The Rise

…of the virtual newsroom:

Here you have two young conservative journalists, O’Keefe and Giles, possessed of a keen philosophical eye, a knowledge of technology (cameras, microphones videotape, the Internet) and a fat and inviting liberal fish in a barrel known as ACORN. Imagination conjured as to how they will approach their story — they go out and conduct their very-old style journalism investigation. Story in hand, Andrew Breitbart of in the Internet division takes the handoff. He sends a virtual memo to talk radio row’s Beck and Hannity. Who in turn are both Fox News stars. Five…four…three…two…one. Bang! Within a virtual instant, the Virtual Newsroom has just blown in the hull of the good ship ACORN, its stunned survivors racing around the deck of a political Titanic as Breitbart, O’Keefe and Giles are powered by the engines of the Virtual Newsroom. The full power of the Virtual Newsroom kicks in. Talk radio shows light up the call screeners screens. The newspaper and magazines kick in, in print and online. The lights are on in the Fox studios as the surging Fox audience gapes at a federally funded organization strategizing on prostitution. And…lights out for ACORN. Or more accurately, considerably damaged and suddenly congressionally unfunded. And the coverage from what’s left of the liberal mainstream media in all this? Next to zero.

… The problem for American progressives today — be they the activists of ACORN, Van Jones, the So We Might See group or others — is that they are unaccustomed to finding themselves on the receiving end of this kind of attention from the journalists, commentators, investigators, talk radio hosts, television stars and authors of the Virtual Newsroom. It is safe to say that whatever else went on in the three stories listed here, the scoundrels at ACORN, Mr. Jones, and the So We Might See-ers were taken aback at the fact they — they! — were suddenly under the Virtual Newsroom microscope for their public activities. Accustomed to velvet-gloved treatment from their progressive buddies in the Old Media, they simply never factored the existence of the Virtual Newsroom into the equation.

Newsflash to progressives. The Virtual News room is here to stay. Not only is it not going away — in spite of whatever shenanigans may be going on behind the closed doors of the FCC — it is gaining in both size and strength.

It may be saving us from the “progressive” drumbeat that has come from the media for decades. You can see why the administration wants to tighten control.

Too Much Gravity?

I got a question via email:

I have often heard of the difficulty of getting mass to orbit. Earth’s atmosphere and gravity are on the edge of being too much for chemical rockets. Unfortunately I have not found any discussions that analyze modified case scenarios such as “What if Earth had a thicker atmosphere?” or “What if the atmosphere was roughly equivalent but the gravity was 10% greater?” Would these be game stoppers for chemical rockets?” If we had evolved on Venus what method would be best for getting to orbit? Ultimately, are we in a sweet spot as far as our planet is concerned, too big to loose the atmosphere but not to big to be stuck?

It’s a misconception that it’s too hard to get off the planet with chemical rockets. Earth’s gravity is bad for single-stage, but as long as you’re willing to stage, it’s not that big a deal. What makes it expensive is the low activity rate, not the intrinsic capabilities of chemical propulsion. Ignoring the fact that it would have been very unlikely that we would have evolved on Venus, the best way might be a hot “air” balloon to the top of the atmosphere, and then take off from there. Designing a propulsion system that would work in that atmosphere would be no fun. Commenters may have other thoughts.

Afghanistan Speech

I still haven’t had time to read it, but Victor Davis Hanson has some thoughts:

Avoiding the V-word. Concluding the war seems to be the theme, as opposed to winning the war. “Breaking the momentum” of the Taliban, unfortunately, is not the same as crushing and humiliating the enemy. “Ending the war successfully” lacks the force of “defeating” the enemy and securing “victory.” Rather than talk for ten minutes in soaring platitudes, we need 20 seconds devoted to the notion that we will win, the Taliban will lose, and Afghanistan will be secured. His emphasis on civilian and political strategies is fine, but those strategies are first predicated on security. If you are surging, then, darn it, tell the American people that we will secure a military victory.

The Democrats remind me of the Simpsons episode where Lisa is Joan of Arc:

“God told you to lead us to what?!”
“Victory? We’re French, we don’t even have a word for victory.”

We have one, but they seem allergic to it. All the Democrats know how to do with wars is “end” them.

[Update a few minutes later]

There is one good thing about the president’s new Afghanistan policy — Joe Biden is opposed to it, so it has that going for it. Also, I’m not a huge Rick Santorum fan, but he has a good question:

Can anyone give an historical example of a war that was won after one of the warring parties announced when it was going to stop fighting?

If so, it was won by the other side.

[Update a few minutes later]

Five questions about Afghanistan.

[Mid-morning update]

Another thought:

If there was any doubt in Tehran that no serious effort would be made to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, that doubt was markedly diminished, if not extinguished, last night. And the gleam of adventurism in Mr. Putin’s eyes shines brighter today as well.

The dog whistle in last night’s speech alerted a few wolves as well.

It may have been too much of a straddle.

[Update a few minutes later]

Counterinsurgency incoherence.

Space Safety

Jeff Foust has some good questions in preparation for today’s hearing:

* What would be the safety implications of terminating the government crew transportation system currently under development in favor of relying on as-yet-to-be-developed commercially provided crew transportation services? What would the government be able to do, if anything, to ensure that no reduction in planned safety levels occurred as a result?
* What do potential commercial crew transportation services providers consider to be an acceptable safety standard to which potential commercial providers must conform if their space transportation systems were to be chosen by NASA to carry its astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS? Would the same safety standard be used for non-NASA commercial human transportation missions?
* If a policy decision were made to require NASA to rely solely on commercial crew transfer services, which would have to meet NASA’s safety requirements to be considered for use by NASA astronauts, what impact would that have on the ability of emerging space companies to pursue innovation and design improvements made possible [as the industry has argued] by the accumulation of flight experience gained from commencing revenue operations unconstrained by a prior safety certification regime? Would it be in the interest of the emerging commercial orbital crew transportation industry to have to be reliant on the government as its primary/sole customer at this stage in its development?

The problem is, of course, that this will not be either an honest or informed discussion, because there are so many rent seekers involved. I was glad to see Patti stand up for commercial industry, though.

More hearing coverage and links over at Clark’s place.

[Update a few minutes later]

You’ll be as shocked as I am to learn that NASA (once again) lied to the Augustine panel and withheld information about Ares/Orion safety. Well, at least they’ve been honest about their costs. And schedule. Right?

I agree with Ray — this is Powerpoint engineering at its finest (which is to say, worst). I’ll be very interested to hear what Joe Fragola has to say about this at the hearing today.

[Mid-morning update]

Well, now we know what Fragola thinks:

Fragola says that Atlas 431 would likely not pass a safety review for crew missions since it uses solid strapon boosters.

OK, so strap-on solid boosters that have never had a failure, on a launcher with a clean record — unsafe. A giant solid first stage that has never served in that solitary role — safe. Got it.

[Update a few minutes later]

Another tweet from Jeff:

Gifford closing out hearing, thanks witnesses for “briliant” testimony. Says she sees no grounds for changing course based on safety.

Well, neither do I. The reasons for changing course is cost and schedule, not safety. In fact, I’d be happy with a system much less “safe” if it actually accomplishes useful things in space, which Ares never will, because it’s unaffordable.

[Update a few minutes later]

A lot more detail from Bobby Block over at the Orlando Sentinel:

Fragola said that the passage quoted by the Sentinel story from the Exploration Systems Architecture Study concluding that it would take at least seven flights (two test flights and five mission flights) before the Ares I and Orion crew capsule could to be deemed to be as safe as the shuttle referred to a more powerful configuration of Ares-Orion that used a liquid oxygen-methane engine and not the simpler lower performance configuration being designed today.

Of course, the very notion that one can know or even properly estimate the safety of a vehicle with so few flights under its belt remains absurd.

[Update late morning]

Clark Lindsey has what looks like a first-hand report.

[Late afternoon update]

NASA Watch has the prepared statements from the hearing.

Thoughts On Software Updates

From Lileks:

If they made Frankenstein movies nowadays, the sequels would be odd: the Monster could not go on a rampage until he’d downloaded the latest firmware. “Improves compatibility with villagers, resolves conflicts with fire.”

Seems like he came with malware preinstalled. At least in the Mel Brooks version. “Abby Normal. I’m almost sure that was the name.

What Is Science?

APS has an explanation for the warm-mongers:

Science is the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the universe and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories.

The success and credibility of science are anchored in the willingness of scientists to:

1. Expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by others. This requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials.
2. Abandon or modify previously accepted conclusions when confronted with more complete or reliable experimental or observational evidence.

Adherence to these principles provides a mechanism for self-correction that is the foundation of the credibility of science.

But, but…it’s settled! We have to save the planet!

We’re All Neocons Now

I haven’t had time to dissect the speech in real time, but I think that’s the headline, even with the attempted slams at the Bush administration. I could say a lot of other things, like his continuing speech quirk about Pahkeestahn, versus Afganistan (as in Laurel). The teleprompter apparently doesn’t do phonics…

But I think that’s the headline.

He seems to have finally learned that it’s a lot harder to govern than campaign.

[Update a few minute later]

Links to more thoughts. I’m sure I’ll have some as well, after seeing the transcript. That’s always the best way to evaluate The One’s speeches. And politicians’ in general, of course…

It’s Really Quite Simple

I think I’ve found the pseudocode for Mann’s temperature charts:

input hockey_stick array
input year_data array
For each year (1000 - 2009) {
   while (year_data_of_year less than hockey_stick_of_year) {
      if (year_data_of_year less than hockey_stick_of_year) {
         year_data_of_year += 0.1 degrees
   plot year_data_of_year

See, nothing to it. Poor Harry wouldn’t have had so much frustration if he’d just stuck with the script.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!