Seeing Red

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bygone era July 2002

July 30, 2002

Cold War Nostaglia

Americans Seem To Pine For The Old U.S.S.R.-U.S. Rivalry, When We Were Certain Who The Bad Guys Were

By KEVIN CANFIELD, Hartford Courant Staff Writer

(From The Hartford Courant.)
The Cold War was, in many ways, a dark period in world history, an era in which the United States and the U.S.S.R. spent billions of hours of labor, godless sums of money and an incalculable amount of intellectual energy on the business of "national defense."

Decades of duck-and-cover drills and ominous rumblings from across the Atlantic turned eight U.S. presidents and generations of Americans into neurotics.

Don't you miss it?

Hard as it might seem to believe, many Americans do seem to pine for the days when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on a table at the United Nations, shouting that his mighty country would "bury" the West.

The Cold War was the Cuban Missile Crisis, American-sponsored chaos in Central America, Joe McCarthy, the Berlin Wall, Pershing II missiles, bomb shelters and the rest. But it was also a time when at least we knew - or were at least pretty certain - who the bad guys were. Unlike life in America after Sept. 11, when it seems that an attack on civilians could come anywhere at any time, the Cold War at least offered a sense of orderliness, of predictability.

"There was a certain comfort in the Cold War, insofar as having an agreed-upon and, so to speak, reliable rival and even enemy in the Soviet Union," says Walter Hixson, a history professor at the University of Akron and author of "Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture and the Cold War, 1945-1961."

"For the public," Hixson says, "the world now appears more complex, though in reality it was more complex during the Cold War than most people thought."

Martin Walker, chief international correspondent for UPI and author of "The Cold War: A History," says he, too, sees a fair amount of longing for the Cold War at the Pentagon and other such agencies.

"I detect a lot of nostalgia for the certainties of the Cold War, particularly in diplomatic and national security circles," he says. "The Cold War was a predictable framework for international relations, and the Soviets were reasonably rational actors - unlike al Qaeda and terrorist organizations. Moreover, the Cold War locked Europe and the U.S. together in an alliance of necessity. Trans-Atlantic arguments, like regional wars, were never allowed to get out of hand and drag in the two superpowers; the result would have been too dangerous."

With the opening of a new spy museum in Washington and a Cold War Museum in Virginia, a resurgence of cloak-and-dagger novels and other cultural markers, Cold War nostalgia would seem to be at its peak. It's a phenomenon that's been building almost since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

"That's not new after 9/11," says Walter Lafeber, author of "America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-1996" and a history professor at Cornell University. "It was said in 1990, 1991, 1992 - a number of government officials said how nice it was before 1989 when at least you knew who the enemy was. Once you knew who the enemy was they become more predictable."

Tom Vanderbilt, a writer who spent a year-and-a-half researching and writing his new book, "Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America," says he occasionally misses certain aspects of the Cold War.

"I was just thinking this morning, yes, global annihilation was sort of possible but you at least had a semi-rational - or it was so irrational that it was almost rational - set of rules that were preventing that. And you also needed this entire country to put a lot of its infrastructure into creating that system. Now it's sort of like anyone with a grudge can create something, without that kind of logic of retaliation or mutually assured destruction. The Soviets would've been going after our missiles, so you could at least tell maybe they'll be going for North Dakota. But now the object would be to just kill people."

That, says Stephen Whitfield, professor of American Studies at Brandeis University and author of "The Culture of the Cold War," is the chief difference: The global terrorist organizations now at work seem bent on killing as many citizens as possible. That makes them quite different from the Soviet regimes of the Cold War.

"The idea of deliberately murdering as many civilians as possible was not on the Communists' agenda, and we knew it," Whitfield says. "The Cold War enemy was motivated to survive - not to commit suicide in the process of murdering the innocent. When Khrushchev said, `We will bury you,' he meant that the laws of history were on the side of socialism, not capitalism; and therefore he could afford to wait. The deliberate self-destructiveness of al Qaeda - and of the suicide bombers among the Palestinians, I might add - represents something novel in the annals of evil."

But to look back at the 1945-1990 period as a simpler, more innocent era is far too simplistic. After all, it was the era of blacklisting, the Red Scare, McCarthyism and a host of other misguided policies and programs.

"I think the Cold War that we now look back and think is a happier time is a Cold War of the '70s, '80s, up to '91 when the Americans had military superiority and the Russians very clearly were on the decline," says Lafeber.

Those who miss the Cold War, Lafeber says, "ignore things like the American overthrow of the government in Guatemala, which led to 200,000 Guatemalans being killed over the next 20 years in civil war. They ignore that the U.S. worked with the Shah of Iran to overthrow the government of Iran in 1953 - and that hasn't worked out too happily. There are a number of things that the U.S. did that really came back to haunt us."

Which is why Lafeber is not among the ranks of Cold War nostalgists. "The last year I'm nostalgic for," he says, "is 1945 when the Cubs got to the World Series."


July 12, 2002

Paint your shoes!

(Shamelessly lifted from boingboing.) Howard Rheingold exhorts you to paint your shoes, in order that we may more easily recognize fellow nonconformists. Includes instructions and a small gallery. Man, I need to get me some Doc Maartens with "Starry Night" on them...


July 11, 2002

Equal Time

Check out The Soviet Joke Book and Russian jokes about Americans. (Remember, they're not laughing at us, they're laughing with us. Wonder if they have a demeaning nickname for the leader of our country, too...)


July 10, 2002

Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp

Summer camp was never this cool. Everyone dreams of being a rock star, and here at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp you can live the dream for four days and $5,000+.


In Space, No One Can Hear You Suck

Russia talks to pop star about space trip

MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Russian space officials are in talks with U.S. boy band singer Lance Bass to become the next fare-paying tourist to blast off to the International Space Station, the country's space agency said Tuesday.

"What we can confirm is that talks are going on," Rosaviakosmos spokesman Konstantin Kredenko said by telephone.

"No contract has been signed. The talks could lead to one being signed, but so far there is no time frame for this."

Bass, 23 and a member of 'N Sync, told reporters in May that he had received preliminary approval from Russian doctors to undertake the flight. That would make him the first pop star in space and the youngest space traveler ever.

Bass said it had long been his dream to go into space but acknowledged he had yet to secure permission from Rosaviakosmos. The agency has been giving little publicity to his request.

Two other fare-paying cosmonauts have flown to the still incomplete ISS -- U.S. businessman Dennis Tito made the journey last year, followed in April this year by South African Internet millionaire Mark Shuttleworth.

Both were reported to have paid up to $20 million -- sums badly needed by the Russian space program to make up for shortfalls of funds since the collapse of Soviet rule.

The new commander of the ISS, Russia's Valery Korzun, told reporters last month it made more sense to take on space tourists like Shuttleworth, whose computer expertise proved useful to the crew.

Bass is backed by a consortium of companies put together by a Hollywood producer, but it is not clear how much it is proposing to pay for the ride.

Interfax news agency said Bass had already been introduced to senior officials at the cosmonauts' training center at Star City outside Moscow and started preliminary training, but officials would not confirm the report.

'N Sync has proved to be one of the world's top pop groups since 1998, when their debut album of the same name sold 10 million copies.


July 09, 2002

Harriet's Closet

Apparently he's quite happy to be straight, but this fellow takes an inordinate amount of pride in his collection of Nice Shoes.


July 08, 2002

Elvis DVDs Track King's Rise To Fame

(From Billboard) It's shaping up to be an Elvis Presley summer. The remix of "A Little Less Conversation" by Dutch DJ Junkie XL is No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart, and this week debuted at No. 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 to give the King his first charting hit on that tally since 1982. On Aug. 13, fans will be able to follow Presley's incredible rise to fame with the three-volume DVD collection, "Elvis: The Great Performances." The boxed set retails for $49.99; individual DVDs can be purchased for $19.99.

"Volume 1: Center Stage" includes Elvis' television debut on March 24, 1956 on the "Stage Show" and runs all the way through a performance of "Unchained Melody" from a 1977 TV special. Also featured is his first performance from "The Ed Sullivan Show," appearances on "The Steve Allen Show" and "The Milton Berle Show," Elvis' first (and long-lost) screen test for Paramount Pictures, and clips from the films "Love Me Tender," "Loving You," "King Creole," and "Jailhouse Rock."

"Volume 2: The Man and His Music" features clips from the specials "Aloha From Hawaii," "Elvis on Tour," and his famed 1968 "comeback" taping. The 1960 special "Welcome Home Elvis" celebrated his return from active duty in the Army, a period augmented by a clip from the film "GI Blues."

"Volume 3: From the Waist Up" is narrated by U2 frontman Bono and focuses on Elvis' earliest immersion into the music world. Eight appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" are included, as are a number of clips featuring such tracks as "That's All Right Mama" and "Mystery Train" set to rare footage.

All this activity is part of a year-long initiative by BMG Entertainment and RCA Records that centers on a one-disc retrospective of the artist's top hits -- akin to Capitol's Beatles retrospective, "1." The album, "ELV1S 30 Number One Hits," is set for a late October release on RCA. It will be the first time Presley's 30 No. 1 singles have been assembled on one CD. The new four-disc boxed set "Elvis: Today, Tomorrow & Forever" (RCA) debuted at No. 21 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart this week.


July 06, 2002

More than 1/3 of Americans think the U.S. Constitution is Marxist

From a recent Columbia Law survey: 35% of Americans think the Constitution includes the phrase "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."


Red Planet

Russia Proposes Sending Team to Mars
July 5, 2002

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian space officials proposed an ambitious project on Friday to send a six-person team to Mars by the year 2015, a trip that would mark a milestone in space travel and international space cooperation.

Russia's space program hopes to work closely with the American agency NASA and the European Space Agency to build two spaceships capable of transporting the crew to Mars, supporting them on the planet for up to two months and safely bringing them home, said Nikolai Anfimov, head of the Central Research Institute of Machine-Building.

The roughly 440-day trip is expected to cost about $20 billion, with Russia suggesting it would contribute 30 percent.

"It must be an international project," said Vitaly Semyonov, head of the Mars project at the M.V. Keldysha Space Research Center. "No one country could cope alone with this task."

Russian space officials said they are receiving encouraging signs of interest from NASA and European counterparts.

But NASA spokeswoman Delores Beasley said Friday that the Russians have not submitted any formal plan and that the agency would not comment on the proposed trip before then. Because of demands from Congress to scale back costs, human travel to Mars has not been on NASA's radar recently.

"We are still very far away," conceded Alain Fournier-Sicre, head of the European Space Agency's permanent mission in Russia. "But this kind of program is a long-term initiative for every space agency in the world," he said, adding that he held a meeting with Russian space officials this week
to discuss the project.

Landing humans on Mars has long been a dream of Russian space scientists. But even in the heyday of the Soviet space program, when Moscow reported success after success, its attempts to reach the Red Planet were marked by failure. Soviet scientists began whispering about a "Mars curse."

The Soviet Union kicked off Mars exploration in 1960 by launching two unmanned spacecraft four days apart, but both failed even to make it as far as Earth's orbit. One resulted in an engine explosion that scattered debris and contamination over the Baikonur launch pad in one of the worst
accidents in Soviet space history.

That was followed by repeated attempts and often repeated disappointment. The bad luck for Russia continued on Nov. 16, 1996, when the Russians launched an ambitious $300 million spacecraft, Mars 96, which they hoped would prove to the world that despite their economic struggles after the
Soviet breakup, they could still run a first-rate space program. Mars 96 suffered an engine failure just after launch and crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

Anfimov said that despite the setbacks, "we never stopped planning and seeking opportunities to reach our next goal: Mars."

NASA's Mars program, plagued by its own series of setbacks, got back on track earlier this year when the unmanned Mars Odyssey spacecraft entered orbit around the planet and began mapping the mineral and chemical makeup of the surface.

Anatoly Grigoryev, director of the Institute of Medical-Biological Problems, which works with all of Russia's cosmonauts, said Russia's plan calls for a cargo and a manned ship, which would consist of a commander, a second pilot, a flight engineer, a doctor and two researchers. Three members of the team would descend to Mars, while the other three would remain onboard the ship in orbit.

Grigoryev said the trip could answer many of the remaining questions about Earth's mysterious neighbor.

"Is there life on Mars? If there is, what kind of life?" Grigoryev said, barely able to suppress his excitement. "This would be historic."


July 03, 2002

Lilo and Stitch Soundtrack Released

Disney has released the Lilo and Stitch soundtrack, replete with five Elvis Presley songs, Elvis Presley covers, and some interesting original Hawaiian-style music. Cool!


Big Red Van... I mean, Computer

Not content with sprucing up his car to be a Red Elvises tributemobile like others have done, John Horner instead decided to modify his computer case. That's one technosurfer ready for Millennium, folks.



July 01, 2002

Music of Space

In the days of Plato and Pythagoras, and straight on to Copernicus and Kepler, philosophers and scientists drew parallels between the dynamics of the solar system and the laws of musical harmony. Now, a University of Iowa astrophysicist, using sensitive radio equipment, has collected signals from space and converted them into sounds which resemble whistles, bird chirps and booms. NASA has commissioned a composition piece entitled "Sun Rings" from the Kronos Quartet, to be performed at the University of Iowa with a set designed by Willie Williams--famous for his work for U2, REM and the 2002 Super Bowl half-time show--as a backdrop.