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April 30, 2002

National Pro-Space Radio?

The piece about space tourism on ATC that Instantman mentioned earlier is available on the web.

It was a pleasant surprise. They had some good quotes from Jeff Greason, the President of XCOR. They also mentioned the Space Access meeting in Phoenix this past weekend, a report on which I've still to write up. The only down note came from (I'm shocked, shocked) a NASA employee.

Roughly paraphrasing: "Space is just so hard, and so expensive, and so dangerous. Maybe someday, everyday people will be able to go, but that day's a long way off, and in the meantime, we'll take care of things for you, by sending a few of our elite astronauts up there for no obvious purpose, at a cost of billions of dollars per year, which you can enjoy vicariously, kinda like going down to the video store and renting sex flicks. After all, if just anyone could go, and it didn't cost all that much, how would we justify our continuing existence?"

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:12 PM
Peaceful Religion Watch

I didn't see the original story, but according to these letters to the editor of Dawn, a woman was recently stoned to death in Pakistan for the crime of being raped. The two rapists walked, natch...

Do you think it's possible that the UN could take a break from investigating imaginary war crimes in Israel to look into gender oppression and apartheid in the Islamic world?

No, me either...

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:23 PM
More Ammo For Bill Simon

Just in case there was any doubt in your mind about what a corrupt scumbag Gray Davis is, check out this story in the SacBee. It's got everything--campaign donations, money-losing state contracts, political token appointments, Larry Ellison, and of course, good ol' Grayout himself.

If this is covered adequately, even Le Pen should be able to beat Davis this fall. Unfortunately, Davis has put the fox in charge of the investigatory henhouse.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:33 AM
They Never Learn

From SpaceRef:

NASA and aerospace industry representatives will announce results of the Space Launch Initiative's first milestone review, which narrowed the field of potential technologies and architecture designs for our nation's next reusable launch vehicle. NASA's Space Launch Initiative is designing the next-generation space transportation system by first developing the technologies needed to ensure a safer, more reliable system that can be operated at a much lower cost.

If I could spare any, I'd be pulling my hair. I hope that this is just inertia, and it's something that O'Keefe will fix when he's got the ISS budget situation under control.

There should not be a "nation's next reusable launch vehicle." That was (in Hayek's words) the fatal conceit of both the Shuttle and of the ill-fated X-33 program. NASA has to get out of the vehicle development business, and simply put incentives into place for private industry to develop new vehicles. If NASA is in charge, it will be doomed to failure, and if there is a single vehicle, it will be another Shuttle-like disaster from a cost standpoint, because it will once again be one-size-fits all, excelling at nothing.

We don't need a new launch vehicle. We need a new launch industry. And the Space Launch Initiative, in anything resembling its current incarnation, should be strangled in the cradle.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:47 AM
Asteroidal Incentives

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), chairman of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, has introduced a bill offering prizes for amateur asteroid sightings. It's done in honor of astronaut Pete Conrad (who was also a space entrepreneur, having founded Universal Space Lines, though the article doesn't mention it).

I was confused about the prize, however:

The first category is an award for the amateur astronomer who discovers the largest asteroid crossing in near-Earth orbit...

How will they know when someone has won? There's no way to tell that a larger one isn't out there somewhere still awaiting discovery. There would have to be some kind of time limit on it (say, an annual award for the largest object found in a calendar year) for this to make any sense.

What I really like about this is that it sets a precedent for government-sponsored prizes, which could have a much larger impact on improving access to space than any number of NASA's technology programs, if properly deployed.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:31 AM

April 29, 2002

Nose Artists Rule

Here's a nice link for anyone who wants to check out some of the latest noseart in this war.

For contrast and comparison, here's a link for the equivalent from WW II.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:09 PM
Well, That Didn't Take Long

Arafat is already reneging on his agreement to turn over all the prisoners to U.S. custody.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:52 PM
The Cancer Continues

Thomas Hawthorne has been heavily engaged in the fray over in the comments section of the last post on this subject, and seems to be at least attempting to argue issues (though not very well), so I'll do him the courtesy of addressing his arguments, such as they are. I'm spending a lot of time on this, and dealt with it in my Fox column last week, because I think that it's a very important topic.

I should note that there is no ability for people to edit their posts in the comment section, and Thomas noted in a follow-up that there were many grammatical and spelling errors in the following. It is duly noted, and no more will be said on the subject--I'm more interested in the substance. The only time I comment on others' writing style is when it's in a post criticizing my writing...

WOW!!! What a reaction!! Thank you for proving my point that you guys would rather call names like children than debate.

Note that this is from the same person who variously accused me and others of being, among other things, "extreme militia types," "conservatives," and (horror of horrors!) "Republicans," with zero evidence.

For the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been, any of those things. I wish people could develop a more sophisticated sense of political ideologies than simply left-right.

"Marxist scum?" I have to remember that one. First Barb, I never said you were Hilter. The reason why I used that because YOU said exploitation was not bad....but it is. How could you not believe that?

It is not, unless you're using some narrow definition of it that makes it so by that definition.

When I look up the word "exploit" (verb form) on dictionary.com, the first definition is: "To employ to the greatest possible advantage: exploit one's talents." Only the second definition deals with unethical or selfish behavior. Now perhaps Mr. Hawthorne believes that it is bad to get the most out of one's ability, but I hope not. For instance, when I stick a solar panel on my roof, and power up my granola oven with it, I'm exploiting the energy of the sun. I would presume that he doesn't find that unethical or evil. We are simply proposing to do the same thing in space.

I am ALL for human advance. But how can colonize another planet when we can even take care of this one? Anyone pleae explain this logic.

Yes. You see, in logic, we have these things called premises. We also have things called a syllogism. Your argument is broken on both counts. Your premise ("we cannot take care of this one") is false. We are quite capable of doing so, and in fact aren't doing all that bad a job of it. Go read Lomborg for more details.

But even if, just for entertainment and the sake of the argument, we granted your premise, your conclusion would still not necessarily follow. You're missing another premise in order to make it a valid argument, to wit: an inability to properly steward one planet necessarily implies an inability to do so on all planets. There's no reason to suppose that this is so.

For instance, this might be an extraordinarily difficult and complex planet to manage, and others might be easier. Or since we're starting clean on the new planet, we have ample time to learn how to manage things before they get out of control, particularly considering all of the lessons learned from this one.

And actually, there's a third unspoken premise--that we are going to settle only on planets. Many people believe that it makes more sense to simply build floating cities out of debris in the solar system (asteroids, comets, etc.) What would be unethical about that? How could we be said to screw up something that hadn't even existed until we constructed it? Unless, of course, you believe that asteroids and other space rocks have rights...

Second Rand, you give me planet that can support HUMAN life....Mars? When you get there go ahead a take you helmet of and breathe in that wonderful air.

You don't seem to have understood my point. There are many places on earth that we cannot survive without technology (e.g., extremely high latitudes). An unsheltered human being will die in short order in a settlement on the Bering Sea. Yet people (e.g., the Inuit) have been living there for centuries, perhaps millennia.

Why? Because they employ technology. We can do the same thing on Mars, or even in free space. And eventually, we could even terraform Mars so that we could come out of the domes, and take off our helmets. I simply fail to see the relevance of the ability of a naked human animal to live in an environment to the ethical considerations of moving there.

Unless, that is, you believe that the Inuit should pack up and leave as well, and go and sin no more. If so, please explain why.

Third J. Walsilesky, it's our right because WE say so? Who are we? What makes us great enough that we have absolutely no restraint and clarity to blindly go and do whatever we want.

Who else will decide?

Seriously, if not us, who? We are the people who will go. If you believe in human freedom, that is sufficient. But perhaps you don't believe in things like that.

Fourth David, who in the world said anything about religious beliefs? That has absolutely nothing to do with this discussion! I am talking about ethics, I don't know what you talking about.

Not to speak for him, but I assume that he means that, since many of your statements lack logic and facts, that your beliefs must be based on some sort of religious faith. This doesn't mean necessarily in the sense of Christianity, etc.--it's more likely some form of paganism, and worship of inanimate objects (such as rocks on Mars), even if you don't explicitly recognize it as such.

And here lies my whole arguement. There's a great line in Jurrasic Park by Jeff Glodbum that goes something like, "they were so caught up with if they could, that they didn't think about if they should."

We have thought about it. Or at least I have. We believe that we not only can, but should.

My arguement is that since the beginning of time man has evolved in extraordinary ways. We've built huge cities, created technology that puts one person from one side of the world in direct contact with another person on the other side. BUT what about the the negative things human have done? There is more pollution in the world then there have ever been.

That's not really true, at least in all cases. For instance, the air in American cities (particularly Los Angeles) is much better than it was forty years ago. London had much more of a pollution problem in the nineteenth century than it does now.

And actually, much of it is being reduced. It will continue to do so as nations grow wealthier and can afford to do more cleanup, and as technologies increase efficiency and allow us new techniques for environmental amelioration.

Not only have we created the atomic bomb, but it has been used. The quest for the best technology created and arms race between countries that can destroy each other 100 times over with a click of a button. My point is that when people make mistakes, then tend to learn from them so they can make better decisions next time around.

Ignoring the hyperbole (no nation has that capability), I don't think that anyone here would disagree.

We have a chance to expand the human race beyond this planet which is very awesome to think about, and I am very much for it. But RIGHT NOW we live on this planet and we are doing everything in our power to destroy it.

Nonsense. If we wanted to do everything in our power to destroy it, we could do much worse. In fact, as already noted, we are actually improving things in many ways, and will continue to do so as the technology advances, as we overthrow hierarchies in the third world that keep their people in poverty, and as the world population starts to decline in the next few decades, it will improve even more.

Eventually, as we develop the capability to move out into space, and move people off the earth, it can become a large nature park and vacation location, which is the use for which it's ultimately best suited, in my opinion.

This ought to be a goal that all environmentalists can get behind. I wonder why they don't?

Not just be pollution but by wars, and extreme globalization.

"Extreme globalization"? What's wrong with globalization? It's the only means by which the world's poor will climb out of poverty.

How can we have the ego to think that we can go to another planet and blindly believe that it won't happen again?

No one said that we would. It (whatever "it" is that's bad) could happen again, but we will do our best to prevent it. But the fact that we can't guarantee that it won't happen is no reason not to attempt it. Because if we fail to go, it is a certainty that most of the known universe will remain barren of life, and that would be a tragedy in itself.

You guys choose to focus to good on the good mankind has done which is fine. BUT you also choose to disregard the negative things that mankind has done which is very dangerous.

We are not disregarding that. However, unlike you, we have faith in humanity.

Before you go into any venture, gain some wisdom.

Physician, heal thyself.

Now let me kind of wrap this up, because I have to move on to other topics. My opponents' position seems to be that I am hell bent on going out and pillaging the universe, without regard to ethics or morality, or thought. This is utter nonsense, and a strawman argument.

My only argument is that we are capable of settling the solar system, that there is, as far as we know, nothing to "destroy" or "ravage" out there, but that if we find it, we will use sensitivity developed over the past few centuries, and lessons from our earthly development, to preserve it to the best of our ability. But even if we fail, and we do have the occasional mishap, the net gain will still be positive, because we will be bringing life to places where there currently is none.

My argument is not with people who think that we should "be careful out there." I agree. My argument is with people who think that I am incapable of doing so, and that I and mine must therefore be quarantined to one tiny planet, in a vast lifeless universe.

As a poster on sci.space.policy. put it, "People who cannot tell the difference between malignant cancerous growth and the sudden growth spurt of an awkward teenager are very, very scary."

Indeed.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:09 PM
More Competence From The Feds

A US Air flight was turned around after it was discovered that several men of middle-eastern descent had purchased one-way tickets with cash. No mention of why this wasn't discovered prior to allowing them to board.

I am just so glad that we have those competent federal employees running the passenger-screening system...

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:48 AM
Faux Pas

One of the definitions of "faux pas" is when a politician accidentally tells the truth.

Along those lines is this statement by Congressman Ron Paul.

I don't know for sure that it's legitimate, but I have no reason to think not, given other things that he's said in the past. Without getting into the details of what he said (you can go read it yourself if this post piques your curiousity), I want to reiterate one metapoint.

The other day, I made a huge "gaffe" on national TV: I told the truth about the crimes of the U.S. government. As you can imagine, the ceiling fell in, and a couple of walls too. Congressman are supposed to support the government, I was told. Oh, it's okay to criticize around the edges, but there are certain subjects a member of the House of Representatives is not supposed to bring up. But I touched the real "third-rail" of American politics, and the sparks sure flew.

A congressman has no duty to support "the government," at least if that means supporting every action that every government employee takes, or even supporting every law or agency that has been created by an out-of-control Congress. A congressman's (and President's) duty, and oath, is to support the Constitution. While I disagree with Congressman Paul on a variety of issues (though I'm sure nowhere near as many as most people do), he is one of the few people in Congress who gets that significant difference.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:01 AM

April 28, 2002

I'll Have To Take A Rain Check

Soon-to-be-ex-Congressman Condit certainly seems to be allergic to testifying under oath.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:35 PM
A Small Policy Window

Here's an interesting discussion among policy makers of current issues with NASA. What I found interesting (and disappointing, as always, is that there was almost no discussion whatsoever of what we're trying to accomplish, or why NASA even exists. Again, there are a lot of unspoken assumptions in all of the conversation, and it's not clear that they're shared.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:18 PM
Idiotarians On Space

I found the transcript from Crossfire on Thursday night, about space tourism.

This is the reason that I write this blog (and maybe will have to sit down and write a book, if anyone would read it). It's always embarrassing to me to watch (or read) things like this. The amount of ignorance displayed in this short transcript, particularly by the media pundits, is amazing, and all four participants are arguing from wildly different assumption bases, but there's not necessarily any way to tell that for most people.

Programs like this may be entertaining to some, but they are the opposite of informative.

It's clear that Carville is as ignorant of space (in fact probably more, since he clearly has no interest in it), as he is of almost all other subjects, other than demogoguery to elect Democrats. Carlson is slightless less clueless, but not much.

Bob Park is a physicist. He has no interest in space himself, other than as an environment to be studied scientifically, and he's incapable of imagining that anyone else might have an interest in it other than that. He hates the space station, and manned space in general, because he perceives them as a collossal waste of money that could be spent on his pet projects (and in this sense he differs in no significant way from any other pleader for the public purse--the fact that he's a physicist, rather than a farmer seeking crop subsidies, or the head of Amtrak, should grant him no special respect on this subject). The reality is that if we weren't spending it on station and Shuttle, NASA still wouldn't be spending it on the space science so near and dear to Professor Parks' heart--it would just come out of NASA's budget entirely and go back to the general federal pot.

Professor Parks doesn't understand that space science cannot justify the money spent on it, in the mind of the public and their representatives in Congress. It gets the few crumbs that it does only because it looks cheap in comparison to the billions that are spent on the manned space program, which has absolutely nothing to do with science. And because he does not, and will not, understand that, he comes off looking like an aloof fool, who hates for people to have a good time, even with their own money.

And his math is wrong as well. The Shuttle budget is not four billion per year, and he also betrays his ignorance of the difference between average and marginal costs, or worse, he's simply glossing over the difference to make his ugly rhetorical points. I'm not sure which, but having read his diatribes for years, either is equally likely. The marginal cost (that is, the cost of flying the next one, given that you're already flying some that year) is, in round numbers, about a hundred million. Still a big number, but an order of magnitude of what he'd have us believe.

Lori came off the best. This is not surprising since she a) knows much more what she'd talking about, at least relative to the rest of the panel and b) could present a sympathetic point of view, i.e., "I'm a soccer mom who wants to go into space--the space station is for learning how to live in space, to allow people like me and you to go." Which is true, to the degree that station has any purpose at all other than a high-tech jobs and foreign-aid program.

I would question her cost numbers on the Soyuz, though. I don't think even the Russians know what those cost. All they know is that if they take a paying passenger for a flight that's going anyway, they'll have twenty million dollars more than they will if they don't.

Just once, I wish that we could have a serious discussion about space, by knowledgable participants, and with some kind of groundrules and common assumptions established, as opposed to the freak show called Crossfire. Until we do so, there's little hope of making any significant policy progress, at least none based on what the American public might want.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:57 PM

April 25, 2002

Off To Scottsdale

I'm going to the Space Access Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, this evening. I'm not taking a computer with me--the conference rarely allows much time for anything but schmoozing. So no posts until Sunday or Monday. But feel free to keep arguing about the cancerous nature of humanity in the comments section. below.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:27 PM
Space Tourism Debate

Probably due to the Shuttleworth flight, there's supposedly going to be a debate on space tourism on Cross Fire tonight. Unfortunately, I'll be on an airplane (on my way to the Space Access Conference in Scottsdale). It'll be interesting to see how the various players come down on the issue. Or how the issue is even defined...

I'll appreciate any reports from the readership.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:48 AM
Cancer On The Universe Response

My, I seem to have hit some nerves in my Fox News piece today (it's simply a repeat of the post a few posts down, about how we're supposedly too sinful to go into space).

Here are a couple of the emails that I've received:

In response to your response to Lori M's letter, your missing the point and your way of thinking is part of the problem not the cure.

?If I have to explain you wouldn't understand.? AND I wouldn't waste my time trying.

Well, that's certainly a persuasive and compelling argument. Now I know I'm wrong for sure...

Holy cow. I started reading your article (Foxnews.com) and your ridicule of Lori M. disgusted me so much, I had to stop. You article did not appear to be one of informing your readers the importance of space travel or the benefits of exploration in general. Instead, your article appeared to be a disgruntled writer that had the forum in which he could bash someone. It seemed rather personal to me.

Personal? I don't even know her. I was attacking her attitude, not her person.

Sarcastic and rather childish. "Newsflash Lori", what was THAT? Why not put her email address in the article along with her phone number and address and ask your readers to send her some hate mail and prank phone calls?

Because that would be wrong, and you would no doubt have castigated me severely for it (not to mention that Fox would, appropriately, have never published it if I had). But I find it bizarre that you seem to be taking me to task for something that I didn't do.

You came across very much as an ass.

Well, that's obviously a subjective thing. Like the above emailer, you come across to me as someone who doesn't actually have any valid arguments about what I wrote, and are thus reduced to spurious charges of childishness, and insults.

I'll keep this thread going as I get other emails today. As I said, I think I really hit a nerve.

[Update at 9:53 AM PDT]

Just got a follow up from the first emailer above:

If we spent a fraction of the time, effort and money that is spent on the space program developing our own energy sources in this country we wouldn?t have to kiss middle eastern ass and could avoid most of the mess we find ourselves in today. Duh.

I suspect that this person hasn't got clue one about how much we spend on either. Duh, himself.

[Update at 10:19 AM PDT]

I got a more reasoned response from Christopher Watkins:

How could you not even wish to take into account any sense of responsibility or concern for our effect on environments when discussing the possible populating of other planets?

I don't believe that I ever expressed that view.

It frightens me how easily you can dismiss the idea that human beings should be concerned with damage they cause to the place they live.

I didn't dismiss that idea. In fact, what I dismissed was the notion that we are incapable of doing that. I, unlike Lori M., believe that we are capable, and that we should, and will be concerned.

Are you of the school of thought that proposes a "slash and burn" and careless disregard for our environments because we can always move onto to a new one?

No.

I would certainly not say the space travel is "not ethical", but I would say that it could lead to such a huge step in our future that it is of the utmost importance to evaluate all aspects, included ethical and moral theories. If we were ever required to relocate to another planet I would hope the people in charge are not driven by reckless abandon and careless expansion as you suggest. Interest how you describe someone discussing integrity, ethics and responsibility as "meek".

She wasn't discussing any of those things. She was simply accusing all humanity of lacking them, and therefore being unworthy to leave the planet. I vehemently disagree.

[Update at 11:41 AM PDT]

A Tom Dunn writes:

You take yourself and the human race way to seriously. I'm sure that most concientous survivors would gladly exchange their existence for a more responsible breed of human.

I'd argue with this, if I could figure out what it means. Or then again, maybe I wouldn't. It depends on what it means.

[Update at 12:19 PM PDT]

Greg Fuller throws out yet another strawman:

How many people do you know that like starlings? How about house sparrows?

Coyotes? Crows? Hyenas? How about cockroaches? I just think it is interesting that men most despise those species that are successful in spite of us and because of their tenacity and adaptability, are most like us. All the creatures of the world aside from us are perfectly justified in seeing us as a cancer on the earth.

I doubt if they see us as anything at all. And I certainly don't view them that way.

I don't fully agree with the e-mail quoted in this article but as humans we should at least have a little empathy for our fellow earthlings.

Who said we shouldn't? Who are you arguing with?

[Update at 1:34 PM PDT]

Thomas Hawthorne writes:

It's amazing how egotistical humans are. For a people who want to put 77,00 tons of nuclear wastes into a big mountain in Nevada, to think that we have the ego to travel into the unknown just blows me away.

Ummmm...OK. I don't see the logical connection, but go on...

Humans can't get even get along with their own fellow humans because they look "different". How can travel into the unknown RAND?

Again, there is some logic missing here. The conclusion doesn't in any way follow from the premise. The fact that some people can't get along with other people does not prevent yet other people from exploring the unknown. There has been prejudice for centuries, but somehow, we managed to explore the entire planet, and send people to the Moon.

You know I had a discussion with a friend of mine about possibly discovering other intelligent life on other planets. And I asked what him what if this "being" was blob of nothingness, would we consider it an "intelligent" life form? He said no. He said because they would not be similar to us. It's amazing how egotistical humans are......

Ummm, yes. You already said that. I'm having trouble getting your point, though.

People like you would land on a planet, declare it as you own, set up a republican party, and give tax breaks to all the rich aliens...........

Apparently you know nothing about "people like me."

I'm sorry folks. I've gotten a lot of supportive emails, but I really wanted to focus on the opposition. I've put up everything that I've received that's negative--I'm not holding back some plethora of intelligent criticism. This really does seem to be the best they can do.

[Update on Saturday night, the 27th of April, at 11PM PDT]

I'm back from Phoenix, and I see there's quite the fray in the comments section.

I got one more gem of an email from a Bill Feeney (I've slightly redacted it--this is, after all a semi-family blog, at least if you're the Addams Family):

Good god I haven't seen, read or heard anything this inane in quite awhile. Here's a newsflash, Rand, from you column you appear to be a small minded limp d**k with a severe short man complex. Do you get paid? Your writing has not logical flow. You sound like a four year old fighting in the playground. Please tell me how I can get my own bulls**t column at Fox.

The posts where people criticize my writing amidst spelling errors, punctuation lacks, insults, profanities and inanities, are always my favorites...


Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:48 AM
Network Attack

For those who are wondering why their net connections are having problems today, I just talked to my web host, who told me that denial of service attacks are rampant today, and hitting everybody. I know that Earthlink has been having problems, because I couldn't get to their news server for several hours this morning, and packets are dropping all over the place.

I'm wondering if this is pranksters, or something more nefarious, perhaps from the Middle East...

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:22 AM
Changing Times

Citizen space traveler Mark Shuttleworth achieved orbit today on a Soyuz launch. He's on his way to the International Space Station, approximately one year after the Tito flight. He is expected to get a much better reception than did Tito.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:11 AM

April 24, 2002

Oh, Give Me Land, Lots Of land Under Starry Skies Above...

Cole Porter knew what people want, in his song "Don't Fence Me In."

Professor Reynolds and Mark Whittington have beaten me to this, but for those three or four people who come here for the space stuff, I want to point out a very worthy initiative by Alan Wasser (current head of the National Space Society) to provide economic incentives for space settlement. This may free up more private investment for it, both reducing the need to rely on the taxpayer, and ensuring that the money is spent on (gasp!) actual space settlement activities, as opposed to simple job (but not wealth) creation.

In brief, he proposes the establishment of a regime for property rights in space via legislation which would result in the U.S. recognizing same. The perceived lack of such rights is one (though by no means the only) barrier to raising investment funds for off-world ventures. When investors can't be sure they're going to hold clear title to their investment, it makes it that much harder to persuade them to invest.

I haven't read the proposed legislation in detail, but I certainly concur with the spirit of it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:40 PM
A Cancer On The Face Of The Universe

Humankind is a pestilence--an unhealthy malignant growth, ravaging and destroying everything that it touches. For the sake of the rest of the universe, we must confine the vile infection to the single planet that it now inhabits.

That's the attitude of surprisingly many people (though not of your humble weblogger).

I got an email this week from one of them--a "Lori M.":

Forget "practical and affordable"- space travel is not ethical. Let's face it: We cause problems here and we would just take them somewhere else.

Humankind consistently demonstrates a strong lack of the integrity for such a venture. History foreshadows the cyclical injustices of the past played out anew on some poor, unsuspecting ecosystem. Space travel/colonization would be irresponsible and sadly consistent with the thinking that got us to the state of informed depravity we are in now.

I'm not saying we should trash space travel- just table it until human societies show more promise. We do best to spend more time and effort developing character before technology.

"Space travel is not ethical."

My, my, where to begin?

I don't know where my correspondent was when she sent me the email, but I'll bet it wasn't the African savannah. I wonder if she thinks that the human race had the "integrity" to leave that place where we evolved and expand into what is now Europe? Or that those who had spread further east, into Siberia, should have had second thoughts before crossing the Aleutian land bridge and thus despoiling the Americas?

Is she of the school of thought that those descendants of the Africans, having developed the technologies of sail and navigation, should have then stayed in Europe, until they had attained some kind of societal perfection, by her (no doubt lofty) standards? Well, perhaps she is, though, of course, had they done so, she probably wouldn't be here to so helpfully (if not specifically) point out to us our myriad failings. And wouldn't that have been a tragedy?

Human beings "cause problems here..."

Indeed we do. Of course we cause lots of other things as well.

We often cause solutions to those same problems.

We also cause scientific theories. And symphonies, and majestic works of art, and gardens, and laughter, and joy. But apparently she would insist that all non-terrestrial existence remain empty of these things, because we're too "depraved" and insufficiently "ethical" (by whatever unexplained standards of ethics she uses). To paraphrase the kid in West Side Story, as he told Officer Krupke, she wants to "make the universe deprived on account of we're depraved."

And she's concerned that we will attack some "unsuspecting ecosystem." Here's a newsflash, Lori--not only are ecosystems off the earth "unsuspecting"--they're non-existent, as far as we know. There is no solid evidence for life in the universe anywhere other than on our planet (which isn't to say with any certainty, of course, that it doesn't exist).

If this remains the case, our role in expanding into the universe will not be to ravage ecosystems, but to create them. We can, and will, make our dead solar system flower, filling it with life (and not just human life), and love, and beauty, and laughter.

And unfortunately, because we're human, we will indeed take along many of the uglier things that our emailer deplores. But we will do it regardless, and we won't wait to develop the "character" that she demands--to do so would, I suspect, postpone the next step of our evolution forever. Because I suspect that that's how long it will be before the "Lori M"s of the world finds our flawed race up to their hypercritical and unrealistic muster.

Fortunately, the decision will not be hers. She is welcome to stay behind. As the old tee-shirt says, the meek will inherit the earth--the rest of us will go to the stars, and do so with a clear conscience.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:15 PM
Blogspot Watch Update

I've added a new feature to Blogspot Watch. Now, in addition to telling you whether it's up or down, I'm logging the ups and downs, and using them to calculate the percentage of down time for the past twenty-four hours. I display this at the bottom of my link list, just above the "Moveable Type" ad. As I type this, Blogspot just came back up after a twelve-minute outage. The percentage downtime over the past twenty four hours is 16.3%.

For those who are interested, the log itself can be viewed here.

[Update at 11:09 AM PDT]

Per popular request (i.e., one person asked me, and no one has objected), I've moved all the Blogspot status stuff to the same place, just to the left (until this message scrolls down). I've also added a permalink to the log.

I should also note, that if you see a 0.0%, that's not because Ev magically healed it. That's the default number in the template, which appears whenever I do a page update (adding or editing posts). Note that the default traffic signal is green also, so a 0.0% means that blogspot isn't necessarily up, even though the signal says it is (the way it's been lately, maybe I should make the red signal the default...)

Any, just check back in a minute or so, and you'll see the right number, with the correct blogspot status, after the background script does its update. Another way to check is to view the log, and see what the last entry was (up or down).

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:03 AM
Medical Breakthrough

A researcher at Stanford has come up with a way to do kidney transplants from non-related donors, an without the lifetime anti-rejection drug regimen. It uses adult stem cells.

Is Orrin Judd opposed to this research, too? After all, it promises to extend life for millions. We just can't afford to have so many people alive...

[Via Geek Press, as usual]

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:51 AM
One More For The Blogger Book

Megan McArdle has written another entry--an instant classic.

For weeks I walked around the site trying to appreciate it. I wanted, as in the movies, a single moment when it all came crashing over me and I finally understood in my heart all that had been lost. I never got it. I had many, many moments when I cried -- the worst was when I saw those thousands "Missing" flyers papering Union Square, and every single flyer had a picture of a victim on one of the happiest days of their lives, looking radiant and expectant and utterly unable to imagine the kind of tragedy that had ended their lives. The oddest was when I was riding on the subway one night, and I was tired, and after Fulton Street the conductor said "Next Stop, Chambers Street" and I wondered, for a split second, why he wasn't stopping at the World Trade Center -- and realized for the first time that nothing would ever, ever be the same again.

So I still haven't comprehended it, in the sense of the word that means to develop full understanding. But I keep having these moments, like when I realize that I am sitting in a trailer, in a hole that contains nothing but the absence of two buildings, and that entirely unfamiliar objects in my line of sight are in fact the skeleton of a place that I did not particularly love when it was still around, but which was part of the fabric of my every day.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:10 AM

April 23, 2002

Yet Another Extremist

Over at the More than Zero site, Mindles H. Dreck has one of the best satirical skewerings of Paul Krugman yet.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:29 PM
One Palestinian's Collaborator Is A Reuters Reporter's Collaborator

The headline of this Reuters story is Palestinians in Hebron Kill Suspected Collaborators. Note that there are no quote marks on the word "collaborators." They probably ran out, after using them all up on the word "terrorist."

Unlike terrorists, there's no danger that anyone might equate collaborators with freedom fighters, I guess.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:10 PM
A Wheel Coming Off The Axis?

While the Euroweenies were tut-tutting about Bush's "simplisme" Axis-of-Evil formulation, we seem to have gotten the North Koreans' attention.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:37 AM
But Will He Listen?

Dennis Prager is calling on Elie Wiesel to hand back his Nobel Peace Prize in protest over the low repute that the Nobel Committee has given it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:02 AM
Continuing Space Tourism Coverage

There's a nice little article in Forbes about space tourism. It has a good set of links to various space tourist experiences, as well.

[Thanks to Paul Hsieh]

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:22 AM
Another AWOL Blogger

The Media Minder is going to quit minding the media, at least temporarily. Guess you'll leave it to Susanna Cornett to do the heavy lifting for a while.

Keep that quill sharp--you'll be back...

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:56 AM
For Our Friends Up North

The Canadian Forces web site has a message board where you can post messages to the troops. They might appreciate some additional condolences from the Yanks for the tragic accident last week in which Canadian solders were killed by a U.S. bomb.

[Thanks to Damian Penny]

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:43 AM
What Took Them So Long?

Demonstrators in Paris have taken to the streets with signs proclaiming "I'm ashamed to be French" following the election success of far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:20 AM
More Palestinian Lies Exposed

Three Armenian priests in the Church of the Nativity, (you know, the ones who "weren't hostages"?), escaped last night.

The priests told of "shocking sights" inside the church, including the beating by terrorists of some Christian clergy last night.

Nawwww, no hostages there. Just a little friendly S&M.

Of the many instances of one-sided reporting in this war, this particular incident is one that I find the most inexplicable. I'm still having trouble finding anyone who will criticize the Palestinians for taking over the church--all the blame for the standoff still seems to be levied on the Israelis.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:02 AM
And Their Knuckles Didn't Even Drag That Much

Jonathan Last is shocked to discover that gun owners are not only human, but they're, well...good people.

And I'm shocked to discover that the editor of the Weekly Standard on-line is shocked by this. This, to me, is simply evidence of how pervasive anti-gun hysteria is in our culture.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:51 AM

April 22, 2002

My Favorite Is "The Fleshy Winnebago"

And now for something completely different.

What would we do without the Internet?

This guy is collecting euphemisms for "penis." He has quite a list.

Now, all we need is an equivalent collection from Down Under for vomiting (e.g., technicolor yawn, talking to the toilet, etc.).

[Thanks to Paul Hsieh at Geek Press, who has an amazing ability to dig up wild and wacky stuff like this.]

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:20 PM
More Cosmic Billiards Commentary

As he promised, Brink Lindsey has come quickly up to speed on the asteroid question. It's a good survey of the problem with some good recommendations, and I appreciate his commendation of my knowledge, but there are many who both follow this issue, and are more knowledgeable about it than me. I've just been fortunate enough to have a venue (here and Fox News) to sound the trumpet. Now that Brink has taken up the cudgel, we can make some serious public-policy progress.

(And I don't know whether or not I'm smarter than Jay Manifold or not, but again I appreciate the thought and I doubt that I know more about this particular issue than he does.)

He makes one other point.

One final thought: I think it's interesting that the enviro's haven't gotten hold of this issue. They're suckers for apocalyptic scenarios, and asteroid or comet impacts offer real and plausible threats of ecological catastrophe. So why aren't the greens all over this? Their apathy would seem to be solid evidence for the proposition that the environmental movement is often motivated more by hostility to technology and markets than by love of nature. Because here's a threat to nature that can't be laid at the doorstep of capitalism, and that can only be addressed by more technology. As apocalypses go, this one's no fun at all.

Well, actually, it's not really a threat to nature, since it is nature. If you're a Deep Eke, there's no problem with a natural event wiping out species wholesale, befouling the air and water, devastating vast expanses of the planet--that's, after all, by definition, natural.

It's only evil, and a thing to be battled, when we do it.

Never mind that we're a part of nature ourselves...

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:09 PM
Our Friends The Canadians

So that's where he is. Apparently they've been harboring him in British Columbia.

A middle-eastern-looking man with a credit card in the name of "Osama bin Laden" used it to steal gasoline in Vancouver.

He was driving a Jag. No word as to whether or not Mullah Omar was with him, or if he was living in the car.

[Via Reason Express]

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:55 PM
Dead Trees And Muscle Cars

The renowned satirist, Iowahawk (aka David Burge) emails:

To honor Earth Day and Al Gore's latest enviro-gibberish, I dusted off this moldy oldie for you...

Gore Attacked By Angry Muscle Cars

And he further threatens:

BTW, I'm gonna do the blog thing soon; more of an archive of old stuff like this. I'll let you know when it's up.

You don't scare us, Burge.

You will be assimilated. We told you that resistance was futile.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:28 PM
Bruce Dern Would Be My Pick

They're making a biopic about John McCain.

They're talking up Ed Norton, Jr. for the lead role. My suggestion is in the title. What's yours?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:29 PM
Space Junk Men Being Laid Off?

I'd heard budget rumors about this a few days ago, but now Space.com has a story on it. NASA is terminating the office that monitors space debris.

No, not asteroids--it's things like tools, and payload shrouds, and loose screws, and flaked-off paint, and the results of the occasional satellite explosion. This is a very real problem--as the article points out, we often have to change out windows or thermal-protection tiles in the Shuttle Orbiters because of strikes from these things--at differential velocities of thousands of miles an hour, a paint chip is like a bullet.

They may restore funding, and I wouldn't be shocked if this turns out to be a "Washington Monument" threat (you, know, like when the government is threatened with a budget cut, they pull out some popular thing that they'll threaten to cut, to fend off any cuts at all). It might be just part of the overall agency posturing to defend as much of their budget as possible, by threatening cuts in vital programs (while ignoring internal pork and hobby shops).

We'll just have to see how it all plays out.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:35 AM
Anti-Imperialism Of Idiots

There's an eminently sensible (and timely, considering the recent anti-globo funfest in DC) column in today's Times of London by Mick Hume (presumably not closely related to either David or Brit) on the reflexive anti-Israeli posture in much of the west.

Attacking the Israelis has become a way to vindicate any petty prejudice. It unites my German friend?s right-wing grandmother, who has waited 50 years for an excuse to criticise ?the Jews?, with left-wing protesters who imagine that the Palestinian struggle is on a par with them vandalising a burger bar.

Sympathy with the terrible plight of Jenin is no reason to endorse the anti-imperialism of idiots. Populist anti-Israeli rhetoric is cheap, but offers no solutions to the long-suffering peoples of the Middle East. And climbing on the backs of the victims to strike moralistic postures is just, as the diplomatic French might say, merde.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:16 AM
"I'll Never Tell You The Truth"

That's my first suggestion for the campaign slogan.

Another might be, "Three chickens on every plate, and an electric car in every garage."

Go ahead, come up with some of your own, to get ready for the Michael Moore Green Party gubernatorial run.

Go for it, Mike! Anything to make the Green Party seem even more ridiculous and irrelevant, I say.

Can't wait until Tim Blehh gets hold of this one...

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:34 AM

April 21, 2002

Backpedaling From The Guardian

Now the headline is "Brutal, Yes. Massacre, No."

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:28 PM
Irony

"Demolishing the homes of Arab civilians... Shooting handcuffed prisoners... Forcing local Arabs to test areas where mines may have been planted..."

These sound like the sort of accusations made by British and other European officials concerning Israel's recent actions in Jenin. In fact, they are descriptions from official British documents concerning the methods used by the British authorities to combat Palestinian Arab terrorism in Jenin and elsewhere in 1938.

That's the fascinating beginning of an article in the Jerusalem Post, that describes how there are no new things under the sun.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:19 PM
French Electoral Earthquake

All of this anti-semitism and Muslim rioting in France is taking a political toll. As reported in Le Figaro, there was an electoral shocker there yesterday. Chirac came in first, but Le Pen came in second, ahead of Jospin. There will be no socialists in the runoff. For those who are French-language challenged, here's another version of the story in English.

It's going to be a very interesting (and perhaps violent) run-off.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:13 PM

April 20, 2002

Incoherent Ranting From Richard Reeves

The always-dependable (when it comes to spouting imbecilities) Richard Reeves sends in a missive from whatever planet he inhabits--it's clearly not this one. The basic theme is that Mr. Bush is not up to the job, and that he will therefore be a one-termer.

It's so full of chocolaty stupidity, I hate to excerpt it, but I will anyway. Fortunately, it's short. His talent (as it were) is such that he manages to pack a whole universe of idiocy in a very brief bit of mental flatulence.

This was a day in the life of the president of the United States, Thursday, April 18, 2002:


  • The circumstances of endless savagery in the Middle East forced him to look into a television camera and tell the world that Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) is "a man of peace."

    Well, it seems to me that things have been a lot more peaceful over there in the past couple weeks. At least no more Israeli bat mitzvahs have been interrupted by murderers disassembling themselves.

  • Halfway around the world, on the West Bank, the U.N. peace envoy to the Middle East, a Norwegian hardly given to flamboyant language, one of the first outsiders to inspect Mr. Sharon's recent work, looked into other cameras and said: "Horrifying, horrifying ... Israel has lost all moral ground in this conflict."

    No, he's only given to flamboyent language when the subject is Israel. When it comes to Arafat, and his bomb factories, and his exhortations to murder, and his booby-trapped refugee camps, and his unending lies, and his general violation of every single tenet of the Oslo agreement for which he won his Norwegian peace prize, our Norwegian friend seems to have lost his tongue.

  • In Kabul and Washington, members of the forces commanded by President Bush (news - web sites) had to face the cameras and apologize for the killing of Canadian soldiers, our best friends, by American bombs in yet another friendly-fire incident of the kind that punctuates long-distance, high- tech warfare.

    Yes, Richard. This is war. And even if weren't, people are often killed in training (typically a couple dozen per year in each service, I believe). It is tragic, but these are real weapons, with real explosives, and sometimes things happen. It's not a good day for a President when they do, but it's certainly not a challenge to his presidency.

  • Back on television, the president gave a lecture to the elected president of Venezuela, an incompetent, if charismatic, lefty named Hugo Chavez, who had been overthrown two days before with some help and cheers from the right-wingers running the middle levels of the Bush State Department. Bush warned Chavez that he better do more of what we consider the right things, or we'll get his army after him again.

    Incompetent? He seems to be pretty competent at retaining power, like most thugs. And I didn't hear Mr. Bush say any such thing, but then, as I say, Mr. Reeves lives on a different plane of existence.

From there he drifts off into total incoherence and irrelevance. And when I get to the end, I still don't know why Bush will only serve one term.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:19 PM

April 19, 2002

Whistling In The Dark

Leftist Robert Kuttner is concerned that his side is losing. He should be.

He still holds out hope (based on an extremely flawed analysis) that the trend can be reversed.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:37 PM
Smoking Gun?

What an interesting day to break this story--the seventh anniversary of the OKC bombing.

If it's to be believed, the Clinton Administration and FBI covered up evidence that Terry Nichols met with Iraqi agents prior to the bombing.

Why? We may never know for sure, but I would presume that it was more politically useful for Mr. Clinton, in the midst of his post-1994-loss-of-Congress irrelevancy, to demonize the American "right wing," in the form of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and to not distract people from that with Middle East connections that would then have to be actually dealt with...

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:11 PM
Sea Change In The American Jewish Community?

It will be interesting to see what effect this will have in November at the polls. If it's true, the Dems are in big, big trouble.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:09 PM
Infamy

Nine years ago today, men, women and children in Waco were incinerated as a result of actions by overzealous publicity-hungry federal troops.

Seven years ago today, the Murrah Building was bombed by Timothy McVeigh (possibly with the aid of some of the same terrorists we are presently fighting in the Middle East, who were never held to account because the "right wing" was too attractive as an undiluted target by the Clinton Administration).

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:18 PM
A Blast From The Past

Remember the vandalism to the White House by outgoing Clinton Administration staffers, that was later denied (and basically ignored by the Bush Administration, which wanted to "set a new tone")?

Well, the GAO has confirmed that it was true.

Those who have seen the GAO report, a preliminary document, say as many as 75 computer keyboards had to be replaced -- at a cost of more than $5,000 -- because Clinton staffers had broken off the W keys, a jab at George W. Bush, the winner of the bitterly contested 2000 presidential election, who was often referred to during the campaign as W.

I wonder if those are special keyboards of some kind? Seventy bucks for a keyboard seems kind of pricy, but I tend to go for the five-dollar specials at Fry's.

Two historic doorknobs were stolen from the Old Executive Office Building along with a presidential seal, valued at $350, said the sources, who could not detail how the rest of the damages were inflicted.

Chairs and telephone tables were broken, desks were overturned, garbage was strewn in offices and telephone lines were cut, the GAO report says, but does not, in each case, attribute the acts to vandalism.

OK, now let's pull the string on the top, and let the spinning begin...

Democrats dismissed the findings of the investigation ? which they say cost about $200,000 to conduct just to find $14,000 in damages.

So, generously assuming that those numbers aren't lies, let me make sure I have this right. No one should have to be held accountable for their actions if the cost of identifying misbehavior exceeds the cost of the actual damages. Is that the argument here?

So, if someone is burgling, and they only steal a couple hundred bucks worth of stuff, but holding a trial might cost many hundreds, or thousands, of dollars, we should just ignore it?

In what moral swamp do these people reside?

And now that the truth is out, it also demonstrates just what kind of juveniles were running the country for eight years.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:11 PM
It's The Tyranny, Stupid

Amidst all of the nonsense coming out of the media about "root causes," and "Israeli war crimes," it's always good, as a reminder to understand the real issues at stake, to read Bibi.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:03 AM

April 18, 2002

New Space Blogger In Town

Well, I don't know how new it is, but I just noticed that Mark Whittington has a blog. I guess he's been too modest to tell me about it.

He's just published a space-related novel--an alternate history of the program since Apollo. Because I haven't read it, I can't recommend it (or disrecommend it), other than to say that it's an interesting premise. But those who do come here for the space stuff might want to check it out.

He has a post today that describes the book, and is closely related to my Fox News column.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:09 PM
Deconstructing The Jenin Lies

Over at Winds of Change, Joe Katzman dissects the Palestinian propaganda over Jenin quite thoroughly.

As more and more facts come out, it looks pretty much exactly like one would expect if one sent troops in to take out terrorists in booby-trapped buildings. The other thing that is clear is how devastating the defeat was for the terrorists.

They didn't anticipate the Israeli tactics--they were hoping for much higher Israeli casualties from the booby traps and kiddie bombers. Or alternatively, much higher Palestinian casualties from overwhelming Israeli firepower, which they could then use for propaganda.

As it was, they lost many soldiers, all of their munitions, and the propaganda value is proving limited as the facts come out, and no one but the loons are still calling it a massacre of civilians.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:52 PM
Taking It To The Enemy

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. It occurred on April 18, 1942. It was our first response to Pearl Harbor, a little over four months after the attack.

Of the many irritating things about the movie Pearl Harbor (I finally saw it on pay-per-view a couple weeks ago), and there were many, the worst was casting Alec Baldwin as Doolittle. Though at least, by playing a hero, it did require him to actually act.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:49 AM
Fox News Column Up

My Fox News column is up. The summary on the headline page is a little misleading--it says that "Landing on Mars should not be the priority of the United States' space program."

One can infer that from the piece (which is essentially the same as the one a few posts down), but it wasn't the main point. My main points are that we aren't going to, and shouldn't, repeat Apollo, and that the Kennedy-as-space-visionary myth is not only something that's not going to be repeated, but never really happened the first time.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:19 AM
New Terrorism?

An aircraft has hit the Pirelli Tire building in Milan. It's been characterized as a terrorist attack. Apparently it was a Piper with explosives on board. Unless they're simply mistaking the fuel tank exploding for a deliberate one.

That's too bad. Italy was already on our side. I didn't want this to occur anywhere, but it if it had happened in Paris or Brussels, it might have had a more salutory effect on some of the idiotic attitudes there.

Fox is now saying that there is a report that the pilot sent an SOS, so it's still a confused situation.

[Update at 9:35AM PDT]

Now they're saying that it's looking less like terrorism, because of the multiple SOS signals. It's still bizarre though, that it would accidentally hit the tallest building in Milan, and probably the closest thing to a symbol of capitalism they have there. Of course, the timing is not optimal to maximize casualties (early evening in Italy, when many have presumably gone home). It may indeed be just a weird accident.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:17 AM
Two Hundred Megawatts--Hold The Sox, Please

Instantman points out an article in the Strib today about a potential breakthrough in clean-burning coal.

If it's true, expect many of the environmentalist groups to throw rocks at it--this is their worst nightmare. After all, who cares if we reduce sulfur dioxide (SOX) and nitrous oxides (NOX)? It still emits that horrible, deadly CO2 that's going to cook us all.

And of course, it will remove one of the barriers to their worst enemy of all--economic growth and capitalism.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:11 AM
Our Friends The United Nations

I've never been that big a fan of the UN (well, at least not since I was little kid, and propagandized into taking a little milk carton around at Halloween to collect pennies for UNICEF), but I've also never been one of the John-Birch, anti-trilateralist conspiracy whackos, either. I generally just considered it irrelevant.

But after reading the bill of particulars laid out by Michael Rubin in today's Journal, I think that it is indeed time to get out, send them packing to Brussels or, better yet, Lagos or Jenin, and reallocate the real estate on the East River to something useful.

It is a classic, textbook case of one of the fundamental flaws of democracy.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:55 AM

April 17, 2002

Whither Mars?

In a comment on my post about the "Face on Mars," Foxnews reader "DocZen" asks:

When are we actually *going* to Mars?

Is the current lull in space exploration just that, or did we just look at Apollo as a big waste of time/money?

The way I see it, technology has been riding the advances we made during those years, and has really progressed little in my eyes...

We should look at going to Mars not as a proposition in and of itself, but as a way to experiment with new technologies, and get them into our living rooms (and pockets!)

What is it with current NASA administration, anyway? They're so afraid to make space travel 'cool' that it almost hurts. Open up space travel to tourists. Bring back the days when we looked up to our astronauts, as now they are nameless, faceless scientists.

The WWII generation went to the moon, no offense, but the baby boomers spent too much time smoking pot and protesting...what is *MY* generation going to do with its time on earth?

In other words: "where the hell is my flying car?" :]

I'm printing the comment, because I think his questions and feelings are shared by many people.

Right out of the box, I'll say that I don't pretend to have an answer to the question of when we will send people to Mars. Predictions are always hazardous, particularly about the future. Of course, almost no one would have predicted in July, 1959 that men would be walking on the moon a decade later. I also have to confess to not seeing this as an urgent thing, at least until we get our other space affairs in order.

Space enthusiasts tend to see the Apollo program as the Golden Age, the paradigm of how a space program Should Be, and how it Could Be if only we got another President with the vision of JFK.

This is a myth. Recently-discovered documents indicate that Kennedy wasn't particularly interested in space--as I described a couple of weeks ago, he only pursued Apollo as a response to the embarrassment of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Gagarin flight.

Now, he tells Webb that beating the Russians to the moon "is the top priority of the agency and ... except for defense, the top priority of the United States government. .... Otherwise, we shouldn't be spending this kind of money, because I'm not that interested in space."

If by some political miracle (and that's truly what it would take) we were to initiate a Mars program today, I believe that it would put us even further off track than Apollo did. We weren't really ready to go to the Moon in 1961, and it would be premature to set off to Mars in 2002.

I don't mean this in the sense of technical feasibility--clearly we were capable of sending men to the Moon in the sixties, and just as clearly we could send men (and women) to Mars today (or at least initiate an ultimately-successful program to do so) if we chose to.

What I mean is that by jumping to a grand goal before the technology has matured, we would bypass some critical steps in making it practical and affordable. We first stepped on the Moon in 1969. We last did so only three years later, almost thirty years ago. We haven't been back because in our hurry, we didn't lay the groundwork for a politically or economically-sustainable program.

In fact, NASA Administrator James Webb was very concerned about this at the time, but couldn't get Kennedy to accept it as important.

On the tape, Webb tells Kennedy that some of the nation's top space scientists doubt whether it is possible to send humans on a lunar voyage. "There are real unknowns about whether man can live under the weightless environment," he says. Committing to a manned lunar landing, Webb tells the president, could leave the country vulnerable to failure. Instead, Webb insists, landing on the moon should be only part of a broad effort by NASA to understand the space environment and its effects on human beings.

Webb's tone in confronting the nation's chief executive is fearless. Historian John Logsdon of George Washington University says Webb "must have felt very strongly about this," adding that there had been a running feud at NASA Headquarters about how much importance Apollo should have.

But Kennedy stands firm, telling Webb that the moon landing is NASA's top priority. " This is, whether we like it or not, a race?. Everything we do [in space] ought to be tied into getting to the moon ahead of the Russians."

I think that, considering these new facts, and our stasis for the past three decades, relative to what was envisioned and possible, it's time to lay to rest John F. Kennedy as the template for the ideal president to lead us into space.

And in fact, it's a mistake to expect any President to both have that kind of vision, and the political support to implement it. It might happen, but it's extremely unlikely (since it never really even happened the first time).

But if I can't say when we'll go to Mars, I can describe some of the conditions that will have to be in place before such a thing is likely to occur. And that's what I'll do in a post in the near future.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:39 PM

April 16, 2002

Tanned, Rested And Ready

Over at the Wall Street Journal, John Fund has a frightening thought. Think about a Vice President who served loyally through two successive administrations, and then lost a close race in his own bid for the Presidency.

Is Al Gore the new version of Richard Nixon?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:09 PM
Our Friends In Riyadh, Part Deux

I'm still trying to confirm this from other sources, but Stratfor is reporting that Saudi Prince Abdullah has cancelled his meeting with Bush in Texas. Reason? To protest our Israeli/Palestine policy.

Does he really think that this will cause us to rethink our policy? Does he have absolutely no idea on what thin ice he's treading? Maybe not, given that walking on ice is an alien concept to someone from that part of the world.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:57 PM
David Gergen Is Still An Idiot

I have a problem when it comes to a debate between Gergen and Bill Kristol. Gergen seems to have no political principles at all, and no discernable intelligence, but I'm still upset with Kristol for his sycophantic support of John McCain (and I'm even more perplexed by his recent bellicose stance, which seems to be so at odds with that, though it could be because he's Jewish).

Anyway, they're on Greta's show, debating the appropriate tactics for the Mideast.

Gergen is taking the typical media idiotarian viewpoint that we have to resolve the situation in Israel/Palestine before we can take on Saddam. Worse, he ridicules the notion that installing a democratic regime in Iraq will improve things--he thinks that it will raise a new generation of terrorists. He said "this notion that winning will make us popular is ridiculous..." (quote from memory, but it's essentially correct). As I said, idiot.

David, remember the weeks before we started the campaign in Afghanistan? Remember all the marches in the streets of Peshawar, with the crowd waving posters of bin Laden and Bert? Now, do you remember what happened to all of those crowds when the Taliban collapsed like tissue paper, and the Afghan people started playing music, and flying kites, and stopped pulling their women's fingernails because they had some color on them?

Kristol has it right, as I've said in the past. Israel is just another front in our war with Wahhabism and fascistic Arab nationalism. To allow ourselves to be distracted by what's going on there right now, waiting for a "peace process" that will never occur while the Arab world is funding Arafat, is pointless and delusionary. The Israelis are our allies, and they can handle that front just fine, as long as we let them.

As idiotarians have said, we must seek out "root causes." Not poverty. Not Israeli "aggression." Not McDonalds and Britney Spears. The root cause is an evangelistic and fanatical hatred of our religion, our culture, and our freedom. Those that promulgate it must be defeated, and to do so will not "create another generation of terrorists." It will create the first generation of people in that part of the world who will appreciate the opportunity to live in the twenty-first, rather than the twelfth century.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:49 PM
Tickle Me Tony

I'm having a little trouble figuring out whether or not this article is serious.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:08 PM
Justice No Longer Denied

A federal judge has ruled that Linda Tripp can go forward with her lawsuit against the Pentagon for violation of the Privacy Act. The Bush Administration (which seems curiously indifferent to the predations on the law and Constitution by its predecessor) had sought to have the case dismissed.

Kenneth Bacon, the Pentagon official who leaked Tripp's personnel record to a reporter friendly to the Administration (probably at the behest of the Clinton White House), suffered virtually no consequences for his law breaking.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:28 PM
They Weren't Dynamite--They Were Just Leberwurst

Apparently, the Berlin father who dressed his daughter up as an Islamakazi to help Israel celebrate its founding is going to have to answer to German authorities.

I don't think that Germany has a first amendment--I'm not sure what, if any, protections they have for freedom of expression. If he's charged, it will apparently be for "condoning acts of violence." That seems kind of mild and generic to me under the circumstances--it seems to ignore the fact that he's teaching this child the virtues of killing herself and others.

If he were in this country, I'd sic Child Protective Services on him for child endangerment. If he thinks that German police are rough, wait until he runs into some American social workers...

Posted by Rand Simberg at 03:45 PM
A Waste Of Talent

John McWhorter and others have described how many of the things that hold blacks back in America are a function of their own cultural attitudes, in which studiousness or scholarship are derided, or even ostracized, as "acting white."

This phenomenon carries through all the way to college, in which many talented people are channeled into "African-American Studies" (just as many innocent women are cheated of a true education in "Women's Studies" departments), rather than into something that offers prospects for professions and productive endeavors beyond being African-American Studies professors.

I ran across this very good article in the Village Voice that deals with the specific issues of black scientists involved with NASA and astronomy, and how they're often denigrated and discouraged by their own community. I highly recommend it.

But less obvious is that NASA's move injects life into color-blind disciplines that black scientists say have been eclipsed within their own community by more overtly Afrocentric pursuits. Some top students lifted their faces from difficult physics textbooks only to receive what amounted to a slap from a black hand.

One example: Two African American undergraduate students on the Harvard University wrestling team were walking from the gym. The younger one, a kid from the Bronx named Neil, complained that his astrophysics courses weren't leaving him time to sleep. The banter stopped as abruptly as their footfalls.

"Blacks in America do not have the luxury of your intellectual talents being spent on astrophysics," declared the elder student, waving his hand in front of Neil's chest. That indictment, recounted in Neil deGrasse Tyson's autobiography, The Sky Is Not the Limit, rings fresh in him today, though he's an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, where he also teaches classes for the CUNY program.

No, obviously what blacks in America need are more Cornel Wests, not people who discover, and impart real knowledge.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:35 PM
Our Friends In Riyadh

A Saudi official helpfully explains to Congress and the White house that suicide bombers are not terrorists.

One wonders just how disconnected from reality they are. Unfortunately, there's little coming out of the Bush Administration to dissuade them from their delusions that they can continue this game without dire consequences.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:48 AM
Linux Cracking The Desktop Market?

Speaking of open-source, there's a review at MSBNC (you know, the joint venture between Microsoft and NBC?) about a new Linux distribution called Lycoris that's apparently painless to install and use.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:19 AM
Scalping Bill Gates

Version 2.0 of the Apache web server has been released. It reportedly performs as well as Microsoft IIS, and without the security problems.

Be afraid, Redmond.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:57 AM
Guess He's Angling For A Longer Sentence

A terrorist suspect on trial in Germany told the court officials that "they were all Jews."

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:52 AM
"Massacre"

Our pet idiotarian over at warbloggerwatch is whining about the "massacre" in Jenin this morning.

I have just one question for him. If the Israelis wanted to indiscriminately massacre Palestinian civilians, why didn't they just pound the camp into rubble with air strikes? Why did they put their soldiers at risk (they lost a couple dozen of them) in house-to-house combat?

I see two possible (and mutually-exclusive) explanations:

1) They don't get enough satisfaction out of bloodless, remote atrocities conducted by air--they have a deep-felt need to go in and bayonet the infants personally, even at risk to their own lives.

2) They wanted to eliminate the terrorists, and the labs and armories, as precisely as possible, while minimizing civilian casualties.

I know which one makes the most sense to me. I can guess which one "George Orwell," in his fevered fantasies, will go with.

[Update at 9:27 AM PDT]

The UN passed their usual resolution yesterday condemning Israel for "'gross violations' of international law." In other shocking news, a dog is reported to have peed on a tree.

The BBC story contains no specifics. What the story does contain, however, is lots of allegations, with no actual evidence. All of the actual destruction described in the story sounds, so far, consistent with the Israeli government claims, with nothing to support Palestinian claims of a massacre.

But hey, we're the UN. "Evidence? We don't need no stinkin' evidence!"

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:37 AM
Westward Ho

I haven't commented on the Cornel West circus much, leaving it to Instantman and others. But they had a piece on NPR this morning about it. Of course, the tone of the piece took it pretty much as a given that this was a major blow to Harvard. There was no questioning of the value of his work or performance. The closest they came was to find one guy who basically said that West made a fool of himself by feigning victimhood and making accusations of covert racism on Summers' part, when the criticisms were legitimate, and had nothing to do with race.

They interviewed several Harvard students, some of whom were proclaiming doom. The closest they could come to the other side was one student who said it was a loss, but that Harvard would survive.

They didn't bother to look for anyone, apparently (at least I assume that's the reason, because I can't believe that they don't exist), who would say (as I would have), "Our gain is Princeton's loss. Hope the doorknob doesn't make a dent in his butt on the way out."

[9:43 AM PDT Update]

John McWhorter has a piece in today's Journal on the subject (link for paid subscribers only):

...he has implied that a CD and support for Mr. Sharpton are legitimate substitutes for academic work--a "visionary" paradigm of inquiry. Here is a coded wink to black people that Mr. Summers' failure to understand this is racism.

I see a different subtext here: that serious academic work is optional for black intellectuals, and that to require it of a black scholar beyond a certain point is a racist insult. But can Prof. West not see that this only reinforces the stereotype of black mental dimness that feeds the very racism he is so quick to sniff out? Visionary or not, rap is not scholarship. Nor is putting one's arm around a hustler like the Rev. Sharpton "speaking truth to power."

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:17 AM

April 15, 2002

Legacy Watch

Looks like Dollar Bill is getting a turndown for a speaking engagement. His price is too high.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:35 PM
Short Sighted

I'm not normally a big agitator for unmanned planetary missions. I'm not opposed to them, but I don't find them all that urgent and compelling. Generally, I agree with Proxmire's famous statement, "Mars will still be there..."

But in this case I think that the cancellation of this particular mission is a travesty and a tragedy. In the context of the total NASA budget, a mission to Pluto doesn't cost that much, and it's one of the cases in which it isn't true that "it will still be there." Pluto has an orbit such that it will get much more difficult to reach it if the launch doesn't occur in the next few years, perhaps to the point that it will be decades before we have an opportunity to explore it (assuming, of course, no major advances in deep-space propulsion, admittedly a brave assumption).

Unfortunately, the problems aren't just penny pinching--they're political (what a surprise--politics in a government space program). First, they've designed to launch the mission on a new launch vehicle that may not be adequately tested to NASA's satisfaction by the time the launch window closes. This problem could be resolved by using a Russian launcher, but that's not poltically acceptable.

The other problem is that a mission that far away from the sun can only be done with a nuclear power source, called a radioisotope thermal generator (RTG). This isn't a reactor--it's just a lump of plutonium that generates heat as it decays, which is then converted to electricity. We've been using such power sources safely since the beginning if the space program, but the last few missions that required such power sources (most notably the Cassini mission to Saturn) have had to run a gauntlet of environmental approvals and hysterical and ignorant protestors, and there is fear that the delays from this for the Pluto mission could end up pushing it out beyond its date of viability.

So, barring some technological breakthrough, we may not see Pluto up close for many decades.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:59 PM
Reparations

A lot of people have already mentioned this story about how the IRS has erroneously issued slavery reparations in the form of a tax credit.

It strikes me that this opens up opportunities for many more successful methods of reclaiming some of our tax dollars.

Let's see, I probably have relatives who died in the camps in Europe, so maybe I should get a thousand dollars per. How about a tax credit to compensate me for the fact that the government's tax policies have made it more difficult to raise venture capital?

Oh, I know. How about this one? I should be compensated for the pain and suffering of having to listen to the idiots in charge tell me that, like tax collection, health care and airline security should be a government function, because only government is capable of doing this competently.

Hurry and claim your credit--you only have until midnight.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:42 PM
Taxes Are A Drag

There are many infuriating things about the current federal tax rules, but the one that I find the most egregiously unfair and potentially damaging to the economy is the situation with deductability of interest.

In 1986, individuals were no longer allowed to deduct loan interest, except in special cases, and for their home mortgages. The arguments for this change were simplification, discouraging installment borrowing and more revenue for the government. The only valid argument is the first one, since it's not clear that discouraging installment borrowing is a good thing for either the economy or the individual.

But it did indeed simplify taxes--there's no longer any need to find all of your interest deductions, and add them up, since they're no longer relevant to your return. Of course, in exchange for this "simplification," most people pay much more in taxes than they did prior to the change. This has resulted in the growth of "mortgage lines of credit" since now the only way to make the interest deductable is to borrow money against your house.

This change was outrageously unfair, because they now get you coming and going. You still have to pay tax on interest earned, but you're not allowed to deduct interest paid. So interest counts only when it's incoming--not when it's an outgoing expense, unless it's going into some other investment (not consumption). (Thanks to Carey Gage for pointing out my previous erroneous statement, now down the memory hole).

But the situation has a more problematic effect (speaking personally)--it discourages small business formation. Suppose someone has an idea for a business startup, but limited access to capital. Well, one way to do it, if one has a good credit rating, is to do "venture capital by Visa." Borrow the money from your credit card, and pay it and the interest back from the proceeds of the venture.

Now most financial advisors would say that this is insane. Of course, those same financial advisors would probably also say that starting your own business is insane as well, given the rate of failure of startups. So given that you're going to be an entrepreneur anyway, it's not that much nuttier to borrow the money to do it from Mastercard, instead of Aunt Nellie.

And therein lies the problem. Clearly, the interest that you're paying on the loan is a business expense. But if the main thing that you need the money for is to cover your personal bills (rent or mortgage, groceries, gas, etc.) while you're getting the business going, there's no way to deduct it under the current rules.

Well, wait--there is one way. You can borrow the money, then relend it to the business startup, and then pay yourself a salary from the loan. This allows you to deduct the interest for the loan to your business. But there's a big problem--it also means that you have to pay federal income taxes on it, including FICA, and possibly even things like unemployment insurance, because it's now taxable income to you.

So that's the choice you have. You can simply borrow money to support yourself, but you can't deduct the interest because it's not considered an allowable business expense, though clearly it should be. Or you can borrow the money and lend it, in which case Sam takes a huge percentage off the top before you can get it to pay your bills.

Either way, I suspect that there are a lot of businesses (including space businesses) that don't get started because of this financial catch-22, which could be eliminated by simply returning fairness to the tax system, by either excluding interest income from taxes, or restoring the interest deduction.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:09 AM

April 14, 2002

Welch And Layne Were Having Too Much Fun

An enlightening and entertaining interview with Aussie blogger Tim Blehh (phonetic spelling) can be found at Rightwing News. I advertise this even though I'm not a "right winger," since I think cloning is not intrinsically evil.

(thanks to emailer John Hawkins.)

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:32 PM
More Foolishness From "Mr. Orwell"

Over at warbloggerwatchers, our new pet cowardly anonymous idiotarian comments:

Something is goin' on. I feel the winds of change blowing through the warblogs. First it was Shakespeare Sullivan's realization that the continuation of the Israeli offensive might lead to some kind of insane world conflict that would disasterous for us all and lead to unbelieveable amounts of human misery and suffering (see below) and now I find that Daddy Warblogs faith in the sanity of the Israeli military operation in Palestine is being shaken by the fact that mass graves filled with Palestinians civilians are being found...

Can someone get the poor creature a dictionary, and lend him some commas? It's probably hard to afford things like that when you're selflessly and anonymously and breathlessly fighting injustice and war crimes. I mean, whose sentences wouldn't run on, and on, and on, like the deEnergizer (dumb) bunny?

Actually, I don't usually criticize other people's writing, except that in his very next post, he says:

...I see the usual suspects: Ken Layne, Will Vehrs, Rand Simberg, Tim Blair and others. The first thing I'm struck by is how mediocre and third-rate the writing is. That's too be expected, I suppose.

At least I'm in good company. And note that in the last sentence, he uses the word "too," when he obviously intends "to." The irony is intense. As Christopher Johnson notes in the comments section, "Pot, meet kettle."

Hmmm..."I'm struck by...how mediocre and third-rate the writing is..."

Maybe I'll put that up as my new blog slogan.

Ah, well, guess I should quit reading blogs, and get back to pitchforking babies, like the rest of my partners in war crime...

[Sunday night update]

This is too hilarious.

That's too (sic!) be expected, I suppose.

He didn't correct it. He didn't explain it. He just added a (sic!), as though it was someone else writing it, and he was reporting it.

What an idiot.

And he's still got no commas in the never-ending sentence.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:15 AM

April 13, 2002

He Does It Again

As usual, Mark Steyn has got the Arabs' and the EU's number.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:33 PM
Soccermom In Space

Rita Cosby spent much of the last half of her show "Foxwire" on the space program tonight.

First up she had Jim Lovell, who's Apollo XIII anniversary is today, on April 13, the day it launched. I'm not superstitious, but I'm still amazed at the fact that Apollo XIII (13) launched on April 13, at 13:13 (1:13 PM in the afternoon).

But she didn't spend much time on history--she wanted to talk about air safety, for which he's been responsible to some degree since September 11. Unfortunately, he put out the same pablum that we've been getting from officials since then--it's safe to fly because we've upped the (idiotic) security procedures.

More interesting was her next guest, Lori Garver. She was portrayed as just an ordinary mom who is going to go into space. Now, I actually know Lori pretty well, and like her, but I thought this was a little misleading and disingenuous.

Lori is a former NASA Associate Administrator for Plans and Policy. When the new administration came in, she was shown the door (presumably being perceived as part of the Clinton team). Now she's a VP at DFI, a "beltway bandit"--a consultant that makes a lot of money off of government contracts. She probably wouldn't have that job if she didn't bring a lot of connections to the table from her former government experience. In addition, she used to be the Executive Director of the National Space Society, a pro-space advocacy group (though, unfortunately, pro-space to NSS generally meant "pro-NASA").

Now I'm cheering for her to go, and if she does, she'll probably be a good spokesman for ordinary citizens to go into space (though she's hardly an ordinary citizen herself, as the brief curriculum vitae described above shows). But they really should give a little more background, rather than raising false hopes that anyone can go right now, which unfortunately is still not the case, though if she goes, it may bring the day closer to making this true.

The main point of the story was that she is competing with Lance Bass, but it's not clear that it's competition as much as simply additional customers for the service. She also mentioned yet another candidate coming out of the woodwork, of whom I hadn't previously heard, and whose name and affiliation I either don't remember, or she didn't say.

She gave a pretty good interview, as I would have expected, but I was disappointed at one point, when she was asked how her trip, and that of other space travelers, would advance the cause. She said that it would raise public awareness of it, which is true, and vague.

The correct answer (assuming that it really is a result) is that it will demonstrate that there really is a market for this, and this may spur much-needed private investment into low-cost space transportation, finally breaking us out of the government-funded rut in which we've been stuck for over four decades.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:26 PM
Heroes Getting Support

Just as a Saturday night update, we've broken the 200 barrier on the signatures.

Next week, we need to make an all-out push to publicize this.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:11 PM
Setback In Caracas

Looks like there's a counterrevolution occurring.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:03 PM
Sorry, Mr. Hoagland

The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft has taken pictures of the Cydonia region of Mars, and they've been analyzed and released today.

If that looks like a face, then I look like Cindy Crawford.

It's very clear to me that it's just a hill with terraces. But I'm sure that the Face-on-Mars loons will persist, claiming that the photo was doctored, or they'll get out Photoshop and fill in the gaps, and claim that that was what it looked like prior to erosion. Or they'll just continue to live in denial and say it does so look like a face.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:26 PM
Now We Know It Was A Good Thing For Sure

Fidel is upset about Chavez' ouster.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:35 AM

April 12, 2002

Next Thing You Know, They'll Be Following Orders

In the Washington Post yesterday, they've got a real howler:

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the committee that funds NASA, has expressed reservations about the growing cooperation between the military and the Pentagon.

[Update on Saturday morning]

Two days later, they haven't gone back and fixed it.

Wonder if they'll do an errata next week? Or already have and I just haven't seen it?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 03:11 PM
More Good News From Venezuela

Apparently it's not a purely military coup--a civilian junta, led by the businessman who had opposed Chavez will be ruling until elections can be held. And the result is a fall in oil prices.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:23 PM
Resolution To Microsoft Case

They've finally decided on a solution. The company will be split into two separate companies. One will write software, and the other will build patches.

Hilarious.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:57 AM
New Terminology

I just heard Bridget Quinn on Fox News use the phrase "homicide bomber" rather than "suicide bomber." I wonder if they have a new style guide, or she did it on her own.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:54 AM
Barbara Finally Gets Her Ride

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe will announce today that Barbara Morgan, the back-up teacher in space to Christa McAuliffe, will finally get to fly.

Dan Goldin viscerally and vociferously opposed civilians in space (except for corrupt Senators), and refused to reinstate the teacher-in-space program (it was suspended after the Challenger accident, in which McAuliffe was killed). Morgan is finally flying because she was formally accepted as a member of the astronaut corps, and has been training for several years. However, I suspect that she'll still try to get in some teaching during her flight.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:42 AM
Send In The Clones

Virginia Postrel (who still doesn't have any way to permalink individual posts) has some good thoughts on the cloning debate today.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:11 AM
Honor

For people who agree with Kathy Kinsley's proposal that the Afghan scientists who hid the radioactive material from Al Qaeda deserve a Peace Prize, there's now an on-line petition available.

I've signed it. (Thanks to Dan Hartung for setting it up)

[Update at 10:45AM PDT]

When I signed early this morning, I was number four. Now there are twenty seven. I know that Kathy and I have both publicized it, but don't know if anyone else has picked it up on their blogs yet. We'll know that Instantman has when it starts jumping by orders of magnitude. Did all those signatures come from my and Kathy's site?

[1:11PM PDT Update]

Now there are thirty seven signatures, and I see that Bill Quick has linked to it.

Let's see how fast we can spread this meme.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:52 AM
Remembrance And Celebration

As I discussed last week, today is the forty-first anniversary of the first manned spaceflight, and the twenty-first anniversary of the first Shuttle flight. The Yuri's Night celebrations will occur all over the world today. They'll be doing a continuous webcast, and the number of worldwide (and offworld) parties is now up to a hundred and twenty.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:40 AM

April 11, 2002

Hit 'Em Again, Harder...Harder

As if he hadn't rendered Mr. Antiwarblogger sufficiently subterranean yesterday, Lileks pounds him a few feet deeper. The rest of the bleat is hilarious as well.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:25 PM
Well, Duhhhh...

Not there was much doubt, but Israel has provided the U.S. government with evidence of Arafat's complicity in the Israeli terror attacks.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:10 PM
More Irony

The growing sense of new pogroms against Jews worldwide may spur additional emigration to Israel, further confounding Palestinian extremists' goals. Some may conclude that Israel, buttressed by a growing Jewish population willing and able to defend itself, may be the safest place...

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:31 PM
Wobbly Watch

An interesting article in the weekly Standard by Kristol (never known as a big Bush fan) and Kagan, asks the question, "has Bush jumped off the anti-terrorism train?

Either this is more of a deep deception by the White House and, as Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, they have recognized that a "war on terrorism" is indeed too simplistic, and has declared war on the real enemy instead, but don't want to tip their hand yet, or they really are out to sea in a policy sense. There's insufficient evidence for me to tell which is the case.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:24 PM
End Near For Chavez?

A half a million people reportedly marched on the Palace in Caracas demanding his resignation.

If he refuses, can a coup be far behind?

[Update at 2:37PM PDT]

Now, he's apparently shut down the private television stations, while condemning them on the government station. This is always the end point of imposed socialism. No other freedom can survive the usurpation of property rights.

I think that President Chavez is due for a long vacation in someplace like Havana, and soon.

[Update at 2:52 PM PDT]

Here's the latest update from AP.

Multiple shots were fired near the palace, and scuffles with police erupted in several downtown locations. Some people fired on crowds from rooftops. A body lay in a pool of blood next to the presidential palace.

Greater Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena, a Chavez opponent, quoted Manuel Rojas, director of Caracas' Hospital Vargas, as saying that four people were killed and 24 wounded.

"Chavez has shown his true face. This dictator's apprentice brutally ordered the repression of a peaceful demonstration," Pena claimed.

[Late update at 10:34PM PDT]

The coup is now official according to Reuters. Chavez is history.

I don't know if this is good, but getting rid of Chavez surely isn't bad. At a minimum, we should be in there gathering up any intel that we can, to see what kind of mischief Castro was up to in South America, and what relationships there may have been with guerilla groups like FARC in Colombia (which may be the next threat to stability in the region).

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:31 PM
Disaster Prevention

Nice catch by the bellicose babe.

This should be much bigger news. These guys are real heros.

It also points up what fools the Al Qaeda folks were.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:50 AM
Only One Day Left For Tickets

I'd like to take another little war break here, for a post on loftier and more inspiring subjects.

I know that I'm often (but justifiably) hard on NASA and the ISS, but watching the orbital construction going on right now is pretty damned cool. It's like when I was a kid and was fascinated by the bull dozers, but much better. It almost makes me feel like I'm living in the twenty-first century, even without the flying cars.

I don't have NASA TV, but those who do can probably see it non-stop for the next few hours. Fox is cutting to shots of it occasionally. The video isn't great--it's a little grainy--but you can clearly see the swirling blue ocean and clouds slowly scrolling past the station on the earth over three hundred miles below.

How anyone can think that there's no market for views and experiences like that is totally beyond me.

Anyway, for those who want to get down and pa-tay to celebrate space, the Yuri's night party is tomorrow night. The flagship party is at the Air Museum at the Santa Monica airport, and they'll be linked by video with the other parties, and the space station. I just got this press release:

Yuri?s Night: The World Space Party, rocking the world on April 12, reached its goal of 100 parties today by blasting into orbit. The 99th and 100th Yuri?s Night parties take the form of video messages from the International Space Station (ISS) and the US Space Shuttle.

The greetings transform Yuri?s Night from a planetary celebration of space to one that has taken its first steps into the solar system.

?I just wanted to tape a short greeting to all of those of you who are attending Yuri?s Night,? said astronaut Jim Newman, speaking 360 miles above the Earth?s surface onboard Shuttle Mission STS-109. ?There are really no boundaries visible from space,? Newman continued, ?and I just wanted to leave you with this short message, celebrating the accomplishments of humans in space, and hoping for a better future for humans on Earth.?

Newman?s message will join a special greeting from the Expedition Four ISS Crew of Yury Onufrienok, Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz, that will be broadcast worldwide on April 12.

Both videos will be the centerpiece of Yuri?s Night parties around the world. The dual recordings hold particular significance for Yuri?s Night, as April 12 is not only the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin?s historic first spaceflight, but also the anniversary of the first launch of the Space Shuttle.

The Space Station greeting was recorded at the Russian Mission Control Center in Korolyov, Russia, and made possible by the support of the Youth Space Center, Bauman Moscow State Technical University (BMSTU). Victoria Mayorova, Youth Space Center Director, Yulia Stetskyuk, BMSTU student, and Julia Tizard, a student at Manchester University, joined forces to bring the World Space Party into orbit.

?Yuri?s Night unites humanity in a peaceful celebration of space,? said Tizard. ?Since humanity is now in orbit, it only makes sense to celebrate Yuri?s Night there as well.?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:13 AM
Slow Cook Or Flambe?

I missed this piece on Tuesday at Tech Central, in which Sally Baliunas compares the threats to the planet of global warming versus an asteroid strike.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:34 AM
A Severe Bleating

Does Lileks need the link? No.

But today's bleat is too scrumptious not to.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:29 AM

April 10, 2002

Cheaper By The Dozen (Part Deux)

The International Space Station continues, amidst politics and its own Arthur Anderson accounting mess, to inch forward. The current mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis will add a key element to it--a truss that will provide the backbone for assembly tools and the additional solar panels and radiators needed to provide adequate power for the scientific research envisioned for it.

The Space Station program started formally with an announcement in President Reagan's State of the Union address back in 1984 (though millions had been spent on conceptual studies for years prior to that). Its stated purpose was to perform scientific research, but its true purpose was to give NASA something to do as the Shuttle development wound down, just as the development of the Shuttle kept NASA centers occupied and maintained the jobs base in critical congressional districts after the end of Apollo a decade earlier. Later, its purpose transmogrified into, in addition, promoting "international cooperation" (and in the 1990s, providing "midnight basketball" for the Russian scientists who might otherwise be working for Saddam Hussein or North Korea).

And because requirements were never defined very well, and changed almost every year, and it wasn't necessary to actually build hardware and launch it into space in order to meet any of the above true program goals, the program spent a lot of money for many years without a lot of results. The original hope was for a station in 1992, the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World. Instead, the first piece of hardware didn't go into orbit until almost the end of the century.

But now we have a space station, of sorts. Much is made of how large it is, and if you simply put a yard stick on it, or count miles of plumbing or wiring, it is certainly the largest structure we've ever put in space, but this is misleading. For all of its supposedly gargantuan attributes, it remains unable to support more people (three) than our first space station--Skylab--launched over a quarter of a century ago. Indeed, the crew size is so small, in a facility so complex, that almost all available crew time will be spent in constructing and maintaining the space station itself, rather than in doing any actual science. So on a dollars per manned-space-science basis, we've gone backwards since the 1970s.

I've previously discussed the economics of the Space Shuttle, and why it's so expensive to operate, for reasons that have nothing intrinsically to do with the fact that it's a space vehicle. When you need a multi-billion dollar infrastructure to operate a vehicle, and only fly that vehicle a few times a year, every flight is going to be wallet-achingly expensive. The ISS has the same problem--it has no economies of scale. It all comes down to the difference between fixed and variable costs.

The first fifteen years of the program spent a billion or two year after year, doing nothing except designing, and redesigning, and planning, and building mockups and prototypes, and eventually tooling to actually build space station components. If they had cut the program off a couple years before they had actually launched the first component, they could have spent upwards of twenty billion dollars without building anything. The cost of the actual hardware itself, in comparison to this expenditure, is quite small. That means that, at least in theory, the cost of building the station much larger wouldn't be that much more.

Here's a real-life example (though the numbers will be approximate). Back in the late 1980s, when I worked on the program, the estimated cost to completion was about thirty billion. The people at NASA were told that due to budget constraints, they had to cut five billion out of it. A program manager at NASA (who will remain nameless) told me, "that's the cost of the hardware!"

In other words, in terms of actually building a space station, they could spend twenty five billion dollars and get nothing, or spend thirty billion dollars and get what they planned. And this implies that they could spend thirty-five billion and get twice what they planned, for an increase in costs of only 17%. Another way to look at it is that for a doubling of the budget, they could have a station five times the size. (This is a little oversimplified, but you get the idea.)

Why do we have such a penny-saved, pound-foolish space program?

Because space isn't important. It doesn't matter whether the space station is as large as it is, or half that size, or ten times that size, because the people funding it don't care how big it is. The only thing they care about is how many jobs (not how much wealth) it creates, or how much international cooperation it promotes.

No one will ever lose an election because we don't have a good civil space station. That's why, if we really do care about having good space stations, and other things, it's important to get space activities out of the Big Government Program mode that they've been in since the Cold War, and into the private sector. Because private enterprise will care about actual outputs and marginal costs, and value for the dollar, in a way that governments never do.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:58 PM
Really Stupid White Man

Michael Moore a plagiarist? I'm shocked, shocked.

He could now join the ranks of Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose, except that unlike him, they actually plagiarized things worth reading.

And the notion that he's being accused by a San Francisco activist of stealing her material? That's rich. Since when does such a person care for such bourgeois notions as intellectual (or for that matter, any private) property?

(Link is to summary--full article only available from Salon Premium)

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:19 PM
Wearing The Tee Shirt With Pride

Now I'm a war criminal, too.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:45 PM
No Softballs From Neil

Cavuto just did an interview with Ashrawi, in which instead of weeping with her about how awful the Israelis were, he actually asked her questions, and challenged her, and didn't let her spin away (though as usual, she spent a lot of time filibustering). After that NPR schmoozefest yesterday, it was quite refreshing. Catch it on the repeat tonight, if you're up that late.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:15 PM
Feeeelings, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa...

Fellow blogger Jackson Murphy (who I have to get around to permalinking one of these days) has a nice piece in Enter Stage Right about the demise of Oprah's book club.

My summary. Oprah's book picks, like her show, were about feeling. Successful book clubs post 911, like Andrew Sullivan's, will be about thinking.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:31 PM
The Swishy Side Of Sesame Street

Crack ABC commentator Buck Wolf unveils more dirt about Bert. And Ernie. It's not just Osama any more.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:18 PM
The Next Front

Check out this piece by Krauthammer. It explains, using the example of the tinder-box of Lebanon, why there will never be a "land for peace" with the Palestinians on the West Bank, at least not until we've lanced the infection of terrorism there. Depressing, but accurate.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:59 AM
Luddism At The Top

Listening to Bush speak out against cloning spurred me to sign the petition here. This is the first issue on which I think that I would have preferred Gore.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:26 AM

April 09, 2002

Florida Bombshell?

I'm seeing some reports from people on the ground in Florida that a story's going to break tomorrow that Juan Gonzales (remember, Elian's poppa?) requested asylum three times from Janet "Roast the Waco Kids" Reno while he was holed up in the Cuban embassy in DC, and was repeatedly denied.

The implications for both the integrity of the INS during the Clinton administration, and Janet's gubernatorial bid, are immense.

[Wednesday morning update]

While it isn't direct confirmation of the original rumor, the Miami Herald is reporting that INS was considering granting asylum to Elian, because there was some evidence that Poppa had requested it for himself. The real news, though, is that Doris Meissner ordered the relevant memo destroyed the day after it was written, and furthermore, ordered that no more written communications on the subject occur.

I wonder if Ms. Meissner's phone logs are available, and if they'll show any calls from the White House?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:38 PM
They're Only Dead Bodies

According to this piece from the Jerusalem Post, the stories about Israelis not allowing ambulances through is bogus. It's the Palestinians who are preventing it, for propaganda purposes.

Now admittedly, this is an Israeli newspaper, but the Palestinians have admitted to, indeed rejoiced in, the deaths of murder-bombers. Why should we not think that they'd unflinchingly use already-dead bodies to advance their cause?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:18 PM
Get Them Into Anger Management...

Don't ask me why, but I'm listening to Jerry Rivers on Greta's show. The internal idiocy pressure has built up, and the pressure relief valve below his nose has opened.

He repeats the same nonsense that we hear from most liberal commentators. It's difficult to make peace because we have two people--Sharon and Arafat--who hate each other too much to make a deal. That's the problem--it's just a personality conflict.

No, Jerry, it's not a personality conflict. It doesn't matter who's in charge of Israel. Yasser is not going to do any deal that doesn't position him to destroy Israel. Period. End of sentence.

What you have is one leader who wants his state to survive, and another who wants that same state to end. There is no compromise here. Arafat doesn't (just) want a Palestinian state. He wants a permanent solution to the problem of a Jewish state in any land that he considers Palestine. Until Jerry, and the other journalists, recognize this fundamental fact, the reportage from the region will continue to be skewed and bizarre.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:09 PM
Obscene Moral Equivalency

According to this story from AP, campus idiotarians are protesting Israeli policies. I weep at such a blatant display of historical ignorance:

Students for Justice in Palestine likened the current Mideast violence to the Holocaust -- only with the Palestinians as the victims. They also called for the university to divest any Israel-related investments.

They are equating chasing down terrorists and enemy soldiers cravenly hiding among civilian populations, with putting men, women and children into trains and shipping them off to be shot, or gassed. As someone who probably lost relatives in the latter manner, I am beyond outrage.

"This really should be Holocaust prevention day," said Sarah Weir, a 23-year-old cognitive science major.

I read stuff like this, and I just want to take them by the shoulders and shake them until the oatmeal that passes for cognitive machinery comes out of their ears.

A cognitive science major? She should stop studying thinking for a while, and just try doing it instead. But one wonders if she has the equipment for it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:28 PM
Where's The Outrage?

I already mentioned this this morning (a few posts down), but here's a press story. The Church is angry at the Israelis for shooting at the Church of the Nativity (in apparent response to sniper fire from it). No similar anger is expressed at the Palestinian commandos who took over the place.

In fact, not only are they not angry, but they're attempting to negotiate a deal to move them to Gaza, after they've given up their weapons.

Why are they doing this? Do they think they've done nothing wrong? Or is it because they don't want the church to sustain any more damage, and risk the lives of the hostages (who they will not admit are hostages) in the battle that it would require to capture or kill them?

If the former, they are moral morons, and don't deserve to run a Sunday school, let alone a Christian church. If the latter, then it's clear that the church and its inhabitants are hostages to the situation, regardless of the mealy-mouthed platitudes being pronounced by their eminences.

And either way, they're apparently perfectly comfortable with rewarding terrorism with freedom to go out and do it some more (there's likely no shortage of replacement guns in Gaza).

Christians everywhere should be outraged.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 03:09 PM
Texas Bloviation

Lone-Star-state reader Greg Lange points out this bit of all-too-typical tripe and "shrub" bashing from the unredoubtable Molly Ivins. It's all pretty bad, but the part that really got to me was:

Sharon himself started this second Intifada with his cruelly reckless and deliberately inflammatory visit to the Temple Mount. Took no genius to see what that was going to touch off. If you want to blame this Intifada on someone in particular, Sharon is the leading candidate.

Yes, Molly, ignore the evidence that the Intifada was planned for months leading up to that, and the visit was an excuse--not a reason.

Anyway, I don't have time to dissect this properly right now--maybe someone else will take a crack at it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:39 PM
The Forgotten Founder

George Mason finally got a memorial on the mall today.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:52 PM
On Dixie's Land I'll Take My Stand

Lee surrendered to Grant a hundred and thirty seven years ago today, at Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the War Between The States. This site describes the events leading up to that final capitulation. I'm struck by the professional tone of the letters between the two generals, in the days prior.

This is one of the reasons that Grant was a great general. He was always a clear communicator, and his letters to his officers had the same clarity--describing exactly what was to be accomplished strategically, without necessarily dictating how, leaving that instead to their initiative.

Also, to put this event in context of current events, consider, as we mourn the loss of some three thousand dead.

That war killed over six hundred thousand Americans on both sides. And this was when the country only had a total population of about forty million. Losing the equivalent today, percentage wise, would be like losing four or five million people, mostly men in arms.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:37 PM
New Front In The War On Terror?

From the Washington Times:

Turkish officials are warning NATO allies that they have detected new bases for the militant PKK Kurdish Workers Party being built in northern Iran, at least three in the Iranian city of Umriye disguised as medical facilities. The PKK have apparently relocated -- with Iranian permission -- after being driven out of northern Iraq last year by Turkish military raids. The Turks say they have evidence that the new camps are storing weapons and training insurgents -- and are dropping strong hints of an al Qaida connection.

As the story points out, such warnings are often prelude to a cross-border strike. The Turks have done this to Iraq in the past, under similar circumstances, but I'm not aware that they've ever gone after Iran. If they do, this could set up another flashpoint in the Middle East, whether Al Qaeda are involved or not.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:15 PM
Is The War Over?

Instantman points to this WaPo article that has an interesting image in it. It's a map of Israel that he says makes no distinction between Israel proper and the occupied territories.

He overstates it a bit. There is a thin black line separating the West Bank and Gaza from the rest, and they are separately labeled, but he's right in the sense that they're not cross hatched or differently colored--presbyopics have to put on their glasses to see the difference.

I'm figuring that they just got it from a Palestinian text book, and changed the name of the map from "Palestine" to "Israel" for domestic consumption. Those lazy WaPo reporters...

[Update at 1:21PM PDT]

Whoops, somebody at the Post must read weblogs. They've taken it down.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:23 AM
British Saddamites

Steyn is, as usual, a must read.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:13 AM
Apocalyptic Fears

There's a thread over at Charles Johnson's site about this article in the LA Times.

As I point out in his comments section, I think that the concern over nuclear winter is overblown. That theory has been pretty throughly discredited, at least as originally propounded by Sagan et al. No one really knows what the effects of a massive nuclear war would be, but if it's unlikely that a Soviet-US exchange would cause one, it's hard to see how Israel alone could. However, Israel is certainly capable of making glowing parking lots out of places like Baghdad, Riyadh and even Mecca.

To the commentator who suggested that the West Bank itself might be a nuclear target, there are a number of reasons that this would be unlikely. The Israelis wants that territory for itself, and won't want to have to clean up a radioactive mess. They'd prefer to keep everything intact.

Which brings up a disconcerting thought. Have they developed a neutron bomb?

These posts are getting depressing. I'll try to shift the subject back to space a little later today.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:00 AM
National Palestinian Radio

I just heard an infuriating broadcast on Morning All Things Considered (a program that was particularly woefully mistitled this morning--it should have been One Side Considered) on the situation in Israel and the West Bank. It was shockingly blatant anti-Israeli propaganda, even for them.

First, they give a run down of the news--Israel is still ignoring the U.S. calls to withdraw, except for a couple villages (which are not really part of a withdrawal, but just going through the motions to try to assuage world opinion). They are still holding the major cities, and "claiming" to have found rockets close to Jerusalem.

But the worst part was when they reported that there was a firefight on the Church of the Nativity. The reportage is that the Israelis have fired on it. The Israeli's "claimed" to have been fired on first (but who can believe those lying Jews, I suppose one is to infer from the way they say it). They report anger from the Holy See, with a quote from some representative, who describes the attack as "barbaric," and there is "no excuse."

Absolutely no mention is made of the fact that armed Palestinian terrorists have been holed up there for days, possibly with hostages. Not just no criticism--no mention. If one only heard the report, and had no other knowledge, one would assume that the Israelis simply attacked one of the holiest Christian sites, with no true provocation.

Where is the condemnation, where is the outrage, at the Palestinians for taking over the Church in the first place? I've heard absolutely none, including from the Holy See.

Then, after the "news," they of course have the obligatory, unbalanced interview with Peter Jennings' ex-girlfriend, Hanan Ashrawi. They pitch a bunch of softballs at her, asking how terrible it is, expressing sympathy, asking if it's true that she's depressed and without hope, as she goes through her litany about Israeli "terrorism" and "war crimes," how the Palestinian Authority is being dismantled and how the world simply stands by while Israel is not held accountable.

They don't, of course, sully the moment by asking any unpleasant questions concerning Palestinian, or Palestinian Authority accountability for murders of Israeli civilians, or about the weapons caches being found. Again, if one heard only this broadcast, one would never know that prior to the incursion, Israel had been plagued by waves of murder bombers. No, it's just the innocent Palestinian people being oppressed by the Evil Jews.

Disgusting.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:41 AM

April 08, 2002

Well, That's A Relief

President Chirac assures us that France is not anti-Semitic.

Who said it was, Jacques? It's just the government that is. You know, like the French ambassador to Britain who called Israel a [expletive deleted] little country, and as far as I can tell, still has his job?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:36 PM
New Cowardly Leftist On The Block

My, my, isn't this "Eric A. Blair" a piece of work?

And what a yuck. Using George Orwell's real name as a pseudonym.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:25 PM
Stonewall Saddam? I Don't Think So

In a commentary on my post yesterday about the world war in which we find ourselves (if, unlike the dominant media, we're sufficiently perspicacious), fellow blogger Rich Hailey points out that the technological asymmetry between the West (and particularly the U.S.) and the Arab powers may not be as advantageous to us as we hope, by comparing the situation to the War Between The States, in which the North, a burgeoning industrial power, had fits defeating the South, a confederacy of rural, agrarian states.

I find the analogy extremely strained.

He points out having Lincoln as the difference, but there are many differences. The South had technology available to them, and knew how to use it--they even ramped up their own industrial production. Their problem was that they didn't have a navy with which to defeat the northern blockade, and after the Emancipation Proclamation, they could no longer hope for Britain as an ally.

But the main reason they put up such a good fight for so long was not because of fanatical bravery and devotion to their cause (though they had that in abundance)--it was vastly superior generalship, until Grant was put in charge. And while the South had some brilliant generals, this is more of a commentary on the poor quality of those of the Union, most notably McClellan, who threw away opportunity after opportunity to follow up a battlefield victory with the destruction of Lee's army, instead always failing to follow through and pursue.

Somehow, at least based on what we've seen from Iraq in the Gulf War, and more recently in Afghanistan, I suspect that we'll also have an asymmetry in military leadership, as well as in technological and industrial resources. Except, this time, unlike the Union, it will vastly favor the U.S. government.

The Arabs have shown themselves to occasionally be very good at tactics (e.g., hijacking airliners and crashing them into buildings), and blunderingly idiotic at strategy. It's possible they'll learn, but based on the rhetoric coming out of the region, it seems unlikely.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:13 PM

April 07, 2002

Like It Will Make A Difference?

In an article in the Journal today, Fred Kagan warns that the U.S. military lacks resources for the war.

Without passing comment on his general thesis, I have to take exception to this comment:

"...the importance of our missions in Bosnia and Kosovo should be allowed to slip from view, either. One of the purposes our forces serve there is to protect Muslims from Serbian attack. A pullout would mean that Slavs would again begin harming Muslims. Considering the precipitous rise in tensions between the U.S. and the Muslim world, is this the time to run that particular risk?

What risk? They've shown no gratitude, or even recognition of what we've done for Muslims in the Balkans. If we need the troops to fight where there's actually a threat to us, pull 'em out of there. Let the Europeans spend some of that money they've had to build welfare states because we've been defending them for sixty years, to clean up the mess in their own back yard.

[Monday 1:25PM PDT update]

Reader "Pouncer" suggests:

If, in fact, the US is short resources to fight a major war, the "first domino" to kick over among Axis of Evil adversaries should be--North Korea.

We keep some 30,000 troops tied up there enforcing a cease fire at the DMZ. We've done so for 50 years. A very strong ally with major strategic interest in keeping the North Koreans under control is trained, rested, and ready to act under U.S. guidance. (That would be, unlike Northern Alliance or Kurdis irregulars, the actual ARMY of the nation of South Korea.)

The army is often charged with making plans "to fight the last war." To the extent that's true, there must be libraries full of plans to topple North Korea--hundreds of scenarios already wargamed out. Picking one may be a challenge, but any of the best ten of a hundred is likely to be okay.

Kick over North Korea, free up 29,700 U.S. fighting men (assuming about 1% casuality rates). Demonstrate resolve. Take the spotlight off the Middle East. Show Mainland China that we can be serious when the mood strikes us...

Then move the focus back on Iraq. If, that is, such a place still exists by the time the Israelis get through.

That's not a bad idea, except that they're probably worried about China's reaction. The last time we tried that, we ended up facing Chinese troops, and it's not unthinkable that the same could happen again. Of course, the difference is that China is not as enamored with NK as it used to be, and Russia has very little love for it, so we might be able to pull it off.

It's too bad that we've kept Japan toothless for so long--it would be a lot easier to let them do the job, as their contribution to the war. But I suspect that would reopen too many old wounds from the last time they invaded Korea, with less benign intent.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:26 PM
Pundit Cluelessness And The War

Well, Professor Reynolds beat me to the punch line, but here's the post I promised last night.

The conventional "wisdom" of the media and punditocracy seems to be the following:

The Middle East is a region of states hostile to us (Iraq and Iran), states indifferent to us (Syria), and states friendly to us (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the other Gulf States, and Egypt). In order to deal with the hostile states (primarily Iraq) we have to get support of the "friendly states," particularly Saudi Arabia. This is the famous "coalition" that we had put together in the Gulf War.

But the Saudis are nervous about us being on their territory at all, because this is one of the things that upset Osama, and their own people might not stand for it. In addition, though they'd like to help, they and the other "friendly" states (like Egypt) are upset with us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which has nothing to do with the War on Terrorism). So, at a minimum, in order to have them as part of the necessary coalition, we must first resolve the Palestinian problem, or at least reign in our ally, Israel, who is mostly to blame for all the problems over there, and (remember again) this has nothing to do with the War on Terrorism--it's just a distraction from it.

The War on Terror (you know, the one that has nothing to do with Israel or Palestine) is being waged against us by a (relatively) few fanatics, and they are supported by renegades in those "friendly" countries, and there's little their governments can do about it, because the people are so righteously angry at us for the Palestinian problem that any attempt to crack down on terror in those nations might result in instability in the region, causing those "friendly" governments to fall, with much worse replacements.

This is the standard template for almost all discussion of the subject, at least in most mainstream news sources.

Now here's the reality:

The Arab world is at war with us (us being western civilization), and has been since at least the end of World War II. For most of the world, and for most of that time, it has been a low-grade war, with the only active battlefront in Israel, because the Arab states lacked the resources to take it to their real enemy, in Europe and America, other than with pinpricks like the Lockerbie bombing, and the embassy and Marine barracks attacks.

Because they couldn't successfully wage a conventional war against us, they've instead been waging an unconventional one. They have colonized large parts of the world with their ideology, by funding mosques and religious schools (including North America), and taken over the governments of the countries themselves when they could get away with it (e.g., Afghanistan). They have funded terrorists both directly and indirectly, and they have filled their own people with a rage against us, while at the same time oppressing them. Part of this unconventional war was to pretend that it wasn't happening, with diplomacy and propaganda, paid for by their oil millions. Unfortunately, we've been merely swatting them away like mosquitos, instead of recognizing them for the threat they were.

Up until September 11, the main front was in Israel, using hapless maleducated Palestinians as their pawns and proxies. We have to recognize that, as PM Netanyahu says, we and Israel are fighting the same war, against the same nihilistic enemy, and have been for decades. The Intifada is not a separate problem from the War on Terrorism--it is an integral part of it, and always has been, even when we (the U.S.) didn't realize that we were at war.

But last September, they figured out how to take the war more directly to the enemy, or at least they thought they did. They played, and in fact overplayed their hand, and they can now be recognized for what they are--open enemies of our country. At a minimum, their near-term goal is to prevent us from inhibiting the spreading of their vile beliefs further into lands they consider naturally Wahhabi Islamic. Ultimately, they would like for the entire world to believe as they do, which is why they take the millions we provide them for oil, and fund mosques and madrassas with it, even in the US.

People who say that we have to wait until we straighten out the mess in Israel before we can take on Iraq have it exactly backwards. Taking out Saddam will eliminate the most immediate threat of being attacked with WMD, and it will provide an object lesson to the remaining regimes of what happens when you wage war against civilization. And it will make it much easier to put someone in
charge of the Palestinians who is reasonable and can actually be negotiated with in trust.

But the road to Baghdad may lie through Riyadh. And in fact, though the Administration has been loathe to admit it, they may not be able to ignore the elephant in the living room for much longer--even Cokie Roberts pointed out this morning that the Saudis are rewarding Palestinian Islamakazis, just as Saddam is, though neither she, nor anyone else in the roundtable, discussed the true implications of this.

The current Saudi regime has to go eventually--they are the source, the wellspring, of the Arab war against us. Most of the Al Qaeda's money came from there, most of the 911 attackers were from there, all of the hatred being preached in the mosques is funded from there. But I suspect that the Administration has been hoping that they can instill a change in Saudi behavior by making an example of Saddam, who has much less support (though still too much) from our European "allies," and against whom a clear-cut case can be made of being in more-or-less continuous breach of the surrender agreement he signed in 1991.

I think that this is a naive view. Saddam must go, but so must the House of Saud, at least in its current form. If they won't grant us permission to use their bases for our mission in Iraq, and we require them to save lives, money and time, then we should use them without their permission. They must recognize that we finally recognize that they have been warring with us since at least 1948, and that we are no longer going to tolerate it, and there's little they can do to prevent it.

If their regime falls as a result, c'est la guerre. It will be a necessary beginning to liberating the people of all of the Arab states from their oppressors. And for those who value "regional stability" over freedom and security, I say, when the status quo is so odious, instability is our friend. We are at war.

[Update at 2:49 PM PDT]

Glenn notes this post, and says that I say "that now they're ready to take it to a higher level."

Actually, just to clarify, I don't think that they were really ready to take it to a higher level--they just accidentally did. Osama got ahead of them, and I don't think that they realized exactly how ambitious he was.

So now it's at a higher level, we've been tipped off, and they're not ready for it, so they're continuing to pretend that it didn't really happen--it was just that terrorist over there (averting eyes to the ground, whistling, making circles in dirt with toe...).

[Update at 3:01 PM PDT]

I should also add, that I'm not actually proposing going to war with the entire Arab world. We need to use a little jujitsu, and actually work with the few friends that we have there to really splinter it (not a difficult task at all, since they're always on the verge of doing it to themselves). Probably the best hope is Jordan. We need to cut a deal with King Abdullah that he gets back the Saudi Peninsula, in exchange for use of his territory for strikes on Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Put the Hashemite Kingdom in charge of the holy places, and cut out some territory for a Palestinian state in present-day Jordan (after doing another Black September on the current Palestinian leadership, which Israel has already made a start at). Egypt, hopefully, could be left on the sidelines.

This would be a major step toward an Arab world with which we, and the Israelis, could live.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:09 PM
Open Mouth, Insert Foot, Colin

From today's Fox News Sunday:

Powell: And so all we're doing is killing lots of innocent people by this kind of activity. We're killing lots of innocent, young Palestinians who commit this act of murder called suicide bombing, and we're killing lots of innocents on the other side, and other Palestinian innocents are killed in the response that comes back the other way. So we've got to bring this to an end.

"...innocent, young Palestinians who commit this act of murder...?

Hokay. I wonder if he's going to attempt to clarify that statement over the next day or two. Or if anyone will even ask him about it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:19 AM
Bamboozling The Punditocracy

There's a nice little column by Paul Greenberg today on how Bush is keeping the press off balance.

...The punditry is confused, which is nothing new, but these days it knows it is, which is unusual. And all those elevated kibitzers are mighty unhappy about this country's not having a clear, unmistakable foreign policy they can attack.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:41 AM

April 06, 2002

Linkage

There are a couple of great posts by the Captain tonight. Go ye forth and read them.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:05 PM
Saturday Night Pundit Watch

Not to steal any of Will Vehr's thunder, but I watched McLaughlin, and then Tim Russert, and a little of the Capitol Gang tonight, and thought I'd relate a few of my resultant musings.

On McLaughlin, I think that when Eleanor Clift and Pat Buchanan agree on something, it's not only probably wrong, but it's most likely wrong squared. They both say that Sharon is the problem in Israel. No surprise--Eleanor attacking Israel from the left, because it's too dynamic and politically incorrect, and Pat attacking it from whatever direction he comes from, because it's full of Jews.

I was disappointed that Mr. McLaughlin didn't get it, however. The only people on the panel who seemed to have their heads screwed on without stripping any threads were Mort Zuckerman (unfortunately, probably only because he actually is Jewish, otherwise he'd probably be in the Eleanor camp, as he usually is), and Tony Blankley, who both recognized that Israel is in a fight for its very survival against an implacable foe.

The most interesting thing (at least to me) about the discussion was that Eleanor freely admitted that Arafat had no interest in peace. But she also said that any replacement of him other than dying peacefully in bed would simply make of him a martyr, and his replacement would be even worse. I waited in vain for someone to ask her the two questions:


  • How could things be worse? and
  • In that case, what's the point in negotiating with him?

On Tim Russert's weekend interview hour, he had Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of his favorite perennial guests.

She spent the beginning of the interview discussing the plagiarism charges, and how she regretted what she'd done, but how it had all been overblown, and what a victim she was.

Then the discussion turned to Presidential history. Most of it was unexceptionable (LBJ, FDR, Lincoln, what events result in greatness, etc.), until she got to Mr. Clinton, who it's obvious she still doesn't get. She repeated the standard spin that "nothing was found in Whitewater," and then said the following amazing thing (from memory, so the quote may not be exact):

"He's such a resilient guy. That's one of his great strengths. Many people would be morose and depressed about how things turned out, and how their legacy might be, but he's partying and raising money to make his family secure, and still seems to be enjoying life, blah, blah, blah..."

Doris, here's a hint. Go to your dictionary, and look up the word "sociopath." Then tell me whether or not it's a "great strength."

She also talked about listening to ball games and keeping score for her dad, when she was a kid, which she thought trained her to do historical narrative. That was nice.

On The Capitol Gang, I was first struck by the imbalance. Mark Shields, Al Hunt, Margaret Carlson, and Bob Novak. Does anyone think that the first three of those people have ever even considered voting for a Republican? Me neither. So, only three to one. Not bad, perhaps, for CNN.

What really shocked me, though, was that Novak seemed to be suffering from the same brain inflammation as McLaughlin.

I'm not going to comment more, except to say that the media (even much of the media that the public considers "conservative" or "right-wing"), doesn't get it. My next post will be a disquisition on what the conventional "wisdom" is on the subject of the war on terrorism, and my own (different) take on it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:25 PM
Yeah, That'll Help

Hillary endorsed Gray Davis.

What a surprise. You mean she supports Democratic governors?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 03:14 PM
More Hornets Coming Out Of The Nest

Now Sudan is getting into the act.

This is starting to look more and more like World War III started on September 11. Except this time, Europe will sit on the sidelines. And there's a tremendous technological and industrial asymmetry between the good guys and the bad.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 03:06 PM
Robert Fisk: Moral Cripple

Now he's setting up a moral equivalence between the Holocaust, and the fact that the Palestinians were urged to leave by their Arab "allies" in 1948 (so they could come back and retake Palestine after the renewed war that would drive the hated Jews into the sea).

Of course, it's much easier to do so when you leave out the actual history as I just described it, and instead falsely claim that the Jews forced them out, in an ethnic cleansing operation. Does he really believe this stuff? Is he really that ignorant of history? Or is he just another leftist who thinks that the truth doesn't matter, as long as the lies are in the service of "progress"?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 03:01 PM
Straw Grasping?

It's starting to look to me as if the reference to "Christians" in Prince Bandar's mendacious opinion piece wasn't just happenstance. It seems to be a general new ploy on the part of the Islamofascists, who are trying to posture as allies of Christians against the hated Jews to elicit sympathy from America.

Now they're claiming that the Israelis (whose forefathers, they helpfully inform us, nailed Jesus to the cross) were deliberately targeting a statue of the Virgin Mary. They're also continuing to promulgate the discredited lies about Ben Franklin being anti-semitic.

I'm hoping that this is a sign of desperation.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:39 PM
Et Tu, Riyadh?

Fox News is starting to pick up on the story that the rest of the media have been studiously ignoring--the Saudis are rewarding Palestinian terrorists just as Saddam is. David Asman called it "the elephant in the living room," and asked how much longer the Administration is going to be able to ignore it, and apply a double standard.

I'm wondering if (and hoping that) the President's speech a couple of days ago was a hint to the House of Saud that they'd better clean up their act, and that they don't have much longer.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:42 AM
Comet Viewing

If the sky's clear in your area, go check out the comet tonight after sunset. Thanks to Jay Manifold for the link.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:34 AM

April 05, 2002

Don't Give Me That, You Snotty-Faced Heap Of Parrot Droppings!

Some peace "activists" (gotta love that word--just like the "activists" who disassemble themselves and their immediate neighbors at weddings), were "abused" on their way home from Israel.

You know, I read the entire article, and I couldn't figure out what the "abuse" was. All that was reported was some loud criticism. Why am I surprised that idiot British peaceniks have such thin epidermi?

Well, you know, one man's abuse is another man's righteous indignation.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:15 PM
The "Wisdom" Of Repugnance

In a post about the recent finding that first-cousin marriage carries a lower risk of genetic defect than previously thought, Charles Murtaugh says:

...although we consider it tragic that a Huntington's patient might have affected children, we aren't repulsed at the very idea of allowing him or her to reproduce. This suggests that our repugnance at brother-sister incest (which carries a much lower than 50% risk of Huntington's-level disease) has little if anything to do with genetics. Score one for Leon Kass's "wisdom of repugnance" thesis.

I don't think so. An evolutionary-psychology explanation for such repugnance (and in fact, all repugnance--after all, repugnance is an emotion, and emotions are just our genes' way of getting us to do what they want) is that it evolved precisely as a result of the evolutionary benefit of not getting it on with your siblings.

But not all evolutionary adaptations are advantageous in the modern world. What repulsed us on the savanna is not necessarily something to be feared, or disgusted by, in the twenty-first century. Repugnance is like any other feeling--consider it a suggestion, rather than a mandate. Repugnance, by itself, cannot provide an infallible basis for laws, particularly when it's not universal.

I share most people's repugnance about incest--I feel none about cloning, regardless of what Professor Kass thinks (or, to be more accurate, feels). Unlike him, I can distinguish between blind evolutionary urges, and true wisdom, which is a much more recent human development.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:45 PM
Escalating Violence Threatens Zombie-Teenager Peace Process

This just in from Iowahawk (aka David Burge)--a Transterrestrial exclusive (so far). This is so tasteless, it's delicious.

Secluded Lake, CA - Saying that "the very survival of prom is at stake," Secluded Lake High School junior class president Chad Blackthorne vowed a clampdown on local Zombie militant factions that have claimed nearly one third of the student body in recent suicide forays on area lakeside cabins.

The international press and diplomatic community were quick to condemn Blackthorne?s new hardline anti-Zombie position, warning that armed reprisals risked long-term peace prospects in the heavily-wooded region.

?Blackthorne?s continued bellicosity will only conclude in more deaths, re-deaths and re-re-deaths,? said an editorial in London?s Guardian Thursday. ?If the weekend dismemberment of twelve scantily-clad SLHS cheerleaders proves anything, it is the need for a permanent Zombie homeland.?

Warning that a retaliatory strike "will only heighten regional tensions," an emergency international diplomatic task force urged local attractive teenagers to adhere to their landmark 1999 peace agreement with area flesh-eating armies of the undead.

"We ask that all parties return to the negotiating table," said United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. "Only through meaningful dialog will we find a political settlement that balances the teenagers' interest in security with the Zombies' interest in self-determination, and delicious fresh teenager brains."

Despite the growing chorus of criticism and calls for restraint, it appears that hardliners in the student assembly were in firm control. Late this afternoon a heavily-armed phalanx of SLHS pep squad members surrounded the mausoleum headquarters of Zombie Authority chairman Nghh-Ghungh Hngghh.

DECOMPOSING A BITTER HISTORY

The latest outbreak of bloodshed and limbshed marked a new low point in the deteriorating relations between local attractive teenagers and the impoverished Zombie community who live in the muddy west bank of Secluded Lake.

According to Everett Kelly of the University of California?s Institute of Zombie Studies, the factional tensions in this sleepy California hamlet go back nearly fifty years.

?In 1956, the teenage population in Secluded Lake was decimated when the fall sock hop was invaded by giant atomic mutant ants,? said Kelly. ?And the survivors had to contend with kelp-covered lagoon creatures and intergalactic aliens in wobbly tin spacecraft.?

Just as many had written off the chances, however, Secluded Lake High developed a powerful defense force of hot-rod hepcats in souped-up roadsters who scored a decisive victory over monster forces in the famed Dragstrip Riot of 1958.

After sporadic battles in the early 1960s against werewolves and unfrozen cavemen surfers, the threat had largely subsided. By 1974, however, local teens were facing a new and even more determined foe.

DAWN OF THE DEAD

?It was the groovy Seventies, and Secluded Lake High students were looking for far-out new places to get down and pah-tay,? explained Kelly. ?Many of them began driving their jacked-up Dusters and boogie vans to the deserted cabins on the west bank of Secluded Lake.?

?The new settlements alarmed the local Zombie community, who resented the invasion of their homeland,? he added. ?They were further enraged by the teens? gigantic shirt collars and nonstop Foghat 8-tracks.?

For many of the dispossessed undead, the incursion was the final straw in a long list of grievances against SLHS. For one, a charismatic young corpse named Nghh-Ghungh Hngghh, it called for direct--and bloody--response.

He recruited dozens of Zombie militants to his fledgling organization, Nnnghhrrr Ghmmng Mnmrrrghn (NGM), and planned radical action against the teens. In September 1975, they made their first strike?-bursting through the fogged-up windows of a Ford Econoline containing two writhing SLHS students.

?The van was a-rockin?, but the Zombies came a-knockin,?? noted Kelly.

While teenage forces eventually exterminated the militants, the episode was a major public relations coup for the Zombie cause and exposed serious weaknesses in the teenager?s defense strategy.

?Despite their previous success against marauding atomic mutants and beast-men, the teenagers were totally unprepared for this new style of warfare,? said Warren Rathke of Georgetown University. ?They relied on outmoded anti-Zombie tactical methods, like splitting into small search parties and skinny dipping at 2 AM.?

?But you must give some credit to NGM,? added Rathke. ?They were relentless, dedicated and deceptively quick. Despite their lumbering, awkward gait they proved almost impossible for the teenagers to outrun.?

TEEN ANGST

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Hngghh found a surplus of young Zombie activists willing to hurl themselves through van windows or smash up through cabin floorboards, a determined army willing to sacrifice themselves for a Zombie homeland and a taste of Teenager Tartare.

While local teenagers continued to execute retaliatory strikes against the Zombies, the reprisals evoked a global outcry against teenager brutality. European governments were particularly critical, especially those with large and growing Zombie immigrant communities.

Even within the halls of Secluded Lake High, the mounting casualties eventually took their toll on student body military resolve. A significant peace movement formed, and student voters elected to replace the hardline student council and Homecoming Princess in 1999.

In a radical departure from previous administrations, new student council president Amber Nielsen worked out a broad peace agreement with Hngghh which granted the Zombies autonomy over the KOA campsite region near Secluded Lake.

The dramatic deal earned Nielsen and Hngghh lavish praise from the international diplomatic community, and they were jointly awarded the 2000 Secluded Lake Rotary Club Peace Prize. Nielsen received hers posthumously after being eaten by a group of Zombie activists.

The deal was not enough to quell the simmering rage of Zombies in the camps, however, and Hngghh was unable to prevent additional attacks last year from radical new pro-Zombie splinter groups like Mnmwwnhhg, Hgngnghh and the Reform Party.

The situation has spun violently out of control this year. High-School hardliners have returned to power, vowing to crush Zombie radical cells and get more parking permits for seniors. A rising tide of Zombie fundamentalism has forced Hnngghh to readopt a hardline position as well.

With their defense forces surrounding Hngghh?s crypt compound, it appears that the teenagers have, for the time being, gained control of the volatile situation. However, they have received little support from the international community and face growing pressure to relent in their crackdown on Zombie dissent and brain-eating.

European governments and media have amplified their calls for a permanent Zombie homeland, and dozens of European peace activists volunteered today to act as human shields to protect Hngghh from harm. They were later eaten.

US opinion for the most part has been mixed. Editorials in the Wall Street Journal and MTV?s Total Request Live were predictably pro-teenager. Eric Alterman of The Nation faulted TRL for its "relentless anti-Zombie bias" which he attributed to ?tainted advertising money from Clearasil and Cliff Notes.?

Other news outlets were more even in their coverage of the latest events. The New York Times criticized the Zombies for ?their ill-advised eating of teenagers,? but also criticize the teenagers for ?their equally ill-advised efforts to stop the Zombies from eating teenagers.?

A GLIMMER OF HOPE

With the teenagers holding the upper hand militarily and the Zombies holding the advantage politically, an immediate solution to the crisis seems unlikely. In this high-stakes game of territorial poker, neither side is willing to fold by returning to the bargaining table.

Some see a glimmer of hope in the new Disfigured-Slasher Peace Plan that was proposed at last month?s Deranged-Menace Summit, and endorsed by a broad coalition of masked chainsaw maniacs, demonically-possessed ventriloquist dummies, and ephemeral creatures from the nightmare realm.

?While we stand united behind our Zombie brothers, we are wish to create an environment of peace for everyone in the Secluded Lake area,? said Jason Krueger, chief architect of the peace proposal. ?It doesn?t matter whether you go to high school, if you are partially decomposed, or if you wear a hockey mask-?can?t we all get along??

?We are offering the teenagers a sweet deal,? explained Krueger. ?In exchange for withdrawing from Secluded Lake campgrounds, we in the Deranged-Menace coalition are prepared to acknowledge the teenagers? right to exist.?

?Plus,? he added, ?if they ever need help babysitting, we?ll be right there.?

2002 David Burge

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:19 PM
Breathtaking

For a marvel of duplicity, half-truths, and wholesale ignoring of facts and history, go read this pile of bilge from the Saudi ambassador in today's WaPo. But don't let me prejudice you--go read it for yourself.

But for a few choice excerpts:

Israel's policy of violence against 3 million Palestinians -- Christians as well as Muslims -- is seriously jeopardizing the extent to which U.S. policy can succeed in its declared war on international terrorism, which has enjoyed the support of the Islamic world from Pakistan in Central Asia to Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean.

Note the phrase "...Christians as well as Muslims..." Does he really think that this will somehow elicit more sympathy? Anyone who thinks that a single one of the suicide bombers was a Christian, raise your hand.

[peering out over the audience...]

Nope, me neither.

Accordingly, the Israeli government should bear the full responsibility for this change in the position of the Islamic world.

It's not our fault. We've done nothing wrong, and will continue to do nothing wrong--it's all their fault.

And this guy is supposed to be a diplomat?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:49 AM
Parsing The President

I think that Bill Quick has got it right. I'll say nothing in this post that hasn't already been said elsewhere in the blogosphere, but perhaps I can summarize several people's points.

Those of us who are unhappy with Bush's speech yesterday were relying overmuch on the media interpretation of it, instead of actually reading it and delving into the subtleties therein. This is a speech that was very carefully crafted.

Note his use of the imperative "must" when speaking to the Arabs, and the more requestful "ask" when addressing the Israelis, and he didn't use the word "immediate." I think that the purpose is indeed to stall for a few more days (note that Powell is going next week, not immediately). It may also be to assuage Powell's ego, while placating the Arabists in Araby and Europe, as Rumsfeld, Rice and company continue planning the war that will replace Saddam. (Note that both Michael Barone and the WSJ clearly recognize today that Iraq is the linchpin to the whole region).

In the next few days, the Israelis will have achieved much of their goal in tearing apart Arafat's terrorist infrastructure, and gathering intelligence and evidence, after which they can withdraw to make Powell look good, and continue to distract the Euroidiots from the real game.

Even if the fresh evidence of Arafat's perfidy persuades no one in Europe (who still don't even believe that the Karine A was really carrying weapons to him), it will be used to steel the spine of their own people and prepare them for the coming war as the Mideast goes through the necessary crucible that will finally bring it into modernity.

And Arafat will be Arafat, and the talks will fall apart again, but Powell will have at least be seen to have made the effort, and now the old terrorist will have been rendered relatively toothless for a few weeks or months, which may be enough time to get on with the real agenda.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:42 AM

April 04, 2002

Double Standard

As usual, Krauthammer gets it right.

American critics, beginning with the secretary of state, object to this goal of destroying Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. As The Washington Post explained in an editorial, we need the continued presence of "the leadership of the Palestinian Authority as well as its principal security services'' because they have been "the only available instruments for stopping Palestinian terrorism.''

Good God. Instruments for stopping terrorism? They are instruments for aiding and abetting, equipping and financing, supporting and glorifying terrorism, which they call "martyrdom operations.'' The question of capabilities is irrelevant. Of course they have the capability. But they have no intention of exercising it.

This is like arguing at the beginning of the Afghan war that we should not attack the Taliban because they were the only instrument in Afghanistan available for bringing al Qaeda to heel. Sure. But they were allied with al Qaeda, commingled with al Qaeda and shared al Qaeda's objectives. They had no intention of ever stopping al Qaeda.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:35 PM
Irony

A Palestinian woman received a kidney donated by a Jewish victim of a suicide-bombing. Can anyone imagine the reverse occurring? A Jew receiving an organ from a Palestinian who was killed by Israelis?

Compare and contrast two cultures--one that celebrates murder and destruction, and another that offers life to its enemies, born from the deaths that they cause.

[Update at 2:45PM PST]

James Taranto, via Instantman, links to a WSJ article that's almost the opposite.

However, it's still not quite symmetrical--in both cases, it was the Israeli health-care system that was responsible. My point was that it would be hard to imagine a Palestinian state, at least one that in any way resembled the existing Palestinian Authority, doing such a thing.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:45 AM
Yuri's Night And Lunar Zion

My new Fox News column is up. It's mostly recycled from here, but I do have some new stuff in the "Letters" section on my give and take with the creationists that I inadvertently brought out of the woodwork last week.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:42 AM
Beaming Alex

Will Warren has an ode to our current favorite media punching bag.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:36 AM

April 03, 2002

Greta, You're An Idiot

She's just letting this Palestinian representative sit there and lie to her, and not challenging him. He says that it's "nonsense" that they teach children to martyr themselves in the schools. He says that "no one" would support their childrens' suicides.

All she would have had to do was to have some tape cued up of these lunatic Palestinian mothers bragging about how they wanted to send their sons off to die. Or some graphics of some texts from the madrassas. Or some tape of the Arafat praising the martyrs in Arabic (it would be effective with English subtitles, and he would have looked like a real ass trying to say that that wasn't what Arafat was saying).

But no, she didn't bother to prepare for this interview. I preferred the rotation that Fox had before Greta came aboard. It was inconsistent, but it wasn't consistently incompetent.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:15 PM
Medical Optimism

Derek Lowe, over at the Lagniappe blog, has a nice little summary of the current state of medical science.

In the long run, I fully expect gene therapy and antisense to fix what can be fixed at the genomic level. Downstream, I think we'll eventually get control of protein expression, which should take care of another huge swath of trouble. Small- molecule folks like me (or the next generation after me) will take care of the rest. And as we go after diseases, we'll also be figuring out how to deal with the normal damage of aging. I don't know how long the human life span can be extended, but I'm certain that we don't have to live it in poor health. We may not know the exact mechanism of Alzheimer's, for example, but we know that it's the result of something going wrong, something that can be fixed. Damn it, show me something that can't be fixed!

Me, too. People who believe that aging is inevitable, and that there's some physical law that prevents us from preventing it, are living in some non-materialist otherworld. Our bodies have been designed to age by nature. We can redesign them, as long as we don't deify "nature."

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:04 PM
More Polling Ambiguity

The same column that told us the real story about Norm Mineta says that the President's approval rating on the Mideast is not as high as his general approval:

Fifty-six percent thought President Bush is doing a good or excellent job on the Mideast, with 23 percent rating his performance only fair and 16 percent finding it poor.

I often find polls infuriating, because they're so vague as to allow whatever interpretation the reporter wants to put on them. We don't know why people are less pleased with the President's performance here, but you can bet that most will report it as the reporters view it--frustration that he's not "doing more" and getting "more engaged" like their hero President Clinton.

In fact, I'm unhappy with Bush on this issue, too, but not because he's not moving the "peace process" forward--it's because he's coddling that terrorist Arafat. But there's no way to tell from this poll which factor, or what proportion of both, is resulting in the number.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:19 PM
The Last Straw

Amidst all of my complaining about Norm Mineta with regard to airline security, I consoled myself with the fact that at least he did one thing right since September 11, when he grounded all flights that day.

Now it turns out, he didn't even do that. His number two did. Time for him to go.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:01 PM
Lunar Zion Redux

Ken Layne's Fox News column yesterday had a novel proposal for resolving the conflict over Palestine--move the Jews to Baja California. It's actually not as wacky as it sounds--the Zionist movement considered many locations before settling on present-day Israel, including Uganda, Libya, Iraq, Angola, Canada, Australia, Madagascar, Siberia, and even the southwest United States. In fact, a settlement of several thousand was established in Texas just before the first World War.

But you know me. When you're a jackhammer, everything looks like concrete, and when you're a space geek, every terrestrial problem has an extraterrestrial solution. So I'd like to reprise a proposal that I made on this very weblog back in October--let's establish a Jewish state on the Moon.

They've got to be getting tired of the flying shrapnel and body parts to the point that anywhere else would look good. It's territory that no one else is claiming (though the 1967 Outer Space Treaty actually precludes national sovereignty claims off planet, but the Israelis couldn't get anyone who mattered any more upset with them by breaking it).

And judging by their current rate of technological progress (as demonstrated by their haphazard success in killing people with crude suicide/homicide bombs, a simple-minded technology if ever there was one), it will be many decades or centuries before the Palestinians develop space travel themselves to follow them out there.

If we help them with transportation, it will create the mass market that we need to drive down space transport costs, and develop the technology that we need to conquer the space frontier. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:32 PM
Here's One For The Bellicose Babes

The new Playgirl is out.

(thanks to Registered@aol.com)

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:00 PM
Celebrate The Past And The Future

I've previously mentioned that this decade would be one of fortieth space anniversaries. Next Friday, April 12, is both a forty-first, and a twenty-first anniversary of notable space events.

On that date in 1961, Yuri Gagarin, a Russian, became the first man to go into space, and into orbit.

It was the height of the Cold War, and the Soviets had already beaten us to launching the first satellite. The fact that they also beat us to putting a man into orbit (a feat we wouldn't match until John Glenn's flight the following February), combined with dismayingly regular failures of our rockets, simply added to our national frustration.

Later that same month was the disastrous invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, compounding our sense of technological inferiority with a lack of military and political will as well. In an effort to both arrest this growing sense of technological impotence, and to distract from the Cuban fiasco, Kennedy made a speech to Congress on May 25th:

I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

This speech, resulting at least partly from Gagarin's flight, set us firmly on the road to the Moon, launching the Apollo program and also setting into place the institutional structure of NASA and Space As A Government Program that, ironically, now holds us back.

But Yuri couldn't have foreseen any of this--he was just a lucky fighter jockey who got to be the first person to see the earth from above, with no borders or countries--just oceans and continents and islands, with a sunset and sunrise every hour and a half. But he was enchanted:

Circling the Earth in the orbital spaceship I marvelled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world! Let us safeguard and enhance this beauty--not destroy it!

He only flew the one time, and seven years later, in March 1968, his luck ran out, as he fatally crashed his Mig-15.

But last year, on the fortieth anniversary, a young student at the California Institute of Technology named Loretta Hidalgo decided to celebrate his achievement. With her friend George Whiteside and others, she organized a world-wide party, calling it Yuri's night. Individual parties were held in many of the planet's major cities, and linked through video and the internet. Young people (and some not-so-young people) danced the night away all over the globe, in celebration of the first human venturing off the planet.

And as I mentioned, it was another anniversary as well--twenty years to the day after Gagarin's flight, in 1981, the first Space Shuttle was launched. It wasn't planned to coincide with the Gagarin anniversary--it was supposed to launch on April 10th, but a computer glitch delayed it two days.

Anyway, last year's first event was a spectacular success, and next Friday, they're going to do it again. So go to the web site, find the nearest party, put on your dancing shoes and help celebrate the first man and first reusable spacecraft to enter space.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:54 PM
Technology And Human Nature

There's an interesting little colloquium that occurred about a month ago between Ray Kurzweil and Max More here. The subject is the future of technology and its implications for human nature. (More is a proponent of the concept of transhumanism.)

Thanks to Paul Hsieh for the link.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:15 AM
Just A Coincidence, I'm Sure

This is pretty hilarious. First, it was discovered that a Microsoft-sponsored anti-Unix campaign web site was being hosted on an open-source BSD/Apache server.

Then, in an apparent attempt to alleviate the embarassment, the site sponsors attempted to move it to a Microsoft Internet Information Exchange server on Windows 2000. Now the site has mysteriously gone off line.

I have no idea what to make of this, but it's not great advertising for Redmond.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:51 AM

April 02, 2002

The Big Ego

Lee Bockhorn explains why Bill Clinton remains in the news, and on the cover of Newsweek. (Hint--it isn't because the so-called "Clinton-haters" can't let go...).

I myself was appalled by the Newsweek piece.

First, because they let Jonathan Alter do it. How did the editors think that he could even remove his proboscis from Bill's derriere long enough to write a credible piece?

And second, at his continuing self absorption (though I guess at this late date, I'd be stupid to be surprised). It's always about him.

He doesn't regret pardoning Marc Rich because it was wrong. He regrets it because it damaged his "reputation." Methinks he misspelled "notoriety." As usual, his only real regret is that he got caught, and actually suffered some consequences for it. Perhaps if this had happened earlier (like when he raped a woman in Arkansas as Attorney General) the country would have been spared a great deal of trauma.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:06 PM
Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Eeeeuuuuu...

Somehow, I find nothing more hilarious than European posturing on what they're going to do to that naughty state of Israel if they continue to oppress poor, benighted Nobel-Prize-winner Arafat.

The same thing they've done to Robert Mugabe? Frown them into submission?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:34 PM
But Will The Euridiots Care?

David Warren, one of our friends in the Great White North, points out that, as a result of the Israeli raid of Ramallah, Arafat's game is up. The evidence of his perfidy is abundant to any who are interested.

A disturbing sidenote to the article is a twenty-three-year-old Canadian peacenik airhead who found Yasser "charismatic, and 'good-hearted.'"

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:30 PM
On The Internet, No One Can Tell You're Nuts

I was as amused as any by Bjorn Staerk's little April Foolery, and unlike certain clueless Globe columnists, wasn't fooled for a nanosecond (but only because the top of the post had the date displayed prominently). But if it had occurred on some other day, I might have (seriously) asked the same question that Charles Johnson did.

"What has happened to Bjorn"?

Because weblogs are a much more personal medium than Op Ed pieces, we tend to develop opinions about the blogger's general attitudes, state of mind, and general mental health much more than we would for a newspaper columnist, and when these things change, it's often apparent to regular readers, even if the blogger says nothing explicit. Bjorn's post was disturbing (or would have been if it hadn't been an obvious prank to those of us who've been reading his stuff for months) because it seemed as though he'd overnight repudiated everything he believed. Such a thing could only be caused by some traumatic personal event, or some sudden change in brain chemistry.

On one of the Usenet groups that I frequent, there's one individual who sometimes posts there who seems to be bipolar (I am only surmising this, because he's never discussed it). He will be making posts that are reasonably lucid (with which I often disagree, but no more so than many other posters), and they will start to get weirder and weirder, often to the point of total incoherence. At that point, he posts no more for a while, often weeks or months.

So, it just made me wonder. If one of our fellow bloggers actually does go around the bend, will we know?

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:02 PM
The Permanent Campaign

Just in case you weren't already sufficiently disgusted with Gray Davis, Dan Walters has an article in the Bee that he's taken a page from Bill Clinton's book. I'm tempted to say that this indicates that he's really worried about Simon, but I suspect he'd be doing it all regardless of who his opponent is.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:52 PM
You Might Be A Terrorist...

Like Reuters, The Muslim nations are having a problem coming up with a common definition for terrorism.

The countries agreed to form a 13-member committee to "work toward an internationally agreed definition of terrorism'' under a U.N. convention to "formulate a joint organized response of the international community to terrorism in all its forms and manifestation.''

Well, I'm so relieved. I'll sleep much better at night knowing that there's a thirteen-member committee of Islamic nations working toward a definition of terrorism. Based on the following, though, one suspects that they may have some difficulty squaring the circle.

The declaration said the countries reject "any attempts to link terrorism to the struggle of the Palestinian people'' to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

"We reject any attempt to associate Islamic states or Palestinian and Lebanese resistance with terrorism,'' the draft said.

They then proceed to make just such a link.

The roots of terrorism, including "foreign occupation, injustice and exclusion'' should be addressed, it said.

While they're coming up with the definition, maybe one of them can explain to me how "foreign occupation, injustice and exclusion" are roots of terrorism, but that the supposed victims of these evils aren't engaging in terrorism.

To say that there are gray areas is not an excuse to avoid making calls on acts that are clearly black. There is a region between earth's atmosphere and space that is neither air nor space. That doesn't prevent us from saying that a Cessna 120 flies in the atmosphere, and that the Cassini probe to Saturn was in space.

There may be some acts that are open to interpretation by reasonable people as to whether they are terrorist acts or not, but they're not the ones that have been dominating the news for the last half year.

Hey guys, let me help you out here--it's clear that you're confused.

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, if you strap TNT to yourself and detonate it in a crowded pizza parlor, you might be a terrorist.

If you walk into a wedding party and start spraying it with AK-47 rounds, you might be a terrorist.

If you drive a rental truck full of high explosives into the basement of a skyscraper and blow it up, you might be a terrorist.

If you purchase airplane tickets, then slit the throats of flight attendants and commandeer the aircraft, and fly it into the side of that same skyscraper, you might be a terrorist.

And if you obfuscate the definition of terrorism, use illogical and inconsistent statements to defend the above behaviors, change the subject whenever anyone calls you on it, pretend that there's any justification whatsoever for them, ship weapons to those carrying them out, and provide large amounts of funding to the widows and family of the perps, you just might be a terrorist yourself.

In which case, you might want to at least consider recusing yourself from any committee dedicated to "defining terrorism."

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:10 PM

April 01, 2002

Back From Cambria

I checked in over the weekend occasionally, but managed to refrain from blogging despite the chock-full-o'-news environment. There was a time that one could escape to the central coast of California and find refuge from the rest of the world as well (and I suppose that if one were so determined, that time remains to this day). But with cable TV, and internet pops in every town (at least every affluent one), it's still difficult to avoid ugly intrusions from the rest of the world--continuing maniacal middle-east suicide bombs on Passover, Good Friday and Easter, the death of the Queen Mum in England--but possible if one consciously makes a decision to do so.

I didn't.

I watched the news, I read the newsites, I absorbed the blogs.

I just didn't post. Particularly when there's an overload of insanity and grief, I needed a break.

Instead we drove up into Big Sur, and hiked on the moors and beaches above an unusually calm (finally living up to its name) Pacific. The marine layer was thicker than Michael Moore (in both senses), and the clouds and fog hugged the coast the entire time. Just north of Pacific Valley, we decided to drive up Nacimiento Road a ways. This is one of the few roads that comes across the Santa Lucia mountains to the Pacific Coast Highway, and the only paved one between Cambria and Carmel.

We climbed up, and the fog grew thicker as we passed into the clouds, through occasional groves of coast redwoods. At a thousand feet or so, the natural miasma started to thin into wisps, and we finally saw blue sky. Breaking above the deck, we stopped at an overlook and surveyed the view back down the valley to the ocean. It couldn't be seen--it was blanketed by the overlying sea of cotton-like vapor, swirling just below us around the live oak on the hillsides. The temperature was easily fifteen degrees warmer than below. After a few minutes of basking in the warmth of the sun, and marveling at the dramatic difference in microclimate a couple miles can offer, we drove back down the mountain into the soup.

We hiked out to the shore, and on the way, discovered a cache. It was a plastic container with a note, and several miscellaneous items--a candy bar, a bag of golf tees, some trail mix, several pens and a notepad. Apparently it's a new sport to leave these things for others to either look for via GPS coordinates, or to stumble over accidentally, as we did.

It's like the penny box at the cash register--if there's something there you need or want, take it. If there's something you want to leave yourself, do it. The note said that it was explained at the Geocache web site. We saw jackrabbits galore, but no sea life.

Back in Cambria, we went for a walk on Moonstone Beach at dusk (though with the thick clouds, it seemed dusk all day). We saw the top half of a coronary tribute drawn in the sand. Just two humps, with the words "PAUL" and a little plus sign below. The lower, pointy part, with the paramour's name (presumably female, but this being California, one never knows) had been washed out by the incoming tide. It seemed a poignant and literal demonstration of the sometimes-ephemeral nature of love.

The best wildlife viewing occured on a hike across the East-West Ranch, just before we left yesterday. The trail is carved along bluffs above the ocean. The field was carpeted with a large variety of wildflowers, in a profusion of colors. As we looked down at the rocks just offshore, we saw several sea otters, heads bobbing up and down out of the surf. The Sea Otter Reserve runs from Big Sur down to Cambria, and ends where Santa Rosa Creek empties into the ocean, a mile or so north of where we were hiking. Apparently, no one had told the otters that they were outside the reserve--they had broken house arrest.

The ground alongside the trail was perforated with gopher holes, and in one, we actually saw one of them sticking its head out. But the most spectacular sight was a great blue heron. As we turned a bend, it was simply standing on the trail, perhaps thirty feet ahead. It paid no attention to us, but walked off toward the cliff, its lengthy sinuous neck bobbing its long-beaked head as it tentatively put one scrawny leg in front of the other, and then stopped and stared out to sea. Perhaps it was scanning for fish in the distant surf, but it sure looked like it was concentrated in deep thought as it gazed out over the ocean, as its ancestors have no doubt been doing for thousands, millions of years.

After a while, it turned around and walked back toward the trail. It was within twenty feet of us, and never acknowledged our presence. We had no more significance to it than did Palestinians, or bombs, or deceased royalty thousands of miles away.

We walked back to the car, and drove back down the coast to LA.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:52 PM