Thursday 28 April, 2022


Quote of the Day

”Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”

  • Samuel Johnson

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan | Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right |Live | 2014


Eccentric version of a great song but I love the guitars.

Long Read of the Day

How hypersonic missiles work and the unique threats they pose

Fascinating (and useful) explainer by Professor Iain Boyd.

Russia used a hypersonic missile against a Ukrainian arms depot in the western part of the country on March 18, 2022. That might sound scary, but the technology the Russians used is not particularly advanced. However, next-generation hypersonic missiles that Russia, China and the U.S. are developing do pose a significant threat to national and global security.

I am an aerospace engineer who studies space and defense systems, including hypersonic systems. These new systems pose an important challenge due to their maneuverability all along their trajectory. Because their flight paths can change as they travel, these missiles must be tracked throughout their flight.

A second important challenge stems from the fact that they operate in a different region of the atmosphere from other existing threats. The new hypersonic weapons fly much higher than slower subsonic missiles but much lower than intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. and its allies do not have good tracking coverage for this in-between region, nor does Russia or China.

This matters because hypersonic missiles threaten to upend the relative stability of the current era of nuclear weapons. Just something else to keep one awake at night.

A Yacht Owner’s Worst Nightmare

Interesting piece in The Atlantic by Olga Khazan on how Europe and the U.S. Seize Oligarchs’ Yachts

TL;DR: it’s more difficult than you think.

I was hoping for exciting nighttime combat on the high seas, but the process of detaining a yacht is rather boring. Most of the 16 yacht “seizures” that have occurred so far have been more like freezes, according to Alex Finley, a writer and former CIA officer who has been tracking the seizures. First, a country will notice that a large, majestic vessel is parked in one of its shipyards and attempt to ascertain its true owner—a process that requires cracking open shell company after shell company, a nesting doll of paperwork, if you will. If the yacht is indeed connected to an oligarch, the country’s port authority simply forbids the yacht to move. The yacht remains at the dock, and the oligarch can’t use it for a while. The owners aren’t usually on their yachts when the boats are seized, Finley told me, so there are unfortunately no images of carabinieri dragging away tuxedoed men as they curse in Russian. Nor are the boats chained to the docks with comically large padlocks, as I had hoped. “They just are not given permission to leave,” Finley said.

Some countries are deregistering the yachts, negating their insurance, which discourages the boat from sailing off. An Italian official who was not authorized to give reporters his name told me that the boats are simply floating in the harbor, with no one allowed to get on. This person then sent me some videos of Italian officials walking around a dock in a calm and unhurried manner.

The real drama seems to happen either before or after the yachts are seized…

Pity. I was hoping for gunboats and boarding parties and Putin’s buddies swinging from the yardarm. Still, it’s an informative read.

My commonplace booklet

 I Like Free Speech So Much I’ve Decided to Buy It by Eli Grober

From McSweeney’s

Hi there, I’m Elon Musk. I’m mostly known for rockets and cars, but what I really care about is free speech. I can’t get enough of it. In fact, I like free speech so much I’ve decided to buy it.

That’s right, it turns out free speech isn’t free—it costs exactly $44 billion. That might sound like too much money for one person to be allowed to spend, but that’s only because it is. And I’ve decided free speech is worth the cost. I’m going to make sure some board full of rich guys doesn’t get to define what counts as free speech. Instead, just one rich guy will get to decide what counts as free speech: me.

So what does free speech mean to me? Free speech means… well, anything you want it to mean. Free speech is magical. It’s amorphous. It’s undefinable. That’s the power of free speech: nobody in history has ever defined it—not our founders, or politicians, or judges, or even average citizens. There’s simply no definition of free speech.

“That’s not true,” you might say, “It’s pretty clearly defined.” And to that, I’d say, “That’s the beauty of free speech—it can be a lie. I was lying to you. And that’s allowed.”

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