They Didn’t All Know They Were Islamakazis

According to reports, the latest bin Laden tape indicates that not all of the hijackers understood the mission (or perhaps they were too dim to understand that driving their airplane into a skyscraper would kill them, too). What this indicates is that bin Laden couldn’t come up with the dozens of suicidal people necessary to carry out the attacks on September 11. He had to convince most of them that they were hijacking the plane for some other purpose, and only the pilots themselves knew the true mission.

If true, this gives me a little solace. It also lowers my opinion of bin Laden even further, a feat I would heretofore have thought impossible. He didn’t even care about his own people. One wonders whether this will have any effect on future recruiting, assuming he survives his current “Where’s Waldo” escapades.

I have always been somewhat sanguine about our prospects for being damaged by terrorists, because of the thought that the combination of both evil intent and competence to carry it out is rare. There is a large supply of people willing to kill themselves or others for (fill-in-the-blank), particularly in Arabia, but the intersection of that set with people who can fly airplanes, set ordnance, design bombs, breed smallpox, etc., is small. This will hopefully remain true as truly terrifying technology comes along in the future.

Walker Treason

Dale Amon writes at Samizdata:

We don’t know what he actually did so how can we decide his fate from in front of our comfortable computer screens? For all we know he could have been dragged along by events and lain cowering in the basement wondering at his own idiocy. Or perhaps he went to fight with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance never imagining he could end up fighting his own country. After all, on September 10th how many of us would have considered US forces in Afghanistan as even the remotest possibility? If that were the case he is a soldier of fortune who got caught up in the wrong war at the wrong time. A few years in prison and a slap on the wrist would suffice.

The problem with this is the statement “for all we know.” Unfortunately for Mr. “Marinhadeen,” we know a good deal more. He continued to display his idiocy after being pulled from the flooded basement. We know that when asked if he supported the twin towers bombing, after much prodding and avoidance, he finally answered “Yes.” How does that square with the theory that he just got caught up with the wrong crowd, and never imagined that he’d be taking up arms against his countrymen?

While we still have a first amendment, in times like these words like, “I support the attack on the WTC” have consequences. Certainly they could be grounds for, at a minimum, deportation of someone not in the country legally. It’s not clear exactly where the line lies between simple opposition to US policies and sedition, but when someone is found, armed, among people who have been shooting at American troops, and he offers such words, he is so far across it that he can’t even see it from there.

I don’t think that in this case hanging him as an example is all that useful–there are very few other loonytoons like him to deter, but I would like to see him do some hard time, and be given opportunities to use it to undo his (non)education in Marin County, and learn how to think, and distinguish good ideas (freedom, etc.) from bad (flying planeloads of innocents into buildings full of innocents).

Meet The New Boss (Hopefully Not) The Same As The Old Boss

Sean O’Keefe, Bush’s pick for NASA Administrator, was grilled by the Senate in a confirmation hearing on Friday. It’s nice to see that they moved so quickly to confirm him–I was afraid that it might take months. Fortunately, particularly in the current climate, NASA isn’t important enough to play political football with. (This is a thought to keep in mind in the future if O’Keefe comes up with some proposals that would have been politically unthinkable in the past…)

Little new here, just the usual suspects lobbying to maintain jobs in their states while pretending that they actually give a damn about our future in space. Trent Lott was worried about Stennis, Kay Bailey Hutchison was worried about JSC. I didn’t hear from Richard Shelby, but presumably he will go to bat for Marshall.

Nelson, who was the only senator left at the end of the three-hour plus hearing, used much of his allotted time to lecture O’Keefe on the importance of the space shuttle. He advised O’Keefe against following through on the task force recommendation to limit shuttle flights to a rate of four per year. Such a cut would result in major layoffs, he said, and jeopardize NASA’s ability to fly the shuttle safely.

Bill Nelson (D-FL) should be called the “Senator from Shuttle.” He flew in it on a junket as a congressman (the flight before the Challenger disaster), and he’s obviously trying to maintain the jobs base in Cocoa Beach and Titusville. However, in this case, I agree with him. Cutting Shuttle flight rate to save money is a false economy. They need to either fly it at capacity, or shut it down (we know which option Bill Nelson prefers). But going from six flights to four per year would only save about ten percent of the budget, while reducing the number of flights by a third. Hopefully Mr. O’Keefe will understand the basic concepts of average and marginal costs, and act accordingly.

Mr. Nelson has also criticized the Space Launch Initiative, which he says comes at the cost of Shuttle improvements. Here he is totally off base. I’m not a big fan of SLI (a Marshall program to develop new launch technologies, ostensibly to reduce the cost of launch), but Shuttle improvements are an even bigger waste of money–throwing good money after extremely bad. Shuttle is so far away from routine and affordable space transportation that any money spent in “improving” it would be far better spent on something completely new, not that I advocate that NASA do either.

What I’d like to see is for NASA to put up the billions of dollars a year proposed for these programs and simply offer to purchase flights with them from the private sector. This would create a market, the lack of which is what is really keeping costs high–not the lack of technology.

But that won’t produce jobs in Houston, Huntsville and Florida…

Oklahoma is OK

Interesting piece at Space.com about the Oklahoma space activities. That’s right, Oklahoma.

I’ve actually been following this for a few years, but never paid much attention to it because they looked like just another state that had been taken in by Lockheed Martin’s lies about commercial Venture Star, and hopes of getting lucrative federal incentives and funding. But now that X-33/Venturestar is dead, they actually seem to be the first state to take the entrepreneurial space community seriously, and are using state funds and incentives to actually encourage innovation. It’s an interesting article, with a different take on the future of space than you’ll get from the usual suspects.

[Update]

Spoke too soon. Another Space.com article by my friend Leonard David indicates that the Air Force may want to keep their X-33 options open by storing the parts up at Edwards. I’m not sure this means anything as far as future plans–it doesn’t cost that much to store it, and there may be some minimal value in keeping the parts around, even if (or expecially if) the program doesn’t actually get resurrected.

My preference–rather than cutting it up for scrap, it should be preserved in its current configuration as a billion-dollar monument to lousy management, technological hubris, gullibility, and flawed vision of government bureaucrats.

Multiculturalism and Lobster

Readers and fellow bloggers should note that I didn’t describe our diving excursion and grilled crustacean dinner yesterday (only) to make them jealous–I did manage to get in a little paen to globalization at the end. Anyway, just consider it a little travel writing–you get to enjoy the experience vicariously (right…).

But it does also provide another point of departure for a subject that has always fascinated me–differing food tastes among different cultures. North Americans have been eating lobster and crab since, well forever, including the European settlers. Lobstering was one of the earliest industries in New England among the English colonists. But think about it–these are basically just big bugs. (In fact, in southern California, that’s the nickname that lobster divers use for them–they go out off Palos Verdes or out to the channel islands with a “bug bag.”)

Yet, if we find arthropods on land, we will exterminate them, or ignore them, but we will not consider eating them–the thought turns most American stomachs, including mine. Yet just one country to the south, fried ants, roaches and termites are considered a crunchy delicacy in Mexico.

So what is it about crustaceans that makes them palatable to North Americans at the same time that we are disgusted by land-dwelling arthropods? That they come from the water–why would that make a difference? That they’re big enough that the yummy meat can be easily separated from the yucky bits? That we’re close minded about food (I find the latter an unlikely explanation in a culture that will drink crappucino coffee from beans processed by monkey intestines).

I profess to have no answers, but I’d be interested in any explanations from readers.

Got War?

Apparently, we don’t need it, or at least not a formal declaration of it, to try our enlightened Mariner (as in from Marin County) for treason, at least if Mark Levin’s analysis is correct.

On his reading of the Constitution (which makes sense to me):

The issue, therefore, is not whether the U.S. has declared war, but whether Walker has waged war against the U.S., or whether he has given aid and comfort to the enemy.

The whole analysis is worth a read.

[Update]

I just want to add that I have little to add in the blogger pile on of Mr. Walker. They’ve already beaten me to all the worthwhile things to say, and James Lileks’ latest rant should be the last word. Of course, it won’t be, because the so-called professional pundits will continue to say mind-bogglingly stupid things about it.

The Two-Edged Sword Of Racial Demagoguery

Apparently, Democratic race baiting caused blowback in a South Carolina state senate race. In their usual bid to boost black turnout, the Dems ran one of their typical odious ads about how Republicans want to keep blacks ignorant and segregated. The Republican campaign decided to buy ad time for the same ad in media with white demographics. While the ad had its intended affect of getting out the black vote, it also energized whites who resented the tactic and the accusations of being racists. The result was a win for the Republican candidate. I hope that this bodes well for the future, either because such ads will become counterproductive, or better yet, will cease to be produced.

A Return To Serious Government

Steve Chapman has a nice piece in this morning’s Trib on how the war has returned the federal government to seriousness. I do disagree with one statement, however:

The signature moment of his [Clinton’s] administration may have been when, in a major speech on education, he solemnly advised parents to start singing to their infants–and “immediately,” in case anyone doubted his resolve. A lot of adjectives were used to describe the Clinton presidency, but “imperial” was not one of them.

Well, actually, it was by many. If nothing else, like many emperors, he considered himself to be above the law and the Constitution, and he considered the Secret Service to be part of his Praetorian Guard (along with all of the handlers, hangers on and cabinet officials who he blithely sent out to lie for him).

Of course, Caligula beat Bill, in that he managed to put his entire horse in the Senate, instead of just its nether regions…

What’s In A Name?

In one more riff on the space tourist theme, Jay Zilber notes:

A SPLENDID DICKENSIAN NAME: Mark Shuttleworth, 27, is set to become the second “space tourist” to fly to the station, arriving in a Russian Soyuz rocket next April.

Yes, but the really ironic thing is that he’s not allowed to go on the Shuttle.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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