While conservatives have formed a posthumous lovefest around Ronald Reagan, forgotten are the dangerous first couple of years in his presidency when his "evil empire" rhetoric played well at home but did little to ease international tensions. Then the Soviets shot down Korean Airlines flight 007 on September 1, 1983, which was flying from JFK airport to Seoul, South Korea. At first the Soviets said the plane was spying, but later admitted to a "mistake" that cost the lives of 269 civilians. (No one is sure why the aircraft wandered into Soviet airspace, or why it didn't respond to Soviet radio calls, if they ever received those calls.)
On September 26, 1983, the world came this close to a nuclear war. Soviet early warning systems detected a missile heading for Moscow from the United States. Soviet protocol was to launch a massive nuclear counterstrike, but Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov wasn't convinced. He thought a single missile made no sense. He delayed the counterattack, even after another, and another, and another missile were recorded in bound.
You can read the full story here, but the upshot is that Petrov's assumption of a computer error was correct. He saved the world from nuclear war, at the cost of his pension and a nervous breakdown.
I wish I had posted this on the 25th anniversary of the incident, but better late than never. Petrov is little known, but he's someone everyone should know, and thank.
A team of University of Toronto astronomers took what might be the first picture of an extra-solar planet — a planet around a sun other than our own — orbiting a star very similar to our own.
Astronomers have photographed other extra-solar planets, but they were all orbiting brown dwarfs, which are very small, very cold stars. Because they don't radiate much light, it's easier to spot (with optical telescopes) the planets that might orbit them.
In this case, the object was photographed orbiting the star with the catchy name 1RSX J160929.1-210524. This is a very young star. So young, in fact, that the planet has not yet cooled. This means it is radiating its own energy, making it possible to see. The star is a little smaller than our sun, and the planet is about the size of Jupiter, but much hotter (about 1500ºC, compared to Jupiter's temperature of -110ºC).
The star is 500 light years away. Scientists believe it will be another two years before we know for certain that it's moving along with the star, hence the reason why it's still open to conjecture as to whether or not the smaller object is a planet and whether or not it belongs to that star.
An additional interesting point is that the planet is 330 AU out from the star. An AU is an astronomical unit, equal to the distance from the Earth to the sun. Neptune is about 30 AU from our sun, so this planet is 10 times the distance from its star as Neptune is from the sun, which isn't a situation that fits the current solar system models.
This is going to be an interesting object to pay attention to. Meanwhile, the picture is available at the Gemini Observatory web site. Just follow this link: http://www.gemini.edu/sunstarplanet.
You might have heard about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the new, huge subatomic particle collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva, Switzerland. The collider is being used to find, if possible, dark matter, the unseen particles that — theory predicts — make up the bulk of the mass in the universe.
There have been all sorts of (uninformed) reports that the collider could create a black hole big enough to destroy the world. That's foolish, it can't happen.
Last week I got to see a very small sneak peak of my roleplaying supplement, This Favored Land: A Wild Talents Sourcebook for the War Between the States.
Shane at Arc Dream sent me a link to a preview of the layout files. I got to see all the finished art work, and the templates used for the layout. It looks very, very good! It's done in a 19th century style. The sidebars look like scrap paper, and the art looks like they were photos held into an album with those little sticky corner holders you used to be able to buy.
Arc Dream is working hard to finish the layout so that the book will be ready to go to print this month. Once it's been laid out, I'm sure I'll be asked to help proof it. I can't wait!
The wind has whipped up around here — gusting to 28 mph — and the rain is falling as the outer bands of Gustav slide over West Monroe, Louisiana. Fortunately, it looks like Gustav hasn't been anywhere near as devastating as Katrina, and maybe not as bad as Rita either.
Regardless of the power of Gustav, the evacuation of New Orleans and the southern part of the state went very smoothly. This is due to the lessons learned in Katrina. Apparently FEMA spent a year in New Orleans drawing up an evacuation plan.
One politician in particular is getting a "boost" due to Gustav: Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. His competence during Gustav — albeit with far better federal support and 50:50 hindsight — is striking in comparison to then governor Kathleen Blanco three years ago. With the choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate, some people are starting to speculate on a particular what if: what if McCain had chosen Jindal to be his running mate? With the media focus on Louisiana, Jindal's leadership would be a powerful tool against the Democrats. Instead, McCain chose the inexperienced Palin for vice presidential nominee. Some media, and no doubt some Republicans, are wondering if McCain would have been better off choosing Jindal.
What the media seems to be forgetting — if they even remembered it in the first place — is the reason Jindal fell off the short list for VP in the first place.
Bobby Jindal fell off the list due to the embarrassment he suffered earlier this summer. The state congress in Louisiana voted itself a 125% pay increase, making Louisiana’s politicians some of the highest paid in the nation. Worse than that, their pay was to be tied to the consumer price index, a luxury not afforded to the vast majority of the state’s residents.
The people of Louisiana were livid, yet Bobby Jindal refused to veto the bill. Oh, he spoke out against the raise and urged the state congress not to pass it, but he refused to pit himself against Louisiana’s senators and representatives. Instead, he chose not to sign the bill into law, legal sleight-of-hand given that if the governor doesn’t sign a bill it goes into law within a month anyway. Only after a grassroots campaign to recall several Louisiana politicians — including Jindal — gathered momentum did Jindal realize he had misread the public, at which point he vetoed the bill.
Louisianians were openly speculating that Jindal would be a one-term governor, so angry were they over the raise debacle. Other skeletons in Jindal's closet, which came out during the last two gubernatorial elections, popped up once again (such as his participation in a fellow student's exorcism when he was in college). His chance of being picked as McCain’s running mate was essentially sunk by his actions back in June, and the negative publicity he received.
McCain didn't select Jindal for good reasons, reasons that have been largely forgotten as Jindal appears as a strong leader on television. It remains to be seen if his handling of Gustav will be enough to reform him in the eyes of Louisianians, though.