Saturday, August 12, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 12.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's The Guardian doing its bit to stop the rampant growth in Spain's tourism industry.
  • Reader Anthea recently overheard woman on the train saying that Spain had so many fiestas only because she has more saints than any other country. This, of course, is nonsense. But it put me in mind of a book I read years ago on the diary of a 16th century priest of the English village of Morpeth. Who went from being Catholic to Protestant, back to Catholic and finally back to Protestant under the kings and queens of a 50 year period. What struck me is how similar England, as a Catholic county, had been to Spain in the number saints' feast-days celebrated in the village. Days long gone, of course. But, in truth, I don't know whether Spain is unique in panning the Vatican's long list of saints for excuses to have fun. But I suspect it is.
  • Still on religion . . . Spain is one of a few European countries which maintains an anti-blasphemy law on it statute books - Article 525 of the Penal Code. But its international ranking is low because there's freedom of religious expression here and because the penalty for blasphemy is usually(invariably?) a fine. That said, the Article actually says:- Whoever, in order to the feelings of the members of a religious confession, publicly disparages their dogmas, beliefs, rites or ceremonies in public, verbally or in writing, or insult, also publicly, those who profess or practice these, shall incur the punishment of a fine from 8 to 12 months [en la pena de multa de ocho a doce meses]  Which doesn't read exactly like a fine to me.
  • Currently it's Italy taking by far the most refugees from Africa. But - after a lull of a few years - Spain is coming up fast and could well overtake Greece as the second most affected EU member state by the end of the year. As to government policy, this seems to be one of the (many) subjects on which President Rajoy remains silent. Corruption in his PP party being the main one, of course. 
Back to refugees . . . Within the EU as a whole, tensions are said to be rising, with not everyone sharing Mrs Merkel's (economics driven) 'liberal' stance. Indeed, an Italian commentator, Signor Pittella, warns that inter-state rancour will grow unless Brussels ensures that "all member states share responsibility" for managing the inflow of migration. Absent this, he added, " there could be a "systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself". Meanwhile, it's just barely concealed panic.

Donald Trump may be a clown but he isn't funny. It's blood-curdling to know that 2 madmen with yellow/orange faces and weird haircuts are taking us to the edge of global destruction. And, if you thought that sane generals would be able to stop the American fool pressing the nuclear button, read the article at the end of this post. Incidentally, given that Trump is so orange - at least on my TV - you'd wonder why the Netherlands hasn't offered him Dutch nationality.

Ken Ham is an Australian theist who was the driving force behind an 'authentic, full-size Ark' recently built in the USA. And complete with the dinosaurs he says must have gone into it. As you'll appreciate, he's not short of daft comments. But his latest is a classic - Atheists can't know what is 'good' or 'bad', as only Christians are capable of this. So, tough shit on all you immoral and moral-compassless Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, etc. out there. Not to mention us atheists, who have no idea about what's right or wrong.

Finally . . . You might think that flying Economy is akin to travelling in a cattle truck but a US airline is now offering something cheaper - Basic Economy. The mind boggles at the treatment you'll get if, say, Ryanair emulate this. 

Today's cartoon:-

Inevitably . . . 


Starting nuclear war is Donald Trump’s decision alone Pam Nash

Many of the details are secret but if a US president were ever to order a nuclear strike, we know this: the order would be transmitted to the crew who would fire the missiles in a message 150 characters long — about the same as a tweet.

After this week’s sabre-rattling over North Korea the launch procedures are the object of fresh scrutiny. A new generation is learning that America’s nuclear arsenal is on a hairtrigger.

The decision to launch is the president’s alone and there is no failsafe against an unstable commander-in-chief. This was what made Richard Nixon’s “madman theory” — he pushed the idea that he might just destroy Moscow — credible.

In the early years the fear was of gung-ho generals; the system regards them as a far greater threat than an irrational president. This point was made by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of nuclear weapons at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

In 1946 the Atomic Energy Act put the power in the hands of the president. The law was thrashed out in the months after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. The Manhattan Project scientists who developed those weapons regarded the military officials they worked under as war-mongers.

President Eisenhower later gave the military standing permission to use tactical nuclear weapons in certain circumstances — if, say, Russian tanks rolled west over the Rhine. Under President Kennedy, miscommunication almost led both the Soviet Union and the US to launch. It was time for more safeguards.

Before his inauguration President Trump would have been told how to launch a nuclear strike. Accounts of what would happen vary. This one is based on work by Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman missile-launch officer and research scholar at Princeton University.

A call is placed to the Pentagon war room, which must authenticate that the person giving the order is the president. Either Mr Trump or a military aide will be carrying a laminated card known as the biscuit. An aide will also be carrying the “nuclear football”, a briefcase of strike options.

The war room will offer a challenge code: two letters, spelt out in the military’s phonetic alphabet. Mr Trump will read the correct response from the biscuit — maybe “echo, Charlie”.

The war room will then send a launch order to the submarine, air and ground crews chosen to carry out the mission; 150 characters including a war plan number denoting the targets.

Codes contained in the launch order must match codes locked in safes. On a submarine the launch order also contains the combination for another safe containing the keys needed to fire the missile.

For ground-based missiles the order goes to five crews, each with two officers. The crews are miles apart. Two crews have to turn their keys to launch the missiles. Even if three refuse, the missiles go. After the order is given land-based missiles can be on their way within five minutes; for submarines it is about 15 minutes. They cannot be called back.

The US has resisted automating the system. Indeed, after the decision is made by the president, each stage requires two people to act — on a submarine both the captain and executive officer must agree to launch. At the same time, however, the system is designed to neutralise mutiny. In the 1970s a Vietnam War air force veteran, Harold Hering, was in line to become a nuclear missile squadron commander. He asked how he could be sure that a launch order was lawful. He had been taught that it was his duty to resist unlawful orders. He was discharged — for “a defective mental attitude towards his duties”.

Members of Mr Nixon’s cabinet were deeply uneasy with the system. James Schlesinger, the defence secretary, said years later that he had ordered military commanders to double-check with him before launching. Schlesinger was concerned that the president was unstable. His order had no standing in law, however. There is no saying what would have happened if Mr Nixon had ordered to launch.

In the 1980s the idea took root that there was a taboo against using nuclear missiles, and that this was a control on presidents. Don’t be too sure: a Stanford University study published this week showed that a majority of Americans would back killing two million Iranian civilians to prevent an invasion of Iran that might kill 20,000 American troops.

There are no checks, no balances. As Mr Wellerstein puts it: the only way to keep any president from launching a nuclear attack would have been to elect someone else.

No comments: