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Comment: Re:Simple, No! (Score 1) 128

by NicBenjamin (#48647455) Attached to: Can Rep. John Culberson Save NASA's Space Exploration Program?

One Congresscritter is actually way more powerful in the US System then most. In Canada, for example, most MPs can't be re-elected unless the Prime Minister signs a piece of paper endorsing them. Why? Because he's head of the Conservative Party, more MPs are Conservative, and to appear on the ballot in Canada your party leader has to sign your nomination papers. They aren't completely his creatures (after all, they can always start a new party), but this really tends to cut down on the Parliament-insisting-on-doing-shit-a-way-slightly-different-then-the-PM's-way thing.

His problem is going to be that there's a deficit, so new money will have to come from elsewhere in the budget (or be added to the deficit), and it's highly unlikely that both Obama and the Republican Congress can agree on which program to cut to fund NASA.

Comment: I wish him luck... (Score 1) 128

by NicBenjamin (#48647419) Attached to: Can Rep. John Culberson Save NASA's Space Exploration Program?

But NASA's problem has always been that Congress are full of cheap bastards who'd rather cut taxes $10 Billion then add $10 Billion to NASA's budget. The rest tend to be frivolous bastards who'd much rather fund early childhood education with that $10 Billion then build rockets.

He's going to have some money (at some point the economic growth we've been experiencing will be reflected in a much reduced-deficit, and if Congress was smart they'd use some of that money to fund things like space exploration and infrastructure repair), but with the current laser-like focus of every-goddamn-body on deficit reduction he'll have a devil of a time coming up with $10 Billion in new money without a) cvutting programs Obama Likes (which will get the bill through Congress, but then get it vetoed), or b) not using the money to pay down the deficit (which will make it virtually impossible for the bill to get out of his Subcommittee, and could provoke a veto).

Comment: Re:What in the hell was he thinking? (Score 1) 388

by NicBenjamin (#48552425) Attached to: Man Caught Trying To Sell Plans For New Aircraft Carrier

Don't bother becoming an expert. Certain Latin American countries are actually significantly more depressing then Africa, which is actually doing quite well at the moment. They had precisely the same opportunity we did to become ultra-rich global powers, and they wasted it in petty territorial disputes with each-other.

The ones who've moved on in the disputes (Chile, and Brazil) are doing great. Way better then us. They have peace on their borders, growing economies, democratic governments, and in a few decades they will be as rich per capita as the US. The others...

Let's just say it's really hard to grow your economy when your foreign policy of the last 50 or 100 years is based entirely on the principle that it's unfair that some other country defend it's territory from your righteous invasion force with modern weapons that cost money. Argentina's obsession with the Falklands is well known, and inexplicable to anyone who looks at the situation through the lens of what would be good for the two peoples involved (Falkanders, and Argentinians). Argentina is a temperamental Spanish-speaking Republic. The Falklands are people by sheep farmers who hate a) the Spanish language, b) change, and c) any form of government that does not include Her majesty the Queen.

Comment: Re:Star Trek is a Great Example (Score 1) 368

by NicBenjamin (#48550575) Attached to: Overly Familiar Sci-Fi

Every 60s liberal voted for the guy who started that war twice. They voted for the guy who started on the path that led us to the war once. They strongly supported the war until the 60s were almost over because without the War Johnson doesn't have the credibility to pass any Civil Rights Acts, Medicare, etc.

70s liberalism's claims of pacifism are quite similar to current conservative claims that they're isolationists opposed to high government spending in principle.

Comment: Re:Star Trek is a Great Example (Score 1) 368

by NicBenjamin (#48544925) Attached to: Overly Familiar Sci-Fi

I think you've got it backwards.

In 99% of fantasy the story is BS. Evil arose sometime in the past, a complex and confusing prophecy appeared telling how to defeat it, the prophesied one (who just happens to be a character who is sympathetic to most American teenagers) and a merry band of friends appear, have various startling adventures in which nobody important ever dies, and defeat the evil by fulfilling the prophecy. They fulfill the prophecy literally, which turns out to be subtly different then the way everyone thought. The only reason to read the story is the characters because it's a boring story. And that means that the series would suck if they killed one of the characters halfway through.

OTOH, George RR Martin's books are solely about the story. The story is a story of the total collapse of Westerosi society, the human destruction it leaves in it's wake, the difficulty of combining a system dependent on purely honorable behavior by all political players and the human reality of frequent dishonorable conduct, etc. The characters are important in that they make us care about the Red Wedding in a way that you don't care about the Black dinner. If he didn't kill off characters at fairly regular intervals he'd be telling a much different story, and while the characters would be much more rewarding, the story itself would be incredibly boring.

That said, I also stopped reading the books after I finished the one with the Red Wedding. I have torrented all the episodes, but I haven;t watched them.

Comment: Re:Star Trek is a Great Example (Score 1) 368

by NicBenjamin (#48543299) Attached to: Overly Familiar Sci-Fi

That's part of the appeal for long-term readers. I like that you can figure out precisely which historical figure he is talking about from wikipedia and a hard copy of the book. As an American all I knew about the French Revolution was that a) the King died, b) Jefferson was for it, c) Adams was against it, and d) Napoleon was involved. Thanks to the Harrington books I actually read some on it, and it was fascinating history.

Game of Thrones probably has as much historical inspiration in it as the Honor Harrington series, but unless you've studied Medieval history (particularly the Wars of the Roses) quite thoroughly already you ain't gonna figure it out. You're just gonna think that it's a cool story.

Comment: Re:America, land of the free... (Score 1) 720

by NicBenjamin (#48543263) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Can a Felon Work In IT?

Their rebelliousness against hereditary privilege, monarchy, and all the other things we love to claim make America so much better then the UK is greatly exaggerated.

The highest ranking British Nobleman involved on either side during the war was Lord Stirling, who joined the rebels partly because the Brits refused to acknowledge him as his distant cousin's heir because a missing cousin with a better claim . In terms of noble rank he was actually outranked by at least one of his fellow American Major Generals, Lafayette, because a Marquis outranks an Earl.

Comment: Re:Standard FBI followup (Score 2) 388

by NicBenjamin (#48542399) Attached to: Man Caught Trying To Sell Plans For New Aircraft Carrier

I'm not suggesting it as a defence, I'm suggesting that it's very lazy policing to fabricate a false crime and charge for that in the first place instead of going after a real crime. Would the guy have done it otherwise? How the hell would we ever know? Going after real crime is harder, but the objective is not supposed to be to fill prisons, it's supposed to be to prevent or solve crimes instead of adding to the list with faked up ones.

If he wasn't giving the info to a Federal informant he would not have been caught until he started taking pictures of the schematics. Even then he may not have actually gotten caught, if he could think of a good story. At which point our equivalent of the Death Star plans, with their one weak spot (he told this guy precisely where to hit the ship to sink it and kill everyone aboard), are already in the hands of some dude who knew Arabic, said he was Egyptian government, and had $3k.

Which is why we have an aggressive counter-intelligence service that has managed to convince almost all people with a) security clearance and b) common sense that c) the dude claiming to be a Finnish intelligence agent offering them money for information is actually FBI, and therefore d) they should immediately report him to their superiors. Which results in e) the one time those tricky Finns actually try some shit like this they get caught.

If this guy was some idiot who'd just converted to Islam, talked tough, and then went along with a government sting because the informant guilt-tripped him; I'd be more sympathetic to your argument. Native-grown Islamist terrorist-plots in the US are almost always some mentally unstable dude going on a rampage, and the operation I just described can't prevent those. OTOH, we do have plenty of foreign governments willing to pay our people for information. And we do need to deter that as much as possible.

Comment: Re:What in the hell was he thinking? (Score 1) 388

by NicBenjamin (#48542359) Attached to: Man Caught Trying To Sell Plans For New Aircraft Carrier

It's almost entirely pining for a coastline. They didn't call it a Navy back in '65. It was the Army's River and lake force. It got promoted to "Naval Force," but was unofficially knows as the Bolivian Armada, in '66; and was made it's own service in the 90s.

Since then they've insisted on celebrating the "Day of the Sea," their regional allies curry favor by saying they want to "swim in Bolivian seas," Morales is still trying to get them a deal to access the sea, etc.

If you follow international news at all, much of the Bolivia news involves pining for the sea. Some of it involves Coca, indigenous bitching about America's excessive influence in prior governments, white bitching about America's lack of influence in the current government, but a whole lot of it involves somebody important in Bolivia claiming that the entire country's lives would be oh-so-wonderful if only those aforementioned rich white guys could have their own personal merchant fleets staffed by the aforementioned poor red guys.

Comment: Re:What in the hell was he thinking? (Score 1) 388

by NicBenjamin (#48542277) Attached to: Man Caught Trying To Sell Plans For New Aircraft Carrier

I'm from Michigan. Titicaca is a glorified pond. Most countries with rivers don't call the dudes who patrol those rivers a "Navy." But then most countries with rivers have a coast-line, so they have a Navy.

If they want to call it a Navy that's their sovereign right. But the rest of us have the equally sacred right to look at them funny.

Now if they weren't still bitching about a War they lost in 1883 I'd be much more likely to take their Navy seriously, but as it is they just seem childish. They lost a war back before their grandparents were born (and they have a very young population, so for most of them it's probably before their great-grandparents were born), they don't have the military or diplomatic capacity to win the territory back, so they would be much better served focusing on fixing things they can actually fix.

Comment: Re: Greg Bear (Score 1) 368

by NicBenjamin (#48542217) Attached to: Overly Familiar Sci-Fi

All Star Wars films really skimp on the Sci bit of Sci-Fi partly because it's set far in the past, it's still all about the time when it was made.

Luke is a rebellious teenager who acts just like the rebellious teenagers of the 70s. His family runs a "moisture farm" which really seems more like a water factory or distillery then a farm. The audience is supposed to identify with him because the audience always identifies with the farm boy whose trying to prove he's a man. The Death Star is clearly inspired by nuclear weapons, and shouldn't be that big a deal for a space-going civilization. Build a really big spaceship (at least 2-3 miles wide, so bigger then a Star Destroyer, but orders of magnitude smaller then a Death Star), program the navigation computer to ram the planet when you say "go," get the fuck off, say "go." The planet technically survives. The people, OTOH...

Comment: Star Trek is a Great Example (Score 3, Insightful) 368

by NicBenjamin (#48542181) Attached to: Overly Familiar Sci-Fi

But one thing that I always think is really weird when watching it is that all the cultural references are things that would be familiar to a late 20th century NPR-listening American. One of my favorite book series (Honor Harrington by David Weber) uses a lightly different period. It's references are almost universally to things that would be familiar to people who spend a lot of time with late 18th the early 20th century Western Military History.

It seems weird, but in a lot of ways that's the point. Star Trek isn't a sophisticated imagining of how culture could change if certain technologies appeared. It's about how a polity built on principles every 60s liberal would love (including a fairly muscular, militaristic, foreign policy that a lot of current liberals hate) acts IN SPACE. You don't hear anything about post 20th-century culture, shit that happened outside the main storyline, internal Federation politics (ie: who did Kirk vote for? why?), economic matters (for example once replicator technology exists almost all sectors of the economy are obsolete, because instead of spending months raising a chicken you can spend 2 seconds beaming a perfectly cooked chicken breast into existence, yet half the time they act like the economy is identical to the current US economy and the other half it's a socialist utopia), etc. It is barely Sci-Fi, because (unlike Star Wars) it actually cares how the technology works, and occasionally has story-lines based on said technology (ie: Riker gets cloned by a Transporter, every one of those hateful Holodeck episodes, etc.).

Weber's Honorverse is a bit more Sci-Fi, because he has actually put an awful lot of thought into precisely how the tech affects the culture, but he designed the tech specifically so that he could do things like create a massive ethnic Chinese Empire based on Frederick the Great.

Comment: Re:Standard FBI followup (Score 4, Informative) 388

by NicBenjamin (#48540859) Attached to: Man Caught Trying To Sell Plans For New Aircraft Carrier

Entrapment is a really tricky defense. The Founding Father's didn't actually recognize it as a defense at all. The first case where it was used Federally did not happen until Prohibition hit. In pop culture it's usefulness is greatly exaggerated. Most people start thinking "entrapment" when a government agent says "hey let's do a crime" and somebody goes along with it, but entire categories of case simply could not be filed if that was all that mattered. For example, pretty much the only way to arrest Johns is to have a cop dress up as a hooker and offer to sell sex.

Entrapment only happens legally if there's some reason to believe the entrapee would not have even considered the possibility of committing the crime absent the government's actions. In the hooker stings they generally happen in areas where people troll for hookers, so the Courts rule that either a) this particular defendant clearly had a predisposition to commit the crime or he wouldn't have been driving through that neighborhood slowly at that time of night, or b) the governments actions were not likely to entice law-abiding citizens to stop and give a hooker money because law-abiding citizens don't drive through that neighborhood slow at that time; depending on whether that particular court system uses the "subjective" or objective" tests.

In this case the defendant can't really use the defense very effectively because in the Federal system they use method a), which means he'd have to prove he was highly unlikely to take money to sell plans in the absence of a government dude offering money. He was very hands-on once they offered the money, doing numerous things that one would do if one really really wanted to sell national security information to a foreign government (such as creating "an elaborate cyber security system which included several one-time use electronic mail boxes with phantom names").

"'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true." -- Poloniouius, in Willie the Shake's _Hamlet, Prince of Darkness_