Tag Archives: military

330. Dred Scott Rides Again

The issue at hand is constitutionality v. right and wrong.

My respect for the constitution is profound, but terrible things have been done in the name of constitutionality. Some of them are being done right now. (see yesterday’s post)

There is no question of the constitutionality of the move to deport undocumented immigrants, but a great deal of question as to its wisdom and its morality. Trump’s motives are unknowable and irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if he thinks he is saving America from an enemy within, or if he just jumped on an issue to provide a path the white house. The real question is — should it happen.

History has lessons for us on this issue. The constitution allowed Chinese immigrants to be deemed unfit for citizenship. The same was true of Japanese immigrants. Chinese were, eventually and quite constitutionally, denied entry into the US altogether simply for being Chinese. (see 306. White Men Only)

Andrew Jackson used his constitutional powers to make treaties in his removal of the southern Indian tribes. He also used trickery and deceit, but that is politics. American Indians living a settled life in agricultural villages, whose ancestors had been in America since before Columbus was a gleam in his father’s eye, were led by trickery and force to sign away their lands and were removed from the United States by military force, all quite constitutionally through the Indian Removal Act of 1930. (see 247. The People’s President)

Let’s turn the calendar forward from Indian removal to 1857. This was the era of the Missouri Compromise, which allowed new northern states to enter the union as non-slave states, while new southern states entered the union as slave states.

Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia. His owner took him to Illinois and later to what is now Minnesota. Later, he was returned to Missouri where he eventually sued for his freedom based on his long residence in free states. The litigations passed through multiple trials, which Scott sometimes won and sometimes lost, and finally made it to the U. S. Supreme Court as Dred Scott v. Sandford.

Scott lost. Chief Justice Taney stated that any person descended from Africans, whether slave or free, is not a citizen of the United States, according to the constitution. He further stated that the government could not confer either freedom or citizenship to non-whites, and the Missouri compromise could not exclude slavery from the northern territories.

All this in the name of the constitution. It brought anger, the election of Lincoln, and the civil war.

At the end of the Civil War, the 14th amendment stated that “all persons born or naturalized in the Unites States .  . . are citizens.”  That did nothing to help the Chinese and later Japanese who came to this country, but could not be naturalized because they weren’t white. (again, see 306. White Men Only)

And it does nothing for the Mexican-Americans who came to America illegally because the laws made it impossible to come in legally. If you read yesterday’s post, and if you followed the link and actually looked at the Permanent Residence application form, you know this to be true. If we native born Americans were required to positively answer all the questions on that form, three-quarters of us would have to leave the country.

I respect the Constitution, but I don’t respect those who misuse it. Trickery and deceit gave Andrew Jackson his way, but this is not 1830, and it should not happen again.

325. Exploring Challenger Deep

300px-challenger   300px-bathyscaphe_trieste

HMS Challenger 1874 and bathyschaphe Trieste 1960

Challenger Deep is located in the western Pacific about 2000 kilometers east of the Philippines. It is the deepest part of the Mariana’s Trench, which makes it the deepest part of any ocean.

March 23, 1875, the British research ship H.M.S. Challenger rolled out a line with a weight on the end to measure the oceans depth, something it had been doing throughout its four year journey. It was quite a line. When the weight hit bottom, Challenger’s crew had paid out five miles of hemp — a depth of 4475 fathoms in the measurements of the day.

Although cruises like the Beagle and the Endeavour had set the stage for such exploration, the Challenger expedition was rigged out specifically to study the world’s oceans beneath their surface. It essentially initiated of the science of oceanography. Our space shuttle Challenger was named after H.M.S. Challenger, as was the ship H.M.S. Challenger II which returned to the spot in 1951 and remeasured the depth using an echo-sounder. This time the figure was seven miles, not five.

Reaching the bottom of Challenger Deep remained impossible until two world wars, submarines, frogmen, sonar, and the invention of the Aqualung wedded modern technology to oceanographic exploration. A new invention by Auguste Piccard, the bathyscaphe, finally made very deep dives possible.

In its essential function, a bathyscaphe is more like a dirigible than a submarine. The crew is suspended beneath the vessel in a steel sphere designed to withstand great pressure. The skin of this pressure sphere is so thick, five inches in the case of the Trieste, that it would sink immediately. To prevent this, it is suspended beneath a large, thin skinned, self-propelled float filled with gasoline. This provides buoyancy and, since gasoline is a liquid, is not affected by pressure. Air tanks allow the bathyscaphe to float on the surface as it is being prepared for use. Once the air tanks are emptied, the negatively buoyant bathyscaphe sinks to the bottom — seven miles down in the case of Challenger Deep. The pressures there are so great that it is impossible to refill the air tanks, so the bathyscaphe also carries several tons of steel shot in open bottom containers, held in place by powerful electromagnets. When it is time to return to the surface, the electromagnets are shut off, the steel shot is released, and the now positively buoyant craft returns to the surface. In case of a power failure, the shot would automatically fall away.

The bathyscaphe Trieste was built in Italy to a modification of a Belgian design by Swiss inventor Piccard for the French navy, who subsequently sold it to the American Navy, who rebuilt it with a new and stronger pressure sphere made in Germany. Globalization, anyone?

On the twenty-third of January, 1960, the Trieste was ready to plumb Challenger Deep. The crew consisted of Jacques Piccard, son of the designer, and Navy Lt. Don Walsh. They boarded the vessel, moved down to the seven foot diameter pressure sphere and sealed the hatch. The air tanks were allowed to fill with water and the descent began. It took nearly five hours to sink to the bottom of the Deep. Three quarters of the way down, one of the plexiglas windows cracked, but not enough to cause disaster.

As they cruised above the deep ocean floor, Piccard and Walsh reported a bottom of smooth ooze and saw bottom fish swimming, proving that vertebrate life could survive such high pressure and eternal darkness. They spent only twenty minutes at the bottom, in part because of the cracked viewport, and hours more returning to the surface.

No one would return to those depths for another half century.

Trivia for the faithful: Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: TNG seems to have been named after the Jacques Piccard, or after his father Auguste Piccard and his twin brother Jean Felix Piccard. Different sources credit different family members with the name origin. Also, in TNG episode “11001001” a small, slow starship named Trieste is mentioned.

294. Let God Sort Them Out

Looks like Trump is at it again.

Half the country is protesting his latest executive order. The other half is sitting back and saying, “Keep it up! Don’t listen to those damned liberal punks!”

There is a larger issue in all this, no matter whether Trump’s latest move is brilliant or stupid. Arnaud Amalric said it best back in 1209:

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

You’ve never heard that quote? Of course, you have – translated into English:

Kill them all and let God sort them out.

I first saw the quote on a T-shirt during the Viet Nam era. It was quite popular with a certain part of the population, especially in a war where the “enemy” and “the ones we went to save” were so inextricably intermixed. I later heard it attributed to Oliver Cromwell, and it did sound just like him. I finally tracked the first appearance to Amalric in 1209, but really, it is a universal sentiment.

You might even say that this is the real purpose of war. You can’t just shoot the German down the street, but call him a name, put him in a category, define him as the enemy, and you can shoot an anonymous Kraut.

If you are on the line, rifle in hand, facing a matching line of the enemy, how do you know which of those men deserve to die and which ones do not. You don’t. You can’t. And even if you could, you couldn’t do anything about it. 

If you were on a jury, deciding the guilt or innocence of a man accused of murder, careful judgment would be your primary duty. But in war, it’s a case of, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” It doesn’t matter if you are a trained and committed Seal or a kid six weeks out of high school, barely trained, lost and confused, drafted, and praying to be anywhere else than in line of battle – the moment requires that you kill, and leave the question of justice in other hands.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t just work that way in war. It works that way in everyday life, as well. It certainly works that way in politics.

 When you see a real problem – a true evil – you want to root it out. It is a noble impulse. You want to stop evil before it can act. Of course, you do. We all do. But how?

Pass a law, make a rule, change a procedure. and apply it to the “bad guys”. But who are the bad guys? If they have committed a crime, there are plenty of laws already on the books to deal with them. But if you are trying to keep a crime from being committed . . .

To stop evil before it strikes, you have to act on the groups that harbor the bad guys. (And if you don’t hear the tongue-in-cheek in that sentence, you aren’t listening very hard.)

If you are afraid of Syrian terrorists, ban all Syrians. That’s the Trump version. If some innocent Syrians get hurt, it’s not our problem – he says. He doesn’t say, “Ban them all, let God sort them out.” But it comes to the same thing.

Liberals aren’t any better. They just apply Amalric’s rule to different problems. They say, “We must keep guns out of the hands of crazies.” Okay, who’s crazy? Who decides? Try to implement a preemptive law based on mental health as a criterion, and who would we ban? Psychotics? The delusional? Patients under treatment for depression? Adults from abusive childhoods, working through their issues? No problem, just disarm them all; let God sort them out. And keep them safe.

* * * * * *

Actually, it might just work, (he said, slipping his tongue back into his cheek.) Since every liberal knows that Donald Trump’s supporters are crazy, that would disarm half the population. Since ever Trump follower knows that you gotta be nuts to be a liberal, that would disarm the other half.

Problem solved. Just declare all of America crazy, and let God sort us out.

The rest of the world would not disagree.

* * * * * *

P.S., when Amalric made his famous statement, he was leading Catholic troops against Cathars, whose interpretation of Christianity differed from the Pope’s. Amalric wrote the Pope describing the subsequent battle, “Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt.”

Unfortunately, that takes the humor out of their situation, and ours.

265. The Last Day of Peace

Tomorrow is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was the last day of a peace which American’s had clung to even while war surged across Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The next day came war, and after the war was over America found herself to be a super-power engaged in a cold war with the USSR. Nothing would ever be the same.

I had intended to write a post giving a picture of that last day of peace, but when I began my research, I found that it had already been done, and done well. Here are two examples:

Roosevelt to Japanese emperor: “Prevent further death and destruction”

The day before infamy: December 6, 1941.

There have been other last days of peace. No one needs to be reminded of the day preceding 9/11. We probably ought to remember March 19, 2003, the day before we invaded Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that never existed. We might also consider Viet Nam, but there is no “day before” to a war we stumbled into one foolish step at a time.

The most poignant last day of peace in American history is November 6, 1860. That was the election day which gave us Abraham Lincoln. By December, South Carolina had seceded. By January, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana had followed suit. By May the rest of the South had also broken off, and the Civil War was already underway.

As I write this protesters are in the streets carrying signs that say “Trump is not my President”. They haven’t seceded yet, although there are many who would like to. Yesterday I saw a petition for California to withdraw from the Union.

I opposed Trump. I could write thousands of words telling you why, but that time has passed.

Some of what Trump said during the campaign made sense, if you stripped away the racism, the insensitivity, and the bombast. It was no accident that people voted for him. We were all faced with choosing the lesser of two evils.

The time has come to regroup and become what the Brits call “the loyal opposition”.

Loyal.

And opposed. Oh, yes, very much opposed to the part of his message which was racist, exclusionary, and backward looking. That was the bulk of his message, but it wasn’t all. Not quite.

256. The Space Station That Never Was

 275px-mol_usafI love conspiracy theories. I don’t believe them, but they’re fun.

We do know that much is hidden from us. The SR-71 Blackbird was a myth, sworn not to exist, for most of it’s operational life, so why not believe in the Aurora, or at least wish it were real and dream up stories that use it.

The problem with actually believing in conspiracies is that most conspirators are too dumb to pull them off. Still, occasionally . . .

In 2005 two spacesuits of unknown origin were found in a locked room in a NASA museum. They were not connected with any known program, and presented a mystery to be solved. The story of chasing that mystery was well told by NOVA in its 2008 episode Astrospies. A decade after the discovery, and seven years after the NOVA program, files and photos were declassified and the secrets of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory were fully revealed.

The Air Force has long had a hand in spaceflight. As early as 1957, it funded development of a spaceplane, the X-20 Dyna-Soar. Ultimately that project was scrapped because of the success of the Mercury and Gemini programs, but USAF shifted goals to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory and continued.

The existence Manned Orbiting Laboratory project was not secret. It was announced in 1963 but most of what went on was not revealed to the public. Essentially, it was an orbiting spy station designed to take pictures of military interest. MOL was a single use vehicle. It was designed to be launched, used for a forty day mission, then abandoned. At that time the crew would return via a Gemini B capsule which was launched with the MOL.

MOL was designed for a stacked launch. The launch vehicle was to carry the MOL with the manned Gemini B in place at the top. Once in polar orbit, the Gemini B would be powered down and the two astronauts would move into the MOL where they would spend their mission taking pictures of the Earth through advanced camera system called KH-10. At the end of the mission, the astronauts would reactivate the Gemini B and return to Earth in it, abandoning the MOL.220px-titan-3c_mol-gemini-b-test_3

The Gemini B was virtually identical to the Gemini used by NASA, except for a hatch through the heat shield that allowed astronauts to move between it and the MOL.

The initial launch took place on Nov. 3, 1966 from Cape Canaveral. The MOL launched was a boilerplate mockup made from a Titan propellant tank, and the Gemini B was the prototype, and unmanned. The capsule returned to Earth safely, proving the modified heat shield, and is on display today at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum.

In June 1969, the project was cancelled. No manned and functioning flight was made. By the time of its cancellation, progress had outrun the program, and unmanned reconnaissance satellites had proved that they could do the job more cheaply than the MOL.

In all seventeen astronauts trained to fly MOL missions. One was Robert Lawrence, the first black astronaut, who died in training in 1967. (see 167. On the Brink of Glory) When the program was cancelled, all the astronauts who were under 35 years old were offered jobs at NASA. The seven who were eligible all accepted and became NASA Astronaut Group 7. All flew on the space shuttle.

253. Handgun Accuracy

2-gunsOver in Serial, the chapter Raven’s Run 42 came out yesterday. This post was supposed to stand across from it, but Leonard Cohen’s death caused me to push Handgun Accuracy back a day to make room for an appreciation of what he meant to me.

Everything in the night drive through Martigues and the Barre Lagoon in yesterday’s post is from research. I was never there. But I was in Marseille and everything there is from experience. You have to have some first hand knowledge, mixed with research, if you want to look like you know everything.

The bit with the .45 automatic is also accurate, and from experience. I only fired an M1911A1 once in the Navy, in boot camp, but years later I acquainted myself with it and a large variety of other handguns at a firing range near my home. I spent an hour a week there, every Tuesday for a year, and became proficient with the two dozen styles and calibers they had for rent. That was partly for writing research, and partly because we live in a dangerous world.

You have to be able to describe handgun usage accurately for the kind of fiction I write. And yes, this post title has that double meaning, like the NRA bumper sticker that says Gun Control Means Using Both Hands. I could never resist a bad joke.

Accuracy is important in science fiction weaponry as well. In Jandrax, Jan’s “express pistol” was a technologically advanced weapon that was fairly fully explained, while the other weapons were nineteenth century technology because they were meant to be repairable on a frontier world.

In Cyan, due out soon, the explorers are operating in the near future. I decided to give them handguns only slightly advanced over the present day for their initial exploration, as in:

“Gus carried a comped 12mm magnum semi-automatic in a cross draw holster.“

This led the proofreader at EDGE to highlight comped and write “?”. (See 134. The Long Road to Cyan (2) for details on proofreading in the modern era.)

Comped actually refers to mid-twentieth century technology. I replied:

Comped, pronounced compt, not comp-ed, is a standard term. It comes from compensated, and refers to a series of slits on either side of the front sight of a heavy handgun, which redirects some of the expanding gasses upward, counteracting muzzle flip. Gun nerds will know the term; others will just be puzzled.

The cross draw holster is reasonable, but it is mentioned early because it sets up a plot point I would need about forty pages later.  And 12mm magnum will certainly ruffle the hackles of purists, but again, it is so named for a reason. The largest caliber presently designated in millimeters is 10mm and magnum is applied to a new, more powerful version of an old caliber. This means the 12mm magnum is two generations away – which is what I was looking for, a near-future version of present day technology.

I made these automatics obsolete during the colonization phase by introducing a handgun called a fletcher which was, in essence, a hand held rocket launcher. If you need a powerful, hand held weapon with little recoil, replacing bullets with mini-rockets is the simplest way forward.

You can only use phasers in Star Trek novels and no self respecting science fiction author will ever say “ray gun” again, but fletchers – certainly under a different name – will probably be available within a decade or so. High caliber handguns have just about reached the limits of human hand strength, even though all of them are comped today.

Keep your eye on future issues of Field and Stream for new developments.