Come Again?

Apologies all around, but I just cannot let go of this election campaign cycle. Today I am featuring Newt Gingrich. Believe me, folks, I just love him. I only wish we had him for president. Let’s go to the video tape:

“We tell the truth less effectively than Democrats lie,” he said as class came to order. This was the first of four Newt U sessions designed to fix that, by teaching GOP delegates to tell the truth as well as Gingrich himself. “We want a fact-based campaign,” he said.

Good for you, Newtie. That’s the Republican Party I always knew and loved. Unfortunately, to get the “fact-based campaign” he wishes for, the former Speaker may need to look beyond his own party. He certainly needs to look beyond the pool of former presidential candidates. For many of these the truth is only a sometime thing.

For examples of what I mean we can start with Rich Perry, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and maybe even Herman Cain and Ron Paul. All of this select crowd have publicly proclaimed as fact that which is known to be false. Specifically, all have declared the basic principles of biological science to be false and have stated support for the well discredited concept of “Intelligent Design” or it’s less polished cousin, “Scientific Creationism.” They have also denied as true the basic science behind anthropogenic climate change.

Bachmann is particularly spectacular with pants-on-fire statements:

In an interview with Anderson Cooper on November 3, 2010, when discussing cuts in government spending for Medicare and Social Security suggested by Congressman Paul Ryan, Bachmann was asked what cuts in government spending she would make to reduce the deficit. She cited President Obama’s then-upcoming visit to Asia as an example, saying it “is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He’s taking two thousand people with him. He’ll be renting out over 870 rooms in India. And these are 5-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending, it’s a very small example, Anderson.” Bachmann was apparently referring to information in a story from the Press Trust of India, attributed to “a top official of the Maharashtra Government privy to the arrangements for the high-profile visit”, information that was also published in U.S.-based media such as The Drudge Report. In response to the news report’s claim that 34 warships were accompanying the President, a Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, dismissed the account as “comical”. The White House said that the press report figures were “wildly inflated” and had “no basis in reality”. While stating that they could not give the actual projected figures for security reasons, staffers maintained costs were in line with the official travel costs of previous presidents Bush and Clinton.

But, enough of past history. A staunch Republican and previous candidate has again thrust himself into the spotlight of ridicule, and just in time to showcase Newt’s “We tell the truth” claims. We give thanks to Pat Robertson for brightening our day.

The religious lifestyle show hosted by televangelist Pat Robertson on Monday suggested that Christians in Florida had convinced God to move soon-to-be Hurricane Isaac away from Tampa, Florida to protect Republicans.

Robertson did not personally make such claims this week. This weeks stupefying remarks only reflect a similar absurdity from a few years ago.

Today on the 700 Club, Christian Broadcasting Network correspondent Paul Strand spoke to Jesten Peters of Keys of Authority Ministries who said that her organization’s prayer efforts helped steer Tropical Storm Isaac away from Tampa in order to protect the Republican National Convention. But while Peters and CBN celebrated, Isaac is now heading to Louisiana and Mississippi with potential devastating consequences. CBN’s Pat Robertson in 1985 said that his prayer moved Hurricane Gloria away from Virginia Beach, were CBN is based, and towards New York, and earlier this year said that prayer could’ve stopped a string of deadly tornadoes.

Newt, tone it down. Turn around and take a closer look at the score. The choir is singing a different tune.

Bad Joke of the Week

Saturday again! Here is the bad joke of the week:

I have this Aggie friend, and I stopped by to see him. I said, “Come on. Let’s go get some beers.”

He replied, “Sounds great to me. Let me put on my shoes.”

He went out and came back with shoes and socks, and he started putting on his socks. I noticed that one sock was orange, and the other sock was brown. I pointed this out to him.

“I noticed that, too,” he replied. “And you know what’s really strange? I have another pair just like these in my drawer.”

I thought that was hilarious, and I decided to have a little fun with my friend. He was putting the orange sock on the right foot and the brown sock on the left foot. I laughed at him and told him, “You realize, of course, you are putting those socks on the wrong feet.”

“What do you mean wrong feet,” he replied. “These are the only feet I have.”

Squaring the Square

The following diagram has been floating around the Internet for several weeks, especially Facebook postings. The problem presented is: “How many squares can you find in the following diagram?”

The Puzzle Diagram

If you are a wise guy and answer the question that was asked, then you could say, “16,” and you would be right, because that was the number you found. However, the real question is, “What is the maximum number of squares embedded in the diagram?” That is the question for consideration. I have seen this posted multiple time, usually with the note, “I found 24, but some say there are more.”

Of course, there are more. Take a few minutes, and you should be able to find 40. Now I will say, “I have found 40, but there may be more.” If you find more than 40, please let me know. Here is my solution. I have colored in the squares I found, but I did not provide an example of each square. Many square solutions are identical when you account for rotations and reflections of the diagram. Below the lower left corner of each solution is a count of the number of solutions represented by the diagram. Anybody who posts a comment asking for one will receive a copy of the solution diagram.

Samples of all solutions

Getting What You Paid For

Here come de judge! Here come de Judge! Order in the court room; here come de Judge!! (Pigmeat Markham)

I have to admit, I am as guilty as the next liberal. Like many, I have been known to refer to the Republican Party as The Party Of Dumb. And I apologize.

With that out of the way, let’s take notice of the obvious.

A few days ago a Republican candidate for the United States Senate let slip that women don’t get pregnant from forcible rape. There is a natural defense mechanism that prevents this.

Of course, we liberals had a nice chuckle at that. Another stone age conservative mouthing off on something he knew absolutely nothing about. Heh heh.

Then the Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama, had to spoil it all by calling Congressman Akin out in public in a campaign speech. He hinted broadly that Mr. Akin could have used a good science teacher. Heh heh.

You see. There they go again. That’s why conservatives don’t like us. That’s why they call us elitists, out of touch with the ordinary citizen. This obsession with the truth is making us enemies faster than we can buy votes with welfare. We need to let these people be. We need to remember it’s not what’s true that matters, it’s what people want to believe that matters.

So, I am glad I got this behind me, and I look forward to smoother relationships with my fellow citizens on the other side of the science book. Hopefully we will hear no more of that.

Damn! They did it again.

This week a Texas, yes Texas, judge let loose the fact that if Barack Obama is re-elected he will surrender United States sovereignty to the United Nations and that UN troops will be brought in to defend the Obama presidency in the resulting rebellion.

Let’s all be clear on one thing. Lubbock County Judge Tom Head holds a responsible position in government. His duties include:

Director of Emergency Management
Prepare County budget for approval by the County Commissioners
Preside over Commissioners Court
Conducts mental competency hearings and other mental health related duties prescribed by law
Serve on Juvenile Board, SPAG Board, Bail Bond Board, and others
Refuse or issue alcohol beverage permits
Responsibilities associated of holding elections
Give notice of public hearings
May conduct Marriage Ceremonies

People, the man works for us. He, like Congressman Todd Akin, draws a salary from the public coffers. We depend on his wisdom and his maturity in matters important to our everyday lives. If he falls short mentally of physically, citizens of Lubbock County will suffer the fallout. And if he falters, it’s our fault, folks. It’s our fault if we have not reminded him constantly that outside there is a real world with real consequences, and imaginary solutions to imaginary contingencies need to be put aside and left in the sandbox of childhood. People of Lubbock County, the judges needs your help. For your own sake, people, do not fail him in his hour of need.

A Political Cup of Tea

The Tea Party has been a fascinating thing to watch as it has grown and matured over the past few years. Here are people who are really concerned about the role of government in our society and are taking vigorous action. Who would not prefer them to somebody who only sits on the sidelines and complains at the result.

The tragic aspect of the Tea Party phenomenon is a certain element that is attracted to the light generated by any kind of social upheaval. Liberal movements have had their share of blowhards inflated by their own gas, and no less ugly is the Right Wing fringe that is drawn to this movement.

A person I correspond with sent me a few months ago a Photoshopped image of what appeared to be Air Force One, the president’s plane, riddled with bullet holes. The caption mentioned something like, “Why Obama never comes to visit Texas.”

I thought this to be so odd, especially coming from the person who sent it to me. I have known this person for over 30 years, and I know he served honorably in the United States Military. I could hardly imagine from what dark reaches of his life experiences he ever gleaned the idea that a patriotic American would find humor at bullet holes in American military aircraft with the American flag painted on the side and carrying the commander in chief of our armed services. Such is the kind of misdirection a person’s thinking may take when emotions run higher than clear thinking.

At the risk of being redundant, the Tea Party certainly represents the conservative edge of the conservative faction of our population. Besides being concerned about a staggering national debt and life-choking taxation, many in the Tea Party movement have brought their own personal demons to the conversation. More explicitly, some seem to promote an unhealthy obsession with the sexuality of others.

The legality of abortion in this country, which has been a fact since 1973, is especially vexing to these people. Besides the legitimate concern that the arbitrary aborting of human fetuses may cheapen human life, there is a side to this opposition that is less pleasant. For every politician who stands at the podium and rails against the cheapening of life, I attempt to peer deeper into the speaker’s inner motives, and I wonder if what’s at stake is really just personal revulsion at another person’s personal life choices. It is of consequence here that somebody’s personal preferences can become somebody else’s loss of personal choice, somebody else’s loss of personal liberty.

The issue came bare earlier this week in the statement of a political candidate in Missouri. Republican Todd Akin has recently gained the party’s nomination for senator to represent the state. His opponent is incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, and McCaskill is currently enjoying a bit of glee at Akin’s expense. The problem for Akin is that he foolishly said in public what he felt in his innermost being. I will quote here just part of an item from Talking Points Memo:

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill, justified his opposition to abortion rights even in case of rape with a claim that victims of “legitimate rape” have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin said that even in the worst-case scenario — when the supposed natural protections against unwanted pregnancy fail — abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim.

OK, Akin is opposed to abortion. Apparently he is opposed to abortion even in cases of forcible rape. Since this is such a thoughtless and mean-spirited position on the issue, his own mind (possibly on the spot) seems to have conjured up “facts” from the dark recesses of his prejudices to justify it. If Representative Akin had been given a few minutes (or days) to look through the complete course of this line, he might have chosen different words. My thinking? For a moment he thought he was talking to his own audience—the extreme element of the Tea Party movement, that part that would find humor in bullet holes in an American military aircraft. Unfortunately for Akin he was talking to the world, including that part of the world that remains sane and thoughtful. That part of the real world included those in his own party.

A Reuters news item summed up Akin’s plight a few minutes ago:

Senior Republicans urged congressman Todd Akin on Monday to quit the U.S. Senate race in Missouri over his inflammatory remarks about rape that distracted from the party’s nomination next week of Mitt Romney for U.S. president.

Akin was widely criticized for saying in a television interview Sunday that women have biological defenses to prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape,” making legal abortion unnecessary.

As pressure built on Akin, Republicans cut off cash for his campaign, which had looked like a relatively easy victory against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.

Which brings us around to Senator McCaskill. Today’s news reports show her to be glowing in the success of a piece of neat political strategy. A few weeks ago Akin was in a three-way race for the Republican nomination. It seemed he might be having a hard time of it, facing two earnest conservative opponents. So McCaskill’s campaign spent $2 million on advertising to tout Akin as the “true conservative.” In the eyes of the Democrats Akin is the true conservative with all the warts Democrats love to see in a conservative. My take? If McCaskill could not get Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Donald Trump or Rick Perry on the opposite ticket, then she would take the feckless Todd Akin. Apparently he is just her cup of tea.

Bad Joke of the Week

Carrying on a 7-days-old tradition:

The story is from some years ago, and it would be tragic if it were not so humorous.

This was in the day when navigation aids were still quite primitive, or else this story would have had a different ending. It seems that a ship carrying blue paint from the French port of Cherbourg and a ship carrying red paint out of the Scottish port or Perth were working their ways through the narrow waters of the English Channel at night. As luck would have it, they collided with terrible results.

The coming of dawn revealed quite a mess. Although nobody was killed or seriously injured, 28 sailors were marooned.

Canseco Rising

A few weeks back an e-mail from my congressman, Francisco Canseco of the Texas 23rd, caught my attention. He was reminding me that he stood by me and my neighbors, too, in our opposition to rising gasoline prices, although he never got around to saying what he intended to do about the problem. Something in Congressman Canseco’s statement caused me to follow up, and I discovered, surprise, that lo and behold, gasoline prices were not, in fact, rising, but were dropping. I noted at the time that in the making of public pronouncements of great impact it is important to get the timing correct.

Now I am glad to report the time is finally ripe. Congressman Canseco and his fellow party members can bask in the glow of reality in the form of rising gasoline prices at last. On Monday morning this week I was delighted to pay about 40 cents more per gallon than I did two weeks ago at Buc-ee’s in New Braunfels. Let’s all give a cheer and a high five to the persevering congressman from the Texas 23rd. Hip hip, hooray.

OK, the party is over. While gasoline prices are still higher than two weeks ago, now reports that prices in Texas and San Antonio have stabilized. They are, for the moment, not going up much, and they are not going down much, either. Political rhetoric hangs on stuff such as this.

As a side note, it would seem that, try as they might, the Democrats have been unable to do anything about gasoline prices. As we all know the Democrats would love to see gasoline prices head for the moon’s orbit so we would all be forced to drive golf carts to our vacation homes in the Catskills. It turns out there is only so much these enemies of democracy can do to screw the public. Other factors are determining prices this month.

First we are putting a lot of pressure on Iran to get those inscrutable desert people to knock off their program to build nuclear weapons. A result has been that Iran’s oil exports are dropping monthly.

Also, a major pipeline that carries oil to us from Canada (our major foreign supplier) has again sprung a leak and flooded nearby acreage with a stick mess. This would not be such a problem, except that two years ago the same company let loose 20,000 barrels of oil into a river. The company seems to be saying “Things happen,” but the federal regulators are saying the company is skimping on maintenance in order to maximize profits, and they have ordered the pipeline to be shut down for a few weeks while the operators get their business under control.

Finally, a major refinery in California has suffered a major fire and has been taken off line. This during the peak summer driving months.

Naturally the prices go up. Naturally somebody is making a better profit off the sale of petroleum products. Naturally we all are paying for this. We always do.

Wait, there’s more:

My San Antonio is reporting that Democrats are now gunning for Congressman Canseco to the tune of nearly 1/2 million dollars:

Dems put down big bucks against Canseco.

WASHINGTON — A super political action committee created to help Democrats win control of the U.S. House bought $415,000 in broadcast time this fall with San Antonio television stations, officials said Thursday.
The San Antonio media buy by the House Majority PAC is the first sign of the millions that the political parties and interest groups are expected to spend in the 23rd Congressional District. The election is Nov. 6.

Isn’t it great to finally get noticed. I am glad I could help, Congressman. Good luck.

Saving My Worthless Life

So, I developed this chest congestion and a cough. And it stayed on, and on, and on. It just would not go away. So, what did I do?

I did what any modern 21st century person would do. I went to a faith healer. I paid him some money, and he prayed to Jesus to heal me, because if you don’t pay, then Jesus won’t listen to the faith healer’s prayers.

Naw. I didn’t do that. I may be stupid, but I’m not that stupid. I went down to my neighborhood Oriental medicine center and purchased for a small sum a package of an ancient remedy that has been used successfully since the days of the Pharaohs.

Oops. I didn’t do that either. What did I do? Oh, yes. I stopped by my local pharmacist and purchased a modern, 21st century homeopathic remedy. When it comes to healing, nothing beats modern pseudo science.

Of course, I never did any of that. So, what did I really do?

I drove down the street to my family doctor, who obtained his training at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, studies modern scientific medical practices and relies on proven diagnostic and treatment regimen. He first gave me free samples (from the manufacturer) of an inhaler and wrote me a prescription for more of the same, should I require it. He also referred me to a radiological lab to obtain some x-ray images of my chest region.

And I am getting better. After a few days of using the inhaler I could tell the difference. The feeling of intense irritation in my lungs subsided greatly, and the coughing has diminished by 75% (my estimate) in the past two weeks. The doctor’s office phoned me yesterday and told me he had examined my x-rays. He said I had bronchitis (I could have told him that) and mild COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and that I should fill the prescription that he gave me and continue to take it. I am scheduled for a follow-up visit at the end of this month.

And that’s it in a nut shell. Modern medicine works. Faith healing does not, traditional remedies almost always do not, and pseudo scientific cures such as homeopathy never work. Science is based on determining what works and discarding what does not work. The other three are based on the gullible continuing to return for more of the same worthless treatment. Modern medical science should be a reminder to all of us that we should base our lives on what works rather than on what we wish would work. Now if only we could get our government to operate that way.


What a Quandary

Sometimes you can’t tell what is best for you.

Two years ago when I was here in San Antonio negotiating with the builder to build my new house he made sure I knew he was a conservative, and a Republican to boot. I had to take his word for it, for who would claim to be who was not.

Anyhow, the housing market was tight back in 2010 and is not so loose even now. I think we saw this builder finish two houses  that year in our development, so I am sure he was glad to see the wife and me with our checkbook out.

It came out during the negotiations that we needed to close on the house (pay the money) by the end of September, because if we could do that, then we would get a $6500 tax credit for the year. This was a tax credit that was enacted by the hated administration and was designed to spur sales of new homes. I don’t know if the builder blinked at the time we were signing the papers, but he may have had some thoughts on the topic.

Two years have come and gone, and the builder is still struggling to finish out our development. However, this year two new houses were completed and occupied across the street from us (by a different builder), and our builder has completed and sold six more units since we moved in, and he has started two more since last month. The housing market seems to be picking up.

Which may be giving my builder some conflicting emotions. If the housing market continues to surge, then his Republican Party is going to lose some footing going into November. If the market plunges, then the GOP is going to hammer the incumbent with it in the week before the election, with the possibility of a new man in the White House next year. In the mean time, my builder will be scrambling to pay his bills while waiting for buyers who do not come. There does not seem to be any way for the builder to win.

Sometimes life is a quandary.

Bad Joke of the Week

OK, it’s Saturday again. Time for the bad joke of the week (as though I have ever done this before).

Used to be they didn’t have women going to Texas A&M, but some time ago they started having women Aggies, with the inevitable results. Aggies began to marry Aggies.

I knew such a couple, and it seemed to me they were made for each other, and they had two wonderful children. But it didn’t last. She found out he was a monogamist, and then it was all over.

Guadalcanal Diary

My earlier posts have touched on the Doolittle Raid and the Battle of Midway. Seventy years ago the Japanese Empire sought to establish and maintain its own realm of domination in the Eastern Pacific, something that would make it economically and militarily self-sufficient. This zone was meant to be completely defensible in case other powers sought to challenge the Empire’s hold. Already Japan was in the process of gobbling up China with zero regard for human life. This action particularly incensed the Western powers, most strongly the United States, and we were already beginning to challenge Japan with economic sanctions and tough talk. Japanese leaders devised a plan to knock America out of the conflict with a pre-emptive strike that would eliminate our military power in the region and give American citizens pause to consider a military response. They could hardly have been more far from the mark than circumstances proved to be the case.

The Pearl Harbor attack did not completely destroy our Pacific fleet (the carriers were not in port on the day of the attack), and the American public, rather than being cowed, wanted Japanese blood, lots of it.

The Pearl Harbor victory was followed up within days, even hours, with additional decisive blows to the Western powers in the region. The Philippines were quickly overrun and the American garrison there eliminated almost to the last man. Quickly Dutch, French and British interests in the region (Indochina/Vietnam, Dutch West Indies/Indonesia, Burma, etc.) succumbed to Japanese control with disastrous losses to the Western powers. This operation was essentially completed by April of 1942, about the time of the Doolittle Raid. The Doolittle Raid was sort of a punch in the Japanese nose, not a knockout blow, just a little something that drew blood. Coming 100 days after the Pearl Harbor attack, this should have been a wakeup call for the Japanese, a preview of things to come. Instead it stimulated a knee-jerk reaction that caused the Japanese plan to lose objectivity.

Japanese military leaders, having just completed the most magnificant military conquest in all history, now began to get ambitious. The momentum was up and not to be lost. Japanese leaders set their sights on further expansion. Also, some reasoned that expansion would provide their secure conquests additional defensive depth. The immediate result was the Battle of the Coral Sea, where the Japanese were stymied in their ambitions for the first time. This was quickly followed by the Battle of Midway, where the heart of Japanese naval power was cut out.

That brings things developments up to the Battle of Guadalcanal, 70 years ago this week. Take a look at a map. Guadalcanal is a large island at the southeast end of the Solomon Islands chain, just northeast of Australia. When American reconnaissance flights in late July discovered the Japanese were building an airstrip on Guadalcanal it was obvious that the United States needed to counter this move decisively. This was to be the very first full military attack by the United States in World War II, and it is significant to note that, in the Pacific, from Guadalcanal forward our forces were never again on the defensive.

On 7 August, eight months after the Pearl Harbor attack, a contingent of the First Marine Division landed on the north side of Guadalcanal and on the nearby islands of Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo. The marines soon took the nearly completed Japanese airfield, but a Japanese naval counter attack drove the Marines’ naval support into retreat with heavy losses.

Due to such books as Guadalcanal Diary and The Thin Red Line, the popular impression of the Guadalcanal campaign was one of strictly jungle warfare. Guadalcanal Diary was written by war correspondent Richard Tregaskis, who was there with the forces. I have not read Guadalcanal Diary, but I did read James Jones’ excellent novel, The Thin Red Line. Jones was in the Army and fought in the battle. He was also at Pearl Harbor, from which he derived his book From Here to Eternity. A comparison between The Thin Red Line and documentary accounts of the battle quickly reveals a wide gap between the fiction of Jones and the real battle. Reading the Jones book will give you the idea that Guadalcanal involved military strategy and decisive battles. More realistic accounts, including those in the HBO miniseries The Pacific, directed by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, show the campaign as one long struggle with an intractable foe slowly being crushed by Marines and Army forces who would not be stopped. For some there it seemed as though the island were the real enemy as our forces encountered for the first time the misery of fighting in a rain-soaked, disease-infested tropical jungle.

Significantly, on Guadalcanal American forces for the first time came face to face with Japanese soldiers, and lived to tell about it. The troops who fought the Japanese in the Philippines were completely defeated and were killed or else surrendered en masse and were largely killed afterwards. On Guadalcanal our troops defeated the Japanese and came to despise them utterly. In an early encounter an American patrol was lured into an ambush by the promise of the surrender of a body of enemy soldiers. Very few offers of surrender were accepted following that, and the Marines, and the Army soldiers who followed learned to shoot even the bodies of dead Japanese. Another thing our troops learned was a startling concept the Japanese had of combat.

The warrior code that developed from the pre-war bushido (way of the warrior) gave the Japanese fighters the sense that they were already dead, and being killed in battle was a foregone conclusion. This was coupled with another Japanese battle philosophy, the reliance on a single, killing blow with no plan B in case of failure. Early Japanese tactics did not comprehend battles of attrition or even set-piece engagements that employed the comprehension of an evolving battlefield situation. What the Americans first saw of this has since come to be called the “banzai charge.”

An American soldier interviewed for one of the television military documentary programs explained his observation. Quoting very loosely, “I never understood what went on in a man’s mind that made him think that, if he were coming to kill me, he should come at me shouting and screaming.” But that’s what American first began to observe on Guadalcanal, and the first significant encounter was what became known as The Battle of Alligator Creek or The Battle of Tenaru. In short, the Marines learned the Japanese were advancing, and they set up a defensive position. The Japanese attacked in waves starting just after midnight on 21 August. As each wave was annihilated by Marine rifle fire, machine guns and artillery, the Japanese commander sent in a follow-up wave. Ultimately the Americans went on the offensive and wound up grinding Japanese, dead and alive, under the treads of their tanks. No Japanese voluntarily surrendered, a few were captured badly injured, and a small number escaped out of an initial body of over 900. Bodies were piled up in front of Marine gun emplacements, and the Americans had learned a valuable lesson.

The Pacific TV series goes to great length to emphasize the disdain that American fighting troops developed for their Japanese foes. The lack of respect gained on Guadalcanal was continually re-emphasized as the Pacific war ground to a conclusion. Japanese fighters considered Americans, in fact all foreigners, to be subhuman, and the Americans returned the attribution with a burning vengeance. Only when they began to encounter Japanese civilians on Okinawa and other Japanese islands did Americans come to feel some humanity for Japanese.

The Japanese faith in their fighting code was severely shaken by the outcome of the Battle of Guadalcanal, but the Empire continued to pour replacements into the region until their forces finally withdrew, leaving about 24,000 dead behind. American losses included 1600 killed.

It would be a huge mistake to think of Guadalcanal only in terms of the land battle. While all the land fighting was going on, American and Japanese ships and warplanes were hammering each other in support of the invasion forces. Again, from Encyclopedia Britannica:

The various naval battles cost each side 24 warships: the Japanese lost 2 battleships, 4 cruisers, 1 light carrier, 11 destroyers, and 6 submarines, while the Americans lost 8 cruisers, 2 heavy carriers, and 14 destroyers.

The air battles here and further along the Solomon chain produced the air aces of the Pacific. Marine pilot Greg (Pappy) Boyington and Army pilot Richard Bong vied for the title of ace of aces until Boyington was downed in combat on 3 January 1943. Boyington had 24 victories to his credit at the time and finished out the war in a Japanese prison camp. Bong retired to stateside before the war with over with 40 victories. He worked as a test pilot for the famous Lockheed facility in Burbank, California and was killed in a crash on 6 August 1945, the day an atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, was hunted down and killed by a flight of Army P-38 fighters over Bougainville on 18 April 1943, exactly one year after the Doolittle Raid. American codebreakers had learned of his flight schedule in time to set up the ambush.

The Codebreakers

You wouldn’t think this book would be such a page turner, but then perhaps you need to have a certain mindset to appreciate the topic.

I obtained the The Codebreakers through a book club over 40 years ago, and eventually plowed through all 965 pages and learned some valuable lessons about secret codes. The most valuable lesson people can learn about secret codes is not so much how to construct them but the consequences of relying on an unsecure encryption mechanism.

Previously I wrote about the 1942 Battle of Midway that was a stunning victory for the American forces. As mentioned, the American success was due to the drive and determination of our forces, some very disastrous tactical moves by the Japanese commander and not least the Japanese reliance on what they thought was a secure code. As author David Kahn explained, Navy cryptographers in Hawaii started working on Japanese navy codes well before the attack on Pearl Harbor and had figured out that Japan was planning something nefarious. For one thing, they learned that specific instructions were being sent to the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C. in multiple parts, with the last part to be sent on 7 December 1941. Without knowing the details, America put its remote outposts on notice to watch out for something from the Japanese, especially in the Philippines. Pearl Harbor was not considered to be the prime object of interest. The following year the Navy codebreakers had figured out enough turn the planned Japanese ambush at Midway into a disaster for the Japanese navy. So much for trusting an “unbreakable” code.

I first got interested in codes and code breaking when a Boy Scout project inspired me to invent a code of my own. What a remarkable and brilliant invention it was, too. What I was going to do was to substitute a number for every letter in the alphabet and then code my secret messages by writing the numbers instead of the letters. To decode my secret messages, all the receiver had to do was to reverse the process. All the receiver needed was a copy of my encoding table, which no outsider could ever guess at in a million years.

Not so smart, really. I soon learned that this simple substitution cipher was the oldest, the simplest  and the easiest encryption system to break. Puzzles appearing in magazines for retired people routinely ask the reader to crack this simple cipher and produce the hidden message.

Obviously, modern encryption systems are much more sophisticated than this, and in real life they present a challenge that requires much time of the world’s fastest computers to unravel. As a confirmation, you will notice that one of the largest, if not the largest, purchasers of the world’s fastest computers is our own NSA, National Security Agency. Also, if you are a top mathematician and need a job, you might give the NSA a look.

Anyhow, avoiding a lot of the mathematical terminology I picked up in college, I will attempt to explain the general idea behind all modern codes. Rather than using words like “mapping” and “inverse mapping,” I have a real-life analogy that should provide the flavor of the problem.

Suppose everybody lived in one city, and it was well-mapped. If I gave you my address you would have no problem finding me. So, I want to send somebody my address, but I do not want other people to intercept my message, read my address and come knocking.

Now, suppose this city is located on a vast plane where nobody lives. Further, suppose this vast plane is the size of the Sahara Desert or even the size of the ecliptic plane of the planet Earth. Get the picture: City small, empty plane much larger. So here is what you do.

You develop a scheme that, given an address in the city, will compute a corresponding location in the vast and empty plane. What you do next is perform this computation and put the result into your message instead of your real address. Then you send your message. The recipient of your message has a corresponding scheme to compute your address from the location given in the message. The idea is that outsiders will not have a copy of the scheme that translates these spurious locations into addresses in the city.

To further elaborate on the analogy, the addresses in the city represent the set of messages that make sense in, for example, English. The vast and empty plane represents the set of all messages, those that make sense and those that do not. To crack this code, an outsider will need to obtain a copy of an encrypted message and re-invent the scheme that maps points in the set of all possible messages back to the set of messages that make sense. An important point is that the inverse mapping scheme needs to be simple and universally correct. Here’s an example of what I am talking about.

When Orleans Parish, Louisiana, District Attorney Jim Garrison sought to make a name for himself by implicating various people in the assassination of President Kennedy, one of the claims he made was the translation of “P. O. 19106” from Lee Oswald’s notebook into Jack Ruby’s unlisted Dallas phone number. The problem was, the scheme was too elaborately tailored to this specific translation. It was even more obtuse than the Bible code schemes that ran their course about 15 years ago.

Anyhow, that’s a very brief summary, in a very abstract manner, of the basis of most modern encryption schemes. You take a message that makes sense (“Saddam Hussein is hiding out at 209 Ali Street.”) and you hide it in a mountain of gibberish so that outsiders will find it nearly impossible to back out the original text. The core of this idea hit me one day when I was working on a project for a government contractor.

Our job was to develop a system for managing messages on a tactical radio network. Messages that went out over the radio were securely encrypted, but we also needed to make efficient use of the available transmission capacity. It would be best to compress the messages before they were transmitted. So, the question came up, “Should we encrypt the messages before we compress them?”

I thought about this for about two seconds, and the answer hit me. “No.” It was obvious that compressing an encrypted message was tantamount to decoding it. If you had a supposedly encrypted message, and you have successfully compressed it, you have successfully mapped it from the large plane of all possible messages (sense and nonsense) into a much smaller region that must still contain the message of interest. I did not have to, but I did run an experiment to verify that a properly encrypted message cannot be compressed.

Modern cryptography hit the mainstream in 1976 when Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman published their paper on public key methods. Hellman wrote up the process in the August 1979 issue of Scientific American and offered a copy of their paper to readers who asked. Naturally I obtained a copy, even though I was never able to work through the math.

Anyhow, cryptography is an interesting topic, and there is a lot of math involved and politics, besides. If you have an effective encryption scheme, you are not allowed to export it to another country, meaning you cannot carry or send a copy outside the country without your government’s permission. I never figured out how this restriction could be enforced, but it does show your government is looking out for you and is doing something.

The fun part for me came down to a moment in one of my college classes. I was trying to get a degree in computer science, and one of my courses was database design. The professor thought it would be a good idea to touch on encryption (for database security). He wanted to show us what encryption was all about, so he wrote two lines on the board. I cannot reproduce the text exactly, because I was not taking good notes, but what he wrote was essentially this:



“What is this?” he asked.

I stared at it. Obviously a code of some sort. If it’s a code, I wondered, what is it? I tried the two lines and thought about applying a frequency analysis to see if this was a substitution cipher. Then I had a better idea. What course were we taking? DATABASE design. The first line was just DATABASE with the letters scrambled. Making the proper letter for letter substitution, the second line was also DATABASE. So I decided to answer the professor’s question.

“The first line is a transmutation cipher, and the second line is a substitution cipher.” And I said no more.

The professor was a little taken aback at first, and he pressed for more. “But what does it say?”

I told him it was DATABASE. And I said no more.

Now the professor was dumfounded. Maybe not so dumbfounded as the Japanese had been years earlier when our navy cracked their tactical codes, but he was still interested. “How did you do that?” he asked.

I remember many years ago reading about this guy who was a great prankster, and he decided to perpetrate a hoax on some magicians. The magicians were having one of their frequent conferences where they all get to together and discuss new tricks, and this guy said he wanted to come and show off a card trick that none of them had ever seen before. At first he was rebuffed. Professional magicians are well versed on all the tricks, and they didn’t want to be bothered by some amateur with some old trick. Anyhow he finally talked his way in, and when his time came he proceeded to demonstrate his trick. The trick involved naming the card that somebody else picked from a deck. There are probably about a thousand tricks that involve this theme, and professional magicians are acquainted with all of them. However, this one was different. I do not recall the details; I don’t even recall the name of the hoaxer, though he was well-known in his time. His trick involved a number of mechanizations to make the act interesting. Then at the critical moment the hoaxer announced the card. It was, he said, “The three of diamonds.”

Of course it was not the three of diamonds. The hoaxer was just hoping to get lucky. “If I had gotten it correct,” he later recounted, “they would be scratching their heads to this day.”

So, this episode came to mind sometime after that when I was in a motorcycle shop, and some teenage boys were doing card tricks. So I thought of the hoax, and decided to give it a try. I told one of the kids to pick a card from the deck and put it in his pocket. That he did, and when he was putting it in his pocket I saw the card. The only thing left for me to do after that was to make the whole thing interesting. They are scratching their heads to this day.

So, years later, in my database design course the professor was asking me how I was able to decode his message. I just told him that I had some previous experience with encryption, and this was one of the things I could do. And I said nothing more. He may be scratching his head to this day.

You can read more and amaze (bore) your friends with neat stuff about cryptography. For a high-level treatment of cryptographic applications in real life you should to read Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier.

Live Forever

There are times when you would like to live forever. This is one of those.

Here is the story:

A new law in North Carolina will ban the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise, prompting environmentalists to accuse the state of disrespecting climate science.

This is so rich. When politicians get so full of themselves they think they can overrule nature, they put on show that is a joy to watch. Of course I plan to be watching from a distance. Apparently this is what happened:

The state’s coastal Resources Commission (CRC) published a projection of a 39-inch rise in the sea level within the next ten decades. Please take note that North Carolina borders on the Atlantic Ocean. Before you say “so what,” bear this in mind. You are a developer in North Carolina, and you see great profit in building and selling on a low-hanging sand bar. Prospective customers come to look, and they reach for their check books. But there is this nasty report that says their future property will be under water by the time it passes on to their grandchildren.

Of course, this is not going to happen. Responsible governments, did I mention North Carolina, do not allow these things to happen. Responsible governments will deny building permits and sales of fixed property (houses, hotels) on future submarine venues. Did I mention North Carolina?

OK, so facts are facts. But, folks, real money is on the line here. Investors with deep pockets for campaign contributions are wandering through the lobbies of the state government, and future facts are not going to be allowed to stand in the way current profits.

It’s not just the state-sponsored report that is casting a woeful future for the Carolina Coast. Other scientific studies are in agreement. Scientific American weighed in on the issue in a reprint from Environment and Energy Publishing, LLC:

Ancient North Carolina Records Show Sea-Level Rise Related to Warmer Temps

A climatologist says an embattled report recommending that the state prepare for a one-meter rise by 2100 is a reasonable based an sediment samples from 10 coastal wetlands

By Evan Lehmann and ClimateWire   | June 19, 2012 | 8

Some North Carolina lawmakers have accused scientists of using “made up” estimates of sea-level rise. But a top researcher says some of the world’s best evidence for climbing oceans comes from the ground beneath their feet.

Stefan Rahmstorf, a German climatologist whose research led scientists to reconsider accelerated sea-level rise, said an embattled report by North Carolina experts, recommending that the state prepare for a 39-inch rise by 2100, is a reasonable policy when building homes and infrastructure.

The law was drafted in response to an estimate by the state’s Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) that the sea level will rise by 39 inches in the next century, prompting fears of costlier home insurance and accusations of anti-development alarmism among residents and developers in the state’s coastal Outer Banks region.

What’s obviously going on here is that legislators, eager to pander to the whims of their constituents and to placate their own innermost prejudices, have put to law what they cannot put to fact. The consequences of scientific findings are so troubling, so financially unrewarding, so inconvenient, they must be based on bias and liberal conspiracy. They must be false, and the appropriate legislation will set everything right. Besides, by the time the consequences of this absurd legislation come surging over people’s homes, their lifetime investments, these law makers will have by then long since received their earthly reward and gone on to better things. Who will even remember their names?

What this reminds me (you, as well) of is similar legislation to dictate to nature.

An 1897 bill that set the value of pi (π) was introduced into the Indiana state legislature. The stated purpose was to establish the untrue contention that a square equal in area to a specified circle could be constructed using only the usual geometric tools of compass and straight edge. The proposed law contained language establishing the value of pi at something other than 3.14159265… A visiting mathematician set matters straight before the absurdity got passed on.

Cnut (Canute) the Great was a Viking ruler of England, and supposedly one of his courtiers attempted flattery by advising him that even the waves of the ocean obeyed his will. The king thereupon had his throne set at the water’s edge and waited until the waves were swarming around his feet.

Then the king leapt backwards, saying: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again “to the honour of God the almighty King.”

It would do well for the law makers of North Carolina to take a lesson from Canute the Great.