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Please: A moment of silence for Luna 15

So. We’re in the week of Apollo 11. The first step into a world where there isn’t just one world.

But there was another mission that week, the Soviet Luna 15.  Don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what NASA has to say about it.

Luna 15 was placed in an intermediate earth orbit after launch and was then sent toward the Moon. The spacecraft was capable of studying circumlunar space, the lunar gravitational field, and the chemical composition of lunar rocks. It was also capable of providing lunar surface photography.

Notice the date. Notice the absence of a reference to Apollo 11. Actually, from what I gather, the mission was designed to return samples to the Soviet Union the same week that the Americans were there.

But at the time the Luna 15 was of interest not only to journalists sensing a Soviet plot to sabotage the Apollo mission but to the people at NASA who were concerned that there could be a collision with Apollo. In, what might be considered an unprecedented cooperation between the two countries at the hight of the Cold War and in the middle of the Space Race, the Soviets shared the flight plan with NASA.

There is an interesting press conference discussing Luna 15 at the NASA history site  (search for “Luna 15”). The most humorous part is when a journalist asks when the information was given to NASA and why the press hadn’t been informed. The answer. “Oh we got the – I didn’t – I didn’t, quite frankly, didn’t see any – I thought there wouldn’t be any more news last night than there was this morning, and we… [laughter] …put it out. I was at home.“ A classic in journalistic gotcha journalism shot down by someone admitting that he didn’t think it was all that important.

But as so many Soviet missions in 1969, the Luna 15 wasn’t a success. It crashed into the moon at 15:50 UT on July 21, 1969. The Apollo Astronauts saw the spacecraft pass over the Apollo landing sight.

While the recording is difficult to understand, there is a recording of the loss of the Luna.   The recording was made using the radio antenna at Jordell Bank, Macclesfield, England where scientists were following both the Apollo and the Soviet missions.

So, let’s have a moment of silence for Luna 15. A mission doomed from the start. Even if it had successfully landed, started and returned to the Earth, It wouldn’t have been enough. Quoted from the Asif Siddiqi’s book Challenge to Apollo:

There was one small irony to the whole mission. Even if there had not been a critical eighteen-hour delay in attempting a landing, and even if Luna 15 had landed, collected a soil sample, and safely returned to Earth, its small return capsule would have touched down on Soviet territory two hours and four minutes after the splashdown of Apollo 11. The race had, in fact, been over before it had begun.

OK. I may come back

Wow. I didn’t expect this

I’m thinking about coming back. Anyone out there still interesed? Please let me know.

Why Do The Insurgents Need Iran?

OK. The Iran rhetoric as cooled off for a couple of days but like a case of herpes, I’m sure it will return.

The question is, why is the US government so sure that the Iraqi insurgents even need Iran to support them? The US is doing fine all by itself.

From a new GAO report,

Although the former MNSTC-I commander reported that about 185,000 AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 items of body armor, and 140,000 helmets were issued to Iraqi security forces as of September 2005,18 the MNSTC-I property books contain records for only about 75,000 AK-47 rifles, 90,000 pistols, 80,000 items of body armor, and 25,000 helmets.19 Thus, DOD [Department of Defense] and MNF-I [Multi-National Forces – Iraq] cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor, and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces as of September 22, 2005. [my emphasis]

And then there were all those billions in cash that went – um – missing.

But hey! What’s 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, etc. among friends!? Really.

As David Oliver, the former Director of Management and Budget of the CPA put it. “Billions of dollars of their money disappeared, yes I understand, I’m saying what difference does it make?”

I mean, as the French say. C’est la vie guerre.

(Hat Tip: Noah Schachtmann/Danger Room)

Mr Giggles Doesn’t Work

While I continue to fight my summer malaise and have nothing intelligent or clever to say, you may as well head over to Slate and read Dahlia Lithwick’s latest on her favorite Attorney General – Mr. Giggles – Alberto Gonzales.

Her take is a must read on his latest faux pas, as reported yesterday in the Washington Post. The jist is that Gonzales testified to Congress that “there has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse.” This after getting a number of reports from the FBI detailing exactly that. One predating his testimony only by a couple of days.

From the Washington Post piece,

As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse,” Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The acts recounted in the FBI reports included unauthorized surveillance, an illegal property search and a case in which an Internet firm improperly turned over a compact disc with data that the FBI was not entitled to collect, the documents show. Gonzales was copied on each report that said administrative rules or laws protecting civil liberties and privacy had been violated.

My take – Gonzales should claim the DOJ hadn’t verified the information, thus taking a legal wiggle in a painful but perhaps bizarrely erotic right wing manner.

Lithwick’s take – Gonzales has just stopped trying to claim he is incompetent and is now just claiming he doesn’t actually do anything.

Her take is probably better.

While you’re at Slate, you might want to read Fred Kaplan’s evisseration of George W. Bush’s latest speech on Iraq. There are three important take away points.

Bush not only didn’t say anything new, he didn’t actually include any factoids in the speech at all – just justifications of faith and belief. Not even the Bush spin doctors nor the Fox News channel can find any good news coming out of Iraq. (Of course Fox just stopped covering the war at some point.)

Second, Bush seems to be asking for a pass until September. When the surge report comes in, he will claim you need several months to analyse it. Following that, you can start discussing ideas, making stratergy. Plans can first be drawn up some time in December; actions much later. It’s his classic Bait and Switch but I doubt even the Republicans in Congress will play along.

Finally – Kaplan points out a change in tone. Bush didn’t create the plan in the first place; the surge was all Petraeus’ idea. Bush just passively listened to his generals. Again. Pesky generals.

Because neither Mr. Giggles nor his boss really do anything. Ever!

What kind of atheist are you?

  You scored as Scientific Atheist. These guys rule. I’m not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist
Apathetic Atheist
Spiritual Atheist
Angry Atheist
Militant Atheist

What kind of atheist are you?
created with

Hugs – A YouTube meme

It’s Not A War

Iraq is one of the major issues in American political discussion today. The problem is that it is still seen and more importantly described as an American war. It isn’t.

That’s why the article in today’s LA Times is so – um – misworded.

In early February, the war in Iraq came home to this small railroad town on the Nebraska prairie where farms begin to give way to high plains.

Seven thousand miles away on a Baghdad street, a bomb exploded beside Army Sgt. Randy J. Matheny’s armored vehicle, killing the 20-year-old McCook High School graduate and stunning his small hometown.

“It caused us all to reexamine what we were thinking,” said Walt Sehnert, who has run a popular bakery on McCook’s main street since 1957. “Those of us who were adamant about the war had to stand back and take a deep breath.”

Across Nebraska, there has been a lot of reexamination lately.

One of the things that needs to be reexaminined isn’t the reality of what is happening, it is how we talk about it. Do you really want to bring the boys and girls back home? (And yes, someone like Pink really needs to cover Vera Lynn – it would do a world of good.)

If you want to extract America from the failed neo-con experiment in the Middle East, there is something very simple. You can do it today, tomorrow, until the boys and girls come home: stop calling it a war!

The ‘war’ in Iraq simply wasn’t. What started as an invasion quickly changed into a messed-up mop-up, a wrecked reconstruction and finally morphed into a moral morass best termed occupation.

Americans are a proud people they don’t like to lose wars. Stop talking about ending the war in Iraq. Stop talking about winning or losing the war in Iraq. Every time you say war, you extend the legitimacy for something that should have stopped a long time ago.

But you don’t win or lose an occupation, you end one. So start calling it what it is… an occupation.

And end the American Occupation of Iraq.

Wolf Paws

Turkish newspapers followed his visit closely — including the “sock-gate” incident — because he spoke positively about the country’s modernization programs.

Credulity Circles

The 56th Sceptics Circle is up at Scientia Natura.


Must eat brains

The BBC has been taken over by Zombies… Film at 11:00

Land Lobsters

Animial rights terrorist propaganda picture from pamphlet proportedly from the NRA


After having her head in the stars, Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, has her feet back on the ground. 


The space capsule containing Ms Ansari and the two professional space travellers* Pavel Vinogradov and Jeffrey Williams has landed back in Kasachstan this morning at 3:13 MET.


*I refuse to use astronaut  and cosmonut. Ideological idiocy!


One more time I’d just like to say – cool lady, cool trip. That slot couldn’t have gone to someone who wanted it more and really worked to earn it.


Spiegel-Online (German)

New York Times 

Washington Post

Girls Just Wanna Sing Hate Songs (updated)

[Update: News as of June 2007 can be found here. (Hi Sweden ;-)]

Remember the Girl Band Racist Hate Singers Prussian Blue? This would be Lamb and Lynx Gaede who enjoy playing white supremacist meetings. Well they’re baaaaack in the news.

According the Great Falls Tribune, they moved from Bakersfield, California to Kalispell,

The arrival of a white nationalist family, including 14-year-old twins who perform music as the group Prussian Blue, has prompted neighbors to distribute fliers that say, “No hate here.”

Lamb and Lynx Gaede, their mother April and stepfather Mark Harrington moved to Kalispell from Bakersfield, Calif., which was “not white enough,” April Gaede told ABC’s “Primetime” in a show that aired last fall.

For some reason, the residents of Kalispell didn’t find this form of ‘nice place to live’ marketing particularly amusing. Equally oddly the Gaedes were surprised by the reaction, the distribution of fliers, felt harassed and (as good new neighbors would) complained to the police. The police simply informed the Gaedes that this was well within freedom of speech rights and they’ll have to live with it. (A little like the hate songs the girls sing but we won’t go into that.)

Not mentioned in the article or any other blog entries I’ve read about this bunch is the connection between the name Prussian Blue and holocaust denial. Holocaust deniers claim that there couldn’t have been any gas chambers in Auschwitz because the walls of the chambers aren’t colored blue. Why should they be blue? A standard reaction between cyanide and iron (in the bricks used to build the chamber) is usually called Prussian blue. Holocaust deniers have been saying for years, “No blue brick, ho holocaust.” Of course this claim is silly because
a) the interiors of the gas chambers were painted and the cyanide couldn’t reach the bricks well and
b) because the gas concentrations used in the gas chambers were far too low to have the kinds of effects the deniers would like to see.
c) any marginal blue coloring would have long since weathered away because the gas chambers were blown up shortly before the end of the war.

But a real girl band doesn’t allow trivial things like facts or taste stand in the way of a skyrocketing career. Now if they could only find somewhere to live. Might I recommend under a rock? On the moon?

Hat tip: David Schraub/Moderate Voice and Eugene Volokh

Just a Minor Glitch on the Reality Radar

Does anyone remember why America claims to be such a great country? Wasn’t keeping people from government excesses one of the reasons claimed for the American Revolution.

The Washington Post has an article about a Canadian victim of rendition. His story reads even worse than that of Khaled Masri, the German citizen taken to a secret prison for 5 months. Wasn’t protecting someone from arrest without evidence one of the pillars of American justice? Oh! Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen of Lebanese decent wasn’t arrested, he was “secretly spirited [suspects] to foreign countries for interrogation by often brutal methods.”

Military tribuals Show trials and secret prisons gulags were also something said only to exist under communist dictatorships. That’s what I was taught by my über-patriotic history teachers in high school.

At least it’s good to know that our Canadian friends also got in the act, seeing the spectre of terrorism in foreign nationals, winning brownie points with the American government.

There is no real compensation either the Canadian nor the American governments can give this man. Will he ever be able feel safe while travelling through the US? Do you? I’m sure the government attorneys on both sides of the border will fall all over themselves limiting the damage and claiming national security issues to avoid paying appropriate reparations.

Is this what patriotism means? Is this the price for feeling safe? Are these just people simply issues to be dealt with, glitches on an otherwise clear reality radar?

The Everwatchful Cyberelves at the Washington Post

Defining Moments in Blogging #1:

  1. Finally decide to start blog
  2. Write snarky comment about the color story in Washington Post, linking to same.
  3. They. Link. Back!

Is it just me or do you find that odd?

I mean what criteria are they using? Do those poor cyberelves troll the Net searching for new blogs using the full words “Washington Post” just to raise the new blogs page hits, thereby creating a weird loyalty/enslavement thing with the new blogger? Was I the only person on the planet with a comment on that story? Oh sure, Techocrati and all that, but really – what were they smoking? What do cyberelves eat anyway? (Can I manage to do it again? *evil grin*)

By the way, if you are a female cyberelf – drop me a line, I’d like an interview. (Mallelves need not apply.)

Nerdness – just though you’d like to know…

I am nerdier than 96% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Book synopsis: Abducted

Abducted – How People Come to Believe They Have Been Abducted By Aliens
Susan A. Clancy

This was an amazingly fun book to read. I have always been more interested in why people do things and less in what they have done; understanding motivations helps understand people. Susan A. Clancy, a post-doc in psychology at Harvard, studied abduction stories and the abducted. This book is the result of those studies.

She describes how a Harvard PhD student ends up studying the abducted; shows what leads to the abduction memory, why all the stories sound similar and finally discusses who holds abduction beliefs and why these beliefs are so important to them.

First off, and Clancy makes this absolutely clear, she is one of the unbelievers. She doesn’t think aliens are flying about nabbing people from their beds, cars or whatever. This leads me to a major, abet trivial, criticism of the book, the cover. The editor/marketing person who chose the violent, reflective green dust cover should be abducted by aliens and never returned. If this book did poorly in bookstores, the cover was to blame. Trying to make a book for sceptics look like a book for true believers is a less than ideal marketing move. The ‘Abducted’ title leaves something to be desired as well. Wouldn’t ‘Understanding the Abducted’ have worked just as well?  It might have sounded like a self-help book.

The book begins with how the author got involved with abduction memories. She describes being interested the recovery of memory during hypnosis or therapy and how these relate to actual events or whether the memories are created ‘on the couch.’ One of the motivations for this research was the large numbers of ‘remembered’ sexual abuse cases in the late 90’s. Claiming these memories might be wrong was, at the time, less than politically correct. Clancy realised, in order to show memories could be created during therapy she would need a less controversial subject area. Enter the aliens.

Alien abductions – well, the memories of alien abductions – make a great topic for PhD research. They are well known, poorly researched and have a nice postmodernist, New Age feel.

It took three months to convince Harvard’s Institutional Review Board that this was a viable research project, but at last I got the green light and ran the first of many newspaper ads seeking subjects: “Have you been abducted by aliens?” By 10:15AM my voicemail was full.

This rather bold method led to her only encounter with an alien. She receives a very strange voice mail.

[T]he machine emitted a static-like sound, followed by about twenty seconds of punctuated, atonal beeping. There was an eerie syntax, almost a cadence, to the noise, and it ended with a prolonged hissssssss. It was no less creepy the tenth time I played it, amid a safe crowd of fellow graduate students the next morning.

The book continues with Clancy’s first encounter with abductees and a description of the typical abduction. The stories often have two different phases. The initial phase where the abductees wake up and know something has happened. The quest for an explanation often leads these individuals to seek contact with abductee support groups and perhaps directed therapy. Detailed memories usually only return after the person has gone through hypnosis or therapy.

For the author, the most surprising thing is just how normal most of her subjects are. This is not the standard tinfoil underpants crowd; these are doctors, lawyers and your next door neighbour (no, I mean the normal one). The only aberration these people show is the belief that ET popped in one evening, inserted the odd probe into a bodily orifice and left without leaving a trace. Even more astonishing is the fact that most of these people feel better, more relieved and more a part of the universe knowing this happened to them.

According to Clancy, this is the key to understanding the phenomena. The subjects she interviewed were generally very open-minded and had shown some prior interest in aliens. Being abducted was the explanation for sleep paralysis that made them feel better, more special, more connected to the cosmos.

Unfortunately, at 179 pages the book seems too short. Clancy might have spent more time exploring the cultural and historical aspects of alien abductions. And while she does briefly discuss the origin of aliens as opposed to witchcraft, demonic possession or other perfectly natural reasons for sleep paralysis, I found this section of the book to be slightly less than satisfactory. Like a child in a candy store, I was left wanting more. Having a metal probe inserted in your belly button might not be your idea of a mental baby blanket but some people find this more appealing than reality. The book does not discuss what is missing in our society that causes people to seek extraterrestrial comfort. Clancy leaves us to ponder this question at the local pub of our choice.

Although this book leaves one wanting more, it is a must for every sceptic. Often sceptics will ask the question “How can they believe this crazy stuff?” This book tries and largely succeeds in answering the question for alien abduction. Clancy has written a fun, readable account of this phenomena and I can only encourage others to read this book.