Archive for January, 2011

“Obviously A Major Malfunction”

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

25 years ago, on January 28, 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed during launch, costing the lives of astronauts Francis “Dick” Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Sharon Christa McAuliffe and Gregory Jarvis. Their brief flight (STS-51-L) was the 25th shuttle launch.

By the time, shuttle flights had become routine and were hardly covered in the news. I was exiting the subway station Karlsplatz in Vienna, Austria when I heard the shocking news on a radio, which a storekeeper had sitting on the counter.

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Please Do Not Call Me “Caucasian”

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

There has been quite an uproar about an NPR (National Public Radio in the U.S.) commentator, who used the term “Gringo” for white Americans.

Personally, I don’t care if you call me “Gringo”. What I find offensive is the term “caucasian”. It is anthropologically and ethnologicially wrong and scientifically ignorant.

The term was probably invented by the German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. Around 1800, he theorized that all of the indigenous populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia originated in the Caucasus region. (Locate the Caucasus on a map. Most Europeans would not even consider it to be part of Europe).

In this region, so Blumenbach thought, God had created the “perfect man”. As they spread out in all directions, Blumenbach (and his fellow “monogenists”) believed, people degenerated in appearance.

Blumenbach wrote: “Caucasian variety – I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (birth place) of mankind.” [From: Blumenbach, De generis humani varietate nativa (3rd ed. 1795), trans. Bendyshe (1865)]

The 4th edition of Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (Leipzig, 1885-1890) shows the “caucasian race” as comprising Aryans, Semites and Hamites. Aryans are further subdivided into European Aryans and Indo-Aryans (the latter corresponding to the group later designated Indo-Iranians.

Blumenbach’s theories (most of which were derived from a bizarre pseudo science called “craniology” — the examination of skulls) are considered absurd by today’s standard of knowledge.

The term “caucasian” is anachronistic, misleading, scientifically wrong and should be dropped altogether. What should be used instead? ”Caucasoid”, “Europid” and “Europoid” have been suggested, but are a similarly demented.

“European” would suffice. “European-American”, if you must. “Europeans” can be subcategorized into “Nordic” or “Germanic European” peoples, Slavic peoples, etc. — although in practice, these groups have been mixing in Europe for thousands of years. What matters more are the distinct cultural (and linguistic) differences, which have been preserved in Europe to this day.

In the U.S., the Supreme Court in 1923 decided that Asian Indians may be “caucasian” but not “white”. (United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind). In 1946, the court modified its opinion. The issue came to the court’s attention because of their relevance to immigration laws which, before 1965 favored white Europeans. As a result, the court was left to decide who was to be considered “white”.

Outside of American English and in science, the term “caucasian” has fallen out of use a long time ago, and it should be thrown out from everyday American language as well.

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New Book On Multiple Universes

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Brian Greene, the author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, tackles the existence of multiple universes in his latest book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.

Here is Brian Greene, interviewed by Terry Gross, for NPR’s Fresh Air.

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos -
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Knopf (January 25, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307265633
ISBN-13: 978-0307265630
List price: $29.95

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So You Want To Be A Journalist?

Monday, January 24th, 2011

(video by Brooklyn Lee)

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Today’s Rocket Launch

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Today’s launch of a huge Delta IV Heavy lifted an NRO reconnaissance satellite into orbit. (Mission NRO-49). This was probably the largest rocket ever to launch from California so far. Here’s a picture I took from my window:

Plume of Delta IV Heavy as seen from my window. Photo: Reinhard Kargl

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Calling For Eddie Eagle

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

In a most tragic incident in the Los Angeles area, a 15-year old girl was shot in the head by an accidental gun discharge on Tuesday. She remains in critical condition and will be marred for life. The same bullet also wounded another student in the neck. It appears that the gun had been brought to school by a classmate, and gone off inside the student’s backpack.

Whenever we have a horrible event like this, it is fashionable to blame the schools, the “easy access to guns”, and to bash gun owner advocates — especially the National Rifle Association (NRA) — for allowing this to happen.

But what I hardly see mentioned is that the NRA is running a superb program warning kids of the dangers of guns. (more…)

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Why We Must Hire Robots, Not Minimum Wage Workers

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I encourage you to watch the following video entirely before allowing me to present my point of view:

As you can see, almost the entire manufacturing process in this film is handled by sophisticated machinery: robots.

I have long argued that instead of exploiting cheap Third World labor and lenient environmental regulations abroad, and instead of importing low wage workers en masse, the European Union and North America should focus on developing robotic manufacturing techniques for all consumer goods. Japan, unwilling to open its borders to foreign workers, is making great strides in this direction and will probably dominate the robotics industry, which it expects to see huge growth over the next few decades.

Robots could free mankind from the burden of most cumbersome, dangerous and boring toils. This would permit a restructuring of society to grant each individual more time for intellectual pursuits and pleasure. This in turn will fuel the education, media, travel and entertainment sectors of our economy, all of which are extremely difficult to outsource to cheap-labor countries.

(more…)

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The Eisenhower Farewell Address

Monday, January 17th, 2011

50 years ago today, Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose name is often mentioned among the greatest generals and U.S. presidents, gave a stern warning as part of his farewell address to the nation. I am amazed how astute Eisenhower’s observations were, and how they hold true five decades later.

Here is an excerpt from Eisenhower’s speech, delivered from the Oval Office of the White House:

[...] A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. [...]

From:  Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech to the nation, January 17, 1961.

The complete transcript and audio file of the address are archived here, another transcript is here.

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Gene Krupa

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

My favorite jazz drummer, Gene Krupa would have been 101 years old today. In the following clip from the 1941 comedy Ball of Fire, he is performing one of my favorite tunes of the era. (The script was written by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett; the film, also known as The Professor and the Burlesque Queen, starred Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck appears in this scene, but her singing voice belongs to Martha Tilton).

And below, Krupa is seen in a 1958 performance with Lionel Hampton and Chico Hamilton. (Note how smooth the transitions are. None of them even misses a beat at the handovers!)

Even more impressive: Lionel Hampton wasn’t only an expert on the drums, but also on the piano and vibraphone.

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Inciting Violence – Who’s Talking?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

After the horrendous shooting in Tucson, we now see great hand wringing and tear shedding on Capitol Hill and in the media. All quarters are lamenting the “loss of political civility” and the “culture of violent rhetoric”, which may have a tendency to “incite violence”. No kidding!

Well, folks, here is a selection of quotes from the last month or so. To my knowledge, nobody got fired (or even in trouble) for making these comments:

“Headline: Assassinate Assange? Body: Julian Assange poses a clear and present danger to American national security … The administration must take care of the problem – effectively and permanently.”
JEFFREY KUHNER (Washington Times columnist) [Link]

“Julian Assange is not an American citizen and he has no constitutional rights. So, there’s no reason that the CIA can’t kill him. Moreover, ask yourself a simple question: If Julian Assange is shot in the head tomorrow or if his car is blown up when he turns the key, what message do you think that would send about releasing sensitive American data?” – JOHN HAWKINS (Blogger) [Link]

“Headline: The CIA Should Kill Julian Assange” – JOHN HAWKINS (Blogger) [Link]

“Julian Assange is a cyber terrorist in wartime, he’s guilty of sabotage, espionage, crimes against humanity — he should be killed, but we won’t do that.” – RALPH PETERS (U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and author) [Link]

“I do not believe in leaks. I would execute leakers. They’re betraying our country.” – RALPH PETERS (U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and author) [Link]

“Folks like Julian Assange should be targeted as terrorists. They should be captured and kept in Guantanamo Bay, or killed.” – STEVE GILL (radio host) [Link]

“Back in the old days when men were men and countries were countries, this guy would die of lead poisoning from a bullet in the brain.” – RUSH LIMBAUGH (radio talk show host) [Link]

“This guy Assange could have been stopped, come on, folks. People have been shot for far less than this.” – RUSH LIMBAUGH (radio talk show host) [Link]

“(laughing) Ah, folks, even Greg Palkot of Fox News interviewed Assange, which means that Roger Ailes knows where he is. Ailes knows where Assange is. Give Ailes the order and there is no Assange, I’ll guarantee you, and there will be no fingerprints on it.” – RUSH LIMBAUGH (talk show host) [Link]

“Why can’t we act forcefully against WikiLeaks? Why can’t we use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are?” – WILLIAM KRISTOL (Editor of the Weekly Standard) [Link]

“This fellow Anwar al-Awlaki – a joint U.S. citizen hiding out in Yemen – is on a ‘kill list’ [for inciting terrorism against the U.S.]. Mr. Assange should be put on the same list.” – G. GORDON LIDDY (Former White House Adviser, talk show host) [Link]

“If convicted, [Bradley Manning] should be placed against a wall and executed by firing squad. (If extradited here, Assange deserves the same sendoff.)” – DEROY MURDOCK (Columnist for National Review) [Link]

“I’d like to ask a simple question: Why isn’t Julian Assange dead? …Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago? It’s a serious question.” – JOHAN GOLDBERG (Editor-at-large of National Review Online) [Link]

“I won’t think twice if Julian Assange meets the cold blade of an assassin, and apparently a significant number of others don’t care for the guy.” DONALD DOUGLAS (Blogger) [Link]

Julian Assange should be targeted like the Taliban.” - SARAH PALIN (Former US Vice Presidential Candidate) [Link]

“A dead man can’t leak stuff…This guy’s a traitor, he’s treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States. And I’m not for the death penalty, so…there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.” – BOB BECKEL (FOX News commentator) [Link]

“[Assange] should be underground — six feet underground. … He should be put in jail or worse, hanged in a public forum.” – ERIC BOLLING (FOX News commentator) [Link]

“Assange is a terrorist, an enemy combatant, and needs to be traed as such.” TODD SCHNITT (Radio Host) [Link]

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