How to Survive Nuclear War

I grew up at the tail end of the Cold War. I’m a nerd, and I used to play “camping” under giant vinyl sheets my dad brought home from the Air Force which I later realized were maps of aerial bombardment exercise ranges in central California. My dad’s job was to fly off on a moment’s notice never to return and convert thousands of Russian children very much like me into radioactive corpses. We didn’t worry too much, as we understood the point was that no rational person would start such a war knowing how it must inevitably end.

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Tesla, and The Danger of Mythos

The idea that Telsa worked on some anti-gravity technology now lost is a myth. He also didn’t invent the three-phase electrical distribution he’s so often credited for. That was Mikhail Doliva Dobrovolsky, a Russian engineer working in Germany, who was the first to demonstrate polyphase power when he used it to transmit hydroelectric power many kilometers to power an 1891 exhibition in Frankfurt am Main, in Germany.

At around the same time, Tesla patented a polyphase motor, which he later agreed was identical to Dobrovolsky’s, who did not patent his discoveries out of a (perhaps misguided) sense of civil duty.

Tesla, though, was working for Westinghouse, who was keen to hold him up as the great genius behind the new electric age, while Dobrovolsky, a Russian working in Germany at a time of growing tensions between the two, was championed by no one. So the myth of Tesla grew in the American press, and today millions think of him as a cult-like figure, the great American misunderstood lone inventor when the reality is very different.

Tesla was a great inventor and engineer and contributed mightily to the early 20th-century explosion of electrical infrastructure, but he was one of many, many such contributors, and he was rather less successful in his pure scientific pursuits, where his focus on practical experiment and lack of theoretical grounding led him to waste energy on all sorts of unworkable nonsense like through-the-air power transmission and death rays that even at the time could have been shown to be impossible along the lines he envisioned.

Edison was not the lone wolf who invented the light bulb, nor Bell the telephone, nor Tesla polyphase power. And while Tesla never worked on anti-gravity as far as we know, he did apparently spend much of his adult life tinkering on his own “Dynamic Theory of Gravity,” which in a letter written at 81 years of age, he claimed would “put an end to idle speculations and false conceptions, as that of curved space” and he said it was “worked out in all details” and he would “soon give it to the world.”

He was claiming to have refuted Einstein, which would have been quite an achievement, but Einstein has been experimentally confirmed to precisions Tesla could not have dreamt of, and Tesla’s theory, if it ever truly existed, managed to vanish utterly from his papers.

I say all this not to denigrate Tesla or his contributions, but to point out that history tends to lionize the most visible faces behind significant events and gloss over the many others who invariably make the events possible, the societal influences and interchanges behind them, and indeed, the substance of the contributors.

Tesla also said,

man’s new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct … The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny. A century from now it will no more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit than to marry a habitual criminal.

If this statement were your only guide to the man’s character, you might well judge him with Hitler. But he also spoke out in favor of women’s equality, and during the second world war, sought to develop a death ray in support of the allies.

Tesla was not a God-like genius, stifled by a society unprepared to accept his magical inventions. He was a human being born of his times and situation, as are we all, and to buy too deeply into his myth betrays not only the memory of the lesser-knowns, but the very pursuit of truth to which he seems to have been genuinely committed.

What’s a Free Market Anyway?

Recently, I found myself in contact with online denizens arguing that Republicans want to destroy trade unions because they are against the free market.

No. Just no. Putting aside what the GOP does or does not want for another (very rainy) day…

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Coronavirus Fears Overblown?

Most years, flu virus causes between 12,000 and 60,000 deaths in the United States, has an R-naught of 1.3 (meaning on average, each infected person infects that many more people) and a mortality rate around .05%.

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Once And For All, It’s DUCK tape.

Once and for all folks, that gray stuff is ducK tape, not ducT tape.

Duck tape was developed by Johnson & Johnson’s Permacel division during WWII, in direct response to a military requirement for waterproof tape to seal ammunition cases during storage and transit into the tropical Pacific theater.

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How The Moon Was Won

In eight short Cold War years, the USA went from second fiddle in space to The Nation That Put Man On The Moon. How?

The Americans were smart, loved their country, and had good German rocket scientists. The Soviets were smart, loved their country, and had good German rocket scientists. So what happened?

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The Umpeen-Millionth Way You Know We Really Went to the Moon

Moon hoax conspiracultists are an odd bunch. They invest endless energies making and parroting Internet claims about complex topics they don’t understand, but none at all investigating the actual world they live in.

A case in point is the fairly recent claim that images like this “prove the hoax” by showing “film crew credits for those filming the Apollo missions”:

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The Sad and Accurate History of Alice Nutter, Catholic

Many of you have, of late, been enjoying the video adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch — as well you should, it’s quite an enjoyable romp with wonderful performances by stars Michael Sheen, David Tennant, and Adria Arjona (among others).

What you might not know however (though the authors certainly did) is the link between the fanciful Agnes Nutter and the real life witch trials of 16th century Lancashire, in particular the Pendle Witch trials, which echo damningly even today.

This was a generation after the reformation, and England was ruled by the young James the First, who during his upbringing had been indoctrinated (brainwashed, actually) against the Catholics with wild stories of witchcraft and demons.

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Living In Infamous Times

Today is December 7th, 2017. Seventy-six years ago today, forces of the empire of Japan unleashed a surprise attack on US Naval facilities at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403 people, sinking eighteen ships, and dragging the US into the war. Despite the gross imbalance in political and economic power, Japanese planners saw the US as weak and its people irresolute, and they believed that if they struck us hard enough, we would roll over and give them what they wanted–dominion over Southeast Asia and the Southern Pacific.

The lesson from that was, that if you don’t want war, be visibly prepared to win one.

Also on this date, forty-five years ago, Britons started dying in droves as a killer smog built up through the third of what would prove to be five days of temperature inversion over the city of London. Fog is nothing new to London, but this fog was saturated with the sulfur-laden emissions, not only of automobiles and trains, but of a set of coal-fired power plants built inside the city limits by the post-war Churchill administration, mostly to appease business interests and project an image of post war England as stronger than it she was. Churchill dismissed the growing catastrophe as an act of god, even though his government has been warned this would eventually happen before the plants were built, in part using scientific data from similar events in America. In five days, though mortality statistics were suppressed at the time, 12,000 people died–five times the number killed at Pearl Harbor, and not only soldiers, but women, children, and the elderly.

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Our 240th Fourth

On this, our 240th Independence Day, I’d like my fellow Americans to consider: Our nation, which has endured so much, is not endangered because gays can marry, women can carry guns, and Mexicans don’t always queue up at the border. It’s in trouble because too many people—natural born Americans included—think they’re justified in using force where debate and argument have failed them.


Our founding fathers were no saints (sorry Texas State Board of Education) but they were smart enough to design a government that erred on the side of inaction. They knew the awesome power of the crown can only be retrained by the light of public debate, and that an ineffective government was preferable to a tyrannical one.

What’s true of government is true of you too, whoever you are and whatever you think you know better than everyone else in the world. The world we share.

You are not entitled to knock people in the head and take their stuff. Or manipulate the law to do it for you. Or lie to get contracts you don’t deserve. Or manipulate the political process to change the law so as to  enrich your business, your pet interest, or your brother. Or to bomb the property of other law abiding citizens who’s conduct you don’t approve of. Pretty low bar, that. You sure you want to cast the first stone there?

If you do any of these things, you are wrong. It matters not the reason. You are the enemy of freedom.

And to be clear, this applies equally to feminists, anti-feminists, gun rights activists (on both sides), sad puppies, hippies, and everybody else.

You are entitled you your opinion. You are entitled to live by the values you think are right–up to the point doing so infringed on others–and to advocate those values staunchly and loudly (much as I am doing here). You are also entitled to be a douchebag if that spins your dradle, and to be treated as such in return. You are not entitled to protection from offense–on any side of any issue. You are not entitled to be hailed as the hero of truth just because you think you’re right.

Our nation was built on argument, from the soap box squawkers who dared challenge the King to the delegates to the constitutional convention who feared we would all be too stupid to govern ourselves. We’ve made it work, imperfectly but solidly and for a pretty good spell. There’s nothing now to divide us but ourselves.

If you can’t make your case on the merits, too bad. It might be that things just aren’t as black and white as you’d like them to be, and that your neighbor’s dissenting opinions are as valid and deeply held as yours. It may be that the simple solution you cherish is just no solution at all. It may be that you cling to an error in fact.

Either way, if you can’t debate the matter with your staunchest opponent while still affording them respect and common courtesy, the fault—at least in part—is yours.

I’m eating chicken shawarma this holiday. If that strikes you as un-American, then shame on you. I’m just exercising my freedom to eat what I like, and I like chicken shawarma. I also think cooking outdoors in Texas in July is one step away from a death with, but you do as you like, and with whom. That’s what our flag’s all about.

Happy Fourth, America, the whole raucous, yearning, huddled mass of you.