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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Conspiracy Theory Analyzed
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of years ago I posted about large-scale conspiracies (including their unlikelihood) and about conspiracy theories. The 19 December Weekend Section of the Wall Street Journal had an article on the subject by "David Aaronovitch [who] is a columnist for The Times of London. This essay was adapted from 'Voodoo Histories: the Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History,' due out from Riverhead next February." In case the link goes bad, key paragraphs are quoted below: I've only rarely come across a modern conspiracy theory that doesn't seek to establish supposed historical precedents for whatever the conspiracy is—arguing that since it has happened before, there is nothing unnatural about it happening again. Sometimes the history can be voluminous; I was present at one large 9/11 Truth meeting in London in 2005, which began with the revelation that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was an inside job (James I's chief minister Robert Cecil, if you want to know) and progressed through the Reichstag fire, the Gulf of Tonkin and the '60s assassinations, before making the devilish administration's attack on its own cities seem like an almost inevitable progression. The second characteristic is the implication that the theorist and his co-believers are part of a brave insurgency against a corrupt elite or a stifling orthodoxy. It is of course, an ironic pleasure to witness a West Coast academic tell an audience of Danish professionals at the Copenhagen Central Library with regard to 9/11, that "members of the elite of our society may not think that the truth should be revealed." By contrast, he seemed to be suggesting, belief in the conspiracy makes you part of a genuinely heroic anti-elite elite group who can see past an official version propagated for the benefit of the lazy or inert mass of people by the powers that be. Now, you have to admit, to be such a rebel while risking so little is cool. Cool too is the special quality of thought required to appreciate the existence of the conspiracy. If the conspiracists have cracked the code, it is not least because of their possession of an unusual and perceptive way of looking at things. Those who cannot or will not see the now-revealed truth are variously described as robots or, latterly, as sheep—citizens who shuffle half-awake through their conventional lives. Erich Von Daniken, propagator of the theory that aliens built the pyramids, commended his own courage for writing his books in the teeth of the "reactionary flood" and his readers for their courage in reading them. The authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," the "non-fiction"book that lay behind "The Da Vinci Code," argued that they had developed a new form of scholarship which allowed them to see connections invisible to stuffy old academics. And then there is the violent innocence of much conspiracism, in which the theorist is "only asking questions" about the official version of the truth, and doesn't go so... posted by Donald at December 26, 2009 | perma-link | (33) comments

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Traditional Holiday Tradition
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In my limited experience, families tend to work out traditional arrangements for gathering sites when traditional holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving roll around. I suspect the tendency, for Christmas especially, is to have the family celebration at the home of the most senior couple in the family. This persists until something extraneous disrupts the pattern and a new arrangement (which often then becomes the new "tradition") is made. I'll toss out some examples from my own past because I know that -- I seem to pay little attention to what other families do -- and you are welcome to contribute arrangements you're familiar with. My maternal grandparents were dead by the time I left infancy, and my father's parents lived across the state in Spokane. Plus, it was wartime and travel was difficult. So Christmas centered at our house. Christmas afternoon get-togethers with cousins across town alternated between our house and theirs. The years I spent in the Army, grad school and part of my time in upstate New York were without family on major holidays. Living in Olympia with my wife and children, we drove the 70 miles to Seattle to do Christmas at my parents' house. When they became too old to host the big event, Christmas shifted to my sister's house which was nearby. Remarried and living in Seattle, the focus shifted to Nancy's family. She has sons in the Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay areas, the latter where her grandchildren are. For the time being, we've been alternating Christmases in the two locales; it remains to be seen whether this arrangement becomes traditional. One of my sister's daughters has a husband whose parents live in Oregon. Every year they do Thanksgiving there and Christmas in Seattle with my sister. To summarize, my hypothesis is that families attempt to keep Christmas and Thanksgiving as family-traditional as possible. Aging, death, marriage, remarriage, becoming adult, moving out of town and other events are disruptive, but the tendency is to establish new traditional arrangements based on the new circumstances. I assume Jewish families and people of other religions tend to do something similar. Am I wrong? Or if I'm essentially right, what other arrangements do families work out besides the ones noted above? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 23, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More on Cruisers and Battlecruisers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last week I wrote about the cruiser type of naval warship, featuring the U.S. Alaska class, a late World War 2 cruiser as long as near-contemporary battleships. The post evoked some interesting reader remarks that don't deserve to be buried in Comments. Rich Rostrom writes: The first range finders were optical. Basically, two telescopes mounted at the ends of a beam of known length, with the views pulled together by mirrors. One adjusted the mirrors until the target was centered in both views. At that point, the angle of the mirrors and the length of the range finder's baseline gave the range. Later, of course, radar gave ranges - a huge advantage for the Allies. At the Battle of North Cape in 1943, HMS DUKE OF YORK opened fire on SCHARNHORST before the German ship even knew the British force was present. On the other hand, at about the same time, a U.S. task force off the Aleutians wasted a lot of ammo firing at radar ghosts - the "Battle of the Pips". The ALASKA class ships were an interesting group. Battleships (including battlecruisers) were defined as ships with a main gun battery of at least 6 guns of at least 11" caliber, all the same caliber, all in turrets, and at least 6 guns in broadside. By World War II, 12" guns like ALASKA's were considered undersized for battleships, though some old 12" gun battleships were still in service, including USS ARKANSAS. At 29,000 tons, ALASKA was as big as the U.S.'s WW I battleships (26,100 to 32,500 tons). ALASKA was thus almost a battleship. This was reflected in her name. All U.S. battleships bore the names of states: ARIZONA, IOWA, etc. (Cruisers were named for cities - PORTLAND, CLEVELAND, JUNEAU - and destroyers for naval figures - FARRAGUT, MAHAN.) ALASKA and her sisters GUAM, HAWAII, PHILIPPINES, PUERTO RICO, and SAMOA were named for U.S. territories, i.e. not quite states. Another difference between heavy and light cruisers was the size. For WW II, the U.S. chose to build "large light cruisers", with 12-15 guns, which were as large as the 8" gun "heavy cruisers". Ironically, this type was pioneered by Japan - and then the Japanese coverted theirs to heavy cruisers by replacing the 6" triple turrets with 8" twin turrets. However, the British navy built small light light cruisers of 5,000 to 8,000 tons with as few as 6 6" guns. The "battleship"-like design filtered down through warship classes across the first half of the 20th century. As early as 1906, USS SOUTH CAROLINA had a uniform main gun battery, all in multi-gun turrets on the center line. Some early battleship designs included a couple of beam turrets, but by 1915 only center line turrets were allowed. Meanwhile, cruisers continued to mount guns in single beam positions, often in casemates. This continued well into the 1920s. Destroyers also had beam guns. In the 1920s, both classed adopted the same layout as battleships,... posted by Donald at December 22, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The season for Christmas and the rest of the year-end holidays is upon us and many Blowhards readers will be hitting the trail to wherever they want or need to be. Blowhards too. Well, this one, anyway. Tomorrow we're heading south for six weeks!!! in California. First, Christmas in the Bay Area with Nancy's grandchildren. Then to Malibu where we house-sit the first three weeks in January. We wind up at Lake Tahoe for her annual ski week. I'll be doing some computer programming for my part-time post-retirement job, but otherwise I should have time to blog on days that I'm not driving up and down the coast or busy with holiday activities. Since bloggers tend to rely on day-to-day events for part of their inspiration for article topics, be braced for a Southern California flavor at 2Blowhards for a while. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 21, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments