The Political Battleground


After the conservative electorate took legislative control when they handed Congress to the Republicans in 1994 to break the single-party rule of Bill Clinton’s election to the Presidency, the conservative ideology began to stagnate, and the promises of the Contract With America — the prime motivation of grassroots conservatives — quickly began to lose importance among Republicans, who were taking great delight in the comforts of their new prestige. Once George W. Bush was in the White House, and a comfortable gridlock of ideology existed within the Supreme Court, all three branches of government fell under control Republican ideology, and the aggregate conservative movement grew dangerously complacent. To Sun Tzu’s line of thinking, conservatives were on dispersive ground.

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I Would Have Trouble Being Collegial

I’m getting tired of hearing all these Senators from both parties talking about what a great guy, what a charmer Ted Kennedy was. I don’t think I’d be able to be that friendly with someone who, regardless of his politics, essentially murdered a young woman with whom he had probably been philandering, got away with it, and joked about it. You know, there was another Ted who everyone thought was charming, too. His last name was Bundy.

[Late Sunday afternoon update]

Mark Steyn has some related thoughts:

You can’t make an omelette without breaking chicks, right? I don’t know how many lives the senator changed — he certainly changed Mary Jo’s — but you’re struck less by the precise arithmetic than by the basic equation: How many changed lives justify leaving a human being struggling for breath for up to five hours pressed up against the window in a small, shrinking air pocket in Teddy’s Oldsmobile? If the senator had managed to change the lives of even more Americans, would it have been okay to leave a couple more broads down there? Hey, why not? At the Huffington Post, Melissa Lafsky mused on what Mary Jo “would have thought about arguably being a catalyst for the most successful Senate career in history . . . Who knows — maybe she’d feel it was worth it.” What true-believing liberal lass wouldn’t be honored to be dispatched by that death panel?

We are all flawed, and most of us are weak, and in hellish moments, at a split-second’s notice, confronting the choice that will define us ever after, many of us will fail the test. Perhaps Mary Jo could have been saved; perhaps she would have died anyway. What is true is that Edward Kennedy made her death a certainty. When a man (if you’ll forgive the expression) confronts the truth of what he has done, what does honor require? Six years before Chappaquiddick, in the wake of Britain’s comparatively very minor “Profumo scandal,” the eponymous John Profumo, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for War, resigned from the House of Commons and the Queen’s Privy Council, and disappeared amid the tenements of the East End to do good works washing dishes and helping with children’s playgroups, in anonymity, for the last 40 years of his life. With the exception of one newspaper article to mark the centenary of his charitable mission, he never uttered another word in public again.

Ted Kennedy went a different route. He got kitted out with a neck brace and went on TV and announced the invention of the “Kennedy curse,” a concept that yoked him to his murdered brothers as a fellow victim — and not, as Mary Jo perhaps realized in those final hours, the perpetrator. He dared us to call his bluff, and, when we didn’t, he made all of us complicit in what he’d done. We are all prey to human frailty, but few of us get to inflict ours on an entire nation.

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Hollywood Comes To Flint

Amid all the bad news, here’s one bright spot for my home town:

Don’t rub the stars from your eyes: you really might see award-winning actor Brian Dennehy chatting up fellow star Fred Thompson at Gillie’s Coney Island in Genesee Township or Blackstone’s in downtown Flint.

The pair have signed on to two of the leading roles in “Alleged,” a new movie on the historic Scopes Monkey Trial being shot at Crossroads Village starting Sept. 14…

…The film’s $4.1-million budget might be small by Hollywood standards, but nearly a quarter of it will go directly into the pockets of businesses right here in Flint and southeast Michigan in less than eight weeks’ time — and that’s just for the most obvious, basic expenses.

It would be nice if this sets a trend, but I wouldn’t bet on it. But the town definitely has to diversify out of autos.

I’m With Them

57% of the voters want to throw the rascals out:

While Democrats have become more supportive of the legislators, voters not affiliated with either major party have moved in the opposite direction. Today, 70% of those not affiliated with either major party would vote to replace all of the elected politicians in the House and Senate. That’s up from 62% last year.

Republicans, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly support replacing everyone in the Congress. Their views have not changed. But Republican voters are disenchanted with their team as much as the Congress itself: 69% of GOP Voters say Republicans in Congress are out of touch with the party base.

There’s really just one political party — the big-government party.

A Random Thought

I wonder if the president chose his vacation location because he anticipated, or had been told that it was a strong possibility, that Senator Kennedy might die during this period. It certainly made his life much easier than if he had had to disrupt it to fly across the country to deliver his eulogy.

Not criticizing, just wondering. The thought struck me because I was just hearing Chris Wallace saying that he was returning to his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

Short Dynetics

Steve Cook has made his departure official.

Rocketman called this a few days ago, and as I said in comments on another post, Dynetics‘ loss is Marshall’s gain. Guess he’ll have to be “the next von Braun” in the private sector (to the degree that a government cost-plus contractor is the private sector).

[Late morning update]

Man, the comments over at NASA Watch are brutal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

[Early afternoon update]

Sorry, but you can’t take my investment advice in the post title. I guess it’s not publicly traded. Though if you’re a shareholder/employee, you could look for greener pastures, I guess.

[Update a few minutes later]

I think that this is the most definitive evidence so far that Ares is dead. What (if anything) will replace it is unknown, but I for one do not mourn it. I only mourn the lost years and billions that were wasted on it.

[Saturday afternoon update]

You know, if I were working Ares, my morale would be at rock bottom right now, and it wouldn’t be helped by either Cook’s memo, or Jeff Hanley’s. Notice that in Cook’s memo, here’s all he says about why he’s leaving now:

I have been honored and privileged to work with the best-of-the-best in the aerospace industry over the past 19 years. NASA has graciously allowed me to pursue dreams of exploration that I have had since my passion was ignited watching Apollo 17 land on the moon. That said, my professional goal has long been to spend the first half of my career in public service and the later half in the private sector. On September 14, I will begin phase 2 of my career, as Director of Space Technologies at Dynetics in Huntsville, AL. I look forward to helping the Dynetics team take on the challenges associated with space flight.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a significant double-dip pension benefit if he’d made it to twenty years? Why leave now? Even assuming that he’s being honest about his “professional goal,” why not stick it out for a few more months?

It seems pretty obvious to me he’s reading the writing on the wall, and getting out while the getting is good, being the second rat down the lines (after Horowitz). And then we have Hanley:

To those who wish to ‘read something into’ Steve’s departure, I say this… The substance of Ares is dependent on no specific individual. It is what the integrated team HAS accomplished and WILL accomplish that matters. And it is in your hands – it remains true that the very BEST expression of the true heart of the Ares team will be the fortitude required to honor Steve’s contribution and excel beyond it.

He must think they’re stupid. This is a complete non-sequitur. Those who are “reading something into” Steve’s departure aren’t reading into it that the program isn’t going to be able to succeed without him. If they’re smart, they’re reading into it the same thing that I am — that the program is in its death throes, with or without him, and he didn’t want to be around when it happened. This was a completely pointless paragraph.

I would have had much more respect for him if he’d just thanked Cook for his service, and left it at that, or even said something like “I understand that many of you are justly concerned with the future of the program. We all understand that there may be changes coming soon, perhaps major, over which we no longer have any control. Whatever happens, you can all take pride in the work that you’ve done to make this program a success, and we will strive to ensure that your hard and excellent work is recognized in future activities, whatever they may be.” But that would be too honest for NASA management.


Cost Estimates

I agree with Bob Zubrin that the numbers coming out of Aerospace on development costs are highly suspect:

Following retirement of the Shuttle, Aerospace’s cost estimates have ground operations cost triple to $900 million by 2012, and then continue to rise to $1.8 billion by 2022. This sixfold rise in ground operations cost would be difficult to explain in any case, but in the absurdity of this instance is outstanding since during the entire ten year 2012-2022 period in question, there are NO heavy lift flights at all for the ground operations to support. In other words, the Aerospace Corp’s estimates have NASA’s ground operations costs rising sixfold over Shuttle flight support requirements, spending $15 billion over ten years, in order to launch nothing.

Rather than basing their projections on actual grounded estimates of development costs for different types of hardware, what the Aerospace Corporation appears to have done is to regard each program element as an “activity” which each need to be funded continuously at multi-billion levels per year. The program is then arranged so that no flights beyond LEO can take place before around 2023. So, with a budget of about $3 billion per year (equivalent to 30,000 employees on payroll) the Ares 5 development program is allowed to run for 12 years, bringing development costs to the spectacular $36 billion level. Why, in this day an age, a launch vehicle development program needs to run 12 years (or require 30,000 people) is left unexplained. In contrast, the Saturn V development, done at a time when much more still needed to be learned about launch systems, took only 4 years to complete (Contract awarded in 1962, first flight in 1966.) Summing up all such activities the net result is a program which costs $14 to $20 billion per year (140,000 to 200,000 employees) and which does nothing at all for a decade.

I disagree with this, though:

Americans want and deserve a space program that is actually going somewhere. In order for that to happen, a radically different methodology to that being accepted by Augustine Committee needs to be employed. Rather, a real goal, worthy of spending serious money on, if necessary, needs to be selected. That goal can only be humans to Mars. Then a minimum cost, minimum complexity, and, critically, fastest schedule plan needs to be selected to achieve that goal. In order to minimize schedule and cost, such a plan should avoid advanced propulsion, on-orbit assembly, or other futuristic ideas, and instead get the job done in the manner of the Mars Direct and Semi-Direct missions by employing a strategy of direct transportation to Mars of required payloads using an upper stage mounted on the heavy lift launcher.

I don’t agree that the goal “can only be humans on Mars,” at least as the focus for the program, though it may be a useful long-term ultimate one, as the Augustine panel has stated. And the notion that on-orbit assembly is a “futuristic technology” is quite amusing, seeing that we’ve been doing it with ISS for over a decade.

[Update late afternoon]

There are a lot of good comments by “Red” over at Space Transport News. Also, I would add that while I consider the numbers suspect, this isn’t meant to be a criticism of Aerospace or its methodology so much as the NASA inputs and assumptions.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!