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Week of 10 February 2003

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Monday, 10 February 2003

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11:20 - The poll I posted last week has drawn surprisingly few responses, but the results are interesting nonetheless. I asked,

"If a Shuttle were scheduled to launch tomorrow morning and you were
offered a place on-board, would you take that opportunity to go to space?"

The possible responses are:

Hell, yes. In a heartbeat.
Are you nuts? I don't have a death wish.

(Well, actually, I wrote "hearbeat", but you know what I meant.) The responses are running 35:1 in favor of taking the Shuttle ride. I'm not sure what that means, other than that NASA shouldn't have any problems getting volunteers to fly the things, even if they do blow up distressingly often.

In all fairness, I should say that Barbara would refuse to fly on the Shuttle, but then she doesn't even like flying on airliners, and her answer would have been the same before the Challenger and Columbia disasters. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way, perhaps even a majority, but I think it's safe to assume that there are enough willing to take the chance that we should never run short of astronauts.

I see that France, Germany, and Belgium (!) are trying to prevent the US from doing anything about Saddam Hussein. Why they think they should have anything to say about it, I'm not sure. Europe can't even handle what should be internal problems like the Balkans, let alone be a player on the world stage. Europe, with the exception of Britain, is tired and militarily self-emasculated. The US doesn't need Europe's assistance nor even their approval to do what needs to be done in Iraq.

The biggest joke is France, a pathetic little country with delusions of grandeur. The last time France mattered militarily was never. I was going to mention Napoleon, who at least proved that French troops could do something other than surrender in droves if led by a foreigner, but even that is a bad example. Britain settled Napoleon's hash in short order. France is probably the only country that has signed documents of Surrender already signed and filled out except for a blank space where they can fill in the country that they're surrendering to. They probably have them posted on the Internet.

In fact, France should probably fill in one of those blank surrender forms in favor of the US. France does, after all, have weapons of mass destruction, and has been known to aid terrorist countries.

The plans for attacking Iraq proceed apace. I've had emails from several people who think the commencement of hostilities is likely to be much later than the dates I predicted. They may be right, but I don't think so. When Mr. Bush said Iraq had "weeks, not months", I'm pretty sure he meant "two weeks". It's possible that the US forces aren't quite ready, of course. If that's the case, you can move my prediction forward by a month, but I'd be very surprised if it were later than that.

As to the progress of the war, I expect it to be short and very intense. Saddam Hussein is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He fought Desert Storm on US terms, and he's likely to fight the coming war on the same basis. The US will, I hope, keep things on our own terms. That means using our technological advantages and preventing Hussein from shifting things to a war fought on his terms.

What does that mean? Primarily, the US has to use air power, cruise missiles, and armor to overwhelm Iraqi forces. Ideally, we want to avoid a ground war as much as possible, for a couple of reasons. First, a ground war means body bags coming back, and that's politically unacceptable in the US.  Lots of Iraqis in body bags isn't a problem, but lots of Americans in body bags is another thing entirely. More importantly, our ground forces are, to be polite, not much good. Oh, our elite forces--SEALs, Recon, Rangers, the Marines in general, the best armor units, and so on--are great. The best in the world. No force on the planet can slug it out with them toe to toe and remain standing. The problem is that we don't have many of them.

Most of what we have, the bulk of our infantry, might just as well be civilians wearing uniforms. The Army probably spends more time and money on Sensitivity Training than they do on the rifle ranges. Standards have been reduced grossly (and dangerously) to accommodate people who shouldn't be in the Army in the first place, which is to say women. Don't get me wrong. Despite the depredations visited upon it by the radical feminists and other Politically Correct morons, the Army has plenty of good people, men and women, enlisted and officers. But I don't consider the Army to be combat-ready, and I don't know many people who do.

What all of that means is that the last thing the US can afford is to get dragged into urban warfare in Iraq. Fighting in cities uses up people, and all the smart weapons in the world can't change that simple fact. The US can't afford for that to happen, and if Saddam has the wits of a Cocker Spaniel he knows that. So I'd expect him to withdraw his forces into cities in an attempt to force the US to fight it out in the streets. If that happens, my advice to Mr. Bush and his generals is to refuse to be drawn in to that game. If they can by-pass a city without strategic or tactical disadvantage, do so. Isolate it, destroy the water supply, and starve it out. If a city can't be by-passed, stomp it flat. Literally.

The hell with civilian casualties. They're not our problem, nor are we responsible for them. An Iraqi civilian with any sense will evacuate to Uncle Muhammad's sheep farm in the country. If Saddam keeps his own civilians captive in the cities as human shields, well that's his responsibility. To the extent that those cities threaten US forces or US strategy, we eliminate them. We don't even have to use nukes to do it, although that would be an acceptable method. We have fuel-air explosives that are quite capable of reducing Iraqi cities to pea-sized rubble. We should use them.

I hope that Mr. Bush has given some thought to the aftermath. Ideally, our goal should be to reduce the Iraqi population to subsistence-level farming and to eliminate all Iraqi industrial capacity. We can then begin draining the Iraqi oil fields and supply very cheap oil to the US, Britain, and other US allies. As to France, Germany, and Belgium, well they can continue paying market prices.


Tuesday, 11 February 2003

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7:52 - Someone asked me the other day what Americans should do to protect themselves and their families as the US attack on Iraq becomes more imminent. Does it make sense to do anything at all? I think it does, in the same way that it made sense to take precautions against Y2K problems. You might not expect anything to happen, and you might even be right.

But what if something does happen? What if those nasty Islamics put ricin in your town's water supply, say, or set off a dirty bomb (which is to say a traditional explosive surrounded by spent nuclear fuel, as opposed to an actual fission or fusion weapon)? What if the Islamics do have a supply of smallpox virus and release it, say, in O'Hare? You'll be better off having made at least minimal preparations than if you've done nothing at all.

Those preparations can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish, and needn't be expensive. In fact, in some cases, it's simply a matter of gathering things you already own in a central location. A roll or two of duct tape might be useful (duct tape is always useful), along with some plastic sheeting. So might a spare gallon or two of ordinary laundry bleach. The next time you finish a 3 liter bottle of Coke, don't discard the empty. Rinse it out and fill it with water. You can add a few drops of bleach if you want to get fancy. Have at least a couple weeks' supply of canned and other foods that require minimal preparation stored in your refuge area. Don't forget the can opener, and make sure it's a manual one. Have a sturdy waste basket and a supply of plastic bags that can subsitute for a toilet. If you take prescription medications, get a refill now and keep a larger than usual supply on hand. Have candles, matches, batteries, and a portable radio that you know works. Don't forget food for your pets. Just pretend you're battening down for a winter ice storm or a hurricane.

It's all simple stuff, and most of it costs little or nothing. There may be little chance that you in particular will be the victim of Islamic vengeance when the US attacks Iraq, but there's a reasonably high chance that at least some Islamic outrages will be perpetrated here in the US. The idea isn't to build a reinforced concrete bomb shelter or to head for the hills. That's an over-reaction. At least I hope it is. The idea is to take simple, easy, inexpensive steps that may save your life and will, incidentally, reduce the burden on emergency services if something does happen in your area. You can get pretty good advice from FEMA here (although they also give some really bad advice, like leaving your firearms at home. Yeah, right.)

We all hope that the Islamics will all roll over and play dead. Those that aren't really dead, of course. But that's unlikely to happen. It infuriated me to hear the Islamic terrorists that flew airliners into the WTC described as cowardly. They were many things, fanatical, evil, and deluded among them. But one thing they weren't was cowards. Nor are they stupid. They're going to do their best to hurt us, and their best may be good enough. Almost certainly will be good enough, at least in some places.

And keep your weapons clean and your powder dry. You probably won't need them, but then again you might. Make no mistake. This is not a war between the US and Iraq. This is the opening of a war between the US and Islam. We're going to win, but we're going to take casualties, and some of those may be on the home front. If I were Islamic, I'd be thinking about how I could hurt, really hurt, the US, and I have some ideas of my own about what I could do. It's a mistake to believe that there aren't smart Islamics here in the US, already planning outrages that might make the WTC attack look like small potatoes.

I see that the Politically Correct morons are at it again. I really must do more personally to counter this PC crap. So, this time, Fox News reports that two Negresses were deeply offended because the stewardess on their Southwest Airlines flight used what they described as a "Racist Rhyme".  Well, not actually a racist rhyme, you understand, but one that reminded them of a racist rhyme.

Fox News is too Politically Correct to print the rhyme, so I'll do so:

Eenie, meenie, minie moe
Catch a nigger by his toe
Which the sisters say was clearly directed at them, despite the fact that as sisters they are presumably women, which kind of rules out the "him" part. Of course, the whole thing took place in their imaginations anyway. What the stewardess actually said was:

"Eenie, meenie, minie, moe;
pick a seat, we gotta go."

Which is obviously deeply charged with racial animosity directed at anyone with a dark skin. The stewardess, who was only 22 years old at the time of this horrible racist assault, claims that she'd never heard the original version. I find that believable, because I'm 49, and I'd never heard the original version while I was growing up. Even as early as the 1950's, "tiger" had been substituted for "nigger". I didn't realize any change had taken place until I was much older and read the original version in an old book.

Anyway, the sisters claim the other passengers snickered at the rhyme, making them feel alienated. Alienated. Heaven forbid. I wondered when I read the story if someone at Fox News has a wicked sense of humor, because of course a formerly common variant spelling of "snicker" was "snigger". Oh my.

Nowadays, in several states and the District of Columbia you can be tried and sentenced to death for spelling the word "snigger". Well, not really. At least I don't think so. Yet. I do know that a teacher came very close to losing his job for using the dastardly word "niggardly". That's what comes of taking seriously people who are too stupid and illiterate to realize when they're not being insulted. These people see insults where none exist because, deep down, they realize that they are stupid, worthless blobs of protoplasm who are beneath contempt and that being insulted is only their due. Just as the wicked flee where no man pursueth, the racially hyper-sensitive take umbrage where no man insulteth. Or something like that.

So, these sisters who chose to take offense where none was intended now believe that they're entitled to some unspecified but no doubt large monetary settlement. The judge, who seems about as stupid as most judges, is allowing the matter to proceed. What the judge should have done, and what I would have done, was fine the sisters several thousand dollars for wasting the court's time, censure with extreme prejudice the lawyers who brought the case to court, and sentence the sisters and their lawyers to, say, 25 strokes each with a cat 'o nine tails. I mean that seriously.

The place of the courts is to offer redress where real injury, physical or financial, has occurred through malicious actions or negligent behavior by a third party. It is not the place of the courts to salve some imagined wrong "suffered" by someone who is more sensitive than anyone has a right to be or, more likely, is simply out for all he can get.



Wednesday, 12 February 2003

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10:38 - I see that Saddam Hussein is moving his Scud launchers to put them near mosques, apparently on the theory that the US will not strike the launchers for fear of damaging the mosques. Now, from my point of view, this close proximity is a Good Thing. Instead of getting only a Scud launcher for the price of a bomb, we get a Scud launcher and a mosque. Two for the price of one.

In fact, if I were making targeting decisions, I'd put mosques right up there on the list. This is, although no one in authority will admit it (probably even to themselves), a war between the US and Islam, not a war between the US and Iraq. I can't think of a better way to prosecute that war than to destroy mosques and the Islamic clergy vermin they contain. As I said some months ago, leveling Mecca would have been a good opening shot. There would be no better way to say, "Here's what we think of you and your stinking religion". Alas, we missed a good opportunity recently. I saw news reports talking about two million of the faithful being in Mecca. We could have gotten Mecca and two million of those rascals, all for the small cost of a single warhead.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid our leaders don't understand the issues. They want to attack Iraq, but avoid offending Muslims. Duh. Offend the hell out of them, I say. Offend them to death. Make it clear to them that, although they can kill a few of us, we can and will kill a lot of them. Make it clear to them that the slightest injury they do us will be met with devastation raining on their cities and peoples. Invade them, kill their women, and rape their cattle (most of which, I understand, are already used to that.) I find it incredible that the US wants to wage war without offending those against whom we are waging it. Perhaps our leaders will come to their senses, although I think it unlikely. But I can hope.

Perhaps the Israelis will be forced to defend themselves. The Israelis, at least, have balls. If Saddam Hussein launches on Israel, as I expect he will, it may be impossible for Bush to restrain the Israelis. If the Iraqis launch a biological or chemical attack on Israel, I'd expect Baghdad to disappear in a mushroom cloud, and rightly so. The only thing that might restrain them is a credible threat from the US to respond in kind against Israel, and I don't see that happening. Nor do I see other world powers getting involved if the conflict escalates. They have too little to gain and too much to lose.

I expect the rest of this month to be very interesting.


Thursday, 13 February 2003

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10:17 - All the media are reporting that the North Koreans have a missile, albeit untested, that can reach the western US. I don't doubt that, but the implication is that the North Koreans can therefore strike the US mainland with a fission warhead. That I doubt. I doubt it because having a missile and the ability to make a fission device does not imply the ability to deliver that device via that missile.

A little A-bomb 101 is in order here. There are basically two types of fission devices, gun and implosion. A gun device is pretty simple to make. You simply put a sub-critical mass of fissionable material at one end of a gun barrel. That mass is missing a chunk, which corresponds to the projectile of the gun. To detonate the device, you ignite a propellant charge behind the small chunk, sending it at very high speed into the matching cutout in the larger chunk. Critical mass is achieved, and you end up with a mushroom cloud.

The trouble is, you can't use just any fissionable material in a gun bomb. The only fissionable material realistically usable is Uranium-235, which is pretty hard to come by. U235 makes up about 0.7% of natural uranium, but is indistinguishable chemically from U238, which makes up the bulk of natural uranium. You can't separate it chemically, which would be cheap. Instead, you have to separate it using processes like gaseous diffusion and centrifuging, a very expensive undertaking. Most of the money spent on the Manhattan Project during WWII was spent to produce sufficient U235 to make a gun bomb. They didn't test that one, both because they were pretty sure it would work, and because they'd then have to work long and hard to produce enough U235 for another bomb.

The second type of fission bomb is an implosion device, in which a hollow sphere of non-critical mass density is crushed almost instantaneously by numerous explosive charges into a solid sphere of small radius and therefore greater density. The crushed sphere is critical, and therefore detonates immediately. There are a lot of problems with making an implosion bomb. The explosives must be formed very exactly and detonated within microseconds of the proper time if they are to form the explosive lens that crushes the hollow sphere into a solid sphere. The technology is a lot better now than it was in 1945, but building an implosion device is still non-trivial. That's why they tested an implosion bomb at Trinity.

The advantage to an implosion bomb is that you can use something other than U235, namely plutonium. Plutonium is easy to come by. It's produced in the controlled fission reactions used in nuclear power plants, and it's easy to separate because you can do so chemically. You don't even need much of a lab, assuming that you don't care about using up people, which the North Koreans probably don't. So it's safe to assume that the North Koreans probably have enough Plutonium to produce at least a few fission devices.

Once again, though, we're back to the implosion method. The problem with Plutonium is that there are also isotopes of it. The kind you want, Pu239, is mixed with the kind you don't, Pu240. You can't separate the isotopes chemically, so unless you want to build an expensive gaseous diffusion plant, you're stuck with using the mixed Plutonium isotopes. The problem with that is that Pu240 causes pre-detonation if you try to use it in a gun bomb. That is, there's no way to get that small chunk down the barrel fast enough to assemble the large chunk to criticality before the Pu240 causes things to act up too fast, too early. The result is a fizzle. A mess, certainly, with radioactive junk all over the place, but not a high order nuclear detonation.

So, let's assume that the North Koreans have a missile and a fission device. That's a safe assumption, if only because those are probably within their means. What are they going to do? Duct-tape the device to the top of the missile? To get from North Korea to the western US, a missile has to reach orbit. Having reached orbit, it has to put the warhead "in the chute" at an extremely precise orientation and speed. The next thing that warhead faces is re-entry, which as recent events have made clear can present severe problems. The warhead is re-entering the atmosphere at something on the close order of 15,000 miles per hour, which generates a lot of heat. It requires an ablative shield, as well as the ability to remain stable in a precise trajectory at a precise speed. Even the smallest error may cause the warhead to tumble, which means it burns up.

Even if the warhead survives re-entry, which is unlikely for an untried product of North Korea, it's now taken a major beating. The g-forces are incredible. Think of the bumpiest airline flight you've ever been on, multiplied by orders of magnitude. Is everything still going to work? Probably not. Don't forget, we're talking about a relatively delicate implosion device.

But let's say everything somehow remained functional. The next question is what you're going to hit. A ballistic missile is, by definition, ballistic. That is, there's no terminal guidance. It's like a bullet. Once the bullet exits the muzzle, it's going to go where it's going to go. There's nothing you can do after the fact to change its impact point. The accuracy of ballistic missile warheads is specified as CEP, or Circular Error Probable. Basically, CEP states the radius from the intended target within which 50% of your warheads are likely to fall. That is, if the CEP of a weapons system is 100 meters and you fire 1,000 weapons, 500 should fall within 100 meters of where they were aimed and the other 500 outside that circle.

The CEP of US warheads is pretty small. If the US launches a warhead at your home, it might hit your kitchen, or it might hit the master bedroom at the other end of the house, but chances are good that it will actually hit some part of your house or at least your yard. No one, including the North Koreans, has any idea what the CEP of this duct-taped North Korean delivery system might be. If they aim it at, say, Los Angeles, they might in fact hit Los Angeles. It's just as likely though, that they'd dump it in the Nevada desert. That's assuming that the warhead survived re-entry, which is uncertain, and that having survived re-entry it would actually detonate, which is still more uncertain.

So, given that North Korea's leader is a maniac willing to attack the US with his one or two pathetic little ICBMs, what is likely to be the result if he actually launches? Certainly, the US is going to take a dim view, to put it mildly. The US has something like like 12,000 warheads, and the ability to deliver them accurately. I think anyone contemplating such an attack on the US must surely realize that the likely result is his country being turned into a sea of molten, radioactive glass. Is he going to do it, knowing what would happen? I don't think so.



Friday, 14 February 2003

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11:07 - On this day in 1929, the famous Lupercalia Day Massacre occurred. Al Capone didn't much like Bugs Moran, so he sent five assassins, three in police uniforms, to shoot up a hangout used by members of the Moran gang. They slaughtered all seven people present, using Thompson Guns, but they missed Moran. Moran was to have been there, but was in a meeting that ran a few minutes late. That saved his life. Asked later who might have done it, Moran responded, "Only Capone kills like that." That's often misquoted as "Only Capone kills guys like that.", which changes the meaning subtly. Capone was considered a mad dog by everyone, police and other gangsters alike. Nowadays, a similar massacre might not even make the front page, just as Jack the Ripper wouldn't cause much stir.

I've finally done it. I got so tired of looking at spam that I no longer check my Trash folder. Instead, I trust SpamAssassin to trash only messages I don't want to look at. I've set Mozilla Mail to delete the contents of the Trash folder automatically when I exit. I took this step knowing full well that I'll now miss a few real messages, but I hope it won't be too many.

If you send me email that needs a response and you don't hear from me within a few days, please drop me a note to that effect. If I didn't get it, I'll ask you to resend it. Of course, my response threshold has changed over the last couple years. I get a ton of real mail, all of which I read but much of which I don't have time to respond to. I hate taking this step, but I am so weary of spam that I don't see any alternative.

One of our local politicians, Vernon Robinson, caused a stir. In a public meeting, the subject of preparing to meet domestic terrorist attacks came up. Vernon pointed out that it'd be a good idea to have firearms available. Of course, the local liberal press is roasting him for that piece of advice. Vernon suggest that people who are opposed to having firearms with which to defend themselves post a notice on their homes to notify would-be intruders that they're liberals and don't own any firearms. Heh.

I'm in agreement with Vernon on this one, as I am with most of his positions. Although he describes himself as a Conservative, in a lot of ways he's a libertarian. He's the best alderman (as of this week they're now called "City Council members") Winston-Salem has had in living memory. Of course, the local liberal rag tries to make him out to be a buffoon, which he most assuredly is not. I wish he were my councilman. He may be running for higher office soon. If so, he gets my vote.


Saturday, 15 February 2003

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11:19 - I have said this before, but it seems to me that is long past time for the US to withdraw from the United Nations and NATO. We don't need them. They do need us. Without the US, the UN is nothing and NATO is nothing. So, we should expel the UN from US territory. Give them one week to depart. We can use the UN building to replace some of the office space we lost on 9/11. As far as NATO, it's long obsolete. The purpose of NATO was to counter the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. It's time for NATO to no longer exist. Withdraw from NATO and withdraw our troops from Europe.

Germany, France, and Belgium have made it very clear that they are no friends to the US, nor even any longer allies, so the US should no longer have anything to do with any of them. One good thing about a crisis. It makes it very clear who your friends are.



Sunday, 16 February 2003

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9:33 - We awoke this morning to the predicted ice coating the yard and trees. The forecast says we can expect sleet and freezing rain to continue throughout the day, tonight, and into tomorrow. There have already been numerous accidents reported this morning. That's with almost no one on the roads, so tomorrow morning is likely to be particularly nasty during morning rush hour.

I see news reports of large-scale peace protests throughout the world. There's nothing like a peace protest to draw large numbers of the fuzzy-thinking and gullible. All the protests do is encourage Saddam Hussein to continue with more of the same. If there was a last chance to avoid war, which there probably wasn't, it would have been for Saddam to realize that it was up to him to save himself by doing what he was told. These protesters, along with the German, French, and Belgian governments, have simply given Saddam false hope.

Mr. Bush has been quite clear. Iraq will be attacked, with or without the blessing of the UN. Nothing Germany, France, Belgium, or other minor countries do or say can change that. The only thing they've managed to do is show the UN for the irrelevancy it is. So the US, along with Britain and our other allies, will do what needs to be done. 

After the US invades and occupies Iraq, the UN will of course try to tell us what to do. I hope we treat them with the contempt they deserve. The UN has shown itself to be merely an impotent debating society, not deserving of respect. It is time for the US to declare itself free of the UN and of all UN-sponsored bodies. We don't need them, and we should be weary of their pathetic attempts to pretend they are anything but the irrelevancy that they are.



Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.