Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

29.10.09

Happy 40th, Internet


The Internet is 40 years old today.

The very first host-to-host packet-switched message ever sent over the fledgling "ARPANET", an information network developed by BBN Technologies under a contract awarded by the Pentagon's "Advanced Research Projects Agency" (today known as DARPA), was sent 40 years ago today.

At 10:30pm PDT on October 29th, 1969, a UCLA student using an SDS "Sigma 7" host computer sent the word "login" to an SDS 940 interface message processor (IMP) 300 miles north at the Stanfurd Research Institute. Though the system crashed after only the first two letters were transmitted ("lo"), the remote IMP login was accomplished an hour later.

The original 1822 protocol, which was designed for reliability and assurance (i.e., the host would be able to tell if a message was lost), was later replaced with the Network Control Program (NCP) that allowed simultaneous message sharing between different hosts. The modern Transfer Control Protocol / Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) was adopted by ARPANET in 1983.

ARPA, the world's 200 million plus blogs thank you.

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17.10.09

20 Years Later


Twenty years ago today, I was a third-semester senior at the University of California at Berkeley. My favorite baseball team, the Oakland A's, were in the World Series facing the neighboring San Francisco Giants in the "Bay Bridge Series". Though the media moguls hated such a "local" World Series, I thought it was the best ever. That is, until Game Three....

During pre-game warmups, as I sat in my room across the Bay in Alameda, the intial jolts of the Loma Prieta earthquake began knocking books off of my shelves. ABC sportscaster Al Michaels turned to his right and said "We're having an earth...", immediately followed by static then a power outage. That fifteen seconds of violent shaking (7.1 surface wave magnitude) felt more like fifteen minutes.

Of the 57 people who lost their lives as a direct result of Loma Prieta, 42 of them were on the Cypress Section of Interstate-880 in northwest Oakland (the photo above). Perhaps the "Bay Bridge Series" had a positive effect, minimizing the amount of traffic that would normally be on this main traffic artery connecting the East Bay and Peninsula during rush hour (the quake occurred at 5:04pm local). That section of freeway would normally have hundreds of vehicles bumper-to-bumper this time of day.... It was also a route that I often took to Cal, having traversed the lower deck the morning prior.

Today, the Cypress is a ground-level, side-by-side freeway. Structural standards for elevated roads have strengthened. And the skill of the first responders in containing the fires that followed prevented a repeat of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (which claimed more than 3,000 lives). Oh, and the A's swept the Giants, outscoring them 32-14 in four games after a ten-day pause due to the earthquake.

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18.9.09

Happy Air Force Birthday!

Happy Birthday, U.S. Air Force! For 62 years, the Air Force has merged technical excellence with mission focus -- ensuring that American power is without peer in the air, in space, and most recently in cyberspace.


KEEP AIMING HIGH!

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17.9.09

Happy Soviet Invasion Day, Poland....


In a statement this morning, President Obama officially killed the Poland-based portion of the Ballistic Missile Defense System, and its accompanying phased-array radar in the Czech Republic. This system has been a point of contention ever since former President Bush inked the deal with the European nations who would benefit from the system's protection against Iranian missiles.

Though this system (called "European Capability") is being replaced by a "phased approach" that capitalizes on sea- and other land-based interceptors, you have to wonder about the timing of this announcement.....

Sept. 17, 1939 (70 years ago today) marked the Soviet invasion of Poland. Happy Anniversary, Poland....



(h/t Nathan Hodge at WIRED's Danger Room)


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20.7.09

Moon + 40

40 years ago today, I was a toddler living in southwest Michigan with a second birthday coming up. My first recollection of our nation's space program was watching the APOLLO-SOYUZ linkup as an almost-seven-year-old waiting in a hospital lobby in Jacksonville, Florida for my 2nd major ear surgery.

The APOLLO 11 landing was the culmination of an ambitious vision laid out by President Kennedy some seven years prior -- a speech asking imponderable questions like "Why climb the highest mountain?" and "Why does Rice play Texas?"

While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin deserve all of the accolades of being the first humans to walk on another celestial body, my personal hero is Michael Collins: the pilot of the Command Module COLUMBIA and designer of the mission patch who could only watch from above as his two colleagues' names became forever etched in the nation's memory.

And why was he stuck in the Command Module? One reason: to perform unscheduled maintenance. That, and his personal disdain for geology.

Congratulations to the entire crew of APOLLO 11 for inspiring our world, and making the Universe seem just a little bit smaller!

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4.7.09

Happy Independence Day!


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

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2.7.09

General Orders, July 2nd 1776

"...The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their Houses, and Farms, are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a State of Wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the Courage and Conduct of this army -- Our cruel and unrelenting Enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission; this is all we can expect -- We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die: Our own Country's Honor, all call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions -- The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings, and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the Tyranny meditated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and shew the whole world, that a Freeman contending for LIBERTY on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth."

General George Washington
General Orders Head Quarters, New York, July 2, 1776

(The sketch above is from July 9, 1776, when General Washington directed his officers to read the newly-signed Declaration of Independence to his troops -- assembled near modern day City Hall in New York, as they awaited the combined British forces.)

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1.7.09

Happy Birthday, Carl!

229 years ago today, Carl Philipp Gottleib von Clausewitz was born in Burg bei Magdeburg in the Kingdom of Prussia. In addition to being a noted reformer in the Prussian Army during the Napoleonic Wars, he is also one of the most significant military theorists of our modern age. His magnum opus, On War, is required reading at nearly every intermediate service school in the world -- though his work is frequently misinterpreted, or only partially read. (Thankfully, the Chicago Boyz blog recently hosted a "roundtable" on Carl von's tome -- and Nimble Books will soon publish those proceedings in book form.)

Happy Birthday, Carl von!

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11.6.09

Kamehameha Day

Happy Kamehameha Day! Kamehameha the Great, often called the Napoleon of the Pacific, unified the islands of Hawai'i shortly after a haole named Cook "discovered" this tropical paradise.

Kamehameha (born as Pai'ea on the leeward side of the Big Island) became the ali'i nui of all eight islands in the early 19th century, conquering all of the islands (except Kaua'i and Ni'ihau) by force -- including forcing many of Kalanikupule's (the ali'i of O'ahu) off the Pali cliffs. The more-distant islands of Kaua'i and Ni'ihau were won through negotiation rather than battle.

Today is a public holiday in the state of Hawai'i, with a floral parade from the 'Iolani Palace to the edge of Kapi'olani Park near Diamondhead, an evening draping ceremony with long strands of lei draped over the King's statue, and a Hoʻolauleʻa -- a super-sized lu'au.

Aloha nui loa, Kamehameha!


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6.6.09

D-Day + 65 Years


The beginning of the end of World War II started 65 years ago. As President Obama said earlier today at OMAHA Beach on the Normandy shore, "At an hour of maximum danger, amid the bleakest of circumstances, men who thought themselves ordinary found it within themselves to do the extraordinary ..."

D-Day was the consequence of not only extraordinary acts by ordinary men, but also by the brilliant subterfuge of its planners. Some have called Fortitude South "the greatest deception of all time", allowing the Allied forces to secure a foothold on the Continent despite their numerical inferiority.

While Google chose to solely honor Tetris on their site today (an anniversary I have also acknowledged on this blog), it is far more important to respect the profound sacrifice of so many Allied forces who gave their "last full measure of devotion" in defeating the Axis.

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17.5.09

Pikes Summit

We ascended the Pikes Peak Highway today, with all three kids in tow. Sophie was asleep as we reached the summit, so our photo by the elevation marker only shows her big brother and big sister.

The Pikes Peak Highway is a 19-mile road, mostly paved, but with few guard rails. This road, built in the 1880s as a carriage road to serve the U.S. Army Signal Corps weather station at the summit, was improved in 1915 at a cost of $500,000. The following year, 1916, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race was established -- the second oldest auto race in the U.S. (only the Indy 500 is older). The road was operated privately for 20 years, charging $2 per person, but never realized a profit due to the tremendous cost of snow removal.

Shelby's planned mode of ascent (and descent) the next time she visits the summit:


(She did not enjoy the drive as much as I did....)

From the summit, we had a compelling view of Garden of the Gods:


We did not see much wildlife, perhaps due to the dense snowpack still covering much of the summit. However, the Gatehouse signs said there had been a fox sighted between mile markers 10 and 13. Sure enough, just before mile marker 13 (and next to the parking lot for the Glen Cove Inn, where descending motorists have their brake temperature checked to ensure they can safely proceed), we saw the fox laying beside the road. His demeanor was more akin to a friendly dog than a fox.

Of course, no visit to the Pike National Forest is complete without a picnic by the shore of Crystal Creek Reservoir!

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27.4.09

Zebulon Pike

Brig. Gen. Zebulon Montgomery Pike, Jr., was born near modern-day Trenton, New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. In 1805, as a 27-year-old Lieutenant, Pike was charged with mapping the upper Mississippi River while a more-famous expedition mapped the Missouri River for President Jefferson.

Though Pike incorrectly designated Leech Lake as the Mississippi's headwaters (some 20 miles to the east of Lake Itasca, the "veritas caput" -- or "true head"), upon his return he was immediately ordered to lead a southwestern expedition to find the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers.

It was on this expedition that the peak that bears his name in south-central Colorado was mapped. Pike never reached the 14,115' summit of "Pikes Peak" -- turning back atop Mount Rosa (the peak to the southeast of the higher summit) in waist-deep snow after having gone without food for two days.

Though captured by Spanish authorities during this expedition, his incarceration in the Mexican state of Chihuahua led to several findings: access to more maps of the southwest, and the revelation of Mexican discontent with Spanish rule.

Pike continued to serve in the U.S. Army. At the Battle of Tippecanoe he is listed as a Lt. Col. with the 4th Infantry Regiment, and during the War of 1812 he was Quartermaster-General and Inspector-General in New Orleans.

His final expedition was the successful attack on York, Ontario (contemporary Toronto) in April 1813. During surrender negotiations, the retreating British garrison detonated their ammunition depot without warning. Pike was struck and killed by the debris on this date, April 27th, 1813.

Zebulon Pike's account of his travels, published in 1810, became required reading for all explorers who followed in his footsteps. His insights into the politics and economics of Chihuahua led to the establishment of the Santa Fe Trail to promote trade, and ultimately to the Mexican independence movement of the 1810s and 1820s.

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21.3.09

60 Years Ago: Secret No More

The city of Oak Ridge, founded solely as the site for enriching the fuel of the world's first nuclear weapons during the Manhattan Project of World War II, was a cloistered community where residents had to wear identification badges outside of their homes and visitors needed security clearances.

All of that changed sixty years ago, on March 19th 1949, when the "Secret City" of Oak Ridge was opened to the world at a "ribbon burning" hosted by Vice President of the United States Alben Barkley. Today's commemoration featured the contemporary peers of the dignitaries from that day (with the exception of VPOTUS): Gerald Boyd, Manager of the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge Office, for John Franklin, the 1949 Manager of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's Oak Ridge Operations; Dr. Thom Mason, Director of ORNL, for C. Nelson Rucker, the 1949 Director of X-10; Mayor Tom Beehan, for 1949 Town Council Chair W.A. Swanson; and Rev. Mark Walton, 2009 Pastor of Glenwood Baptist Church, who delivered the same invocation as Rev. Roy Arbuckle, the 1949 Pastor of Glenwood Baptist Church.


In the 1949 "ribbon burning", following remarks by Fred Ford (the 1949 U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Director of Community Affairs), George Felbeck (who led the K-25 gaseous diffusion purification plant for Carbide) made a 13-word telephone call to the operators at the Graphite Reactor in X-10 (ten miles away in Bethel Valley, today's Oak Ridge National Lab) to initiate the energy pulse that would burn the ribbon and officially open the Secret City to the world. While the 10,000 onlookers on that day had to wait nearly three minutes for the capacitors to charge and the ribbon to burn, today (after city historian Bill Wilcox's identical call), we only had to wait about 40 seconds:





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20.3.09

AMSE and Neighbors

Today I took the older kids (two plus visiting friend Jake, who was Shelby's Baby Hui pal way back when in the 1990s) to the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge. AMSE is the best museum deal we've found, with a family membership for only $35 and several pages of reciprocal museum listings worldwide.

This week is the 60th anniversary of both the founding of AMSE as well as the "opening" of Oak Ridge, so admission was just a quarter (yep, $0.25) per person.

Jake showed how to levitate (with the help of a floor-to-ceiling mirror), while (below) Shelby tried the Van der Graaf generator and Jarrett worked in the Y-12 style glove box.


After a quick stop at the Razzleberry Ice Cream Lab, we walked down the hill for a "farewell party". Dozens of neighbors and friends came to wish us safe travels -- a bittersweet evening!

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19.3.09

Civil War: Western Theater


We spent our St. Patrick's Day driving from Hammond, Louisiana (north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans) to Nashville. Along the way we stopped at two historic sites: the Vicksburg National Military Park on the east bank of the Mississippi River, and Shiloh National Military Park in southwestern Tennessee.

Vicksburg is significant because it was the culmination of then-Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's campaign in the Western Theater. On July 4th, 1863 (the day after the Battle of Gettysburg a thousand miles to the northeast ended), CSA Lt. Gen. Pemberton surrendered to Grant's Army of the Tennessee -- thereby freeing the Mississippi River for Union commerce and splitting the Confederacy in half. It's important to note that, though the Union had an impenetrable naval blockade of the CSA during the war, the CSA's command of the Mississippi prevented many Union goods from reaching their European markets -- a riverine blockade.

Vicksburg also features the raised timbers of the USS CAIRO, one of seven City-class ironclads that was sunk by what would today be called an IED: an electrically-switched, command-activated floating mine. The port bow in the above photo shows the damage to her hull; she sunk in less than 12 minutes.


Finally, shortly before sunset, we reached Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee. This battle marked the beginning of Grant's ascendancy in the Union Army, where his Army of Western Tennessee became simply known as the Army of the Tennessee. Pinned against the Tennessee River and Owl Creek Swamp, Confederate General Johnston sought to push Grant's forces into the swamps. But fierce fighting in the "Hornet's Nest" (the far side of Duncan's Field in the photo above, across the Sunken Road at the far edge of the field -- we're looking from the Confederate lines near Ruggle's Batteries) slowed the Confederate advance to allow Grant to reform his lines.

After Johnston fell in the first day's fighting, his second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Beauregard, halted the advance at dark -- content to finish Grant off the following April morning (note that this was in 1862, full year before the seige at Vicksburg). However, Union General Buell's Army of the Ohio linked up to reinforce Grant's position -- and allowed the Union to stage a counterattack at dawn, forcing a haphazard retreat by the CSA forces back into Mississippi.

So many end results are the consequence of narrowly-decided actions at the razor's edge. Had Johnston not fallen, had Beauregard kept his advance, had Stonewall Jackson not fallen to friendly fire at Chancellorsville a year later, had Longstreet heeded Hood's advice at Gettysburg to flank Meade's lines at Gettysburg -- had any of these events occurred, and we could still be a nation divided.

Addenda: With this trip, Renee has tied me with 49 states visited. So I need to see North Dakota before she gets to Maine.... Shelby is at 46, Jarrett at 44, and Sophie (after our move to CO at the end of this month) will be at 15. Our "electoral maps" (h/t to tdaxp) follow:




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19.9.08

"Secret City's" 66th Year


Today (Friday, September 19th) marks the 66th anniversary of the formal designation of East Fork Valley in east Tennessee as the site of the "Secret City". It was on this day in 1942 that Major General Leslie Groves, U.S. Army (and Director of the Manhattan Project) stood atop Elsa's Ridge on the east edge of East Fork Valley, near a sweeping bend of the Clinch River, and declared that this valley would become home to the city that would house the bulk of the Manhattan Project.

During World War II, the project was known as the "Clinton Engineering Works" -- and housed at its peak more than 75,000 workers and their families. The Uranium-235 that powered the LITTLE BOY bomb on August 6th, 1945 came entirely from the Y-12 site in Bear Creek Valley (just across Pine Ridge to the south), while the crown jewel of Dept. of Energy National Labs lies one more valley to the south (Bethel Valley, across Chestnut Ridge from Y-12). And at the extreme west end of town, between East Fork Ridge and Blackoak Ridge, the K-25 site was a cornerstone of our nation's nuclear deterrent until its shutdown in the mid-1980s.

Happy Birthday, Oak Ridge!

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3.8.08

Coast Guard Birthday

The U.S. Coast Guard is our nation's oldest continuously-serving maritime agency. What began under Alexander Hamilton's Dept. of the Treasury in 1790 (as the Revenue Cutter Service) has become the standard bearer for preparedness and service to our citizens.

From the Coast Guard website:
1790-Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's proposal to build ten cutters to protect the new nation's revenue (Stat. L. 145, 175). Alternately known as the system of cutters, Revenue Service, and Revenue-Marine this service would officially be named the Revenue Cutter Service (12 Stat. L., 639) in 1863. The cutters were placed under the control of the Treasury Department. This date marks the officially recognized birthday of the Coast Guard.
Happy Birthday, Coasties!


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R.I.P., Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Nobel-prize winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose gripping portrayals of the brutal Soviet penal system erased leftist sympathies for Communism in Europe and America during the 1970s, died earlier today at the age of 89.

His most gripping work, The Gulag Archipelago trilogy, provided so much first-person testimonials that refutation by the KGB was impossible. A far more accessible book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (less than 3% the volume of The Gulag Archipelago), is equally as compelling -- and showcases the profound strength of character that Solzhenitsyn possessed to endure the hardships of a system designed to crush the spirit.

Solzhenitsyn's criticism of the GULags also honed his observations of the West, which he viewed as decadent and weak. His wry wit, "gallows humor" and brilliant investigative journalism helped end one of the most oppressive systems our world has ever seen.

До свидания, friend.

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19.7.08

Secrecy & Adaptation

As we near the 40th anniversary of mankind's first steps on the moon, it is worth remembering the people who supported the recovery of astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins -- and who helped avoid the tropical storm that could have killed them.

Captain Hank Brandli, a U.S. Air Force meteorologist at Hickam Air Force Base on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu, had irrefutable information that the designated landing site for APOLLO XI's splashdown was in the middle of a forming tropical storm.

However, since his information came from a highly classified weather satellite (at the time code-named 417, since redesignated as the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program [DMSP]) that was part of the even more highly classified CORONA reconnaissance program, he could not freely share this information.

In a December 2004 interview with Aviation Week & Space Technology, Brandli said:

“With just 72 hours to go, I had all these classified photos of a deadly ‘Screaming Eagle’ thunderstorm, with tops at 50,000 feet, forming over exactly where I knew the Apollo 11 astronauts were going to come down. The [storm] would have ripped their parachutes to shreds. Without parachutes, they’d have crashed into the ocean with a force that would have killed them instantly. I was the only person who knew this and, because the [DMSP] program and its technology were strictly classified, I couldn’t warn NASA.”

Fortunately for Capt. Brandli, the Pentagon's chief weather officer at the Fleet Weather Center in Pearl Harbor (CAPT Willard "Sam" Houston, Jr.) was cleared for information on the 417 satellite. Capt. Brandli brought him into the vault to show him the photos, and convinced him that the USS HORNET carrier task force and the returning Command Module would have to all be moved 250 miles to the northwest. CAPT Houston was then able to persuade RADM Donald Davis (Commander of Task Force 30) -- but without being able to divulge "how" or "why" -- that the aircraft carrier that would be carrying President Nixon had to be relocated.

Only after President Clinton declassified the CORONA program (in 1995) could Capt. Brandli and CAPT Houston talk about their role in saving the APOLLO XI mission.

I was born almost exactly two years before the return of APOLLO XI. In my lifetime, technology has far outpaced our policies for sharing information. Realtime satellite imagery (of far higher quality than the vintage 417 image at left) is taken for granted, with handheld devices (like my bride's new iPhone3G) that have broadband networking capability, multiband communication radios, integrated Global Positioning System and billions of bytes of flash memory storage.

If it weren't for Capt. Brandli's perseverance, and the fortuitous fact that he was cleared for the program that could give him a glimpse into the weather five days hence, APOLLO XI would have been a devastating failure -- a national embarrassment as we would have mourned the death of three of our finest astronauts.

How many failures can be attributed to the absence of a Capt. Brandli? How many more will we endure due to anachronistic policies and the cultural reticence to sharing information across departmental and agency boundaries?

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17.7.08

Forty Years Ago ...

On July 17th, 1968, the Ba'ath Party in Iraq seized power in a bloodless coup d'etat that put General Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr into power. Though the Ba'athists first came to power in Iraq five years earlier, internal divisions that discredited the party had them eased out within a matter of months.

1968 was different. While al-Bakr was a popular national figure, his deputy (Saddam Hussein) was the muscle behind the scenes -- emerging as the party strongman, using his influence to heavily militarize the organization, and eventually supplanting al-Bakr as the leader of Iraq. July 17th was celebrated as "Iraqi National Day" and "Revolution Day" until Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

While Saddam capitulated to Kurdish autonomy early in the Ba'athist reign (because they lacked the military force to defeat them), he ultimately used his force as a bludgeon to keep his subjects in check.

Iraq today has a far more promising -- albeit more politically challenging -- future.

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14.7.08

Fête de la Fédération

In 1790, the French celebrated the "Fête de la Fédération": the celebration of the new (albeit shortlived) constitutional monarchy that was considered at the time to be the happy ending of the French Revolution.

Though the September Massacres, the Reign of Terror and war with their neighbors were yet to come, the date of July 14th ("quatorze juillet") remains celebrated as the turn of the tide for the forces supporting a free republic in France. Happy Bastille Day!


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11.7.08

Happy USMC Birthday!


Though November 10th is revered as the birthdate of the Continental Marine Corps (at Tun Tavern on the Philadelphia waterfront in 1775, when Major Samuel Nicholas [the Corps' first Commandant] was charged to stand up two battalions of Marines), the formal creation of the United States Marine Corps is this date, July 11th, in 1798.

The Act of Congress that split the Department of the Navy out of the Department of War also called for the "Reestablishment of the Marine Corps". Monthly stipend for a major, as stipulated by the law, was to be fifty dollars per month and four rations per day; "and to the nom-commissioned [sic] officers, privates and musicians, conformably to the act, intituled 'An act providing a naval armament,' as shall be fixed by the President of the United States..."

Semper Fidelis!

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28.6.08

Archduke Ferdinand

In the summer of 1914, tensions across the continent of Europe were nearing a breaking point. The fuse that ignited "The Great War" (World War I) was the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess Sophie -- heirs to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Vienna -- in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb student named Gavrilo Princip.

The Archduke had avoided an earlier attempt on his life that morning by blocking a hand-thrown bomb with his hand (it detonated under his car, wounding 20 along the crowded streets of Sarajevo). After tersely scolding the Mayor of Sarajevo about "getting bombs thrown at [him]", he continued with his planned speech -- after which the Duchess suggested they travel to the hospital to visit the wounded citizens.

A wrong turn put the open-air car right in front of another one of the six plotters. Gavrilo Princip pushed his way to the car and shot the Archduke and Duchess with his 9x17mm semi-automatic pistol.

The subsequent reactions by the "great powers" ignited long-dormant animosities. Compounded by the arms race (particularly in naval affairs, with the British royal family competing with their close relative in Germany, the Kaiser Wilhelm II) and a fragile balance of power, the subsequent conflict would result in 20 million deaths and sow the seeds for Hitler's rise to power.

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18.6.08

Waterloo

Today (June 18th) is the 193rd anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo - the final defeat of Emperor Napoleon and the eclipse of France's dominance on the Continent by nascent Prussia.

Though the Emperor had been deposed the previous year (after the disastrous march on Moscow in 1812 decimated the Grande Armée) and exiled to l'Isle d'Elbe in the Tyrrhenian Sea, he escaped from captivity and returned to Paris in March 1815. With the remnants of his army rallying around him, Napoleon marched on the British and Prussian forces in Belgium before additional allies could rally and organize a defense.

John Keegan, in The Face of Battle, describes the conditions with impeccable and compelling details - down to the weather the night before, the conditions of the crops on the road near Soignies, and the mood of the troops. While Napoleon commanded total loyalty from his forces, the forces on the field near Braine-l'Alleud were not the same seasoned veterans with whom he conquered the Continent in previous years.

Today, the site of the battle is marked by a tall (40') pyramid, atop which stands a lion in repose. On my very first visit to Europe, 1992 into Brussels, my first "tourist activity" was to take the train south from Brussels to Braine-l'Alleud and a cab to the Butte de Lyon. Since it was early (redeye from CONUS), the omelet fromage I had at a bistro near the train station in Braine-l'Alleud remains one of the most delicious meals I have ever had in my life.

After the battle, the Duke of Wellington is reported to have said, "There is nothing as melancholy as a battle lost -- except, perhaps, a battle won." The second defeat of Napoleon saw the deposed Emperor exiled not to the comfortable confines of l'Isle d'Elbe, near his family's roots in Corsica, but rather to the remote island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic. He died six years later, and is today interred in L'Hôtel des Invalides in Paris (in seven concentric sarcophagi).

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14.6.08

Happy Army Birthday!


Happy 233rd Birthday, U.S. Army! J-HOOah!

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6.6.08

Belleau Wood Teufelhunden

Today, June 6th 2008, marks the 90th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps' historic attack on the German Army near Château-Thierry on the Paris-Metz Road just east of Paris. It was in these forests, known as Belleau Wood but renamed after the battle by the French as Bois de la Brigade de Marine (Woods of the Marine Brigade), that Marines came to be known as Teufelhunden: Devil Dogs.

My grandfather (seen here with grandma, also a Marine!) served years later in the 6th Marine Regiment, one of two regiments that comprised the 4th Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood. All Marines in the 5th and 6th Regiments may wear the fourragère, a braided-rope award worn on the left shoulder that has been used to honor distinguished units since Napoleon.

Semper Fidelis!

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27.5.08

Tsushima Day

One of the most significant naval battles of the modern era took place this day, May 27th, in 1905, in the Straits of Tsushima between Japan and the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula.

Russia's expansion in northeast Asia in previous years collided with Japanese Realpolitik. Tsar Nicholas II refused to negotiate with Japan, seeing them as an inferior nation lacking the stature to be treated as a peer to Russia. So when Japanese forces seized Port Arthur (modern ShenYung) in the summer of 1904, the Tsar dispatched his Baltic Fleet of 45 ships to "teach" the Japanese a lesson.

Admiral Rozhestvensky and his fleet sailed for more than seven months, around Europe and Asia, approaching the Japanese mainland in late May 1905. At dawn on the 27th, Admiral Togo Heihachiro (aboard his flagship MIKASA) departed the port at Chinhae in Korea -- intercepting the Russian fleet just north of Okinoshima at 14:24 local time.

By sunset (19:30 local time, about five hours later), more than 4,000 Russian sailors were dead and another 7,300 were Prisoners of War. Admiral Rozhestvensky's flagship OSLYBAYA was sunk, along with dozens of other Russian ships. Japanese losses were minimal: three (3) small boats and just 116 killed in action.

Two lessons can be drawn from this encounter. First, the fact that the Russian fleet even made it to Japan is significant -- it was the largest, most complex endeavor by a fleet of that size, compounded by the increased logistics demand of modern ships.

Second, the logistics success was trumped by the monumental failure of Russia's strategic intelligence. Rozhestvensky's total surrender the following morning near Takeshima (Liancourt Rocks) underscored the tactical and technological success of the nimble, cohesive Japanese forces that swarmed around the hapless and confused Russian fleet.

The moral of this story is: never rest comfortably on your laurels -- especially when you're convinced that you have technical and numerical superiority. Tsushima represented a seismic shift in the balance of power in the world, and was the first time that a nation perceived by the "Concert of Europe" as a subject of colonization stood up and resoundingly defeated one of the great powers of the world.

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