Errors in Execution

The rolling window of “Trump could have done this better” excuses for the Trump White House’s dick-tripping incompetence is getting tiresome. Three weeks in, and I think everybody could use a vacation, but let’s please not entertain these “simple answers” as the logical choice when describing what we’ve seen so far. Most recently, we now have this Politico puff piece on the putative “gold standard” of White House Chiefs of Staff, James Baker, in which Baker firmly chides Trump on how to be more Republican.

It is a fact that Trump’s Muslim Ban could easily have been implemented with more care and consequently less resistance. The president has pretty wide latitude in deciding who comes in or out of this country. This has been the case since the 70’s. Yes, he can cut off immigration from one, a group or all nations for whatever time he chooses, at least in theory.

Doing so would cause quite a bit of panic no matter the timing, leading to inevitable law suits. Liberals like myself would absolutely argue the constitutionality of ban like Trump’s. It wouldn’t be smooth sailing however they did it. But it could have been done.

It’s also true that, as a rule, Republicans aren’t that into Russia. That certainly describes the attitude of the Reagan White House in which Baker served. American foreign policy has, since early in the Cold War, been built largely on the lead Republicans set. And that lead was very anti-Russia. Even after Glasnost, very few Republicans I’ve ever known have thought highly of or trusted Russia.

A different relationship with Russia, even in present context, doesn’t sound like a terrible idea. A more trusting relationship with Russia is not objectively worse than a less trusting one.

But for chrissakes, come on! Let’s please stop listening to people patiently tell us that what we’re seeing isn’t real.

Trump’s Muslim ban was not badly-planned. It was meant to cause chaos and panic. It was meant to trap the foreign-born at airports. It was meant to put the “enemies” of Trump’s agenda “on notice.” And those enemies were the foreign-born. That was the point. That’s why Trump said the ban was “going very well. You can see it at the airports.” The “news junkie” president did not fail to notice the chaos roiling the airports.

Trump’s ties to Russia aren’t accidental and neither are those shared by an incredible number of his lieutenants. Calls between his National Security Advisor Flynn and the Russian Ambassador before, during and after the election were not innocent even if they contained no relevant information. Throwing him under the bus will change nothing fundamental about the situation in the White House. It is a persistent fact of this administration that they have openly and not-so-openly had ties to the very same nation that our intelligence agencies confirm were responsible for the hacking of our nation’s democratic institutions.

Baker presumably expects these ties to be disappeared by a simple, grandfatherly “tut-tut.” He gravely intones about the need for sanctions against Russia in a way that clearly says “that’s the Republican Way.”

“Come along now, son,” he seems to say, “Let’s get you a flag pin and some photo time at West Point.”

Don’t let Republicans weave this narrative. Everybody in the party wants their Conservative Christmas, and they’ll wait till the tanks roll on Bowling Green to get it. They’ll say anything to stall, to cover, to explain away. Some of them might even believe it. But you can see what is happening. There is nothing subtle about Trump, there is nothing accidental about the chaos he’s created and there is absolutely nothing sincere in Republican pleas for patience.

This, after all, might be the very last election Republicans ever win. Jim Baker’s just trying to get the most out of it.

Journalism Space Porn Space Weather

Do we really need to waste resources looking for meteors?

It is nearly impossible to stop paying attention to scary things, once they’re revealed. And in a click-hungry Internet media landscape (hey: guilty as charged), it is even harder not to want to write articles that you know are going to get clicks, even if they aren’t the most reputable or useful content.

So now that we’ve had our meteor visit in Russia and lots of “near misses” by other space debris – including one that came closer to us than our own satellites – it is easy to spend a lot of time and energy on these types of things. Why not? It is both scary and awe-inspiring to think of things unknown to us floating in space on a collision course with our Earth:

Scott Hubbard, a consulting professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford, thinks we can do something about that. Hubbard, a former director of NASA Ames Research Center, is also the program architect for the B612 Foundation, which aims to track down the hundreds of thousands of unknown asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth.

But the uncomfortable truth is that the Big Bang never stopped and the placid, gently floating galaxy you saw in Discovery Channel documentaries simply doesn’t exist. The universe is a dynamic, ongoing explosion, filled with lots of gas, lots of planets, lots of stars and yes, lots and lots of debris. The Earth itself is orbiting the Sun at a rate of approximately 67k miles an hour, which is itself rotating around the Milky Way at an estimated 8,700 miles per hour.

Basically, you’ve got a lot of crap spinning at a super-high rate of speed around a lot of other crap. And with more than a little regularity, some crap collides with other crap and you get a giant, intergalactic crap explosion. Bigger the crap, bigger the explosion.

And as pitifully expendable sacs of protoplasm stuck on Earth, we worry that even a small bit of debris could end us.

Galactically speaking, not an unreasonable concern. But what happened in Russia – and the media frenzy that ensued – is evidence not of our vulnerability, but of the extraordinary rareness of such events on a human scale. Debris hits our planet with perhaps disconcerting regularity, but does so completely unnoticed most of the time. That’s because not all space debris is measured in bus or football field lengths. And those large objects that do occasionally hit our planet happen on a regular albeit slow schedule, without wiping out life on Earth, let alone the Earth herself.

Sure. A city the size of San Francisco could suddenly cease to be. But hey! As long as you’re not there, you can say you “remember them when.”

The truth is that as dynamic and violent as our universe is, it is also quite big. And collisions with our Earth of the type we worry about are extremely rare. So I would hold off on that shooting spree you’ve been contemplating: there’s every reason to believe you’ll still be here to pay the piper.


Round-up of Russian meteor news

Just because there’s so much news and information coming out about what is probably going to go down as one of the world’s worst meteor disasters in terms of human toll, I thought I’d get right out in front with a quick round-up of news and resources.

First, the most amazing video, ever. A dash cam shot of the meteor going right overhead. This had to be alarming, yet the cool Russian driver never even had to turn off his slamin’ beats:

[youtube][/youtube] has lots more videos, which they’re updating as they go. does a great job rounding up a lot of facts and figures about the nature of meteorite impacts:

When was the last comparable meteorite strike?

In 2008, astronomers spotted a meteor heading toward Earth about 20 hours before it entered the atmosphere. It exploded over the vast African nation of Sudan, causing no known injuries. The largest known meteorite strike in recent times was the “Tunguska event” that hit Russia in 1908. Even that strike, which was far bigger than the one that happened over Russia on Friday, didn’t injure anyone. Scientists believe that an even larger meteorite strike may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. According to that theory, the impact would have thrown up vast amounts of dust that blanketed the sky for decades and altered the climate on Earth.

They also detail that Tunguska Event, which happened in an area so remote, no one is even entirely sure that it was a meteor.

And of course, lots of information is coming in from the Twitters. First and formost, @AstroKatie and @Summer_Ash set us all straight on the differences between meteorids, meteors, meteorites:

Physicist Matthew R. Frances ( @DrMRFrances ) tells us to chill a little:

And for those interested in why this whole event is unrelated to Asteroid DA14:

What is even more important: fragments of 2012 DA14 could never enter the atmosphere as far north as latitude 55 N (Chelyabinsk). Fragments in orbits similar to that of the asteroid, have a theoretical radiant at declination -81 degrees, i.e. almost at the southern celestial pole. They hence approach earth from due south. This means that the northern hemisphere is out of reach of these fragments: the northern hemisphere represents (as seen from these approaching fragments) the “back side” of the earth. They can’t reach it: they would have to pass earth and then turn back in order to do so.

Basically, the asteroid DA14 is coming at us from due south, so fragments of that asteroid, were they even potentially hitting the Earth, would hit the southern hemisphere.

One of my favourites, Bad Astronomy by Phil Plait, is also covering the event, and adds that, sadly, hoax videos are coming in as fast and furious as anything:

[Let me be clear: This is breaking news, and reports are coming in so fast I can’t keep up. I’ll update this post as I can, but treat everything here as tentative until I can get more information! Note also lots of hoaxes are turning up, like a video of a flaming crater that’s actually a flaming pit in Turlmenistan that’s been burning for decades (called “The Door to Hell”). Be cautious and be skeptical.]

Update 11:11: Matt Frances ( @DrMRFrances ) updates his blog with some thoughts on the wider meaning of the meteor:

For me, the takeaway message from the Russian meteor—and asteroid 2012 DA14—is that we need to do better at looking for dangerous meteors and asteroids. Astronomers (both professional and amateur) have identified nearly all of the biggest near-Earth objects (NEOs): the ones that, in the unlikely event they impact Earth, could cause mass extinctions like the one that probably wiped out the dinosaurs. However, the smaller rocks—called either asteroids or meteoroids—are harder to spot and to track.

Update 11:19: Russian officials are reporting that 950 people have sought out medical attention after the meteor, including 159 children. Three meteorites have been recovered, including one that left a six foot wide crater

Update 12:43: Sigh. Sloppy Reporting Watch issued for the New York Times.

  • Not a single credible report backs up this tweeted claim. Not. One. All of the damage and injuries reported there have come from the sonic boom.
  • The title of the article, “Debris and a Boom, Likely From a Meteor, Hit Siberia” is just crap. Of course, it is a meteor. And the debris backs up the idea that people got hurt by meteorites.
  • “Russian experts believe the blast was caused by a 10-ton meteor known as a bolide..” Sloppy. A bolide is any meteor that explodes on contact with the Earth’s atmosphere. It isn’t a special type of meteor.
  • Regarding asteroid DA14, soon to pass by Earth, ““What we witnessed today may have been the precursor of that asteroid,” said Mr. Dudorov in a telephone interview.” Call this “Citation Needed,” as every credible source says there’s no way these two events are related. Should never have been included.



Look Who’s Blogging

Some of you may have already heard that there is an allegation running around – started by a FaceBook security person, so its fairly high-profile – that yesterday’s FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, LiveJournal and others DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service, see a decent review here) attack might have been perpetrated to silence a man whose been blogging about the Georgia / Russia conflict. Well, it now seems that Live Journal has taken down the man’s blog.

But you can still see a cached version of it on Google’s Translate service here.


Putin, You Old Softie, You!

Putin puts an end to clubbing baby harp seals in the White Sea. So ends a chapter that really freaked me out as a kid when I saw it on PBS. Long story.


Russia Tests New Topol ICBM

No, different Topol. . . But it definitely has the potential to remove the coffee stains from your teeth.  And the teeth from your head.

Just in case you thought that the whole Russia problem just went away, Russia just tested a new ICBM designed to evade detection by anti-ballistic missile systems.

So, while the Bush Administration rattles an empty saber scabbard, Russia actually does things about it.  Feel safe, yet?


Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Did anyone even know there was such a thing as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?  I certainly didn’t.  It seems the Organization is yet another multi-national pacts, though this one is less like the EU and more like NATO.

Well, it turns out that this group includes China (duh), Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.  Nations looking to join this group include our buddies Iran and Pakistan.  The admission or denial of these states is at least one item on the agenda for their current meeting, happening right now.  There are concerns, as one might expect, about the United States’ response to adding those members in what is at least on paper an alliance of military proportions.

It might be illuminating, when viewing world affairs, to keep this coalition in mind.  For a start, it’s worth considering the fact that neither Iran nor Pakistan feels compelled to join in any similar coaltions with Middle Eastern nations. . .  because of course, they are ethnically and historically separate regions.


Gorbachev Dissin’ the States

OK, so when the man who brokered the end of the Cold War also doesn’t trust us – when the man is willing to make public statements for the world to hear about our untrustworthiness – it’s kinda bad, isn’t it?

RIA Novosti – Russia – U.S. promises cannot be trusted – Gorbachev

“The Americans promised that NATO wouldn’t move beyond the boundaries of Germany after the Cold War, but now half of central and eastern Europe are members, so what happened to their promises? It shows they cannot be trusted,” he said in Paris.


Bush Still Negotiating End of World

Ah, just in case you forgot that there was still an asswipe in the Oval Office, George has been busy readying the stage for his final exit, which will commence with the dropping of Russian bombs on Poland:

Bush and Polish PM hail progress on missile shield deal | Politics | Reuters

President George W. Bush said on Monday he had agreed the United States would help modernize the Polish military as part of a U.S. plan to base components of a global missile defense shield in Poland.

Just to bring you up to speed if you’ve not been paying attention, George Bush decided that the best place to have a Star Wars missile defense system was in Poland, Russia’s old turf.  The Bush Administration has insisted that the defense shield is meant to protect us from rogue states such as North Korea.  I’m no military expert – much less ballistics, physics or even higher geometry – but could someone please explain to me how a shield in Poland protects the United States from missiles launched from North Korea?

As you might have expected, Russia is a bit put-out by the idea of their chief nuclear rival putting up a missile defense system in their back yard.   It is unmistakably provocative.  And while it’s true that Vladimir Putin probably needs to do a bit of sabre rattling to maintain his tough-guy image at home, I think we should all probably be standing up and taking notice when they threaten to bomb any missile shield parked in their neighborhood.

But even more importantly, don’t miss the code wording in the above article: “Modernizing” Poland’s military is neat language for arming Poland with newer and more powerful weapons.  Get that: arming Russia’s recently-liberated satellite nation – the one they’ve fought over with Germany since time out of mind – with new and more powerful weapons.

What new and more powerful weapons?  Well, golly, that’s a great question that the media aught perhaps to ask him, eh?


Untapped Bloodlust: Militarizing the Internet

McClatchy has an interesting article this afternoon discussing the U.S. military’s activities mobilizing to find ways to use the Internet to conduct war. It was, of course, an inevitability. And of course, as a wise person recently wrote, dictatorships call their armies armies, whereas democracies always use the ruse of “defense:”

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 11/26/2007 | Into the wild new yonder: U.S. prepares for cyber-wars

The blueprint for the military is the “2006 National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations,” a classified document that includes both defensive and offensive measures, according to officials and analysts. Likely offensive tactics include disabling an enemy’s command-and-control networks, destroying data or dispatching false information to weapons networks, often as part of a larger attack with air power and other traditional weaponry.

What new devilry will come of this is, for now, an open question. Certainly like all covert operations, the question will be answered when opportunities present themselves. And my sense is that, with Russian leader Vladimir Putin making dangerous moves and Condi Rice (an expert in Russian affairs under Bush the First) and the helm of the state department, a fair amount of the attention is aimed squarely at the activities of the Kremlin.


Putin Ain’t Leavin’

Careful not to choke on your turkey (or your chicken, for that matter), but President Vladimir Putin clearly has no intentions of going anywhere at the “end” of his term.  Anyone mildly familiar with Russian politics can see that this is not the rhetoric of a man planning on leaving.