Author Archives: Randy

Doolittle Raid: 75th anniversary


The Doolittle raid was 75 years ago today. 80 men in 16 B-25 Mitchells took off of the USS Hornet (CV-8) on April 18, 1942 to attack mainland Japan.

The Navy has a good write-up here. (These U.S. military histories are an important resource.)

Of the 16 B-25s: “15 crashed in occupied China, where the Japanese inflicted brutal reprisals against the Chinese populace in Chekiang province. One B-25 landed intact at Vladivostok, where the Soviets interned it and its crew.”

The reprisals were indeed brutal.  The Chinese paid the biggest price of all.

Of the Raiders, 3 were killed in combat, 8 captured (of which 3 were killed, and one died in captivity).

The Soviets were unwilling to release the crew they recovered until the end of the war. While that may seem strange now, they were not at war with Japan. To send them home would risk them being seen as participants. (A few years later, they disassembled and duplicated the B-29 from one that they got that way.)

USS Hornet got back safely, but did not survive the year. The one currently on display in Alameda, California, is the USS Hornet (CV-12), which was commissioned the next year.

Space tourist guide

Space.com’s piece on Jeff Bezos’s space tourist venture is worth a look: No Bathrooms, No Barf Bags: What Blue Origin’s Space Tourists Can Expect.

Bathrooms are unnecessary because it’s only an 11 minute ride. You’ll be boarding just half an hour before that.

I hope that’s not wishful thinking. Alan Shepard’s 1961 Mercury space flight was only about 15 minutes. They hadn’t planned on a five hour delay. They decided it was better to let him go in his space suit than to scrub the mission.

But this may just be marketing. My guess is that passengers will quietly be given a pack of Depends with their flight suits. Just in case.

Here’s one thing I did not know: “vomiting doesn’t usually occur until about 3 hours into a flight.” SF writers need to know this stuff.

Poison gas

As part of the epigraph I used to lead my novella The Time Bridge at Orion, George Orwell wrote, “Poison gas, the machine-gun, the submarine, gunpowder, and even the crossbow were similarly denounced in their day.” This was about the V1 missiles being fired on London at the time.

It is interesting that Orwell put poison gas in the same category as these other weapons. That was war. You do what you need to do. He was very practical about it.

Some people like to think of WMDs as being out of bounds, never to be used — ever. They wish to think the same of torture. But in reality, WMDs are merely being reserved for whatever may be the most dire of emergencies. Treaties on poison gas say “never” but history says something else. People will do what they feel they need to do.

This shouldn’t apply to Assad. He had other options. His recent use was probably just a test to see what the price would be. All of these boundaries will shift when Iran has nukes. The restraints on chem and bio warfare may then be loosened as well.

This may become a much more dangerous world.

Theaters show 1984 to support the deep state


It’s April 4. That’s the day the book 1984 begins, and when we all put ourselves on the side against tyranny. The trouble there, is even John Wilkes Booth said he was fighting against tyranny.

This goes into the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up department:

Three Capital Region venues will show the movie “1984” on Tuesday as part of a national day of protest against President Trump’s proposed cuts in funding for the arts.

Proctors in Schenectady, the Opalka Gallery at Sage Colleges in Albany and the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs will join more than 180 moviehouses, galleries, museums and libraries in 43 states that plan to participate in the event.

Their rationale has expanded since then — and I’ll get to that.

Yes, I know, they’d like you to believe that they aren’t asking that the government have a say in who gets arts funding. But somebody makes the decisions. It’s not me, and it’s not you.

It’s either the politicians funding government-sponsored art or it’s the unelected deep state. Neither is a good idea.

But there’s another reason the theaters are showing 1984 today — other than that they want to sell you popcorn. They think the Trump administration is trying to slant the truth. Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” to mean that there was another side to the story.

Apparently, these movie theater owners are surprised that a political aide would try to tell a story her way. Do these people really think 1984 is beginning now? Maybe it really is only about the popcorn.

Or maybe they think that 1984 is how things should be.

The irony here is that these same people supported McCain-Feingold in the guise of campaign finance reform. Now, why did the Supreme Court overturn that law? Because the law tried to censor a movie about Hillary Clinton.

H. L. Mencken on anarchists

The last round of Berkeley riots reminded me of this quote from H. L. Mencken:

“To the average American or Englishman the very name of anarchy causes a shudder, because it invariably conjures up a picture of a land terrorized by low-browed assassins with matted beards, carrying bombs in one hand and mugs of beer in the other. But as a matter of fact, there is no reason whatever to believe that, if all laws were abolished tomorrow, such swine would survive the day. They are incompetents under our present paternalism and they would be incompetents under Dionysian anarchy. The only difference between the two states is that the former, by its laws, protects men of this sort, whereas the latter would work their speedy annihilation.”

You may have seen it around. Glenn Reynolds posted it several years back on Instapundit (no relation to his source), and still finds it well worth an occasional requote. But I hadn’t seen it after the Berkeley riots.

This comes from Mencken’s The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1913), which may be found at Project Gutenberg. That passage fits the Black Bloc to a tee. I can’t help but think that the surrounded paragraph could almost fit the backstory of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, where their society had been rescued (or taken over) by military veterans.

H. L. Mencken is generally remembered today for his observations and quotes that had been collected over time. It is remembered less that he opposed the New Deal and U.S. involvement in World War II. He was definitely not a fan of FDR. He had stopped writing his columns before the war, but you can find a few quotes from his later years. I had almost used one for a chapter epigraph in One Thousand Years. Another of his quotes is tentatively set for use in my upcoming sequel. (More on that later.)

Why they burn

Berlin book burning May 10, 1933 — (from image in U.S. public domain)

Berlin book burning May 10, 1933

Do you remember why Ray Bradbury’s firemen burned books? I thought of this again when I saw that the free speech advocates over the pond at English Pen were screening the movie version of Fahrenheit 451.

I confess to being skeptical whether they’ll get to the original reason, but maybe they will. Their announcement quotes from the book:

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it.” — Ray Bradbury

Like most people, I’d forgotten Bradbury’s reason until The Observer’s Ryan Holiday reminded us of the real reason we need to stop trying to protect everyone’s feelings:

If you’d asked me what it was about before last week, I would have told you: “Firemen who burn books.”

And if you’d asked me why on earth they did that, I would have answered just as confidently: “Because a tyrannical government wanted them to.”

There is a trend afoot to conveniently remember the works of authors like Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley as warnings against distant totalitarianism and control. But this only scratches the surface of what these books are about.

Note that he said “conveniently remember.” That trend has only gotten worse. Or better, depending on your point-of-view.

Bradbury’s society did not burn books because of the government. Holiday quotes the book:

“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? … Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, to the incinerator.”

It’s the people rioting in the streets that want your books burned. Perhaps it’s not so much that Bradbury saw this coming but that it has often been this way.

It was the German Student Union that organized burning books with the SA brownshirts in Nazi Germany.

Colonizing the bubble

Wil Wheaton, Star Trek’s Wesley Crusher, is an internet star with a lot of Twitter followers.

He gets a lot more traffic than the rest of us do. Some of it must make him uncomfortable. I’m sure some of it is really bad. He’s apparently pretty quick with Twitter’s block feature. That’s where you tell it not to show you tweets from people you’d rather not hear from.

He has a reputation for blocking people simply for saying “Shut up, Wesley!”

That’s his right. The trouble I see is this:

Join that, and you’ll miss tweets simply because Wil Wheaton disagrees with their senders. That’s a lot of people to censor yourself from. Needing his block list is a sign that you’re on Twitter too much.

Bubbles are dangerous. Join his blocklist and you’re in one. I’m reminded of the apocryphal quote of Pauline Kael: “How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him.”

Just imagine missing a retweet simply because the original writer had once said, “Shut up, Wesley!”

Raumpatrouille: 1960s German SF

Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) was a seven-episode German science fiction show in the ’60s. The style was somewhat reminiscent of the movie Forbidden Planet.

YouTuber Rewboss gives a short but thorough explanation for English speakers:

The show is well worth a look. The first episode is here. Be sure to turn on the subtitles for a translation.

This is what people in the ’60s thought the future would be like. Expect more than a few scenes to be unintentionally funny. The dancing in the background reminds me of SNL’s Sprockets, which adds to the charm.

All seven episodes are available on YouTube. Some videos don’t have the English subtitles, but there is an alternative if you look around.

Patrolling the seas in a new era

Found via OldNFO J.L. Curtis, who says Hawaii’s last P-3 squadron is leaving: “1937-2017… 80 years of maritime patrol squadrons is ending this week.”

This is one of history’s milestones. That was the first takeaway.

From Stars & Stripes: Last 3 planes from Navy patrol squadron to depart Hawaii for new home in Washington state.

This part was funny to me:

“This is an old bird, and I think we’re lucky that we’re catching and being able to be a part of this, because the new P-8s and new aircraft that are coming out now, they tell you what’s wrong through a computer,” said Young, who’s deploying with VP-9. He said he likes the fact that the P-3 is “old-school. It’s mechanical.”

I know that feeling. There were still P-3Bs flying when I was in the Navy, and I remember thinking that very same thing about their avionics. (I suppose the difference between a P-3B and P-3C didn’t matter as much to those in the cockpit.)

But I see this as more than wistful memories of P-3s. The Navy will still be flying those for a few more years. They just won’t be doing it out of Hawaii in significant numbers. Instead, they will only have a P-3C detached from Whidbey Island, Washington, until two P-8A Poseidons replace them. Only two.

It’s not so much about the P-3s leaving. They’ve had various types of aircraft before that. Think of the squadrons of PBYs flying out of there in WWII, then Marlins in the 1950s, P-2s and P-3As during the Vietnam War, followed by the P-3B through P-3E’s (although, apparently, VP-9 stopped with the P-3C). It is patrol operations in Hawaii that are practically closing up shop.

Part of this is that the Navy’s needs and budgets have changed. I’m hoping that another part is in greater capabilities of newer technologies. Perhaps some of that will be in the P-8. Then there are the roles played by the new satellites and drones.

Even here, the robots are taking over. That was the second takeaway.