Monday, June 20, 2011

Ray Guns, Electric Cannons, and the Mind of the Lemming

Once in a while, the Lemming feels a need to explain just what's so "apathetic" about this blog. This is one of those times.

"...Apathy, of course, was anathema to the anguished campus activists of the sixties and seventies. The cultural pressure to care - deeply, passionately, hysterically - led to the slogan 'Apathy is Rampant, But Who Cares?' I still treasure the sight of those words, emblazoned on a bumper sticker. Or maybe it was in a magazine...."

"...Apathy can be defined as not caring about what is supposed to be important. What is considered important, and what's not, in America seems to be determined in the coastal cultures. Since my priorities don't even come close to the stereotype Starbucks-frequenting, Armani-wearing, New York Times reader, I must be 'apathetic.'..."

That page was written before the Lemming started writing quite so many posts in the third person: and that's another topic.

More about the Lemming, on a page called (what else?):
Now, here's why the Lemming thought it was time to say just what sort of "apathy" you're likely to see in this post.

"Sci-Fi Weapons," Budget Concerns, and Living in 'the Future'

"Railgun, Laser Weapon Lose Senate Funding, Face Uncertain Future" (June 20, 2011)

"The Navy's most futuristic weapons will remain more fi than sci.

"The Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday voted to eliminate funding for two of the Navy’s still-in-development guns: the free electron laser, essentially a super-powered death ray, and the railgun, which shoots bullets powered not by explosions, but by energy.

"The Navy had planned to incorporate these sci-fi weapons in a revamped fleet of the future, and asked for $60 million to continue research and development. Those plans may have to change, following the tersely worded cuts -- unveiled on Page 21 of a lengthy press release outlining the Senate's completion of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012...."

Don't misunderstand - the Lemming likes science fiction. The Lemming even enjoyed watching Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004).

On the other hand, the Lemming will be 60 years old this year: and has been living in "the future" for quite a while. It's not quite 'as advertised:' no flying cars or floating cities. Actually, we've had quite a few flying cars, but they never took off in the commercial sense.

Phrases like "sci-fi weapons" and "fleet of the future" remind the Lemming of the sort of "World of Tomorrow" future that folks may have taken seriously when Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon first appeared on the silver screen. Now that "silver screen" is used when someone wants to evoke nostalgia, a different sort of future seems to be in fashion. And that's almost another topic.

The point is that, although the Lemming enjoys alliteration, "fleet of the future" is emphatically not how the Lemming would describe something that was supposed to be taken seriously.

Electric cannons and ray guns? The Lemming's pretty sure that you'll find practical, level-headed folks who are convinced that those staples of (occasionally atrocious) science fiction stories are as much "science fiction" as spaceports. Of which America has about a half-dozen so far - and it's not just this country. Which is yet another topic.

Great Scott! These Things Work! QUICK!! CUT FUNDING!!! DO IT NOW!!!!

Back to that article:

"...'[The Act] directs the Navy to develop a broader affordable strategy on laser systems and terminates the Navy's free electron laser due to concerns over operational technical challenges. In addition, [it] terminates the Navy's high-risk Electromagnetic Rail Gun,' the release reads.

"Neither the Navy's Office of Naval Research, which has been actively developing the two technologies for several years, nor senior Navy officials were willing to comment on the news, pending the release of the full bill later this week.

"The cuts come on the heels of major successes by both weapons: In February the free-electron laser set a new power record, bringing it closer to the goal of megawatt-class power. In December, the railgun produced a walloping 33-megajoule blast, three times the power previously achieved...."

The American federal government, along with quite a few others around the world, seems to have discovered that spending more money than you take in has consequences. Not-nice ones, eventually. The Lemming thinks America's politicos are to be congratulated for noticing this awkward little point.

What's even more remarkable, in the Lemming's view, is that Congress is putting on a pretty good show of wanting to discuss doing something besides taking more of somebody else's money to pay for their pet projects. The Lemming's discussed this before, in connection with the NASA budget.

If you're expecting a rant about the absolute necessity of more and more military spending, no matter what: That's not gonna happen.

The Lemming also isn't going to do the conventional hand-wringing (paw-wringing?) about the Evils of War and how Yankee imperialism and CIA plots cause tooth decay - or whatever.

Maybe - just maybe - the Senate's decision to (apparently) scuttle these particular weapons development programs is based on something practical. That's possible: at least in principle. There are, probably, comparatively sober members of Congress who do something besides keep chairs warm and/or send naughty photos of themselves to coeds.

On the other hand, the Lemming remembers the 'good old days' when being anti-war, anti-military, and anti-fuzz was groovy. Pulling the plug on weapons systems when they seem to be working seems like politics-as-usual from folks whose hearts may be in the right place.

The Mind of the Lemming

The Lemming thinks that there's a difference between having idealistic goals, and trying to attain them - and deciding to live in a fantasy world. Not that everybody who disagrees with the Lemming is delusional, stupid, and probably wants to destroy the planet. This is not, as the Lemming has said before, a political blog.

The Lemming thinks that scrapping weapons development programs when they're starting to show practical results - - - might not be a good idea.

This could be seen as proof that the Lemming
  • Is a red-white-and-blue-blooded 100%-American Patriot
  • Is a heartless dupe of imperialistic capitalistic aggressors
  • Wants to destroy the planet
Or, maybe something else is going on. Here's an over-simplified, superficial, look at part of the mind of the Lemming:

Does the Lemming think that weapons are nice? No. On the other hand, does the Lemming think:
  • Weapons should be forever banned, right now?
    • No
  • It would be nice if everybody would agree to be nice?
    • So we wouldn't need any more
      • Police
      • Jails
      • Guns
      • Anything icky like that
    • Yes
  • It would be nice if bad things never happened?
    • So nobody ever
      • Got sick
      • Died
      • Felt bad
    • Yes
  • It would be nice if everybody was just simply perfect?
    • You know -
      • Smart
      • Good-looking
      • Athletic
      • Stuff like that
    • Yes.
Does the Lemming expect to see any of the above, in the foreseeable future? No.

That doesn't mean we should stop trying to fix what's wrong with society, support what works, and help folks who need help. And that's yet again another topic, for another blog.1

The Lemming recognizes that folks don't always play nice, even if they're asked nicely. That is, granted, an opinion: pretty much like it's the Lemming's opinion that water is wet. Except during Minnesota winters, when it's a mineral.

"Megajoule?" What's a Joule, and Why Call Them Mega?

Time to get technical: a megajoule is (what else?) 1,000,000 joules. A joule is a watt second, or "a unit of electrical energy equal to the work done when a current of one ampere passes through a resistance of one ohm for one second." (Priceton's WordNet) 33,000,000 joules is - quite a lot of energy.

Let's put it this way: an outlet in your house might have a 500 joule surge protector. The Lemming isn't sure what would happen if a burst of 33,000,000 joules hit something that was designed to protect against 500 joules of power: but you might notice the results.

A rail gun that pumps 33,000,000 joules of power into a solid projectile with modest efficiency? Again, you might notice the results. "...A single megajoule is roughly equivalent to a 1-ton car traveling at 100 mph. Multiple that by 33 and you get a picture of what would happen when such a weapon hits a target...."

Destruction equivalent to 33 one-ton cars going 100 miles an hour, all smashing into something at the same time? Is that nice?

And the Lemming's been over that before.

Somewhat-related posts:

The Lemming's take on 'relevant' issues, in another blog:
That's right: the Lemming's one of 'those' people. Yet again another topic.


Brigid said...

Something's missing: "Pulling the plug on weapons systems when they working"

Also, you might want to look at the formatting of your footnote.

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. "Destruction equivalent to 33 one-ton cars going 100 miles an hour, all smashing into something at the same time? Is that nice?"

No. That's awesome! But, then, one of my favorite parts of Mythbusters is when they make stuff go boom.

"Does the Lemming think that weapons are nice? No."

Nice, maybe not. But I must say that I'm rather fond of swords. And explosives. But mostly swords.

Brian Gill said...


Oops. Found, fixed: thanks!

I've got what I think is a somewhat normal interest in weapons: as you know. I don't think of weapons - or any other sort of technology - as being intrinsically 'good' or 'bad.' (December 2, 2009)

I thought of going off on a tangent about the many meanings of "nice." But figured that would be a case of 'been there, done that.' (A Catholic Citizen in America (April 8, 2010)

Besides, this post was already a fairly long one. ;)

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