Supermajority of Americans want action on Global Warming

A supermajority is usually described as a 2-1 majority, where the majority is twice as big as the minority.

A poll this month in America resulted in 70% of respondents saying that the US government should do more to combat global warming.

52% of respondents said that the issue of global warming is either extremely important or very important to them personally.

20% want higher taxes on electricity prices to reduce demand (79% don't)

32% want higher taxes on petrol to reduce demand (67% don't)

86% want the government to regulate or encourage development of cars that use less petrol.

78% want the government to regulate or encourage development of appliances that use less electricity.

88% want the government to regulate or encourage ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

59% of respondents think the Democrats are best suited to handling global warming issues.

19% of respondents think George W. Bush is best suited to handling global warming issues.

58% of respondents are concerned about sea-level rises as a result of global warming.

iMonk and homogenous groups

He doesn't like them.


Life imitates art

There is a minor baseball league team called "The Albuquerque Isotopes".


It sounds stupid, but:

Iceland was once successfully invaded by British forces.

Build your own mp3 player

It's open source, which means you can mass produce your own pcb's if necessary.

Microsoft admits Vista failure?

That is the title of this piece in The Enquirer. I'm not too sure if the writer is gushing a bit, but Microsoft selling XP for $3 in China when Vista is already out sounds kinda fishy.


Aussie cricketers doing well... in England

While Australia's top cricketers are in the West Indies playing in the world cup, a number of other Aussies are doing well in English County Cricket at the moment:

Ian Harvey hit 136
(and 12-0-47-0) for Derbyshire against Essex.
Simon Katich, also playing for Derbyshire, has hit 50 and 38* in the same match.
David Hussey hit 105 for Nottinghamshire against Leicestershire.
Justin Langer hit 303 not out for Somerset against Middlesex.
Jason Gillespie hit 123 not out - yes you read correctly - for Yorkshire against Surrey (as well as 10-3-23-1 and 2-0-7-0).
Michael DiVenuto hit 155 not out and 83 for Durham against Worcestershire.
Doug Bollinger took 14-3-60-3 and 19-2-94-1 for Worcestershire in the same match.
Phil Jacques hit 19 and 97 for Worcestershire in the same match.

With second-string players performing like this, no wonder Australia is doing well.

Lee Iacocca - CEO extraordinaire - excoriates US government

Lee Iacocca was America's best known CEOs of the 1980s. Here's part of a great rant he has just written:

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies.

Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?

(See rest of rant here)


Decapitation and longevity?

This is a weird post, so bear with me.

When some gets their head cut off, they can remain conscious for about a minute before they die. The reasons for their death are obvious - the head (and brain) cannot survive long without blood and oxygen.

But I was just wondering if it is possible for a decapitated head to be hooked up to a machine that functions as an artificial heart - transfused blood is cleaned by a dialysis machine, aerated, filled with nutrients and then pumped into the head where it keeps the brain alive and then pumped out again to go through the entire process again.

Will the head stay alive?


Lessons from the Human Development Index

I love looking at this document.(pdf file, 129kb) It's essentially an attempt by the United Nations to quantify living conditions around the world. It's based on a number of different things, including GDP per capita, literacy, child mortality rates and so on.

Each nation (mostly) has been investigated since 1975 and given a 3 digit number expressed in decimal points. Australia, for example, has a HDI value of 0.957 and is third on the list (Norway is 1st with 0.965). The poorest nation, Niger, has a HDI value of 0.311.

Essentially, any growth in the number over time reflects an improvement in that nation's standard of living. "High Human Development" nations are those with HDI values of 0.800 and over, and could be classed as "first world" countries (although, looking at that list I would probably define "first world" as any value over 0.900). "Medium Human Development" nations are those with HDI values between 0.500 and 0.799, and could be classed as "second world" countries. "Low Human Development" nations are those with a HDI value of 0.499 and lower, and could be classed as "Third world" nations.

What's so great about this document is that it can actually identify which countries have been doing well over time, and which ones are going backwards. Changes in the HDI can also reflect major events in the life of that country.

China, for example, had a HDI of 0.527 in 1975 and a HDI of 0.768 today. This means that, back in 1975, China was barely out of being described as a third world nation, but today is approaching first world status.

Another interesting example is Australia. Back in 1975 Australia's HDI was 0.848 (very high for 1975). By comparison, nations today around that HDI level include Uruguay, Croatia, Latvia and Qatar. This means that people living in these four nations have the same standard of living as Australians did back in 1975. For me, who grew up as a child in the 1970s, this gives a good point of comparison.

Historical events affect the HDI as well. Here's a few I've chosen.

As many of us know, over 800,000 people were killed in the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. Strangely, The HDI index doesn't seem to reflect this. The 1990 HDI figure is 0.339 while the 1995 figure is 0.337 - only a slight drop in the nation's (abysmal) standard of living between 1990 and 1995, yet with a genocide occurring in between.

There are obviously statistical anomalies here. The study would have only applied to living people so the loss of 800,000 Rwandans did not overtly affect the (albeit poor) living conditions of the 6 million or so who survived. The 1994 genocide was also preceded by a civil war, which began in 1990.

But what's interesting about Rwanda's HDI figure is not the comparison between the 1990 and 1995 figures, but the 1985 figure - 0.401. What this indicates is that there was a massive drop in the standard of living between 1985 and 1990, a drop which preceded the civil war and the eventual genocide. There's no doubt in my mind that Rwanda's drop in the standard of living was at least partly responsible for the civil war and genocide that followed. What this shows is a link between civil unrest and living standards.

In 2004, Rwanda's HDI figure was 0.450. The highest it has ever been. Let's hope and pray it continues to improve.

Because of the closed nature of its politics, Russia's HDI figures only begin in 1990 where they show a HDI figure of 0.818. These stats were taken in between the period when Russia was rejecting communism and the eventual end of the USSR in December 1991. Many of us know that in those years a great deal of hardship was endured by the Russian people (as they have always done in their history unfortunately) and this is reflected in the 1995 HDI figure of 0.771. The political turmoil in those years naturally eroded people's standard of living. The HDI figure for 2000 was 0.785 and in 2004 it was 0.797, which shows that in the decade or so since 1995, life for ordinary Russians has improved, but has yet to reach the standard set in the last days of the Soviet Union.

South Africa
South Africa is a shrinking nation. According to the CIA World factbook, South Africa's population is shrinking at an annual rate of -0.46%. While the birth rate is high (17.94 births per 1000 people) the death rate is even higher (22.45 deaths per 1000 people). With people also leaving the country faster than people come in, South Africa appears to be doomed.

It was not always so. We all rejoiced when Apartheid collapsed and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994. Yet since then there has been a rising tide of violence and economic misery - hardly the sort of thing you'd like to see in a nation that successfully overthrew a system of government that was immoral. In fact, given the sad state of affairs, it would seem understandable for white South Africans to praise "the good old days" - after all, they had a better standard of living.

South Africa's HDI index in 1990 was 0.735, and in 1995 it was 0.741. A slight rise but a rise nonetheless. Since then it has all been downhill. In 2000 it was 0.691 and in 2004 it was 0.653. The 2004 figure is important because the 1975 figure was also 0.653. This means that the standard of living amongst South Africans has gone backwards by 30 years.

South Africa's death rate is the fifth worst in the world. South Africa also has the 5th highest AIDS rate in the world - 21.5% of the adult population. When you factor in AIDS amongst infants, it is no wonder that the HDI report shows that a South African infant has a 43.3% chance of not surviving to age 40. With death figures and infant mortality rates currently so high, South Africa's HDI index will probably continue to drop. Given the example of Rwanda above - where a drop in living standards led to political turmoil - expect to see the "New South Africa" undergo some pretty bad times ahead.

We are all concerned about Zimbabwe, especially under the infantile and destructive rule of Robert Mugabe. We've heard stories of land grabs, hyperinflation and mob violence. Things are bad. Do the HDI figures match this scenario? They sure do, but they tell more to the tale.

Robert Mugabe is undoubtedly to blame for Zimbabwe's decent into the darkness, yet he was once not so universally disliked. Mugabe was instrumental in Zimbabwe overthrowing its own form of Apartheid back in the 1970s, and was actually much like Nelson Mandela in being a freedom fighter turned president.

The impression I had was that Zimbabwe's ills really only started about 5-6 years ago when he started to turf white farmers out of their farms. But the HDI figures show much more than that.

In 1985, Zimbabwe's HDI reached a peak of 0.642. In 1990 it dropped to 0.639. In 1995 it dropped to 0.591 and in 2000 it dropped to 0.525. In 2004 it had dropped down to 0.491. Under Mugabe's reign, Zimbabwe, once one of the more respectable African nations, is now considered a third world country.

Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since 1980, first as Prime Minister and then as President. Before Mugabe, Ian Smith, a white, ruled over Rhodesia (as it was then called) from 1964-1979. Smith's government ran a similar form of apartheid to South Africa. Despite the fact that Smith and the Whites ruled unjustly, living standards did rise between 1975 and 1980.

The HDI figrues show that Zimbabwe's descent did not start in 2000, but in the early 1980s. Obviously Mugabe's desire to dismantle the social and economic infrastructure of the previous white government has led to poverty for all - whites and blacks. Once a fairly respectable developing nation, Zimbabwe has been going backwards for over 20 years.

And like South Africa, Zimbabwe has a massive AIDS problem, but without the economic resources that South Africa has. The HDI study shows that only one infant in three is likely to survive to the age of 40.

Say what you will about Apartheid, the experience of both South Africa and Zimbabwe show that racist paternalism is far better than ignorant anarchy. We in the west should be proud of our efforts to rid these two nations of their immoral governments, but we should be ashamed that our lack of fortitude and will has led these nations to a far worse fate.

The United Kingdom
Tony Blair has been in power for nearly ten years. The Labor Party, supposedly the worker's friend, has been in control since that period as well. But let's look at the historic HDI figures and compare them to the politics of the time:

Date HDI Party in control Change in HDI
1975 0.851 Conservative -
1980 0.859 Labor +0.9% +8pts
1985 0.868 Conservative +1.0% +9pts
1990 0.889 Conservative +2.4% +9pts
1995 0.927 Conservative +4.3% +38pts
2000 0.939 Labor +1.3% +12pts
2004 0.940 Labor +0.1% +1pts

The first thing to note is that Britain's standard of living has been going up for years and is one of the highest in the world. We need to remember that fact as we examine what is going on here.

The next thing to note is that the Conservative party seems to be more able to raise the standard of living than the Labor party. Note that the "party in control" is the political party responsible for the previous 5 years of statistics. Margaret Thatcher is credited with much of the turmoil which went on in early 1980s Britain with her economic reforms ("Thatchernomics"). The HDI figures show that the reforms she put in place between 1980 and 1985 had little effect at the time, but obviously led to some good results for the ten years after that.

Yet when you look at Labor - specifically the Blair government - the figures seem to stagnate. Part of the problem with this is that the HDI figures will never go above 0.999 so the higher the fgures get the harder it is to improve them (the UN may have to re-jig the entire formula in the future). Yet it is interesting that Britain's standard of living only increased by 0.001 between 2000 and 2004. What it might indicate is that economic reforms either dwindled out under Labor or had simply reached their limit. It also might indicate a growth in wealth amongst the rich while the poor are left out, which would result in higher GDP per capita figures but increasingly lower standards of living amongst ordinary people. This is where "trickle down economics" is probably trickling down from the super rich to the rich only.

Whatever the reasons for the current situation, the fact remains that economic growth did improve Britain's standard of living from 1985 to 1995, and that much of that growth did have its basis in Thatcher's Reforms. I would argue, however, that it is a combination of a gutless Blair Labor party and a failure of the "trickle down" theory begun by Thatcher that is probably to blame for the current malaise.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Some good news about Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard is in the news again. He's leaving Colorado Springs, where his church is, and going to Phoenix, where he will probably attend the Phoenix First Assembly of God while studying a graduate degree in counseling.

What impresses me about this news is that Haggard is not going off and founding another church or making moves to "restore himself" in ministry. If my memory serves me correctly, the pastoral oversight board that asked Haggard to step down from his church (for sexual sins with a homosexual prostitute) also reiterated the fact that Haggard should never return to pastoral ministry.

Even before Haggard's fall, I was not impressed with the guy. I was actually the original creator of the Ted Haggard page on Wikipedia, mainly because I felt that he was a "wolf in sheep's clothing" within the evangelical church. Not only was a Pentecostal, he was also a dominionist and an open theist. As head of the National Association of Evangelicals and an adviser to president Bush, I saw him as a dangerous man.

So when he "fell", there was a private element of schadenfreude going through me.

But there was also cynicism. Would he be "restored" and return to pastoral ministry at his church after a period of repentance? Would he continue to be blindly followed by American Christians?

It seems that some of my cynicism was wrong. The way things are going, there is no chance that New Life Church will have Haggard back, and no chance that he will return to pastoral ministry. And that is good.

All this is based upon my understanding of what the New Testament says about elders and pastors. They should be "above reproach" and be sexually pure. Haggard, 50, has spent most of his adult life as a pastor but managed to continue pastoring even when he was engaged in private homosexual behaviour. Haggard did not come out and acknowledge his sin - it needed the male prostitute himself to publicly declare the fact (something which, by the way, many members of Haggard's church have thanked him for).

In short, Haggard can no longer be trusted to be a pastor (theological heresies notwithstanding). He lived a double life with major secret sin. I am hoping his humiliation and fall will act as an example for others - that sexual sin (amongst other major sins) by a pastor automatically disqualifies him from the ministry.

A Caveat: I'm not talking here about sexual sin committed before a person becomes a believer, but sexual sin that is engaged in before or during a believer's position as church pastor (or elder).

Let's thank God that Haggard seems to be taking the right steps, and pray that he will be strengthened in his faith during this time and spend the rest of his days in joy as he contemplates the undeserved graciousness of God.

From the Theosalient Department

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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US Stock Markets in Perspective

"Dow Index Flirts with new high" says today's New York Times. And it seems true. At 12773.04, America's flagship stockmarket is within reach of its all time high of 12,741.86, which it hit on 14 February 2007.

The S&P 500, a broader measure of the stockmarket, also closed on a good note at 1471.48. It is near its historical high of 1500.64 reached on 22 March 2000 - over 7 years ago.

Closer inspection of the stock market, however, is required to keep these results in perspective. Perhaps the most important element to note is the falling US Dollar. If you compare the value of the US Dollar to the Euro, a different picture emerges.

On 29 December 2006, the Dollar was worth
0.7593. As of 18 April 2007, the Dollar has dropped to 0.7355, a drop of 3.13% during the past 3 1/2 months.

If we then adjust the stockmarkets accordingly, more accurate figures come to light.

The Dow Jones, for example, has dropped by -0.69% since 29 December 2006. The S&P 500 has grown by +0.55% in that time. Hardly the stuff that bull markets are known for.

But it gets even worse. If we go back a number of years to the year 2000, we see the Dow Jones reaching its (then) high of 11722.98 on 14 January. At the time, though, the US Dollar was worth
0.978 (32.9% more than it is today). If we work backwards and adjust the figures, we find that the Dow Jones had hit 15588.14 on that day, compared to today's figure of 12773.04. This means that the Dow has dropped 18.06% in seven years.

The figures for the S&P 500 are similar. At the time of the 1500.64 high in March 2000, the US Dollar was worth
1.040, a whopping 41.4% more than its worth today. If we work backwards again, the S&P hit 2129.91 on that day, compared to today's figure of 1471.48. This means that the S&P 500 has dropped 30.91% in seven years.

The Wilshire 5000, an exceptionally broad stockmarket index, is notable for being a reasonably close fit for the amount of US Dollars invested into the stockmarket. Today's figure of 14910.93 (an all time record), represents $14.91 trillion invested. Back on 9 October 1990, this figure was 13099.90, and the US Dollar was worth a mammoth
1.15. In today's dollars, therefore, the Wilshire 5000's adjusted mark in October 1990 was an incredible 20484.04. This shows a drop of 27.2% in just under seven years, or approximately $7.4 trillion lost.

(On December 29 2006, the Wilshire 5000 reached 14,257.50. With a 3.13% drop in the value of the USD, today's figures would be 14,444.21, a growth of +1.31%)

Of course, back in 2000 both the stockmarket and the US Dollar were grossly overvalued, which makes for these interesting statistics. What it shows is that America's so called "recovery" in that period has been nothing of the sort. Another issue with this brief study of mine is the focus on the Euro as a "base" currency to compare to, which obviously has problems (a Trade Weighted Index may be better).

In the meantime, as you hear brokers on Wall Street and politicians crow about economic strength, just keep things in perspective. Since the beginning of this year, the US stock markets have gone nowhere, and have, in fact, declined sharply since the year 2000 when compared to the rest of the world.

Note: I am not a mathematical maven. Please inform me of any mistakes I have made in my calculations. I still think that the figures will be stark, however.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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England stutter to World Cup victory

The English cricket team today completed an unimpressive victory in the World Cup final against Australia.

Having set a modest total of 6-291, England's bowlers somehow managed to conjure up a victory by dismissing Australia for 203 in the 43rd over.

The scene for England's embarrassing effort was set by opener Ian Bell, whose 34 off 22 balls was the height of irresponsible batting. Having hit Australian seam bowler Nathan Bracken for 3 consecutive fours, Bell advanced down the wicket and was easily caught by a diving Glenn McGrath at long-on.

Bell's opening partner, the newly promoted Kevin Pietersen, managed a painful 85 off 100 deliveries. Andy Flintoff, batting at no. 6, could have added more to England's total had he not holed out after hitting 52 off 41 deliveries.

Australia's bowling was tight and many bowlers were unlucky to have so many runs taken off them. Shaun Tait was especially unlucky with his 10-0-89-0, evidence (if it was needed) that figures do not always tell the full story.

Australia's batting response was professional while England's bowlers were woeful.

After compiling a neat 22 off 44 deliveries, batsman of the tournament Matthew Hayden was unlucky to be adjudged LBW to Monty Panesar. Ponting was bowled by an unusually slow delivery from Flintoff for 3, while Michael Hussey's innings of 64 off 62 deliveries was an example of calculated risk.

Panesar, with figures of 10-5-22-3, was lucky to be allowed the chance to bowl through his spell, such was the damage the Australian batsmen were wreaking.

Yet Australia conspired to lose the match through some surprising English fielding choices, bad luck and the loss of the toss.

As England Captain Michael Vaughan held the trophy in his hands - the first time England had ever won the Cricket world cup - he apologised for the team's lack of resolve and mistake ridden play. England fans booed the team as it walked off the ground carrying the cup.

From the Department of Attempted Humour

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Firefox now on 24% of Europe's PCs

See here for details.

Ever since I installed Linux back in 2003 I've been a keen advocate of free, open source software. Lacking marketing power but strong on design, open source software was never going to suddenly destroy its proprietary competitors. Nevertheless, the steady growth of Firefox since its launch in November 2004 shows just how powerful such software can become in the minds of users.

Firefox is the "killer app" that introduces people to the concept of open source software. The more people that use Firefox, the more understanding there will be about the usefulness and importance of open source software. And the result of this will be a greater usage of such software.

The ultimate goal for people like myself is the growth of Linux as an operating system. When I first installed it back in 2003 it was clear even then that it was not mature enough. Yet my experience running Kubuntu in the last 12 months shows that changes have been made.

Firefox is essentially a gateway into open source software. After Firefox, people probably start thinking about Thunderbird as an email option. After that, OpenOffice competes with Microsoft Office, The Gimp competes with Photoshop and .ogg competes with .mp3.

Perhaps the best known example of the theory behind open source software is Wikipedia. The software itself (a Wiki) is open source, but the explosive growth, importance and influence of Wikipedia has shown just how much the world can be influenced by open source.

Wikipedia is already the 11th most visited site on the internet. Back in February 2004 (when I first started contributing) it was the 874th most visited site. Wikipedia's explosive growth is essentially due to its easy acceptance by people on the internet. Open source software will never match Wikipedia's growth rate, but it will, eventually, dominate the computing world. Not now, probably not in five years, but the further into the future you go the more dominant open source will become.


US vs Eurozone

Here are some interesting stats, courtesy of The Economist (here, here and here)

GDP Growth (Q4 2006)

USA: + 3.1%
Eurozone: +3.3%
Unemployment Rate

USA: 4.4% (March 2007)
Eurozone: 7.3% (February 2007)
Industrial Production

USA: +3.4% (Feb)
Eurozone +3.7% (Jan)

USA: +2.4% (Feb)
Eurozone: +1.9%
Current account balance (% of GDP)

USA: -6.1%
Eurozone: -0.1%
Share Markets since Dec 29th 2006 (growth in value in US Dollars)

DJIA (USA) +0.2%
S&P 500 (USA) +1.5%
Nasdaq (USA) +1.8%
FTSE Euro 100 (Eurozone) +7.6%
DJ Stoxx 50 (Eurozone) +6.2%

Comment: The US still obviously beats Europe in terms of unemployment and raw GDP figures, however other indicators show a US slowdown and European growth. The Eurozone's GDP grew faster than the US, the Eurozone has a very healthy current account balance compared to America's borrowing binge, inflation in the Eurozone is more benign than America (despite GDP expanding faster than America) and the share market index indicates that European stocks are doing much, much better than anything in the US (although this is skewed because of the drop in value of the US Dollar... but that is something the US has to be concerned about)


Partisan "Sleeper" cells

Imagine if the Bush administration was deliberately hiring pro-Republican staff for the Justice Department - to not only hinder any investigation against the Republicans but also instigate investigation (no matter how unjustified) against Democrats.

And imagine in 2008 when a Democrat wins the White House, these partisans in the Justice Department thinking up ways and means of bringing down this Democrat administration from the inside.

It all sounds very fictional doesn't it? Yet there seems to be growing evidence that this is exactly what is going on.

Don't criticise the President

Otherwise you may be labeled a terrorist, and be subject to searches and be prevented from boarding flights.

But, of course, there's nothing political about this at all. Oh no.


Good Friday is a Public Holiday

In these countries:

Sri Lanka
Hong Kong

And is NOT a public holiday in these countries:
Czech Republic
The Netherlands
United States of America (Not a Federal Holiday, but many, not all, States observe it)


God's Grace and the Manson "Family"

One of the most horrific crimes of the 20th century was the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends by the Charles Manson "family" in August 1969.

It may sound a cliche, but in the midst of this horrific evil, God has been working amongst two of the four murderers who are still in jail today, as well as other former "family" members:

Charles Watson, was born again in the mid 1970s. Even though he blames Manson as being ultimately responsible for the murders, Watson does not shirk from his own personal responsibility. Read his story here.

Susan Atkins became a Christian in the mid 1970s. Her website is here.

Diane Lake, a member of the "family" but not a participant in the killings, has also been converted.

As has Catherine Share, another "family" member who did not participate in the killings.

Bruce Davis was involved in a separate killing by the family, and now has a doctorate in theology and is a prison chaplain.


The National Party isn't national

The NSW election is over and the Greens have done commendably well, securing some 8.9% of the vote - up from the 8.3% they received in 2004.

Yet they were still beaten by the National Party, who have secured 10.1% of the vote. Seeing as I've been touting the fact that the Greens are now Australia's third largest party, what has gone on? Am I mistaken? Have I been lying?

The results for the 2004 Federal election are stark. The Liberals took 40.8% of the primary vote and the Labor party took 37.6%. After that is the Greens with 7.2% and the National Party with just 5.9% of the vote.

So what's going on? The thing is that the National Party is not national. For the 2004 Federal election, look at the voting trends for each state:

NSW: 9.2% voted National
Victoria: 3.5%
Queensland: 9.7%
Western Australia: 0.6%
South Australia: 1.0%
Tasmania: 0.0% (No National candidates at all)
ACT: 0.0% (No National candidates)
Northern Territory: 0.0% (Again, no National candidates)

What this shows is that the National Party is essentially an East Coast phenomenon. Moreover, the only two states in which the Nats seem to gain votes are NSW and Queensland. Victoria's National party is quite small, and WA and SA don't seem to have much influence at all. As for Tassie, the ACT and the NT, the Nationals don't even bother to run.

But, of course, states like Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia still have a large amount of farmers who could theoretically vote for the Nationals (the Nationals tend to be the rural party and pursue policy intended to serve farmers). So what's going on?

There's always been a rivalry between the Libs and the Nats - even though they are in a coalition together. It's my understanding that, over time, the Libs have managed to gain large inroads into parts of rural Australia that the Nats could have won over had they tried.

But, I suppose this just runs with the naming irony of Australian politics. The "Liberal" party is the conservative party, the "National" party is not national, the "Labor" party often manages to alienate workers and the "One Nation" party managed to divide the nation.

F-14 Short Story

Victor Daedalovich walked out onto the sunny tarmac. The brightness of the sun and the heat from the Californian summer made him wince, even behind the sunglasses that helped hide his features from any prying eyes. But it was not the glare that bothered him, but the broken finger in his left hand, the result of a botched attempt to neutralise the F-14 pilot he was replacing.

It had taken too long to hide the body, but he knew that it would eventually be found. He felt a weight of regret that he was forced to kill the man after he managed to avoid being sedated in the men's toilet. He had been specifically instructed not to kill anyone on this mission for obvious reasons. Now he knew that his chances of making it out alive were even slimmer. But at least he could die knowing that he had done the right thing.

An African-American man in a flight suit walked up to him as he strode towards the Tomcat. His patches indicated his role as a Radar Intercept Officer - the man who sits behind the pilot on F-14s. Was he the man he was told about?

"Hey Charles, how are you?" he remarked "How's the man treating you?"

"I've had better days" Victor replied in his best American accent. It was true. This was probably the worst day of his life and, hopefully, one which he will be remembered for.

They strode together towards the Tomcat. On the tail of the aircraft he saw the squadron insignia, a grinning wolf. As someone who used to hunt Siberian wolves, he felt that it was appropriate.

"I sold my car finally", the man said "Guess I won't need it any more".

It took a second for Victor to decode the man's statement. Yes. It was him.

"You ready for this?" Victor asked.

"Yeah man. As ready as I'll ever be" he responded.

Victor purposefully began to mount the ladder to the cockpit. He had never flown one of these machines before. He'd had years of experience on Mig-21s and Mig-23s, but this was the first time he would be flying an American aircraft. He tried to be as nonchalant as possible, but he caught himself examining the nosecone of the special Phoenix missile under the wing for half a second before he stepped up on the ladder.

Victor knew the configuration. His F-14 had one Phoenix long range missile under the port wing, a dummy missile under the starboard wing to balance it out, and a drop tank on the belly with 280 gallons of jet fuel. The Phoenix was the world's most advanced air-to-air missile and took advantage of the Tomcat's massive AWG-9 radar. His bosses had briefed him that the missiles had a range of up to 100 clicks. Victor realised that he was probably the first Soviet agent to get this close to one.

This missile, though, was different. It was not white, but red. Its nosecone was also different - slightly fatter and flatter than the original design. His mission depended upon that missile.

A man was right behind him. "Hey. Don't look too long." he said "This is Air Force property. Not Navy.".

As Victor climbed up the ladder the man followed. He was a member of the ground crew and helped to fit Victor into the seat. His patches indicated that he was Air Force, not Navy.

Behind him, Victor's RIO was being fitted in by another member of the ground crew.

"Sparko" said his RIO behind him "You hear about what they're doing with Iran?"

"That is restricted information!" the Air Force crewman interrupted, "You are not allowed to discuss it. Get on with the mission."

The man climbed down and walked away across the tarmac. Sparko and his RIO were unusually quiet.

"We got one more day of this guy. Then we're free." Sparko said in a low voice as he finished strapping in the RIO.

"Air Force, man" the RIO muttered "They're all on Benzedrine. Makes them assholes."

"What's this about Iran?" Victor asked as Sparko climbed down.

"Ahh, nothing really. Just some deal the government's making. I'll tell you about it later."

Victor knew that they had to be careful - in more ways than one. The cockpit voice recorder was recording everything they were saying. He knew that, at some stage, they'd have to somehow shut it off. There couldn't be any record of what they were doing - even if their mission failed and they were dead.

Victor stopped thinking about the mission and started to look at the cockpit. He'd been given schematics before he'd left Moscow and had memorised what everything was. They'd even created a mock up for him to practice on but it was nothing compared to the real thing.

"Hey Charles" said the RIO behind him "Remember when you first flew this thing? You couldn't get off the ground for half an hour 'cause you forgot to disengage the safety!"

Ah yes, Victor thought, I almost forgot. Victor flipped off the safety. He could now start the jet.

"I was still hung over" Victor replied. "Too much Vodka".

They both laughed, but Victor knew it was hollow and forced. Whoever his RIO was, he was good. He knew exactly how to help him and what to say. He knew that he would the last man he ever trusted, and he couldn't even remember what he looked like.

Victor started the plane. The turbofans began to howl and the cockpit shut.

"**611 are you ready for flight, over?**" came the voice over the headset.

"Ready for mission. Waiting for TOP" replied Victor. His American accent still struggling.

"**Move to 24R, over**"

"24R is the long one Charles." his RIO reminded him

"I'm not drunk today. I know my left from right." Victor replied

"Yeah well, sometimes I think you're too thick to remember."

They both laughed again. It was like acting in a play, thought Victor.

The Tomcat taxied to the end of runway 24R. They waited. The body may be found soon, thought Victor.

"**611 you are cleared for takeoff**"

"Roger tower" Victor said.

He began to open the throttle. The F-14's massive engines began to spew out concentrated flame. The pain in his little finger continued to break into his concentration. They had only been moving down the runway for a second when suddenly his RIO piped up.


What the hell was going on? He couldn't risk it. Even in the world of espionage things could go wrong. He had to abort the takeoff. The Tomcat's engines stopped their flame and the plane simply coasted along the runway, propelled by the initial thrust.

"**611 what is your status over?**"

Victor hoped his RIO would reply. There was nothing forthcoming.

"Will advise tower. Over" Victor said.

The plane continued its slowing roll down the runway. Victor could see the anxious eyes of mechanics and technicians from the hanger looking over.

"Tower this is RIO. We have a short in progress. Will advise." the RIO said.

"**Confirm 611. Taxi to dearming area.**"

Victor nudged the throttle enough to keep the plane rolling down the runway.

"You anywhere with this?" Victor asked.

"Ahh, I'm still trying to find the sonofabitch"

Minutes passed. They reached the end of the runway. There they were greeted by about 20 men dressed in protective fire suits and carrying hoses. One of them, an officer in charge, indicated to Victor that he wanted to talk. Victor switched to ground frequency.

"You guys okay?" Victor asked.

"You're asking us?" the man asked back. He was Air Force.

"We got a short Captain, no problems at the moment" the RIO replied "You guys bored or something?"

"Hey with that missile on you, we have orders to act in case of any potential emergency."

The RIO muted the comm. "Humourless bastard" he commented.

"Sorry RIO, I was born with a stick up my ass." Said the man in the fire suit.

"Whoah! You sayin' you can hear me?" the RIO asked.

"As sure as you're an asshole."

"Well gosh darn, looks like I found the short." the RIO said.

"Much obliged dirtbag. Anything else I can do for you?"

"Yeah just stay here. I'm about to take out the fuse. I may need you guys just in case we blow up"

Victor could hear his RIO take off his gloves and begin to rattle around inside his cockpit.

"You sure you don't want the techs to take care of this?" asked the man in the fire suit.

"Negative captain" Victor replied "Ranger can do that for us. We're already late as it is."

Victor looked away from the group of firemen. Near the hanger he saw two other Tomcats with their cockpits open. He wondered if he would be forced to shoot one of them down later - that is, if they can get off the ground in time.

He heard a laugh from behind him.

"Hey, guess what I found it."

"You need us then?" the Captain asked.

"Thanks for your help Captain. See you in hell." The RIO said.

"Yeah whatever..." the man in fire suit replied. Victor could see him mouthing obscenities with the microphone off.

The RIO contacted the tower.

"Tower this is RIO 611. Problem isolated."

"**611 wait for clearance. Over.**"

Victor looked at the cockpit clock. They were running late. If they couldn't take off in ten minutes then he'd have to do it without permission - something which would obviously raise suspicion and make the mission even less likely. Another minute passed.

"**611 this is Tech-comm. What is your situation**

"A short in panel 12. Fuse 34CV has blown. Removed it and turned off C37 switch. I think the boys at Ranger can fix this, over" the RIO said.

"**Have you checked safety system 4?"

"As much as I can." the RIO replied

"**We are advising that the mission should be aborted"

Despite the heat of the sun, Victor suddenly felt a chill run through his spine. There was no way he would abort the mission. He'd have to die trying if need be. His RIO was patient though.

"To hell with that Harold! It's just a short. We're not going to lose out on this. Do we really want to piss off the Air Force on this one?"

"**Fred man I understand what you're saying but this is a code 5 breakdown."

"I know Harold, which is why Ranger can handle it after the mission is over."

"**This is a potential Broken Arrow"

Victor could hear his RIO getting hot.

"This is an Air Force mission Harold. It only becomes a Navy mission after I fire the damn thing! What do your procedures manual say about that?"

There was a pause.

"**What do you suggest Fred man?"

"Ranger can handle it when we land. Until then there's nothing to prevent us from starting the mission."

Another Pause

"**Confirm that Fred man. Will advise Ranger. Don't forget your sunglasses. Over"

"Jerk" the RIO breathed "He does come from Iowa so I suppose I'd better forgive his ass"

"**611 this is tower, move to 24R". Clearance had been given. They began to travel back towards the other end of the runway. Victor could see the firemen putting away their gear.

"I suppose you're wondering what that was all about hey Moscow?" said the RIO

"Explain it to me" Victor asked. Obviously they could talk now.

"I couldn't get the cockpit voice controller to malfunction without taking out that fuse. And I couldn't do it while we were flying either. Sorry to botch things up for you. My name's Frederick. You can call me Fred man. All my friends do."

"My name is Victor, you can call me Daedalovich. That's what my friends call me." Victor replied.

"Nice to meet you Dee Man. So. How's Charles. Is he okay?" Fred asked.

Victor felt that he couldn't do anything but tell the truth. Fred was probably the last human being he would know personally.

"I had to kill him"

"Shit man!" Fred replied "Why did you have to do that?"

"I couldn't sedate him in time. We had a fight. He broke one of my fingers. I had to store him in the back toilet."

"Shit. I did this 'cause I was told no one would die man!"

"Things go wrong my friend", Victor replied "It can't be helped"

"Ah well. He was a complete asshole but a good pilot." Fred finally said. Victor could sense the forced nature of the comment. Obviously Charles' death was unsettling for him, not to mention that his killer was sitting a few feet in front of him.

"Does it make you have second thoughts?" Victor asked. They were nearing the end of their taxi

"Huh? No way man. No way. I ain't doing this for your country man, I'm doing it for my own. I guess I wouldn't have believed it had I not looked into a telescope and seen it for myself."

"You could see it in a telescope?"

"Well, I saw a dot. Nothing orbits that low, man. Some astronaut dudes I know were even concerned."

They reached the end of the runway. Time was beginning to run out.

"What I don't understand is why we put it up there in the first place" Fred said

"Probably because of us" Victor replied

"Yeah I know, but man, think of the consequences if someone decides to use it."

"Has it got anything to do with what you were saying about Iran?"

"What? Iran? Oh no man, that was just a rumour I heard. Has nothing to do with anything."

"What was the rumour?"

"Oh, this same astronaut friend of mine - the same guy who took me to the telescope - he told me that the President wants to sell a bunch of F-14s and Phoenix missiles to Iran."

"My people won't like that" Victor replied.

"Yeah well it isn't like anyone cares any more. I mean check out this President of ours man, he wasn't even elected, no one voted for him. How does that work out?"

"My bosses would tell me that it has something to do with the evils of capitalism."

Fred laughed

"Shit man. I keep forgetting. Your accent is pretty cool man."


"How long you been with the KGB?"

"Only 12 months. Before that I was flying in East Germany."

"Flying what?"


"They good?" Fred was genuinely interested. They were talking shop.

"Heavy. Better than the 21s. They were hard to fly in combat."

Fred whistled. "You were in combat?"

"I shot down five over Hanoi. Four F-104s and one F4"

"In a Mig-21?"


"You shot down five US aircraft over Hanoi?"


"Russian pilots shooting down American jets in Vietnam?"


"Shit man. I always thought that was rumour."

"No. We were there all right. Many comrades... friends, were not as lucky, or as good, as I was. Mainly it was a case of American pilots shooting down Russian pilots."

Fred chuckled.

"**611 you are cleared for takeoff**"

"Roger tower" Victor said.

Again he pushed the throttle forward, and the flames spurt out the back of the Tomcat.

This time nothing halted their trajectory down the runway. Victor's time taxiing the Tomcat had perversely given him confidence in handling the plane. Finally the wheels left the tarmac and the Tomcat flew into the sky.

The F-14 was the heaviest plane he had flown. Although he was experienced at flying the swing-wing Mig-23, the Tomcat was a completely different aircraft. He felt he was driving a rocket-powered bus - heavy but fast.

"Man you handled that pretty well." Fred said


"If we make it out alive, you could probably get a job back there. Top Gun instructor maybe."

"I would probably fire real ammunition. Stop you Americans from having good pilots." They laughed

"So you love your country huh?" Fred asked

"That's why I'm doing this Fred. Why are you doing this?"

"'Cause I love my country too."

San Diego was behind them. Their mission called for a flight into Nevada where they would engage a target drone with their experimental AWG-9 Rader. They would then fire the special Phoenix missile at the drone. At that point the USAF mission was complete and they would then make their way out into the North Pacific Ocean where they would land on the USS Ranger. That was the plan. That was not what they were doing.

"What now?" Victor asked. At some point they needed to fake an in-flight incident in order to conceal their real mission.

"Okay, you're familiar with where we're headed I take it?"

"I am heading in the right direction" Victor replied.

"Good. In a while we'll be near the Salton Sea. It's a giant ugly lake you'll see to the south."

"It sounds nice. A lake in the desert."

"The fishing is shit. When we get there I'll tell you to cut the power. You won't have to turn off the engines but you're going to have to force a stall."

"The wings?"

"Keep 'em back. We're pretending that we've had a complete loss of power. If you shift 'em forward they'll be able to tell your trajectory on radar."

"You have good radars then?"

"No, just a good radar operator. I know the guy. He's looking at us right now on his scope back in San Diego. He can tell just by looking man. It's freaky."

"Okay, so I keep the wings back."

"At the same time you do that I'll be sending static over the comm. We won't be able to hear their hails but they'll think something is wrong. They'll hear our static and see our trajectory and go 'Oh Shit'".

"Then what?"

"When you get down to around 2000 feet you can power up. Fly down low to around 300 feet and get rid of the drop tank - preferably on hillside or something."

"I see. They'll think we've crashed and they'll see the smoke from the fire"

"Hey they breed you smart in Moscow don't you?"

"And they breed people smart in the Bronx it seems too"

"Shut up man you got no idea what you're saying!" Fred laughed "I'm from South Central"

"Is that near the Bronx?" Victor asked

"Just shut up and fly the damn plane okay?" Fred responded, laughing. "'Is that near the Bronx?'"

They were cruising at 20,000 feet. Victor could see a small city to his left. Palm Springs if he remembered the map correctly. The Californian landscape below was dry, red and yellow and the occasional irrigated green of fruit groves. In the distance he could see the sun reflecting off a large body of water. The Salton Sea.

"There is nothing like flying over Taiga Fred" Victor said

"What you sayin?"

"Taiga. The Russian Forest. Flying over it gave me more joy than anything. It was cold. It was thick. It was living. It is Russia."

"Well I did fly over Alaska once. Cold place. Even inside the cockpit. Okay... there's a ridge of mountains about 30 clicks north of Salton." Fred said "Are we ready?"


"We can't talk until I cut the static out - our internal comms won't work until you get us down in the weeds." Fred said


"Let's go" Fred said.

A burst of static came through Victor's headphones. It was loud but Fred managed to turn the volume down. At the same time Fred hit the static, Victor pulled the throttle back to what he hoped was a minimum setting - enough to keep the engines spinning but without extinguishing them.

It was as though someone had opened a trapdoor beneath them. The Tomcat shuddered as the engines gave out and immediately pitched forward and downwards. The Tomcat was no longer flying, it was falling.

Victor resisted the urge to swing the wings forward. He remembered what it was like to pilot a Mig-21 with its engine out. The F-14 was different though.

Victor tried to push the plane into a loop, to give the impression that they were trying to corkscrew their way down. But the Tomcat was just too heavy. Eventually he had to force a dive. Victor pushed the stick forward and the Tomcat began a headlong plunge towards the ground. As they got closer he would attempt to pull it up.

Whoever had designed the F-14 had got it right. Victor had experienced free fall many times in often unreliable Soviet Migs, but, even when taking the Tomcat's enormous weight into consideration, he marveled at its aerodynamics as it fell. When a Mig lost power and fell from the sky, it was like a gigantic metal pipe spinning around. The Tomcat was different - it was more like a heavy steel feather.

His kept his eye on the altimeter. 5000 feet. 4000 feet. He flung the Tomcat around as much as he could. He hoped that his thrashing would impress whoever it was that was looking at them on radar.

2000 feet.

Victor swung the wings forward and immediately the Tomcat gained an enormous amount of lift. At the same time he throttled the engines up again. The Tomcat fell a further 1500 feet before he regained control over the desert.

"Shit man. That was impressive"


"Now all you need to do is drop the tank. 2 O'clock. do you see it?"


Victor saw a series of ridges to his right. He dipped the Tomcat's right wing and headed in that direction. As soon as they passed over a ridge, Victor let the drop tank fall.

"Looks Beautiful. Like 4th of July. Smoke everywhere" Fred said.

Victor turned the plane around enough for him to see the smoke and flame of aviation fuel against the ridge line. It looked good but he knew it was probably too small to fool many people for long. He saw houses in the area and knew it was only a matter of time before law enforcement would come out to find out what was going on. Eventually it would make its way back to the Miramar tower and someone would put two and two together. Hopefully, by the time that equation was worked out, their mission would be complete.

Then Victor looked at the clock. They were running a full ten minutes late.

"We're late. We'll have to go supersonic"

"It's up to you, man. But if we do remember they'll find us sooner."

"If we're late we'll have to wait another month for another launch window. It may be too late by then."

"You're the man." said Fred.

Victor pulled the wings back again so that the Tomcat regained its delta-wing shape. Simultaneously he pushed the throttle forward as far as he felt was safe. Heading West, 200 feet off the desert floor, the F-14 went supersonic, causing a loud sonic boom to be heard by anyone in the vicinity as it passed. The noise would make people complain and eventually someone back in Miramar would realise what was going on. It was better than climbing up and getting detected by curious radar operators.

"Are they calling us?"

"Yeah. I shut your headset down 'cause I thought you might want to concentrate on flying."

"Many thanks"

"Dont mention it. I'll keep monitoring them until we get to the waypoint. Obviously then I'll have to concentrate on something else. I'll let you know of any developments."

Victor didn't respond. Flying at a mere 200ft at one point two times the speed of sound required him to use all the skills he had - not to mention luck. Not only did he have to keep an eye out for objects close by, but he also had to look out for hills and mountains approaching in the distance.

After a while the desert disappeared and was replaced by tree-lined ridges. Despite keeping themselves only a few hundred feet off the ground, they were quickly climbing thousands of feet into the sky, following the contours of the San Jacinto Mountains. They plunged down the western side, and Victor changed direction and headed South West.

"Okay they now think we're down. We've been pinged a few times by radars around the state but I don't think they realise we're the same contact"

"You have good radars" Victor said

"No, just a heck of lot of them."


"Well, apart from Miramar, there's also an ANG base at Riverside that will be interested in a supersonic contact flying over the mountains"

Victor was worried. Their mission called for them to essentially fly back towards the very air bases that would send up interceptors to shoot them down - even Miramar, the base they had taken off from. But he also knew that there was no other way.

"Okay Dee man, here's Vista. We'll be over the ocean soon."

A town streaked by a couple of clicks to their left.

"What's your plan Dee man?"

They were still late. They needed to risk more in order for speed.

"If we don't get to the waypoint soon our mission will be in vain."

"Okay, then put her up and push her out"

The Californian coast suddenly appeared and they were now streaking over blue ocean. Victor increased the throttle all the way and climbed up to 15,000 ft. The speed increased to Mach 1.8, the fastest they could go with their missile payload.

"Dee man they still we've crashed near Palm Springs, but we've been hailed by four different radar sites asking who we are."

"I suppose stalling them is out of the question?"

"I don't know what you Russkies do but US pilots do NOT go for joyrides. As soon as I speak to em they'll know who we are and then they'll wonder why we're here. We're still too close to Miramar..."

"And the Ranger is close to the waypoint. Oh well, we'll just have to give it our best shot."

"Well Dee Man, that's why I'm here. Do you want me to start her up?"

"You're the boss" Victor replied.

A few short jabs later and the Tomcat's massive AMG-9 radar came on line. Victor believed that the Tomcat actually slowed up slightly when the radar came online, such was the power required to run it.

"Shit man, they trained me for weeks on this thing. Hang on."

The AWG-9 radar, like the missile, was special, unlike the norm. It was still powerful, but had been geared for a different purpose. A special control unit inside the fuselage was directing different signals down special wires, squelching standard wavelengths and increasing others. The crew at Ranger were supposed to remove the control unit when they landed - but no chance of that now.

"Okay I've got it. Man this things sucks."

"What do you mean?" asked Victor

"I think I've got about half the range. If Ranger or anyone else has sent up someone to get us I won't know about it for a while"

"That's life my friend"

"Yeah whatever. I just hope it does what it's supposed to"

"Time will tell"

"Umm... Dee man I think they're getting unhappy. I'm hearing... hang on"

Fred paused, Victor knew he was listening carefully to something.

"Okay they found Charles. Ranger is being alerted, They know where we are. Shit."

"We have no choice Fred. We have to keep going."

"Man if I'm gonna die for something, I'd rather die for something I succeed in rather than something I failed to do... 'specially when it's my own guys going to shoot me down."

Victor peered out of the cockpit. The North Pacific Ocean spread out all around them.

"You know Fred, I always liked the sea"


"My Father was in the Soviet Navy."

"Well far out."

"He fought at Stalingrad against the Germans."

"Stalingrad ain't in the sea man. I don't know shit about Russia but I do know that cities tend to be on land."

Victor chuckled "They used anyone in those days for the army."

Victor felt safer. He was now confident that they would get to the waypoint before they were intercepted by units from Ranger or Miramar. Their mission could still fail, but at least they had gotten as far as they did.

Victor looked down at his instruments. The waypoint was approaching.

"Nearly there. Are you ready Fred?"

"We got a good time yet?"

Victor looked at the cockpit clock. The object would not be visible to the radar for another minute. He powered back on the throttle and dropped altitude.

"We're early. Believe it or not"

"I thought you were running late. What is this some weird Russian way of thinking?"

Victor couldn't fathom it. Maybe he had simply underestimated the sheer speed of the F-14. They were late when they reached the coast, now they were a minute or so early after having reached the waypoint. Victor shrugged to himself, might as well circle around for a while.

"I'm getting dizzy doing this. I don't want to be dizzy before I die." Fred said after a while.

"Fred... spasibo, thank you"

"For what man?" Fred sounded interested.

"Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to meet the last person in my life. You've made this mission succeed so far... And you amuse me."

"Oh, I amuse you now huh?" Victor could hear the smile on his face "Well we ain't sleeping together after this if that's what you're getting at. IF we survive. And YOU still gotta shoot that thing down or blow it up or whatever. When we going up?"

Victor looked at the clock. 6 seconds to go.


Victor lurched the F-14 directly up into the sky, flying vertical. The throttle was opened as far as it could go and he had engaged the afterburners. The g-forces were crushing him into his seat, but it wasn't anything he hadn't done before.

"You got it yet?" Victor asked over the din.

"I'm looking"

Precious seconds passed. Where was it?

Fred spoke loudly, it was getting hard to hear. "Still not there. We looking in the right place?"

Victor began to get annoyed. Not only were the g-forces slamming him backwards and the roar of the turbofans getting to him, but the Tomcat was bucking around from the wind turbulence from the missiles it carried. They were at Mach 1.5 but were slowing. The whine of the turbines reminded him of his two-stroke Trabant climbing a hill that was too steep.

The Tomcat flew past the 30,000 feet barrier. And they didn't even have a lock yet.

"We're doing it from the wrong direction!" yelled Fred "We need to face south!"

Victor corkscrewed the near vertical plane around so that their belly faced south. They sped past 35,000 feet at Mach 1.3. It was getting harder.

"Still no sign" yelled Fred.

Victor was less annoyed now than worried. He closed his eyes and brought his mind to bear. Suddenly he had it.

Fred flipped the Tomcat over. They were now making a steep inverted climb, their cockpit facing towards the ocean, and the radar pointing back over their heads. Not only were the g-forces forcing him back into his seat, but the inversion also meant he was upside down.

"Got it!" yelled Fred "Computer reckons Mach 8. Targeting now."

In front of them, the special AWG-9 rader, designed to punch through the atmosphere and detect things in orbit, locked onto the object.

"Locked... and away!" yelled Fred

Victor felt a shudder as the Phoenix missile left its moorings and rocketed upwards towards space. He saw the glare of the rocket engine and the trail of exhaust as it broke past Mach 3 on its way up.

Simultaneously, Victor unclipped the dummy missile that had balanced out the payload. The white object flipped backwards and fell towards the ocean. He immediately felt the Tomcat's ride smooth out. The speed increased to Mach 1.4 and 40,000 feet sped by. Things would be easier for a while, but they had to keep the object targeted and locked, which meant that their unusual inverted climb needed to continue.

A shrill beeping sounded throughout the cockpit. Victor didn't have to guess what it was.

"How long do you think?" Victor yelled

"Depends man. They're probably shooting a Phoenix at us right now. 50 clicks away, maybe a few minutes."

"What about ours?"

"Man that thing's flying vertical. Let's hope it gets there."

The incessant beeping continued as the Tomcat made its inverted climb upwards. 45,000 feet now.

"We need to get over on our belly. We have to keep that bitch locked." Fred yelled

Victor corkscrewed again. They were no longer inverted but still nearly vertical.

"Level out more. That thing is going at Mach 8. We're going to lose it!"

Victor leveled the plane out.

"Where we now?" Fred asked.

"50 thousand"

"Okay it's near. I hope you got your visor down. Don't forget, we're going to lose our instruments. Remember to keep your head..."

A blinding light filled the cockpit and Victor was momentarily dazzled. He had never witnessed a nuclear explosion before, but even the knowledge that one was going to happen could not prepare him for the experience.

The Phoenix had detonated at 110,000 feet. Its nuclear warhead was a 210 kiloton weapon that had recently been developed for the Air Force. The missile had been intended for the test that they had abandoned.

The explosion, when he could view it properly through his polarised visor, was an expanding ball of light and flame high up in the atmosphere.

Fred was yelling something behind him. Even though the blast was over 50,000 feet about him he could feel the heat searing into him through his flight suit. Victor inverted the Tomcat over to shield them from the light and heat.

It took a second for him to realise that the engines had stopped and that all his instruments were no longer functioning. He had a further second to think about how he knew this would happen but was interrupted by the shockwave hitting the crippled Tomcat, sending it into a spin. He knew that they were around 55,000 feet when the missile detonated since that was the number the dial was stuck on, the electronics of the plane now useless.

Victor wasn't a technician, but he knew that the stick still worked and that the engine was not run by anything electronic. Theoretically he knew that he could somehow get the engines started again - that's what they had told him back in Moscow anyway.

The F-14 was the most advanced plane that the US had. It was filled with electronic devices. But all of them, including the massive AMG-9 radar, was now smoldering away from the electromagnetic pulse. Yet he could still feel the plane through the stick, and he knew that the throttle was mechanically operated.

He managed to stop the Tomcat spinning, but it was now just a massive glider. Without the engines, they would plow into the ocean. Their mission had hopefully succeeded, now they were trying to escape.

"Hey Dee, you there?" Fred asked

"You got the communications working. How?" Victor asked as he began to prime the engines for restart.

"Backup system. I deliberately turned it off remember?"

"So we're being recorded?"

"Not since the tape device melted. Man what a smell there is."

The cockpit had been filled with an acrid smoke from the burnt electronics. He wondered if the Tomcat itself was aflame from the heat of the blast. He could still feel the radiant heat beating down from above him, like standing near a bonfire. It would be another few minutes before the fire extinguished and the upper jetstream blew the cloud into radioactive mist.

At least they were no longer concerned with being shot down. The other jets sent to intercept him were probably having the same problem. Their radars would have been burnt out, and any guided missiles that they had fired in his direction were probably even now plunging into the ocean, a place they would in soon if he didn't get the engines going again.

"So. What's the plan?"

"Mexico? Why not Cuba?" Victor tried to start the engines.

"Don't think we got the fuel for Cuba. We probably don't have the capacity to lower our landing gear either. That is, if we can get this bird flying again. You get the engines started yet dear?"

The left engine coughed into life again. It was a horrible sound, as if the engine was protesting against its very existence. Victor's Trabant sounded better. The Tomcat levelled out, driven by the smoky thrust of the single engine.

"What's your opinion on the engine?" Victor asked.

"Man that turbine may go. There were some control devices to fine tune the thing. Maybe they gone as well."

The right-hand engine coughed to life. It sounded better. Victor instinctively turned the left one off.

"Good move Dee man. I wouldn't want a turbine blade cutting into me."

They were probably at 10,000 feet, according to Victor's guess. The wings were swept back and could no longer be moved forward. The Tomcat was flying on one engine, heading towards Mexico. Victor's face began to tingle. Sunburn? Radiation? Who knows?

"So, you think we did it?" asked Fred.

"Hard to say. The EMP would've knocked out a few satellites. Why not that one?"

"I think even Ranger may be out. That'll make 'em pissed."

Victor smiled. If Ranger had been hit, then their radars and electronics should be out too.

"Hey Dee, can you speak Spanish?"


"There's a bar I go to in La Paz. I gotta take you to it."

"Just none of your American beer okay? I must have good vodka."

They laughed.


The Montana Air National Guard F-104 crept up unnoticed behind the crippled, smoking Tomcat. Its pilot, knowing that his own electronics were no longer functional, hoped that the Starfighter's cannon still worked. It did, and neither of the occupants of the F-14 were aware of anything as their aircraft shredded apart. The pilot watched as the remains of the Navy jet impacted the water, sinking to the bottom of the North Pacific Ocean.

As the pilot banked and headed towards home, he saw another flash of light in the sky, near the horizon to the north. Not another H-bomb, he hoped. No. It was bright but not blinding. Something was burning up high in the atmosphere a few hundred clicks from his position. Maybe a meteorite or something. Abruptly it went out. With all that had happened to him so far that day, he could be forgiven for not reporting it once he got back to base.

From the Eye of ArgOne Department

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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