Who knows what will happen in 2020 — for now, the scientists (if not the politicians) are saying that “the relationship between NASA and Roscosmos is good, it is healthy.” In any event, NASA has set up a 24-hour live-feed from the ISS. Hopefully, it will help keep things in perspective down here.
Not that our next president and erstwhile progressive standard-bearer seems any better: Hillary Clinton insinuates Edward Snowden is up to no good. ‘When he emerged and when he absconded with all that material, I was puzzled because we have all these protections for whistle-blowers. If he were concerned and wanted to be part of the American debate, he could have been,’ she said.”
Yeah, ’cause that worked out great for Chelsea Manning. C’mon. Also, if it were me, and “Pentagon officials” were openly fantasizing about putting a bullet in my head, I’d probably skip town for awhile too.
“In those years, photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) undertook a photographic survey of the Russian Empire with the support of Tsar Nicholas II. He used a specialized camera to capture three black and white images in fairly quick succession, using red, green and blue filters, allowing them to later be recombined and projected with filtered lanterns to show near true color images.” Along related lines, and making the rounds again because of the Ukraine situation, “real” color photos of Russia from 1909 to 1912.
As the situation in Ukraine degenerates — here’s a decent primer — Paul Szoldra and Michael Kelly offer up stunning photos from the heart of the protests. “From riot police using ancient military tactics to defend against attacks to streets engulfed in flames, the photos coming for the heart of the standoff are incredible.”
Following up on the recent revelations that, for decades, the nuclear launch code was actually 000000: In the New Yorker and fifty years after the film’s release, Eric Schlosser discovers that pretty much everything in Dr. Strangelove was correct, right down to the secret Doomsday device. “Fifty years later…’Strangelove’ seems all the more brilliant, bleak, and terrifyingly on the mark.”
Consider this a wake-up call. This is one more reason why we need to invest in our space program — because, right now, we are playing chicken with the universe. That deadly asteroid might not hit tomorrow, or even in 2106. But the danger is real. As author Larry Niven put it, “the dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right!”
Newly-released documents tell of how America learned of the 1940 Katyn Massacre seventy-two years ago, and worked to keep it quiet. “The directive was to ‘never to speak about a secret message on Katyn.’ During the 1951-52 Congressional hearings, for example, no material was presented to demonstrate that Washington knew about Katyn as early as it did.”
“Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Komarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space…In 1957, both men were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn’t back out because he didn’t want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.“
By way of LinkMachineGo, NPR’s Robert Krulwich tells the tale of the sad and unnecessary death of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. “As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, ‘cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.’“
“Along with modern humans, scientists knew about the Neanderthals and a dwarf human species found on the Indonesian island of Flores nicknamed The Hobbit. To this list, experts must now add the Denisovans.” Researchers discover evidence of a fourth separate species of ancient man in the caves of Siberia. “The implications of the finding have been described by Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London as ‘nothing short of sensational… [W]e didn’t know how ancient people in China related to these other humans.‘”
Um….ok. FIFA picks the next two World Cup hosts after Rio: Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022. (Pro-tip: Remember to apply for a booze permit for the latter.) “Qatar, which has never even qualified for a World Cup, used its 30-minute presentation to underline how the tournament could unify a region ravaged by conflict.” Y’know, perhaps they’ll both make for great Cups. But if FIFA was trying to get out from under the recent bribery allegations, I don’t think I would’ve chosen these two particular nations.
Another intriguing selection from the trailer bin: Peter Weir, who arguably has never made a bad film, sends Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, and Sairose Ronan on a walk across continents in the trailer for The Way Back. “The book is Rawicz’s account of being captured by the Red Army in 1939 and his journey to freedom with other inmates. The group crossed the Siberian arctic, the Gobi desert and the Himalayas, finally settling in Tibet and India.“
“It’s December 1997, and a man-eating tiger is on the prowl outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East. The tiger isn’t just killing people, it’s annihilating them, and a team of men and their dogs must hunt it on foot through the forest in the brutal cold. As the trackers sift through the gruesome remains of the victims, they discover that these attacks aren’t random: the tiger is apparently engaged in a vendetta. Injured, starving, and extremely dangerous, the tiger must be found before it strikes again.“
Risin’ up and back on the street, Brad Pitt will apparently delve into the tiger woods for Darren Aronofsky and writer Guillermo Arriaga (Babel) in a film adaptation of John Vaillant’s The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. Well, ok then…but Aronofsky is getting notorious for signing aboard more projects than actually happen. Along with the ballet-thriller Black Swan, which may be in the can by now, he’s also meant to be making a Robocop reboot, a Jackie Kennedy in November 1963 story with wife Rachel Weisz, and a movie about UFC fighter Lightning Lee Murray. Sounds like a full plate.
As many readers here well know, I’ve spent a good bit of time over the past decade studying US history. (In fact, over the past few years, I’ve occasionally helped my advisor keep a textbook up to date that recently drew the ire of right-wing blowhard Bill O’Reilly. Apparently, those damn pesky facts were somehow mitigating O’Reilly’s ability to spew forth the usual idiotic blather.)
Anyway, over that period of time, I believe I have in fact learned me a few things. So, as a public service of sorts, and because, after this morning’s revelations, I’ve reached the limit of craven and/or patently stupid falsehoods that I can feasibly ingest over so short a time, some “U.S. History for Dummies.” I expect most everyone who comes by this site with any frequency knows all this, but ya never know. Apologies for the didacticism in advance — if this were this a Coors Light commercial, this would be where i vent. (And thanks to Lia for the timely visual tax lesson, above.)
At any rate, as most people remember from high school, the original 1773 Tea Party was not a protest against high taxes or high prices at all. (In fact, legally imported tea — i.e. that of the East India Company, which was both suffering serious setbacks over in India and losing market share to smuggled Dutch tea at the time — was actually cheaper in the colonies after the Tea Act, since it was now exempt from the usual obligations.)
In small part a reaction of the East India’s commercial rivals to this sweetheart deal, the Boston Tea Party was mainly held to uphold the principle of No taxation without representation. Which I don’t think I need to explain. So, with the minor exception of DC-area conservatives who attended the tea gathering in Washington (without crossing over from Virginia or Maryland), the, uh, “teabaggers” don’t really have a leg to stand on here. This is particularly true after you consider that both ruthless gerrymandering and the vagaries of the Electoral College (I’m looking at you, Wyoming) actually tend to lead to over-representation of conservative Republicans in our halls of governance, even despite heavy losses for the “Grand Old Party” in 2006 and 2008.
Well, in fact, no state in the Union has any legal right to secede. (Not even Texas.) The existence of such a right was posited and debated quite often in the early years of the republic: by Jefferson and Madison in the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, by the members of the Hartford Convention, by South Carolina’s philosopher-politician John C. Calhoun, and countless others.
But the illegality of secession was eventually confirmed — in blood — when eleven states attempted to pull out of the Union in 1861, due mainly to differing opinions on the institution of slavery and its expansion into the western territories. As a result of this insurrection by the southern states, a violent conflict broke out, which we call the Civil War. It lasted four years, and it was kind of a big deal.
Prior to the war, the states of the Confederacy believed secession to be their natural right, while those remaining in the Union believed it to be tantamount to an act of treason. With the Union victory in that conflict, and the subsequent readmittance of southern states in such a manner that reaffirmed that no right of secession exists, the question was settled. So it remains to this day.
Another argument we’ve heard lately — today Sen. McCain made it with his usual comrades-in-arms, Sens. Lieberman and Graham, while trying to protect Dubya’s lawyers — is that the CIA officials who actually conducted these recent acts of torture should be exempt from prosecution, because they were following the legal dictates of those higher-up in the administration. (To follow the reasoning around the circle, the torturers should be exempt because they were listening to the lawyers, and the lawyers should be exempt because they didn’t do the actual torturing. Cute.)
Anyway, whatever you think of the merits of this argument, this is usually referred to as the Nuremberg defense, and it is in fact no defense at all. Argues Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles, devised by the Allies after WWII to determine what constituted a war crime: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” Insert “CIA interrogator” for person in that last sentence and you can pretty much see the problem.
America is not a Christian nation. This will be patently obvious to anyone who’s ever heard the phrase “separation of church and state.” Unlike, say, England, America does not have and has never had an official, established church. This is very much by design. For proof of this not-very-radical claim, see the very first clause of the very first amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
If that doesn’t do it for you, see George Washington’s famous 1790 letter to the Jewish residents of Newport, Rhode Island. “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.“
Or consider that Thomas Jefferson skipped his presidency on his tombstone to make room for his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (We could also make mention of the Jefferson Bible, but let’s start slow.)
Is the reasoning here too circuitous for Rove, Gingrich, et al to follow? Ok, then, here’s the cheat sheet: the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, passed by a Congress of our Founders without declaim and signed into law by President John Adams. It begins: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” Did y’all catch it this time? Good, let’s move on.
After the picture was taken, conservatives went predictably livid, with Matt Drudge headlining the offending photograph with the usual red text, Dick Cheney deeming Obama “a weak president” on FOX News, and Gingrich arguing that it made Obama look “weak like Carter.” “We didn’t rush over, smile and greet Russian dictators,” said Newt, and he wasn’t the only potential 2012′er aghast at Obama’s behavior. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada called the president “irresponsible” and the consistently shameless Mitt Romney painted Obama a “timid advocate for freedom”.
Um, ok. Well, let’s see here…
I could go on. With regards to that last one — Reagan yukking it up with Mikhail Gorbachev, then of “the evil Empire” — it didn’t take long before (surprise) Newt was caught in a contradiction. Apparently, Gingrich had previously argued on his website that Ronald Reagan’s good humor with Gorby was a sign of strength, not weakness.
Speaking of which, as Lawrence O’Donnell noted on MSNBC the other day, saintly old Ronald Reagan didn’t just smile and shake hands with America’s enemies. His administration sold them weapons under the table. So, please, assorted puddin’-heads of the GOP talkocracy, spare me your warmed-over tripe about poor diplomacy and weak leadership. As with everything else above, I’ve swallowed enough of your swill over the past few weeks to last me a lifetime.
In the meantime, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan applauds the return of real, honest-to-goodness American statecraft in London. “Vast multinational conferences, like the G20 summit…are useful mainly for the ‘bilaterals’ — the one-on-one side-room conversations — and, in these forums, President Barack Obama is living up to high expectations. Which is to say, the United States seems to be returning to diplomatic basics — a development that in the wake of the last eight years is practically revolutionary.“
At the very least, the president’s diplomatic mojo seemed to work on Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. “‘Yesterday I spoke about this with my new comrade President Barack Obama,’ Medvedev told reporters travelling with him to the London summit…’I liked the talks. It is easy to talk to him. He can listen. The start of this relationship is good,’ he said, adding: ‘Today it’s a totally different situation (compared to Bush).’”
“It’s a truism that Barack Obama faces the most intractable set of challenges that any president has faced in at least 50 years. But on a few issues in foreign and military policy, he’s caught a break. Whether by luck, the effect of his election, or President George W. Bush’s stepped-up drive to win last-minute kudos, Obama will enter the White House with some paths to success already marked, if not quite paved.” Having covered six diplomatic priorities for Obama right after the election (the link was buried in this post), Slate‘s Fred Kaplan takes a gander at five foreign policy arenas primed for good news under the coming administration.
“How could Saakashvili have made such a catastrophic misjudgment? The answer is that he stepped into an elephant trap set for him by Russia. Moscow-backed Ossetian rebels had been provoking the Georgians for weeks with artillery attacks and raids. Saakashvili took the bait. He sent in his army for an all-out grab. But the Georgian offensive gave Russia just the excuse it needed to send troops and tanks into Ossetia. More importantly, the fact that Georgia launched the first attack has robbed Saakashvili of the moral high ground…Russia has once again proved itself a master of the brutal art of colonial politics.”
As Russian President Medvedev announces he is halting military operations (although, apparently, not quite yet), the Daily Mail‘s Owen Matthews explains what’s happened in Georgia…and what’s at stake. “The only non-Russian controlled oil pipeline from Central Asia and the Caucasus runs from Azerbaijan through Georgian territory to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan…It is too late for Russia to do anything to stop the existing pipelines — but a destabilised Georgia would doubtless undermine Western confidence in non-Russian gas supplies…[In addition] It’s impossible that NATO will accept Georgia as a member as long as its rebel regions are occupied by Russian troops – so in invading South Ossetia, Russia has effectively drawn a line beyond which NATO cannot expand.”
“‘I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia,’ Bush said. ‘We strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia.‘” As Georgian forces pull back from South Ossetia in the face of a full-scale Russian assault, the US, UN, and European Commission increasingly condemn Russian attacks across all of Georgia.
Meanwhile, Medvedev argues that Russian operations are winding down, but that troops will stay in South Ossetia for awhile. “Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a colonel-general on Russia’s General Staff, said at a Moscow news briefing that Russia was not intending ‘to invade Georgia’ and that a ‘key principle’ of the current operation was that troops remain inside South Ossetia — ostensibly to protect a population it said was under assault by the Georgian military, as well as its own peacekeepers stationed there.” Update: Russia pushes into Georgia.
It’s still unclear (to me, at least) exactly what is going on over there. According to Georgia president Mikhail Saakashvili (and the current CNN reports), Russian troops have “been amassing at the border for the last few months. They claimed they were staging exercises there and as soon as a suitable pretext was found, they moved in.” According to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (and some witnesses in the AP story), Russia is going in to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia from both ethnic cleansing and a Georgian attempt to retake the breakaway region, which apparently Saakashvili has been promising to do for awhile. “Russia ‘will not allow the deaths of our compatriots to go unpunished’ and ‘those guilty will receive due punishment…My duty as Russian president is to safeguard the lives and dignity of Russian citizens, wherever they are. This is what is behind the logic of the steps we are undertaking now.‘” So, somebody‘s up to no good here on Opening Day, and, with competing claims to the region at hand, matters could soon get much worse.
In any case, at the moment we’re calling for an immediate cease-fire in the region, and have reasserted that “the U.S. supports Georgia’s territorial integrity.” More to come, I’m sure.
Speaking of bravura performances recently, my sister Gill (on loan from ABT) premiered as Odette/Odile in the Kirov Ballet’s production of Swan Lake over the weekend in St. Petersburg, at the famed Mariinsky Theater. And, through the magic of Youtube, her Black Swan pas de deux is now online:
For the non-ballet folk, that spin move is known as a fouette, and they’re hard!
“It was the sound of wonder and foreboding. Nothing would ever be quite the same again — in geopolitics, in science and technology, in everyday life and the capacity of the human species.” On the eve of its fiftieth anniversary (Oct. 4), the NYT remembers the Sputnik launch. “It was an unprepossessing agent of alarm. A simple sphere weighing just 184 pounds and not quite two feet wide, it had a highly polished surface of aluminum, the better to reflect sunlight and be visible from Earth…The Russians clearly intended Sputnik as a ringing statement of their technological prowess and its military implications. But even they, it seems, had not foreseen the frenzied response their success provoked.”
“Dmitri Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Moscow center, put it well in an insightful article in Foreign Affairs, published a year ago. ‘Until recently,’ he wrote, ‘Russia saw itself as Pluto in the Western solar system, very far from the center but still fundamentally a part of it. Now it has left that orbit entirely. Russia’s leaders have given up on becoming part of the West and have started creating their own Moscow-centered system.’” With Dubya on the road for the G8 summit, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan surveys the state of US-Russian relations, concluding that “something is happening…[but w]e’re not — or at least there’s nothing inevitable about our becoming — enemies.“
A very happy belated birthday to my sister Gillian, who turned 27 yesterday. (We celebrated on Monday, but, as y’all might know, I haven’t posted here since then.) Update: Also, a very happy Yuri’s Night to you and yours — tonight is the 45th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s first-ever trip into space, as well as the 25th anniversary of the first space shuttle mission. (By way of Blivet.)
By way of a friend, the State Department releases its mandated yearly human rights report for 2005 (here), finding cause for alarm in Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela, Burma, North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe and (surprise, surprise) progress in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report doesn’t delve into human rights violations here at home (although China tries to fill that gap in response every year), but it does unequivocally state — in bold, no less — that “countries in which power is concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers tend to be the world’s most systematic human rights violators.” Hey y’all might be on to something. Deadpans the head of Amnesty International: “The Bush administration’s practice of transferring detainees in the ‘war on terror’ to countries cited by the State Department for their appalling human rights records actually turns the report into a manual for the outsourcing of torture.”
“Is this the right message to be sending to taxpayers in America, Russia, Europe and Japan — that it’s OK to do a stunt like this?” The Russian space agency weighs the financial pros and safety cons of an orbital chip shot from the ISS. “The golf shot is hardly the first commercial venture in space. The cash-strapped Russian space agency has taken three ‘space tourists’ to the orbiting laboratory for a reported $20 million apiece. An Israeli company, Tnuva Food Industries, paid the Russians $450,000 to show two cosmonauts drinking milk, and Pizza Hut paid $1 million to slap a logo on the side of a Proton rocket and have cosmonauts deliver a pizza to the space station. The Russians aren’t alone. Last year, the Japanese space agency arranged for the filming of an instant ramen noodle commercial on the space station.”
“For whatever reason, Bush seems fixated on his rug. Virtually all visitors to the Oval Office find him regaling them about how it was chosen and what it represents. Turns out, he always says, the first decision any president makes is what carpet he wants in his office…Sometimes Bush describes it as a metaphor for leadership. Sometimes he relates how Russian President Vladimir Putin admired the carpet. Sometimes he seems most taken by the lighting qualities.” Ah, the glory days…I guess it was only after that tough second decision — the drapes, maybe? — that the job started getting to Dubya.