The worst idea in history?

Earth laser

Or we could not

It could prove to be:

A pair of MIT researchers has proposed a radical method for making our presence known in the universe.

In a new feasibility study, the team says it could be possible to use laser technology as a beacon to attract the attention of alien astronomers, much like a planetary-scale porch light.

Using a laser focused through a huge telescope, the researchers say this ‘porch light’ could be seen from as far as 20,000 light-years away.

In a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, the MIT team describes how a high-powered 1 to 2-megawatt laser could be aimed toward space through a 30 to 45-meter telescope to create a detectable beacon.

With this configuration, the infrared radiation from the system would be strong enough for an intelligent species to differentiate it from the sun.

Granted, this is just a feasibility study rather than an actual proposal.

I think Stephen Hawking had the right idea about contacting aliens:

“One day, we might receive a signal from a planet like this, but we should be wary of answering back,” he in the documentary, “Stephen Hawking’s Favourite Places.”

“Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.”

He claimed alien life could be “rapacious marauders roaming the cosmos in search of resources to plunder, and planets to conquer and colonize.”

My concern would be catching the attention of an aggressive von Neumann probe launched by a xenophobic alien civilization. Such a probe would have a search and destroy mission to identify signs of intelligent life throughout the galaxy, and exterminate it. Aiming a giant laser beacon at space would be like announcing your position to the enemy. Sometimes you just need to lay low.

Confirmed! Monster black hole at center of Milky Way galaxy

The enormous object with a mass of millions of suns at the center of our galaxy, 26,000 light-years away from the Earth, has long been believed to be a supermassive black hole. Now we have proof:

Researchers used the European Southern Observatory’s sensitive GRAVITY instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to observe infrared radiation flares coming from the accretion disc around Sagittarius A* — the massive object at the center of our galaxy. Scientists think that most galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their center, but they’d never before had the data and observations to prove it.

To measure the effects of gravity near to a black hole, scientists needed to observe an object actually traveling close to it. They found their mark in a small star called S2 whose orbit takes it deep within Sagittarius A*’s gravity well every 16 years. As they watched, they saw three bright flares traveling around the black hole’s event horizon at about 30 percent of the speed of light — around 216 million miles per hour.

It’s exactly what Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts would occur when a hot spot (like S2) passes close to a black hole weighing as much as 4 million suns, and the observation helps to confirm that it’s really there.

Never before have scientists observed material orbiting so close to a black hole’s event horizon.

Oh, and in case you were worried:

If the Milky was does in fact have a black hole in the center, will the entire Milky Way eventually be drawn in, (like vacuuming a sheet off of a bed), or are certain parts too far away? Is there a big sphere of empty space around a black hole?

No, the popular picture of a black hole as a huge vacuum cleaner sucking in everything around it is inaccurate. Black holes, even the one at the center of our galaxy, are very small. Only if you get very close to a black hole’s event horizon does it start pulling everything in. So no, most of the galaxy will not eventually fall into the hole. Whether black holes have empty space around them or not depends on their environment. There may be objects or gas close enough to fall in, or there may not be. Many black holes have disks of infalling material around their equators. –Dave Kornreich

Sagittarius A NASA

Supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Source: NASA)

A new Manhattan Project

US Army tent fabric

Do you ever get the feeling that the US will sleepwalk into a war with a great-power rival and lose?

The U.S. military has a tent problem.

The only domestic supplier of the specialist polyester fibre used in its tents has gone out of business with potential “significant impact to multiple tent and fabric systems”, according to a multi-agency assessment of weaknesses in the U.S. defence complex.

Tents are just one of nearly 300 strategic frailties identified in the country’s military supply chains. (“Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States”, September 2018)

The list ranges from the cold-rolled aluminium used for armour plating through submarine shaft maintenance to the silicon power switches used in missile systems. And that’s just the handful of examples that made it into the declassified section of the report.

“All facets of the manufacturing and defense industrial base are currently under threat, at a time when strategic competitors and revisionist powers appear to be growing in strength and capability,” the report states.

Topping the list of “strategic competitors” is China.

The DoD report (PDF) thunders:

“China’s non-market distortions to the economic playing field must end or the U.S. will risk losing the technology overmatch and industrial capabilities that have enabled and empowered our military dominance.”

True, but why is this up to China? Instead of whining about the unfairness of it all, shouldn’t the US be proactively defending the supply chain for critical technologies? How hard would it be to jump-start (or restart) manufacturing of key technologies in the US? Bring it ALL back under the aegis of a new Manhattan Project for the 21st century. Incidentally, this would also help to reduce the trade deficit and create manufacturing jobs in the US.

The Trump administration has just begun to do this with steel and aluminum imports, invoking national security as a justification for tariffs. Back to Reuters:

Beneath the apparent chaos of U.S. trade policy lies a comprehensive rethink of the country’s industrial-military policy, specifically its raw material supply chains and its manufacturing sector.

Bannon vs Frum debate on populism

Be it resolved: The future of Western politics is populist, not liberal.

Steve Bannon says yes, David Frum says no. Full debate here:

The moderator expands on the topic a bit: “Is the West living through a populist sea-change that will irrevocably transform our politics? And can these longstanding liberal values – liberal values of trade, society and politics – push back against this populist surge and reassert their primacy in the 21st century?”

It’s a spirited argument and worth watching in full. Bannon achieved a decisive victory in this one. Before the debate, only 28% of the audience agreed with the resolution, while 72% disagreed. After the debate, 57% agreed while 43% disagreed. [UPDATE: Munk Debates screwed this up. The actual, corrected post-debate figures are 28% pro vs 72% con. Thus, audience opinion was unchanged.]

The debate was held in Toronto. Twelve people were arrested in a protest outside the venue, during which one police officer was hit with a stick and another was punched in the face.

Taiwan is gone

Han Kuang military exercise Kinmen Taiwan

Annual military exercise in Kinmen, Taiwan, a few miles from mainland China (Source)

I’m not entirely clear on who this guy is, but he has a strong opinion on what would happen in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan:

Now let me tell you the biggest military fiction to be found on the planet.

Taiwan will be able to defend itself against a Chinese invasion. The US will rush to Taiwan’s aid in the event of an invasion. Finally the combined might of the US and Taiwan with MAYBE the assistance of others in the region will be able to retake the island in the event that the Chinese establish a foothold/successfully take it.

Sorry boys and girls. Ain’t happening.

No matter how you slice it, we are victims of time and distance. The Chinese are too close, we’re too far away and the Taiwanese have been so thoroughly infiltrated that success is impossible.

Look at the Chinese order of battle.

Count numbers.

Do the same for Taiwan.

The results of your count should be obvious. Taiwan will fall.

Some numbers to consider:

China’s armed forces have long outnumbered and outspent Taiwan’s. China now has 800,000 active combat troops in its ground forces, compared with 130,000 in Taiwan; its budget last year was $144 billion, compared with Taiwan’s $10 billion, according to the Pentagon’s most recent annual report on the Chinese military. (Congress approved a $700 billion Pentagon budget in September, with an even larger increase than President Trump had requested.)

Back to the military blogger guy:

Remember the proposal (don’t know where it came from) to forward position US Marines on the island? If that was followed thu then the calculations change dramatically depending on the size of the force. Put a Platoon forward and its pretty much the same. Make it a Battalion and suddenly you have enough Marines in harm’s way where abandonment or rapid evacuation becomes impossible when ships show up on the horizon. Additionally you have the spectre of a Battalion of Marines “cutting and running” or being destroyed by Chinese forces. That would require a full scale military push if not to save the Taiwanese then to save the Marines.

That proposal would have signalled our determination for Taiwan to remain free.

But we didn’t bite.

Which means that this conversation has already occured at the highest levels of the Pentagon/State Dept/National Command Authority.

It has certainly been obvious for a while that when the pedal hits the metal, the US will throw Taiwan under the bus rather than fight China. As time goes on, China’s military edge over the self-governing island grows more extreme. It’s also very telling that Taiwan is struggling to recruit soldiers as it phases out conscription. The national morale needed to risk life and limb fighting off a PLA invasion seems… lacking.

There is some interesting back-and-forth about China’s capabilities in the blog’s comments section:

Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

You say Taiwan will vote to reunite with the mainland in a decade; that really shows your lack of understanding of the Taiwanese hatred of the communist regime of China. The only way the commies can “unite” the island with the mainland is by force.

Also I find your understanding of the local geography lacking as well. The Taiwan strait is 130 kms at its narrowest. The waters of the strait is considered the roughest in the northern hemisphere and the western side of the island (facing the mainland) has no beaches, only mud flats – the beaches are on the eastern side. This isn’t a Normandy crossing and the PLAN still hasn’t the capacity/capability to bring a significant number of troops ashore without them being sunk and drown at sea.

Solomon Mod Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

80 miles? hardly a long distance. i drive further than that on an almost daily basis. sorry bro but you’re dealing with an American. we know distance. we conquer just for shits and giggles in our personal lives much less militarily. 80 miles? that barely qualifies as a decent training opportunity much less a real world military mission…especially for forcible entry forces.

so what does that SHORT FUCKING DISTANCE mean? it means its within range of EVERY SINGE FIGHTER AND TRANSPORT PLANE IN THE CHINESE AIR FORCE! it means that an LCAC can cover the distance FROM FREAKING CHINA to Taiwan in 2 hours (assuming a transit speed of 35 knots)…it means that you have the almost IDEAL conditions for everything from a RAID to an AIR ASSAULT to a PARACHUTE ASSAULT to a MASSIVE AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT using AERIAL INSERTION and SURFACE ASSAULT ASSETS!

you talk about me not knowing geography? hell yeah i know the geography. what i can’t figure is why China hasn’t already attacked. the ground is laid. this would be the stroke that would cement them as a Super Power with muscle to enforce their will.

no matter how you slice this thing. from a military point of view Taiwan is undefensible.

[…]

wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

Taiwan isn’t gone. If Taiwan were gone then the Trump administration would not be shoring up US Taiwan relations. Pence would not have recently singled out Taiwan as model of democracy in the Chinese speaking world. Trump wouldn’t be conducting all these FNOP operations right in China’s face if he didn’t believe the US could prevail over China. Losing Taiwan would signify to the world that Japan, The Philippines, Vietnam heck most of the Pacific is up for grabs thus the US isn’t just going to hand Taiwan over to China on a silver platter. If anything, the US seems be closer to Taiwan today, than it has been in decades.

Trump knows that China is the US’s biggest threat. He’s already taken steps to neutralize China starting with its economy. I’d even go so far as to say that USMCA was written in a way to specifically counter China’s exploitation of NAFTA loopholes to access America’s market.

Solomon Mod wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

wait. are you being serious or are you just being a nationalist (Taiwan) on this issue? i’m just looking at things as they are not as i wish them to be. you point out that as goes Taiwan so goes the Pacific? i think you’re just not being honest there. Taiwan could fall and the rest of the Pacific would remain unchanged. the same talk happened with regard to Hong Kong. it fell underneath China’s orbit and everything else remained the same.

quite honestly Taiwan COULD BE SEEN JUSTIFIABLY SO (to some) as properly being Chinese territory. a breakaway Republic but Chinese territory none-the-less.

but my bigger issue is the defense of Taiwan. i just don’t see how it could realistically done. we’re certainly not going to launch a nuclear war in defense of Taiwan so how do we defend it? additionally the US and Russia and NATO have ALL STARTED CONDUCTING LARGE SCALE EXERCISES! we claim that Trident Junction is peaceful but given past tensions it could mask an invasion. the same occurred with the large scale Russian exercise. i heard talk from some that it was a mask to make a move into Western Europe (yeah crazy talk). i said all that to say that the “we can see it from a mile away” is just plain happy talk. China has too many forces in the area. they run too many snap drills. the only real alert we’ll have is when we see Chinese Paratroopers and Marines loading transports and then its all over but the crying.

explain that away before you slam me for my thoughts on the subject. how far away is Taiwan from the mainland? a shorter drive than Atlanta to Louisiana! MUCH SHORTER. in today’s military that’s incredibly short.

Mending fences

The first state visit by a Japanese leader to China in seven years suggest that the two countries, which allegedly have deep-seated mutual animosity, are in the process of strengthening ties:

What Happened: China and Japan signed multiple agreements intended to strengthen bilateral ties during the first day of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official visit to China, the South China Morning Post reported Oct. 26. Both countries will cooperate on roughly 50 third-country infrastructure projects and agreed to resume currency swaps. Additionally, they will further discuss joint East China Sea energy cooperation and China’s lifting of food import restrictions following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

Why It Matters: Both China and Japan are recalibrating their strategies toward each other as they look to hedge against uncertainties as well as increasing trade protectionism from the United States.

This makes sense; as the neoliberal world order falls apart, regional trade blocs will emerge and solidify, and Japan and China, with their proximity and shared Confucian heritage, can be expected to align more closely.

Stratfor argues, however, that any Sino-Japanese rapprochement is complicated by China’s maritime ambitions, which clash with Japan’s interests as an island nation. Japan is also expanding its activities in the South China Sea, recently sending a submarine to conduct drills there for the first time. The duo may need to remain frenemies for a while.

Invasion of Venezuela in the works?

Things may be heating up in South America:

A top Colombian official told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo that its government will support Brazilian’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro if he wants to overthrow the socialist government of Venezuela.

According to Folha, a top diplomatic official said that “if [President-elect] Bolsonaro wants to help overthrow Maduro with a military intervention, he will have the support of Colombia.”

According to the anonymous source, Colombian President Ivan Duque and his political patron, the hard-right former President Alvaro Uribe, would agree with a military intervention.

“If it is [United States President Donald] Trump or Bolsonaro are the first to set foot in Venezuela, Colombia will follow suit without hesitation,” the diplomat told Folha. […]

Ivan Duque Colombia

Colombian president Ivan Duque

Colombia’s conservative President Ivan Duque, who is supported by the far-right in his own divided country, considers Maduro a “dictator” and has refused to rule out military intervention.

“Duque is confident that if such an operation is underway, with the involvement of Brazil, Colombia and perhaps the US, they will participate. The region can no longer bear a worsening of the Venezuelan diaspora,” said the source.

Regarding that diaspora, the Miami Herald reported in June:

Almost 1 million people from Venezuela are thought to have poured into neighboring Colombia in the last two years, amid a grinding economic, social and political crisis that has rattled the region.

On Wednesday, Colombian authorities said a nationwide census found that 442,462 Venezuelans are living in the country without proper documentation and 376,572 Venezuelans are in the country legally — for a total of 819,034. […]

The Venezuelan exodus is being felt throughout the hemisphere. According to the International Organization on Migration, there were at least 1.6 million Venezuelans living abroad in 2017 — up from 698,000 in 2015.

Venezuela exodus Columbia

Venezuelans looking for a better life in Colombia (Source)

On a possibly related note, the “Axis of Evil” has a successor in the Western Hemisphere:

Now the Trump administration has coined the term “Troika of Tyranny” to describe the group of oppressive Latin American dictators it is pledging to confront. The administration is right to call out the crimes of the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But it remains to be seen whether the White House can deliver a comprehensive strategy to go along with the rhetoric.

National security adviser John Bolton gave a speech Thursday afternoon at the Freedom Tower in Miami to a crowd filled with people who fled Cuba and Venezuela to escape the cruelty and oppression of the Castro and Maduro regimes. Linking those situations with the escalating repression of the Daniel Ortega government in Nicaragua, Bolton promised a new, comprehensive U.S. approach that will ramp up U.S. involvement in pushing back against what the administration sees as a leftist, anti-democratic resurgence in the region.

Caution is needed here. The American public does not want another foreign war, and a major intervention in South America is guaranteed to be a multi-faceted disaster.

Daniel Ortega Nicolás Maduro

Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega

I sense a trend

Your amusing chart of the day:

Ruh-oh (Source)

Let’s focus on the positive though:

Disney’s purchase of “Star Wars” production company Lucasfilm is proving to be one of the smartest acquisitions ever made in corporate America.

The deal, worth $4.05 billion in cash and stock, was announced Oct. 30, 2012 and marked the start of a new era in the Star Wars franchise. Disney would make back that investment and more in just a few short years. The four Star Wars feature films Disney has produced have grossed more than $4.8 billion at the box office, according to comScore.

“This was one of the smartest acquisitions in history,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, told CNBC.

Less intelligent, perhaps, was the decision to let Rian Johnson write and direct The Last Jedi. Before TLJ was released, Lucasfilm announced it was bringing back JJ Abrams to handle the final installment of the trilogy – replacing the young and not very experienced Colin Trevorrow. I don’t think this will do much good, though. As I have suggested before, TLJ destroyed the legacy of Star Wars with the totality and finality of a nuclear ICBM wiping out a village. The series will never, ever recover. It’s done.

With Abrams, it’s clear Lucasfilm will do anything to make sure the giant machine that is Star Wars stays firmly on track. –The Independent, 9/11/2017

Movie review: “Hunter Killer”

3/4 stars  ★★★☆

Hunter Killer movie

Hunter Killer is a highly entertaining military thriller starring a US nuclear-powered attack submarine, with Gerard Butler in a supporting role as its clenched-jawed, maverick commander. Featuring much underwater badassery, as well as black ops on land and scenes of Gary Oldman yelling, the movie shows you what could happen when a lethal, 7,000-ton tube deep in the Arctic Ocean is tasked with averting WWIII.

The B-movie plot is way over the top, and involves a coup d’état against the Russian president by a rogue general who for some reason wants to trigger a war with the US. Commander Joe Glass of the fictional USS Arkansas takes radical action to prevent such a stupid conflagration – helped by a cheesy team of Navy SEALS who parachute onto the Kola Peninsula and literally rescue the deposed Russian head of state.

The dialogue is entirely forgettable, there is no character development, and the plot has more holes than a leaky deep-diving craft. The movie is also comically earnest; I detected one attempt at a joke, which fell flat. Having said that, the fast-moving action and sheer awesomeness of the advanced military hardware on display kept me fully engaged. The cinematography and production design are excellent and you really get to experience life on board a submarine.

The movie has a quaint 1980s vibe to it, like a Jane Fonda workout video. Filmed in the summer of 2016, Hunter Killer feels like it was lifted out of the Cold War years, hearkening back to a simpler time when superpower conflict was still a thing. From a propaganda standpoint, the movie is excellent PR for the US Navy, and I am not being snide when I say that it’s hard to imagine a stronger argument for wanting to stuff yourself into a deadly submersible cylinder and blow sh*t up.

It’s also a feel-good story, in which brave Americans and Russians work together to take down the bad guys and restore peace on earth. I was curious to know what Russian audiences would think of it, but it appears Russia’s Ministry of Culture has not yet approved the film for cinemas. However, I did find this rather negative review on a Russian news site. Sample courtesy of Google Translate:

But everyone has forgotten about the “Red Sparrow” with Jennifer Lawrence in the role of a Soviet spy, as another American director shot an even more outspoken “cranberry”. Before the premiere of the film “The Hunter-Killer” remnants of a few days, and Western film critics are already wondering how this can be removed altogether.

Good president and bad minister

“The killer hunter” is a nonstandard “cranberry,” at least the director at least tried to make the film not look like that. That is why he portrayed the Russian president Zakharin as a mild liberal of the Gorbachev era. A scapegoat made insidious Minister of Defense Durov, who just personifies the canonical Soviet “villain.” “Occurs when he was, but without a hard reactionary official“ cranberries ”would be incomplete. […]

The film is punctuated with scenes of battles using modern military technology. There are missile defense systems, submarines and tankers. This is a tribute to the creators of “Fast and the Furious” technically savvy viewers.

Cranberries? Apparently, the terms refers to Western stereotypes of Russia. According to a blogger:

The term ‘klyukvification‘* mentioned in the headline is formed from the word ‘klyukva’ [2] (i.e. cranberry in Russian) + ‘fication‘ (as in mystification). As I wrote in my post:

This word is often used in Russia in a non-literal meaning to describe foreign (negative) stereotypes concerning Russia and Russians or some specific Russian cultural products (films, books, music videos, etc.) which are ‘klyukved’ on purpose by their creators in order to be appreciated by the Western media and public.

And here is a pictorial example of what he calls “high-concentration klyukva”:

Klyukva

Western stereotypes of Russia

My feeling is that the Russians in Hunter Killer are more stock action-movie characters than stereotypical Russians. And there are no bears or matryoshka dolls to be seen.

PS – This is hilarious:

Saw it at a whim while passing a cinema and had a few hours to kill.

Was it directed by Michael Bay? Or the Fast and Furious guys? Why were all the Russians speaking English? Why was the camera spinning around Admiral Dude and Gary Oldman while they were having a normal conversation? Why was Captain Gerald Butler so bizarrely dramatic in a speech immediately upon getting on board? Also, did he actually do anything in the movie besides listen to various Russian dudes?

Also also, at the start, he was in Scotland hunting, then in Scotland at a US Navy Base, then his XO asked if he had a good trip from Portsmouth, which is in England? Am I getting that all right?

But yeah, it was dumb… but fine. 3 stars.

PPS – What’s with all the British actors playing Americans these days? The Scottish Gerard Butler as a US Navy submarine commander, English Gary Oldman as a US Navy admiral, English Toby Stephens as a US Navy SEAL commander… they do a great job with accents, so I can’t complain. It’s just interesting.