Archive for the ‘Russia’ Tag

Russia to increase military spending

According to the BBC, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has announced that Russia will begin a comprehensive military rearmament from 2011.

Mr Medvedev said the primary task would be to “increase the combat readiness of [Russia’s] forces, first of all our strategic nuclear forces”.

Explaining the move, he cited concerns over Nato expansion near Russia’s borders and regional conflicts.

Increased oil revenues make such spending possible.  The recent conflict with Georgia (the country, not the state) apparently demonstrated to them that much of their equipment is outdated and their tactics need updating.

Monday Miscellany: data mining, monarchs, and Mercury

False color image of Mercury, courtesy of MESSENGER

False color image of Mercury, courtesy of MESSENGER

Today NASA’s space probe MESSENGER made a flyby of the closest planet to the Sun, Mercury.  The probe, whose name is both an acronym for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging and a reference to Mercury’s role as the messenger of the Roman gods, took photographs of previously unseen areas of the planet’s surface and numerous other readings that scientists are now eagerly studying.  This is the second of three flybys of Mercury, each of them serves to slow down the spacecraft to the point that it can enter orbit in 2011; it also got such gravity assists from Venus and from the Earth itself.  Somewhat counter intuitively to a layman, going to Mercury is a lot harder than going to Mars, due to the very large change in velocity needed to enter orbit (or land on the planet, which no spacecraft has ever done and which is not part of MESSENGER’s mission).  For more information on the mission, including many more photos, check out their official site.

The Economist has an excellent series of articles covering all aspects of the American presidential election. They also have a non-scientific online poll of their readers to see who would win the election if the electoral college were global and each country allocated its electors on a winner-take-all basis. Currently, Barack Obama is ahead 8375–15. McCain is ahead only in Georgia (the country, not the state), Macedonia, and Andorra. He is probably glad that this is just a poll of Economist.com visitors and not a real poll of public opinion in those countries, but, given that he’d probably still lose a worldwide popularity contest, he is probably very glad that this has no constitutional standing.

Speaking of the Economist, they have a thought-provoking article on “Data mining and the state.”  It discusses how all the information that the government collects about us and processes can be used both to increase security and safety and to decrease our privacy and liberties.  They discuss the future of such data mining and don’t pretend to offer clear answers as to when and how such technology should be used.

And speaking of the presidential race, linguists have analyzed the candidates’ remarks at the vice presidential debate (which I blogged about at some length here). They found that Palin spoke at the level of a 9.5th grader and Biden at that of a 7.8th grader. Palin, who spoke 5235 words, used the passive voice in 8% of her sentences; Biden spoke 5492 words and used the passive voice only 5% of the time. They both averaged 4.4 letters per word and were statistically tied on the length of their paragraphs; Biden’s averaged 2.7 sentences and Palin’s each had about 2.6 sentences. In his 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln spoke at an 11th grade level, they report—quite interesting, when you consider how much less education people had back then—though the level on which a person speaks doesn’t necessarily make what they say any better or clearer.

Thanks to the aptly-named Virgin Galactic, no one will be having sex here anytime soon

Thanks to the aptly-named Virgin Galactic, no one will be having sex up here anytime soon

In wackier news, Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s company that will take paying customers into space, has rejected an offer of $1 million to use their spacecraft for filming two people having sex in space. “That was money we had to refuse, I’m afraid,” said company president Will Whitehorn (which, now that I’ve written it, sounds kind of like a male porn star’s name). If not for the fact that the company making the offer was unidentified, I would say that this was simply a publicity stunt. Virgin Galactic will probably begin flights in 2009 or 2010 and their spacecraft will carry six passengers in addition to two pilots. Tickets will cost $200,000. Even assuming that the $1 million was in addition to the $1.2 million that Virgin Galactic would pull in on a full flight it wouldn’t be worth the likely bad publicity that they would get. Besides, I’m sure a porn company could make much more than $1 million if they were the first to release a porn film of people having sex in zero gravity. Wait… maybe this is a publicity stunt, for Virgin Galactic. If so, it’s worked: I’m blogging about it.

These people, murdered by Communists in 90 years ago, have just been declared victims of Communism.

These people, murdered by Communists in 90 years ago, have just been declared victims of Communism.

The Russian Supreme Court has declared that Tsar Nicholas II and his family were killed illegally and are entitled to rehabilitation by the state. This involves formally exonerating them and declaring them victims of communist repression; over four million Russians have been rehabilitated since the collapse of the Soviet Union; The Tsar’s descendants have been trying for years to have him exonerated and were surprised at the ruling. Hopefully this will help Russia’s process of coming to terms with its past. However, I somehow don’t think that knowing he would be declared a victim of communist repression 90 years later would have been much comfort to Nicholas as he and his family were gunned down and bayoneted.

Sarah Palin, the press, and proximity to Russia

The 0.22% of Americans who live in Alaska are (probably) all closer to this than you are. Are they all more qualified to be Vice President?

The 0.22% of Americans who live in Alaska are (probably) all closer to this than you are. Are they all more qualified to be Vice President?

The Obama campaign reports that Joe Biden has given approximately 89 local and national interviews since his selection as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. Sarah Palin has given just three meaningful interviews. Apparently to quiet media criticism about this secrecy, today she met with a few of the media who travel with her—after informing them just 20 minutes in advance; she took just four (4) questions in that brief session (read transcript).

Howard Kurtz, a Washington Post and CNN media critic, said “I have never seen a presidential or vice presidential nominee, in my lifetime, be so inaccessible to the national media.” The protection from the press that she’s getting is incredible, as I blogged yesterday. But it’s easy to see why this is: she’s not doing very well in real interviews with well-prepared journalists and needs to be shielded from them. Sarah Palin is not ready for prime time, let alone the Vice Presidency of the United States of America.

I thought that Palin had given up on claiming that Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her foreign policy experience, but when Katie Couric brought it up in an interview Palin didn’t back down (see video, read transcript). Couric asked what Palin meant when she cited the nearness of Russia as part of her foreign policy experience.

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It’s funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don’t know, you know … reporters.

COURIC: Mocked?

PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.

COURIC: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of.

Though she couldn’t give any specifics concerning how she’s interacted with Russia (saying something vague about trade missions was the closest she came) Palin still claims that living near a foreign country is somehow a qualification to be the second highest ranking person in our government. Yes, governors do interact with other countries; but Palin needs to build her case on the specifics of those interactions, not by pointing to a map and saying “see how close we are?”

The nominee didn’t do much better on the economic questions that Couric asked. I don’t get the sense that there is a real deep understanding of the issues under Palin’s answers; she sounds like she’s just regurgitating the talking points. Here’s a short clip:

I feel sorry for Joe Biden. How do you prepare to debate someone like this without looking patronizing or like a bully? Especially given that she’s a woman and he’s quite prone to gaffes, as I blogged previously.

On viewing those interview clips, one Slate blogger said “She cannot possibly be this uninformed. You absolutely have to see these for yourself to believe them. These are self-mocking; they could be SNL appearances. Tina Fey couldn’t possibly improve on this. This is why they’ve been keeping her under wraps.” Yep.