Tagged: Misc

Beetle Bailey

On 4 September 1950, the comic strip Beetle Bailey debuted in the United States. Beetle Bailey is the longest running comic strip still scripted and drawn by the original artist, Mort Walker, whom just turned 92. Everyone’s favorite Joe didn’t start out in the Army though: he was originally a college student at the University of Missouri. But with the Korean War on the front pages in the summer of 1950 no one wanted to hear about college shenanigans, and only 12 papers picked up the strip. Beetle struggled through college until the spring of 1951 when he suddenly dropped out of school and joined the Army.

The new Beetle Bailey strip was an instant hit, and in weeks every major paper in the country was following the hijinks and tomfoolery of Sham Master Beetle, his friends, and his superiors on Camp Swampy. The strip revolved around the ineptness of those in positions of authority but was at its best and funniest when it explored the ironic or unintentionally humorous relationships between its characters: Beetle’s squadmates Pvts Rocky, Diller, Plato and Zero; the bumbling but loveable SuperLifer Sarge, Sarge’s competent fixer dog sidekick, Otto and his girlfriend Louise; the enterprising but off-putting Cookie, the stereotypical 2LT LT Fuzz and stereotypical 1LT LT Flap, the commander General Halftrack and his wife Martha, and every Joe’s dreamgirl: the lovely Miss Buxley, among many others.

I think I’m just going to go behind the building now, put my hands behind my head, cross my legs, and go to sleep: FTA

RIP Mort Walker.

At Folsom Prison

Johnny Cash’s first big hit was “Folsom Prison Blues” in 1955 and he went on to be one of the biggest names in Country music, and Rock and Roll, for the next ten years. But by the late 60s Cash’s career was on the slippery down slope. He was having an open affair with fellow performer June Carter. He was addicted to pain killers and had been arrested for trespassing and drug trafficking. He was the worst sort of live performer who routinely missed concert dates, and because of his addiction was usually too bombed out of his mind to perform when he didn’t miss. His outlaw persona was catching up with him. By the end of 1967, he was one failed album away from just becoming another casualty to the Rock and Roll lifestyle.

He earlier decided to record a live album at the prison whose name launched his career, Folsom County Prison just outside Sacramento, California. Cash had played prisons before, and had even played Folsom before, but this would be the first time he’d record a live album while doing so. This would also be the first time he would be sober for the performance. On New Year’s 1968, Cash vowed to turn his life around, if only for June and his children’s sakes. And “At Folsom Prison” would be his comeback, both professionally and personally.

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”. With these words, two thousand hardened inmates of Folsom County Prison jumped up to wild applause as if they were high school kids at the year’s big concert event. Cash’s clean and sober performance was his best in years. Cash ended the performance by unexpectedly playing a song “Greystone Chapel”, written by one of the inmates.
Only two reporters accompanied Cash inside the prison to cover the event because most of the media had already dismissed Cash as a has-been, and one of whom was hired by Cash to document the event for the album sleeve. They witnessed the rebirth of a star and they’re still receiving royalties for their photographs to this day. At Folsom Prison is easily Cash’s best live performance and arguably one of the best live albums ever.

At Folsom Prison was released just four months later and resurrected Johnny Cash’s career. The clean and sober Johnny Cash learned to cultivate his outlaw status without it killing him. He would eventually divorce his wife and marry June Carter. Cash would become a leading advocate for prison reform in the United States and eventually testify to Congress in 1978.

The Last Jedi

*SPOILERS* Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the movie. I mean it – Go see the movie first.

*SPOILERS*
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If you are reading this sentence then I am assuming that you know that Luke died, Leia sort of died, Snoke died, Phasma died (WTF!), Ackbar died (Seriously WTF!) the galaxy is ruled by a whiny, petulant, and incompetent child (actually, that *is* pretty scary), The Finn is now a character straight out of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the fate of the Rebelistance is on the shoulders of a Mary Sue who was sand-sledding a few weeks before (and she probably needs to wash), and in that time the Jedi have developed unbelievably new force powers that even the Jedi at the height of their training and scholarship didn’t have.

But at least we still have Poe, Rose, DJ, BB-8, and hopefully a few more from the Rebelistance survivors to carry the series forward (I kinda liked that A-Wing pilot too. I can’t remember her name though). But no decent Imperial characters are left alive except Ren, and he’s problematic.

But for some reason, the movie worked for me, even the second time when I knew what was going to happen. It was a fun movie even if it had issues. Like I said before, it’s no Rogue One. Rogue One with a John Williams score would be in my top five favorite movies of all time. But alas, we got John Williams-lite. There are three types of Star Wars Fans: Lightsaber fans, Blaster fans, and Turbo Laser fans. I am the latter. I love Star Wars’ space battles, and it’s going to take a long time for me to forgive Disney for what they did to Ackbar. And I love a good blaster fight as long as they get in their ships at the end. The Force is just a Deus Ex Machina for lazy writers and ruined The Extended Universe for me in the mid-2000s. And well, that’s what’s looking to happen with Star Wars after seeing The Last Jedi.

So let’s get what I didn’t like out of the way. The biggest problem with the The Last Jedi is the Force. I don’t care what the Force can do, but it has to be consistent. Consistency is key. Consistency leads directly to integrity, and without integrity there might as well be nothing. The Force has to follow the in-universe rules of its existence, and anything new has to retroactively fit. If it doesn’t the franchise dies. The Terminator franchise died because the time travel didn’t follow the in-universe rules established in the first and second films. If a plot device has no integrity, then there is no tension, because the audience will subconsciously say, “The writers will just add a new Force power. They’ve done it before”. The Last Jedi made this mistake twice. Once with Dead Yoda affecting the real world (which has never happened before even in the wildest fever dreams of the EU writers). And the next was with the Jedi telepathic/telekinesis/Force holes (which has also never happened before).

First, Dead Yoda lit the tree on fire. No Dead Jedi has ever affected the “real world” with anything except words before. We know the Dead Jedi are always watching. So if they can affect the real world (“world” as in universe created by George Lucas), why didn’t Dead Obi lightning the Death Star’s exhaust port in the original Star Wars? Or Dead Qui Gon come back and lightning Jar Jar before he fucked the galaxy? There’s a thousand examples over the previous seven movies when the Dead Jedi could have affected the world as Yoda did with that tree. Why didn’t they? At least it can possibly be explained away by saying Yoda forced (Ha!) Luke to channel the lightning without his consent. But again, no dead Jedi, or even a live one, has ever forced another Jedi to use the Force against his or her will before. That’d be “Force Rape”, wouldn’t it?

The bigger Force inconsistency in The Last Jedi were the telepathic/telekinesis/force induced worm holes. That’s never happened before. It was hinted at between Leia and Luke, and Luke and Vader in Empire, but until the big reveal that Leia was force sensitive, it was a liability and required proximity. In TLJ it’s plot centric and they have entire conversations. So why didn’t the Jedi use it before this? Was the power only learned from the ancient texts in the tree, that Rey never read? Surely Yoda and Sam Jackson knew about it when the Jedi for all intents and purposes ruled the galaxy? So why wasn’t it used when Order 66 was executed, when a simple “Beware” to the Jedi would have saved them? Or during the Clone War? The communication aspects alone would have made it a game changer: A person to person instantaneous communication system that doesn’t rely on connecting infrastructure or line of sight? And we know from the water on Ren’s hand that physical objects can be transported. That’s a whole other dimension to warfare. The Jedi could have formed an agile command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, information, surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting, and force (C4I2SRTF…) architecture and infrastructure that would be exponentially more powerful than a bunch of warriors wielding laser swords. The Separatists could never have competed. That’s the very definition of a Revolution in Military Affairs. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time did it with Tel’aran’rhiod but it had to at least follow its own logic. If Fake Luke could touch Real Leia, and Real Rey could touch Real Ren, why can’t Real Ren touch Fake Luke or Real Luke? The best Fantasy and Science Fiction follow their own internal logic, as whacked as it may be. The Last Jedi did not.

OK, enough about Hokey Religions, let’s talk about what Star Wars was always about, characters and relationships. As I alluded to in the beginning, most of the main characters at worst suck, or are irritating at best.

Rey is the very definition of a “Mary Sue”. If you don’t know, a “Mary Sue” is an annoying literary trope where a lead female character is perfect in every way, surpasses the other main characters in every way, is beloved by all who see her, and has no flaws that are not endearing. Rey is a better pilot than Poe, a better Jedi than Luke, a better shot than Han, a better gunner than Finn, a better swordsman than Vader, etc etc. And she learned this all in a week or so. She hasn’t even had time to change from what she was wearing as a slave, scavenging wrecked star destroyers on Jakku. Luke might have been a whiny bitch that almost put a lightsaber blade through his eye the first time he was given one, but he was just a moisture farmer and bush pilot. He was relatable. How could Rey learn to fly when she scavenged all day for a cinnabun? Take a shower, Wish Fulfillment.

The rest of the characters aren’t nearly as bad, though some were wasted. Phasma most of all. She could have been The New Boba Fett. But she’s like the last remaining stormtrooper from the original trilogy who were always getting knocked out, beaten up by teddy bears, or not hitting anything. I’d be pissed if I was Brienne. She was to the First Order what Finn was to the Rebelistance. I do not like the direction Finn is headed. He fucks up everything he touches. He’s like a TV dad with few redeeming characteristics. In Force Awakens, he was a great gunner, had intimate knowledge of the First Order, and tried to take care of Rey, even if she didn’t need it (I still consider that a positive, it’s the Romantic in me). In The Last Jedi he was a bumbling fool just along for the ride, literally. He contributed nothing after the first few minutes after waking up. He has been demoted to sidekick.

At least he was a sidekick to Rose, one of the better newly introduced main characters. Like I said before, I have a soft spot for supporters rising to the occasion. Too bad the occasion she rose to (Ha!) meant absolutely nothing. I mean, the trip to Monaco allowed Hollywood to get some preaching in. It’s 2017, I get it. When Hollywood isn’t raping itself, it’s virtue signaling, and you aren’t going to get a good rating on entertainment’s worst monopoly, the Tomato Meter, without some virtue signaling. But Finn and Rose’s mission was absolutely meaningless. Unless of course, it was meant to introduce some new tension in the form of a Twilight-Style love triangle. If it did then consider me on TeamRose (You heard it here first). TeamMarySue can suck it.

But again, their mission, though exciting, was a waste. In fact if it wasn’t for BB-8, who did all the actual work, and DJ’s magically convenient appearance, they’d still be rotting in jail waiting to be rescued, or frozen in carbonite hung up as a decoration to cover a hole in a casino wall. Actually, that would be awesome and make a great transition to the next movie, just like Empire and Jedi. And they would have accomplished more in the plot.

So I might be on TeamRose, but I also have a soft spot for magenta based short haired women, especially when they know how to handle a squadron of star cruisers. I was furious when my main Mon Calamari, Admiral Ackbar, died in the same explosion that caused Leia to go Michaelangelo. (Seriously, Disney, you did Ackbar wrong) But he was quickly replaced with Amiliyn Haldo. For a fleeting moment Vice Admiral Amilyn Haldo replaced Princess Leia as my favorite female character in the Star Wars franchise. I’ll be in ma bunk. Then she immediately went toxic and incompetent, even if she did have the baddest-ass scene in the movie (I wonder why no one thought of that for the Death Stars?). What a waste.

Poe said, “So what’s the plan”? And she didn’t tell him. “Do what you’re told and like it, peasant”. (That’s my exact quote that I said out loud at that moment). This isn’t the Empire, this isn’t the First Order. This isn’t a division headquarters or the State Department. This is the Rebelistance. This is the Republic. We have Flat Organizations. There was absolutely no reason Haldo shouldn’t have told Poe the plan. He deserved to know. Hell, the whole crew deserved to know. A simple, “Thanks for asking Poe, but I was just about to brief the crew. Please take a seat. Attention everyone. This is Vice Admiral Yummy Hot. We are going to fuel up these small transports that are magically equipped with super rare cloaking devices, and escape to a secret hideout on a nearby planet that doesn’t show up on anyone’s scanner. (*eyeroll*) When we are safely away, the First Order will destroy this ship and assume we are dead. Then we will rebuild.” And Poe will say, “Thanks, ma’am. Great plan; I’m proud to be a part of it. I was wondering when we were going to use these cloaking devices. Need me to do anything? No? Mind if I buy you a drink while we wait?” *They adjourn to the bar* Now, admittedly Rose would then just be the foil to prevent Finn’s plan to escape. But we would still have our Twillight-style love triangle when Poe and Finn try to out complement each other in front of Haldo at the bar. In that case, consider me TeamPoe.

But all we got were four of the five most interesting new characters in the franchise acting like morons with no effect on the plot at all. Their shenanigans did introduce us to Benicio Del Toro’s DJ. Can’t wait to see him in the next one. Is he a Lando or a Boba Fett? Only time can tell. Speaking of time, how about Snoke? Ha! That was a quick reign… what a waste. I’m still saying he was the whiny kid from Star Wars Rebels all growed up. At least Kylo Ren had a semblance of a character arc.

Thank God Ren ditched the helmet. (Oh, did you catch the references to Baby Jesus in this movie? That’s never happened before either) I hated his helmet. And getting rid of it alone saved him in my eyes. I might have bitched before about the fact that the new Jedi telepathy exists, but the actual content of the conversations was great acting and writing. And Rey and Ren had the best lightsaber battle in the franchise. I honestly wanted more Crimson Guard to burst into the room just so the fight wouldn’t end. And now he’s the supreme leader of the First Order. Kylo Ren is a suitable villain for this generation: An evil spoiled child with delusions of grandeur and wielder of a nearly unlimited power who has no leadership or teambuilding experience and has to rule through brute force, coercion, and intimidation. I think I might dig up the cache of blasters in my back yard and join the Rebelistance myself.

Just about everything else I really liked. BB-8 is a great character and a Hero of the Republic. Chewie stole every scene he was in but I still think he should have eaten the Cornish hen. Chewie rips people’s arms off! Screw your plush doll. Rawwwwrrrr! Leia were awesome and Carrie swirled the dust in the room. Mark Hamill did the best he could with the stupid direction Luke was headed, but that’s more a criticism for Force Awakens. They’re going to be missed. Great space battle in the beginning, Hollywood is obviously setting us up for the Eighth Air Force miniseries. I loved that the Cruiser was named after the admiral in Rogue One. I loved Maz’ extended cameo. I really thought she was talking about Chewie though. That would have been awesome. All of the other supporting characters were great and I really hope some of them get bigger parts in the next movie.

Now it may seem like I didn’t like the movie, but I am a bitter and cynical old man hardened and numbed by decades of After Action Reviews where my every action was a disaster mitigated only by the cross talk of my junior leaders and NCOs. Pointing out the negative is all I know how to do. If you got a “good job” from me you probably more than deserved it. I am not going to tell you why you did a good job because I’ve learned I probably don’t understand why anyway, and to be honest I don’t really care. I’m just glad you did a good job. So, that being said.

Good job, Disney. I’ll probably see it again tomorrow

Tulip Mania

In 1636 while Germany was ravaged by the Thirty Years War, the Dutch Netherlands were relatively untouched as they continued their on and off fight for complete independence from the Spanish Empire. In 1636 the Dutch were beginning their Golden Age. The Merchant Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands had a far flung trading empire with colonies and trading posts in the Americas, Africa, Ceylon, India, the South Pacific, and Japan. The Netherlands was easily as powerful as its much larger neighbors, Great Britain and France. As the Dutch slowly asserted their own foreign policy, they sent ambassadors around the world; one of them returned from the Ottoman Empire with bulbs from a plant hitherto unseen in the Provinces – the tulip.

The bright flowers took to the Dutch soil like peanut butter to jelly, or corruption to politics. With war with Spain winding down, economic resources poured into commerce, and Dutch cities became unimaginably wealthy. Grand city houses were used by the newly rich merchants to display their wealth, and the tulips gracing the small yards and windowsills became the centerpieces of their new status. The more exotic and multicolored the tulip, the higher the price, and thus the greater status accorded to its owners, the only exception being any dark violet bulb close enough to the elusive and coveted Holy Grail of the Netherlands – The Black Tulip. The trade in tulip bulbs had occurred for decades, but only during the months from April (when they bloomed) to October (when they had to be replanted). On 12 November 1636, the Dutch created the first formal futures market for the soon-to-be symbol of the country. Buying and selling of the next season’s tulip bulbs began five months earlier than normal, and without the bulbs actually trading hands.

The Dutch merchants went insane for the new bulb contracts. In taverns and salons across the Provinces, tulip contracts changed hands at a frenzied pace. Speculative buying pushed the prices higher and higher. The entire population dabbled in the tulip market as a quick way to get rich. Within a month, tulip bulb “exports” became the fourth most profitable product in the country without a single bulb actually leaving the ground. Some bulbs went for as much as 3000 guilders, at a time when a skilled craftsman made 300 guilders a year.

Just three months later on 3 February 1637, one of only two Semper Augustus bulbs in existence was used to purchase 12 acres of land. With a fixed supply, the bulbs had gotten extraordinarily expensive. Very soon, the prices for the bulbs had gotten so high that buyers became scarce, then nonexistent. The Tulip Market crashed and the speculative bubble burst. Fortunes were made, but debts more so. France threatened to invade to collect.

By the April tulip bloom in 1637, the prices were back to what they were on 12 November. Tulipmania had run its course, and nearly destroyed the new country.

Casablanca

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid – 75 years young. On 26 November, 1942, the masterpiece “Casablanca” premiered in New York ahead of its scheduled general release in January. MG Patton’s capture of the actual town of Casablanca in French Morocco a few weeks before during Operation Torch had recently hit the news, and Warner Bros wanted to capitalize on the increased interest in the dusty North African town.

Based on the play, “Everyone Comes to Rick’s”, Casablanca followed the cynical American expatriate Rick Blaine, played to perfection by Humphrey Bogart at the top of his game, who had a fateful encounter with a stupid hot ex-girlfriend, played by the timeless Ingrid Bergman, who, of all the gin joints in all the world, walked into his. Filled with the usual suspects of early 40s Hollywood, Casablanca was perfectly cast: Peter Lorre as the conniving but surprising Ugarte, 30s sex symbol Paul Heinreid as the stiff and vaguely uncomfortable (doing the right thing tends to do that to people) resistance leader Victor Lazlo, Sydney Greenstreet as the unscrupulous powerbroker Signor Ferrari, and Claude Raines as the opportunistic corrupt bureaucrat Captain Renault.

Now I may stick my neck out for no man, but I’ll do it for Casablanca: It is the greatest movie script in history. Many movies try, but Casablanca succeeds. There isn’t a single wasted frame. To have gorgeous cinematography without any wide angle scenery shots is unknown today. I was shocked, Shocked! to learn that the script was rejected out of hand by several hundred Hollywood executives and writers when it was circulated in 2010 with the names changed. I may have been misinformed, but Casablanca’s themes of honor, duty, and redemption are considered trite in Hollywood today (probably not: it’s the Romantic in me). I don’t mind too much though: we’ll always have Casablanca.

Casablanca is a story of Redemption. Many Hollywood movies have Redemption as a theme, Casablanca only more so. Just four characters in its splendid cast weren’t redeemed for their past transgressions, but only because there was no reason to: Sam played by the always delightful Dooley Wilson was Rick’s moral compass. (Yes, where do you think Tolkein got the idea from?) The waiter Carl, played by the screen stealing SK Sakall, was Casablanca’s moral compass. And Lazlo was the world’s moral compass. The fourth was Maj Strasser, who as the un-redeemable Nazi villain, had no moral compass.

The obvious tale of redemption was Rick, who by the end of the movie realized America wasn’t a place, but an idea worth fighting for. But never underestimate a blundering American screenwriter: there are many others who found their redemption by the end of the movie. There’s also Renault, a true democrat, who realized the folly of taking the easy path by accommodating the Germans. Or Ugarte, who redeemed himself in Rick’s eyes by killing Nazis. Ilsa redeemed herself to Victor for her earlier infidelity with Rick, or Berger, or Sascha, or Ferrari, or the German couple. The list goes on. You may disagree with me, but you’ll sound like someone who is trying to convince yourself of something you don’t believe in your heart. One look at Yvoone singing La Marseilles should dispel any doubts.

Yvonne’s tears were real. The autumn of 1942, when Casablanca was filmed, was a dark time for the world. The Allied victories at Guadalcanal, El Alamein, and Stalingrad hadn’t happened yet. The papers were filled with Axis advances across the globe. German panzers ran roughshod over the Soviet Union. Rommel seized Tobruk, and was poised to seize Egypt and the Suez Canal. Marines fought for their lives on a tiny South Pacific Island; Japan sank several American carriers and were threatening to cut off Australia. Hitler’s National Socialists had Europe under the iron boot heel of collectivism, and the stories of their brutality reached America through the tens of thousands of refugees that escaped. All across the country, Americans were asleep; their arrival woke America up. Yvonne, and most of the cast of Casablanca, was part of that wave of refugees.

Their stories did get out because, though they tried, even the Nazis couldn’t kill that fast. The refugee’s roles gave Casablanca an authenticity that otherwise wouldn’t be there. The vast majority of the cast either fled Europe before the war, or fled their countries when Hitler overran them. Only three credited cast members were actually born in the United States: Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson, and Joy Paige (the Latina singer with The Voice). Madeline LaBeau who played Yvonne was French, Leonid Kinsky as Sacha was Russian, Lazlo was a German Jew, Berger was Norwegian, Renault was English, Ugarte was Austrian, Carl was Czech, and Strasser German. Conrad Veidt, who played the evil Nazi Maj Strasser, had actually experienced Nazi persecution and demanded the role because he wanted to show the world the true face of National Socialism. (He was also the highest paid actor in the film.) On that set, the cast made a beautiful friendship, and it showed on screen.

My heart may be my least vulnerable spot, but there’s a soft spot there for Casablanca. Every time I watch it, I watch it as if it’s the last time. It may be a little game I play, but Casablanca is the “Black and White” movie that I show someone who has never seen a black and white movie before. And though I always fight on the side of the underdog, I am not a cut rate reviewer. A review of Casablanca would not be complete without a few words on the song that ties the whole movie together, “As Time Goes By”. It may be poor salesmanship, but I’ll leave that to Sam,

“You must remember this / A kiss is still a kiss / A sigh is just a sigh…

The fundamental things apply / As time goes by…

And when two lovers woo, / They still say, “I love you’ / On that you can rely…

No matter what the future brings / As time goes by…”

I think I’ll play it again.

The Great Emu War

After the First World War, Australian veterans were given land to farm in Western Australia. In late 1932, the increased irrigation, the cleared and cultivated land, and the not-yet-harvested crops proved to be an attraction for emus. Emus are large flightless birds indigenous to Australia, and only slightly smaller than an ostrich. In October 1932, great feathered hordes of emus descended upon the farms of the Wheatbelt region in their annual migration from the coast to the interior.
 
The emus ate the crops, trampled the land, destroyed property, and made a horrible cacophony that was enough to wake the dead. Angry Diggers attempted to fend off the invaders, but these direct descendants of dinosaurs seemed to absorb rifle shots, and scattered before they could be brought down. Moreover, the farmers’ fences proved no obstacle to the avian menace, and provided infiltration points for fences’ original targets: rapidly breeding and garden and crop annihilating rabbits and dingos.
 
In late October 1932, a section from the Royal Australian Artillery under command of Major GPW Meredith with a few Lewis guns was ordered to stop the Emu Menace. However, rains prevented Meredith’s operations from commencing. Despite Mother Nature, on 3 November Meredith attacked. Meredith found great flocks of emus, perfect for slaughter by the machine guns. Unfortunately, emus did not act as soldiers did assaulting trenches in the First World War. As soon as Meredith’s Lewis guns opened fire, the emus scattered. In the great flocks of hundreds, the soldiers managed to kill only a few.
 
Most distressingly, the emus reformed out of contact and continued their pillaging and brigandage of the farms. Meredith would find them, set up, kill a few, and frustratingly have to repeat the process as the emus evaded. He attempted to ambush the emus at a dam where the emus congregated in the evenings for a drink, but even this proved futile as the emus just found other places to patronize. Within a few days, the emus stopped traveling in great numbers and dispersed into the countryside in smaller groups. Furthermore, each small group seemed to have a leader, an alpha emu that usually stood over six feet with “a great dark plume” who watched over his emu flock, and warmed of the soldiers’ approach. Meredith attempted to motorize his firepower by bolting the guns on automobile hoods, but unlike the biplanes of the First World War, a moving vehicle jostling about the countryside was not a stable firing platform. On 8 November, the disconsolate Meredith withdrew from the area of operations.
 
Round One to the emus.
 
After the farmers complained to their representatives in the Australian Parliament, Meredith was sent back the next week, by direct order from the Minister of Defense. This time however, Meredith spent his time wisely and organized an anti-emu militia formed from the farmers. The renewed effort by Meredith’s machine guns and the farmer’s marksmanship had a greater impact. For the next three weeks, Meredith’s counter insurgency claimed the lives of over 300 emus, and possibly more due to the emu’s distinct lack of medical care for their wounded. But it still was not enough. The Australian press was having a hoot with the story, and the negative press for the “The Great Emu War” caused Meredith to be recalled in December.
 
Round Two to the Emus.
 
Despite appeasing the emus and halting direct military operations, the emus refused to curtail their deprivations of the Wheatbelt. The farmers continued to request military assistance, but the Australian government refused to authorize boots on the ground. They were unwilling to pay the political cost for a direct decades long War with the Emu. However, they didn’t surrender. The emu were akin to Napoleon’s corps and required forage to operate, so local governments invested in new emu/dingo/rabbit-proof fencing for the farmers. In essence, the new fencing isolated the emus from their logistics hubs. More importantly though, the Australian government issued a bounty on proof of every dead emu. In the mid to late 1930s, scalp hunting emu bounty hunters descended upon the Wheatbelt. Many tens of thousands of emus were killed over the next decade, giving credence to the impossibility of Meredith’s task, but ending the Emu Menace to the farmers.
 
Round Three to Australia.
 
Mission Accomplished.

Computer Science

Science 22 Sep 1967:Vol. 157, Issue 3795, pp. 1373-1374

Allen Newell 

Alan J. Perlis 

Herbert A. Simon

“Professors of computer science are often asked: “Is there such a thing as computer science, and if there is, what is it?” The questions have a simple answer:

Wherever there are phenomena, there can be a science to describe and explain those phenomena. Thus, the simplest (and correct) answer to “What is botany?” is, “Botany is the study of plants.” And zoology is the study of animals, astronomy the study of stars, and so on. Phenomena breed sciences.

There are computers. Ergo, computer science is the study of computers. The phenomena surrounding computers are varied, complex, rich. It remains only to answer the objections posed by many skeptics.

Objection 1. Only natural phenomena breed sciences, but computers are artificial, hence are whatever they are made to be, hence obey no invariable laws, hence cannot be described and explained. Answer. 1. The objection is patently false since computers and computer programs are being described and explained daily. 2. The objection would equally rule out of science large portions of organic chemistry (substitute “silicones” for “computers”), physics (substitute “superconductivity” for “computers”), and even zoology (substitute “hybrid corn” for “computers”). The objection would certainly rule out mathematics, but in any event, its status as a natural science is idiosyncratic.

Objection 2. The term “computer” is not well defined, and its meaning will change with new developments, hence computer science does not have a well-defined subject matter. Answer. The phenomena of all sciences change over time; the process of understanding assures that this will be the case. Astronomy did not originally include the study of interstellar gases; physics did not include radioactivity; psychology did not include the study of animal behavior. Mathematics was once defined as the “science of quantity.”

Objection 3. Computer science is the study of algorithms (or programs), not computers. Answer. 1. Showing deeper insight than they are sometimes credited with, the founders of the chief professional organization for computer science named it the Association for Computing Machinery. 2. In the definition, “computers” means “living computers” – the hardware, their programs or algorithms, and all that goes with them. Computer science is the study of the phenomena surrounding computers. “Computers plus algorithms,” “living computers,” or simply “computers” all come to the same thing – the same phenomena.

Objection 4. Computers, like thermometers, are instruments, not phenomena. Instruments lead away to their user sciences; the behaviors of instruments are subsumed as special topics in other sciences (not always the user sciences – electron microscopy belongs to physics, not biology). Answer. The computer is such a novel and complex instrument that its behavior is subsumed under no other science; its study does not lead away to user sciences, but to further study of computers. Hence, the computer is not just an instrument but a phenomenon as well, requiring description and explanation.

Objection 5. Computer science is a branch of electronics (or mathematics, psychology, and so forth). Answer. To study computers, one may need to study some or all of these. Phenomena define the focus of a science, not its boundaries. Many of the phenomena of computers are also phenomena of some other science. The existence of biochemistry denies neither the existence of biology nor of chemistry. But all of the phenomena of computers are not subsumed under anyone exiting science.

Objection 6. Computers belong to engineering, not science. Answer. They belong to both, like electricity (physics and electrical engineering) or plants (botany and agriculture). Time will tell what professional specialization is desirable between analysis and synthesis, and between the pure study of computers and their application.

Computer scientists will often join hands with colleagues from other disciplines in common endeavor. Mostly, computer scientists will study living computers with the same passion that others have studied plants, stars. glaciers, dyestuffs, and magnetism; and with the same confidence that intelligent, persistent curiosity will yield interesting and perhaps useful knowledge.”

The Blackout of 1977

The late 70s were a dismal time for most Americans. President Carter described it as a “crisis of confidence” in his famous “Malaise speech” in 1979. The darkest moment in this dark time, both figuratively and literally, was the blackout of New York City in the sweltering summer of 1977.

The summer of 1977 was a miserable time for New York. The Yankee’s hadn’t won a World Series in 13 years. The apocalyptic and imminent global cooling promised by activists at the First Earth Day in 1970 had failed to materialize and the high temperatures routinely broke records that July. Crime also reached new record highs that wouldn’t be broken until the crack epidemic in the 80s, as gangs took over portions of the city. (When “The Warriors” was filmed the next year, a near-futuristic dystopian modern take on the Anabasis where gangs tried to take over the city, New Yorkers weren’t sure if it was fantasy, fiction, or a documentary.) The pervasive sense of fear was palatable: that summer, the Son of Sam went about murdering random New Yorkers with a .44 cal revolver. No one felt safe. The overworked New York City police were powerless in the face of this wave of crime. Police officers were routinely targeted for assassination which greatly reduced their effectiveness. Furthermore, New York was in the midst of a financial and budget crisis which led to pay freezes and layoffs in the police and city administrations, and spread the already small NYPD even thinner. City services were curtailed, and city maintenance was neglected.

Around 8:30 pm on 13 July 1977, a lightning strike hit a power line which overloaded the large Ravenswood’s generator, and a faulty circuit breaker prevented it from shutting down. This overloaded the Consolidated Edison Indian Point Water Power Plant which did shut down. Further lightning strikes cut powerlines to other generators and power stations. In less than 30 minutes, 90% of the five boroughs, over 7,000,000 people, were without power, just as the sun dipped below the horizon. It was the sixth inning between the Mets and the Cubs when the lights went out. 

Then the chaos began. 

Hundreds were stuck in elevators and tens of thousands were stuck in traffic or on the subway, both of which came to an immediate standstill. 911 emergency lines were swamped with almost 20 million phone calls (!) that night, despite radio stations broadcasting desperate pleas from city officials to only make calls in life or death circumstances. However, most calls were less about the electricity and more about their fellow New Yorkers taking advantage of the darkness. 

The only lights in New York City after 9pm were car headlights and fires. The New York Fire Department responded to over 1100 cases of arson that night, and hundreds more false alarms, including many ambushes by gang members. Most of Broadway was on fire. The next morning, one city paper ran the headline, “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning.” The city was lit by an eerie orange and purple glow of flashing lights and raging fires among its homes and businesses. But for all the fire damage to the city, the looters and vandals were worse.

The 2500 NYPD cops on the ground were quickly overwhelmed with the sheer scale of violence, destruction, and looting that began in the twilight of the setting sun. Before it got so dark on that moonless night that you could barely see the hand in front of your face, all 12,000 on and off duty police were on the streets. 

Home invasions were common but the looting of the closed businesses easier. On the night of 13-14 July 1977, New York City was sacked. The massive wave of looters took everything that wasn’t nailed down. One looter was heard yelling through the streets, “It’s Christmas time!” Few businesses in the city escaped damage. One car dealership lost 57 cars stolen off the lot. TV crews were usually attacked as their recording cameras were evidence, but one crew was offered stolen jewelry for cheap while broadcasting live. Many neighborhood blocks barricaded themselves in and shot at anyone they didn’t recognize, so the more industrious of criminals just mugged the looters. It was safer. 

In the frenzy, the looters took anything, if they didn’t need or want it, they could sell it or give it away. The police arrested one looter with a bag of clothes pins; and another with bags of macaroni. 3700 suspected looters were arrested that night: The largest mass arrest in New York history. 

What separates the Blackout of 1977 and the ones of 1965 and 2003 was the chaos continued in the daylight. The power finally came back on 25 hours later. $300,000,000 in damage was done to the city. The damage was almost as bad as the New York Draft Riots 114 years previously, when Union warships had to bombard the city. The New York State Power Authority canvassed all the best trade schools and hired and trained the best electrical students to work in the power plants, replacing the city run Consolidated Edison employees that were found negligent in causing the Blackout. Mayor Abe Beame would eventually lose the Democratic primary, and the mayor’s office, to challenger Ed Koch the next election. 

For New Yorkers it was a day akin to 9/11, the Challenger explosion, or the death of John F. Kennedy.

Down the Rabbit Hole

On 4 July, 1862, writer Charles Dodgeson took a friend’s three young daughters, Edith, 8, Alice, 10 and Lorina, 13 on an afternoon picnic trip into the countryside of south eastern England. In true Victorian fashion, he rowed them down the Thames River. During the trip, he regaled them with a tale of a young girl and her adventures after she had fallen down a rabbit hole. 

The protagonist of the story was named Alice after Dodgeson’s favorite of the three sisters. The girls so loved the story they wanted him to write it down for them when they returned from the picnic. The manuscript he gave them later would eventually be published under Charles Dodgeson’s pen name, Lewis Carroll, as “Alice in Wonderland”.

Mad Hatter: “Have I gone mad?”

Alice: “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

“I don’t think…” said Alice. “Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.

Alice asked, “How long is forever?” “Sometimes, just one second,” replied the White Rabbit