Oct 292013

Nixons near-defeat via voter fraud in 1968 has made him more paranoid than he was IRL. A result of this is for him to provide greater support to the FBI; as a result of increased funding and powers of surveillance, the Soviet influence upon western anti-nuclear organizations is exposed much sooner and more completely. While this does not bring an end to organizations working to end American nuclear efforts, this tarnishes their image in the public, and the anti-nuclear protestors are less numerous, less loud, less well funded and far, far less successful. Instead, new generations of fission reactors, including breeder reactors, are put into service on a regular basis starting in the late 1970s.

Additionally, with the ongoing development of the Neptune booster, with its one-million-pound payload, solar power satellite studies that IRL led only to paper and dreams here lead to real plans. The OPEC oil embargo and subsequent energy crisis ends with a sputter, due not to American anger  but to a new sense of American defiance. The oil embargo hurts *now,* but everyone knows that, within a few years, electrical power will truly be too cheap to meter. And if OPEC doesn’t want to sell us oil… with the expected surplus in electrical energy made possible by the new reactors and SPS’s, American coal will be converted into  liquid fuel with which to run our cars and planes. By the time the 1980’s roll around, nobody much cares what the price of Middle Eastern oil is, because it’s no longer quite as important.

Still, the events of 1973 lead to an economic downturn in the US. The sense of malaise that had permeated the US since 1968 only worsens, with the revived space program providing the one real bright spot. By 1976, Nixon is a tired President, ready to leave office. Not many people want Gerald Ford for President in 1976 (Agnew having resigned in 1973, as IRL). However, a new political force comes to the fore in the form of the Governor of California, one Ronald Reagan. Reagan gains the Republican nomination, with Bob Dole as his running mate; they handily defeat the Carter/Mondale ticket.

While Reagan continues many of the policies of the Nixon administration, he brings with it a charisma that Nixon lacked. A subtle effect of this is to energize the American populace; with increased morale comes increased productivity, and thus the economy begins to improve. In effect, the 80’s come early.

One other effect of the Reagan administration: space weaponization. Reagan talks openly about arming the heavens with anti-missile systems, even though there are no real plans for that in the DoD. Now that the Saturn V (with F-1A and J-2S engines for increased performance, lighter structures and parachute splashdown recovery and re-use of the MS-IC stage, with the MS-II stage typically being left in orbit to serve as raw material or structural backbones) is launching nearly monthly, the Shuttle is in tests and the Neptune system is bending metal, it is clear to the world that the US is serious about space. This causes panic in the Kremlin. By Reagans inauguration in early 1977, the US has several space laboratories including not only Skylab but also the more impressive Space Station I, as well as two preliminary bases on the moon (little more than camps at this point) and a manned lunar orbit space station. With Neptune as a launcher and the Shuttle as a servicing system, it’s clear that the US will soon be able to orbit giant nation-killing weapons systems. The plans for solar power satellites, while loudly and clearly described as basically harmless and for solely civilian power generation, are seen by many in the Soviet Union as vast death rays. So, the Soviets have no choice but to compete in the race.

The Soviets had finally managed to get their N-1 rocket to work and had landed their first man on the moon in 1972. By 1977, they too have several space labs in the form of Salyut stations, and plans are in place for their own lunar bases. They are beginning to catch up to the US. And in true Soviet fashion, they are beginning to boast and bluster; and they are being listened to by the CIA.

To be continued

 Posted by at 9:06 pm
Oct 292013

So, there’s this:

Obamacare: More than 2 million people getting booted from existing health insurance plans

CBS News has learned more than two million Americans have been told they cannot renew their current insurance policies — more than triple the number of people said to be buying insurance under the new Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Huh. A few months back I got a letter from *my* health insurance company telling me that, lo and behold, come January 1 my current policy would evaporate, but have no fear, Obamacare was here. Well, according to healthcare.gov, there are 43 policies available for a schmuck like me in Utah. Woo. But I took the list to my doctor: of the 43, 42 *will* *not* be taken there. One *might* be, they’re not sure. So, I’m losing my insurance, and quite possibly my doctor as well. Having driven ten rural miles with a 104 degree fever to get to my doc, I can assure you that having to drive three or four times farther at 80 miles per hour the next time I get bronchitis, pneumonia or the fricken plague will *not* be fun. If that happens and due to delirium I cause a car wreck, I hereby give permission to survivors to sue the bejeebers out of whatever political hack supported this nonsense.

[youtube wfl55GgHr5E]

Hmmm. His lips moved.

 Posted by at 4:40 pm
Oct 292013

On the list of the hazards to manned spaceflight – and to photovoltaic arrays and integrated circuits – are the Van Allen radiation belts. These belts, from about 1000 km to 60,000 km above the surface, are the results of the Earths magnetosphere snagging energetic electrons blasted from the sun and protons that are the result of cosmic rays smacking the upper atmosphere. The electrons form a high beta radiation flux, enough to fry unshielded electronic and humans who spend too much time there. This flux is high enough that satellite being shot into higher orbits have a good fraction of the lifetime degradation of their solar arrays done just in the few hours it takes to transit the belts. The belts consume a vast volume of real estate that I’m sure a lot of satellites would love to occupy. But what can be done?

Well… drain ’em, apparently.

Tethers Unlimited, a company co-founded by the late physicist Robert Forward (who I had the chance to meet a few times),  studied the use of conductive  tethers to sweep out regions of the belts. By charging the tethers to a high voltage, electrons would be kicked away at high speed, enough to leave the belts permanently. I don’t know whether this would work, but it seems feasible, and I can’t see how it would have any real “environmental” effects. The only thing that occurs to me: it seems the electrons would be kicked away in essentially random directions, some up, some down. So… if they launched a couple dozen of these things, they’d be swinging through the sky, blasting electrons every which way. So at twilight, you could look up into the darkening (or lightening) sky and see a miles-long tether, brightly lit by the sun, cruising overhead. And deeper into darkness, after the tethers themselves are in darkness, might you still be able to detect them? Perhaps you wouldn’t see the tethers directly, but the electrons that they kick *down* would smack into the upper atmosphere and create faint aurora. A faint circle of auroral glow? A comet-tail? Dunno…

In any event, these things would not be in permanent operation, but periodic. The electrons that populate the belts are injected into it by solar flares and such; drain the belts, and it may well take a good long time for them to fill back up again.

 Posted by at 2:28 pm
Oct 282013

Nixon has taken office under a cloud. Many are calling for RFK to be tried and imprisoned; many others believe that the released files and recordings are in fact hoaxes, and that Nixon actually stole the election from Kennedy. With that start, things look dire.

Over the next four years, a series of decisions are made that differ from Actual History. For starters: Nixon makes more of a push to get out of Viet Nam sooner; the war is massively unpopular, even more so than IRL due to the collapse in faith in the American political system. Popular opinion on the war collapses catastrophically. By late 1970, the US is on the way out.

Apollo 11 happens as IRL in July, 1969, but to slightly more public enthusiasm (due to it being something good in  a sea of bad). It is immediately decided that this should be built upon. Some voices that IRL called for Apollo to be curtailed are now not as loud: Teddy Kennedy, part of the Kennedy clan that is now under much greater media and legal scrutiny, has been arrested for the drunk-driving homicide of Mary Jo Kopechne on July 18. Soon he is out of office and sent to prison for a term of several years. Others, such as William Proxmire, remain as opposed as ever, though due to the recent collapse in popularity of politicians as a whole, he has less of a public platform . The decision by the Johnson administration to cancel Saturn V production is reversed; Apollo missions to at least 24 are pushed through.

Due to Nixon Administration pressure, Apollo 12 is pushed up by one month with negative consequences; on the way to the moon in October, 1969, a propellant tank aboard the lunar module ruptures. While the crew manages to return safely to Earth, this delays the following Apollo missions. It has the effect, however, of spurring interest in the space program. A disaster that results in the survival of heroes, right at the height of interest (right after Apollo 11), makes both the public and Congress more interested in space. This is aided by Walter Cronkite: just as he had talked down the war effort in Viet Nam after the Tet Offensive in January, 1968, here he talks up the space program. In the general malaise gripping the US after the 1968 election, Cronkite turns Apollo into a point of pride.

As Viet Nam ramps down and Apollo continues on, further plans are put into place. The Apollo Applications Program IRL led to Skylab; it does so in Alternate History as well, but it is joined by plans for lunar bases by 1976 and manned Mars missions by the early 1980’s. The NERVA program is pushed ahead; the Space Shuttle program also proceeds, but as a smaller vehicle (25K lbs payload, limited crossrange, reusable manned first stage, second stage equipped with expendable external tanks). Plans are put in place to revive the Post-Saturn launch vehicles planned a decade earlier, in 1963: in 1971, a design contest is held among major contractors and General Dynamics/Astronautics wins with an improved version of their earlier Nexus launch vehicle. A long development plan is put into place to develop this as the “Neptune” booster.

The Presidential election of 1972, between Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, is both a landslide and a bore. Humphrey goes into the election under the cloud of the Watergate scandal, even though he was uninvolved; Nixon trounces him soundly. But the turnout is the lowest on record.

As IRL, the Yom Kippur War breaks out in 1973. The war plays out as IRL, with the Israelis repelling the Arab attack. As IRL, the Arab oil producing nations respond with an oil embargo against the US. However, things play out slightly differently. With the enhanced space program requiring nuclear power and nuclear propulsion, the nuclear industry is slightly stronger and much more popular than IRL. A consequence is that the OPEC oil embargo leads to a speedup in the approval and construction of nuclear powerplants. By the Three Mile Island incident of 1979, nuclear power is growing, and is seen as not only vital, but patriotic. The collapse of the American commercial nuclear industry following TMI as IRL does not occur. Much of this is due to the events of 1976…

To be continued

 Posted by at 9:29 am
Oct 282013

It may not be fair to judge a movie’s success based on just a week or two’s box office take, but I think it’s a good way to get a handle on things. For examples, here are some movies I’ve seen nationally advertised that have opened recently, and their take so far (via boxofficemojo.com):

“The Fifth Estate” (the wikileaks movie starring KHAAAAAN): worldwide, after 10 days… $4.4 million.

“All Is Lost,” starring Bob Redford: domestic, after 10 days: $656,000 (yes, less than a million), out of a budget of $9 million

“Kill Your Darlings,” starring Harry Potter as a poet nobody cares about anymore (and probably shouldn’t have 40 years ago): after 12 days, $131,000 domestic

“Machete Kills,” starring some angry leather: after more than 2 weeks, $7.26 million

“12 Years a Slave” starring The Operative and apparently directed by a zombie action star: $3.4 million domestic after 10 days.


Lest you think that it’s just that nobody is going to the movies these days… “Bad Grandpa” just raked in $40 million on its opening weekend (nearly 3X it’s budget, in two days); in the same period, the Stallone/Schwarzenegger flick “Escape Plan” made $45 million ($5M short of its budget). “Gravity,” by the way, in a bit over three weeks has made $364 million. Woo!

 Posted by at 12:29 am
Oct 272013

The election of 1968, between Robert F Kennedy and Richard Nixon, is held on November 5. The count is very close, with media outlets calling it for first one, then the other. In the end, by the end of the day on November 6 it is called for RFK.

However, remembering his dubious defeat to JFK 8 years earlier, Nixon refuses to concede. And he has good reason: on November 4, the FBI, under J Edgar Hoover, had delivered to Nixon a series of files and audiotapes recorded in the weeks immediately preceding the election. These detail a number of meetings between RFK and other higher Democrat Party officials with various corrupt major city mayors and state governors… all aimed at using whatever means necessary, fair or foul, to assure RFK’s win. Nixon had not released the files to the public due to early polling that showed that he would squeak out a narrow win; releasing the files might look like dirty tricks, so it was decided to risk it. However, with the loss, the reasons for not going public were removed. So late in the day on November 6, the files and audio tapes are released to the media. Most damning was a meeting held the week before between RFK and other officials at the Watergate Hotel, where RFK is heard clearly demanding that the votes go his way in certain vital districts… whether or not the voters in those districts actually vote for him.

On November 7, with Nixon still refusing to concede, the “Watergate Scandal” breaks on radio, TV and newspapers. This immediately throws the system into chaos. Recounts and closer examination show widespread voter fraud, throwing the actual results into disarray. Over the next week, a Constitutional crisis ensues, with the RFK win being held in abeyance. Finally, it is determined that Nixon did, in fact, win both the popular and electoral college votes. RFK concedes on November 16 and Nixon is declared the winner.

In January, 1969, Nixon takes office. While generally acknowledged as the legitimate winner, he does so under a cloud; the political system is held is very low regard, on top of the racial strife of the past decade and the ongoing trouble in Viet Nam. Just about the only thing that seems to being going in the right direction is the Apollo program… and even that has issues. Two years earlier the Apollo 1 fire had killed crew and caused delays; just as bad, NASA – due to budget cuts imposed by the Johnson administration – had cancelled production of the Saturn V in August of 1968. So even though the glory days of Apollo were still ahead, it was clear to the new Nixon administration that this would only provide a rallying point for the public for a relatively brief time. So, changes must be made…


To be continued

 Posted by at 1:38 pm
Oct 262013

*Many* years ago (maybe 20?) I read an article in a firearms magazine about a highly modified Thompson submachine gun. I was not in a position to copy the article or obtain the magazine, and I’ve been looking for the subject of the article ever since. Sadly, my memory is dim on the details.

IIRC, an industrial designer – or perhaps just an artist – sometime in the 1920’2 to 1940’s chopped the bejeebers out of a Thompson, turning it into a *true* pistol… just a few inches of barrel ahead of the drum magazine, and the receiver was shortened drastically so that it ended not much aft of the pistol grip. As memory serves, the gun was described as fully functional despite the massive changes. I recall it being nickel plated or some such, and barely recogizable as having once been a Tommygun. Familiar to anyone?

 Posted by at 11:31 pm