section, i.e. hit on a smaller area.
So, I pondered (after considering the sci-fi possibilities), what have we got in the modern world that would present a tidy sum of kinetic energy in a readily available package? Preferably going at a pretty good clip, and with a sizeable mass to boot.... One answer was pretty obvious: the airliners.
Then I pondered how one might get one to a target, and it seemed there were two distinct possibilities (not that other means are out of the question): either own & completely control an airline, so thoroughly that you can order your pilots to take up suicide missions (I was ignoring the possibilities of rogue pilots committing solo acts, like in Clancy's aforementioned (in the DeLong comments) Debt of Honor, since that's not exactly a commandable weapon; also note the resemblance of this scenario to the beginning of Red Dawn, of all things, as I dimly remember it), or you can get yourself some willing hijackers and slip them on board, perhaps behaving as though it's just a "routine" hijacking of the "take this plane to Cuba!" variety, and guide it to the target instead.
Now, I didn't go as far with this as to contemplate what a good target would be (after all, I was contemplating in the abstract, and so didn't even bother to figure out who might use this against whom), and I probably misunderestimated the significance of the chemical potential energy in the leftover fuel (basically equivalent to a low-intensity, long-duration warhead, e.g. napalm, in effect). But I like to think that if it were MY job to protect the country, rather than having been contemplating SF story scenarios, I'd have given that some rather full consideration.
And I think it certainly shows that certain administration officials "keep using that word (if not verbatim). I do not think it means what they think it means."

It's always bugged me that that claim was made, when an easily reproducible chain of thought can naturally lead one to just such a conclusion. I just want to make sure it's quite thoroughly refuted. (Not that Clancy alone shouldn't be enough for that.)