horny, smiley, simon, horns

Pensions stolen to cover Gordon's arse

Around 10 years ago, when the current British Government were first elected, they made a number of changes to our tax system. This included a new tax on private sector pensions to the tune of approximately £5 Billion per year.

Needless to say, private sector pensions are now worth a lot less than they used to be. However, our political masters tried to justify it on the basis that they were spending all the extra money on skoolznospitals.

In recent months, a private bank called Northern Rock has been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. As it is based in North Britain - the political homeland of our ruling Labour party - this would be quite inconvenient to our current Prime Minister (and former Chancellor of the Exchequer).

So the bank has been bailed out with loans and guarantees - to the value of £55 Billion, or roughly all the money that has been stolen from our pension funds.

I'm so glad the financial future of my country has been stolen to save the blushes of my country's fuerher.
horny, smiley, simon, horns

An irritatingly dumb article about an entertainingly dumb series of movies

Joe Queenan has an article in the Graun about the Die Hard series of movies, which is both inaccurate and wrong-headed.

For each film, he describes the most spectacular destruction as being caused by McClane. I can only guess he was watching a different series of movies, as in each of the Die Hard movies the biggest bangs were pre-planned by the black hats:
- In the first movie, the destruction of the skyscraper was deliberately planned to make it look as though the "terrorists" were dead, so that the authorities wouldn't go looking for them.
- In the second movie, the bad guys deliberately crash a plane to demonstrate that they have total control over all the air traffic around the airport. This is designed to prompt the authorities to send in a squad of troops, which has already been taken over by the bad guys.
- In the third movie, the black hats deliberately set up a series of explosions and crashes to distract attention from where they're really attacking. Later, they sink a ship in the harbour to make it look as though they all died, so that the authorities wouldn't go looking for them.

In each case, McClane's presence does not increase the net destruction that results, although in each case the BHs find it convenient to make it look as though he was responsible. If anything, in the third movie his notoriety enables the "terrorists" to reduce the overall level of carnage: by making it look as though McClane is continuously, just barely, thwarting their schemes, they achieve a level of distraction that would otherwise require far greater destruction.

In other words, Mr. Queenan has swallowed the terrorists' spin, even though the scripts were written to allow the average blockbuster viewer to see through them.

I guess it takes a special kind of intelligence to be that dumb.

However, it's the underlying worldview behind the article that I find so toxic:
Don't use your initiative.
Do as you're told.
The man on the ground always knows the least.
Leave it up to the experts.
Give in to aggressors.
Any loss caused by resisting aggression is the responsiblity of the defender, never the aggressor.
We are rich enough to sustain any material losses without consequences.
Pay the Danegeld.

I'm just glad JQ wasn't on flight 93, otherwise "Let's roll" might have become "Let's roll over."

On the other hand, I quite enjoyed Mr. Queenan's previous article about Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode, although I have no idea how accurate it is.
horny, smiley, simon, horns

"The perfect is the enemy of the good"

In particular, fusion power.

Recently, I have seen a number of people rubbishing the prospect of power from TOKAMAK reactors, such as ITER - not because those people are opposed to fusion power, or think that the reactors won't work, but because there is the prospect of cleaner and perhaps cheaper fusion power from other, aneutronic fusion reactions, such as Dr. Robert Bussard's proposed Boron(11)-Proton IEC reactor.

There is a problem with IEC: theoretically, it isn't possible to produce a viable power source from such a reactor (except possibly the neutronic Deuterium-Tritium reaction) as it requires more power than it produces.

Dr. Bussard seems to think he can resolve this problem. Even if his own solution doesn't work, there's a strong possibility that someone else will be able to (Clarke's law, anyone?) - and at US$200 million, Dr. Bussard's research looks a bargain next to the US$10 billion for ITER, never mind such in(s)anities as US$18 billion+ for the London Olympics.

Still, IEC is very much a theoretical possibility at the moment, while ITER is due to go live within 10 years. If IEC doesn't pan out, TOKAMAK reactors should be able to produce power from a cheap and plentiful fuel supply, with no toxic or radioactive waste - only Helium gas. Neutrons produced by the fusion reaction would eventually taint the reactor itself, but the same is true of a conventional nuclear fission reactor. The IEC enthusiasts are rarely opposed to current nuclear power sources.

Now, as a libertarian, I am not overly fond of the prospect of government-funded Big Science being our only hope for the future, and I really hope someone (such as Dr. Bussard) will successfully develop an IEC reactor - but in the meantime, TOKAMAKs look like our best hope. I think people who talk down these reactors are inadvertently aligning themselves with the buggy-whip manufacturers and the people who want us to go back to living in the trees, or to vanish from the Earth entirely.
horny, smiley, simon, horns


It's been over four years since Saddam was knocked off his plinth.

Where's all that cheap oil we were promised?
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horny, smiley, simon, horns

Loony Libertarians

I know my journal is called "Just Another Loonie Libertarian", but from what I have heard of his performance during the last presidential candidates' debate, Ron Paul is trying to bring us Loonies into disrepute.

By giving the impression that he believes the USA was responsible for causing al Qa'eda's attack on 9/11, he has managed to convey the impression of being a Barking Moonbat. At the very least, if this impression was false, he should have made a point of saying so.

Also, the implication that allied military action in Iraq during the sanctions period was a cause for al Qa'eda doesn't seem to be borne out by the facts - al Qa'eda normally cite the US presence in Saudi Arabia as being the cause for the attacks. Indeed, many anti-war activists have cited the antipathy between al Qa'eda and Saddam Hussein's regime as reason why an attack by one should not be linked with the other.
horny, smiley, simon, horns

Variable Star

I've just finished reading "Variable Star", by Spider Robinson and ... someone whose name I can't quite recall. ;-)

For those who are not familiar with the book and the background behind it, there are further details here.

I understand that this caused some adverse comment on alt.fan.heinlein a while back. I wasn't following the newsgroup at the time, and I thought I'd post some initial comments here before checking out what everyone else had to say.

My initial impression of the early chapters was that Spider was trying to write something of a pastiche of RAH; he seemed to be particularly reliant on Heinlein's Greatest Hits. Phrases like "But some people play water polo, voluntarily", "Enough to dimly understand how someone with muscles of steel and infinite wind might consider it fun", "She sent me a grin that felt like it started a sunburn" and "'After dancing like that, Stinky, a couple really ought to get married'" sound like they've been directly sampled from Heinlein's oeuvre.

Later on in the book, Spider seems to allow more of his own voice into the narrative. Personally, I preferred this; it seemed more like a piece of writing in its own right, rather than someone trying to resuscitate something that had already passed on.

Character names certainly seem to be worth a mention: Jinny, as the (apparent) heroine of the story seems to be deliberately misleading; Evelyn, as a female character, seems like a tongue-in-cheek nod to Glory Road; and the reference to Peter Kindred being both "electric and sheepish", when he first appears, seems to be less than subtle. Pat Williamson, George R. Marsden, Hal deMann - are all the characters SF writers in disguise? (And shouldn't Perry Jarnell have married someone called, say, Norry Levin?)

There appear to be a couple of slips within the book. One that particularly stands out is the assertion that the Sheffield was able to make use of a unique eclipse of the sun by the Earth as the ship left the Solar system. However, the reason that solar eclipses are so noteworthy on Earth is that the size of the moon and the sun in the sky appear to be roughly the same, so when the former eclipses that latter, parts of the sun's outer atmosphere become visible around the edges of the moon's disc. Since the Earth is around four times the diameter of the moon, an observer would need to be approximately four times the distance from the Earth to the moon to observe a similar effect, or approximately 1.6 million miles. In order to leave the solar system, the ship would have to be something like a thousand times further away; at that distance, the Earth would be undetectable against the sun - even the sun itself would cease to have a disc visible to the naked eye.

It isn't clear where the book sits within RAH's canon. It looks like a variant of the "Future History" (aka Leslie le Croix timeline), particularly with references to the Covenant, the Prophet and the New Frontiers. However, the ending appears to place it in a seriously divergent timeline.

It has become something of a truism that science fiction is always about the time when it was written. Like a lot of received wisdom, it's frequently rubbish, but there's one piece of the book where this particularly stands out as true: its handling of 9/11 and its aftermath. Not only does the author's view come down firmly on a highly debatable interpretation of what followed, but also these events almost certainly did not occur in the "Future History" timeline (given the rolling roads, sunpower screens, etc.) Still, at least his character didn't utter the words, "It was all about grabbing the ooooiiiiillllllll!!!!"

On the whole, I liked this book, particularly once it started to gain its own voice. A minor plot point that is never revealed is why the young Joel Johnston bit the finger of his father's visitor - probably trivial, but it seemed intriguing enough to stick in my mind.

A more substantial point is that in the afterward, Spider reveals that of the eight or more pages of RAH's original outline, only seven survive. I'd love to know at what point RAH is cut off! (Come to think of it, the text of the outline and index cards would have been even better "DVD Special Features" than just the Afterward, alone.)

Now off to google groups to see what AFH made of it...